The KP Oli government gave a good impression by taking a number of bold steps toward bringing about some much-needed reforms in the country. Initial steps to end transport syndicate was one of such acts. PM Oli was appreciated from all sides. But the same authority has been backtracking on its decisions. Syndicates of bus operators’ committees are now well and alive. Independent bus operating companies should already have replaced the committees by now, had the government implemented its own announcements made in April and May. But the situation is just opposite now. On the eve of Dashain, transport fare has gone up by 10 percent, which will ultimately increase price of everything in the market.
When Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa took steps to dismantle the powerful transportation syndicates, the committees of transport entrepreneurs had already surrendered to the government in May. The government dissolved all the committees and froze their bank accounts. As per the government decision, the legal validity of the committees should have ended by July. But within weeks after these decisions, director general of transport management Rup Narayan Bhattarai, who looked determined in ending these syndicates, was transferred from the department. This was arguably the first move that weakened the whole plan of ending the syndicates. Several decisions taken by Minister for Transport Management Raghubir Mahaseth and his public announcements clearly indicate that he didn’t want to end the syndicate. In a clear indication of weakening the drive, he removed Bhattarai from the department and deputed him to an office inside the ministry. As the transport operators didn’t book tickets for Dashain festival, the government decided to unfreeze their bank accounts. On Tuesday, government officials agreed to hike bus fares by 10 percent in consultation with the federation of the same committees. This move has further legitimized the same bodies that should have already been dissolved. Had the government ended the syndicate and created a situation to replace them by independent bus operators, the situation would have been different. The bus operators would have come under the tax net, thousands of transportation workers would have gotten better pay and perks and the commuters would have been benefited.
Ironically, the prime minister’s office that already announced “end of syndicate” as one of the government’s major achievements is reviving the same committees. The government formed a committee headed by Joint Secretary Keshav Sharma, which was supposed to submit its report with recommendations by the second week of June. It has yet to submit such a report. One of the major tasks the government should have done was to find an amicable solution when it comes to insurance coverage of serious injury and deaths in road accidents, which was previously managed by the bus operators’ committees. This is a sad reality. Every new government that comes to power vows to go after irregular businesses practices. But they are rarely implemented. It is now time for PM Oli to be brave and take steps to right the wrong.