In a bid to calm down the student protesters, Bangladesh today promised to consider the death penalty for deliberately causing road deaths and approved a new road safety law as violent clashes between the demonstrators and police continued to cripple normal life here. The protests sparked last week after two teenage students – a boy and a girl – were killed when two buses racing to pick passengers, a common occurrence in the city, hit them and wounded several others. One of the bus drivers fled the scene, although both were later arrested.
Police today lobbed tear shells, used water cannons and charged batons to disperse a procession brought out by the Dhaka University students demanding safe roads and protesting the ongoing attacks on students, The Daily Star reported. The government rushed the new draft of the Road Transport Act 2018 to the Cabinet amidst pressure from student protesters for safe roads and an unannounced strike by bus operators in response to the demonstrations.
“The Cabinet today approved the Road Transport Act 2018 with provisions of highest five years of rigorous imprisonment for reckless driving while the term was three years,” Cabinet secretary Shafiul Alam told a media briefing after the Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Law Minister Anisul Huq told a separate briefing that if police investigations found drivers to have deliberately caused accidents to kill someone, they would face death penalty under the country’s penal code. Though buses returned to Dhaka roads in limited numbers after eight days of complete shutdown, protesters clashed with police at various parts of the city.
During the protests, school children took to the street to regulate traffic and check drivers’ licenses and vehicles fitness, forcing authorities to declare school holidays. Armed men attacked a convoy of cars carrying the US envoy to Bangladesh in the capital Dhaka on Saturday night. Ambassador Marcia Bernicat and her security team were able to get away unharmed, but two cars were damaged. Hasina yesterday appealed to agitating students to return home, saying vested quarters infiltrated in their campaign for safer road to “catch fish in troubled waters”.
Hasina said non-student “saboteurs” were using school uniforms and ID cards as “the third force has appeared at the scene”. Police arrested an actress on Friday night for spreading rumours to instigate violence by alleging that four protesting women students were taken to hostages at ruling Awami League’s Dhanmandi office. Detectives also detained award winning photographer Shahidul Alam, founder of Drik Picture Library, last night for interrogation over his Facebook posts on the ongoing student protest.
The government warned of tough punitive actions against instigators of student demonstrations. Police launched a nationwide ‘Traffic Week’ to crackdown on reckless driving. Bangladesh appeared to be one of the world’s worst accident prone countries with the World Bank saying more than 4,000 people die in road accidents each year. More than 4,200 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in Bangladesh in 2017, a 25 per cent increase from 2016, according to private research group the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways.