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Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India wins Nepal passport contract, Uproar in Nepal

Nepal's ruling parties are pitted against one another and the Maoists have joined the uproar as Nepal's government finally decided to award a prestigious contract for printing smart passports to a state-owned company in India.

The Nasik-based Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India has bagged the contract to print 4 million machine-readable Nepali passports for three years after the cabinet took the decision Friday.

The green light came only after much wrangling between Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala, who was rooting for the Indian company, and Home Minister Bhim Rawal, who has expressed concern that it may cause security problems.

The cabinet nod has also set Nepal's opposition party, the Maoists, seething. The former guerrillas, who are now the biggest party in the Himalayan republic, called the decision another instance of Nepal's government surrendering to its bigger neighbour India.

The decision has also angered Nepal's parliamentarians, who had advised the government to float a global tender.

The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee had rejected the Indian offer, saying it was the most expensive. Instead, it had asked the government to continue with the earlier bidding process it had initiated.

As per the norms of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Nepal needs to switch over to the more progressive machine-readable passports.

The government called for a global tender and four companies were shortlisted. They included firms from France, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.

However, Sujata Koirala urged the government to award the contract to the Indian company, saying a quick decision was needed to meet the April 1 ICAO deadline.

International travel norms require that Nepalis have the machine readable passport from April 1, failing which they will be barred from travelling abroad.

Nepal is a major exporter of manpower and according to the foreign minister, daily nearly 600 people head for jobs abroad while another 400 leave for education and other purposes.

Stung by the cabinet ignoring its recommendation, the parliamentary committee has called a meeting of its members Sunday to discuss its next course of action. (IANS)

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