The Federation of Nepalese Transport Entrepreneurs (FNTE) has announced that it will organise “strong” protests, including chakka jam, against the Nepal-India direct bus service agreement signed in the capital on Monday. The agreement will permit bus companies from each country to ply their services on 14 routes across the borders through five border checkpoints, connecting several Nepali cities and towns with their Indian counterparts. Mahendranagar/Banabasa, Nepalgunj/Rupadiya, Bhairahawa/Nautanuwa, Birgunj/Raxaul, and Kakarbhitta/ Panitanki will serve as transit points for linking cities and towns such as Kathmandu and Delhi, Pokhara and Banaras, Janakpur and Patna, and Kathmandu and Kolkata. The maximum number of buses that can provide services from each side has been fixed at 53. The agreement applies to passenger, not cargo, traffic. Besides, people travelling for piligrimage, marriage, etc. are to be permitted free movement and private vehicles would be allowed to cross the border easily without paying any charge for the first five days.

For two neighbours having such close economic, social, cultural and religious ties as India and Nepal do, linking their towns and cities should not be surprising and will produce economic and other results. But as the political parties have refused to recognise the present government as constitutional, it is at best a caretaker government supposed to hand over power to elected representatives. The big question, therefore, is whether such a government can take major decisions, for example, entering into an agreement such as this one. This question becomes even more important because such a proposal is reported to have been rejected twice by elected governments in the past.

The objections raised by the FNTE also deserve attention. Nepal is said to have much more vehicles than the actual demand, particularly because of the poor security situation in the country, thus making it difficult for entrepreneurs to make a profit. Opening up the Nepali market to Indian competition has led to fears that the Nepali transport business will be hit hard. Indeed, the Nepali transporters will find difficulty in competing with Indian companies which are much bigger and have to carry much lower costs of buses and their maintenance, as Nepal depends on imports of buses. Besides, there are legitimate fears that big businessmen may walk away with the permits to ply these services from the Nepali side. As it is, there is not much difficulty in travelling between the two countries by bus. So doubts have been raised that the government may not have taken into account the full implications of the agreement for Nepal. It should therefore reassure doubters that it has.