After ITC closure, Manipal warns service halt in Nepal

September 12th, 2011 - 5:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Sep 12 (IANS) A month after Indian tobacco giant ITC’s joint venture in Nepal shut down its garment factory due to workers’ militancy, now it is the turn of the Manipal Group, one of the single largest Indian investors in Nepal, to warn that it could suspend its hospital services in view of continued disruptions.

The Manipal College of Medical Sciences run by the Manipal Group in Pokhara city in central Nepal has run into fresh trouble since Sunday with a group of junior Nepali doctors going on strike, alleging discrimination between the pays of local and expatriate doctors.

The strikers refused to attend a meeting called in Kathmandu Monday with the medical regulatory body, Nepal Medical Council, as well as the management and Nepal Medical Association.

The college also runs a 700-bed teaching hospital and despite the strike, the authorities have continued to provide services to patients.

“However, if this continues, I have informed the chief district officer that we will be forced to suspend hospital services,” said B.M. Nagpal, dean of the college.

Soon after its inauguration in 1994, the college and hospital has been facing union unrest, illegal strikes and an adverse media campaign.

“The allegations that there is a pay disparity between Indian and Nepali doctors are false,” Nagpal said. “We are a business organisation. Why should we employ doctors from outside at a higher pay?”

However, Nepal is still unable to provide the number of senior doctors and specialists whose presence is mandated by the regulator.

“Till that is rectified, we have to get doctors from India,” Nagpal said. “And if you get them from outside, you have to pay them an expatriate allowance to cope with additional expenses in a new country. That is the universal accepted norm.”

All multinational organisations follow the principle, including the UN and European Union and even the Kendriya Vidyalaya run by the Indian government in Kathmandu.

However, Manipal is being targeted for a smear campaign that says the organisation discriminates against Nepali doctors.

“The strikers are saying expatriates receive higher pay, giving the examples of doctors who were brought from India on contract,” Nagpal said. “A contract is not the same as employment. If you don’t get the specialists and senior doctors you need in Nepal, you have to get them from outside. And for that, you have to pay them more.”

Nagpal points out that Manipal has been grooming its students, training them and absorbing them. Currently, there are 120 faculty members out of whom 52 are from Nepal.

Hospital sources say the strikers have been abetted by the Maoist trade union. In the past, the union triggered cut-throat rivalry among the other trade unions at Manipal, causing frequent illegal strikes demanding pay raises in contravention of agreements signed with the management.

Some of the local doctors have been running private practices in violation of their service agreement and in spite of drawing a non-practice allowance.

The Manipal crisis comes after ITC’s joint venture, Surya Nepal, the republic’s biggest tax payer, was forced last month to shut down its garment factory in eastern Nepal that produced ITC’s John Players and Springwood brands of clothing.

The closure came after militant workers, mostly women, vandalised the state of the art factory and took management staff captive, holding them without food and water for 24 hours.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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