Curbs on Homegoing: Directives hard to enforce
The government has imposed several restrictions including an embargo on leaving work stations during the upcoming Eid holidays to check the mad rush of holidaymakers, but it lacks a clear outline on how to enforce these restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.
For example, the Ministry of Public Administration has a full grip on all government officials. The case, however, is not the same with those working at non-government and autonomous organisations.
There are chances that a huge number of these employees, along with their family members, will leave the capital to spend the festival with their loved ones.
The apprehension stems from a few factors.
As per a new government circular, public transport, including buses and minibuses, will be allowed to operate only inside the territory of each district. Bus operators, however, have pointed out that it will be difficult to enforce since most of the vehicles ply from one stop to another, not based on the territory of the districts.
People will be able to travel beyond the boundary of a district and take a new vehicle to go further, advancing towards their destinations -- their village homes.
Also, a huge number of cars and microbuses continue to carry passengers to and from Dhaka on rent, charging almost double the usual bus fare. The number of such vehicles is expected to go up during the Eid.
The rush at the ferry terminals is increasing every day.
In such a situation, officials said they fear the government will not be able to prevent the mad rush during the festival and it will ultimately help the virus spread further.
The Cabinet Division yesterday issued a circular with a six-point directive, extending some restrictions on the movement of people and public transport from May 6 to May 16.
The government has been enforcing such restrictions since April 5 to check the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths in the country, which is battling the second wave of the pandemic.
During the last one month, the government, however, has relaxed many of the restrictions. It reopened shopping malls ahead of Eid and thousands of shoppers are thronging them every day, ignoring health safety rules.
It has alarmed health experts.
The experts said the Covid situation in Bangladesh could worsen due to the increased public movement centring the Eid. They warned that the situation can turn dangerous if a new variant found in India made its way here.
Eid will be celebrated in around a week.
Passengers welfare organisations estimate that around 80 lakh to 1.2 crore people leave Dhaka, Narayanganj, and Gazipur before Eid every year.
This time, a huge number of people have already left the cities, defying the government embargo. During the two Eids last year, thousands did the same and experts said the coronavirus situation worsened because of it.
'DON'T LEAVE WORK STATIONS'
As per the new circular, officials and other employees of all government, non-government, autonomous offices, banks, and other financial institutions will not be allowed to leave their area during the Eid holidays.
Copy of the circular was sent to, among others, the Inspector General of Police, all divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners and upazila nirbarhi officers "for information and implementation".
Contacted, Shaikh Yusuf Harun, senior secretary of the public administration ministry, said, "All government employees are bound to obey the government order.
"Each and every employee has to take prior permission before leaving their workstations. If anyone leaves workstation without permission, action will be taken as per the service rules," he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Asked about those working at non-government and autonomous offices, he said, "I can comment only about government employees."
Contacted, Haider Ali Khan, deputy inspector general of the police headquarters, said, "We will work to enforce the government decision."
However, another high-placed official of the police headquarters said it was the duty of the authorities of the office concerned to ensure that the government directive is followed.
"Nothing is clear about the police role in this regard," the official said, wishing not to be named.
Thousands of people are leaving Dhaka every day by cars, microbuses and small vehicles amid this so-called lockdown, paying extra money.
Ferry services at the Shimulia-Kathalbari and the Paturia-Dauladia routes are experiencing huge pressure of passengers and it is likely to increase even more in the coming week.
A staffer of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Corporation (BIWTC) at Mawa Ferry Terminal, said they have been operating 12 to 13 ferries every day for the last few days as the number of cars and microbuses waiting to cross the Padma is going up.
"We're not stopping any private vehicles. I have not seen any step from the police side in this regard in the last few days," he said, wishing not to be named.
Zillur Rahman, deputy general manager of the BIWTC's Aricha office, said they operate four to five small ferries and two to three large ferries, if necessary, in the daytime and 14-16 at night.
Replying to a question, he said, "We are supposed to carry ambulance, goods-laden and emergency vehicles, but a huge number of cars and microbuses gather at the terminal every day. How can we send them back?"
A top official at the shipping ministry said cars, microbuses and passengers of other small vehicles are allowed to cross the river using the ferries considering the "ground reality". Because, in absence of ferries, desperate people will board trawlers and speedboats and it may lead to accidents, like the one on Monday.
A speedboat carrying 30 passengers crashed into a sand-laden bulk carrier in the Padma in Madaripur's Shibchar upazila, leaving 26 dead.
State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury, however, said they would operate ferry services on a limited scale and only goods-laden and emergency vehicles would be allowed to board the ferries.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT INSIDE DISTRICTS
As per yesterday's circular, all inter-district public transport would remain grounded. However, operation of public transport would be allowed inside district territories.
Train and launch services will also remain suspended.
Khondaker Enayet Ullah, secretary general of Bangladesh Road Transport Owners Association, said they would operate buses inside districts following the government's directives.
A leader of transport owner association, however, said they were confused and that they did not know whether they could resume their operation ahead of Eid.
He said top operators, who operate long-haul buses, will not resume their services, but small operators may do it, even on the inter-district routes.
"It would be difficult to ensure that buses operate inside the territory of a particular district. Many buses may cross the district boundaries and claim that the bus belongs to another district," he said, wishing anonymity.
WORKERS DEMAND LAUNCH SERVICES
Water transport workers yesterday demonstrated in Dhaka demanding immediate resumption of launch services on all routes across the country.
They said all the health rules will be followed. They also demanded payment of their salaries and arrears by tomorrow.
As per a scheduled programme announced by Bangladesh Noujan Sramik Federation, the workers started a protest procession in front of the central office of the federation in Dhaka and later marched towards the head office of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA).
Speaking at the programme, their leaders said workers of launch and other public transport were affected the most by the "lockdown" as the government did not take any alternative measure to protect their livelihoods.
At the same time, people, including workers, are spending more than twice to travel to their home violating health rules.
Later, a five-member representative team handed a memorandum to the BIWTA chairman, says a press release.