State-run Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) is reportedly unable to earn necessary money to meet its expenses.
As a result, salary and allowance of its employees has remained due for months.
Officials said BRTC has sought Tk 990 million (99 crore) from the government since its condition has worsened because of Covid-19 restrictions for the past two weeks.
Last year, the government gave BRTC Tk 100 million (10 crore) in two phases after the announcement of general holidays.
The BRTC act states that the agency will bear its expenses from its own earnings and will set example in providing better services among the private transport companies.
But the scenario has been quite the opposite. BRTC has been seeking the government’s assistance over the years for various reasons including loans and procurement of new buses and trucks. BRTC is now in debt of Tk 7.24 billion (724 crore).
BRTC has no reason to incur loss in transport business because of huge passengers. But it has been facing loss and no one is being held accountable. If the fund falls short, the government gives the money and an agency can’t run in such way.
Records of BRTC’s internal income and expenditure statement show the agency has about Tk 190 million (19 crore) of arrears to its employees as of last February.
BRTC has a total of 21 bus depots and two truck depots across the country and employees’ salary remains unpaid at almost every depot.
Workers’ wage has remained due at Gabtoli depot in Dhaka, Chattogram, Bogura and Rangpur depots for more than a year.
A bus driver of Kallyanpur depot, on condition of anonymity, said their salary remains unpaid for five months since October last year.
They didn’t receive Baishakhi (Bangla New Year) allowance. Whether they will get salary and bonus ahead of Eid are not certain as yet. Some drivers and workers earn through various means, but those who want to remain honest are facing the worst.
Buses were not operated for over two months because of general holiday since April last year in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Operation of buses was also halted since the first week of April 2021 after second wave of coronavirus.
Amid these circumstances, BRTC has sought Tk 990 million (99 crore) from the government to pay the salary and allowance of its employees. The proposal now awaits the finance ministry’s approval. Last year, BRTC sought Tk 200 million from the government during the last year’s general holidays. The government then gave the agency a loan of Tk 100 million (10 crore) in two phases.
Chairman of BRTC Tajul Islam told Prothom Alo that they had a surplus earning of Tk 40 million (4 crore) in February 2020. Gratuity and other allowances for retired employees have been paid from it. Families of many ailing and deceased employees are also provided with the money on humanitarian ground.
“We have fallen in crisis because of lockdown. Our trucks are plying. Fifty busses are being operated to carry the staff of various hospitals and 14 buses for banks. With these earnings, paying the salary of BRTC staff isn’t possible,” he added.
According to BRTC sources, as many as 3,130 people work at the agency. Their salary is paid from the earnings of the respective depots. Besides, the agency also earns from leasing its lands and buildings in addition to passenger and cargo transportation.
BRTC earns, on average, Tk 120 million (12 crore) a month. It spends Tk 60 million (6 crore) for retired employees’ pension and vehicle maintenance. Besides, the agency requires about Tk 75 million (7.5 crore) a month to pay the staff salary. Since expenditure exceeds income, BRTC has been incurring loss every month for long.
A road transport and bridges ministry official, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that since the state-run agency can’t earn as much as it spends, it will never be able to repay the loan taken from the government. As a result, the debt grows day by day.
BRTC has a total of 1,802 buses in its fleet. Of these vehicles, 1,558 buses are procured during the tenure of this government. But more than 500 buses remain out of order.
Officials of the agency and experts said BRTC buses become out of order in a few years for various reasons including import of low quality buses, lack of maintenance, corruption in maintenance and machinery procurement and leasing out costly buses.
BRTC buses are considered to have an economic life of 15 years while privately-run buses ply for 20 years easily. But almost all buses of BRTC have become inoperative within 8 to 10 years.
Shamsul Haque, a professor of civil engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and an expert on road and transport sector, told Prothom Alo that there is no reason to incur loss in transport business because of huge passengers.
But BRTC has been facing loss and no one is being held accountable. If the fund falls short, the government gives the money and an agency can’t run in such way.
Accountability of the BRTC officials must be ensured. Instead of providing funds, answers must be sought on what sort of services people are receiving, why buses sit idle and why the loss is incurred, Shamsul Haque added.
*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna