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Nepal scraps Delhi deal

Kathmandu, April 12 (PTI): The Nepal government has scrapped a deal with Delhi for printing machine-readable passports from a government security press in India, apparently under pressure from Maoists who had called a strike to protest the move.

The decision, announced by government spokesperson Shanker Pokharel after a cabinet meeting, came hours before Nepal’s apex court was to hear the case.

The Maoists in Nepal, who called off the strike after the announcement, had accused the government of bowing to India by agreeing to the passport deal.

“The government decided to accept the advice of the parliamentary committee which went into the matter,” Pokharel said. The decision came four days after the country’s Supreme Court ordered the deal to be put on hold. Under the new international civil aviation rules, Nepal was to issue new machine-readable passports to new applicants by April 1.

The Nepal government had recently decided to award the contract of supplying the passports to an Indian security press at the rate of $4 per copy after the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) asked it to stop issuing hand-written passports. The contract was given to facilitate quick issuance of machine-readable passports in order to meet the ICAO directive.

A parliament committee had summoned Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal this week to explain why the government had awarded the contract to India. Nepal had said the decision was taken keeping in view the diplomatic and political relations between the two countries. The Nepal government had requested the ICAO to allow it to issue hand-written passports for the time being.

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