One reason why Nepal is becoming a transit hub for drug smugglers is because there is no death penalty for it.

In the Sixties and Seventies, hippies came to Nepal to indulge in drugs, namely to smoke marijuana.

Jhon Chhen, or Basantapur in Kathmandu, was where they thronged, to taste even cakes and cookies laced with hashish. This gave the country a negative image, which required an uphill battle and many years to rid the country of these drugs and the negative image. But now Nepal once again risks being labeled as a transit hub for drug peddlers, with increasing numbers of both Nepalis and foreigners being arrested for trafficking cocaine, in particular, to foreign countries. In its latest covert investigation named 'Operation Coke II', the Narcotics Control Bureau arrested a South African woman, Shirley Gama, with 2.97 kilos of cocaine from her hotel room at Kamaladi in August. The following day, two other accomplices were nabbed – an Indian from Bangalore and a Tanzanian.

The cocaine was destined for India. The drug is said to be worth Rs 90 million in the Nepali market.

In another big haul, nine kilogrammes of cocaine were seized from three Bolivians and two Belarussians in two separate operations in December 2019.

Nepal has a large young population who abuse drugs – said to number around 150,000. But, according to police, cocaine is an expensive drug, and most Nepali drug users cannot afford the high price. The ultimate destinations are, therefore, either the European countries, India or other nations in the neighbourhood. Since there are a large number of flights from India to Europe and the US, drugs smuggled from Nepal find their way to different destinations via India. Contraband drugs arrive in Nepal from Afghanistan via Pakistan as well as from Latin America. What is surprising is that it's not only men who are involved in trafficking drugs. In the last one decade, an increasing number of foreign women have been found used as drug mules to ferry contraband drugs to Nepal and beyond. Cocaine apart, peddling in opium, heroin, hashish and cannabis is just as lucrative for drug pushers.

Way back in 2012, the Nepal Police had formed a dedicated team to combat the problem of rising cases of drug smuggling. The team was later upgraded to a full-fledged bureau, the Narcotics Control Bureau.

Until then, a team of police officials were dealing with drugs smuggling. Since then, arrests in the thousands have been made, which include a large number of foreigners, but they are said to be less than a fifth of what would be required to bring drug trafficking under control. Any person held with over 90 grams of cocaine can face a jail sentence of up to 15 years or even life imprisonment. Despite the stiff penalty for smuggling drugs, there has been no letup in it means drug peddlers know they can get off the hook easily. Another reason for Nepal becoming a transit hub for drug smugglers is because there is no death penalty as in countries like Malaysia. It is apparent that Nepal alone will not be able to combat the drug problem. Drug traffickers are well organised and operate through an international network as they know the consequences of being caught. It is a global problem which needs to be tackled in close coordination with the drug control mechanisms of all the countries.

Take prior consent

The government always faces a tough time in acquiring land from individuals for development projects, be it railways, roads or airports. Those individuals whose land is being acquired are not satisfied with the valuation of land set by the concerned government bodies, headed by the Chief District Officer of the concerned district. The affected parties do not let the project move ahead because of lower valuation of their land compared to the market value.

Recently, a delegation led by National Assembly Vice-Chairperson Sashikala Upadhyaya submitted a memorandum to Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand, asking the latter to review the compensation being provided to the locals whose land is being acquired for a railway project in Mohottari. They drew Khand's attention towards the lower valuation of 59 bighas of land belonging to as many as 150 households. This is not an isolated case. The government should set a policy under which the affected ones are well-compensated for their land so that their lives do not get worse due to the forced displacement from their localities.

The concerned authorities should also take an informed consent from the affected families before taking any decision on land acquisition.

A version of this article appears in the print on August 31 2021, of The Himalayan Times.