Saturday, December 1, 2007

Jails that harden young criminals!

How would there be effective law and order situation in the country when jails that are supposed to reforms criminals only help to make them more committed outlaws? Here is a report.

Anil Tamang of Nagarkot, Bhaktapur, was barely eighteen when he was first caught for stealing. That was in 1996. He was put behind bars for three years for stealing Rs 7,000 and jewelry set from a residence at Sano Gaucharan.

The jail term should have taught Tamang a life-long lesson. But it didn't. Tamang, now 30, has landed in jail five times. And each time he comes out he is a more committed and emboldened robber - his appetite for serious crime growing proportionately.

Tamang's is a typical story of how a young, rookie criminal turns into a hardened and ruthless gangster, thanks to our faulty criminal justice system, lack of correctional centers, unforgiving society, and ever growing unemployment in the country.

Take for instance, our Civil Code, enacted in 1964. The code was formulated with the assumption that crimes are mostly unintentional and individual. "Now crime has become deliberate, organized and hi-tech, and we need up-to-date laws," says Senior Superintendent of Police Upendra Kanta Aryal, chief of Metropolitan Police Crime Division (MPCD), Hanumandhoka.

He has a point. The Civil Code demands full evidence in cases of crime and theft. The police should be able to present the stolen articles or cash for the accused to qualify for full punishment provisioned under law - 12 years of imprisonment in case of dacoity.

"However, in cases such as robbery, mugging and looting we can hardly produce fool-proof evidence in court," argues an official with MPCD, Hanumandhoka. "It is even more difficult to gather evidence when the culprit is nabbed after a considerable period of time," he added. Police argue that things would have been different if courts considered the First Information Reports (FIR) filed by the victims.

Criminals, sadly, are aware of this legal loophole. So they either destroy the evidence or hide it successfully before they are nabbed. The police case then becomes a mere allegation and even if they are convicted in the court of law they get minimum punishment and are freed after some time. Soon they are back in business-as-usual.

This is exactly the lesson from Tamang's case. Just 40 days after he walked out of jail in 1999, he joined a group and broke into a house at Bhimsengola and made off with cash and jewelry worth 100,000 rupees.

Police nabbed him again and his accomplices confessed that he was involved in at least seven burglaries since he was freed.

"As it is difficult to bring sufficient evidence before the court, he is likely to be released again within the next few months," Bharat Bahadur Thapa, a Sub Inspector with MPCD said.

The legal laxity is only a part of the problem, however. The absence of correctional centers for criminals is another reason why individuals relapse into crime once they are freed. What is worse, according to police officials, is that these petty crooks come into contact with notorious criminals. They hear stories of the underworld and the exploits of the veterans, and learn sophisticated crime techniques. The jail, instead of serving as a correctional centre only works to train the amateurs.

Raju Dhanukhe, 25, of Bhimeshwor Municipality-9, Dolakha admitted that when he came into contact with other gangsters while in prison it emboldened him to get involved in major robberies. According to MPCD, Hanumandhoka, Dhanukhe, a goldsmith by profession, was first sent to jail some four years ago on a charge of buying gold jewelry from dacoits.

In the span of four years, he was involved in four separate robberies. "I was kept with notorious burglars and dacoits. In those days in prison we used to talk about how to commit crimes, escape from police and amass wealth," he said.

But the prisons themselves are not to blame for keeping all types of criminals together. Most of the prison buildings date back over 150 years and simply don't have enough room.

According to the Department of Prison Management (), there are some 6,500 inmates currently serving term in 74 prisons around the country. Most of the district prisons outside Kathmandu valley do not have the capacity to accommodate more than 50 inmates at any given time. "We transfer prisoners to the nearest prison when faced with a space problem," said Rudra Khadka, chief of jail administration at the DoPM.

The overcrowded prisons have failed to draw the attention of successive governments even after the restoration of democracy in 1990. When the government has failed to tackle the problem of physical space forget about counseling, training and other correctional measures.

"The budget we get from the government is barely sufficient to cover our regular expenditure and utility bills. We manage with the occasional support of various I/NGOs and other donors for basic improvements," added Khadka.

Our social norms and unforgiving culture are also to blame. Once a person gets involved in petty crime he or she is hardly given a chance to improve. "If my family had not rejected me after my first crime, my life could have taken a different course," laments Tamang.

How much compensation for road accident victims????

Lack of clear legal provision on road accident victim is also giving rise to the state of anarchy in Nepal. Transitional period, what our leaders often attribute to, alone is not to be blamed for this state.

What determines the punishment for a certain offence? The answer many would say is the law of the land. If you are also one among those holding this belief, think twice for you might be wrong.

It is street justice that is determining the compensation amount for ‘third party’ victims, of road accidents in Nepal. Interestingly, the more pressure the victim’s party is able to exert in the street, the more compensation they are likely to receive from vehicle owners.

Police officials at Nepal Police Headquarters claim that incidents of obstruction of vehicular traffic for higher compensation have shot up in recent months as the existing law does not specifically mention the compensation amount vehicle owners are required to provide those run over by them.

