One million applicants affected as driving licence tests yet to resumeDepartment of Transport Management says it can’t conduct the tests without receiving a nod from Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre.
Just a week before the prohibitory orders were imposed in Kathmandu Valley, Nirmala Ghimire had bought a new scooter to ease her commute to her office from her apartment at Kalanki.
She used to commute by public transport earlier. By getting the scooter, Ghimire thought she was reducing her risk of catching the coronavirus.
The 26-year-old says she had learned to ride before buying the scooter and was prepared to take the test for a two-wheeler licence.
But she could not take the test as the Department of Transport Management was not conducting the test.
Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the department has not issued new driving licences since March last year. Although the department opened online applications for driving licences in mid-January this year, it has not yet conducted the driving trials.
Ghimire says she was compelled to ride her scooter to work without licence when Kathmandu Valley was under strict prohibitory orders and public vehicles were not allowed to operate.
“I had a travel pass issued by my office but no licence,” she said. “I was stopped by traffic police more than six times during the prohibitory orders and every time I managed to get off after showing the pass issued by my office.”
Mina Khadga has a similar experience of riding her scooter to work without a licence during the lockdown last year.
The 25-year-old had got a new scooter just before the lockdown and applied for a licence. She too is waiting for the transport department to resume the tests for driving licence.
“I have been stopped twice by traffic police. When they asked whether I have a licence, I told them confidently that I have it. Luckily, they didn’t bother to see,” said Khadga, who lives at Bakhundole.
Khadga feels bad about having to lie about having a licence. But she also says she had no choice since travelling by public transport is not safe.
Her application for a licence was not processed as the transport department closed its services soon after she had applied.
According to the department, around 700,000 licence applications have been pending for a year.
In nearly four months from mid-January until the prohibitory orders were imposed this year, the department has resumed services such as licence renewal, vehicle registration and tax collection. However, the process of issuing new driving licences remains suspended.
Loknath Bhusal, spokesperson of the department, said in the past 15 months, an estimated 1 million people haven’t been able to get their driving licences.
“We can’t resume our service without receiving a nod from the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre,” said Bhusal.
Among the people who are unable to get driving licences are students going abroad for further studies and migrant workers.
Rayan Sunuwar of Gothatar has applied for a college in the United Kingdom. He expects to get his visa this month.
“One of my relatives who lives in the UK has advised me to get a licence, but it’s impossible,” the 21-year-old said.
Bhusal, the spokesperson for the transport department, says currently they can only renew the licences of those people who are going abroad.
The halt in the services has left the buyers of two-wheelers and other vehicles frustrated. It has also caused many people like Ghimire and Khadga to drive without a licence, because they do not feel safe travelling in public vehicles, where Covid safety protocols are rarely followed.
“Even though you can ride well and own a vehicle, the authorities do not give you a licence under the pretext of the pandemic,” said Ghimire. “The government should find an alternative. Everything is open these days. I don’t understand why the transport department is not conducting the licencing test when new vehicles are being sold every day.”
Nepal imported 208,793 two-wheelers worth Rs 18.76 billion in the fiscal year 2019-20, according to the Department of Customs, while their number reached 355,959, which cost Rs 33.19 billion, in the fiscal year 2020-21.