Government to unfreeze accounts of transport syndicates in exchange for Dashain bookings
September 18, 2018 07:47 AM NPT
KATHMANDU, Sept 18: When the government endeavored to end syndicate in the transportation sector in May, the committees of transport entrepreneurs could not offset the government action as they lacked fund to run protest programs because their bank accounts were frozen.
However, the government has failed to take concrete steps to manage the transport sector after that. After giving a timeline extension for the transport committees to switch to companies, the government has now agreed to unfreeze their bank accounts where millions of rupees are deposited, collected through their syndicate operation.
The government move of releasing their money comes in exchange for opening bus bookings for the public for the upcoming Dashain festival, as transport entrepreneurs threatened the government to not take public bookings until it unfreezed their bank accounts.
Though the amounts should have automatically come into the government treasury after the committees were scrapped as per Association Registration Act 1977 after they became illegal after mid-July, but the government is now going to hand over the amount.
“Returning the amount to them in exchange of opening bus bookings is a ploy to revive the transport syndicates. It is clear what they want, as the transport committees were paralyzed in May after their bank accounts were frozen,” said Bishnu Timilsina, general secretary of Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights Nepal. “The cash-strapped committees will find the money useful to fund any resistance program in future.”
Timilsina blamed the Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth was directly involved in helping the transport entrepreneurs revive the syndicates as he is also an entrepreneur.
Mahaseth is said to have indirect investments in Lhotse Multipurpose Company that manages the New Bus Park in Kathmandu in which he used to formally have stakes. Mahaseth had transferred the erstwhile director general of the Department of Transport Rup Narayan Bhattarai, who, until May second week, was leading the drive to break the transport syndicate that had imperiled the country’s transportation sector for more than two and a half decades.
On Sunday, incumbent director general of the department Labanya Dhakal agreed with the entrepreneurs to take initiative for opening their bank accounts by asking the home and finance ministries. The decision, Dhakal argued, was for helping them to provide services and pay their staffs.
In an attempt to control illegal activities of the transport entrepreneurs, the government in May had decided to investigate the property of key office-bearers of their committees and federations. But no such investigation was taken forward seriously, according to government sources.
Despite the said end of syndicates in the transportation sector, the consumers were far from feeling it. The only visible change was that new transport entrepreneurs did not have to take permission from the illegal committees to operate public vehicles.
To make the matter worse, the government has done nothing to ensure that the medical bills of the accident-injured are covered by the transport entrepreneurs. Following the closure of their bank accounts, the committees shunned to take responsibility of the medical bills. At the moment the passengers and accident-injured are covered for only Rs 500,000 that comes through third-party insurance. Although the government had pledged to raise the insurance amount to a minimum of Rs 1 million, it has done nothing in that regard yet.
“Though the announcements in May said big changes had come in the transportation system, very little has actually been achieved so far,” said Tulasi Prasad Sitaula, former secretary of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport.
In the view of former government secretary Kishor Thapa, the syndicates that existed for over two decades could not end in such a light manner. “It needs a bigger-scale plan that also allows the bus service operators to manage the transition,” added Thapa.
Transport entrepreneurs had waged a protest against the government’s decision to scrap the committees and switch them into transport companies. Yogendra Nath Karmacharya, President of Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs, said that they cannot manage their staffs for additional bus services for Dashain until their accounts are unfrozen.