The last thing we want is foreign airports banning flights originating from Nepal due to the wrongdoing of some private labs

The arrest of more than a hundred passengers with fake PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test reports for COVID-19 at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) on Wednesday should prod the concerned authorities to be extra vigilant. The 122 passengers– mostly migrant workers heading for the Gulf –were scheduled to board three international flights, namely, Salam Air, Jazeera Air and Air Arabia, but were barred from doing so after they were found submitting fake PCR reports at TIA's health desk. More than half of them were Indians, the others being Nepalis and a Pakistani national. Another batch of 29 Nepalis, 19 Indians and two Pakistanis were barred from entering the airport for possessing fake PCR reports.

That so many passengers were carrying fake PCR reports portend a well-organised racket is operating in the capital. The passengers' PCR reports might not have undergone scrutiny, had the police not raided Sooriya Health Care Pvt Ltd, which had issued the fake reports, a day before. According to police, a fake negative PCR report could be had from the laboratory for Rs 9,000 within an hour without even undergoing a swab test. The police had arrested eight people, including the lab's managing director, besides impounding nine other fake reports, laboratory equipment, computers and dozens of blank certificates.

Such incidents are a blot on the image of the country and our healthcare facilities. Last year, Hong Kong authorities had imposed two-week bans on Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) flights, not once or twice but four times after the PCR reports issued by Nepal's laboratories turned out to be faulty.

On October 2 last year, five passengers, who were carrying negative PCR reports, had tested positive when the Hong Kong administration re-tested them, following which it slapped a two-

week ban on NAC flights. The five had undergone swab tests at Star Hospital, HAMS Hospital, Sooriya Health Care and Central Diagnostic Centre – all private institutions. Subsequently, the Hong Kong administration had refused to recognise tests carried out in private health facilities. But even after reports issued by government institutions turned out to be faulty upon re-tests in Hong Kong, the authorities here were at a loss to know how.

Strict vigilance is the only way to keep TIA, flights operating from here and the passengers safe, and uphold the country's image abroad. The last thing we want is foreign airports banning flights originating from Nepal due to the wrongdoing of some private labs and negligence on the part of the concerned authorities.

Vigilance apart, it is equally important to see that the crowded airport is not a hotbed of the coronavirus. The airport, particularly the domestic sector, is over-crowded with passengers who seem not very aware about the health protocols, in particular maintaining social distancing. Around 12,000 passengers are known to take domestic flights from TIA daily, which is cause for worry. Hence, the preparation being made by the TIA authorities to reduce the number of domestic flights from the airport is a welcome move, given the second wave of the coronavirus that is seeing more than a thousand new infections a day in Nepal.

Follow rule of law

ealing a severe blow to the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), the Supreme Court on Wednesday termed illegal the anti-graft body's usual tactic of sting operations to arrest public post holders receiving bribes. The order was passed by a five-member constitutional bench chaired by Chief Justice Cholendra SJB Rana.

Responding to a writ petition, the bench observed that Rule 30 of the CIAA, which allows it to provide money to its staffers, complainants or anybody to trap bribe-seeking public post holders, was null and void, and the evidence gathered through sting operations would cease to have any legal impact on all sub-judice cases. There are around 400 such cases pending in court, and all of them have become null and void from Wednesday. This rule was widely misused by then CIAA chief Lokman Singh Karki, who was removed from office through an apex court verdict.

The bench observed that Rule 30 was inconsistent with the principle of fair trial, principle of criminal justice, due process of law and evidence law. The bench said the Rule also did not confirm with the CIAA Act. As this rule has been revoked, the CIAA needs to use other methods as allowed by the law.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 23, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.