Sometime in early July, news about more than a thousand pair of goggles being donated to what many would call ‘ticket-happy’ traffic police officers surfaced. Learning from my previous mistakes where I took things at face value, I decided to get the correct facts and googled.
My desire to check the facts subsequently proved useful. The revolutionary search engine Google, brainchild of Sergey and Larry, directed me to the Australian embassy site when I typed in the key words. There I found a press release which said a certain event had taken place at Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology and a donation of 1300 pairs of ‘protective spectacles’ were made to the Metropolitan Traffic Office. I quickly realized that the verification process was indeed helpful. It also helped me understand what had been donated, which were certainly not ‘goggles’.
For the traffic cops, who I maintain have the most difficult job in the entire public sector, this perhaps was one big refreshing change, a perfect gift. With a uniquely designed frame and special glasses, the device helped prevent any kind of irritation to the eye. This again, I had verified, as I managed to try one for myself after talking to one of the cops. Unlike the popular perception of traffic cops being ‘rude’, this person from Sankhuwasava had been in this job for the last six years and he readily handed me one of his new acquisitions to try. On many occasions, I have heard people say how they have been harassed and issued those chits on some pretext but I am yet to come across someone who has been, what I would call, ‘genuinely harassed’.
These traffic police personnel have an arduous task at hand. They don’t just have to stand on the road under all conditions but also, at times, operate from a spot where he/she is subject to all possible forms of pollution. Yet, not many of us seem to empathize with their working conditions and instead, become hostile when asked to stop. Is it because they do not carry something like a gun that will make people freeze? To sum things up, I have a huge appreciation for the kind of work they do, especially given the conditions and circumstances they operate under.
However, the point here is not about the new ‘protective spectacles’ and their merits, but about the larger point of being overly dependent on ‘outside help’. The donation of these glasses somehow seems to symbolize the way we operate as a nation and citizens of the nation. I still do not know the cost of the glasses (the press release doesn’t have that mentioned) but time and again, we all have been hearing reports about how traffic cops have become prone to all sorts of diseases, particularly eye infections. I am sure we have all read stories in almost the major newspapers of the country about surveys conducted on this special group of people. All reports and surveys convey the same thing—that our traffic police have been working under dangerous conditions and are continuing to live life that way.
Now coming to the economics of it, I have friends who have at least been caught once for DUI and each of their stories is not about where or how they got caught but the number of people they would meet the other day at Baggikhana. On an average, there would be at least a hundred plus people and each one of them would pay a minimum fine of Rs. 1000. That alone makes one hundred thousand rupees per day. Now that’s quite an income considering the fact that there are numerous other fines under various heads for breaching one rule or another.
Our forte is waiting for events to happen—we are used to aids and donations to the point that we no longer feel shame.
Though we do appreciate the gesture of the Australian embassy, it is also something that embarrasses us. We all grew up hearing stories about how the effort of one man helped us unite all that which led to the formation of a sovereign country called Nepal, and yet there is no dearth of stories about how our economy is dependent on ‘donations’ or perhaps ‘aid’, if it sounds better, that we receive from countries all over. At times, it is obvious that we all exactly know what we need and what can be done and yet something stops us, just like in the case of ‘protective spectacles’. I am sure we have adequate resources to be able to buy our traffic cops these spectacles. But despite knowing there was a need, we chose not to. Our forte is waiting for events to happen—we are used to aids and donations to the point that we no longer feel shame. It’s almost as if we love waiting for angels to fall from heaven.
I wonder which embassy or agency will step up next to provide our traffic personnel with something as basic as drinking water bottles or even an engineer who would fix the dysfunctional traffic light system. We, of course, will continue waiting for help.