Right after the end of the festival in the last week of October, Nepal witnessed three major road accidents which killed more than 50 people and injured dozens, with some still left unaccounted for.
On October 28, at least 31 people were killed and 16 seriously injured as an overcrowded passenger bus drove off the highway and plunged into the Trishuli River in central Nepal.
Two days later, at least 20 people lost their lives in two separate road accidents in the hilly districts of Gulmi and Udayapur.
The common cause of the accidents, according to officials, was that the vehicles were overloaded with passengers and heavy goods, beyond their capacities. With fatal accidents becoming fairly common with numerous road users losing their lives, serious questions have been raised in this small South Asian country about road safety.
“Poor condition of highways, outdated vehicles carrying double their capacity and the negligence of drivers are the reasons for the majority of road accidents in Nepal,” Deputy Inspector General Manoj Neupane, Nepal’s police spokesperson, told Xinhua.
“Besides, the government’s haphazard and flawed issuance and distribution of driving licences is the primary cause of accidents,” Neupane said.
The government’s department of transport management has been responsible for the issuance of driving licences in the country for more than a decade. However, the process is not smooth and transparent, with many economic irregularities often taking place, according to the public and observers.
“We have even found the selling of driving licences in small shops, which shows how wretched our system is,” the DIG revealed.
Despite having the minimal per capita income, the number of vehicles has significantly grown in Nepal as have numbers of drivers. But there remains no strong mechanism to assess the competence of drivers, especially of public transport, which is often blankly dubbed as “unmanageable” by officials.
Although the traffic police are mobilised along both short and long routes, they claim that it is impossible to oversee and monitor every single vehicle.
According to data from the department of transport management, 211,969 units of new vehicles were registered in the country in the first half of the current fiscal year. With this, the number of vehicles registered in the country has reached 2,551,138 units.
The majority of passenger vehicles are operated in the private sector in Nepal. Despite certain rules such as ensuring double drivers for long routes and upholding vehicle capacity rules, transport companies are often found to disregard such regulations.
As a result, Nepal’s public transportation system’s flaws has resulted in the loss of lives of many innocent people, including children, especially in the mountainous region of the country.
According to the police’s statistics, at least 2,577 accidents occurred across the country in the duration of three months from mid-July to mid-October, in which 507 people lost their lives. At least 2,384 had died in the fiscal year 2016-2017, which means at least six people die every day in road accidents on average.
The cases of road accidents only gain the attention and priority of government agencies when the death tolls are high, while they are seemingly forgotten for the rest of the year. With every big fatality, committees are formed for the investigation of the accident and reports are prepared along with recommendations.
However, police accept that such reports are hardly implemented, and existing laws including punishments for traffic rules’
violators are very weak.
Yesterday, Rajendra Raj Sharma, joint secretary at the ministry of physical infrastructures and transport, and his team were inspecting the accident site at Trishuli River where 31 people had lost their lives.
“The cause of the accident seems to be that the vehicle was speeding as the road condition is pretty good,” Sharma said.
“It is true that we have not been able to control the road accidents. We are learning lessons and trying to improve road transportation gradually,” Sharma said.
However, transport experts claim that poor road conditions are the primary cause of such accidents. Most of the roads in Nepal are just a single, narrow lane, lacking in regular maintenance, signs and signals, and safety barriers.
Nepal has 80,000km of road network of which only one-third has been constructed by the department of roads with the rest handled by the local bodies and communities.
Most of the roads are constructed only for connectivity with no engineering standards, according to experts. The burden of more vehicles and passengers using the roads is increasing while road infrastructure has not been developing proportionately.
“The roads constructed by authorised government bodies are scientific but there are too many flaws. The lane width is narrow, there are no safety barriers, lane markings or drainage systems in many places, the finishing is very poor,” Ashish Gajurel, a transportation engineer, said.
According to Gajurel, there is an immediate need of increased monitoring and for upgrading the condition of roads to save the lives of innocent people.
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