Green sticker = green light to pollute

Vehicle owners in Kathmandu need to pass an annual emission test, but many just buy Green Stickers over the counter while some even have them home delivered.

Given the number of diesel buses and trucks spewing toxic black smoke in Kathmandu, it is no surprise that most drivers cheat. Lackadaisical and time-consuming inspection, corruption and the lack of political will have made a mockery of Nepal’s strict emission standards.

The 2003 standards require four-wheelers registered in 1980 or before to emit carbon monoxide (CO) less than 4.5% of total gases, or not more than 1,000 parts-per-million of hydrocarbons. Vehicles registered after 1980 cannot exceed 3% of CO. If they do, they do not get a Green Sticker. It seems straightforward, but the route to getting dirty vehicles off the road is full of twists and turns.

“There is no political will,” sums up the executive director of Sajha Yatayat, Bhusan Tuladhar. “If there was, this system would work perfectly.”

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Bypassing the system by bribing inspectors is the most common method of getting a Green Sticker. A test costs Rs50, but for Rs500 middlemen will get you a sticker without a test. It is Rs1,000 to have the sticker delivered at home.

There are artificial delays and queues at the Department of Transportation Management at (DoTM) Ekanta Kuna to tempt time-pressed vehicle owners to fork out Rs500 for the Green Sticker.

“I don’t think keeping the vehicle in line for a week is cost-effective; why wait in a queue? It is much easier to just pay under the table,” admitted Suraj Tamang, a driver at Ekanta Kuna earlier this month.

There are just two emission monitoring centres in Kathmandu Valley for more than 400,000 four-wheelers. Up to 200 vehicles visit the DoTM every day, and some eight diesel and four petrol cars fail the test daily on average, said Yam Bahadur Chhetri at the DoTM.

If they cannot get the sticker under the table, drivers go to elaborate lengths to pass the test, adjusting the carburettor and then getting a garage to make it a smoke belcher again after they get the sticker. Traffic police rarely check if a car with a Green Sticker still has a smoky tailpipe.

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But with rising awareness about air pollution in Kathmandu and the contribution of vehicular emission, many are asking why if driving under the influence (known by its Nepali acronym MaPaSe) was so easy to control, the same cannot be done for car exhausts.

“It can be like MaPaSe — some people sometimes may evade checking, but overall the system will work,” says Tuladhar, who suggests deploying police with emission testers at busy bus terminals like Ratna Park.

Tuladhar says 20% of vehicles cause more than 50% of the pollution, so getting rid of half the pollution should be as simple as cleaning up 20% of the cars.

But the best solution would be a strategy to switch to electric public and private transport, he adds. All two-wheelers in China are already electric, like 80% of public transport in Hong Kong, and Indian cities like Ahmedabad now have full electric public transportation.

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