TIA Security Under Scanner
The nation's only international airport has been in news for different reasons. The airport is alleged to have lacked capabilities to check the nefarious elements that often try to make the airport an easy route for smuggling. Reports are rife that currency notes, drugs, weapons, precious items such as gold, stones, gems as well as animal hides are either taken away or brought into the country using this airport. The passengers arriving from different places often complain about the lack of security to their luggage. At occasions, many passengers have found their luggage broken and precious items stolen. Despite making claims of the pilferage of their precious items, many passengers fail to get back the stolen items and compensation. This is one of very few international airports where passengers have to suffer through this kind of incident.
The Tribhuwan International Airport ( TIA), which offers services to the hundreds of thousands of passengers day out and day in, has frequently been used by the smugglers to ferry several contrabands, apart from human traffickers using it to sneak out hapless Nepali people abroad for various purposes. The supposedly lax security at the airport has raised the fear that the TIA could be abused by many terrorist elements that may have been targeting the people and aircraft belonging to different nations.
Lately, the security at the TIA has come under scanner after the 34 kilograms of gold was sneaked through the airport. The incident came to light only after the personnel from the Central Investigation Bureau manning the airport areas were tipped off about the smuggled gold. The CIB plain-clothed personnel caught the "gold mules', who were allowed to take out gold out of the various security points deployed inside the airport terminal.
The incident came to its head after a senior superintendent of police who was responsible for maintaining security at the airport was transferred to the police headquarters and subsequently arrested for having his nexus with the gold smugglers. The arrest was made after police conducted an investigation on the nexus among the arrestee, the custom officials and also the person responsible to handle the security x-ray machine. The cell-phone call details of the arrestee police officer and other accused showed that these people were in cahoots to allow gold to be smuggled out.
Several media outlets later reported that the gold smugglers were behind introducing arrested SSP Shyam Bahadur Khatri with the officers who were handling the airport's security x-ray machine. If this report is true, then one can only wonders regarding the smugglers' clout. They appear to have deep knowledge of the working of the security system at the TIA as well as are in close contacts with the officials that are deployed in the key places of the airport. Because of this nexus, the deployed police and custom officers had allowed the gold mules to sneak through airport security and custom points. Before getting arrested, these officers must have let the smugglers go out with several kilograms of gold and had made good bucks.
The arrest of the senior police officer responsible for the safety and security of the one of the most sensitive places of the nation is indeed a blot on the country's security organs. The Nepali police administration often draws flak for being unable to keep its greedy officers under check.
Earlier, an SSP- Rabi Raj Shrestha was dismissed from his duty after he was found having a nexus with smugglers taking out foreign currencies out of the nation. In a bizarre incident, the SSP was alleged to have deployed one of his junior police officers to hand over a packet full of foreign currencies to a local merchant who was leaving for Dubai from the TIA. The act of the junior police officer, who handed over the currency packet to the owner after he had reached the boarding lounge, was caught on the CC camera. Later, the junior police officer, a constable, spilled the beans leading to the dismissal of SSP Shrestha.
The gold and other high value items being smuggled from the TIA is not a new thing. In the past, a minister was accused of having his role in gold smuggling. Rabindra Sharma who was Home Minister was later tried for corruption and court handed him sentences even after his death. The now-sacked CIAA chief, Lok Man Singh Karki, too had to face the charges of siphoning off good amount of gold caught at the airport while he was the head of the Custom Department. All these incidents suggest that the TIA has become a haven for the smugglers and the officers who want to earn quick bucks by setting up their nexus with the smugglers of different hue and stripes.
Besides growing incident of smuggling of contrabands, the TIA has raised the alarm for suspect people using it as a transit points. Criminals, smugglers and even terrorists are frequently caught at the airport suggesting that the TIA has a greater lure for these elements just because they think that they can easily sneak through this airport. Because of the alleged lax security measures at the international airport, the TIA and the Nepali government are criticised by the foreigners. Citing the poor security, nations like India is alleged for asking our government to allow it to look after the security of the airport. Way back in 1999, a Delhi-bound Indian passenger aircraft that had flown from the TIA, was hijacked and was taken to Afghanistan by the members of some terrorist outfit. Because of this, the Indian authority started deploying its security staff inside the aircraft and started checking all the passengers who fly with Indian aircraft.
The TIA is indeed an important and yet a sensitive place of the nation. No doubt, the security of this place should always be at the top priority. At the same time, officials manning the various security points at the airport terminal building should be of higher probity and must be guided by the deep sense of duty to the nation. For deploying officials at the key security check points inside the terminal, a greater vetting of these people is necessary and the deployment of the personnel from the intelligence department to "look after" the suspected officials is also required. Since there is always a danger of these officials falling into the net of smugglers and other nefarious elements, a greater vigilance against the officials who can err at any time, becomes urgent if our authority is to maintain the imperviousness of the only international airport.