Data at Nepal Police Headquarters said as many as 36 incidents of road obstructions for higher compensation were reported in the last seven months, inconveniencing the public time and again.

According to records at Metropolitan Police Traffic Division (MPTD), Ramshahpath, Kathmandu Valley alone witnessed about half a dozen cases of road obstruction over compensation in that period. The protests had yielded compensation amounts ranging up to Rs 800,000 for the family of the deceased, police said.

This does not mean that there are no laws on this. Of course, there are. But they are all full of contradictions.

As per the Vehicles and Transport Management Regulation 2054 BS, it is mandatory on the part of vehicle owners to get insurance cover of Rs 300,000 for person(s) who could be run over by their vehicles.

However, the Vehicle and Transport Management Act 2049 BS, which is still in force, has provisioned a maximum of Rs 67,000 compensation to the third party in case of an ‘uninsured’ vehicle.

What adds further to the contradiction is a directive Home Ministry issued on June 28. Concerned over the growing instances of demands for exceptionally high compensation amounts, the Ministry had issued a circular to all District Administration Offices (DAOs) across the country not to make vehicle owners pay more than 75,000 ‘if the vehicle has no insurance scheme’.

Traffic officials said they face difficulty in dealing with the cases as the victims’ families demand at least Rs 300,000 as provisioned for ‘third party’ victims in the existing regulations. “They [victim’s family] often resort to street protests as vehicle owners refuse to pay the amount demanded, obstructing vehicular movement on city roads,” said a police official at MPTD.

Experts argue that the genesis of the problem lies in the government’s failure to determine the exact compensation amount for the families of those killed. “The government, on the one hand, has made it mandatory for vehicle owners to have insurance cover worth Rs 300,000 for third party victims, while on the other, it has issued a directive not to make vehicle owners pay more than Rs 75,000,” said a traffic official.

Traffic officials believe that the current Rs 67,000 compensation amount is far less than in the past if the value of today’s currency is taken into account.” A senior traffic police official at MPTD, Ramshahpath said, “The government should review the compensation amount, besides introducing some measures to ensure accountability on the part of drivers.”

Deputy Superintendent of Police Bikash Shrestha at MPTD said failure on the part of the government to strictly implement third party insurance is chiefly to be blamed for this state of affairs. “Had there been strict enforcement of this provision, the ordinary public would not have to undergo unnecessary hassles time and again,” he added.

Khagendra Mani Pokharel, Director General of Department of Transport Management (DoTM), said their efforts to implement the legal provision has failed to yield positive result so far. “Representatives of DoTM, insurers, insurance company and Ministry of Finance sat repeatedly to resolve the problems in the past,” said the chief of the government agency supposed to enforce the provision. “However, all these efforts have proved futile due to protests on the part of transport entrepreneurs.”

Officials at Nepal Transport Entrepreneurs’ National Federation (NTENF) said they have provision of insurance amount of only Rs 100,000 to ‘third party’ casualty and the rest of the amount they have agreed to bear from the concerned transport company. “Compensation amount should be determined by law, not by the mob,” said Ramesh Mahara, officer in-charge of the umbrella organization of all public transport across the country.

Mahara said that transporters are ready to pay the amount as provisioned in the existing laws. “The current government is so ineffective in terms of law and order that we do not think even Rs 300,000 as compensation will solve the problem,” he added

104 bandas after April Uprisings!

With the success of April Uprising people had hoped for peace and stability in the country. But growing stances of general strikes, localized bandas and violence have added hardships in public life and dashed people's hope for peace.

According to data availed by Nepal Police Headquarters, there were altogether 104 national level and localized bandas after the April Uprising in 2006. Of them 9 were Nepal bandas, 7 valley bandas and 30 terai bandas and 58 localized bandas as of November 15.

During the last seven months alone there were 51 incidents of bandas across the country. Dozens of instances of transportation strikes have also added to the woe of the common people. Cases of local people disrupting the vehicular movement for reasons such as simple road accidents have grown phenomenally.

People living in tarai region are facing brunt of such strikes. Entire tarai region remained shut down for as many as 30 days in the past seven months. The region faced additional 5-day shut down due to countrywide bandh called by various agitating parties.

The instances of zonal and district banda is also equally high during the period. Various armed groups including the CPN (Maoist) had called strikes in Siraha and Saptari districts for over five day during the period. Likewise, Limbuwan, Gandak , Chure Bhawar regions remained shut for several days due to strikes called by various disgruntled groups.

Among others, the disgruntled groups calling strikes include various factions of Janatantrik Tarai Mukti Morcha (JTMM), Madhesi People's Rights Forum, Madhesi Mukti Tigers, Chure Bhavar Ekata Samaj, and various ethnic groups.

Interestingly, there was no single stance of banda during the first five months after the April Uprising. The first valley banda was also called for non-political reason -- it was a banda called by taxi drivers protesting the killing of a cabby in Gwarko.

The first political banda came eight months after the April Uprising when Limbuwans called Nepal banda demanding proportional electoral system and federal republic in 2006 December.