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Waterway accidents: Culprits are rarely punished

  • Published at 05:21 am July 1st, 2020
A victim’s family member mourning beside the body, recently recovered from Buriganga River Md Manik/Dhaka Tribune

Earlier, a probe committee provided a 38-point recommendation for the waterway authorities which is still not implemented

To date, there have been no exemplary punishments for the individuals and organizations responsible for the waterway accidents in Bangladesh.

As the culprits of most of the accidents remain unpunished, they can roam around freely and be responsible for more accidents. 

On June 5, the High Court upheld a lower court verdict, which ordered the compensation payment of Tk17.11 crores to the victims of passenger vessel MV Nasrin-1 that capsized in Meghna River in 2003.

The trial court gave a compensation order of Tk10 lakh for each of the victims’ family, who died in the incident, and a compensation of Tk1 lakh for each of the injured ones.

On July 8, 2003, MV Nasrin-1 sank in the river in Chandpur district, killing 110 people -- including the owner. As many as 119 passengers went missing. The launch, which departed from Dhaka, was heading towards Bhola district.

In the same year, the Chandpur district administration released a list of 400 victims, who died or went missing in that accident.  

In 2004, Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST) took the issue to a Dhaka court as it found the compensation insufficie.

The lawsuit claimed that 121 persons died in the accident and sought Tk 28.939 crore as compensation. Twelve years later, in 2016, the court gave compensation order of Tk17.11 crore for the victims.

The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) challenged the decision in the High Court in the same year.

The BIWTA again filed an leave to appeal with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court after the High Court gave a verdict.

Barrister Sharmin Akter, a counsel for BLAST, told Dhaka tribune, the BIWTA had only filed an leave to appeal, however, they did not seek any stay order on the verdict. 

Moreover, they did not take any steps to move the file for hearing. It seems like they made the leave to appeal only to kill time, she added.

Meanwhile, the State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said: “The victims have the right to receive the compensation and we always ask the state counsel to solve the cases as soon as possible.”

Barrister Sharmin also said as there is no stay order from the Appellate Division on the High Court verdict, there is no legal bar to execute the compensation order. 

“We have filed an execution case with the lower court and the case is waiting for hearing,” she added. 

The 38-point recommendation

The High Court verdict also mentioned a 38-point recommendation, prepared by a three member probe committee -- formed by the government then-- following the incident. 

The probe committee also mentioned the name of eight individuals and offices, including BIWTA, responsible for the incident.

When asked about the implementation of the 38-point recommendation, the state minister suggested to talk to the BIWTA chairman. 

Commodore Golam Sadeq, chairman of BIWTA said the 38-point recommendation has not been implemented yet, however, many other initiatives have been taken which serves the purpose of the recommendation indirectly. 

When the chairman was asked about the leave to appeal, filed against the High Court order, and the rights of the victims to receive the compensation, he said that he would  have to look at the details of the lawsuit.

Major points of the recommendation:

●    Vessels, older than 20 years, can only operate during day time.

●    Create awareness among citizens about the waterway accidents and the reason behind those accidents.

●    Form an independent court's investigation cell with experts of water transport law and related subjects. 

●    Upgrade the status of a marine court’s magistrate to that of a district magistrate’s position

●    Immediately implement a project for inland water transport security administration

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