Operators call for water transport regulationMotorboats, jetboats and small cruises are increasingly becoming popular across the country for transportation and tourism purposes, but the government is yet to have laws to raise taxes and monitor them.
Motorboat and jetboat operators are critical of the lack of policy that has been creating new hardships for them, one after another.
On January 18, the Division Forest Office, Sunsari, wrote to half a dozen operators of motorboats on the Koshi River not to use the river bank in Chatara as a port.
According to the office, the area falls under the forest area.
The letter has created confusion among the operators. Currently, eight motorboats operate in the river.
The operators say they have made huge investments to start the services, but the frequent hassles being created by the government authorities are demotivating.
Though Nepali Shipping Office is the authority designated for the overall monitoring of water transport, it has failed to function due to a lack of legislation.
Rajan Pradhan, information officer at Nepal Shipping Office, said they lack the required laws to operate the office.
“We had submitted a draft bill to the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport. It is yet to be passed,” said Pradhan. “The draft bill was submitted to the ministry a month and a half ago.”
None of the motorboat captains has been issued a licence by the Nepali authorities.
The companies such as Nepal River Transport, Koshi Adventure, Dantakali Jalbihar, Baraha Kshetra Water Transport and Tourism Service, and Barun Water Transport have been operating motorboats from Chatara, connecting Dhankuta and Bhojpur.
“We have spent millions of rupees to provide transportation as well as entertainment facilities to the locals as well as visitors,” said Anish Thapa, proprietor of Nepal River Transport and Dantakali Jalbihar. “But, there is no authority to provide a licence for the captains. There is no authority to regulate the motorboat operators.”
“All three tiers of government have ignored us,” Thapa added.
The Cabinet meeting on January 17, 2019, decided to establish the Nepal Shipping Company at Ekantakuna, Lalitpur.
The office, however, has so far failed to coordinate with the water transport operators, according to Thapa. “Some of the operators visited the office last year and requested to enact the necessary laws to bring the motorboat business under the law,” said Thapa.
A surveyor from the shipping office was deployed to inspect the route from Chatara to Dolalghat. “We are not aware of what report the surveyor has submitted to the government,” said one of the operators.
Bimal Man Shrestha, a proprietor of Baraha Kshetra Water Transport and Tourism Service, said the bank of Koshi River is not under the purview of the forest department. He said that the government’s indifferent policy towards motorboat operators has been affecting tourism growth in the area.
Though Baraha Kshetra Municipality had made a provision imposing Rs500,000 in tax annually on motorboat operators, it has not yet been implemented due to the lack of required legislation.
“We have yet to understand on what grounds the local government is raising the tax,” said Shrestha. A motorboat’s price ranges from Rs250,000 to Rs2 million, depending on its capacity. A jet boat costs Rs20 million. According to operators, the commercial boats could accommodate anywhere between 10 to 40 passengers.
Motorboats were first introduced in Koshi River in Sunsari district, 15 years ago.
It got further traction after former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli made public his dream of operating waterways and motorboats.
The jet boats have shortened the journey from Sunsari to various parts of Dhankuta, Bhojpur and Khotang districts. The operators say the services can be extended up to Dolalghat in Kavre through the Sunkoshi River and Tumlingtar in Sankhuwasabha through the Arun River.
“The obstacles such as big rocks need to be cleared in the middle of the river in some areas,” said Rajesh Chaudhary, a motorboat captain. Operators say that if the rocks are removed, it could cut down three days of walking time to reach Bhojpur, Khotang and other hill districts from Sunsari.
The operators believe the waterways will also promote tourism.
“These motorboats and jetboats operated by Koshi Water Transport have been providing services to around 500 passengers daily and generating employment. It is sad that the administration has not issued the licence for the operators,” said Rajesh Kumar Chaudhary, one of the captains.
A two-storey small cruise ship began its operations at Narayani River on January 15.
It has a capacity to carry 200 passengers at once and has been introduced for sightseeing and entertainment purposes.
However, concerns have been raised regarding its monitoring and passengers’ safety.
Deepak Dhungel, executive director of Rhino Water International, which operates the small cruise ship, claimed it was safe enough for excursions.
“It runs at 10 kilometres per hour,” said Dhungel.
The station is located nearly 6 kilometres west of Narayangarh Bazaar at Kabhre Ghat in Bharatpur Metropolitan City-16.
The small cruise ship was assembled by a team of engineers and technicians from Grandeur Marine International of Kerala, India, according to Dhungel.
“The captain of the cruise is Alkumar Sheikh from Kolkata, India,” said Dhungel.
Currently, the cruise provides excursion services with breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The company has set the ticket price at Rs700 per person for an hour-long trip. While an additional charge of Rs1,500 provides breakfast cruising service, lunch and dinner cruising can be enjoyed by paying an additional Rs2,000 and Rs2,500, respectively.
“It can also be used as a venue for marriage, conferences or other functions,” said Dhungel.
According to Dhungel, he has registered his company at the Department of Industries and taken the permit for its operation from the Department of Tourism.
Surya Prasad Upadhyaya, director of the Department of Tourism, said that Nepal Shipping Office needs to regulate the operation of the cruise.
“Though we have given permission for the operation of the cruise for adventure and entertaining purposes, the cruise of that size needs to be monitored by the Nepal Shipping Office,” said Upadhyaya.
“We have heard the news about the operation of big ships at Narayani,” said Pradhan from the Nepal Shipping Office. “But, we do not have any formal information about it.”
“The monitoring of such ships falls under our jurisdiction, but we do not have laws to monitor them,” said Pradhan.