Floods and earthquakes cannot strictly be called ‚Äėnatural calamities‚Äô because what ruins lives are ill-planned attempts to channel rivers and poorly constructed houses. Similarly, tragedies like the bus plunge on 15 August in Kavre that killed 27 people cannot be termed an ‚Äėaccident‚Äô ‚ÄĒ like other crashes it was a direct result of political patronage of bus companies by the four-party syndicate that has been running this country.
This cartelling of carnage is not restricted to highways. Hospitals and the medical education sector are in the iron grip of politicians profiteering from the trade in human health. One of the reasons Govind KC is still on the streets and threatening to go on his ninth hunger strike is because even his voice has not been heard by the politicians backing the medical mafia.
Six bus passengers die every day on Nepal‚Äôs highways, many of these are not even reported anymore they have become so routine. More people have died in highway disasters in the past ten years than were killed in the decade-long war ‚ÄĒ 9,000 have been killed since 2011 alone.
After every vehicle crash like this, police come up with possible causes: there were 90 people crammed into the Kavre bus which was also carrying sacks of rice and it stalled on a steep and slippery dirt road. But such technical reasons mask the underlying political source of the tragedies that every day maim and kill Nepalis. Contractors that bribe officials to build substandard roads, obsolete and badly-maintained buses are allowed to carry double their capacity, the drivers are often inexperienced or have fake licenses ‚ÄĒ and all this is made possible because of bus syndicates that enjoy political protection.
It has been 20 years since the last local elections, leading to a lack of accountability at the VDC, DDC and municipality level. Unelected bureaucrats work with politically connected contractors to build roads that go from nowhere to nowhere. Local politicians own excavators that gouge out the mountains, scarring farm terraces with landslides. Only 17 per cent of Nepal‚Äôs highways are black-topped, and even if tarmaced they lack basic road furniture that would ensure safety.
Highway fatalities rank fourth in the cause of death among Nepalis, whereas internationally it is considered the tenth most common cause of death. Tracing the ownership patterns, the emergence of private operators, the lack of regulation and inadequate implementation of safety directives one sees a serious failure of the government to fulfil its primary role: to protect its citizens‚Äô lives.
Over the past decades of political change, private companies have taken over the public transportation network pretending that they operate in a competitive free market economy. On pretext of regulating them, bus management committees nationwide wield so much power that even national level politicians are loathe to rein them in.
The syndicates protect their routes with goons, new operators who want to improve the quality of service often have brand new buses vandalised with complete impunity. Far-western Nepal had no buses plying for a week last month because of a dispute between syndicates. Transport monopolies are so powerful they can hold the country, and the travelling public hostage. And they are literally getting away with murder.
After the Kavre disaster, newly installed Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said this was the last chance to crack down on transportation cartels. This will also be his last chance to show that he cares about the public good, and not about protecting the turf of syndicates owned and nurtured by politicians in his coalition.
At an interaction this week on highway safety, former Chief Secretary and social reformer Leela Mani Paudyal could not have been more direct in blaming an ‚Äúunspoken agreement” between senior ministers in government and bus companies. Poudyal said the root of the corruption was the Welfare Fund that transportation cartels used to fund political parties, pay for goons, and bribe bureaucrats. ‚ÄúFrom what I know, some CDOs got Rs 100,000 a month, the district police chief got up to Rs 80,000, and the money went right down to the traffic policeman,‚ÄĚ Poudyal said.
It is obvious the rot runs deep, and we must start looking at deaths on our highways not as accidents, but as crimes in which politicians are culpable. But we do not have the luxury of waiting to fix the politics in order to to improve road safety. There are thousands of lives at stake.Go back to previous page