Public vehicle entrepreneurs are caught between months of inactivity and growing calls from banks to pay loansEven though the government has eased the lockdown for private vehicles with an odd-even rule, there’s no such arrangement for public vehicles in sight.
More than three months since the lockdown started, public vehicles across the country are motionless, as is most of the service sector in the country.
“The situation is very bad, to say the least,” said Keshav Raj Adhikari, operator of the Pokhara-based Jagadamba Travels, which monitors 65 public buses.
Even though the government has eased the lockdown for private vehicles with an odd-even rule, there’s no such arrangement for public vehicles in sight.
Meanwhile, banks have been repeatedly issuing notices, directing the operators to pay instalments of the loans taken while purchasing the vehicles, Adhikari said.
“The banks are after us because they want to sink us financially,” he said. “They have come up with various offers such as asking us to place our lands as mortgage security stock. Without any income, there’s no way we can pay the instalments and not all operators have land.”
Yogendra Bahadur KC, chair of Prithvi Highway Bus Operators’ Company, said that a total of 1,400 vehicles of the company are now collecting dust. KC said that they are mulling over taking out protests.
“If the banks continue to nag us for instalments, we are prepared to hand over the keys of the vehicles to the banks,” he said.
Banks and financial institutes claim about 70 percent of investments in the public transportation sector in Kaski. So most vehicle owners have to pay instalments until the loans are clear. But for many, with no income, paying the loans is virtually impossible.
“If we are further pressured to pay the loans, we will begin the process of withdrawing our investment in the vehicles and hand them over to the banks,” KC said.
Public vehicle entrepreneurs have demanded an extension of at least six months to pay back the instalments, they said at a press meet organised by the PHBOC in Pokhara on Wednesday. If their demand is not met, they are preparing to hand over the keys and vehicle documents to the banks.
But then, even if the government eases restrictions for public vehicles, the operators can’t spring up to business immediately, according to Ain Kumar Shahi, deputy chair of the central federal of transportation entrepreneurs.
“One vehicle would need at least Rs200,000 worth of repair work, as vehicle parts such as tires and batteries do not work with months of inactivity,” Shahi said. “But many operators can’t even accumulate that much money.”
Meanwhile, banks are inflexible despite the operators’ requests, Shahi said. According to him, the public transportation industry has employed about 1.2 million people directly and 4million people indirectly in the country.
With growing demands from entrepreneurs to allow public transport to resume, transport officials have said they are preparing guidelines to do so but a clear-cut plan is yet to be laid. Meanwhile, public health experts have warned that allowing public vehicles to operate would further increase the risk of virus transmission.
But for transportation entrepreneurs, the situation is getting out of hand. Entrepreneur Adhikari blamed the government of not paying any attention to the transportation industry while it has eased the lockdown for several other sectors.
“If the situation continues, many of us will go bankrupt and the already-struggling labourers will have a hard time to make a living,” he said.