MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Where does one start to sort things out in a city where maniacal motorcycles, speed-freak microbus drivers, stationery taxis, rickshaws, bulls and jaywalkers all share the same potholed streets? Bringing order to this chaos is a mammoth task, but Prasai is making a dent.
"In the last 10 years there have been only 40kms of new roads built in Kathmandu, but the number of vehicles has gone up by 400 per cent," Prasai told Nepali Times in the traffic control room at Putali Sadak, from where he looks at live images of intersections from experimental CCTV cameras.
Prasai says public awareness is low and the traffic police can do little except fine lawbreakers. "There has been more support for traffic management from the people than from the government," he says, pointing to the concrete lane dividers and corporate support for the Valley's traffic police.
As a former journalist, Prasai has got newspapers and FM stations to help raise public awareness of traffic issues. He has set up a phone hotline (103) and an SMS hotline (4321) with traffic information. He also wants to see more intensive checks for vehicle roadworthiness and a get-tough policy for traffic violators.
The fuel shortage has given Prasai and the 875 officers under his command some respite because traffic volume has decreased dramatically. But he says the queues for fuel at petrol stations have created another problem.
Prasai joined the police in 1983 in the belief that where there is a will there is a way. He topped his class in basic training and early on became a police instructor at the National Police Academy. During the insurgency he found himself posted in hotspots like Rupandehi, Ilam, Palpa, Nuwakot, Nepalgunj and Jumla. He has served with UN peacekeepers in Croatia and Sierra Leone.
Prasai says the city's streets have now reached choking point: "Traffic management can help, but there is no alternative to developing an efficient and reliable public transport system."