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Transport collapses amid 'Bangla Blockade'

Quota demo to continue despite SC status quo

Protesters announce

FE REPORT | July 11, 2024 00:00:00

Commuters suffered abjectly as city transport virtually came to halt Wednesday under countrywide 'Bangla Blockade' enforced by students to press for a recast of quota in government recruitment, and they vowed to continue the protests.

An apex-court order of "status quo" on the quota dispute, issued on the day, along with a call for the protesters to withdraw, couldn't apparently pacify them as they announces that only legislation recasting the quota system can end their agitation.

Firsthand reports said students of different public universities and jobseekers blockaded most intersections and streets to make their programme a success as part of their countrywide demonstrations.

Quota-reform activists vowed to continue the 'Bangla Blockade' programme until their one-point demand for abolishing quota by conserving 5.0 per cent for the underprivileged is met.

At a press conference at Shahbag in the capital in the evening quota-reform activists made a fresh announcement of a nationwide blockade from 3:30pm today (Thursday).

One of the organizers of the movement, Dhaka University student Asif Mahmud, made the announcement: "Bangla blockade will be continuing in every part of the country from 3:30 pm. The programme will be observed at important points across the country."

Protesters took to the intersections at 10.00am on Wednesday as per their preannounced programme, with a day's break on Tuesday.

Visit by The Financial Express correspondents to several spots, including Gulistan, Paltan, Shahbag, Kawranbazar, Farmgate and Mohakhali, revealed that protesters blockaded the crossroads by forming human chain and showing banners and festoons.

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As soon as they took control of the roads, vehicles around the intersections remained stuck for hours, causing serious disruption to the city commuting.

Many were seen walking down long distances to their respective destinations leaving buses and other transports behind, while some were waiting for hours with the hope that the situation would improve.

A private-sector service-holder, Arif Hossain Munna, was walking along the street from the Zero Point to Paltan area at around 1.00 pm. He says, "I had to change transports, including rickshaw and bus, several times from my residence in Sadarghat area to reach Malibag due to the traffic disruption."

H said students of Jagannath University, Kabi Nazrul Govt. College and Dhaka University barricaded different points and as a result, vehicles couldn't move.

"At first I took a rickshaw, but had to leave that much earlier to my destination at Golap Shah Majar intersection," he said, adding that he boarded bus again but left it after waiting for 30 minutes.

A protester at the GPO intersection, Ahmed Tomal from Dhaka University's science faculty, said they were scheduled to stay on the street till 8.00pm. "We are aware of people's sufferings, but there is no alternative but to press home our demand."

He added that they were allowing emergency services including ambulance to cross the barricades.

However, people, especially women, children and elderly ones, suffered most due to the situation.

One Ishrat Jahan went to Dhaka Medical Hospital with her one-year-old daughter but she was found puzzled while returning to Panthopath at her relative's residence.

"I went to Dhaka medical without any hassle at around 8.00 am. However, the situation is unimaginably tough now due to the stoppage of vehicles," she said while crossing Shahbag intersection on foot.

The FE Dhaka University correspondent adds: A procession gathered in front of the central library of the university. Later, the students brought out a protest march.

They surrounded the important places of the campus and blocked Shahbagh, Chankharpool, Bata Signal, Mintu Road, Intercontinental area, Bangla Motor, Karwan Bazar and Farmgate.

Protestors blocked several key railway lines and crucial points in the capital from the morning, causing widespread traffic jams and public inconvenience.

Students and jobseekers who are protesting the reinstatement of the quota system in government jobs said they would stay on the roads until the government forms a commission regarding the reform of the quota system.

"We want a permanent solution. We want a minimal quota for backward people of the country," they mentioned.

However, after the Appellate Division's order of status quo on the High Court's verdict for four weeks, students announced that they would continue their "Bangla Blockade".

Students said they would continue their movement until the government forms a commission to reform the quota system.

"The executive division of the state must form a commission. If government assures us on our one-point demand , we will conclude our protest programme," said one of the coordinators, Asif Mahmud.

