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CIAA drags 175 individuals to court over Lalita Niwas land scam  

The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has filed a case against 175 individuals over their alleged involvement in the Lalita Niwas land scam.

In a charge sheet filed at the Special Court on Wednesday, February 5, the anti-graft body has demanded action against current and former tenants, bureaucrats and a former cabinet minister, alleging them of abusing their authority in the illegal transfer of the government land to various individuals.

Some of the defendants in the case include former deputy prime minister Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar, former ministers Chandra Dev Joshi, Chhabiraj Pant and Dambar Shrestha, former government secretary Dinesh Hari Adhikari and former secretary and CIAA ex-chief Dip Basnyat,  and businessmen Shobhakanta Dhakal, Ram Kumar Subedi and Min Bahadur Gurung.

The land scam involves the illegal transfer of 299 ropani of government and Guthi-controlled land within the vicinity of the prime minister’s residence in Baluwatar to various individuals. The land deal also included transfer of 3 ropani and 10 aana of land located on the premises of the Prime Minister’s residence, and 2 ropani and 14 aana of land on the premises of the residence of the Supreme Court chief justice to private individuals.

The CIAA, however, did not file a case against Nabin Paudel, son of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP)’s General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, and Kumar Regmi, a former justice of the Supreme Court, both present tenants of the controversial land, which has raised questions over the impartiality of the investigation process. The duo have returned the land to the government.

In its charge sheet, the CIAA has sought a court order to confiscate the land and collect fines from tenants who had unlawfully acquired the land in years following the restoration of democracy in 1990.

A probe committee formed in April under former secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, Sharada Prasad Trital, found that, since 1990 various democratically elected governments had transferred pieces of the government land to the heirs of the late Nepali Congress president Subarna Shumsher Rana, the original owner. The government had bought the land from Rana in 1965. Since then, the land had been sold by the heirs to various high-profile politicians and business owners.

NC protests CIAA’s decision to charge Gachhadhar

Nepali Congress leaders are up in arms over the CIAA’s decision to name Bijaya Kumar Gachhadhar, the party’s deputy president, as one of the accused in the case involving Lalita Niwas land scam, saying the decision was politically motivated.

NC lawmakers have been obstructing the parliament since Thursday, while its student and youth wings have been holding demonstrations across the country, in protest of CIAA’s decision.

Bijay Gachhadhar/Twitter

NC leaders claim the CIAA, under the influence of the Oli government, was abusing its authority by arbitrarily targeting the opposition while giving a clean chit to the leaders of the ruling party.

NC leaders have taken exception to the CIAA’s decision not to indict the then prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, the person who executed the decision while charging the line minister who only tabled the proposal. The main opposition has also questioned the anti-graft body’s decision to not charge NCP general secretary Bishnu Paudel.

NC spokesperson, Bishwo Kumar Sharma, on February 5 tweeted that the CIAA’s handling of the case reminded him of the famous line in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

NA endorses Media Council bill

The National Assembly on Thursday, February 6, endorsed the Media Council Bill after removing a provision that would require aspiring journalists to pass a written examination to start a career in journalism.

Earlier in the week, a committee in the upper house of the bicameral parliament had added the provision prescribing eligibility criteria for journalists, drawing widespread criticism from various quarters including the Federation of Nepalese Journalists.

The endorsed bill has also omitted other controversial clauses including fine of up to Rs 1 million and jail term for journalists found guilty of violating the Press Council’s code of conduct.

Nepalis in China appeal for immediate evacuation  

Nepali students studying in China have sent an appeal to the government requesting immediate evacuation amid rising fears over the spread of Nobel Corona virus which has claimed more than 600 lives since its outbreak was first reported last month.

In a video message, a group of Nepali students studying in Wuhan said they wanted to return home as soon as possible as they had been stranded without food and water since the city, which is the epicentre of the outbreak, was put on lockdown on January 23. Around 190 Nepalis in Wuhan and other adjacent cities have contacted the embassy in Beijing for evacuation.

Government Spokesperson Gokul Prasad Baskota said the government is sensitive to the plight of the students, and was working to make necessary arrangements to set up quarantine facilities in the country before starting evacuation.

Picture Credit: Gokul Sapkota/ Facebook

On Thursday PM Oli directed concerned authorities to set up quarantine centers at four sites in the Valley: Shivapuri, Ichangunarayan, Suryabinayak and Kharipati. Local residents of the areas, however, have protested the government decision.

Raut criticized over controversial empowerment remarks

Province 2 Chief Minister Lal Babu Raut has come under fire after he was caught on camera saying girls should be empowered to a point where they are capable of ‘attacking boys with acid.’

“During my tenure, we will make our girls so competent, capable and warrior-like that they will be the ones throwing acid at boys, not the other way around,” Raut can be heard saying in a video that was shared widely on social media.

Acid attacks have become a serious form of violence against girls and women. Last September, 15-year-old Muskan Khatun became its latest victim.  So far Nepal Police has not reported any cases of acid attack against boys. Raut later told the media that he doesn’t believe in violence.

Supreme Court upheld verdict on Nepal Trust land

The Supreme Court on Friday, February 7, upheld its older verdict that paved way for  nationalization of properties belonging to former royals.

Responding to former princess Prerana Shah’s writ against the court’s decision to transfer ownership of her land to the Nepal Trust, a constitutional bench headed by Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana ruled that it was within the government’s jurisdiction to seize properties of former royals which were nationalized under the royal trust after the country became a federal republic.

The order has concluded a long-running battle between Prerana Shah and the government over a sizeable plot of land in Tahachal — a wedding gift from her parents — which now belongs to the Nepal Trust.

The Nepal Trust owns around 22,000 ropanis of lands including some prime real estate in the Capital.

Search begins for new police chief

Picture Credit: Sarbendra Khannal/ Facebook

With the incumbent Nepal Police Chief Sarbendra Khanal nearing retirement, the search for his successor has begun. Khanal, along with three AIGs and 18 DIGs, is set to retire on February 12, 2020, after completing 22 months in his position. As in the past, the new chief is likely to be picked from the current batch of Deputy Inspector Generals. Thakur Gyawali, Tarani Lamsal and Surya Upadhyaya have been seen as frontrunners for the post.