Nepali Times
State Of The State
Throwing justice to the wind


The Nobel Medical College affair disappeared from the headlines as suddenly as it had appeared. Apparently everyone involved wanted to brush it under the carpet. But the audience missed the chance to see the juicy intricacies of crony capitalism.

The plot had all the ingredients of a thriller. A businessman, ditched from a potentially lucrative enterprise, calls in the heavy guns in the form of the YCL, which summons a physician and co-investor in the enterprise to its commercial dispute resolution centre in the capital. This man, apparently unperturbed, takes the next available flight to Kathmandu and on arrival is bundled off to the Maoist Guantanamo in Kamidanda.

With some painful encouragement from the YCL, our physician-investor agrees to abide by all decisions of this kangaroo court. But other players enter the fray. The good doctor, released from captivity, is in turn persuaded by them to make public his tale of woe. He shouts about the injustice dealt him by this 'court' whose jurisdiction he had not dared to question earlier.

The story is not over. It has merely gone underground. But the enigma remains: why is it that notorious criminal groups, ambitious armed officers and cunning Maoist commanders are the favoured courts of appeal for a very influential section of Nepali society?

Although the media have tried to portray the Maoists as the main culprits in this saga, it is difficult to absolve from blame the other parties to the conflict. They were the ones to seek out and accept the jurisdiction of the Maoists' justice mechanism. They were probably also aware of the modus operandi and believed in its efficacy to help them get what they wanted. The whole affair brings to mind the famous dictum of Lenin: "the capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them".

This unfortunate affair also shows how the formal structures of dispute resolution have lost their legitimacy. The 1990 constitution introduced the notion of judicial supremacy. The courts used this to abrogate treaties made by the executive and restore dissolved parliaments. They began to recklessly overrule politicians and in the process lost their own legitimacy.

The mainstream media love to criticise the Maoists' courts, but for many people living on the margins of rural society, they were the only recourse available against the tyranny of a local strongman, moneylender or government employee.

Sadly, innovations outside the system are often prone to abuse. Within a few years, the kangaroo courts became abettors of crime, perpetrators of injustice and handmaidens of wily manipulators. When the Maoists realised these anarchic instruments had become a liability, they decided to disband them under the political cover of the agreement made with the mainstream parties. There must be compelling reasons behind their eagerness to revive these discredited dispensers of instant justice.

The problem lies mainly with the way justice is delayed, deformed and denied in Nepal. Our judicial system is fundamentally flawed, with procedural complications that rebuff rather than facilitate the people's access to justice. Most judges fail to inspire confidence. People are then lured to the informal justice systems.

The Maoists are the most notorious, and therefore easy prey for public censure. Other shadowy players stay out of the headlines but their presence can be felt in all major commercial controversies. Only by strengthening the formal justice system, with effective policing and conscientious courts, can we counter muscle-men and Maoists. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs need to ignore arbitrary summons from such illegal authorities to protect their interests.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)