By Shristi Kafle
KATHMANDU, June 23 (Xinhua) — In May, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) of the Nepal Police booked four foreign traffickers in possession of more than two kilograms of cocaine in different parts of the capital city, prior to the arrest of two foreign women in March.
Within the first half of 2016, six foreigners have been detained in the Himalayan country for smuggling illicit drugs.
In 2014 alone, 24 foreigners were held in Nepal including 9 Indians, 2 Pakistanis, 2 Polish and 2 Georgians among others, whereas in 2015, 16 were arrested.
The busting of these trafficking rings over the past few years is evidence of how this least developed country is becoming a top destination for smugglers as a hub for their nefarious activities.
DIG Jaya Bahadur Chand, Head of the Narcotics Control Bureau which oversees anti-drug initiatives, informed Xinhua recently, “We accept that foreigners have been involved in drug trafficking via Nepal to international destinations.
But it is our responsibility if our land is being used as a transit hub. We will not allow these criminal organizations to use Nepal in this manner.
According to him, citizens from Singapore, Bolivia, South Africa, India and Pakistan are involved in drug smuggling in Nepal. These smugglers try to use Nepal for several reasons including a lack of strict security screening at the airport and a lack of strict anti-drug laws.
From the capital city, illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin are often supplied to India, China, Thailand, Europe and the U.S. from Nepal’s only international airport, Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).
The airport doesn’t have advanced technologies including the latest drug screening x-ray machines. Instead, the TIA is only equipped with outdated drug-testing machines, which can barely detect hidden drugs, officials at the anti-drug body said.
Accepting the lack of technologies, the Narcotics Control Bureau, however, asserts that airport is able to investigate the smuggling of arms and ammunitions, terrorism and other forms of crime.
“We don’t have loopholes or weak security inside the airport as has been claimed. The matter is under the control of professional and dedicated team of Nepal Police,” DIG Chand claimed.
A number of cases have revealed that the traffickers also use land routes for the supply of drugs to border-sharing India and China.
Senior Superintendent of Nepal Police Ganesh KC told Xinhua, “Soft drugs like hashish and marijuana are mostly transferred to Indian cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Lucknow via Nepalese townships bordering India.”
Many of drug racketeers have even switched to air parcels and courier services to smuggle the drugs, to lessen the risk of arrest in the airport.
These smugglers often conceal the small consignment of drugs in shoes, sandals, books, hennas, frames, and tea and coffee packets among others wrapped in packed cartons.
According to the NCB, more than a dozen drug smuggling attempts through postal service have been recorded in the last three years.
The General Post Office located in the center of Kathmandu, which receives more than 50 parcels every day including those from overseas, accepts that it has recorded a few such cases.
Uddav Kumar Budathoki, an Officer at the Parcel Department under the General Post Office told Xinhua,” The drug carriers choose air parcels these days because we have a manual checking system here. Due to the hand checks, the drug carriers have switched to concealing the items in small packages. These small consignments are usually for samples.”
Currently, 8 officers are deployed in the parcel department for thorough checking of the parcels, which can weigh from 0.5 to 20 kilograms.
Authorities claim that Nepal is also preferred as a smuggling route by foreigners for illicit drug trafficking due to a lack of extradition laws. The NCB claims that due to the lack of the death penalty and cheap fines, traffickers are finding Nepal as a viable market to ship drugs.
“One of the biggest reason for the traffickers to select Nepal for transit is we don’t have the death sentence. Punishment for trafficking is currently from 15 years in jail to life imprisonment and a penalty of up to Nepalese Rupees 2.5 million,” DIG Jaya Bahadur Chand said.
He added that for the international traffickers who trade drugs worth billions, the punishment in Nepal is comparatively light.
To curb drug trafficking in this country, the Nepal Police has asked the Home Ministry to make necessary amendments to the existing anti-drug law.
Though the NCB has been operational since 1992 it has failed to bust the big drug rackets as it lacks enough authority from the Home Ministry to monitor drug trafficking and transportation.
“Our anti-drug wing is functional only in the exit zones of the TIA. We cannot monitor the arrival section as it is overseen by other security officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal and Custom Department,” the head of NCB, DIG Chand, told Xinhua.
More than 100 police officers are under the national anti-drug agency at the present and the NCB claims that it can expose drug trafficking rings in more effective way if its jurisdiction is expanded.
Currently the NCB has 7 satellite units within the country in major cities such as Biratnagar, Birgunj, Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Bhairahawa, Mahendranagar and Kakarvitta. The agency also has plans to expand its reach in all 75 districts in the near future.