Mahaseth transfers key man in anti-syndicate drive

Published On: May 19, 2018 07:06 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Minister was meeting regularly with transport operators since May 8

KATHMANDU, May 18: Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth has transferred Director General of the Department of Transport Management Rup Narayan Bhattarai, acting under the influence of the transport syndicates. 

The transfer of Bhattarai, who had taken a hard line against the transport syndicates, has now raised serious questions about Mahaseth’s motives and also that of the government. The Oli government had been credited with taking a bold move in officially ending the syndicates on May 7. 

Spokesperson of the ministry Rajendra Raj Sharma confirmed Bhattarai’s transfer but did not give any grounds. Officials  not authorized to talk to media informed that he has been recalled  for taking up a special assignment. But sources said this is not the real reason. 

Talking to Republica, Bhattarai said he has been called back to the ministry and he received the letter on Friday. 

“I think the government was not happy with the work I was doing,” he said  in a sad tone of voice. 
But no one else has been appointed immediately to the key post, probably in a bid to soft-pedal the key decision to bring all transport operators under Companies Act by  mid-July.  

A day after talks with  transport operators who had bowed down to the government, Minister Mahaseth himself had announced that the government had succeeded in abolishing the cartels that controlled public road transport. 

However, at a press meet organized to announce the end of the syndicates,  Mahaseth had openly clashed with Bhattarai, cutting him off and warning him  not to talk too much to the  media.

Thereafter, Mahaseth and his wife Juli Mahato, who is a member of the House of Representatives,  met regularly with the leaders of transport syndicates, according to sources at the ministry. 

According to DoTM sources, Mahaseth had tried to win Bhattarai over but found him not agreeable to going along with his vested interests. The minister did not respond to repeated phone calls or text messages. His wife, however,  denied her involvement in the issue. 

Talking to Republica, she said she was not aware of anything relating to the ministry.

Bhattarai had taken the lead in drafting nine  guidelines for ending transport syndicates. The government subsequently decided to seize the assets of 300 transport entrepreneurs and terminated several route permits of the protesting transport operators. 

When  the transport operators continued protesting, the bank accounts of their committees were frozen. They were arrested for protesting in the street and police nabbed the leaders of the Federation of Nepalese National Transport Entrepreneurs (FNNTE) and their associates from a meeting at a Kathmandu hotel. 
Mahaseth was also unhappy with Bhattarai for expanding the service of renewing driving licenses through already existing  centers, DoTM sources said. Such services were started from Biratnagar and Bardiya recently. 

Mahaseth had already wavered in the anti-syndicate drive even before public transport was stopped in protest. But Prime Minister KP Oli had directed him in person to take strong measures to end  transport syndication.

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