KATHMANDU, Dec 22: Anecdote 1- Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) fired Captain Ramesh Upadhyaya after he was found carrying a few wrist watches while landing at Tribhuvan International Airport four decades ago. He was accused of smuggling the watches.
Anecdote 2- NAC Captain Kamal Krishna Shrestha was arrested at TIA after police found him carrying a few grams of gold on arrival from Dubai in the 1990s. He was sacked for alleged gold smuggling.
Anecdote 3- Captain Laxman Das Pradhan was fired on the charge of smuggling foreign currency after he was found carrying 20,000 US dollars. Also, air hostages Puspalata Trikhatri, Tulasa Basnet and some others were sacked after being accused of involvement in watch smuggling.
The law has remained unchanged throughout this period, but NAC has adopted a flexible policy when it comes to taking action against its employees in similar cases.
Senior Captain Subarna Awale was arrested from TIA in possession of 93,600 US dollars in April 2017 while preparing to take off for Dubai. He was arrested while on regular duty after airport security searched his bag out of suspicion. According to Nepalese law, a citizen can travel abroad with a maximum of 2,500 US dollars at one time. However, aircraft crew is barred from carrying extra cash other than their allowances.
But instead of taking any action against Awale, NAC has decided to send him abroad for license upgrade training. The management was under pressure from General Manager Sugat Ratna Kansakar. Awale is all set to fly off to Singapore by NAC for two weeks of training. An earlier NAC decision in August to send him for training was canceled following news coverage in Republica about his controversial background.
Revenue Investigation Department, Civil Aviation Ministry, NAC board and Civil Aviation Authority have all given permission to Awale for training abroad and are keeping mum about the accusation against him. “All state agencies acted in collusion to allow him to travel abroad. NAC has been rewarding the smuggling-accused Awale, quite forgetting the firing of pilots in the past for carrying some watches and 20,000 dollars,” sources at NAC griped to Republica. Sources further informed that NAC chief Kanssakar insisted on sending Awale to Singapore for training, assuming all responsibility for his return.
A senior NAC official complained about the decision to send Awale abroad although he is prohibited from entering TIA following his arrest. “The government should take action against Kansakar for vouching for an individual facing a criminal charge,” he claimed.
Another senior captain, who believes Awale has tarnished the image of all pilots, claimed that co-pilots would feel uncomfortable working with him if he returns to duty after the training. This could compromise air safety.
According to the sources, Director General of Anti-money Laundering Department Jeeven Prakash Sitaula had also insisted on sending Awale for training. Awale received a no-objection letter from the department, mentioning that he had been released on 'tarekh'.
According to high level officials at the Ministry of Civil Aviation , NAC Kansakar has signed a contract to reimburse all expenses and allowances spent on Awale if the pilot loses his case. The Revenue Department is still investigating accusations against Awale.
NAC is spending 14,000 to 16,ooo dollars for his training in Singapore in addition to 200 dollars daily allowance for two weeks. Awale is also receiving about Rs 400.000 in monthly salary.