Public vehicle owners have objected to the government's decision to halt operation of public vehicles during the prohibitory order in the Kathmandu valley.

Stating that the government has discriminated between air travel and road travel, the public vehicle owners have said that they will disobey the government's direction of halting public vehicle operation if flights are allowed to operate.

Issuing a statement today, the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs said that they will operate public vehicles if the flights are allowed during the prohibitory order. They have also requested the government to reconsider its decision and facilitate passengers by allowing public vehicles to ply by following health safety protocols.

Saroj Sitaula, general secretary of the federation, said that the government has failed to give impartial treatment to both means of transportation - flights and public vehicles. "Since this is related to the pandemic, we will consider the government's decision for a few days," Sitaula said, "But if the government does not withdraw its decision soon, we will be forced to violate the rules."

Sitaula also questioned the government's logic in deeming public vehicles as risky when 10,000 to 12,000 people gather at the airport for air travel every day.

"Is the government trying to say that passengers can contract the virus in public vehicles but not on the planes?" he said.

According to the federation, there are around 400,000 public transport vehicles in the country at the moment. With an investment of Rs 10 billion, around 1.1 million people are directly employed in the public transport sector, while about four million people are engaged in the sector indirectly.

Sitaula said that public vehicle owners were forced to shut operations for nearly a year in the previous lockdown and the new prohibitory order will make it extremely challenging to clear the bank loans for public vehicle operators, 80 per cent of whom have purchased their vehicles through financing.

He said, "Our vehicles were halted for about a year. Banks and financial institutions have been breathing down our necks for instalments.

Some even sold their assets just to pay their instalments."

The federation has demanded the government to give priority to the transport sector.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 29, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.