Meanwhile, Jahangirnagar University (JU) students staged a daylong blockade along the Dhaka-Aricha highway.

A procession from university's central library moved to the Dhaka-Aricha highway near the main gate.

During the protest, students warned of taking tougher measures if the Appellate Division did not rule in their favour at the hearing. They threatened to paralyze the entire country if their demands were not met.

One activist, Ahsan Labib, said, "Our demand is to reduce all quotas within five per cent. If this demand is not met, we will be forced to implement strict programs in all districts starting tomorrow."

"We want quotas for backward communities and the disabled, and we ask that the freedom fighters' quota be limited to their children, not grandchildren", he added.

Arif Sohel, the movement's coordinator, said, "Should we have to protest again after a month, six months, or a year? The student community will not accept this until the court provides clear instructions on quota reform."

During the afternoon, they continued their protest with songs and street plays.

The blockade caused a significant traffic jam on both sides of the Dhaka-Aricha highway, impacting ordinary passengers.

However, vehicles carrying patients and emergency services were allowed to pass through.

The government on October 4 in 2018 abolished all types of quota in class one and two government jobs. The decision triggered protests by descendants of freedom fighters who had been enjoying 30 per cent quotas in all government jobs.

The FE court correspondent adds: The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the parties concerned to maintain status quo for four weeks in respect of subject matter of the quota system in class one and two government jobs.

A five-member bench of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Obaidul Hassan passed the order after holding a hearing from the parties concerned in connection with the issue.

In the order, the apex court said, "The parties are directed to maintain status-quo in respect of subject matter for four weeks." It also set August 7 for further proceedings on the matter.

In the order the apex court further said that all the protesting and lovely students have been asked to go back to their respective educational institutions and concentrate on their work (studies).

This court is of the opinion that the Vice-Chancellors and Proctors of all the universities and heads of the other educational institutions of the country should bring back their students to their respective classrooms and create a suitable environment for education.

It also observed that "spontaneous protesting students can present their statement before this court through a lawyer if they want. The court will take their statements into consideration while disposing of the original petition regarding the issue."

The court said, "The verdict that was delivered by the High Court Division is not before us. Let it be come, and then we will see it."

Following a writ petition the High Court bench of Justice K M Kamrul Kader and Justice Khizir Hayat on June 5 this year declared illegal a government decision that abolished freedom fighter quota in class one and two government jobs.

Later the government filed a petition seeking stay on the HC verdict, but it could not file regular appeal petition with the Appellate Division as the HC didn't publish its full verdict yet.

In the meantime, the decision made aggrieved the university students and other job seekers. It also triggered protests by them across the country.

In this situation, two Dhaka University students became a party in the case on July 9. The apex court held hearing on the parties on Wednesday.

Attorney-General AM Amin Uddin appeared in the court hearing on behalf of the state, while senior lawyer Shah Monjurul Hoque appeared for the two DU students and senior lawyer Munsurul Hoque Chowdhury represented the writ petitioners.

In a briefing the Attorney-General said the recruiting authority will have to maintain the government circular issued in 2018 that abolished quota system in class one and two government jobs, as the apex court issued status quo order.

In a separate briefing after the court order, senior lawyer Shah Monjurul Hoque also gave same opinion.

However, senior lawyer Munsurul Hoque Chowdhury gave a dissenting opinion regarding the issue. He said, "The Appellate Division didn't stay the High Court verdict. So the recruiting authorities have no scope to take any decision regarding quota system at least for four weeks."

Meanwhile, the Attorney-General further said, "The apex court has given an opportunity to the protesting students to place their statement, if any, in the Appellate Division through their lawyer. So there is no logical ground to continue this movement. Now they (student) should stop this movement and return to their own positions. There is no logical ground to increase public sufferings by agitation."

He said that abolishing quota system is a policy matter of the government, and court generally doesn't interfere in the policy matters. Indian courts also follow the custom.

The Chief Justice said, "A verdict cannot be changed by chanting slogan in the street. It needs proper steps. However, the students who are agitating in the street they also have something to say. Who will hear them… The matter needs a solution.

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