Wise decision

Saturday 15 July 2000

The Nepalese government revokes a week-long ban on clean vehicles

It came as a shock to everybody. Even as countries all over the world are turning to clean more fuel-efficient and less polluting vehicles the government of Nepal suddenly decided to ban the registration of the battery-operated, three-wheeler Vikrams. A week later they reversed their decision under national and international pressure.

There was reason for resentment by both Nepalis as well as foreign funding agencies. By imposing the ban the government of Nepal was virtually rolling back an anti-pollution drive. Even Lucknow, the city where the Vikram is produced, has banned the diesel version and replaced it with the electric one. There has been a visible change in air pollution levels in Lucknow since then. The ban was imposed at a time when the electric vehicle industry was picking up in the country. These three-wheelers are gaining in popularity as the preferred means of public transport. They are cheaper than buses or taxis and because of zero emissions people are not assaulted by fumes from the exhaust pipe. Obviously, they have many advantages but the greatest advantage they have is that they ensure good health for the citizens.

The decision to ban the Vikram in Nepal had, therefore, put a stop to the growth of a pollution-free public transport system. It was a disservice to both the public and the environment. It certainly did not serve public interest, as was obvious by the outrage that followed the ban, and it could have in no way improved the air quality of the Kathmandu valley.

The air quality of Kathmandu will not improve overnight. It will take time. Experts quoted in the press believe that it could take up to three to four years. But to do this it is necessary to introduce non-polluting technology. All this will take a concerted and sustained effort and in this case the government, specially the ministry of transport, has to act as the facilitator. It is, therefore, heartening that the government chose to respond to the public outcry in a positive manner and lift the ban.

The secretary at the ministry of population and environment in Nepal, Govinda Bhatta, summed up the situation beautifully. "It is almost impossible," he said, " to put a sudden stop to all these factors, but if we go on doing things bit by bit, like the banning of diesel-run Vikrams, then air quality will change in the next four to five years."

For that the government needs to be more proactive in its approach to non-polluting technology.

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