The Chitwan District Court has sentenced Chiran Kumar Budha of Nepal Army to nine months in prison on the charge of mercilessly thrashing Rajkumar Chepang to death for entering a restricted area of ​​Chitwan National Park (CNP).

Budha was deployed as security at CNP when he caught hold of 24-year-old Chepang and six of his friends — including two women — as they were collecting green vegetables and small snails (ghongi), among other food items, in the nearby forest on July 16, 2020.

Budha took them under control as they were picking snails in the Jyundi River, which lies within the boundaries of Chitwan National Park and is a restricted zone.

They were then taken into custody, harassed and thrashed indiscriminately by Budha before being released. Chepang, who fell ill after the beating, was rushed to Bharatpur Hospital for treatment a week later.

Chepang, a member of a marginalized indigenous community, succumbed to the injuries on July 22, 2020.

Though army personnel deployed for the parks security can take intruders or trespassers under control, they cannot take any kind of action against such persons.

The arrested must be handed over to the Park administration for further course of action.

A bench of Justice Gayatri Regmi on Monday sentenced Budha, on basis of initial evidence, to nine months in prison, Rs 9,000 fine and Rs 200,000 compensation to the victim’s family.

Chepang’s father Bishnu Lal Chepang had lodged a complaint at the Chitwan District Police Office on July 24 naming the person who had beaten his son.

The complaint filed by Bishnu Lal mentioned that 40-year-old Budha had beaten his son to death while the officer was on duty. Budha was arrested 10 days after the complaint’s registration.

The Chitwan National Park has so far provided Rs 700,000 and Rapti Municipality Rs 300,000 to the family of the deceased as compensation.

Iman Singh Lama, the deputy chief of Rapti district, has a house for the family of the deceased, who belong to an impoverished marginalized community.

The incident had brought to surface Nepal’s long history of alleged persecution of local and indigenous communities by CNP guards.

On July 18 last year, a group of CNP rangers allegedly set fire to two houses and destroyed eight others using elephants. The houses belonged to landless members of the Chepang community, whom authorities have accused of encroaching on park property. The army and national park deny the allegations.

In June last year, authorities at the Bardia National Park attempted to forcibly evict members of the Tharu indigenous community.

Nepal’s national parks make money from conservation and tourism, but there are many allegations of indigenous and local people living near national parks being treated with cruelty and disdain.