Hefty fines fail to deter polluting vehicles

Kathmandu's drivers would rather pay hefty fines than get an emission test for Rs35


From 2 December to 5 January the Department of Environment conducted surprise checks of 581 vehicles in Kathmandu Valley to test their emission. The results were not surprising.

More than one-third of the vans, buses, two-wheelers and cars failed the test. They were emitting smoke and toxic gases above the safe threshold. The worst were school buses, micros, taxis, water tankers, and government vehicles.

Even more surprising: some of them had green stickers on their windshields to prove they had passed emissions tests. After that spot check, the Department has announced a new fine of up to Rs5,000 for drivers of polluting vehciles.

Earlier, it had identified vehicular emissions and open burning are among the primary agents of air pollution in Kathmandu – which has one of the worst air of any city in the world.

If the vehicles owners still fail emission tests after necessary repairs, they can be fined up to Rs100,000 as per the Environment Protection Act, 2019.

“At the moment, we have not imposed high fines on vehicles that cause pollution," says Saloja Adhikari, Information officer of the Environment Department. “We are enforcing stricter rules on re-inspection of those that have failed the emission tests and those that are being driven without necessary repairs."

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She adds, "Rather than what vehicles cause more pollution, the important thing to realise is that often one can easily repair their vehicle for the cost of the fine. This is to encourage vehicle owners to service their vehicles rather than to fine them outright.”

The number of two and four-wheelers in Kathmandu valley now exceeds 1.2 million. Last year alone, 1.8 million vehicles were registered in the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Transport. These vehicles produce urban pollutants such as Nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) that highly reacts with other gases to form toxic ground-level Ozone (O3).  Motorcycles also emit other gases such as Carbon monoxide (CO) that convert atmospheric oxygen to Ozone.

In addition, vehicles, open burning, brick kilns, factories and machineries release the harmful particulates measuring 2.5μm or less (PM2.5) into the air.

According to the State of Global Air, PM2.5 has caused the death of as many as 17,900 people in Nepal in 2019 alone and more than 145,000 people of all ages and gender between 2010 and 2019.

There have been repeated attempts to use Euro 6-grade oil according to the European emission standards to reduce pollution from vehicles, but the increased price of oil and coal in the international market has circulated low-grade coal that emits toxic fumes like sulfur dioxide (SO₂).

“Up to 50% of vehicles in the valley are of Euro 1 grade and emit more fumes than the prescribed standard,” says pollution expert Bhupendra Das.

Namraj Ghimire, director general of the Department of Environment notes that the department has been paying extra attention to smoke emitted from a vehicle and open garbage burning this winter, since the brick kilns have not been operating. It has been coordinating with the Kathmandu Metropolitan and the Traffic Police to prevent pollution from burning garbage in open areas.

Yet, there has not been much progress in controlling the risk factors of air pollution, even from the department. Even though the Rs35 emission test is mentioned on its charter, there has been no publicity effort to take this information to vehicle owners. Further, vehicles that have come to get embossed number plates can be found emitting pollutants right on its premises.

On the other hand, Nepal has committed to replacing 25% of fuel-operating private vehicles and 20% of public vehicles with electric vehicles by 2025. But no program has been introduced to replace or discourage petrol and diesel vehicles, install charging stations, and build infrastructure for environment-friendly transports like bicycles.

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Experts say Nepal needs a sustained and holistic long-term approach to control transport pollution, and create new markets for renewable and efficient fuels, through interventions from politicians and bureaucrats for actual progress. The burden of air pollution is so high, that continuous action to reduce emissions at the source can only create a change.

Yet, on top of buying Green Stickers over the counter through bribes and middlemen, many owners and drivers continue to operate their vehicles without necessary reconditioning, despite the warnings, and pay the Rs5000 fine, while the annual emission test costs only Rs35.

“Although vehicle smoke is visible, car owners do not regularly maintain their vehicles,” explains Regina Maskey, Head of the Environment Central Department at Tribhuvan University. “This includes government vehicles as well. They do not know that without regular repairs, vehicle parts will deteriorate and cost more to fix later.”

Regular servicing can reduce 30% of smoke emitted from a vehicle, however, that does not seem to be the priority for Nepal’s vehicle owners.

Translated from the Himal Khabar original by Aria Parasai.

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