The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) in January 2013 made its biggest recruitment in recent times, 149 people, including 50 vehicle inspectors.
The country had around 18.50 lakh registered vehicles back then.
Nearly seven years later, the number has shot up to around 42 lakh but the BRTA could only recruit 19 people during that time and only one of them was a vehicle inspector.
Now, 109 vehicle inspectors are struggling to deal with fitness of all vehicles in the country. Last fiscal year, with the help of 86 mechanical assistants, they checked fitness of 6.47 lakh vehicles.
“The way the number of vehicles is increasing in the country in the last several years, we need at least 1,000 inspectors to complete the job properly,” said a BRTA official. The BRTA only has 125 vehicle inspector posts.
The inspectors are always under pressure and the quality of inspections gets compromised often due to the pressure. On top of this, the dearth of vehicle inspectors, cause service seekers to wait a long time for fitness certificates.
But things are going to get much worse in the coming days as the “no fitness, no fuel” measure is likely to go into effect sending thousands of unfit vehicles to the BRTA seeking fitness certificates.
The BRTA has 708 employees now against a sanctioned post of 823. It has been asking road transport and bridges ministry for more people since 2016, but to no avail.
SITUATION TO WORSEN
Following a suo moto rule of the High Court, the BRTA placed a report before it in July, stating that 4.79 lakh vehicles without valid fitness certificates were on the roads.
Between August and September, about 89,000 vehicles had their fitness certificate renewed.
On October 23, the court directed the authorities concerned to take necessary steps so that vehicles without valid fitness documents do not get fuel from any filling station. The authorities are yet to receive the certified copy of the court order.
Once the directive is implemented, many vehicle owners would rush to the BRTA offices to get their fitness documents updated, as they had done when law enforcers intensified drives after the student agitation for road safety last year, a BRTA official said.
Established in 1987, the BRTA deals with vehicle registrations, issuing and renewing of driving licences, fitness of vehicles, and route permit for commercial vehicles through its 57 district and five metro offices.
In recent years, the number of vehicles, mainly motorcycle and cars, saw a huge rise. But the BRTA’s manpower has stayed almost the same.
The BRTA Mirpur office has 18 vehicle inspectors but only six of them regularly work for checking fitness of vehicles at the office. The rest are usually engaged with mobile courts and other work, including issuance of driving licences.
An inspector, with the help of aides, is supposed to check 59 elements of every vehicle. The inspector has to do this in about three minutes on a slow day.
The inspection of a vehicle is supposed to take half an hour, transport expert Prof Moazzem Hossain said.
An inspector seeking anonymity said, “We [six inspectors] check fitness of 800 to 900 vehicles daily in normal time while 1,300 to 1,400 in rush time. In rush time, three inspectors [who work with mobile courts] join us.”
Asked how just six inspectors check 800 to 900 vehicles a day, a BRTA director said, “Our inspector can’t check all elements. They check major elements involving safety issues.”
BRTA has only one Vehicle Inspection Centre (VIC) at the Mirpur office to check some elements digitally and some 100 commercial vehicles (bus and trucks) are tested there every day.
Other vehicles have to be checked manually, which experts said could compromise safety as it leaves room for manipulation and irregularities. An automated system can get exact performance data of a vehicle’s key safety features like headlights, brakes, and speed capabilities, which is almost impossible to do manually, they said.
Prof Moazzem, also a former director of Accident Research Institute at Buet, said the authority is taking money from vehicle owners but does not check vehicles properly.
“This is cheating,” he said.
Due to the lack of manpower, people are suffering and improper inspection fails to identify safety issues, he said.
“For these reasons, people often feel discouraged to have their vehicles’ tested and this is a reason behind the huge number of vehicles without fitness documents,” he said.
Sources said some unscrupulous people at the BRTA, taking advantage of the situation, are giving owners fitness certificates without having the vehicles checked for money.
POSSIBLE WAY OUTS
Last year, the BRTA sent a proposal of 3,820-man organogram with additional 133 posts for inspectors and 220 posts for assistant inspectors.
The ministry reduced the number to 2,315 with 133 and 111 posts for inspectors and assistant inspectors, a BRTA official said.
“We have sent the fresh proposal to the ministry on Thursday,” he said. The proposal would go to the public administration ministry and then finance ministry as per procedure.
Meanwhile, Road Transport and Highway Division in August formed a committee to work how fitness tests could be outsourced to private companies.
“The decision to outsource the work was taken due to the huge scarcity of fitness testing facilities,” Sitangshu Shekhar Biswas, member secretary of the committee, told The Daily Star.
The committee has already set some criteria for private companies and submitted their report to the ministry, Sitangshu, also the director (operations) of the BRTA, said.
Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said manpower of the BRTA was better than before.
“However, manpower is not enough considering the increasing volume of work [of the BRTA],” Quader said replying to a question at a press conference at his secretariat office yesterday.
“Our ministry has given reminder to the public administration ministry to increase manpower. We are hopeful of getting additional manpower soon,” he said.
Asked about implementation of the HC directives, he said Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources would implement the HC order and he was not aware of how much work that ministry has done so far.
“If the people comply with the court order, they will benefit,” said the minister, adding that “no helmet, no fuel” initiative taken by Dhaka Metropolitan Police delivered positive results.
Asked whether implementation of such order would increase public suffering given that many public transports do not have the necessary fitness clearance, Quader said, “We will decide based on reality.”
He said they were working to increase the number of public transport vehicles as “we will find very few public vehicles with proper fitness once we go for action against unfit vehicles”.
Between independence and September this year, 41.76 lakh vehicles, including 27.54 lakh motorcycles, got registered with the BRTA.
The BRTA does not have any data as to how many of these vehicles are actually on the road.
Motorcycles are exempted from the fitness checks.