The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) resumed issuing pending smart driving licences in mid-October this year, yet it has been struggling to clear the huge backlog due mainly to a shortage in supply of the cards.
A smart card is the physical proof of the driving licence which is embedded with data chips for storing information about the driver.
The licensing authority is now issuing around 2,500 cards per day, according to the BRTA, as the number of the backlogged licenses stood at 12.45 lakh as of October and it means that if the current disbursement continues it would take nearly two more years to clear the pile-up. Many of the applicants have been waiting for one or two years for the document required for driving on roads.
“We feel that the current licence disbursement rate is not sufficient to clear the backlog,” said Sitangshu Shekhar Bishwas, director (engineering) at the BRTA.
He told The Business Standard that they were trying to increase the per day card disbursement to 15,000 from the existing 2,500. “To make it happen, we are now working to increase our capacity.”
Among others, the key reason behind the pile-up of licenses was the shortage of smart cards. The BRTA had a deal with Tiger IT for making the licenses, but the firm got blacklisted by the World Bank in 2018, which led to the supply crunch for the cards.
Soon after, the BRTA began searching for another company but it took one and a half years. Finally, it selected Indian firm Madras Security Printer (MSP) for this job.
MSP received the work order to print licence cards in 2019 and had set up a facility in Bangladesh.
As per the contract, the company was supposed to provide 40 lakh cards in five years and deliver 9 lakh within 2021, but it failed to do so.
According to the BRTA, MSP could manage to deliver only 13,000 cards in nine months.
Meanwhile, the road transport authorities, realising the ground reality, inked a separate deal with the Bangladesh Machine Tools Factory run by the Bangladesh Army on 29 August this year to print the stuck cards for issuing smart driving licences.
Afterwards, the authorities started distributing the pending smart licence printed from the Tools Factory from mid-October and provided 72,000 cards until 6 December.
To speed up the card printing, the army-run factory was bringing a high-capacity machine that can print 800 cards per hour, Sitangshu Shekhar continued.
“The machine will come in January. And once the machine goes into operation, we may finish disbursement of the pending licenses within three-four months,” he hopes.
Meanwhile, instead of issuing smart licences, the authorities are giving the drivers temporary approvals with acknowledgement slips for two to three months, which need to be extended before the expiry.
This workaround has become an immense hassle for drivers and bikers across the country.
People sufferings beyond description
After around one year of waiting for a smart driving licence, Jamal Hossen who planned to go to the Middle East with a driving visa got the much-awaited licence last Monday but lost his overseas job due to the delay.
“In December last year, I got a visa for a driving job in Saudi Arabia. I was doing a private job in Dhaka then”, he told this correspondent at the Mirpur BRTA office on that day.
“I left the job and prepared to go abroad but I could not do that only for the driving licence,” added Jamal, noting that his employer in Saudi declined to accept the acknowledgement slip provided by the BRTA.
The twist of fate for the young man from Savar put him to a new struggle to return to a good earning as he has no job amid the pandemic-induced critical time.
Another victim migrant Rashedul Islam Raj currently living in Japan completed the biometric process for the license in October 2020. From then, BRTA did nothing but expand the validity of his temporary slip.
“Every day I have to spend a minimum of 500 Japanese yen for transportation. If I had a licence from Bangladesh, I could get a driving licence from Japan, which would help me save some money by having a car”, said Raj.
Apart from the expatriates or aspirant migrants, local drivers are also going through an unfavourable situation as the BRTA-provided slips against promised licences fail to convince all.
“I have been waiting since 2019 but did not get his license yet. There is a useless system of providing acknowledgement slips. Police cannot be convinced by the slip all the time,” said Nadim Hossain.
He added, “I am living in Mongla now, far away from Dhaka. It is not possible to get extended the slip term again and again. My slip expired last month but I will not go to Dhaka this time.”
Another victim Osman Gani said, “Last year I completed the biometric process for the license from a Dhaka BRTA office.”
“Currently, I am living in Comilla and this is difficult for me to go to Dhaka for the slip’s validity expansion repeatedly.”
Checking his expired slip, the traffic police recently fined him Tk2,000, Gani noted.
BRTA Director and spokesman Sheikh Mohammad Mahbub-e-Rabbani said, “Work of printing the pending licenses is running in full-swing.”
He is hopeful to be able to clear the backlog within the next six months.
“Currently, we are providing smart cards on time to the new applicants,” he added.