MNA Editorial Desk: The year 2018 has been an eventful year till today with multiple noteworthy activities like; quota reform protest, road safety protest, dramatic political events and many things else. With the upcoming national election, the year might be holding in a lot more ups and downs in the upcoming months. With several people’s issues in sight, it was uncertain if the solutions will be provided by the government prior to the election. But, appreciably, the current government is addressing different issues raised from those protests held by the students.
Ostensibly, the government is keen to solute these matters prior to the next election. Recently, few critical laws were passed by the National Parliament like; new Road Transport Act and Digital Security Act 2018 while a strong recommendation was made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on quota reform which if implemented will comply with the demands raised from the student protests. Proper execution of these laws and decisions will definitely content several citizens’ concerns.
A new transport law, Road Transport Act was passed by the Parliament few days ago which incorporates five-year jail term as well as 5 lac taka fine for casualties in road accidents caused by irresponsible driving. It also has a provision for maximum punishment of death penalty under this new law in case of proven murder charge in fatal road crash. Following the nationwide student protest for safe roads triggered by a road crash which killed two college students in Dhaka on July 29, the government hastened the process of passing the law.
The movement for safe roads by the students got much hype as the students took control of the roads at different parts of the country while working on a people’s issue. They almost brought the country to a halt for over a week and were successful in drawing international attention. The citizens also supported the cause with good intent. The protest focused on removing unfit vehicles and drivers without license from the roads. They also demanded strong punishment for those violating the laws. The government responded well with this new Road Transport Act.
There are some noteworthy provisions in this new act. Like; if a company’s transport is involved in violation of the law, it will be considered an offence by the owner, director, executive officer, manager, secretary or other officials of the company. It also bars driving without licence and made BRTA’s permission compulsory for driving public transport with punishment for violating the related sections to be six months’ imprisonment or Tk 25,000 fine or both. A person has to be 18 years old to apply for a driving licence and 21 years to get a professional one. The drivers must study at least up to grade eight.
Moreover, drivers, conductors or their representatives must take victims of road crash to hospital and inform police or fire service. The maximum punishment for violating this provision is a month’s jail term or Tk 20,000 fine or both. Driving unfit vehicle will contain a punishment of maximum six months of imprisonment or Tk 25,000 fine or both. No firm can recruit any driver without licence and it must provide appointment letter according to the law. So, the provisions and the punishment is enough by any means and we can be satisfied as citizens. For the drivers and vehicle owners, it is a clear signal that life will not be easy anymore if an accident is committed due to negligence.
Before the protest for safe roads, the quota reform protest was another much hyped movement of the students where they demanded reduction of the quota facilities in the public service recruitment. The students blocked the roads nationwide and repeatedly placed their demands. At a point Prime minister Sheikh Hasina on an emotional state declared to remove all quota facilities but later she could not do so due to legal bindings. Later a committee was formed to come out with solutions of the student demands. The committee recently came up with several recommendations which can be very satisfactory for the students.
The parliamentary standing committee on the public administration ministry recommended increasing the age limit for entering government jobs to 35 years from 30 now in the face of students’ demand. The committee also recommended increasing the retirement age for government employees as students and jobseekers demonstrated for weeks demanding the government to raise the age limit for the public services, apart from reforms to the quota system.
Addressing the main issue, a high-level review panel has recommended the removal of quotas for government employees from grade 9 to grade 13. That is, for the first class and second class government jobs, there will be no quota facility and it is an excellent recommendation considering the fact that for such important positions, merit should be the only consideration.
The current quota system will remain same for the positions from grade 13 to grade 20 according to the recommendations. The parliamentary standing committee on social welfare suggested though reserving 1 percent quota in government jobs at all levels for the people with disabilities in accord with the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act. Upon PM’s approval, the proposal will be presented before the cabinet and if it receives cabinet approval, it will be issued as a gazette.
The National Parliament has also passed the Digital Security Act 2018 by dropping the much criticized Section 57 of the ICT Act and some other parts. With uncontrolled spread of media, especially online media along with drastic increase of social media users, it has become important to fight rumours, fake news and propaganda. This new act will put some control over these issues though media experts have been criticizing different sections of the Act since it was drafted, alleging that it will obstruct independence of journalism.
Section 57 of the 2006 Act stated if a person deliberately posts or broadcasts something online or on another electronic medium which is false, indecent or causes moral devaluation when read, watched or heard, or something that defames anyone, diminishes law and order, tarnishes the image of a person or the country, offends religious sentiments, or instigate a person or a group will be considered in violation of the law. Any person violating the section might face jail term between one and 14 years and up to Tk 10 million fines. Section 61 of the new act has repealed sections 54, 55, 56, 57 and 66 of the ICT Act.
These sections stated penalties for accessing any computer or computer system or computer network without the owner or authority’s permission; changing or destroying the source code or something confidential in any computer, computer programme, computer system or computer network; and hacking to damage computer resources. Many issues of the Section 57, however, have been added to different sections of the new Act. It also said if it appears to the law-enforcing agencies that any content published in the digital media is hampering harmony, financial activities, security, defence, religious values or public order, or creating communal hatred, they can ask the BTRC through the digital security agency to remove or block the content.
Punishment was defined for hacking into any computer, digital device or computer system; for propaganda against the spirit of the Liberation War or Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; publication of any content in electronic form to threat, insult, or misguide someone or soil national image or spread confusion; for collecting, selling or using someone’s identification data like biometric information, photo, date of birth, names of parents, passport number, bank account number, and DNA profile without legal authority; for illegally accessing any significant information structure etc.
The effort of the government to resolve some public issues prior to the national election is commendable and portrays their people-oriented attitude. Rather than focusing only on the election, they are still very much in their works. But it is more important to implement these laws and decisions at earliest as that is the most critical part. It will be laudable if these are implemented before the declaration of the national election schedule. Hence, it will be considered as an achievement of the government if they can do so. That will require readiness and participation from all stakeholders which is not an easy task as we have already experienced in maintaining traffic laws.
To satisfy everyone is a very tough task but a government must work to ensure the welfare of the largest group. With these laws or recommendations, few groups will be unhappy as that will directly hurt their interests. But to create a better environment along with better opportunities which will drive our country faster on achieving the development goals is the most important. Hence, we need this new decisions and laws to be implemented to ensure people’s welfare with everyone’s participation very soon.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Center (DRC)