29 February 2004

Nepali transporters see red over bus pact with India

29 February 2004
The Times of India

Nepali transporters see red over bus pact with India


NEW DELHI: If buses to Pakistan spell peace and goodwill, this week's Indo-Nepal bus agreement seems to have done just the opposite, fuelling traditional suspicions in the Himalayan kingdom that India is once again exploiting its big brother status to impose an unequal deal on its smaller neighbour.

On the face of it, there is no reason why the landmark Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA), signed on February 24 during foreign secretary Shashank's visit to Kathmandu, should excite any controversy.

The agreement provides for direct bus services on 14 routes between Nepali and Indian cities through five border crossings — an improvement over the current situation where bus passengers must alight at the border, walk across, and sit in a new bus to reach their final destination.

In addition, the MVA provides for hassle-free entry of private vehicles from either country for a period of five days, fulfilling a long-pending demand of Nepal's hotel industry eager to attract affluent Indian road-trippers.

Nepali transporters, however, allege the MVA will favour Indian operators who, because of their lower costs, would force Nepali buses off the road.

"This reflects how India is directly trying to take control of Nepal's economy", the Kathmandu Post quoted Bishnu Shivakoti of the Federation of Nepalese Transport Entrepreneurs as saying.

Much has also been made of a clause allowing India to levy a surety on all Nepali private vehicles crossing the border if they are not Indian-made. This clause, Indian officials say, was inserted to ensure individuals do not exploit the lower customs duty on cars in Nepal to smuggle foreign-made vehicles into India.

In Nepal, however, the clause has been commonly understood to mean India will only allow Indian-made buses on the inter-city routes, and that Nepali operators will not be able to run buses manufactured elsewhere, say in China.

Worried by the "partial and selective reading of the provisions of the agreement", the Indian embassy in Kathmandu issued a statement on Wednesday denying the MVA discriminates between buses of Indian and third-country origin.

Indian officials say they are puzzled by the misgivings and blame vested interests among Nepal's transporters for spreading false information about the agreement.

They stress the agreement is "strictly reciprocal in nature", meaning that all privileges enjoyed by Indian operators will also be available to their Nepali counterparts. An equal number of buses from each country will ply along designated routes.

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