However, due to contract related complications, Tiger IT had almost stopped issuing new driving licences by early 2019. Later, the BRTA appointed Madras Printers of India as the new contractor.

According to the law, the Madras Printers was supposed to do all the work for renewing old licences and developing the database of new licences. However, they couldn’t retrieve the database despite trying sincerely as they were not familiar with Tiger IT’s software, management system and the methods storing data. At the same time, the BRTA does not have any IT expert team.

In this circumstance, the licence is not being reissued if it expires or is lost. The BRTA is providing a receipt after collecting the fee from the customers.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, ABM Mohiuddin, project director of Tiger IT, said that they are not in charge of it anymore. Everything has been explained to BRTA.

BRTA chairman Nur Mohammad Mazumder, however, thinks that the licence-related complications will not last long. He told Prothom Alo that some of the old licences were being printed, but at a very low pace. They would get a high speed printer soon. Then the problem would be resolved.

Regarding the inability to retrieve the database, the BRTA chairman said, “It’s a technical problem. There are some problems with shifting one system to another. I hope the problem will be sorted out very soon.”

Replying to another question, he said, “What is the benefit of finding whose fault is this now? If the work is done, then everything will be fine.”

However, the BRTA has not been able to solve the licence related complexities in the last three years. Speaking to Prothom Alo, a top BRTA official said on condition of anonymity that The Tiger IT has left without handing over the database properly to keep the contract to themselves. On the other hand, the Madras Printers have avoided their responsibility or they haven’t done the job due to lack of capacity. It was the responsibility of regulatory body BRTA to bring Tiger IT and Madras Printers together and get the job done. But the question remains as to why the top officials of the organisation couldn’t do that?

BRTA is an organisation under the road transport and bridges ministry. Regarding the license related complication, Md Nazrul Islam, senior secretary of the ministry told Prothom alo, “There is a crisis regarding the licences. I have been informed by the BRTA that the problem will be solved soon.”

Asked who is responsible for this, he said, “It's hard to blame someone alone. But the solution is urgent. That is the path we are following.”

Road safety at stake

An important aspect in ensuring road safety is a valid driving licence and the competence of the driver. The Accident Research Institute (ARI) of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) analyses the reasons of road accidents based on the figure provided by the police. According to their data from 1999 to 2019, there is driver’s involvement behind 90 per cent of the accidents.

According to the Road Transport Act, if a person drives a vehicle without a licence, he will be punished with a maximum fine of Tk 25,000 or imprisonment for six months or both. Drivers with fake licences are liable to a minimum fine of Tk 100,000 to a maximum of Tk 500,000 or a minimum of six months to a maximum of two years imprisonment or both. In other words, the punishment is severe if someone carries a fake licence. The law is to be enforced by law enforcement and BRTA executive magistrates.

The BRTA officials said the law enforcement agencies contact them if they are doubtful about the licence of any driver. They can know whether this licence is fake or not instantaneously by putting the licence number in the specific programme on the computer. However, they are not able to do that now. Whenever they enter the programme, the ‘data entry panel’, ‘proof panel and approval’ and their ‘user ID’ are shown locked or deactivated. They are not able to verify the driver's licence even after a road accident.

The BRTA is accepting the fee for licence renewal assuming that the licence is valid. After that they are providing a receipt, which is known as the acknowledgement slip, containing a seal that asserts the recipient will be able to drive with this.

Seeking anonymity, a BRTA official told Prothom Alo that there are allegations that there are a lot of fake driving licences in the country. If those who are coming to renew have fake licences, then it will be a disaster later.

No end of sufferings

Md Sabbir drives a car for a company in Gulshan. He applied for the renewal of his licence in December 2019. BRTA gave him the date of issuance of smart card licence on 15 September 2020. He went to BRTA on the appointed day and found out that the licence card had not been issued. He was asked again to come on 23 August 2021 for the smart licence card. But he didn’t get his card on that day either. This time the BRTA gave him the date of issuance of smart card licence on 27 February 2022. Lastly on 6 March went to the Mirpur office of BRTA on 6 March, but didn’t get the card. He has been given a new date on 20 November for the issuance of his card.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Sabbir said he went to the BRTA office four times taking leave from his working place. Despite repeatedly asking about the reason for the delay, he didn’t get any answer. BRTA is only extending the time for issuing his licence.

On 6 March, truck driver Amir Hossain said at the BRTA office that he had applied for a licence renewal in September 2019. The date for the issuance of the smart licence card has been changed twice. Now he is scheduled to get his card in November this year.

He said the validity of a professional driver's licence is five years. His licence expired in 2016. The time for renewal will come early next year. But he is yet to get the licence.

In the case of Abu Bakar Siddique who wants to go abroad, BRTA has changed the date of the issuance of his card five times. He said, “I have been roaming around the BRTA office for three monhts. If I could get the licence, the cost for going abroad would have been much less.”

Customers have to take various digital services from BRTA in exchange for money including smart card licence, digital number plate of the vehicle, and smart card for vehicle ownership. The government does not bear any of these costs at any stage. Even then, customers are being subjected to long term sufferings and harassment. Added to this is the complication related to driver's licence, which increases the risk of road safety.

Professor Hadiuzzaman, director of ARI at BUET, “It is difficult to produce skilled drivers following the process of issuing licences we use in Bangladesh. Even after that, if the licences are not issued on time, then the reluctance among the drivers will increase and the tendency to get a fake licence will increase. We already have news that as the number of vehicles is greater than the number of licences, about 2 million vehicles are being driven by drivers without licence or drivers with fake licences. And this is quite an alarming issue in case of road safety.”

He further said, “Research shows that people without a licence drive more recklessly than the drivers with fake licences.”

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashish Basu

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