Transporters bear brunt of ongoing Tarai protest

Kathmandu, October 6

Transporters, who normally enjoy the windfall of mass exodus from the Capital during the festive season, are bracing for a ‘not so merry’ Dashain this year.

While the major festival of the country is fast approaching, transport entrepreneurs have been unable to open advance ticket booking owing to the worsening short-supply of fuel. In addition, there is rising insecurity in the eastern and central Tarai districts linked with East-West highway due to the ongoing protests. The East-West highway, which runs across the Tarai region, is the main surface route to travel to different parts of the country.

Consequently, people planning to go to their hometowns or villages via land to celebrate the upcoming Dashain festival with family members are likely to face additional hassles in getting their hands on tickets this year. In the past, ticket bookings were opened a month before the beginning of Dashain festival. The first day of the 10-day festival this year is only a week away.

“We can’t take ticket bookings until the government is able to ensure smooth fuel supply and security to

operate buses,” said Saroj Sitaula, general secretary of the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE).

The transport entrepreneurs had held a meeting with Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) officials today, regarding the supply of fuel. In the meeting, the NOC officials said it was difficult to supply adequate fuel during Dashain as only a limited number of fuel tankers have been entering Nepal. NOC also explained that Raxaul depot of Indian Oil Corporation, which is the main source of fuel sent to NOC, has not dispatched a single tanker since the last two weeks citing protests along the Nepal-India border.

Due to scarcity of fuel, the government has introduced odd/even licence plate system for public transportation and only 25 per cent of buses are being operated on long routes, informed Sitaula.

The FNNTE delegation also talked with Department of Transport Management (DoTM) officials on the current situation of fuel supply and nearing festive season. However, they could not reach a decision regarding opening ticket booking.

In the past, the public transport operators have been known to increase service frequency by adding around 400 more vehicles to cater to the huge demand during Dashain. About 3,500 to 4,000 vehicles need to be operated from Kathmandu every day to manage the flow of people leaving Kathmandu before Dashain, as per Sitaula.

While this may force people to opt for more expensive option of flying to their destination, Ghana Shyam Acharya, spokesperson for Airlines Operators Association of Nepal, said, “Over 90 per cent of the tickets of the domestic flights have already been reserved.”

NOC has already barred international air carriers from refuelling at Tribhuvan International Airport since last Tuesday and also stopped extending the facility to mountain and chartered flights from Sunday to give preference to domestic flights. It has said it has sufficient stock of aviation turbine fuel to operate domestic flights during Dashain. However, according to Acharya, it is unlikely the domestic airline operators would add extra flights this time due to short supply of aviation fuel.