Kathmandu, August 16, 2007; Baishakh 3, 2064, Tuesday.
At about 7:30pm, I stopped a taxi at the Putalisadak - Anamnagar intersection near the place where there used to be a store selling russian books on various themes - from soviet communism to children's stories during Panchayat era and the dawn of 1990's dormant democracy. A young driver with a scarf on his head, gazed. I asked him whether he wanted to go to Shankhamul. He said he would go but did not know how to get there. I gave him direction and he realized - Oh from New Baneswor! Then I asked him if his taxi meter was functioning well and giving correct reading. I have to ride a taxi because my health does not permit me to ride a motorcycle. I ride and I therefore know it is expensive because most of the taxi meters set by the bureau of standard run out of standards and passengers are easily cheated officially. Still I ride. Usually it is better if you ask a driver in advance if the meter was ok. Then the drivers would respond saying - "because a handful of corrupt drivers tamper their meters, good drivers are asked such question." Some would argue for a while but would accept the reasonable fair even if the meters are unfair. But they never fought.
"Is your meter ok?" I asked after I got in.
"My meter is correct" the driver said.
"If your meter reading is in access of what it should be I am not going to pay that" I said.
"How much is the reading you get?"
"It is about Rupees 75 to 80. I travel every day" I replied.
(actually a good driver's fair meter shows Rs 65)
He passed by Singha Durbar western gate already. He said "It should be around 110 or 115 at least" and started arguing in everything I said. Then i told him to stop the taxi. He did not stop. I told him to stop and he slowed down saying " you have to pay the fair for this much travel". I said "No". Then he started challenging. He was young guy. Looked like some one of college years. But I am sure, no college student would be so rude. I managed to glorify his job by mentioning he looked like a college student. He said he was a college student and the taxi was his own. I politely asked him to drive, but would pay only if the fair was not too much extra on the meter. He drove past the Babar Mahal Bridge. I asked him to turn right from that bridge and follow the Dhobikhola river. He started arguing. He knew only the road from Baneshwor Chowk. I told him to go the road I wanted to go. Because I knew it was shorter and would save few rupees. He started complaining about the bad road there. I told him all the roads except infront of Singh Durbar and Palace were in bad shape. When he reached Sankhamul chowk the meter had indicated more than 100 rupees. The reading in the Ganeshmarg where I wanted to get down was Rs 110. Every day it took between Rs 65 to 70. So, I gave him a hundred note and asked to return him 20 rupees. He started quarelling to get another twenty rupees. Finally he agreed on Rs 100, as if i was wrong and he was right because his meter was showing Rs 120. I gave up fearing he would show knife or a gun I really wanted to be fair.
I was still in emotion due to what had happened this afternoon today. This incident was simply a proof to what I was able to guess from the afternoon incident.
A taxi Ba Aa. Ja 4370 had given me a hell of trouble. The taxi charged 92 rupees from Tripureshwor to Lincoln School, Rabi Bhavan. It costs only Rs 50 to 60. I offered him 70, he refused to take. He asked me to go to police or pay 92. I refused to pay that because it was wrong. The meter was tampered, and it only takes 60 Rs maximum. The official price from Tripureshwor to Kalanki is Rs 71. Rabi Bhavan is only 60 Rs.
So he dragged me to Kalimati Traffic Police. After explaining all, they took to Traffic Police office in Ram Shaha Path. They asked me to write an application with a Rs 5 ticket. The SP signed. The Assistant Inspectors wrote a note and said they would take the driver to Bureau of Standards (Naap Taul Shakha). They asked me to pay the amount the taxi's meter reading had shown (which was Rs 92, plus RS 171 of waiting and travel to police stationin the same taxi). I paid that amount to the poilice which i had refused to pay the driver. Then they told me they would inform me if his meter was tampered or not on my mobile phone. So I left. I had written in the application to provide justice to all equally. I left the place fearing that some one might in fact threaten me over the phone for the complain I registered.
All the drivers used to agree that there would in fact some amount in access (1 or two or three steps - or calls they say) in the meter and agreed to adjustment. To day I faced two drivers who were like bull heads and behaved as if the law and order is theirs and people have no consumer's right.
A friend of mine said, the drivers could be the the member of young communist league and Kathmandu's most taxi owners, might be in their hands any way. If they are not, then the drivers have become sort of terrorists terrifying the passengers. Who will stop such ignoble acts in Nepal! It will take generations for the authorities do understand civil liberties even if the government makes right decisions and plans for a noble society today.
Time will tell the fate of our great nation! What to do other than become a fatalist?