Have you ever wanted to own a vehicle? If you are like most Nepalese, you might have always wanted to. But guess what? Our government thinks we are not good enough to own a vehicle. According to our rulers, vehicles are luxury items and not every Nepalese should own or use one. It is for the elites, rulers and crooks only. Don’t believe it?
The government charges a whopping 241% taxes and duties on vehicles imported from abroad which means every vehicle. This is the highest imposition of taxes in the world. Hence, when world’s cheapest car entered Nepal, it was 7 times more expensive than it was in its birthplace. This has resulted in a scenario where only the rich people can afford private vehicles, especially cars. And oh yes, government officials and politicians enjoy ultra expensive vehicles paid for by the taxes by the general public. Needless to say, the third group – crooks manage to get around the barriers and get what they want anyway.
You may think, that’s for our own good. The government is here to look out for us. The government wants us to use public transport, save our foreign exchange reserves and the environment. Well, that is true as far as the theory goes. In practice, the question would be: has the 11 billion plus revenue generated from import taxes, duties and road taxes and license fees translated into better roads, better public transport and better traffic management? Not exactly! In fact, unfortunately it works the other way round. Because of the poor road conditions, unreliable public transport system more people are opting for private vehicles. Nepal could very well be only country without a mass transit system in the world. The public transport runs by cartels is as unreliable and as costly as things can become when impunity from both crime and competition is granted and ensured by the government. Roads construction is one of the places where one can see blatant and shameless corruption and government negligence in action. Roads being black topped during rainy season and lasting only for a few weeks before they are patched again is not a new scenario for us. In fact, the process has been repeated so many times that it fails to surprise commuters anymore.
Because of the high taxes and the resulting increase in prices, primary medium of transport for many Nepalese, especially for those living in the cities, is two wheelers. Two wheelers are inherently less safe compared to other vehicles resulting in more fatalities during accidents. The risk has been increased tremendously by the condition of roads and lack of traffic rules enforcement. As a result, we lose thousands of precious lives. Roads are relatively safer for the rich but not for the poor because our government thinks safer and more comfortable vehicles are a luxury not a necessity even though Nepal is among the nations with least penetration of vehicles. About 1.7 million vehicles have been registered in Nepal till date which is just 5.67 percent of the total population.
Meanwhile some people argue, justly in many cases, that reduction of import duties will lead to more people owning vehicles and eventually more congestion and pollution. Most of the time, the concern is sincere. However, what is not being realized here is that these problems are endemic to urban centers and cities only. Once we venture, out of the cities and beyond the hills, the problem with majority of our roads is not congestion but lack of enough vehicles to make them sustainable. The highest vehicle per day (VPD) in Nepal is among the roads in the Nepal-India borders which get 2500-3000 vehicles per day. On the other hand, most of our roads get only 300-1000 vehicles per day making it hard to sustain the regular maintenance and upgrade of these roads.
In this context, it is high time that we discuss when the world is thinking of space tourism in space vehicles why should we Nepalese be thinking of a simple four-wheeler with wistful eyes.