Passportgate makes Nepal cancel deal with India
TNN, Apr 11, 2010, 10.20pm IST
Tags:Madhav Kumar Nepal|Passport Gate
KATHMANDU: After the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty that Nepal wants to scrap and the Integrated Mahakali Treaty for river-water sharing that Nepal’s parties say are against national interests, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal met his “Passport Gate” on Sunday, being forced to convene a late-night cabinet meeting and cancel a controversial new deal with India to print new Nepali passports.
Information and communications minister Shankar Pokhrel, who is also the spokesman of the coalition government, told waiting journalists at the end of the emergency meeting that the contract to Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India would be cancelled and the government would call for new bids following the advice of a parliamentary committee.
The passport debacle marks a blow against Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala, who is accused of “illegally” halting an earlier tender process to force the government into handing over the contract for printing 3 million Nepali passports to the Indian company. Koirala’s chances to assume her father Grija Prasad Koirala’s mantle as the leader of the Nepali Congress party will receive a serious setback with the passport climbdown.
It also shows up India’s Nepal policy in a poor light yet again. The passport contract was discussed by External Affairs Minister S M Krishna himself and the ministerial involvement, when it was common knowledge that a tender process was already in place, shows the Indian establishment’s chronic tendency to become dubiously involved in deals.
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 Monday when it has asked the prime minister and foreign minister to appear before it.
The Maoists too have grabbed the opportunity to embarrass the prime minister and called a Nepal bandh Monday to protest against the deal with India. It was not known immediately whether they would still go ahead with the protest. The former guerrillas are also demanding the ouster of Nepal over the debacle.
THE NEWS BEFORE THAT
Nepal scraps passport deal with India under 'Maoist pressure'
PTI, Apr 12, 2010, 04.38pm IST
Tags:under Maoist pressure|Nepal scraps passport deal with India
KATHMANDU: In a major climb down, the Nepalese government has scrapped a controversial deal with India for printing of Machine Readable Passport from a government security press, which led to Maoist calling off their nationwide strike.
The government decision came hours before the country's apex court was to hear the case and was announced by Communication Minister and government spokesman Shanker Pokharel after a cabinet meeting.
It was apparent that the government caved in to pressure by the Maoist who had termed the step as bowing to India.
"The government decided to accept the advice of the parliamentary committee which went into the matter and procured passports to the competitive bidding," Pokhrel said.
The government decision came four days after the Supreme Court ordered the deal to be put on hold and summoned Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and his deputy Sujata Koirala to explain the decision before it.
Under the new International Civil Aviation rules, Nepal was to issue new machine readable passports to new applicants by April 1.
Nepal government had recently decided to award the contract of supplying MRP to Indian security press at a rate of USD 4 per copy through bilateral negotiations in order to get the ultra-modern passport printed as soon as possible after the International Civil Aviation Organisation asked it to halt issuance of hand written passports.
The decision to cancel the order came after Maoists announced general strike today to oppose the government's plan to get the smart passports printed in Indian press.
As the government withdrew the decision to print the passport from India, the Maoists also withdrew their strike, the Maoist sources said.
A Parliament Committee had summoned Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal this week to furnish clarification regarding the issue of the decision to award the contract to the Indian security press to supply the passports.
Responding to the Parliament committee's query the Prime Minister had said that the decision was taken to award the contract to India keeping in view diplomatic and political relations.
After missing the deadline, the government has made a request to the ICAO to extend the time and allow the issuance of hand written passport for the time being.