Whatever the outcome of the report from abroad, it will not convince the public because the Nepal Police has lost credibility
Seven months after the rape and murder of 13-year-old Nirmala Panta, a resident of Bhimdatta Municipality-2 of Kanchanpur district, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of the Nepal Police is pondering sending her vaginal swab to a foreign country for more accurate DNA test results. Panta was raped and murdered on July 26, and her body was found in a drenched sugarcane field the following day. The police arrested hundreds of people and first paraded a mentally-unstable person – Dilip Singh Bista – as the culprit. But he was freed after his DNA test did not match with that of Nirmala’s vaginal swab. Two other boys who were also arrested in the same case were also freed after their DNA test failed to match. Several investigation teams, including one led by Joint-Secretary Hari Prasad Mainali, found the preliminary investigation carried out by the district police to be a total mess. Suspended SP Dilliraj Bista and Inspector Jagadish Prasad Bhatta were sacked on October 25 last year from service for their failure to properly investigate the case.
A National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report, which was made public last month, has said the police collected the vaginal swab “from cotton wrapped around an end of a twig and put it in a test tube”. Though the police had extracted certain male DNA chromosomes from the vaginal swab, the sample could not be taken as sufficient evidence even if the extracted male DNA samples matched those of the accused. Experts have shed doubt on the procedure adopted by the police while extracting the DNA. The NHRC report has termed Nirmala’s preliminary investigation by the district police as pure “negligence”. CIB Director DIG Niraj Bahadur Shahi has said they would send the vaginal swab to an international-standard lab abroad after formally receiving the NHRC report. One of the findings by the NHRC is that the Central Police Forensic Science Laboratory, which undertook the DNA test, did not extract the male Autosomal STR chromosome from the sample, which is unique to every individual. The police had only extracted the Y-STR chromosome, which can be common to people across other cultures also.
Why has it taken so many months to send the sample to a foreign lab, if necessary, to ascertain the truth behind Nirmala’s rape and murder? The Nepal Police had touted its lab to be the best in the country. It also did not send the sample to the National Forensic Science Laboratory for cross verification. The modus operandi of the Nepal Police has been suspect from the very beginning. The police themselves are not convinced if they have followed the standard procedure while collecting the samples as pointed out by the NHRC. All this indicates wilful inaction on the part of the police seemingly not wanting to nab the main culprit. By sending Nirmala’s vaginal swab outside, the Nepal Police is only trying to show it is seriously working on the case and improve its image before the public. Regardless of the outcome of the report from abroad, it is unlikely to convince the public because of the botched up investigation. In this case, the Nepal Police has lost all credibility in the eyes of the public. To convince the public, it will need to be transparent about the sample collection process and all the tests it has conducted so far.
Both the government and the tourism people must be upbeat by the surge in tourist arrivals this January. A total of 91,793 visitors came to Nepal the previous month, an increase of 25.4 per cent over the same month last year. In 2018, the country saw more than a million visitors to Nepal, and the encouraging January arrivals should bode well for the country this year as well. The government’s intent is to double the 2018 figures during Visit Nepal 2020, which at the current growth rate should not be too difficult a task.
With the upturn in tourist arrivals, it is also time to see Nepal upgrade to a high-end tourist destination from catering to mostly backpackers. Of course, this will require some planning and investment. However, merely building star hotels and other tourist facilities are not going to attract quality visitors. Tourists have once too often complained about the poor sanitation both in the cities and villages. The pollution in the cities, especially Kathmandu, is also giving Nepal a bad name. Hence, a little thought to these issues should work wonders for our tourism industry.