At least 37 per cent buses and trucks in the country are operating without fitness certificates and without paying due taxes, leading to fatal road accidents, according to BRTA data.
Most of these vehicles did not renew fitness certificates for over 5 to 10 years. Moreover, the owners have been lobbying for fine exemption.
According to the latest annual report of the Bangladesh Passengers’ Welfare Association, based on reports appearing in the media, 29 per cent of the road accidents in 2018 were caused by trucks and and covered vans while 19 per cent by buses and minibuses.
Most of these vehicles have no fitness certificates. Besides, unfit buses are being given 'make-overs' so these can take to the roads to meet the rush of home-bound passengers during Eid. These vehicles often break down in the middle of the journey or cause fatal accidents.
According to Bangladesh Road Transport Authorities (BRTA), the owner has to pay 400 taka as fine for each vehicle without renewed fitness certificate that goes up one and a half times if the tax tokens are not submitted in time.
As a result, the owner has to pay a fine of 50,000 taka every year. The amount, if not paid, gets double. The arrears increased for some to more than 500,000 to 600,000 taka per vehicle.
Police also press charges against such vehicles running on the roads. There are allegations that such vehicles operate on the roads by bribing police in many cases.
“We have decided to cancel registration of the vehicles that have been running illegally without paying government fees and fines for over 10 years,” said BRTA chairman Mohammed Moshiar Rahman.
“The arrears are so much for some of the vehicles that it cannot be met even by selling them. Many did not avail the opportunity of fine exemption although the government offered this earlier.
The students across the country took to the streets in a movement demanding safe roads following the death of two college students on airport road last year. The movement again flared up after the death of university student Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury who was run over by a bus.
Following these movements, the police and BRTA authorities became strict. The transport owners association rushed to get the fines exempted and to update their vehicle papers.
Members of the transport owners and workers associations said that the Bangladesh Road Transport Association is preparing to appeal to the road transport ministry to waive the fine.
Ministry officials said the ministry has exempted fines twice in 2016 and 2017. Most of the owners, however, did not yet update the papers even after receiving this waiver.
The owners are now preparing to apply for the same waiver in the face of BRTA's mobile courts and police action, the officials added.
According to BRTA data, there are 180,345 trucks and covered vans in the country, of them 65,599 have no fitness certificates. That means, 36.37 per cent trucks and covered van have no fitness certificates.
Again, 28,794 of the total 76,049 buses and minibuses, which is 37.86 per cent, have no fitness certificates operating in the country
BRTA documents show the owners of those vehicles never came to renew papers to BRTA after 2009.
The number of vehicles without fitness certificates is now 518,451 in the country which was 86,274 in 2009.
Incidentally, the number of registered vehicles was 1.3 million that increased to 3.9 million now.
The government has fixed the life span for trucks and covered vans in Dhaka for 25 years while the life span for buses and minibuses is 20 years. These vehicles are not supposed to operate in Dhaka after that.
It is not being possible to change the ownership of vehicles that have been sold outside Dhaka and so the owners are in a fix. Bangladesh truck-covered van owners association in Tejgaon held an emergency meeting at their office on 26 May. The meeting demanded the renewal of the fitness certificates without penalties.
Bangladesh Truck and Covered Van Owners Association general secretary Rustam Ali said, the vehicles are running without legal papers.
“The owners are being harassed and have to pay bribes. If the government waives the fine, the fees and taxes still remain valid, also huge in amount. Moreover, the money will be deposited in the government treasury,” he added.
Asked why the fee is not paid on time, he said, five types of updated documents are required to run vehicles. If one is not renewed on time, others remain void as well.
“The amount of tax and fees, including fines, became so huge at one stage the owners choose to bribe. But now the situation is different,” Rustam Ali added.
The amount of fine has been increased in the new road and transport act passed on 19 September last year following the student movements. Transports owners and workers later took to the street demanding amendments in some of the sections. The Act, however, is yet to come in to force.
“Many people are harassed and have to pay extra because of the agents in BRTA. Again, the owners know there are loopholes that allow them to run the vehicles without updating the documents. This is how these vehicles are running for years,” transport expert Shamsul Haque told Prothom Alo.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat