Print Edition - 2014-11-04  |  Development

Who Is to blame?

- Manish Gautam, Roshan Sedhai
Who Is to blame?

Nov 3, 2014-

The Metro Deluxe had left for Kathmandu from Ilam on Friday afternoon with 38 passengers. It was 2 am on Saturday, when the bus reached Basamadi of Makwanpur. Almost all the passengers were asleep by then. And just when the bus was approaching a slightly curved section of the road, not far off from the bazaar area, a speeding bus from the opposite direction crashed into it.  Ten people aboard the Metro Deluxe died in the collision. Most of the victims were students returning to Kathmandu after the Tihar holidays. Four of them—Prabin Acharya, Sujata Kafle, Milan Adhikari and Prijaj Dahal—went to Ambition Academy in Mid Baneshwor. They were among the best students of the college, said Bishnu Ghimire, the principal of Ambition Academy. The college was closed on Sunday to mourn the loss.

The other victims who lost their lives in the incident are Roshan Bhattarai, Rakshya Shrestha, Isha Karki, Aastha, Shanta Luitel, and Russian national Doria Moskova.

Statements from passengers and police investigation suggest that the driver of the second bus belonging to Subhashree Travels had deliberately caused the collision after a dispute with the bus owner. Some passengers have claimed that the driver was drunk at the time of the crash; he had reportedly imbibed alcohol when the bus had stopped for dinner at Rampur.

Road accidents caused by driver’s negligence are not new in Nepal. On October 7,  around 30 people were killed after a bus swerved off the road along Chhatiwan VDC-5 in Doti district. The bus was carrying passengers beyond its capacity when it crashed.

A study on road accidents conducted by the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport shows that 67 percent of the automobile accidents in the past three years were caused because of the drivers. The report states that the main reason for the accidents is human error.  Among the total 25,782 accidents reported since 2011/12, 17,351 were caused because of drivers’ negligence while 3,884 were linked with over-speeding.

Despite causing a huge casualty because of their reckless driving, a majority of the drivers walk out unprosecuted. There is no provision that defines severity of their careless driving. Regardless of the cause of the road accidents, are drivers receive the same treatment from the law.

The oversight of government to strictly implement “two-driver” policy on long distance routes has also caused many accidents in the past. Driving alone on a long route is tiring for drivers, says Shanker Mainali, who drives a bus along Mahendranagar-Kathmandu route. “Owners of the vehicle tend to treat us as machines We don’t want to put the people’s lives at risk,” he said.  

Special treatment

Three things—the volume of their contribution in the national economy, the number of people employed in the industry and political patronage—- have made the transport entrepreneurs arguably the most powerful private sector organisation in the country.

Whenever an accident happens, transport entrepreneurs’ association gives the driver all the protection and support until he is released from custody. Dol Nath Khanal, general secretary of Nepal Federation of Transport Entrepreneurs Association, said the association gives Rs 300 as daily allowance to drivers if they are in custody.

Drivers even get special treatment inside police custody. They are given a separate cell while the case is being investigated and they are not put through interrogation process. Khanal claims that no report so far has shown drivers’ deliberately causing accidents.

Secretary of MoTI Tulsi Prasad Situala said this special treatment has given drivers the leverage to kill and injure intentionally.

Where have the  traffic police gone?

Interviews with passengers of Subhashree bus suggest that the owner and the bus driver had a bitter altercation at Rampur, Nawalparasi. In the wake of their fight, the driver reportedly drove past the residential area in Chitwan. If the bus was beyond the speed limit, what was the police patrolling the highway

doing? How did the bus go past these patrols?  Police claim that they conduct regular highway patrol and they are more vigilant during the festival season, but the number of road accidents in the past one month suggest otherwise.

 “We had various police check-posts in the past. Now we have none and this has encouraged reckless driving,” said Additional Inspector General of Police Ganesh Rai. Areas that witness high number of road accidents and need proper traffic policing have very little police presence. There are 2,218 traffic police in the country and more than half of them are based in Kathmandu.

Road condition & syndicate

The government data show among the total roads, only 11.4 percent are black-topped while 26 percent are gravelled and the rest are dirt tracks. A majority of the accidents take place on the roads in rural parts of the country.  Syndicate in public transportation sector is also to blame for road accident. Syndicate impedes competition and this renders poor service delivery. “Due to syndicate, newcomers seldom venture into transport businesses. People with political clout and money gets route permits,” said a high level ministry official.

According to MoTI Secretary Sitaula, operation of old vehicles to meet the demands during festival season has also posed a great risk.  

In order to meet the high demand of vehicle, transport entrepreneur adopt queue-free system wherein public vehicles get opportunity to operate on their route as many times possible while traffic rule volition like over-speeding and overloading are rampant, especially during the festival season.

Poor rescue efforts

Road accident fatalities could be brought down significantly if the rescue response is quick and efficient. The quicker the response, higher the chance of people surviving.

In most of the road accidents, the primary rescuer, Nepal Police, are often criticised for reaching the site late. In Saturday morning’s crash, it took nearly 30 minutes for a police team to reach the scene and initiate rescue. Until then, a majority of the passengers, who had sustained injuries were, helped out of the bus by other passengers and local people. It was already 5 in the morning when police started pulling out the bodies from the bus. Lack of highway trauma teams and ambulances had added to the woes of the victims.

The Blame game

The Development Committee of the parliament summoned all the government stakeholders managing transportation on Sunday and sought explanations on the growing number of road accidents. The meeting, however, was more focused on pinning the blame than finding a consolidated solution to mitigate road accidents.

Police are of the view that the law grants them fewer roles in managing transportation while transport authorities say that they need proper act to regulate the country’s transportation system. “We are just allowed to charge a basic fine and have the right to stop the vehicle if we see anything unusual,” AIG Rai said at the meeting. “During all the accidents we are the one who gets all the blame.”

Realising that the existing Transport Management Act (1993) is more in favour of transport entrepreneurs and drivers, the committee has directed the authorities to table a new Transport Management bill that would focus more on road safety

and the rights of passengers in next two months.

MoTI Secretary Sitaula was critical of the statement given by police to the parliamentary committee. He said traffic police have not been able to complete the task effectively that they are asked to. “In the accident on Saturday the driver was found to have been driving under influence. Why did traffic police miss the driver?” questioned Sitaula. “We have learnt in the past that we know that allocating more power to traffic police is likely to be misused.”

He said they are mulling to develop Road Security Force who will conduct thorough patrolling and help minimise accidents.

Dol Nath Khanal said the government does not coordinate with the association and instead blame them for road accidents.

Published: 04-11-2014 08:55

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