Friday, June 14, 2002

Electric vehicles in bureaucratic tangle

By Razen Manandhar

KATHMANDU, June 13:Despite the government’s populist slogan to promote electric vehicles, five electric cars, a new alternative to polluted Kathmandu, have been collecting dust in the backyard of the Customs Office at Birgunj for the last three months.

"The five electric cars that we imported from the Indian city of Bangalore on 18 March so as to provide an alternative mode of transport in Kathmandu, are lying uselessly," said Anup Singh Suwal, the manager of Eco-Visions Pvt. Ltd. today. He added that Eco-Visions has invested millions of rupees and it is spending over Rs 50,000 per month on rent and other office accessories.

Suwal said that the Birgunj Customs Office was not sure whether it was necessary for battery-operated vehicles to produce Conformity of Production (COP) and has kept the company waiting for months. "And then the customs office was confused whether ‘electric vehicle’ and ‘battery-operated’ vehicles are same or not. They have been asking for regular 130 per cent of customs duty whereas Article 13.9 of Financial Act (2058 B.S.) provisions vehicles operated with electricity would only be levied 10 percent of customs," he said.

Sensing the stalemate, the US Embassy wrote to the Ministry of Finance (MoF) in mid-April to provide the electric cars the same value-added tax exemptions that the government has been giving to the SAFA tempos. SAFA tempos enjoy tax exemptions and they have to pay customs duty of only one percent.

Not only the customs duty, the importer is facing other problems as well. The concerned file is moving between the Department of Customs (DoC) and Ministry of Finance ( MoF) for the past two months. He alleged that the government officers are putting forward one after another problems for some "mysterious reasons".

While the Director of DoC Bodhnath Niraula said that the files have been forwarded to Revenue Division of MoF, Suresh Kumar Regmi, a section officer of MoF said that the issue is under consideration in the DOC and has not yet arrived at his table. And in this "game of passing the buck" the vehicles are in the danger of being damaged in the open yard in Birgunj.

Puran Rai, the general manager of Lotus Energy Pvt Ltd, a sister organisation that distributes alternative and renewable energy equipment in the country, said that this blocking of the electric vehicles was totally against the government’s policy about promoting electrical vehicles in the capital.

"It’s just injustice. The company ventured to import the cars as per the laws and who is to redress if the government officers themselves do not obey the laws," said he.

An environmentalist campaigning for electrical vehicles said, requesting anonymity, that there is a big racket to discourage introduction of electrical vehicle. "Some vested interests are deliberately working hard foil the attempt to introduce and promote the alternative means of transportation with zero emission. They might be doing this at the behest of the sales dealers of the conventional petrol-powered cars," he said.

He added that the officers would clear the files if their demands were met. But the importers of Reva are not ready to pay a single penny to them as bribes. So the company is being made to suffer.
[Kathmandu, Friday June 14, 2002 Jestha 31, 2059.]