Nepali Times
Vanishing public services


The 32 trolley buses have been rusting at the Min Bhavan terminal for the past four years.

Those who grew up in Kathmandu Valley in the 80s and 90s have fond memories of the green and white trolley bus as it snaked through the capital's major thoroughfares. Starting from Tripureswor and ending at Surya Binayak, the Chinese-gifted buses served the residents of the Valley silently and smokelessly for more than three decades for 15 paisa per ride, later increased to Rs 5.

But like all other public services run by the state, the trolley bus service fell victim to political interference, neglect, and corruption. Instead of extending the routes, even the one route collapsed. By 2009, the trolley buses had ground to a halt and its Min Bhavan terminal with 32 rusting buses was turned into a dorm for the Maoist YCL.

The trolley bus service, the Kathmandu-Hetauda cargo ropeway, Nepal Airlines, fire hydrants, post boxes, and other public services now live only in the public memory.

The bright red unique temple-shaped post box in New Road has been out of use for many years.

When Juddha Shamsher Rana established the fire brigade in 1938, hydrants were installed at critical junctions in Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur. Most of these Juddha, Bhim, and Bir 'dhara' were knocked down during the road expansion drive, and the few that still stand do not have any connections to the mains.

Today whenever there is a fire, fire engines have to first make a trip to fetch water. "When there is a fire in Makhan, we have to spend 45 minutes travelling to Mahankal by which time houses have been reduced to ashes," says fire truck driver, Rajendra Bahadur Shrestha.

It's not just the fire hydrants, the three fire brigades in the Valley have fallen into disrepair as well. In a valley with 3.5 million population there are only four functioning fire engines. These fire trucks not only serve Kathmandu residents, but also travel as far as Kavre and Dhading. A study done by Juddha fire brigade estimates that the Valley needs one central fire station with 10 branches, 16 fire engines, and at least 200 fire fighters. However, the state has neither been able to repair and upgrade existing infrastructure nor add much needed smaller fire engines which could navigate the tiny alleys of Kathmandu.
In its glory days, the 42km Hetauda-Kathmandu cargo ropeway used to run 10 hours and transport 220 tons of goods every day.

Another public service to fall by the wayside, as it were, are post boxes. Fifteen years ago the bright red unique temple-shaped boxes in New Road, Ram Shah Path, Dilli Bazar or Putali Sadak would be teeming with personal letters and official documents. Today, except for letters from the Agricultural Development Bank and Land Revenue Office, no one uses them says Bandhu Bastola, a senior official at the General Post Office.

Administrative documents, legal notices, bank statements, and newspapers are still mailed via post. Private houses, apartments, and commercial complexes all have mail boxes at their main entrance, but the post boxes are gone.

Established in 1878, Nepal's postal service which covers more than 3,800 VDCs with 3,991 offices and 20,000 employees is still capable of reaching Nepalis living in far corners of the country. However, the progress made in the past 134 years has been wiped away by state neglect.

The lone standing fire hydrant in Darbar Marg does not have any connections to the mains.

The century old Hetauda-Kathmandu cargo ropeway which has been out of order for 13 years also lies in ruins. In its glory days, the 42km ropeway could make the journey from Kathmandu to Hetauda in four hours. The US-funded service used to run 10 hours and transport 220 tons of goods every day, provide employment to 900 Nepalis and was a vital fall-back when landslides and floods destroyed the highway in 1995. A year ago, the government was in the process of reviving the ropeway and two private companies in Hetauda had even shown interest, but the plan was aborted mid-way.

In the past few years trees, public toilets, water fountains, parks, and traditional rest houses have also slowly faded from the landscape of Kathmandu's memory. Instead, the city resembles the aftermath of an earthquake with the half-finished road expansion drive.

