Truck Drivers’ Insurance in Nepal

Sep 24. 2011 – Today we went by buses to the western outskirts of Kathmandu on Nepal’s only east-west road.  Further from where we stopped is the road south into India.  It’s very busy because so much of Nepalis’ basic necessities come from India, rice, salt, oil and so on.  The crazy traffic prompted G to tell me about the system for road accidents.

Truck drivers all contribute to a fund that pays out if they have an accident.  We’d call that insurance.  Sounds normal so far.  But back when the Rana family operated the country as a tax farm (prior to 1951) and they were the only ones who could have trucks, they established that the penalty for killing someone on the road is just a fine.  That law remains in effect.  If you run over someone you pay a fine and that’s the end of the problem.

What this means is if a truck driver injures someone, the insurance fund may have to pay out large medical fees and compensation for the rest of the victim’s life whereas if the victim is killed there is only the fine to pay.  Consequently, if a driver hits and only injures someone they will normally go on to run over and kill them.

An American guy at the next restaurant table yesterday who has spent several months a year here for 17 years was chatting with three others and expressing surprise that an accident the previous day had resulted in the death of a man who was one of a large crowd of pedestrians.  How come nobody else was injured but this one guy was squashed?  Now we know.  This also explains why road accidents often result in locals blocking the road for a day or so.  They know there was not just an accident but also a mortal crime.

3 comments on “Truck Drivers’ Insurance in Nepal

  1. How big is the fine for killing someone and how much for injuring them? The fatality fine is too large for a driver to pay. That’s why they join the insurance club. There isn’t a fixed fine for causing injury. The problem for the driver is he becomes responsible for paying the victim’s medical costs and compensation for loss of earnings, etc. That gets complicated and unpredictable. If nobody observes the injury he simply drives off because even if he can be caught it’s better for him to get the definite outcome, the fine for a fatality. Vehicular homicide is always considered an accident.

    Can drivers go on to kill those they hit accidentally because they feel they’re in a separate realm? The Ranas thought of the mass of Nepalis as more like animals than people. They operated Nepal as a tax farm, employing tax-gatherers to collect half or more of the peasant farmers’ annual production. That culture, established over two and a half centuries, remains powerful.

    What about the legal system and the extent to which Nepalis can depend on its working? The system is intentionally weak. The judiciary is not independent. It used to be controlled by the king, now by parliament. There is no discussion of an independent judiciary under the new Constitution because the politicians want to remain safe from prosecution for corruption. India, which is also famously corrupt, has a strong independent judiciary inherited from the Brits. India’s Telecom Minister is in jail for corruption and his boss the Minister of the Interior is under indictment. The Prime Minister may also be indicted.

    A villager we talked with yesterday said, “we don’t need democracy, what we need is for criminals to be punished.” That’s a common theme We keep hearing complaints about the breakdown of law and order. Westerners are still safe so long as they remain in the tourist areas during daylight because there will be severe retribution for messing with them. Nepalis, however, are not safe from each other anywhere after dark and business people are not safe period. Three men were arrested yesterday for demanding protection money from more than 50 business owners in Kathmandu but that was almost a symbolic action. Kidnapping and threats are common.

    There’s a loss of social pressure for good behavior that results from too-rapid urbanization and too-great unemployment along with less fear of retribution for crime which results from the breakdown of law and order during the Maoist uprising aka civil war, the breakdown of self-policing village communities, and the lack of a central government.

    Fear is a stronger force for a safe society than I want to recognize.

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