Inspector of Nepal Police, Tulasa Khatiwada, is the in-charge of Tourist Police Unit. She joined the unit as the in-charge from March 2016. She was with the Crime Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police before assuming responsibility at the Tourist Police Unit. Rajiv Joshi of Image Nepal, recently talked with the soft-spoken police officer on various issues related to tourism police and the Nepali tourism industry. Excerpts:
TND: Please tell us why the Tourist Police Unit was established?
Khatiwada: The unit was established in the year 1979 under the command of Inspector and seven police personnel with the sole objective of providing safety and security to tourists visiting Nepal. The major task assigned to the Tourist Police is to look after the well-being of tourists, advise and assist them on safety and security while indulging in different tourist activities like trekking, rafting, jungle safari, among others.
TND: Many are still unaware about the existence of Tourist Police. What do you think is the reason?
Khatiwada: It is true to some extent. Most of the people did not know such a unit of Nepal Police exists before the popular movement of 1990s. But after that, we are gradually becoming visible. We have been working hard to be more visible and inform tourists and tourism stakeholders who we are and what we do.
Establishment of new units in various tourist areas has helped us a lot. Many tourists today know that there is tourist police in Nepal and it is the agency that they should contact if they are in trouble. A television program of Nepal Police, Prahari Anurodh, has helped us a lot in information dissemination. Similarly, the websites of Nepal Police and Department of Tourism, among others, carry information about us.
Also, we are in direct contact with various embassies and diplomatic missions based in Nepal. They are aware of our existence. These missions also advise their countrymen to contact us if they get into trouble.
TND: How is the presence and strength of Tourist Police?
Khatiwada: Currently, we are present in 26 locations across the country. There are altogether 227 police personnel under our unit. Along with the main unit on the premises of Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), there are eight satellite units in Kathmandu Valley, four units in Pokhara. The main unit in Pokhara is also under the command of Inspector. Apart from these locations, we are also present in border cities of Kakarbhitta, Birgunj and Bhairahawa and Janaki temple in Janakpur. These units are generally focused on tourists coming via India. We also have units in Himalayan districts like Solukhumbu, Manang, Mustang, Myagdi and Rasuwa.
We are mostly based in major tourist hubs as well as entry and exit points to facilitate foreign tourists. It is because of our strategic positioning that we have been able to maintain data of foreign tourist flow to these places.
Security of solo trekkers is a major concern for us. Group trekkers do not fall into serious trouble as they are always accompanied by guides and porters as well as in contact of their companies. But as solo trekkers travel on their own, they often come across various problems. Our units in Lukla, Namche Bazaar and Annapurna Region are extra careful toward well-being of solo trekkers. We record their itinerary before they progress further in their trek so that we can locate them in case any untoward incident happens to them.
TND: Tourists in urban areas are often troubled by hawkers and beggars. What is Tourist Police doing to address the situation?
Khatiwada: To control these activities, we are conducting orientation classes for guides and local businesspeople on a regular basis. We also tell hawkers not to hassle tourists. Likewise, our units patrol heritage sites round the clock to ensure safety and security of tourists. We work in coordination with local units of Nepal Police to control such activities as they, if not controlled, can tarnish country’s image.
We have also come across cases of tourists being harassed by guides, local businessmen and even hoteliers. That is why we have felt the need to organize orientation classes.
TND: What types of cases do Tourist Police generally encounter? How is the settlement ratio?
Khatiwada: We generally receive cases related to theft or robbery and harassments. In cases of theft and robbery, we provide copies of first information reports to tourists so that they can make insurance claims back home. Sometimes, we get complaints of sexual harassments and even rape attempts from female tourists. We take such cases with priority but the plaintiffs often withdraw their cases because they need to get back to their country. Similarly, we also get cases against harassments and rape attempts by guides. The orientation programs that we conduct on a regular basis are helping to discourage such acts by Nepali tourism workers.
Sometimes, embassies get involved in major cases. We take serious cases with great priority. We work in close coordination with the embassy concerned. If the case needs detailed investigation, we forward them to local units of Nepal Police as well as the Nepal Police headquarters.
TND: How are the rules and regulations governing the Tourist Police?
Khatiwada: So far, we don’t have any regulation for the tourist police. In the regulations of Nepal Police, tourist police has been defined as a branch of Nepal Police. Similarly, the Department of Tourism defines Tourist Police as a unit for coordination and monitoring of the tourism industry like hotels, and travel and trekking agents, among others.
This is why we are drafting Tourist Police Directives under the coordination of the Director General of Department of Tourism. The draft has been forwarded to the tourism ministry. We are very hopeful that it will get the ministry’s nod soon. The regulations will define our jurisdiction. So far, we have been working on the directions of the Nepal Police headquarters and the Department of Tourism. It will be easier for us to work once the directives come into effect.
TND: How is the relation with the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) and other stakeholders of tourism industry?
Khatiwada: We work in close collaboration with NTB as it is the national tourism organization of the country. But as NTB is not a government entity, we are more accountable toward the directives of the Department of Tourism and the Nepal Police headquarters. But we cannot work effectively without the support of NTB as well as other stakeholders of the tourism industry. We work in close coordination with all. Most of the cases that we handle come through different travel trade associations and well as enterprises. It is very important to have a healthy relationship with the industry, and we have been getting good support and coordination from them till now.
TND: It is often heard that Tourist Police is facing resources and manpower crunch. What do you say?
Khatiwada: It is true to some extent. But we have been making optimum use of the resources and available manpower for effective service delivery. We have been providing different trainings to our personnel as they need to handle and deal with foreigners.
We have been facing problem in mobilizing our personnel as we do not have sufficient vehicles. We have placed the demand with the concerned authority and are hopeful that it will be addressed very soon.
Similarly, the Tourist Police is also facing shortage of manpower. We would like to have more skilled manpower like police personnel speaking different languages or well-versed in use of new technology. That would make our service delivery more effective.
We have also been getting requests to expand our presence to Dhulikhel and Bardia among others. But we cannot do so until we get more manpower.
How effective is the Tourist Police?
Khatiwada: I think the jurisdiction of tourist police should be expanded and it should be given more teeth. This unit should be authorized to handle and settle cases related to foreign tourists on its own. As we are a specialized agency, tourists would feel easy to work with us.
The unit is under the command of Inspector since its establishment in 1979. As its scope has increased a lot over the past decades, there is a need to upgrade this unit. Even the Nepal Police Headquarters has realized this fact. We hope that the headquarters will assign officers of higher rank to command this unit. It will not only strengthen the unit but will also enhance its jurisdiction.
If we can assure tourists on their safety and security throughout their stay in Nepal till their departure, we can say that we have been providing them effective service.
Khatiwada: It is unfortunate that we do not even have a website. But we have made our information available through the websites of Nepal Police and Department of Immigration. Similarly, we are present in social networking sites like Facebook. This is becoming effective in information dissemination as we also get complaints, queries and suggestions from our Facebook page.
Any parting remarks?
Khatiwada: We will be stronger one we get more vehicles as it will increase our mobility. Similarly, we are making our Pokhara unit stronger. We need the support of the tourism ministry, Nepal Police headquarters as well as different travel trade associations and other stakeholders of Nepali tourism ministry to make our service delivery more effective.