The Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), a state-owned body to provide transport service to the people, has just added 1,100 new buses and trucks to its fleet. There are 600 Indian air-conditioned (AC), non-AC and double-decker buses and 500 trucks. These have been procured under the second line of credit (LoC) facility from India. Of the total cost of Tk 6.83 billion for purchasing these buses and trucks, Tk 4.66 billion comes from the Indian credit. It means, the amount of Indian money have to be returned to India with interest.
Technically there was a little scope for the BRTC to compare the procurement prices of the buses and trucks with second source of supply. India has made it clear that it will provide the credit only if the buses and trucks are purchased from any Indian company. The government of Bangladesh has agreed to the terms and conditions of the suppliers' credit. Accordingly, Ashok Leyland, the leading automobile company in India and a concern of Hinduja Group, won the delivery order and finally supplied the buses and trucks. Thus, an Indian company has done a profitable business.
It is, however, not the issue of Indian company's profit but the requirement of the BRTC that matters most. Having less than 1,500 buses in its fleet with almost one-third out of service, the state-run transport operator needs to revamp its fleet and operation. So procuring these buses is a right step.
Nevertheless, procuring is easy than operate the buses on roads. Previous experience of BRTC has already proved it. The corporation has failed to provide the public transport services despite a strong demand from the commuter across the country. Instead of focusing on operation and service, over the years much attention has been diverted to procurement of buses and tracks.
The main barrier to operate BRTC buses smoothly is the resistance of private bus operators. For the last three decades, private bus operators, backed by political leaders and rent seekers, vehemently resisted operation of BRTC buses on different routes across the country. Bowing to such unethical and illegal pressure, the BRTC authority has forced to limit the operation. Even the local administration and law enforcing agency don't come to provide adequate support for BRTC bus services smoothly. As a result, the service of BRTC becomes inefficient and the corporation becomes a loss-making state entity. The corporation posted operating loss of TK 50.50 million and Tk 29.20 million respectively in FY17 and FY18.
In fact, the BRTC is a direct victim of criminalisation of the country's public transport sector. There is a little effort from the government to remove the illegal barrier and provide an adequate space for the BRTC to operate competitively in the transport market. The draft BRTC Act-2017 empowered the corporation to issue route permit independently for the corporation run both the passenger and good carrying vehicles. But the legal coverage is still in paper and it requires strong political will to implement the act rightly.
As a state-run entity, the BRTC runs basically on the tax money. Citizens of the country are paying the tax and so deserve to get modest service in return. The government is also legally bound to ensure the service and stop subsidising the BRTC in an arcane way. The corporation can turn into a profit making, or at least no loss bearing entity, if the government creates adequate space to run it competitively. Corruption and irregularities within the entity also need to be curbed.
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