On a late December day in 2021, Nazmul Hasan (not his real name), a young businessman in the city, was staring glumly at his expensive Mercedes Benz gathering dust and rust on the Gulshan police station premises.
A couple of months ago, his vehicle had a collision with another luxurious car on Gulshan Avenue. No one was injured. Both the cars suffered a few dents and scratches. Later the police impounded the cars.
Nazmul is now awaiting a court order to have his car back. The owner of the other car is in the same boat.
"It was just a minor accident and we suffered no injuries. None of us have been able to get our vehicles back yet," Nazmul told The Business Standard.
They tried to resolve the issue mutually but police seized both the cars and filed a case, he stated.
"To save my car dumped under some jackfruit trees from nature and rust, I have kept it covered but I do not know when I will get it back," Nazmul told TBS.
More than 200 confiscated cars and motorcycles are deposited at the Gulshan police station under the open sky, rusting.
Aminul Islam, inspector (Investigation) at the Gulshan Police Station, told TBS that they cannot return the vehicles to their owners without a court order as criminal (road accidents) cases against those are now pending.
"The vehicles seized in this area are mostly luxurious. We try to take care of those but when the number goes high, it is difficult. So, these are rusting from being unused for years," he added.
In another instance, a Pulsar motorcycle, seized by the Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) in 2014 for allegedly carrying contraband phensedyl, has been kept on the ground without any care on the DB premises since then. The motorbike's front part, wheel, handlebars, headlights, have gone missing. The police could not auction it off as the narcotics case is still sub judice.
Hundreds of luxury cars, motorcycles and other vehicles worth crores of taka seized as evidence have been left to rot for years in front of police stations and its surrounding areas or on the roads in Dhaka and other districts.
There is no exact data on how many such vehicles remain in police stations across the country. However, sources at the police headquarters said there are at least several thousands of those worth around Tk1,000 crore.
This correspondent visited Gulshan, Banani and Tejgaon Industrial police stations in the capital and found at least 700 impounded vehicles parked on roadsides or on the police station premises. Most of them had become junk.
During another visit to Bosila and Shahbagh dumping stations and the Detective Branch of DMP, at least 500 seized motorcycles and 800-900 seized cars were found to be gathering dust and rust.
TBS correspondents in Lakshmipur, Brahmanbaria, Moulvibazar and Cumilla also found similar pictures, with many impounded vehicles lying in front of police stations and on makeshift dumping stations.
At times, owners or legal heirs of the persons involved do not take away their vehicles despite court judgements, leading to vehicles piling up at the police stations.
Most of the seized vehicles were either damaged in road accidents, or were used in carrying contraband drugs, according to police sources.
Md Mubinul Ismal, additional commissioner (traffic) at DMP, told TBS that they don't have parking space so the seized vehicles are left on police station compounds, nearby places and roads.
"We have applied to the ministries, seeking four permanent dumping stations in the metropolitan area, but we have not got any response yet," he said.
Sources at Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court said they hold several auctions for selling the unauthorised vehicles and in most cases, cars are sold.
Most impounded vehicles are motorcycles, buses and trucks. People do not show interest in buying those during auctions, the sources also said.
Besides, police sometimes use the seized cars for their official duty, they noted.
For example, the DMP uses Destiny 2000 Ltd's vehicles on their official duty on a court permission.
Expensive cars are mostly put up for auctions,but the lengthy legal process and manpower shortage slow down the disposal of cases, court sources said.
Syed Nurul Islam, joint commissioner (Traffic) of DMP told TBS that if there is no claimant of a vehicle, the court, in its sole authority, can auction those off.
Police can do nothing to save vehicles from rotting for years," he added.
For instance, Noakhali District & Session Judge Court sold around 100 motorcycles last year in two different auctions.
A similar picture outside Dhaka
Some 2,000 vehicles of different types worth Tk50 crore have been kept lying at five dumping stations of the Cumilla Highway Police. Lawsuits related to those vehicles have been going on for years, and owners are no longer interested in taking those away.
Some of them have been left exposed in open air and rusting and wild plants are growing on them. The components of many have been destroyed as well, according to officials at the Cumilla district police.
The number of seized vehicles is increasing every day making it more challenging for the police to take care of them.
Likewise, there are around 140 seized vehicles, mostly motorcycles, lying at the designated dumping centre of Lakshmipur district police lines.
Most vehicles were seized during the Operation Clean Heart, a countrywide joint drive against crime in 2006-07. After that no one came to claim the vehicles.
These vehicles' conditions are too deplorable now to put on auction. The vehicles in good condition were sold at different times through auctions with court permission, said Imranul Haque Mridha, officer-in charge of the motor vehicle department of Lakshmipur District Police.
Saleem Mohammod Sheikh, additional deputy commissioner (traffic) at Barishal Metropolitan Police, told TBS that when they seize any vehicles, be it a motorcycle or car in connection with a road accident or any other cases, the owners can get those back with a permission of the court concerned only if the ownership documents (registration) are valid.
"Most vehicles lying at dumping stations are not legally registered. If a vehicle does not have legal ownership, no one can claim it," he said.
Most seized motorcycles were smuggled into the country across the border. Eventually, the owners could not claim those before the court. So the vehicles were finally destined for the dumping stations, Saleem added.
Molla Mohammad Shaheen, additional Superintendent of Police (Admin & Crime) of Brahmanbaria, said they seized most vehicles as evidence in different cases such as narcotics, road accidents and others.
Police usually submit reports of seizure to the court concerned. In most cases, vehicles get rusted for lying unused for years because of a delay in court judgement, he noted.
"We do not have any central database of these kinds of seized vehicles. Only the police stations and departments concerned keep a logbook for these vehicles. So, you cannot actually estimate how many vehicles are being destroyed owing to the legal loopholes," he added.
The police official also said no policemen are allowed to personally use these vehicles.
"We sometimes use impounded cars or motorcycles for official purposes with court permission as police have a transport crisis," he added.
What experts say
Professor Dr Md Shamsul Hoque, a communication expert and a professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), told TBS, "What police do with the seized vehicles is non-scientific and an old process. "
Referring to his personal experience, he said in many countries, including the United Kingdom, when a person flees leaving an accident-affected vehicle, mainly car, on roadsides or anywhere to evade fines or compensations, the law enforcement agencies do not seize the vehicles. Rather, recycling companies take those away and dismantle them into parts and sell them.
"We can introduce such a system, which will save a lot of money, he said.
The Buet professor also said, "We have Dholaikhal in Old Dhaka and Chattogram as light engineering hubs to serve the purpose."
Shamsul Hoque also opined that the digital registration system and other facilities were introduced more than six-seven years back, but police could not introduce a digital database for the seized vehicles.
"Dumping the impounded vehicles cannot be a solution. You can recycle [resell or use in other ways] them if no one claims the ownership," he added.