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Why do these issues suddenly come to mind?



Sat, 25 May 24

Ultimately, it was Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's initiative that led to the auto-rickshaw drivers clearing the roads. The prime minister clearly stated that no one should be rendered jobless without providing an alternative means of livelihood. This has temporarily resolved the issue. For two days, auto-rickshaw drivers had blocked the roads in Dhaka. They were infuriated by the sudden restrictions on their movement. Protests by drivers from Mirpur to Rampura brought some roads to a standstill.

It is well known that battery-powered three-wheelers, or three-wheeled vehicles, are unsafe. Both their speed and braking systems are risky. Such unsafe vehicles can cause accidents at any time. Despite this discussion surfacing repeatedly, the government has claimed these vehicles are electric vehicles (EVs). We may not be able to afford Tesla cars, but we do have rickshaws running on electricity, right?

Let's switch to another topic. Electrolyte drinks are being sold abundantly in the market. In this regard, the Safe Food Authority has filed a case in the Food Safety Court. Everyone believes that filing the case was the right thing to do. A widely popular drink is being sold in the market without any approval. This can only happen in Bangladesh! The question is, why do these issues suddenly come to light? Why does it suddenly seem necessary to ban rickshaws? Why does it become necessary to remove electrolyte drinks from the market? Why do these concerns arise suddenly? Why does no one think of these issues when the products first enter the market? The truth is, no one is paying attention.

There is no accurate data on the number of auto-rickshaws or battery-powered three-wheelers across the country. This is because there is no registration system for these mechanical vehicles. Those that operate within municipalities receive a license from the municipality, but not everywhere. This is because municipalities do not have the authority to license mechanical vehicles. There are questions about the legal basis for the licenses or operating permits they issue. Union councils do not issue these licenses, but in villages, battery-powered vans or rickshaws are the only means of covering short distances.

In Dhaka, the number of these vehicles in alleys and narrow streets is increasing day by day. There are not thousands but hundreds of thousands of auto-rickshaws on the roads. A simple calculation can give an idea of their number. Previously, the demand for electricity typically began to decrease after 11 PM and started increasing again from 7 AM. However, now the demand for electricity at night has started to surpass that of the daytime.

From 11 PM to 7 AM, a total of nine hours, battery-powered auto-rickshaws are charged. There is a separate tariff category for charging these battery-powered auto-rickshaws. However, in villages, they use household electricity for charging. From this perspective, the government is being deceived. But even if we set aside that discussion and focus on the distinct tariff classification for electricity usage, we still see that these auto-rickshaws are being officially recognized.

Recently, in response to a question from a member of the national parliament, State Minister for Power, Energy, and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid stated that he views these battery-powered auto-rickshaws as EVs or electric vehicles. EVs are fuel-efficient. Therefore, the government has no plans to ban them. This is good news. So why is the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) taking the initiative to ban them now? Is the BRTA an entity outside the government?

The BRTA's notice stated, "Due to the movement of battery or motor-powered rickshaws, vans, or similar three-wheeled vehicles in Dhaka metropolis, the road safety situation is deteriorating. According to the Road Transport Act 2018, it is a punishable offense to operate unfit, dilapidated, and ramshackle motor vehicles, including battery or motor-powered rickshaws, vans, or similar three-wheeled vehicles."

Is it really a punishable offense? For the past 15 years, millions of auto-rickshaws have been operating on the roads. Where was the BRTA during that time? Why didn't they notice these vehicles then? Now, an auto-rickshaw means not just a driver but an entire family. If the family size is five members on average and there are 2 million auto-rickshaws across the country, the total comes to 10 million people. This means one-sixteenth of the total population is somehow dependent on these auto-rickshaws.

In percentage terms, that's 6.25%. Now, if suddenly everything is shut down, what will these people do? Is it even possible? If forced to shut down, what happens to the substantial investment made in these auto-rickshaws?

If the BRTA or any other government agency thought these vehicles would harm people, why weren't they banned from the start? One government agency says they are bad and should be banned, while another says they are good. It's remarkable. So where do people go? Whom do they believe?

Now let's talk about electrolyte drinks. Whether electrolyte drinks are good or bad for health is a separate matter. However, the way they are being sold in the market is not regulatory compliant. These electrolyte drinks were being sold without approval from either the Drug Administration or BSTI. SMC Plus introduced electrolyte drinks to the market in 2021. After that, Akij, Bravana, Deshbandhu Group, and Pran started selling electrolyte drinks under various names. Even a YouTuber is marketing this drink under their own brand.

Recently, the Food Safety Authority filed a case, and the court has summoned the owners of these companies to explain. Now, the question is, from 2021 to now in 2024, did the Food Safety Authority not notice this issue in these three years? Or do they suddenly remember everything?

Author:  Senior Journalist

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