Rickety buses provided by the Bihar government, the greed of their staff and lack of coordination have delayed the evacuation of hundreds of Indians stranded in Nepal after last week’s devastating earthquake.
Three of the 13 creaky and old buses dispatched by authorities in Bihar to Pokhara early on Monday morning broke down after developing mechanical problems. As the convoy wound through the treacherous, mountainous terrain of Pokhara, the whereabouts of one bus was unknown to the Indian consulate in Birgunj on Wednesday.
After more than 36 hours, only six buses returned to the special relief camp set up in the border town of Raxaul by 10.30pm on Tuesday, after covering a distance of 425 km.
After seeing the rickety condition of the buses and keeping in mind the steep climb to Kathmandu and Pokhara, India’s consul general in Birgunj, Anju Ranjan, had specifically advised the Bihar government not to send at least five of the buses.
However, transport authorities in Bihar did not heed Ranjan’s advice.
Ranjan told Hindustan Times, “The apparent condition of some buses was not good enough to undertake the task. But the Bihar officials insisted on sending all the buses to Pokhara. I asked the Nepalese police to help in the recovery of the three buses which broke down.”
What also brought disrepute to the evacuation efforts was an allegation that one of the bus drivers demanded Rs 100 from each passenger to ferry them out of Nepal. He also reportedly sought Rs 50 to Rs 100 for a bottle of water and flattened rice (chura) which were part of supplies to be provided for free to the persons being evacuated.
Krishna Chaityan, an official of the Indian consulate, that he had cross-checked with some passengers who alleged the driver had asked for money from them. “We will inform the police and lodge a case against the driver for his misdeeds,” said Chaitanya.
Civil society groups in Birgunj have taken up the issue of evacuees from Nepal being fleeced by unscrupulous elements.
Pradeep Yadav, a leader of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum of Nepal, blew the lid on the bus driver from Bihar who had demanded money from people.
He said: “We recovered and refunded to passengers Rs 3.50 lakh (that was taken back) from public transporters (who were) overcharging gullible foreigners on Tuesday. Against the normal individual fare of Rs 500, they were found to be charging up to Rs 3,000.
“We took the errant bus driver from Bihar, identified as Binod Kumar, to the Indian mission, where he confessed to his guilt and was asked to do sit-ups.”
A perceived lack of coordination between the Indian consulate and the Bihar government also delayed the evacuation from Kathmandu. Against the consul general’s advice to send 10 buses to Kathmandu and the remaining to Pokhara, the officials in Bihar insisted on sending all of them to Pokhara.
While thousands of Indians are still stranded in Kathmandu, only 92 Indians and 27 foreigners returned from Pokhara till late on Tuesday.
Six buses were subsequently diverted from Pokhara to Kathmandu, leading to loss of precious time in the evacuation efforts. All the buses are expected to return late on Wednesday night.