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SP Bista, Inspector Bhatta sacked

The government has sacked two suspended police officials accused of mismanaging Nirmala Panta’s rape and murder investigation, in what could be considered a small victory in a ‘bigger fight’ to pin down perpetrators of crime against the 13-year-old from far-western Nepal.

Superintendent of Police Dilliraj Bista and Inspector Jagdish Bhatta were dismissed today after the clarifications they furnished were not found ‘convincing’, Ram Krishna Subedi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs, told The Himalayan Times. A decision to this effect was taken by Home Secretary Prem Kumar Rai.

The two were earlier asked to clarify why they should not be dismissed from police service for sheer negligence in criminal probe and failure to bring to book culprit(s) involved in the rape and murder of Nirmala of Mahendranagar, Kanchanpur.

SP Bista was Kanchanpur district police chief and Inspector Bhatta headed Mahendranagar police unit when the rape and murder occurred. The two had worked unprofessionally and irresponsibly; not abided by minimum criminal investigation standards;  and destroyed evidence by washing the victim’s inner thighs and private parts and dipping the victim’s clothes in water, which later disappeared, said a statement issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs today. Because of these lapses, the public and the victim’s family members were suspicious of the motives of the police, added the statement, justifying the reason for dismissing the two.

“The decision to sack the two, who played a crucial role in destroying evidence from the crime scene, is a welcome step,” said Nirmala’s father, Yagya Raj, 38. “But our main demand — find the criminals who raped and murdered Nirmala — has not been met. We will continue to fight until this demand is met.”

Although the two police officials were sacked, they were not rendered ineligible to hold a government post in future, according to Subedi. They also have the option to appeal. Sacked police officials can appeal to the office that initiated an investigation against them or to an official assigned to hear such cases. Appeals of sacked police officials, ranking Inspector or above, are heard by the Cabinet.

The process of sacking the two formally began on October 15 after Inspector General of Police Sarbendra Khanal wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs recommending their dismissal. The recommendation was based on the findings of a high-level investigation committee formed to probe Nirmala’s rape and murder.

As per IGP Khanal’s recommendation, the government, on Sunday, asked SP Bista and Inspector Bhatta to submit clarification on why they should not be dismissed from police service. Inspector Bhatta submitted his clarification on Tuesday and SP Bista did the same yesterday.

The government found their clarifications unsatisfactory and issued a 12-hour deadline yesterday to submit their second clarification. The two police officers submitted their second clarification today. They were then sacked a few hours later.

Nirmala had disappeared on the afternoon of July 26 after visiting her classmate Aachal Bam, aka Roshani. Nirmala’s mother had called the police that evening after she went missing, but no action was taken, according to a government report. Her body was found at around 9:00 am the next day in a sugarcane field. Circumstantial evidence show that Nirmala’s body may have been dumped in the field after she was raped and killed somewhere else. When Nirmala’s body was found, the lower half was submerged in water, which, according to the report, may have destroyed crucial evidence. But when police arrived at the crime scene, they did very little to protect whatever evidence was left, as they dipped Nirmala’s trousers in water before using it to cover her body.

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