Police Inspector Sitaram Hachhethu is well-known for his sincerity and exemplary work within the Traffic Police Department. During his 27 years in this department, he has been honoured with an astounding hundred and twenty-seven awards till date for his contribution in making the department far better than it has ever been. Ashima Singh Bhattarai reveals his thoughts and the reason behind the multiple awards in a recent interview with the outstanding Inspector.
Of all the professions, why did you choose to become a police officer?
Once in 1988 after the earthquake, Late King Birendra had visited Bhaktapur along with other high level officials. There was a huge crowd of people who were blocking the path who wouldn’t listen to the politicians or the other officials. But, in the next minute, a policeman wearing a khaki uniform walked in with a stick in his hand blowing on a whistle and everybody slowly cleared the way, moving to the side of the road. Only he seemed to have the power to control the crowd. That incident left a lasting impression on me about the power of a policeman. At that time the police blew the whistle to shoo people away to make way for the king and his team, now I blow that whistle to save lives. Back then I was only 21 years old. A year later, I got enrolled in the Nepal Police. At that time, the local people did not like the police and their job. My family was also against my decision to enrol but I was a bit rowdy back then and did not listen to them and kept following my dreams and passion.
In your 27 years of service, has there ever been any incident that made you regret having joined the Nepal Police?
No, in fact choosing to become a police officer was the best decision of my life. I always wish and pray that there are no accidents under my watch while I serve as a traffic police in charge. It is a known fact that the life of a traffic policeman is always full of risks. We are highly prone to health problems due to air pollution, we have high chances of being hit by some vehicles and we might even suffer from heat stroke, yet before we enrol to become a police officer, we vow to serve our country and people in the best way possible. I always abide by the same vow. I feel fortunate to be a part of this family because I am who I am today because of Nepal Police. I have always been proud of it.
Can you tell us about a few of your achievements in the Nepal Police till date?
I got enrolled in Nepal Police in 1990 and in 1991 got into the traffic police department. Ever since then, I have always served as a traffic police officer. I am the only one who has remained in the same system and department for such a long time in the Nepal Police. Initially, I used to think police are dominating and dictatorial but now as a police officer myself, I have come to realize that a policeman is a servant of the nation and the citizens. I fell I have became more humane after joining the force.
While I was posted in the Kalimati Traffic Office, I was really appreciated and respected by the public for my works. I have been posted to Gaushala, Koteshwor, Bhaktapur and Durbar Marg as the traffic police-in-charge and now I’m in Satdobato. I have made a lot of reforms in the traffic police and have been awarded for the effort. I have received 127 awards till date and feel really proud about it. Some of the special awards I have received are The Best Traffic Police Award, Gorkha Dakshin Bahu and Yuva Puraskar. The support from the people has made me believe that good deeds always pays back in the end and when you are set on doing something good, you will get the love and support from the people.
What are the things or incidents you feel most proud of in all these years of service?
There are two things I feel really very proud of. One is an incident that happened when I was posted at the Kalimati Traffic Police Office. A bus had overturned and a man walking along the road was trapped underneath as it fell over him. I went to the Bidhyut Pradikaran and brought a crane from there, had the bus lifted and rescued the man. He is all good now and still calls or visits me occasionally. I also had four traffic police office buildings constructed during my posting in Durbar Marg, Kalimati, Koteshwor and Satdobato the latter still under construction. I always focus on ways to do something good and it always pays back in the end in the form of respect, awards and prestige.
"When I was in training in Japan, I noticed that the smallest of children knew the traffic rules, but as for us, we are just now teaching the big and the elderly about traffic rules. We lag behind in traffic knowledge."
How would you rate the Traffic Police on a scale of 1 to 10?
From the side of Traffic Police, I would rate them with 9 in 10. Back then there were hardly fifty thousand vehicles in 1988 A.D. in the Kathmandu Valley. Now, there are over nine hundred thousand vehicles. Nepal Traffic Police is doing a really good job; they are making a huge effort and death rates due to road accidents have gone down by a big percentage. A lot of improvements have been made from the police side. People hardly hear of traffic policemen being involved in corruption these days. They work and give their best in all situations be it on hot summer afternoons, rainy or cold winter days enduring the pollution ready to engulf their lungs. But I would rate it only 3 out of 10 from the public’s side. The public is still ignorant of our achievements. They think they are following the rules and regulations for our sake rather than doing it for their own benefit. They do not have a positive attitude towards the traffic police; they argue with them and try their best to escape from getting booked.
