Print Edition - 2014-05-24 | On Saturday
Discounted fare for all
May 23, 2014-
It’s the same story every day. Every morning, Sunil Thapa, conductor at Nepal Yatayat for the route between Pepsicola and Balkhu, has to get himself in the right frame of mind all over again—to deal with the passengers who flash fake college ID cards. When the time comes to collect the fare, he’ll take their ID and if he thinks something’s fishy—like if he’s staring at a pair of shifty eyes—he’ll spit out his usual questions before the bus lurches on again: What’s the locality of your college? What are you studying? What’s your roll number? It’s all he can do to weed out the bogus students from the genuine ones, who are entitled to a 45 percent discount on the fare.
“These days, it’s as if everyone is a student somewhere,” says Thapa, who has been working the same route for three years now. “Even passengers who seem to have already hit middle age, not to mention masons, porters and others, have these IDs.”
Every month, the AranikoYatayat Sewa Samiti (AYSS) ticket counter at the Purano Bus Park comes up with a pile of around 6,000 fake IDs. And it’s not just the buses that ply the Valley’s streets that have been plagued by this malaise. The Prithvi Highway Bus Management Committee seizes more than a hundred fake IDs a day. That number doubles during the festive seasons, when the passenger numbers swell multifold.
For the small investment made for procuring one, a fake-ID holder can get a pretty good return. Rupesh Khakda (name changed) has been using a fake Mahendra Ratna Campus ID for almost six months now. He paid Rs 150 to have his made. “I used to work for an NGO,” he says.”I don’t have a job now, and travelling in the valley without an ID can get expensive for a person like me. I can save from 20 to 30 rupees a day, which is enough for tea.” On average, fake-ID holders can save around Rs 600 a month. The reward-risk equation involved here is heavily lopsided in favour of reward because even if a bogus-ID user gets caught, he doesn’t have to face punishment for his misdeed. It’s easy to wangle free when you get caught, by feigning something akin to temporary amnesia and getting off the bus, and the worst that comes of such mishaps is that you lose face in front of a crowd that’s made up of strangers. The driver or conductor cannot hold you in custody, and besides, they’ve become so inured to the problem, that as long as you pay the non-discounted fare in full, they feel like they are stanching their losses.
It doesn’t help that college IDs aren’t all that difficult to replicate. Most originals are printed on thick paper of the kind used to make visiting cards or on pieces of plastic. And as long as a forger has Photoshop skills, he can make use of the many printing presses mostly in Baghbazaar and Putalisadak to print his forgery. In fact, at some of these presses, you don’t even need to do the Photoshopping and editing yourself; some of them have a pretty large library of templates and they’ll turn out the fake ID that best fits your needs.
The main players in this racket, however, are the college student unions. Go to any of the public colleges today, and it’s not too difficult to find student leaders and members hanging out in the canteen, sitting atop the college compound walls or holding forth among small clusters of students in the college’s corridors. If you know someone who knows them, it’s easy to gain access to them, and once you’ve made their acquaintance, all you have to do is ask. They make an ID for you in the hope that you will remember them around student-union election time and return the favour at the ballot box. One of the student-union members the Post talked to, who didn’t want to be named, was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing: “When a person approaches us and we don’t make the ID for them, they’ll only find the next available student leader and they’ll do the dirty work for them. In essence, if we refuse, we lose out on a possible vote.”
Personnel at the AYSS say that most of the cards they have confiscated were sourced through student-union members for government-college IDs and through staff members for private-college ones. According to the organisation’s records, fake Mahendra Ratna Campus IDs turn up most often, closely followed by the Nepal Institute of Management and Science, Public Youth Campus and Golden Gate Campus.
But apparently the heads of such institutions either don’t know about the goings on or aren’t able to put a stop to the practice. Bholanath Bhattarai, the campus chief at Mahendra Ratna Campus, said that he wasn’t aware of such problems existing at his college. “Now that you have brought up the issue, we will investigate the matter and take necessary measures to curb the problem,” he said to the Post.
But there’s probably only so much he might be able to do. Although the use of fake IDs is rampant, there is no law in place for punishing the users of such IDs, says Mukti KC, spokesperson for the Department of Transport Management. Furthermore, the printing presses taking part in the racket have never had any action taken against them.
Many bus operators say that they’d be happier if the government reduced the bus fares across the board and did away with the student discounts altogether. They’d be happy to take a small hit to their earnings if it meant that their drivers and conductors didn’t have to deal with the hassle of fake IDs.
Published: 24-05-2014 08:46