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Killer on the run

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Lack of investigations of road fatalities deny justice to victims and embolden rash drivers

prahlad yonzon

It was just after 4 PM on 31 October last year when a speeding truck hit a bicycle on the Ring Road near Kalanki, it was the kind of incident that happens almost every day in Kathmandu’s chaotic streets.

The truck, which belonged to Narayani Transport, was seized and the driver detained. The reason the accident got more than a small mention in the newspapers was that the victim was internationally renowned conservationist and wildlife academic, Prahlad Yonzon, who always bicycled to and from work from his office in Dhobighat.

“I was driving from Kalanki towards Balkhu and at distance, I saw a truck overtaking a cycle on the right side from behind and hit it,” recalls Bibek Sharma, who rushed Yonzon to Teku Hospital in his vehicle. “The truck paused for few seconds, then sped away. Prahlad’s left leg had been smashed.”

Sharma called up Jujubhai Tandukar of Kalanki police station, whom he had met 10 minutes previously and told him what had happened. The police came to the hospital and recorded his statement. Later in the evening, another senior police officer also interviewed him. Yet, five months later, Sharma says he is surprised he has still not been summoned to testify in court.

Yonzon’s families, lawyer and friends are also surprised and suspect there is a deliberate attempt by the police not get the key witness to testify in court. “We don’t have anything against the driver or transport company, all we are asking for is a fair trial,” Yonzon’s niece, Sanjeevani who works with Wildlife Conservation Nepal, told Nepali Times, “now I understand why people take to streets and smash things up. Nobody listens to you otherwise.”

Prahlad Yonzon was not just a conservationist, he was among few responsible individuals in Kathmandu’s streets. “Imagine how much carbon we are not emitting if just one individual decides to go green,” he used to say, and he decided to do something about it by using a bicycle. It was a mode of transport that he hoped would helped restore the planet’s health, but he died trying to make that statement.

“Maila Ba was aware of the risks of cycling in Kathmandu but he continued,” Sanjeevani says, “he lobbied with the city to demand bicycle lanes and safer roads for pedestrians. The least this country can do is show some respect and conduct a fair trial. We are not demanding any compensation, we just want truth and justice.”

Sources in Metropolitan Traffic admit legal loopholes provide culprits of rash driving easy escape. However, half-hearted and motivated investigations not only deny justice to victims, they embolden rash drivers and encourage impunity.

Kathmandu is now a city of 2.5 million people, but its road network has expanded little in the last 20 years when the number of vehicles has also grown 20-fold. Traffic is chaotic, traffic discipline is nil and although the crackdown on drunk driving has reduced the number of accidents, rash drivers and vehicles with iron rods protruding from the back face no punishment.

There are more than 10,000 road accidents every year in Kathmandu and nearly 400 fatalities, and many of them are not really “accidents” but are preventable man-made mishaps caused by rash and negligent drivers, as was the case in Prahlad Yonzon’s tragic death at age 60.

Yonzon’s family and lawyer are putting their faith in the upcoming hearing of the case this week, where they are hopeful the court will allow Bibek Sharma to testify. But they fear nexus between a powerful transport cartel and police will use money and muscle to prevent that from happening. They family has appealed to the public to come forward to show support.

Anurag Acharya

See also:
Pralad Yonzon, 60, #577

Cyclists and the city, #579

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