Despite acknowledging the importance of 'a planned and integrated public transport system in Dhaka and the adjacent areas', the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2019-20 (FY20) paid inadequate attention to the sector. In his budget speech, the finance minister presented the advancement of ongoing transport infrastructure projects as well as railway and waterway development plans. He also mentioned some measures to improve the public transport system in the long-run. What is absent is a clear direction to overcome the persistent hazards facing daily commuters.
No doubt, the metro-rail will ease the mobility of the commuter in Dhaka and also reduce terrible congestions in the long-run. But its benefit will depend on subsequent connectivity to transfer metro traffic smoothly. So far, no such plan is visible. Though the government is expecting that under-construction Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will help improve traffic situation, there is little glimmer of hope. The BRT will narrow the existing roads and congestion outside the BRT corridor may be worse due to narrow road space.
The budget proposed a 10 per cent supplementary duty on issuance or renewal of all kinds of vehicles registration, route permit, fitness certificates and ownership certificate except for passenger buses, trucks, lorries, three wheelers, ambulances and school buses. The logic behind the move is to gradually discourage private vehicles. But without providing adequate alternative, such a move will hardly address the chaotic traffic.
Again, there is a proposal to continue the concessionary duties on raw materials, imported by local motorcycle manufacturing and assembling units. Moreover, three more raw materials will enjoy the duty concession from the next month. This move contradicts the idea of improved public transport. Trouble in traffic management due to rapid increase in motorcycles is well recognised. Motorcyclists are now the most unruly and the main violators of traffic rules. Instead of containing the rise, incentivising the vehicle will make the traffic management more difficult.
The budget also proposed increase tax on road and water transport operators and they will face 25 per cent higher taxes on their vehicles and vessels from the next fiscal year. For instance, a bus owner is now paying Tk 9,000 for a 52-seat bus as tax annually. From the next year, the amount of tax will be Tk 11,250. The tax authorities have increased the tax after five years which sounds rational. There is, however, a scope that fares of both passenger and cargo carrying vehicles (bus and trucks for example) will increase. Moreover, there will be five per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on passenger vehicle from the next fiscal year and operators will definitely pass the buck on passengers or commuters.
The proposed budget for the transport and communication sector is Tk 613.60 billion which is around 12 per cent of the total budget of Tk 5231.90 billion. It reflects the importance and priority of the communication infrastructure in the economy. But, putting the public transport system into order requires coordinated effort with strong political will. A gradual rise of shady economic activities has already criminalised the sector. Increased budgetary allocation is not enough to contain the shady economic activities here.
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