Syndicate masks organised crime
Government helpless as syndicate dictates terms and consumers suffer
Poorly maintained and wrecked public vehicles operate through slippery dirt roads of Kathmandu and throughout Nepal. These vehicles overload passengers and goods far beyond their capacity to make a fast buck. The daily commuters and consumers are at the receiving end of this sad state of affairs. It is evident that to ease overloading new vehicles need to be added on all routes; however, the transport syndicate creates barriers for new entrepreneurs to enter the market.
A total of 115 people have been killed in road accidents and approximately 250 have been critically injured in the past one month alone. Every day five people on average lose their lives in road accidents in Nepal. According to Metropolitan Police the total number of accidents in Kathmandu from July 17 to August 13 reached 293 and the average accident
per day was 10.
Most road accidents take place in rural roads; however, there are no traffic police to monitor these areas. Serious action against the perpetrators is yet to be taken. The concerned authorities too seem to be passing the buck. They do not seem to be taking preventive and punitive measures.
Syndicate is an organised crime
The syndicate is the root cause of the problem at hand. “Transport syndicate in Nepal is an organised crime. Transport entrepreneurs are always looking to make fast cash without competing fairly in the market,” claims Bishnu Prasad Timilsina, Secretary of the Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights Nepal. The syndicate system has killed competition and encouraged monopoly which is one of the sole reasons behind the ever increasing accidents. “If someone wants to enter the market through fair competition, they are targeted and their vehicles vandalised. The transport market is completely marred with hooliganism,” he adds.
According to him, transport syndicate is an all powerful entity. He says, “Currently, the demand for vehicles exceeds the supply. The public vehicles are always overloaded risking the lives of many. Many vehicles on the roads today are in severe need of maintenance and repair but the entrepreneurs don’t pay heed to the warnings. They are here to solely make profit.”
According to a research by Sambriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation, the total number of taxis was 8,000 in the year 2000 when the registration of new taxis was halted in the Bagmati Zone. The ‘halt’ lasted until post earthquake period in 2015. By 2015 there were 5,500 taxis plying the roads of Bagmati (meaning 2,500 had gone out of operation due to wear and tear, accidents, reaching conditions beyond operation, or for the fact that they were more than 20 years old.) After the earthquake, the regulators introduced 1,500 more taxis, and also allowed the 2,500 (that had been non-operational) to be replaced by new taxis — they would still carry the same number plates. Approximately 9,500 taxis ply the roads of Kathmandu which is insufficient in comparison to the increasing population of the city.
Timilsina says that there exists a syndicate even within the syndicate. When a new transport company enters the industry they are forced to be a part of the syndicate otherwise they cannot operate. According to him, to be a part of the syndicate they have to pay a large amount of money to the federation. This too does not guarantee smooth operation of their vehicles. To cover their initial investment and to make quick profit the new transport operators do maximum number of trips and load as many passengers as possible.
It is a known fact that almost all the political parties have invested in these syndicates — monetarily and otherwise. “Political leaders and policy makers themselves protect and encourage the syndicate as they are directly or indirectly involved in it,” Timilsina mentions. “We know now that the government is not for the common people but only for those businessmen who can bribe them,” he laments.
When private vehicles violate traffic rules they are strictly penalised. However, public buses, micro buses et cetera that openly overload are easily let off. The traffic police claim to be helpless and cannot take strict action against public vehicles. This itself goes to show how powerful these syndicates are and how it has the authorities in power in its grip.
Why is there a syndicate?
“The government has not taken any measure to manage and monitor the transport system. Therefore, a body had to be formed to manage this chaos,” says Dolnath Khanal, Acting Chairperson of National Transport Entrepreneurs Associations. He adds, “There is no alternative to syndicate as there is no clear collaboration and planning between the government authorities.”
When questioned about the illegal practices like creating entry barriers for new entrepreneurs, he replies, “These are false allegations against us, we are just trying to manage the system and working for the welfare of drivers and transport entrepreneurs.” But he has no answer when it comes to the welfare and the suffering of the general public.
The report, ‘Regulatory reform in transportation services’ published by Sambriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation, states, “Reduction of average costs in terms of insurance, repair and maintenance and availing of parking spaces all for a minimal fee called ‘trip fee’; increase in collective bargaining power in a country whose political history is marred by revolution and turbulences; higher return on investment attributed to lowered cost are some of the motives behind joining an association.” The purpose behind the formation of the syndicate is reasonable on paper but its implementation for the benefit of the consumers is a truth waiting to be realised.
Who is responsible?
“We have penalised several vehicles that have overloaded passengers and we have it in our records. However, the penalty is very low and anyone can violate the rules and get away with it by paying the fines,” says Madhav Prasad Joshi, DIGP and Spokesperson, Nepal Police. The penalty bracket is Rs 500 to Rs 1,500. He adds, “We lack the human resource required to patrol/ cover necessary areas; be it in Kathmandu or the other districts.” According to him, the roads have been expanded and vehicles have been added rapidly in the past decade but traffic police have not been hired in accordance to that ratio.
He mentions, “Only five per cent of the road safety issue comes under the traffic police as per the law. We are directly to blame in case of any mishaps as we are seen on the road but Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Department of transport management and all the related authorities are more accountable.”
When The Himalayan Times Perspectives tried to contact Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Under Secretary, Sundar Bhattarai said, “The issue of transport system in Nepal is not under our ministry, it is handled by the Department of Transport Management.”
“There are 2,300,000 vehicles currently in operation out of which 1,800,000 are two wheelers and only 200,000 are public vehicles,” says Basanta Adhikari, Spokesperson, Department of Transport Management. He adds, “There are not enough investors in the transportation industry and even the ones who are operating are individual operators who are under the federation and not are professional companies.”
The way forward
A new entrepreneur entering the industry means competition and also smaller pie for existing operators. There is the legitimacy that the law of the land has conferred to the anti-competitive practices of the operator, claims a Researcher at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation.
According to him, “The Motor Vehicle and Transport Management Act has made a provision of seeking recommendation of a Transport Management Committee, each district has this committee before issuing new route permits.” He says, “And who are in the committee? Chief District Officer, Chief of District Police Office, one representative of Transport Entrepreneurs, one representative of Transport Labours and Chief of Transport Management Officer.” This clearly shows that the composition of this committee is flawed.
The unanswered question remains — who is responsible for the pity state of public transportation and its direct impact on the lives of consumers in Nepal?
Bishnu Prasad Timilsina
Secretary of the Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights Nepal
Madhav prasad Joshi
DIGP and Spokesperson, Nepal Police
Spokesperson, Department of Transport Management