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The sorry plight of imported electric buses

The sorry plight of imported electric buses

Three years ago, then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had inaugurated a set of electric buses by traveling on one from the Pulchowk-based Sajha Yatayat premises to his office in Singha Durbar. He had then announced the start of an age of ‘Electric Vehicle (EV)’ and that, by 2020, 20 percent of the public vehicles would be EVs. But come 2021, that dream is still far off. 

The buses inaugurated by the prime minister had to be returned to the company as they were substandard. The company subsequently gave five buses to the Nepal government. The buses, owned by the Tourism Ministry, were taken to Lumbini to be operated in the second international airport there. However, they have since been gathering dust in the parking lot of the Lumbini Development Trust.

The five buses, produced by the well-known Chinese company BYD, were supposed to be operated by Sajha Yatayat initially. 

In 2018, the government allocated Rs 3 billion to Sajha Yatayat, which was invested in shares, to procure electric buses. But in February 2020 the government asked for the money back along with interest following a delay in procurement. Sajha refused to return the money. Then, in February 2021, the government again allowed Sajha Yatayat to purchase electric buses. 

Environment expert Bhushan Tuladhar, who is also executive director of Sajha Yatayat, says excessive use of petroleum products has been increasing air pollution and depleting state coffers. “There is no alternative to electric vehicles in order to save the environment and secure state coffers,” says Tuladhar, adding, “we can replace all petroleum vehicles in a decade if the government so wants.” 

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Sajha Yatayat has signed a deal to bring 40 buses from China’s CHTC. Sajha paid $3.7 million for 40 buses and 20 chargers. Besides, the Sajha has agreed to pay an additional $6.7 million to the Chinese company for necessary training, maintenance and spare parts.

On 26 March 2021, Sajha had invited bids for bus-procurement and selected CHTC from among nine applicants. According to the agreement, the Chinese company will supply three buses, which will be tested in Kathmandu, after which remaining buses will be delivered. 

Tuladhar says Sajha is planning to import more buses in coordination with Lalitpur Metropolitan City. 

Likewise, Sajha is arranging charging stations via an agreement with Nepal Electricity Authority, and also researching conversion of old diesel vehicles into electric ones. 

In the past two years, both the federal and provincial governments had made public their plans to purchase environment-friendly electric buses. Private sector has invested in electric vehicles as well, with Sundar Yatayat starting electric vehicles on Kathmandu-Sindhuli route. 

According to Thapa, the cost of electric vehicles came down by up to Rs 2.2 million apiece after the government reduced import charges.