It is a common enough sight on Dhaka roads to see policemen hailing cars and motorcycles to stop and check their papers. It is within their rights to do so. What is equally common on the roads is that while the dutiful policeman is doing his job, a dilapidated jalopy resembling a monstrosity straight out of a “Mad Max” movie gushing out big, black plumes of smoke chugging along the road pretending to be a bus or one of those mini vans or jeeps turned into a people carrier, with parts missing at times, running along merrily on our roads without giving two hoots about fitness certificates and what not. According to a report in this daily, we have 55,000 vehicles, including 3,740 belonging to various ministries and government agencies that have not renewed their fitness certificates in decades.
The data sheet published by BRTA is very interesting. For instance, we have a vehicle that belonged to The Pakistan Petroleum Ltd and its fitness expired on January 1, 1957, and it is not clear whether that vehicle (like so many others) even exists! We have vehicles belonging to practically all branches of the government that have failed to renew their fitness certificates (in different districts) from the oldest one listed in 1957 onwards. Fast forward to the present day, and we find that whilst it is mandatory for us lesser mortals to renew fitness certificates if we wish to have our vehicles to be on the roads, we have public transports of various capacities running around with parts missing like actual body work. Beyond the much publicised “fitness week”, which is like publicising in advance to those vehicle owners who have never bothered with renewing any paperwork for their vehicles to go on a week-long holiday. The whole issue of fitness check is a farce in our country, which is more than just sad. The police, according to BRTA data, own the highest number of vehicles on the list of 3,740 defaulting vehicles. We also have 52,686 vehicles owned by individuals, NGOs, government educational institutions, like Bangladesh Agriculture University (expired 1992), Head University, LGID (expired 2004), Dhaka University (expired 1994), to name but a few.
The government is being deprived of valuable revenue, and the people are being deprived of a safe passage when they are forced to board these “unsafe” vehicles. Why is it that after repeated calls by BRTA, there is no visible change in either attitudes or practice about obtaining fitness certificates? The law states that according to Section 47 of the Ordinance, each vehicle must obtain a fitness certificate every year from BRTA. It is nice to see that BRTA took a tough stance with vehicle owners at the end of 2016 that unless they renewed their papers, vehicle registrations would be cancelled after December 2017. That notwithstanding, one must take into account the fact that the Ordinance itself is not without limitations. According to BRTA officials, there is nothing mentioned in the Motor Vehicles Ordinance (MVA) about the higher limit of the lifespan of a motor vehicle. It is a ludicrous omission which basically handicaps BRTA from declaring a vehicle “write-off”, and this is the loophole that owners of decrepit and basically unfit vehicles take advantage of in plying roads. Indeed, this is what road transport experts have been harping on for some time now. With vehicles that have outlived their operational lives still allowed on the roads, accidents are simply waiting to happen. Vehicles falling into this category are also prone to frequent breakdowns which of course add to the woes of traffic gridlock because a salvage operation can take hours.
When we look at the number of vehicles coming on to our roads (114,271 registered in the first 10 months of 2017), one can appreciate the fact that if authorities actually went after decrepit vehicles with some seriousness, it would free up a lot of space on Dhaka's congested roads. Because we are handicapped by a lack of provisions in MVA Ordinance on the one hand and a lack of implementation of existing laws, nothing really improves in the city. This is gross injustice to the bulk of vehicle owners who happen to follow the rules and dish out thousands of Takas annually on renewing licenses and certificates to keep their vehicles legitimately on city roads. They are also the ones who are being stopped and questioned about their papers whilst unfit vehicles are not asked any questions. BRTA has records to prove whether a vehicle has or has not renewed its fitness certificates. Isn't it about time that the record was set straight by authorities that the law is applicable for all, or are we to believe that we are living in George Orwell's “Animal Farm” where “some animals are more equal than others”?
Syed Mansur Hashim is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.