Road Transport and Highways Division had issued a notification that 20-year-old buses and 25-year-old trucks cannot ply on the roads on 17 May this year. The reason for this was said to be that old vehicles contribute to road accidents and escalate environmental pollution.
Individuals from different backgrounds, including environmental advocates, were expressing concern about the presence of outdated and unsuitable vehicles on the streets. They found some comfort in the 17 May ruling, but their relief was short-lived. According to a report by Prothom Alo on 7 August, the government yielded to pressure from transport operators and workers and reversed its decision to eliminate old and noisy vehicles. Consequently, buses that are 20 years old and trucks that are 25 years old are once again allowed to operate unrestricted on the roads.
When the government made this choice, the air quality in Dhaka city was exceedingly poor. According to the Air Quality Index (AQI) on Thursday, Dhaka once again topped the list of world’s most polluted cities.
The Bangladesh Road Transport Owners' Association, along with various associations representing truck and covered van operations, took a firm position against the decision to retire the older vehicles. Their unified stance compelled the government to reverse its decision, resulting in the suspension of the earlier official notice.
Sources from the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) suggest that if the 20-year limit is enforced, a total of 33,174 buses and minibuses would be required to cease operations. Moreover, there are 30,623 trucks that are 25 years old.
The number of vehicles currently registered across the country is close to 5.8 million. Among them, the number of buses and minibuses is 81,847. According to calculations, about 41 per cent of buses and minibuses are 20 years old. On the other hand, 15 per cent of trucks are 25 years old. Related sources claimed that the upcoming national parliament election also contributed to the government's retreat from the earlier decision. Government policymakers do not want to offend organised associations such as transport owners and workers.
Before, the National Road Safety Council's choice to prevent vehicles like Nasimon, Karimon, and Bhatbhati (which are locally made engine-run vehicles) from using major roads was also not put into action because of the disagreement from the standing parliamentary committee of the Road Transport and Bridge Ministry. During the committee meeting on 30 July, it was mentioned that putting limitations on slow vehicles could affect the upcoming elections.
It's unfortunate that the well-being and health of the people are being disregarded in this situation. As the government repeatedly retracts from beneficial decisions due to the influence of vested interest quarters, it's the citizens who bear the brunt of the consequences. The use of aging vehicles not only poses a threat to public health, but also contributes to a rise in the frequency of accidents. To our knowledge, there's no other capital city in the world permitting the operation of such lemons on its roadways.
Professor Abdus Salam from Dhaka University's Chemistry Department explained to Prothom Alo that the old vehicles are a major cause of air pollution and should be taken off the roads. However, when decisions are made, they often don't think about the people affected. The ones making these decisions are also suffering from air pollution, along with their parents and children.
In this situation, it would be better for the government to hold onto the choice they made on 17 May and not give in to the demands of those who have their own interests. Getting rid of old vehicles will protect people from the dangers of air pollution.