Indian govt had sought Nepal passport contract'
TNN, Apr 12, 2010, 04.41pm IST
KATHMANDU: The saga of Nepal's aborted controversial passport deal with India received a new twist with the leaking of a high-level confidential document that seems to indicate it was the Indian government that had sought to get the contract for printing nearly 4 million Nepali passports, out of turn, due to security concerns.
Maoist MP Narayan Kaji Shrestha Prakash tabled a letter in parliament on Sunday leaked to his party by the foreign ministry that indicates the Indian interest in the contract.
Written by India's ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood to Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala, the letter, sent in December, pointed out that "India and Nepal share an open border regime under which Nepali citizens do not require a visa to travel to India and vice-a-versa. In recent times, the open border has also been a source of certain security concerns which have been shared with the Nepali leaders at the highest level."
After detailing a proposal to print and supply the passports by its state-owned Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India Limited, the envoy said in the letter, "This (India´s) offer will not only address some of the security concerns that have been mentioned but, I am certain, will prove to be economical for the government of Nepal."
The foreign minister on Monday sought to downplay allegations that she had struck a “secret deal" with India, denying having received the letter. There were no comments from the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu.
Nepal's triumphant Maoists called off the Nepal bandh scheduled on Monday but said they would continue their effort to topple the government of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal amidst rife speculation that the beleaguered premier would step down.
The Nepal government had floated a global tender and shortlisted four foreign companies to prin machine-readable passports. However, the tender process was stopped on the insistence of the Foreign Minister and given to the Indian state undertaking despite it quoting a higher rate and despite the Public Accounts Committee of parliament asking the government to follow the tender procedure.
The issue is now in court as well after two individuals filed public interest litigation applications separately. The Supreme Court will begin hearing them from Tuesday when it has asked the prime minister and foreign minister to appear before it.