Are traffic islands really necessary? And why are there no traffic lights?
There should be traffic lights but we have no say in installing them. We have appealed to the government many times but no decision made so far. Our main duty is only to manage the roads, the rest of it including the installation of traffic lights and repairing is handled by other departments. I personally do not like the idea of having traffic islands. Our actual job is to manage the traffic from the computers but we are compelled to stand in traffic islands for hours because of the absence of traffic lights. When I was in training in Japan, I noticed that the smallest of children knew the traffic rules, but as for us, we are just now teaching the big and the elderly about traffic rules. We lag behind in traffic knowledge. It is sad that Kathmandu being such an advanced city in terms of all the other technologies and infrastructure still does not have functional traffic lights. It is mainly difficult for female traffic police officers who are going through their menstruation or have just delivered a baby recently. Their body doesn’t permit them to stand in the traffic islands all day and perform their tasks. It is also very difficult for the people who have recently recovered from some kind of illnesses.
In some western countries, vehicle drivers have a drinking permit of up to 50 ml at all times. Why can’t it be the same in Nepal?
First of all, our constitution doesn’t permit it so we have to follow the order. Secondly, in developed countries where such rules are applied, they have properly managed and well constructed roads; the rate of accidents is relatively low and they mostly follow traffic rules even in the absence of a traffic police officer. Hence they are given drinking permit up to a certain percentage. In case of Nepal, the roads are not good in the first place, accidents happen even when people don’t drink and drive, the vehicles are too old, in bad condition, people do not take traffic rules seriously, jaywalking is very common and there are no functional traffic lights. There are high chances of accidents even without drinking alcohol. Now imagine what would happen if people actually drank and drove!
Do you agree to the rule that people 18 years or above can drive scooters and motorcycles but should reach 21 to drive a four or a multiple wheeler?
Though this rule is yet to be implemented in Nepal, I can’t go against the decision of the government. But personally, I don’t agree to this rule because a person, who is big enough to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong, is skilled at driving, has knowledge of traffic rules and is physically eligible to drive, it is okay for him to drive. If he can drive a scooter or a bike, it means he knows the traffic rules and regulations and is eligible enough to drive both the four or multiple wheelers and two wheelers. Most important thing is, they should be provided traffic education from the school level itself.
What are the main causes of road accidents? How can it be reduced further?
There are three main reasons why accidents happen. They are high speed, ignorance of the driver and the condition of the road. Two things must be done first to prevent there accidents from happening. The fine should be so high that people dare not violate traffic rules and people should have a strong sense of awareness and realization in them.
Which age group do you thing is the most prone to accidents?
It is young people from the age group 18-25 or 30. Nowadays, people of these age groups have a good knowledge about traffic rules yet are negligent. I think the main reason for this is that they have just got out of school and have high adrenal rush racing within them. They are not married and don’t have children so they don’t feel a sense of responsibility towards others; they don’t listen to their parents;, they have girlfriends and want to show off their driving skills to them to impress them with a cool image of themselves. But, I think it is more a fault of our educational system. The schools need to teach the children in a rather detailed and interesting way right from the primary level.
What message would you like to convey to the general public?
Over twenty accidents happen every day in Kathmandu valley itself. It might be your father, husband, brother, sister, friend or any one. We even have to be afraid of leaving our house. Though there have been a lot of reforms, people’s attitude towards traffic rules and traffic police officers, is still not right. People get angry if they are caught driving two wheelers without a helmet or overloading or without carrying their licence and bluebook. They don’t think the traffic police are doing a good job and it is for their own safety, but argue with them instead. They don’t appreciate our work and effort to save their lives. There are days or weeks or a year designated specially as Earthquake Day or Cancer Awareness Week or Tourism Year. So, why can’t we have a Traffic Day or a Traffic Week or even a Traffic Year and celebrate it? This way we can focus on traffic rules, regulations, road management and conditioning, awareness and all that can be done to reduce accident rates. I would like to tell everyone that whatever we are doing is for you, please be more aware of traffic rules; it is for your own safety after all. We want you home safe. We are working day and night for this. Also I would like to request the government to note the situation of the roads and traffic and introduce well working traffic lights, radars and other advanced technologies in Nepal.