The endless battle of Narcotics Control Bureau to stop drug smuggling in NepalSince a unit under Nepal Police was upgraded as a bureau, more arrests have been made, but officials say more needs to be done.
January 22. Around 8:40 pm.
A special team from the Narcotics Control Bureau of Nepal Police raided Buddha Land Private Limited, a hotel in the tourist hub of Thamel, and recovered around 1.2 kg of cocaine from a Bolivian national.
The arrestee was later identified as 27-year-old Solano Chavez Miguel (passport number CE51857). Miguel had hidden the cocaine in his luggage.
A police official involved in the raid said the bureau had received a tip-off.
“We had been tailing the suspect. But we needed to verify,” Inspector Jiwan Niraula told the Post last week. “He was not behaving like other tourists. His activities were suspicious. Then we decided to raid his room. During the search, we recovered the drugs.”
Miguel will be charged under the Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act-1976, and if convicted, he could face life imprisonment.
Miguel’s arrest was just the latest. The Narcotics Control Bureau has over the past year arrested 5,607 individuals, including 206 foreigners, for possessing illegal drugs.
In the fiscal year 2018-2019, the bureau’s teams across the country confiscated drugs worth millions. In 2019 alone, the bureau seized over 12 kgs of cocaine, over 58 kgs of opium, over 9 kgs of heroin, over 2,622 kgs of hashish and more than 10,320 kgs of cannabis.
“The seizure was possible due to the hard work by our officers who are working 24 hours in major places like the airport and border areas,” said Superintendent Birendra Bashyal, who is also the spokesperson for the bureau.
Officials say smugglers are using Nepal as a transit country for supplying the contraband drugs. With a view to combating the rising drugs smuggling via Nepal, the Nepal Police in 2012 decided to form a dedicated team. Before that, a team of police officials dealt with drugs smuggling.
On November 29, 2012, the Nepali Police upgraded the team as a full-fledged bureau—now known as Narcotics Control Bureau.
“The bureau has divided its work. One team collects information, verifies the details and confirms after a rigorous investigation,” said an investigating officer at the bureau who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Once information is verified, another team collects evidence. Arrests are made accordingly. All the officers are mobilised in plain clothes.”
Headquartered at Koteshwor in Kathmandu, the bureau has its branches in Kakadbhitta, Biratnagar, Birgunj, Pokhara, Bhairawa, Nepalgunj, Mahendranagar and Surkhet to ensure proper screening.
A little over 100 experts work round the clock, according to Constable Nawaraj Ghising.
The bureau also works in close coordination with the Interpol and other drugs law enforcement agencies.
“We have a team of experts who can identify smugglers by their behaviour and body language. We even use sniffer dogs,” said Bashyal. “Checking travel history at the airport is one of the major ways of keeping track of smugglers. Frequent travellers without any particular business or leisure purposes are under scanner.”
In the past five months, the bureau has arrested a number of foreigners from the airport for possessing illegal drugs including cocaine.
“We have increased our vigilance at the airport,” said Inspector Prem Shahi, who has been deputed at the airport. “There is a team of 20 personnel in civvies.”
The bureau’s data of the last three years shows a rise in the arrest of smugglers.
In the fiscal year 2016/17, police arrested 3,607 persons on drug smuggling charges. Of them, 159 were foreigners. In the fiscal year 2017/18, authorities arrested 4,754 persons, including 149 foreigners. In 2018/19, 5,558 people were arrested, including 201 foreign nationals.
The increase in the number of arrests in recent years shows increased surveillance, but it is far fewer, say former officials who have worked at the bureau.
“Although the police have made some significant improvement in tracking down smugglers and arresting them, drug smuggling continues to be a major challenge,” said Hemanta Malla, a former deputy inspector general who also spent several years at the bureau.
According to him, the number of arrests is possibly just around 15 percent.
“There is a need to make drug smuggling combating a priority,” said Malla. “The government needs to invest more to equip the bureau and train manpower.”