by Punjita Pradhan
KATHMANDU, July 30 (Xinhua) -- Nepal's Supreme Court (SC) on Sunday issued stay order against the government's preparation to handover the country's only international airport to Indian company.
Earlier this month, the Nepali government's preparation to handover the Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA) in Nepali capital Kathmandu to an Indian company for renovation and management without issuing a tender came into highlight.
The issue had raised concerns and controversy all over Nepal whilst the government faced huge criticism for the decision.
On March 6 this year, the Nepal Investment Board under the directives of the government had written a letter to Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (ILFS), an Indian company that had expressed their interest to take over the management of TIA in Nepal.
Nepal Investment Board is a recently established Nepal government board with the aim to create investor friendly environment for both domestic and foreign investors.
Although the letter has not been made public, according to reports it suggested ILFS to proceed with the preparations.
A petition under Public Interest Litigation had been filed against a letter issued by Nepal Investment Board, citing it was against the national sovereignty and security of Nepal to handover the management of an international airport to a foreign company.
The SC had also demanded a letter of clarification from Prime Minister Babu Ram Bhattarai who had clarified by saying that the government was yet to make a decision.
Series of parleys between the government and the justices also took place before the hearing on Sunday.
On Sunday, a special bench of two Justices - Sushila Karki and Tarka Raj Bhatta issued the stay order. However, presiding judge Ram Kumar Shah of the same bench presented a note of dissent against the stay order.
According to Shah, there was no necessity for the stay order as the letter produced by Nepal Investment Board to the Indian company held no legal status while also stating that any petitioners could challenge the stay order issued by SC.
PROVISION OF HANDOVER
The Nepali government handed over the 14 projects to Nepal Investment Board on May this year, including the upgrading and management of TIA.
The decision came under government's plan and policies to hand over TIA along with other bodies to private companies for better management.
Designed to process 1,350 passengers in one hour, the TIA sometimes has to process over 2,000 passengers every hour beyond its capacity.
According to data provided by the Civil Aviation Authority Nepal (CAAN), the TIA handled 4.28 million passengers in 2011, which shows an increase by more than 7 percent every year.
By privatizing TIA through Nepal Investment Board, the target was to achieve more annual revenue from TIA which stands merely at approximately 11 million U.S. dollars.
Meanwhile, as the government was making preparation to upgrade TIA by handing over the management to Indian company, CAAN, an autonomous regulatory body had already started upgrading the TIA with assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and its own resources.
The ADB has provided CAAN with 70 million U.S. dollars in loans and 10 million U.S. dollars in grants for the project.
The provision of such projects can be given only to a locally registered company under the supervision or partnership of CAAN and Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation Nepal.
As soon as the news about the TIA handover came to highlight, there were criticisms from different sectors of the nation.
Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist), the Maoists party which recently split from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal Maoists (UCPN-M) because of political differences, issued a press release expressing grave concern over the issue.
The party announced that "It was no way be acceptable to Nepali people and the country to hand over the management of sensitive airport to a foreign firm in the current transition and fragile situation of Nepal."
Likewise, talking to Xinhua, political and security expert Subarna Shrestha informed that the government had already completed a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for handing over the airports' management to the Indian company.
"Handing over the management of an airport to a foreign company raises serious concerns for security matters of the nation not because the Indian company will deliberately use our poorly managed airports against the interest of our people but because it can have serious implication in a global perspective," according to Shrestha.
On the other hand, according to a report published by Indian Express, ILFS has clarified that there is no proposal from IL&FS to perform functions such as airport security, immigration, customs etc., which would continue to be performed by the Government of Nepal.
Meanwhile, the government's silence over the prevailed situation has also added to the negative anticipation from the people of the nation.
With all the developments on the TIA issue, it appears that Nepal as a nation needs to revise its national interests along with the provisions of foreign investments.