Kathmandu, July 17 (IANS): Three months after the Nepal government scrapped a passport deal with India and awarded it to a French company, the growing controversy over the issue has made India express fresh concern about the threat insecure Nepali passports pose to India's security.
The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu this week sent a note verbale to Nepal's ministry of foreign affairs, saying it was concerned that the security features in the new Nepali passports could be diluted.
The letter said the Indian Embassy's attention had been drawn to recent reports in the Nepali media expressing concern from different quarters on the issue.
Earlier this year, India had proposed that the contract for printing 4 million machine-readable Nepali passports be awarded to its state-owned Security Printing and Minting Corporation India Ltd.
New Delhi was ready to offer the contract at rock-bottom rates as its primary concern about Nepali passports is their effect on India's security.
Following a bilateral treaty of peace and friendship signed in 1950, Nepalis don't need a visa to travel to and stay in India and vice-versa.
A Nepali passport holder can open bank accounts in India, hold jobs without employment permits and buy property.
The embassy letter to the foreign ministry said that its attention was drawn to "an unusually high incidence of loss of Nepali passports and frequent reports of misuse of Nepali passports by non-Nepali citizens".
According to the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, nearly 20 people arrested for terrorist activities in India last year came through Nepal and it is feared they used forged Nepali passports.
The letter said the special relations between India and Nepal and the open border between the two neighbours allow visa-free movement of people. In addition, Nepali passport holders enjoyed privileges in India like engaging in commercial activities, opening bank accounts easily and applying for jobs.
"These rights and privileges are granted to Nepali citizens on the basis of passport," the letter said. "Any dilution of security standard of a passport is therefore a matter of concern."
India is asking Nepal to ensure that the new passports retain the security features discussed between New Delhi and Kathmandu.
The fresh Indian worry comes after Nepal's coalition government was forced to cancel the deal with the Indian company due to opposition by the Maoists and an order by a parliamentary committee to ask for tenders.
After India's exit, four foreign bidders were shortlisted and the lowest bidder, French company Oberthur Technologies, bagged the deal by virtue of being the lowest bidder.
However, the new deal too has had more than its fair share of controversies.
First, two of Oberthur's competitors sent written complaints to the foreign affairs ministry, saying the French firm's bid hid technological deficiencies. Then a group of MPs, including a minister, accused foreign affairs officials of awarding the contract after receiving kickbacks and demanded an investigation.
In an unusual step, Nepal still went ahead and awarded the deal to the French company even as the Foreign Affairs Ministry said it would hold a probe.