The budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year was proposed on 9 June. As a citizen of Bangladesh, I have something to say. I belong to a community called Special Needs Person or Person with Disability (PwD). Due to physical shortcomings, I cannot use the public transport nor can I walk a long distance. Which is why I rely on private transport to get around, and this is a hefty cost to bear for my middle-income family.
A few months ago I planned to buy a trike, a three-wheeled electric scooter specially made for disabled people like me. While surfing the internet I noticed that the Bangladesh government imposes a 25% vat on electric wheelchairs and trikes, which shocked me. (Editor's Note: The 2022-23 Budget proposed abolishing tax on specialised wheelchairs, without clarifying whether electric wheelchairs are included in it.)
The passage of the 'The Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act – 2013' highlights the government's commitment towards assisting this vulnerable community. However, whereas in developed countries protecting a vulnerable community's rights is a priority, in a developing country like Bangladesh the ground reality paints a different picture.
Bangladesh gained independence more than half a century ago. But till now the PwD community is unable to access bus services, even in megacities like Dhaka. While we can take pride over our per capita income, it is essential to turn our focus on humanitarian fronts too.
There are five or six allocated seats for PwD on public buses, but there are no measures in place to ensure that a person using a wheelchair can access conventional buses. The provisions in place are reminiscent of the children's story about the Jackal and the Crane. I see the flat plate, but my proverbial long beak cannot enjoy a single grain.
The first step to providing services to the PwD community is assuring accessible infrastructure. Having a third world country mindset will work as an impediment to our very own development, and we should work to rise above it.
Rehauling Dhaka's infrastructure is a long and unrealistic shot, however, we have the opportunity to improve upon it. If the government is unable to provide accessible bus service for the PwD community, then they should at least abolish the tax on electric wheelchairs and trikes.
Beginning in 2021, Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) replaced its conventional buses with low floor accessible buses. In total, 1,245 units of accessible buses will be deployed soon in Delhi this year. Each unit costs Rs. 55/- lac rupees, which is equivalent to more or less BDT. 66/- lac.
BRTC should be encouraged to take similar steps. The price of our regular city bus is not lower than 66 lac per unit. Usually, the height of low floor buses measure in at 8 inches to 15 inches from the ground and have the capacity to carry two to four wheelchairs at a time.
According to WHO, there are almost one billion people in this world having some kind of disabilities. Differently-abled people are the largest minority group globally. If we fail to make our society inclusive for PwD then we will also fail at diversity.
This will result in approximately 1/10 of our population remaining marginalised. It means we will lose 1/10 of our population from the workforce. To ensure an inclusive society for persons with disabilities, accessibility is the major step in the right direction.
We like to promote SGD-2030, and while we are at it we should increase our effort to reduce discrimiation, provide decent work and economic growth to marginalised communities. We should promote good health, well-being, quality education and gender equality in all facets of our society.
Lack of a proper infrastructure is depriving differently-abled people from accessing the goals mentioned above. And to avail these targets, accessibility is mandatory for PwD.
I would like to request our honorable Finance Minister to abolish the 25% tax on electric wheelchairs and trikes and provide some subsidies to import low floor accessible buses for a better public transport system.
Nazmus Sakib Khan is a Policy & Advocacy Executive, at PDF Youth Net
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.