Turning Promise Into Action
Hira Bahadur Thapa
The good news is that the government of Nepal decided to address the grievances of senior citizens, including their concerns for the provision of giving them concession on bus fares, both in the short and long routes. This provision has enabled them to travel spending less as they have limited sources of income to survive. Except for a few retirees enjoying attractive pension, the higher echelon in bureaucracy, army, police etc from the government fund, a majority of those whose age is 60 or above, considered to be senior citizens as per the existing regulations, have difficulties of coping with today’s rising cost of living and are forced to depend on their children for support.
Receiving due support from one’s dependents while they continue aging with little likelihood of embracing any income earning job or vocation, the senior citizens of Nepal are forced to tolerate humiliation both at homes and outside with a very few exceptions though. Their earning capacity becoming almost nil, they need support from the government, which says that it is committed to tackle the genuine grievances related to them. Providing them old age allowance (2,000 rupees per month) and issuing them senior citizens cards that allow them to receive 50 per cent discount in bus travel as well as in medical expenses at designated hospitals in Kathmandu, are examples of government care of seniors.
But the dilemma is that a large number of senior citizens have been denied the facility of fare concession while travelling by buses both and outside the Kathmandu Valley. Either they can’t use the government-provided facility because they have not been issued cards or despite the possession of cards from the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, they can’t pick up any possible fights with the bus staff, who hardly treat their elders with respect and always try to intimidate them saying that it is not 50 per cent discount. They interpret the way they like in contravention of existing rules.
I am one of those card holding senior citizens, who has the bitterest experience at the bus ticket counter in Gongabu New Bus Park, whenever I plead with them that they should honor government regulations requiring them to give me 50 per cent concession for my bus travel to and from Kusma, the route of my frequent travel due to my volunteer work in one of the community higher secondary schools in Parbat, which is also my Alma Mater.
Many times I have struggled hard to convince the counter staff of AC Bus plying between Kathmandu-Beni that there is an obligation on them to issue me the bus ticket with reduced fare by 50 per cent. If I am able somehow to obtain this facility from one group of people attending ticket counter, there is no guarantee that I would be given the same concession next time even after a week or so if the counter is headed by another staff member. To avoid this harassment I started to display the old ticket of the same group of bus to obtain concession provided for by the government of Nepal. If a government retiree from Foreign Service like me is being harassed like this, one can imagine how they would have treated many of our senior citizens when they ask for the facility, which the bus company just can’t deny lawfully.
Let me cite the most recent example of harassment at New Bus Park, to which I was subjected, by one staff member of Sajha Yatayat on the morning of Friday May 19, 2017 when I was requesting him to issue me a ticket of their bus from Kathmandu-Kusma with a 50 per cent discount by producing my senior citizen card. The controversy started when he refused to provide me concession at the rate I, as a senior citizen, is entitled to.
The total bus fare of Sajha Yatayat as displayed by their counters, from Kathmandu-Kusma one way is 400 rupees and anybody can buy such ticket with this amount, irrespective of senior citizen card. If this is correct, (if not, the concerned authorities at Pulchowk should disprove it,) then there is no reason why I should not be given a ticket of that route in 200 rupees, which is 50 per cent discount. Upon my repeated appeals to KB Roka, the Sajha Yatayat employee on duty at Gongabu New Bus Park counter, not only flatly refused to give me concession as demanded but also rebuked and at times even tortured me saying that there is no bus ticket available for me while I had put my card and money in front of his desk. Surprisingly, there were only three ticketed bus passengers going to Kusma or Baglung that day and most of the seats were vacant when Roka threatened me not to issue me a bus ticket.
It was a ploy on his part to intimidate me to the maximum extent possible so that I would accept his own ruling. He did not issue me the ticket for several minutes until I again persuaded him to issue me the ticket telling that I was prepared to pay him 300 rupees although it was an injustice to me, an insult to my age and the mockery of the government regulations.
What a great irony is this? A government-dominated transport enterprise like Sajha Yatayat flouts government regulations and denies a conscious citizen the facility to use which I have been given the senior citizen identity card from the concerned government agency. Had I not presented my card, the issue would have been handled differently and I wouldn’t have raised this here with the sincere expectation that some responsible person managing Sajha Yatayat would take it up not only because I have to be provided justice, but also because many of our senior citizens need government intervention to avoid such humiliating behaviour from the staff.
Every citizen and agency has the legal obligation to adhere to the instructions and regulations of the government and law of the land needs to be enforced with equanimity.
The point that deserves scrutiny is not the amount of one hundred rupees, the difference between discounted fare as required and the actual concession given by the unruly staff member, who is damaging the image of the government he is serving with. The misbehaviour of the Sajha Yatayat employee is more troublesome and problematic.
I have kept the bus tickets and am ready to present, if required, but my humble submission to the government is that its promise to give concession to the senior citizens, whose contributions to the society it has recognised, should be translated into action, otherwise, there may be great credibility gap.