EDITORIAL: Questions galore

The CIAA has filed a corruption case against 175 persons in the Lalita Niwas scandal, but has given political protection to a few 

A constitutional body like the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is supposed to conduct its investigation on corruption impartially.

Its probe should be widely acceptable to the public. The anti-graft body should not be seen as acting as a tool of the ruling party or the people in power, out to take political revenge on rival political parties by dragging them into corruption cases to ruin their political and social career once and for all.

The manner in which the CIAA filed a corruption caseagainst 175 individuals, including former deputy prime minister and vice president of the Nepali Congress Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar, on Wednesday, for their roles in the Lalita Niwas land grab case shows the charge-sheet was motivated by political vendetta.

Gachhadar was minister for Physical Planning and Construction nine years ago in Madhav Kumar Nepal’s cabinet, which decided to expand the PM’s residence and build a road inside Lalita Niwas by providing compensation to the landowners who had captured the land illegally on the basis of the government decisions taken on May 28 and May 31 and on July 23, 1990.

In fact, the then cabinet in 1990 had decided to return the land – only 14 ropanis – confiscated during the Panchayat regime on political grounds. Following this decision, the politicians, bureaucrats and land mafia, however, forged a nexus among them and misinterpreted the then cabinet decisions and managed to register 112 ropanis of land in their names, out of the total 299 ropanis land of Lalita Niwas duly obtained by the government through the Land Acquisition Act, 1961. However, the Sarada Prasad Trital-led probe panel found that the land was illegally grabbed by those people levelled in the CIAA chargesheet at the Special Court.

Undoubtedly corruption is rife in the country. This is not possible without the nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and land sharks, all of whom have become millionaires without known sources of income. The action taken by the CIAA is welcome. But the question here is: Why did the CIAA act so selectively? Why did it not file a charge-sheet against Navin Poudel, the son of Bishnu Poudel, general-secretary of the ruling NCP, and Supreme Court Justice Kumar Regmi, both of whom had also bought plots of land there? The CIAA’s claim that it did not deem necessary to file a case against them as they had “declared before that they were ready to return the land to the government” is no more than a knee-jerk response, only to give them political protection, perhaps at the Prime Minister’s behest. Will others facing the corruption charges get a clean-chit if they also do the same as Poudel and Regmi have done? There has been no convincing explanation as to why “policy decisions” taken by former PMs Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai have not been scrutinised.

It was not necessary – in fact, it is unlawful – to take a policy decision when the laws already exist to deal with public land. An investigation carried out by a constitutional organ like the CIAA should be fair and impartial to every extent possible. It cannot allow itself to be used as a tool to settle politcal scores, or else it will only hurt CIAA’s credibility.

Seeds of dismay

It’s easy to cheat the Nepalis and get away with it, especially if they are poor farmers. A host of sugar mills have not paid the farmers for years for the sugarcane they bought to produce sugar. While the mill owners keep postponing and postponing payments to the farmers, the latter are at the receiving end as they have to clear the loans they took from the banks or moneylender. A similar fate is shared by the farmers who sowed the Garima paddy seeds that yielded nothing. It’s been months since the government gave assurances to the farmers that they would be compensated, either by the government or by the company that produced the paddy seeds.

The lingering compensation process is eroding the patience of the farmers. Have the concerned authorities held the agent who imported the Garima paddy seeds for questioning or has he closed shop and fled, as it normally happens in such cases? Whether it’s sugarcane, paddy or other farmers, the government cannot afford to let them down if we are to engage them to grow sufficient food for the country. At a time when the rural areas are being emptied of their youths, the only way to ensure that our lands remain cultivated is to keep our farmers happy.