Murari Sharma: Messengers of death on bikes

Messengers of death ride motorbikes in Kathmandu, a Nepali capital-based friend told me recently.  This is the reflection of a lawless country where breaking the rules is the norm.

A motorbike driven by a young man hit Padma Raj Subedi, 79, one of the finest men of Nepal and a former secretary to government, and killed him in Kathmandu. Subedi joined the statistics of victims of such accidents, which run in to thousands every year in the valley.

He was an exemplary father, a great mentor and a noted philanthropist. As a father, he trained and guided his children to the road of success. My close relative, he mentored me and thousands like me. His friends came to for support and advice. By supporting many charitable causes, he reached out to the wider community.

In addition, he was also a highly regarded former secretary to the Nepal government. He worked in various districts for many years, winning the hearts and minds of the local people, and rose to become a secretary. A mild, careful, and amiable person, Subedi was a clean and successful administrator, second to none.

At work or in society, he never did injustice to anyone. Yet, he suffered reckless injustice at the end of his career and his life.

The Girija Prasad Koirala government did Subedi gross injustice by firing him in 1991 when he was Secretary, together with other civil servants. Though he had dealt softly with the pro-democracy activists during the Panchayat days, some of Koirala’s cronies had linked him to the recently toppled system. The decision to fire him and many others was blatantly unjust, and the court reinstated most of them.

But Subedi’s appeal dragged on endlessly until his age for retirement arrived. Though Koirala apologized, publicly, for his ill-advised decision, the irreparable damage was already done.

Another injustice, from a young biker, took his life. Reportedly, a reckless young biker sped up and hit Subedi from the front when he was crossing the road through the zebra crossing near his home, sending the victim flying down to the black-topped road. He was rushed to Annapurna Hospital where he breathed last shortly.

Although pedestrians are supposed to have the right of the way at zebra crossings, two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and four-wheelers in Kathmandu invariably claim this right over the people on foot.

In the capital city of Nepal, the bikers are the main culprits in traffic accidents and related deaths. They create traffic jams by filling every inch of road and preventing other vehicles from moving. They do not observe the one-way rule or the lane rule where they apply.

Worse, by usurping the footpaths to drive and park their bikes and by driving through one-way streets and the pedestrian-only bridges, they routinely endanger the life of road user. And they speed up when they see people using the zebra-crossing to traverse the road.

The bikers cause the majority of accidents, including those that kill. The number of traffic accidents, according to the Traffic Police, has increased by 280 percent over the last 10 years (from 1989 to 5568 accidents). Forty percent of the victims are pedestrians.

Why are the bikers and drivers so reckless in Nepal? This is what happens in a lawless country run by criminals.

Understandably, bikes are inexpensive to buy and operate and quicker to get from point A to B. Therefore, the rise in their number in Kathmandu over the last couple of years has been phenomenal. According to one figure, 70,000 bikes were added to Kathmandu, which has a population of slightly above one million, in the last six months or so alone. The sheer increase in the volume of traffic is bound to shoot up accidents.

But that does not give the bikers the license to be reckless. Neither has the government, on its part, done much to make the roads of Kathmandu safe.

It has not put traffic lights, not built footpaths in many places, and not maintained the roads well. Over the last three years, it has demolished the houses and walls to widen the city roads where they are narrow, but not an inch of them has been rebuilt. To make the worse, it has allowed water and sewage, and telecommunication companies to dig the road and leave it unbuilt.

So, Kathmandu has turned into the hell of mud in the wet season and the bowl of dust in the dry season, seriously affecting the health of millions its denizens.

What is more, traffic police let the rule breakers literally get away with murder while making a fast buck whenever possible. Appallingly, all deaths on the road are treated as accidents, letting the deliberate perpetrators of the crime also off the hook. No wonder, if a biker or driver hits and wounds a pedestrian, he would come back and kill the victim, so he can get away with the minuscule mandatory fine and avoid the expenses of the victim’s treatment.

Therefore, a sizeable number of traffic accidents are not accidents but revenge killings.

Unfortunately, Subedi has become one of the 41 percent pedestrians that lose their lives in traffic accidents. He was the innocent victim of the reckless driving and lax enforcement of weak government rules in Kathmandu. If his death injects a sense of responsibility in the bikers and drivers as well as the government, his murder, though unjust and callous as it was, would do some service to the people of Kathmandu.

But I doubt that it would happen. If Nepalis learned from experience, we would not have been where we are today.  So the bikers will remain the messengers of death on the streets of Kathmandu for many years to come, and the Nepal government will continue muddling through, while politicians and bureaucrats line their pockets from the miseries of common people.

So messengers of death will continue riding motorbikes in Kathmandu and the lawless country will continue sinking into deeper chaos. In other words, the sad death of Padma Raj Subedi, a great loss for his family and Nepal, may not change anything other than padding up the traffic death statistics.