EDITORIAL: Tough law needed

Road accidents can be minimised to some extent provided the bus owners and drivers are held accountable for the passengers’ safety

Fifteen persons were killed and 18 others injured, most of them critically, when a reserved bus met with a road accident at Six Kilo in Sunkoshi Rural Municipality, Sindhupalchowk Sunday morning. The police said the accident occurred when the bus en route to Bhaktapur from Kalinchowk, Dolakha fell about 500 metres below the road along the Lamosanghu-Jiri road. Nine women, five men and one child lost their lives while 18 others injured in the fatal accident were rushed to various hospitals for treatment. Police said the condition of most of the injured was critical. Those who survived the accident said they had reserved the bus for a pilgrimage to Kalinchowk, and they had stayed overnight at Mude. They said the bus met with the accident after the driver lost control at a sharp bend. Around 35 people were travelling in the ill-fated bus. The bus driver fled the scene immediately after the accident, and the police have launched a manhunt to nab him. The way the bus met with the accident shows that the driver was not familiar with the condition of the serpentine hilly road, where accidents occur quite often. In the past several months, Araniko Highway has seen many fatal bus accidents due to drivers’ negligence and poor maintenance of the public buses.

Nationwide, as many as 230 people have lost their lives in the past 28 days, majority of them in fatal road accidents. Nineteen people were killed on November 28 when a bus fell from the road at Narapani, Arghakhanchi, and 14 people were killed in a jeep accident in Baglung’s Badigad Rural Municipality on December 3. According to the Traffic Police, as many as 1,426 people were injured in road accidents within one month, while as many as 1,030 people have lost their lives in 7,505 road accidents in the last five months. A total of 7,961 persons were injured in road accidents during this fiscal. The figures for the road accidents reveal the utter negligence on the part of the concerned bodies, particularly the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Department of Transport Management (DoTM) and Traffic Police, who are mostly concentrated in the cities.

The saddest part is that the government has not formed a probe panel even after 1,030 people were killed in the road accidents in the last five months. Nor have the ministry, DoTM and Traffic Police discussed ways to minimise road accidents. The government has also not initiated discussion on a draft bill on transport to hold the bus owner and driver accountable for passengers’ safety. Road accidents in Nepal are the highest in South Asia. On an average, seven people are killed in road accidents every day. Bus drivers are issued driving license without proper training. States in neighbouring India sharing similar topography see minimum road accidents because of the tough licensing system. Ten years of driving experience is required to drive a vehicle in the mountains in some of these states. This approach could be highly useful in Nepal’s hilly terrain, too. Besides the poor condition of the roads and carelessness of the drivers, bad maintenance of a vehicle and overloading are also contributing to tragic road accidents. Road accidents can be minimised if these problems are duly addressed by the concerned authorities.

Congested jails

With crime growing in the country by leaps and bounds, it is putting undue pressure on the limited capacity of jails across Nepal. The 74 jails spread across 72 of the country’s 77 districts have a capacity for just 15,466 prisoners, but there are 23,775 jailbirds in them. Some of the prisons are bursting at their seams, and this has had telling effect on the health of the prisoners, space to sleep, overall sanitation and food quality. The jails have not only Nepali prisoners, but also foreigners, who are there for overstaying their visa, drug smuggling, cyber crime and pedophilia, among others. They must find the conditions in Nepal’s prisons really appalling.

It is good to learn that space for as many as 4,166 prisoners was added during the past one year. And quite a few jails are under construction, including Nepal’s biggest – meant for 7,000 inmates – at Nuwakot, to the west of Kathmandu. Hopefully, they will not only ease the congestion seen in Nepal’s jails at present but also provide better living conditions, such as more space, recreation facilities and a library and educational opportunities, to the prisoners. Prisons should be more of a correction centre than a place for punishing inmates.