Home ministry orders probe into Gongabu vandalism and lootingObservers blame lawlessness, link the incident to a frail security situation.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday directed Nepal Police to probe and arrest all those involved in the arson of police vans and vandalism and robbery at Lotse Mall in Gongabu, Kathmandu on Monday.
Videos circulating on social media show a group barging into a mobile shop in the mall and walking away with new phones as protesters torch police vans. Photos of pedestrians crossing roads through the tense area with their hands raised were also widely circulated on social media.
The Federation of Nepal Mobile Business Associations estimates mobile sets worth around Rs 80-90 million were looted in the incident.
On Tuesday, Arjun Chalise, owner of the mobile shop, lodged a complaint at the Kathmandu District Police Range demanding compensation. “They were looters, not protesters,” Chalise, who is also the vice-chairperson of the association, said. “The criminals came to my shop with arms, drove our employees out, and took away everything, leaving just wrappers and plastics.”
On Tuesday, transport operators called off the strike following the agreement with the government. But Kathmandu’s traffic and commuter movement were affected throughout the day with fewer public vehicles on the roads.
“What happened on Monday in Gongabu was a crime,” said Jitendra Basnet, spokesperson for the Home Ministry.
On Monday evening, Nepal Transport Independent Workers’ Organisation, Nepal Transport Workers’ Association and All Nepal Transport Workers’ Association had jointly announced a halt to vehicular movement in Kathmandu Valley. On Tuesday morning, they backtracked on their decision.
In their joint statement on Monday, the transport operators had accused the traffic police of charging fines unlawfully, suspending drivers’ licence, and charging unnecessarily in the name of the pollution test of vehicles.
The press note had announced a demonstration against traffic police’s ‘stringent’ rules on the road, Kathmandu Metropolitan City’s announcement to not to let long- and medium-route public vehicles park only inside Gongabu New Bus Park.
The protesters had also alleged some of them were assaulted by people associated with Lhotse Multipurpose Pvt Ltd, the company hired to operate the New Bus Park, and vandalised the supermarket’s building. The Kathmandu Metropolitan City in 1999 had awarded the contract to the company to run operations inside the bus park for 45 years.
“The government should make a conducive environment to work in a free and fair environment, but it has now created fear among traders,” Chalise, the mobile shop owner, said.
He said that the IMEI numbers—international mobile equipment identity—of all the stolen phones are registered, and will be seeking help from the Nepal Telecommunications Authority to locate them.
Achyuta Nand Mishra, deputy director at the Nepal Telecommunication Authority, said those stolen phones can be tracked if the IMEI numbers are registered.
Deputy Inspector General Poshraj Pokharel, who is also spokesperson for the Nepal Police Headquarters, said that by Tuesday, 46 people involved in the incident have been nabbed. He said as many as 46 police personnel were injured in the incident, but there is no data yet about the injured protesters.
“After the investigation, we will lodge cases of looting, arson and indecent behaviours against those who have been arrested,” Pokharel said, adding they are checking the CCTV footage to nab the looters.
Sociologists say Monday’s incident hints at how weak the country’s security apparatus has become.
“Our social norms and values are all being ignored,” said Guman Singh Khatri, an assistant professor of Sociology at Tribhuvan University. “If the state does not make its security mechanism stronger, this may lead to bad consequences in the days to come.”