See laso:
Flying in a ropeway over Nepal, MARK ZIMMERMAN
How one man who was a stowaway on cargo cable car from Kathmandu to Hetauda lived to tell the tale

Photo feature: Last look at the trolley bus

1. Ujjwal Acharya
Very good issue raised. As a resident of Kaushaltar on Arniko Highway, I have fond childhood memories of trolley-bus. During those childhood years, we used the post offices to see if they really bring letters to home. I still feel sad when I see the dilapidated remaining of the Hetauda-Kathmandu Ropeway and railway track of the Bhaktapur Brick Factory. Its really sad that they only exist in memory. To revive them to earlier state would be near-impossible but to work our something out of them will not be impossible - they are the history and histories should be preserved even though only as a museums.

Also important is that there should be scientific studies on why they failed. The findings not to punish the culprits (we have hard time punishing murderers in this country, forget about corrupt officials) but for knowledge so that if (and hopefully) there is someone good, it would be handy to handle other such entities. 

2. dhedubadar
Recently I read a speech of one Latin American Mayor who said something like this : - "A developed country is not where poor people own cars but where rich people use public transport". Development is measured by how effective and available the public service sectors are in a country.
As a child growing up in Kathmandu, I have fond memories of simple joys like riding the trolly bus and marveling looking at its automated doors, dropping an aerogram at a bright red "patra manjusa" with yellow roof with a gajur, and watching in awe the "not so forceful " jet of water streaming off a fire hydrant and it creating a small stream on the street.

After 1990 our politicians have left no stone unturned when it comes to criticizing the past governments at their undemocratic ways but have leeched these public institution including trolly bus, sajha bus, Nepal name it, into fragility and oblivion.

Quality and latitude of public service in a country is probably one of the best measurement of how developed and robust a country is. And for a country like ours that already has had the foundations built its no rocket science to improve them. We just need folks who are there to govern in the government but alas for the last 20 years the government has been captured by those whose only intention, it seems, is only to suck it dry.

3. Raj
Stupid politicians that worry about supposedly big ideological and national issues will never care about public services such as effective and efficient transportation. Kathmandu needs local elections.NOW. Livability in Kathmandu will remain an unfulfilled dream until we have accountable elected local leadership that will manage our public services.

4. Manit
These have become nostalgic memories in our minds.. And I am sure we know the essence of these amenities. Every thing's dead. Recently read about the trolley bus used as a fast food joint on ekantipur.. this was interesting to read but very SAD

5. Nirmal
In Nepal neither small problems like the ones above that could be noticed just by looking have solutions because the responsible authorities turn blind eyes before them nor big problem -the never ending transitional period- arrives to any conclusion no matter how many eyes have amplified view on it.

6. Nepali
What we could expect from those greedy politicians - ministers who's only got eyes on the seat but not for the development of the country. They do only know dharnas, bandh and what could be expected from those foolish illiterates where some ministers are not even SLC passed. Shame on u politicians. Open ur eyes wide for the progress ok. 

7. Tashi Lama
Vanishing public services had been seen in materials only but not the vanishing public property and money, if we look back into these matters in Nepal, it is very disgusting to see how corrupted and bad governance in Nepal had been since the Shah's, Rana's and Panchayati's rule under the name of HMG of Nepal.

We don't have to look further and deeper, just look at the comparison of RNA Royal Nepal Airlines and the Thai Airways, both these airways nearly started on same period of time. At present RNA or Nepal Airways has only two air crafts left in service, forget of any profits made, But Thai Airways at present has hundreds of air crafts in service world wide with profits of billions of Dollars. None speaks of this conspiracy of RNA's failure, which is mainly caused by mismanagement and the corruption by authorities of RNA and Nepal government past and of present. The rulers and authorities of Thailand, a Buddhist nation truly showed it's morality of honesty and loyalty to it's country by working hard and honestly, this fact should be understood by all Nepalese. Too much lies and corruption by rulers and authorities of Nepal had created all this chaotic situation in Nepal at present. If Nepal had been a Buddhist nation, I think we don't have see such  situation which we see in today's Nepal!

Down with narrow minded and corrupt officials of Nepal!   

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)