Nepal Outlaws Polluting Vehicles

By Deepak Gajurel

KATHMANDU, Nepal, January 4, 2000 (ENS) - The government of Nepal has announced a serious crackdown to eliminate the pollutants that are making Kathmandu air quality unbearable. In its latest action to clear the air of the bowl shaped Kathmandu Valley, the government has announced the introduction of Nepal Emission Standards 2000, the Nepali version of Euro-I standards, for all vehicles operating within the valley.

Effective immediately, the government has banned the import into the country of vehicles other than those meeting Nepal Emission Standard 2000.

A cabinet meeting Thursday took a series of pro-environment decisions aimed at further improving the Valley's emission level, which is way beyond the World Health Organization's permissible limits.


Street near Durbar Market in Kathmandu (Photo courtesy Rojal Pradhan)
All vehicles travelling within the 400 square kilometers Kathmandu Valley will have to go through emission tests. Effective February 19, emission threshold will be strictly enforced, according to an announcement from Ministry of Environment.

Under existing emission rules, a petrol operated vehicle should not exceed three percent carbon monoxide exhaust limit, while the limit for diesel operated vehicles has been fixed at 65 Hartidge Smoke Units (HSU).

Until now, vehicles passing these emission tests have been allowed to drive about freely, while those failing the tests have been restricted to half a dozen streets in the city.

"From February 19 onward, whole of Kathmandu Valley will be restricted for those vehicles failing the emission tests," Minister of State for Environment Bhatka Bahadur Balayar said.

"Be it the prime minister's vehicles or be it any others, all will be banned from plying the roads of the Kathmandu Valley if they do not meet existing emission standards," Balayar emphasized.

In another decision, the government has set a maximum 20 year life span for vehicles operating in Nepal. "No reconditioned vehicles that have crossed 20 years of age will be allowed to be operated in the country from now on," the Environment Ministry said in a statement Friday. Currently, vehicles as old as 40 years are in use.

Almost a quarter of the nearly 200,000 vehicles now in use throughout the country are estimated to be more than 20 years old.

More than half of the roughly 120,000 vehicles in Kathmandu are feared to be emitting pollutants far beyond permitted levels, experts say.

The government has pledged to reform the existing emission testing agency, which is described as "flawed and rife with corruption," according to Environment Ministry officials.

Minister Balayar said the government is bringing in new emissions testing equipment to make sure that the testing mechanisms would be more accurate.


Kathmandu Valley (Photo courtesy government of Nepal)
Environmentalists have hailed the government's pro-environment moves. "It is the right time to take moves to curb pollution," says Mangal Man Shakya, general secretary of the Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists. "An effective implementation of these measures will help mitigate Kathmandu's degrading air quality."

But some are only cautiously optimistic. Given the quality of roads in the valley, any move against pollution will not solve the entire problem, critics say. "Until you remove dusts from the roads, no measure will improve the air quality," says environmental expert Anil Chitrakar.

Most of the roads in the capital's outer areas are filled with potholes. Dust rising from the wheels of vehicles add to the already deteriorated air quality in these areas.

Studies have shown that dust is a major pollutant in Kathmandu. The results of monitoring conducted by Nepal Environmental and Scientific Society continuously since January 1998, has revealed that gaseous pollution is under World Health Organization permissible limits. Dust in the air is more than six times higher than the permissible limits.

The poor quality gasoline distributed by the state owned Nepal Oil Corporation has been blamed for contributing to the unhealthy air quality of the capital city.

"There should be quality control in fuel distributed," says Chitrakar. "Otherwise, no measure can curb air pollution, he warns.

The Nepali government kicked off its anti-pollution drive in September with a ban on Vikram Tempos, India-made, diesel operated three-wheelers. Then, it banned the import of two-stroke motorbikes into the country.