A school-going boy, Titas Ghosh, died in the ambulance in Madaripur's Kathalbari Ferry Ghat on the way to hospital, thanks to a three-hour delay in ferry movement as the ferry was waiting for a ministry joint secretary – a so-called VIP. The incident then sparked outrage among mass people.
Another similar incident – a long wait in an ambulance getting stuck on a capital road due to "VIP movement" – that took place recently went viral on social media. A Facebook user Md Kamrujjaman posted the video and wrote "the ambulance carrying the patient has remained stuck for 30 minutes for the VIP movement. Even no step was taken at the request of the patient's family and pedestrians."
Those incidents are not surprising to commuters as they are used to experiencing such affairs every day, especially in Dhaka – the city accommodating over 20 million people with insufficient roads and rapidly soaring private vehicles as well as public ones.
Even thousands of pedestrians also suffer due to these gridlocks caused by the forced halt of transport movement to ease VIP movement.
People are now fed up and express frustration over the issue in different places – from makeshift tea stalls to social media.
With new dimensions being added with the passage of time, the torture of "VIP privilege" seems to cross all the limits.
Who does not know the latest much-talked-about train incident? A travelling ticket examiner (TTE) of a train was suspended after three relatives of Railway Minister Nurul Islam Sujan were fined for failing to show tickets. They reportedly boarded an AC berth of a Dhaka-bound train from Pabna without tickets on Thursday night.
The question is whether Bangladesh rules or laws allow blocking roads, interrupting transport movement, and creating public sufferings in the name of VIP privilege.
"Interrupting public amenities such as blocking roads should not be acts of VIPs," said Ifteqaruzzaman, executive director of the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
"The suffering of the common people on roads has gone out of limits due to the VIP culture. Such a limitless abuse of power can never happen in a democratic country," he told The Business Standard.
"The privileges of VIPs should have clear boundaries; what benefits they will get and what they will not."
The chief of the civil society organisation said there was a limit to the VIP facilities in Bangladesh. "They have given offices, chairs, cars and homes. There is no such facility [moving blocking roads]."
According to the government, the country has three types of important person – very very important person or VVIP, very important person or VIP, Commercially important person or CIP – and they enjoy different types of facilities.
In a case filed over the Kathalbari incident, the High Court remarked that only the president and prime minister are VVIPs (very very important person). Also, people have no objection to the movement of the president and prime minister under the special arrangement on roads.
However, they have objections to the frequent use of such facilities by others – senior bureaucrats, police officials and members of parliaments.
"The wishful movement in the name of VIP does not support any law of the country," said Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jotirmoy Barua.
The Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983 states that the government can frame conditional rules for giving priority to the movement of fire service vehicles, ambulances and other special vehicles.
"But, so far no rules have been formulated under the ordinance."
Jyotirmoy Barua said that it was high time for the government to take necessary steps for preventing such irregularities.
Former cabinet secretary Ali Imam Majumder told TBS that there should be no special arrangement for VIPs on any road in the country.
"As per the rules, they enjoy security protocol. Roads cannot be closed for their movement. They are not a priority on roads. No VIP has an opportunity to use the wrong side," he added.
"Those who are creating chaos on roads are public representatives, big bosses of various government agencies or forces and influential people having blessings of the government."
Police are responsible for arranging the special movement facility on roads.
"There is a red book of security protocol. We take action accordingly. Except for the president and prime minister, there is no provision for providing security keeping one side free with force," Dhaka Metropolitan Police Additional Commissioner (Traffic) Munibur Rahman said.
"Minister-equivalent VIPs get police protocol only, while the government decides case by case for foreign state guests," he added.
Meanwhile, in 2016, the government proposed making a separate service lane on Dhaka Roads for the movement of VIPs, fire service vehicles and ambulances. But, it was not implemented in the face of widespread criticism.