August 6, 2016 02:00 AM NPT
By: Ajit Tiwari
BIRATNAGAR, Aug 6: The big hall at the District Administration Office Morang was jam-packed on 12 January, 2014. Lokman Singh Karki, chief commissioner of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), had invited journalists and others to inform them about his visit to the eastern region and his anti-corruption efforts.
A sizeable number of journalists, government officials of Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts and a great many people from business and industry thronged the venue.
Karki looked calm and efficient. He sought statements from the officials, one by one. He issued them directives on how to move ahead with their duties. He was supposed to engage with the journalists from noon, or two hours after the commencement of the program. But the journalists, who had started to feel impatient, were not given any attention even till 1 pm. It was 1.15 pm when Karki finally turned to them.
The atmosphere soon turned sour. A volley of questions regarding the export of betel nuts were fired at Karki, and he gradually lost his cool. “Betel nuts from a third country are being openly exported from Nepal to India. Is that corruption or not? What's your 'stake' in it?” Such were the questions asked.
The journalists were not talking nonsense. They had with them copies of the letter signed by the CIAA chief allowing the export of betel nuts to India via Nepal. Before Karki came to the CIAA, the anti-corruption body itself had banned such exports as illegal. But in a surprise move, Karki had lifted the ban immediately after assuming office. Karki had assumed office as CIAA ehief on 8 May 2013 and on 9 May he freed the 'smuggling' of betel nuts to India.
As the questions thrown at him were limited to just that one issue, Karki started becoming irritated and rude. “You people don't seem to be sensible,” he said. But the reporters were adamant; they wanted clear answers. “Don't you think you opened the door for the smuggling of betel nuts ? What's your say regarding this?” they kept asking him.
“You better get your facts right. Just because you are journalists, you have no right to write whatever you want,” Karki retorted loudly. However, he answered neither 'yes' nor 'no' to the pointed questions.
The situation turned ugly as Karki and the journalists started shouting at each other. The press meet wast over. The media people started chanting slogans against Karki and blocking his way along the road. They insisted that they would not let him go until he apologized. Police intervened and around 20 journalists were held. Karki himself was taken to the airport under tight police escort.
The CIAA had placed a ban on the supply of betel nuts on 13 June, 2012 following a complaint over illegal supplies. It had stated that the ban was necessary as directives regarding the supply were being enforced. The ban would not be lifted until the investigation was over. However, Karki said nothing about the ban or why he had lifted it.