Back in business
Speaking on July 11, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa reiterated the government commitment to remove transport cartels. “There is a conspiracy to restore transport cartels but the government won’t allow that,” he thundered. On the same day, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli instructed Minister for Transport Raghubir Mahaseth to take every possible measure to once and for all end the reign of these cartels. Yet there are reasons to doubt their sincerity.
When the Oli government had first announced the cancellation of registration of transport cartels three months ago, we were enthused. The ramshackle buses they ran inconvenienced passengers. Often, the aging buses were deadly. In the fiscal 2016-17, there were an average of 28 road accidents, and six deaths, in the country every single day, partly because these cartels would not allow other businessmen to operate new, safer buses on the routes they controlled.
But the anti-cartel drive soon ran into roadblocks. The Director General of the Department of Transport Rup Narayan Bhattari, who was spearheading the drive, was suspiciously transferred to the Ministry of Transport, on direct orders of Minister Mahaseth. Also, Home Minister Thapa and Transport Minister Mahaseth clearly don’t see eye to eye on the issue. Instead of cooperating to make the lives of Nepalis easier, the ministers of this powerful government seem to be working at cross purposes.
There are vested interests in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) that would like to see the continuation of the transport cartels, and they seem to have an upper hand now. After initially announcing that the registration of all cartels would be cancelled from the new fiscal that starts next week, the government now says there is not enough time for all erstwhile cartels to register as private companies. This is disingenuous.
Had the government been serious, it could have forced the transport cartels to register as private companies in the past three months. But it chose to do nothing in this time and it would now have us believe there is not enough time. What is actually happening is that vested interests in the NCP have been allowed to prevail. The prime minister seems either uninterested or unable to take on these cartels, thereby adding to the growing suspicion that he is all talk and no action. Nepalis are starting to lose their trust in the government they so enthusiastically elected not long ago.
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