The local administration must take punitive action against the private airlines for overcharging the passengers

Hundreds of passengers have been stranded at Bajura's Kolti Airport looking for air tickets to reach Nepalgunj, but to no avail. The airport authorities say that more than 600 passengers had been waiting for the air tickets for the last several days, and most of them have already spent whatever money they had on accommodation. Most of the people who had gone home to join their families for the Dashain festival were returning to their workplaces outside the district. Such a large number of people had to gather at the airport as the Martadi-Kolti road was severely damaged due to the post-monsoon unusual rainfall for three days since October 18. The local police said more than 30 people were killed in floods and landslides, 23 of them in a single landslide that swept away an entire village in the district. It is not clear how long it will take to repair the damaged road leading to Martadi, the district headquarters of Bajura.

According to Kolti Airport chief Krishna Rimal, Summit and Rara airlines each operate one flight daily.

But Sita Air has stopped operating flights since October 18, when the massive rainfall wreaked havoc in the far-western region. The state-owned Nepal Airlines has started three flights daily since October 18.

A large number of passengers could not fly as all airlines have reduced their flights to Kolti Airport.

To add insult to injury, the private airlines have been charging more than the normal airfare fixed by the government taking advantage of the dire situation.

While the airfare from Kolti to Nepalgunj has been fixed at Rs 5,500, the private airlines are now charging up to Rs 8,000 per passenger.

However, the airport authorities and the local administration have not taken any punitive action against the private airlines.

The staffers at the airport are also facing problems in managing the crowd of passengers, some of whom, as per the authorities, are sick and pregnant women, who need immediate medical attention. Most of the passengers interviewed said they had already spent all their money while waiting to buy air tickets. This is a very serious issue the local administration and the central government cannot just overlook. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) should also take appropriate measures to address this problem so that the stranded passengers can reach their destinations without further delay and, that too, at the fixed fare.

The local administration should give top priority to reopening the roads that link the Tarai region with Bajura and other remote Himali districts, which have been hit hard by heavy landslides at several places.

Geologists and engineers believe that heavy landslides in the fragile mountains have caused huge destruction to agricultural land and human settlements.

This all happened as the local elected officials and politicians gave priority to building roads in every nook and cranny of the villages without considering the geological condition. Most of the budget allocated for development works was spent entirely on building unplanned dirt roads using heavy machinery, which triggered landslides during the rainy season. We definitely need roads for prosperity and better connectivity. But they should be built only after carrying out scientific study of the geology.

Quality education

Nepal's higher education, barring some technical fields, is known for producing a lot of certificate holders who are unable to find a job in the labour market. Over the years, efforts have been made through multilateral and bilateral help to improve on the situation and reduce the number of educated unemployed.

Now a five-year Nurturing Excellence in Higher Education Programme, a joint initiative of the Nepal government and World Bank, hopes to improve the quality and labour market relevance of Nepal's higher education, while enhancing access to academic institutions for underprivileged students.

While the programme has been launched in good faith, its success will largely rest on the commitment of the political parties that are in the government to keep politics at bay. Nepal's higher education would have made much progress were it not for the constant interference by the parties in power to recruit people loyal to them to key posts, including in the University Grants Commission. It is not without reason that tens of thousands of students try to enter a foreign college or university year after year because party and student politics will not allow quality education to foster here.

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