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Saturday Feature
Traffic weeks should not be just window dressing
Munima Sultana

          In a just society, rule of law is for all. But where justice is questionable, rules are usually violated.
This year, the Traffic Month 2005 began with one of such experiences. Passengers at the Shantinagar crossing watched that a police car, all on a sudden, came straight from Rajarbagh road and blocked the traffic movement at the side of the signal point of Bailey road. Its motive was to cross the area using the one-way road to avoid the severe congestion on other roads. Although the driver failed to achieve his goal due to the heavy traffic on the Bailey road, he however was able to create a deadlock situation for a long time.
When this was the scene at Shantinagar area at the beginning of the month, the scene at nearby Kakrail area was little different. An official of the traffic police was trying to educate the people about traffic rules and regulation so that they can abide by those. So he repeatedly tried to disseminate messages like "do not overtake", "abide by the signals", "do not park haphazardly or on zebra crossing", "walk on the footpaths," etc on the microphone. How these messages worked among the commuters can be understood from the example as under.
Jamal, a rickshaw puller, who has been paddling his vehicle for last 25 years, was found sitting on his parked vehicle at Inner Circular road. Jamal told this correspondent that he takes notice of these messages while passing through different areas every year and claimed that he abides by those. But his rickshaw was found parked in the middle of the road obstructing the movement of other vehicles. When asked his innocent smile proved that these messages failed to persuade him like many other commuters to abide by the rules.
Mohammad Shahjamal, another rickshaw puller, said that the traffic month or week has been organised to seize vehicles or file cases against the violators of the rules. Shahjamal said that he got license for his rickshaw three times - first in the period of Zia, second during the time of Ershad and finally when Hanif was the Dhaka City's Mayor. But none was of any use now, for which he was often caught by the traffic police.
Programmes like traffic week or month is being organised since 80s aiming at creating public awareness about traffic rules and encouraging the public to abide by the law. But the critics said the traffic month or week has failed to perform its proper job in achieving efficient traffic system. They said the whole concept and approach do not emphasise the need for raising the level of efficiency of those who are supposed to enforce the law to bring discipline in traffic management. But the traffic department has organised the programme as a routine work showing their self-assessed achievements, they added.
Rule is for all time, not for a particular time or for a programme, said Mahmood, a banker, adding that this annual ritual has no serious attempt to improve the traffic situation. All the posters and banners, especially designed for the occasion go to waste.
Reaz, an official of multinational company, said there have been a number of factors like road space, new road, car import policy, corruption and mismanagement while issuing vehicle licenses, etc for the collapse of the city's traffic system. So without involving the parties responsible for this situation during the traffic month or week, he believed that this kind of programme would not see its success.
Citing an example, Raihan said, traffic is not a single unit. This kind of programmes focus seizing vehicles on the street but there was no effort to ease the movement of pedestrians by removing illegal occupants from the footpath. But one of the banners in this year's Traffic Month urges pedestrians to use footpaths, which is now in the hand of 'iftar party bandits' of different hotels and restaurants. "This month should be pro-people and make the people think about the benefit of abiding by the rules," Raihan added further pointing out that traffic police have now forgotten to help the sick and old people and children in the street.
But DC Traffic office sees the success of this kind of programme in their own ways. DC Traffic (South) Majharul Islam told this correspondent that they watched this programme as an instance of total success as they have so far been able to earn Tk 6.4 million as fine from different vehicles, filed 36,000 cases against the violators and seized 4200 vehicles including 3500 rickshaws till Thursday.
He said the traffic department has been trying wholeheartedly to improve the city's traffic system and get people's positive response from different quarters. A cross-section of people including Ansar and Rover Scouts have been involved in this programme creating congenial atmosphere for the commuters.
But by talking to a cross-section of people such as housewives, government officials, drivers and private sector employees, different views have been gathered. They said that policy level decision like rehabilitation of rickshaw pullers and brainstorming sessions with the participation of all stakeholders of traffic system improvement as well as award for the best-street performers could be organised during this programme.
They believe that if a rehabilitation programme for rickshaw-pullers is undertaken or if the name of a best city bus operator is announced during this month, the street users would feel more encouraged to abide by the rules and this kind of programme then would earn its real success. Observance of Traffic Week or Traffic Month is a good initiative and is certainly welcome. But that has to be a step forward towards better traffic management, they added.


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