Saturday 20th May, 2023
Private bus operators are in a perpetual state of agitation, and behave as if they were above the law. In fact, their will takes precedence over the writ of the state, to all intents and purposes. They defy government decisions aimed at serving the interests of commuters and always have the last laugh. They have emerged so powerful thanks to the impotency of successive governments. The political authority resorts to coercion only when it deals with the public, and shamelessly gives in to even egg traders, who exploit consumers with impunity.
Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) Chairman Gemunu Wijeratne has threatened to launch a strike unless the random emission tests being conducted on private buses are done away with forthwith. The government is right in having introduced the new smog testing scheme, which must not be abandoned under any circumstances. Emission testing was made mandatory years ago purportedly to reduce air pollution, but there are still many vehicles that spew out black clouds of smoke.
The LPBOA says emission testing is a prerequisite for the extension of revenue licences and route permits, and, therefore, there is no need for roadside testing thereafter. Wijeratne has said diesel sold in Sri Lanka contains high Sulphur levels and therefore it is not fair to expect the tailpipe emissions of private buses to conform to international standards. Logical as his argument might sound, how come private buses pass emission tests if diesel is so substandard?
Why the LPBOA is up in arms is not difficult to see. The process of emission testing is not free from corruption as could be seen from the sheer number of exhaust-churning vehicles on the road. The private bus owners, being a very innovative lot, have invented homegrown methods to rig emission tests, and get their revenue licences and route permits extended fraudulently; they fear that random testing will expose their racket.
We usually have no civil word to say about the private bus mudalalis, who ride roughshod over commuters, but we believe some of the reasons they have given for their opposition to random emission tests are justifiable. They have demanded to know why emission testing is conducted only on private buses. Nobody must be discriminated against, and the roadside emission inspections should be conducted on all vehicles. The LPBOA has said the SLTB fleet has been exempted from random smog checks. The state-owned buses too must be tested for emissions randomly, for the aim of the testing programme at issue is to prevent air pollution.
The LPBOA’s complaint that the government imports substandard fuel with high levels of Sulphur must not go uninvestigated. It resonates with the public in that complaints abound that many vehicles have suffered engine damage due to the poor quality of fuel.
First of all, the government ought to have all types of fuel available in the local market tested for quality and make public its findings so that one can see if the LPBOA is telling the truth. If diesel or petrol contains harmful substances such as Sulphur above the internationally permitted levels, then action must be taken against the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) for importing substandard fuel. It is alleged that fuel is adulterated at some filling stations, and this allegation should be probed and stern action taken against the racketeers. The random smog testing scheme, we repeat, is long overdue and has to go on. Let that be the bottom line.