Sajha Yatayat high on image makeover hope

Kathmandu, October 17:

The country’s pioneer public transport enterprise — Sajha Yatayat — is all set to adopt the much talked about public-private partnership (PPP) in light of the organisation’s long-standing operational crisis. The move comes hot on the heels of Sajha’s popular but unsuccessful ventures like Kathmandu-Lhasa bus service, bus service to major Indian cities, brand franchising with private partners, leasing out buses to private schools and the plan to run night buses in the valley.

Deputy Executive Chief of Sajha Yatayat Basanta Ranjitkar said Sajha would focus on giving shape to the PPP initiative before he leaves office in March-end next year. “PPP is the most suitable option for Sajha Yatayat, as the private management will make its operations cost-effective and the public branch will ensure better service to the public,” said the senior official who has been with Sajha through thick and thin for the past 20 years.

He said Sajha was having trouble franchising the brand with private sector players as the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE) and the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) did not support the move. He blamed the department’s helplessness whereby it has to seek FNNTE’s approval to grant route permit to privately owned buses carrying Sajha’s banner. “It is unnatural for FNNTE to demand that Sajha run only the buses it owns, and not those managed under the new arrangement,” said Ranjitkar, adding, “The FNNTE does not own any buses but is merely serving as the federation of federations. It is none of its business whose buses Sajha runs.”

Ranjitkar said FNTTE feared that the public would give priority to Sajha buses as it was well aware of the organisation’s 48 years of reputation.

He said that if Sajha succeeded in its new venture, it stood to earn Rs 0.6- Rs 0.7 million in profit every month, which in turn could be utilised in its less profitable and often loss-making services like night city service.

In time, Sajha plans to fully adopt PPP initiative. Besides, it plans to lease 22 ropanis of land and the building at Pulchowk (half of which has already been leased to Nepal Telecom), which will earn it about Rs 1.4 million extra each month. “We will then move somewhere outside the Ring Road,” he said, adding that once Sajha starts earning profit, it could also expand its services. Sajha’s existing capital of Rs 2.5 million is enough to acquire as many as 10 new buses, which would bring its fleet to 25.

From the alarming ratio of 12 staff per bus for its fleet of 182, the staff strength has come down to 87. “In two years’ time, the terms of these staffers will expire, allowing the new management to make fresh recruitment,” said Ranjitkar. He wants to put in place a new management team before he leaves office. “We are preparing a Term of Reference on the basis of which we will invite private bodies for collaboration.”

Separately, Ranjitkar blamed Chinese visa administration for discontinuity of Kathmandu-Lhasa bus service. “The Chinese have always been tough on Tibetan refugees. It also requires that Nepali students wanting to study in China fly instead of travelling by land. The situation has aggravated following violent protests in Lhasa and China’s uncompromising Olympic Games restrictions. Minister for Labour and Transportation Lekh Raj Bhatta said he was consulting with stakeholders to revitalise Sajha Yatayat. “Strengthening public transport bodies like Sajha can be a good start to ending the syndicate system,” Bhatta said.

Sajha has suffered because of successive governments’ cavalier attitude towards public transportation sector. In its nearly half century of existence, Sajha has been regarded as a cooperative corporation and sometimes even as a private organisation. The new government has promised much but it remains to be seen if it acts differently from the previous ones.