Kathmandu cabbies hit by government decision to ease lockdown for private vehiclesIn the past two days, traffic police have detained 0ver 700 taxi drivers for defying the government’s rule.
Thirty-seven-year-old Hema Ghesing is a single woman who drives a taxi in Kathmandu to support her three children.
On Tuesday, she took out her taxi from her Shantinagar apartment to transport food items to her landlord’s son in Jadibuti.
It was her first time taking out her taxi after 82 days of nationwide lockdown that started on March 24.
While returning from her trip, Ghesing was stopped by traffic police officers in Koteshwor. The traffic officers told her that she was not supposed to drive her taxi, because the government has only relaxed the lockdown for private vehicles.
“I tried to convince the traffic officers but they detained me for nearly five hours,” Ghesing told the Post.
Ghesing had worked as a Tempo driver for eight years before buying her own taxi on an instalment loan one and half years ago. She had paid Rs 1 million in down payment to buy the taxi and she has been paying Rs 21,000 as a monthly instalment.
Throughout the lockdown that went on for nearly three months, Ghesing was unable to pay her monthly instalment. She was going desperate because she was running out of money to pay the outstanding instalments for her taxi, pay her rent and to feed her children.
“I need to pay Rs 21,000 as a monthly installment. I have not paid for three months. Besides, I also need to pay three months' room rent of Rs 18,000. I don’t have money to buy food for my children,” Ghesing said. “I thought I’d earn a little cash if I took out my taxi, but the traffic police detained and harassed me for hours. How am I going to survive here?”
On Wednesday, Ghesing got a passenger from her neighbourhood, a medical doctor on his way to Teku Hospital. She earned Rs 340 for the trip. But while returning home, she was stopped by traffic police again.
Ghesing said she was stopped by traffic police while she was returning home after her trip.
“I wore gloves and a mask and I had a sanitiser ready. I had followed the necessary precautions, but the traffic police stopped me,” Ghesing said.
Like Ghesing, traffic police detained nearly 450 cabbies on Wednesday for operating without the government’s permission.
Most of the taxi drivers who were caught by the traffic police in the Valley had similar problems as Gheshing: they had not paid their loans and vehicle instalments, house rents and their children’s tuition fees for three months.
“It was three years ago I bought my taxi with a Rs 2.1 million loan from a finance company,” said Ram Saran Thapa, a 44-year-old cabbie from Sano Thimi, Bhaktapur. “The lockdown has disrupted everything in my life. I have loans to pay and a family to look after.”
Thapa’s family was recently kicked out of their apartment in Sanothimi by their landlord who accused them of bringing the coronavirus. The family had recently returned from Dolakha after attending the funeral of Thapa’s father, who had died of respiratory ailment.
“The house owners didn't let us enter our apartment. My wife and our 10-year-old son had to sleep in my taxi that night,” said Thapa.
He and his family had returned to Bhaktapur, after the government eased the lockdown, so that he could earn money driving his taxi, and pay his loan.
On June 13, the family found a room, but Thapa still needed to find passengers to earn money.
“The traffic police have become unfairly strict with us. How will I pay the room rent and feed my family if I’m not allowed to drive my taxi” Thapa told the Post.
Last week, the government had decided to ease the lockdown only for private vehicles, and that too on odd-even licence plate rule basis.
The government has not made any plans regarding the operation of public vehicles, as the number of Covid-19 patients are increasing rapidly in the country.
However, taxi drivers like Ghising and Thapa are not pleased with the government decision.
They have said that the government has ignored their plight.
Cabbies in Kathmandu have announced a protest against what they call an unfair rule of the government.
“Either the government should provide a relief package to taxi drivers and give subsidies in tax or allow us to do our business as usual. We have given an ultimatum to the Department of Transport Management to make a decision by June 19. If our demand is not addressed, we will go on a protest,” said Sanu Purba Chha Magar, chairman of the Kathmandu Valley Taxi Operators and Drivers Association.
The association represents 4,500 taxi drivers in the Valley.
“The government’s decision to detain taxi drivers has affected thousands of families who have loans to pay and are facing hard times looking after their families,” said Magar.
The Kathmandu valley has 12,385 taxis, with 25,000 drivers who drive in day and night shifts, according to the association.
“An estimated 1 million family members belong to taxi drivers, and due to the lockdown, they are in trouble. If the government is ready to pay their installment, they are ready to go on without doing their business,” said Magar.
SP Jeevan Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, said taxis were not allowed to carry passengers for the time being.
“We have got a strict direction from the Home Ministry not to let any public vehicles on the road. If they are found on the streets of Kathmandu Valley, we will take action against them,” Shrestha told the Post.