A troubled agency called Nepal Police, thanks to Nepali politiciansCountry’s key law enforcement agency faces controversies because of political parties’ vested interests.
In Nepal, it’s a season of controversy when the government appoints the chief of Nepal Police. Yet again, the Sher Bahadur Deuba administration’s decision to promote Additional Inspector General Dhiraj Pratap Singh to inspector general has reached the court.
Additional Inspector General Bishwa Raj Pokharel on Monday, a day after Singh was promoted, filed a petition at the Supreme Court, challenging the government decision to appoint his junior as police chief.
In the past too, since the restoration of democracy in 1990, such appointments have reached the Supreme Court, and observers and analysts say such practices have threatened institutions like Nepal Police, a 75,000-strong department with a huge responsibility to maintain law and order in the country.
Pokharel in his petition has argued that the government inappropriately appointed someone who is 16 months junior to him to lead the law enforcement agency.
While Pokharel was promoted as AIG in December 2020, Thapa got promoted to the position in July last year. Singh, together with two other police officers, was promoted to AIG on March 31.
The government has maintained that three AIGs were in the race and it chose Singh based on performance.
A retired police officer said that political intervention in the law enforcement agency has increased over the past decades with leaders preferring nepotism over merit.
“Several qualified police officers have fallen victims of bad and poor judgement of the political leadership,” said the official on condition of anonymity. “And officers within the department are no different. They also seek the blessings of political leaders.”
In 2017, when the Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist Centre) were leading a coalition government—currently also, the two parties along with three other fringe forces are in power—they had brought a storm of sorts in the Nepal Police. So much so that the parties had even sought to impeach then chief justice Sushila Karki.
At that time also Deuba was the prime minister. Going against the Home Ministry’s proposal, Deuba decided to promote Jaya Bahadur Chand to police chief. Then AIG Nawaraj Silwal moved the Supreme Court.
Congress senior leader Bimalendra Nidhi was home minister then.
A Congress leader said Chand’s appointment even created a rift in the relations of Deuba and Nidhi, two long-time friends.
After Silwal filed a case at the Supreme Court, the Congress and Maoist lawmakers registered an impeachment motion against then chief justice Karki in Parliament, accusing her of interfering in the executive’s jurisdiction, after her bench overturned the decision to appoint Chand.
Later, Prakash Aryal became the police chief in April 2017.
And in April 2018, the government appointed Sarbendra Khanal as the new chief but that decision too courted controversy. Ramesh Kharel, one of the aspirants for the top job, resigned in protest of the government decision to promote Khanal.
But these are only the incidents from the recent past.
In 1993 also, it was Deuba who sacked then police chief Ratna Sumsher Rana and promoted Motilal Bohora to lead the department.
After Bohora, Achyut Krishna Kharel became the police chief but later in 1996 when Lokendra Bahadur Chand was prime minister and Bamdev Gautam home minister, Kharel was transferred to the National Investigation Department to install Dhurva Bahadur Pradhan as police chief.
Kharel moved the Supreme Court, which reinstated him after nine months in December 1997.
Hemanta Malla, a former deputy inspector general, says there has been too much political manoeuvring in the police administration, which he says has only harmed the institution.
“Politicians often exploit the loopholes in the Nepal Police Regulations to install people of their choice,” Malla told the Post. “For our politicians, key posts in the police department have become a game of musical chairs.”
Founded in 1952, Nepal Police is one of the oldest institutions in the country. While it has grown over the years, it has suffered at the hands of those leading its parent ministry as well as the head of the government.
After 1990, Nepali politicians started treating the police department as a place to fill their cadres. Then it gradually became a place for them to exercise their power and influence. Several retired police officials told the Post that in later years, as senior police officials understood what the politicians wanted, it became a two-way game. Senior police officials learned that not their merit but their closeness with politicians would only protect their jobs.
The nexus flourished, according to multiple officers the Post spoke to.
The trend of sacking the police chief, promoting the officers close to ruling party leaders, creating additional posts, and transferring officers to areas where there was “good earning” continued even after the political changes in 2006-07.
After the 2006 people’s movement, the government removed AIG Rajendra Bahadur Singh for repressing the movement. Om Bikram Rana became the chief who was succeeded by Hem Bahadur Gurung in September, 2008.
Ramesh Chand Thakuri replaced Gurung in February 2009. But Thakuri’s appointment was also not free from controversy. AIG Rabindra Pratap Shah was in the race, too. Later in June 2011, Shah became the police chief after Thakuri was found to be involved in the Sudan arms purchase scam. Shah served for over a year and Kuber Singh Rana succeeded him in September 2012.
These two promotions went regularly and without much controversy until the government brought Upendra Kant Aryal in November 2013 as new police chief. He served until February 2017, and then the Jaya Bahadur Chand controversy arose.
Those who have worked in Nepal Police and seen the workings of the law enforcement agency say until the politicians keep the police department out of their political games, it will continue to suffer. According to them, it’s not about an individual’s promotion now or in the past; it’s about strengthening the system.
“Since the police administration is directly linked with the people and its activities are attached to the day-to-day affairs of the public, successive governments want to influence officials,” said Chandi Prasad Shrestha, a former home secretary.
At least two retired senior police officials said that the provisions for promotion are so weak that politicians easily exploit them.
Nepal Police is the main law enforcement agency of the country and has over 400 units spread across the country. It is also the main agency responsible for investigating criminal activities and for gathering the evidence.
“Politicians instead of strengthening the law enforcement agency for the larger good of the country are using it as a tool to expand their political clout. They think they can influence investigations by having officials under their control,” said Malla, the former DIG. “During elections, police can be easily used for certain parties’ advantage. Some see this organisation as a fundraiser too.”
According to Malla, even the Nepal Police chief is failing to enjoy the rights and privileges provided by the Police Act and regulations. As per the Police Act and regulations, an IG is authorised to transfer police officers up to the superintendent rank.
“But it’s the politicians who are calling the shots,” said Malla.
The degradation of Nepal Police as an institution is also evident from reports of corruption by officials and within the institution, say observers. At a time when the agency needs a makeover, politicisation will deteriorate its image further, according to them.
“There’s no system, and no one adheres to the regulations,” said Malla. “The middlemen have taken over.”
According to Shrestha, the former home secretary, the roles of the Home Ministry and home secretary are key to avoiding controversy in police chief appointments.
“Controversies do happen when it comes to plum posts but the system should guide. The problem is prime ministers and ministers want their cronies in such posts,” Shrestha told the Post. “The flaws in the Police Act and regulations should be corrected and the mother organisation of Nepal Police, the Home Ministry, should act.”