Nepali Times Asian Paints
Valley of fear


Although there has been a sharp spike in the incidence of burglary and looting over recent months, the police only stepped up investigation after senior police officers, ministers, and MPs themselves started to get robbed and mugged in Kathmandu.

From July to February there were 577 robberies and 316 lootings in the Valley. Hanuman Dhoka's Crime Investigation Branch says it received 55 complaints in August, and by February this was up to 87. Many do not file complaints because they are afraid. The burglars use khukuris and usually fake pistols to threaten their victims, and then make quick getaways on motorcycles. Most cases of breaking and entering and looting are reported from Tinkune, Gongabu, Samakhusi, Baneswor, Kuleswor, Lainchaur, Dhapasi, Sanepa, and Tasikhel.

The police suspect the involvement of organised groups in these robberies. Very few people involved in these crimes have been arrested, and those who have, police officers tell us informally, do not reveal the names of other group members.

Investigation shows that over 30 young men from Pasiban, Ramechhap are involved. Only three have so far been arrested. Deepak Singh Thangden, chief of Kathmandu police, says, "The groups involved in crime in Kathmandu are said to go to villages and hide until things cool down."

Meanwhile the police say that they do not have enough vehicles to respond rapidly, and are further hampered by the constant traffic jams in Kathmandu. Chief Thangden says we urgently need technology to monitor mobile phone networks, because that is how the gangs exchange information.

And the Nepal Police has its own weaknesses-corruption, cliquishness, and lack of expertise in collecting forensic evidence. "There have been instances where our moles have collaborated with the thieves," says a police officer. If a police officer is involved in a crime, the case is kept under wraps and further investigation is stopped on the grounds of \'inadequate evidence\'.

The police also has a hard time keeping track of all the new gangs that are springing, though members of the old ones are being arrested. It is especially difficult, they say, to infiltrate or find out more about gangs that use Indian SIM cards and email to contact each other and threaten their victims. In informal conversations police told us that gang members currently in prison remain part of the network of information, but that there is little or no way of getting evidence from them.

Even when the guilty have been arrested, the victims have little chance of retrieving their stolen property. Since there are few security checks along the streets, it is easy for criminals to move stolen goods around the city. A police officer says,

"We really do need security checks to control all this, but we fear there will be protests if these are reinstated, and the process to do so is long too, so no one wants to do anything about it." Police Chief Thangden says it's pretty much up to the public to make themselves less vulnerable to attacks and robbery. "Start by putting cash and jewellery in banks," he argues.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)