EDITORIAL: Chapter of accidents

Heavy penalties are a must to strictly enforce the traffic rules for the safety of both passengers and pedestrians

Vehicular accidents are routine in Nepal, almost an everyday incident, and they fail to raise much concern except when a mishap involves many deaths or when the locals’ reaction to it spirals out of control, as in the case of Kohalpur on Sunday. Locals resorted to vandalism after a truck knocked down a girl while trying to cross the road to enter her school. The girl, a seventh grader, had to be flown in to Kathmandu after both her legs suffered severe injury and could not be treated in nearby Nepalgunj. After the demonstrations took a nasty turn, police forces had to be trucked in to quell the agitation and bring the situation under control. An indefinite prohibitory order has been put in place after irate students and locals set the truck involved in the accident on fire and vandalised hundreds of other vehicles on the Kohalpur-Nepalgunj road. At least 24 persons, including a Deputy Superintendent of Police and eight cops, were injured in clashes, three of them critically.

There are many reasons why accidents take place in Nepal. It’s all too easy to blame the mountain roads that are usually in tatters. Not only highways, even the streets of the capital are in need of major repairs. Even by the government’s account, it needs about Rs 88 billion to repair the country’s roads annually. But it has earmarked only one-tenth that amount for this fiscal. Add to the bad condition of the roads the poorly-maintained vehicles, overloading and drivers with poor driving skills, and you have a perfect recipe for a disaster. With vehicular accidents said to kill about 2,000 people annually in the country, the government must have a plan of action to rein in on the growing number of accidents in the country. With the increase in the number of vehicles year after year, the number of accidents as well as that of deaths and injuries will only increase if the concerned authorities do not act now.

Can something be done? The government could begin by making license issuance stricter. It is common knowledge that licenses can be bought in Nepal. Only recently, senior officials of the licensing department and traffic police officers were arrested by the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority for having distributed 1200 licenses to those who had failed the trial or had not even appeared for it within a period of three months in 2012. Imagine the number of people who are driving vehicles in Nepal without deserving a license. The number of accidents would come down drastically if only everyone – both drivers and pedestrians - were to follow the traffic rules earnestly. Everyone is witness to public buses and micro-vans cramming as many passengers as possible to make some extra money for the driver and the helper. And one can see them speeding in the cities or on the highways to be the first to collect passengers. This greed to make a fast buck at the expense of the commuters is making travel unsafe for everyone.  The one thing drivers fear is heavy penalties. This will have to be strictly enforced to implement the traffic rules for the safety of both passengers and pedestrians.

Act prudently

Nepal’s constitution, which paved the way for the transition from a unitary to the federal system of government, has clearly laid out the framework for fiscal federalism. This framework allows provincial and local governments to prepare annual income and expenditure plans, providing sub-national governments the mandate to pursue development works. But local governments have lately been misusing their authority by getting involved in irregularities, according to a report prepared by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). The corruption watchdog’s report said local governments released payments to contractors prior to completion of the work and prepared project completion reports before completing the projects. The local governments also colluded with consumer committee members to haphazardly award contracts. These practices must stop.

Local governments are nascent. But that does not give them the leeway to engage in corruption. The CIAA has already asked them to refer to the Public Procurement Act before awarding contracts and releasing payments. It has also directed them to immediately terminate the contracts that were illegally awarded and start a fresh bidding process. Local governments should heed these calls, act prudently from now onwards and follow good governance practices.