Indian firms in Nepal meet Pranab Mukherjee over labour issues

November 25th, 2008 - 4:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghKathmandu, Nov 25 (IANS) Officials of prominent Indian joint ventures in Nepal that have been facing labour and security problems in the Himalayan republic, have met Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is on a three-day visit here to boost India-Nepal ties.Dabur Nepal, an independent company of the Dabur Group, United Telecom Nepal (UTL), whose Indian promoters are Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd, Telecommunications Consultants India and Tata Communications Ltd, and Nepal Lever, the Nepal arm of Hindustan Unilever Ltd, were among the top Indian entities that met Mukherjee Monday, the day of his arrival.

Many Indian joint ventures have been facing labour trouble and security problems, with Dabur Nepal, UTL and Nepal Lever facing demands from outsourced or contract workers for direct and permanent employment.

Labour trouble had also been reported in the past at the tobacco factory of Surya Nepal, ITC’s joint venture in the republic, as well as Air India.

The Indian companies have been especially perturbed after the previous government of prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala ordered UTL to provide direct employment to the staff it had hired through a third-party contractor.

The controversial decision, that could eventually affect other multinationals as well, was taken up by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Nepal premier Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda when the latter went to India in September on his first official visit after assuming office.

Mukherjee too raised the issue of Indian investment in Nepal when he met Prachanda Tuesday morning, and urged the Maoist chief to create an environment that would encourage and protect Indian investment.

Mukherjee’s visit comes close on the heels of oral care giant Colgate-Palmolive winding up its operations in Nepal after 12 years.

The sale of Colgate-Palmolive (Nepal) to a Nepali company has now run into trouble with workers detaining the buyer inside the factory for 48 hours, while two officials of the sold Nepal arm were stopped by the youth wing of a political party at a domestic airport in south Nepal.

The growing rivalry between the trade unions affiliated to the Maoists, Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, the third largest party in Nepal, has added to growing tension in the industrial sector.

India is also closely watching the progress of work on Nepal’s biggest hydropower project, the 750 MW West Seti in western Nepal, in which the Mumbai-based Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services is a partner. The Indian government-owned Power Trading Corp will purchase the power.

After prolonged opposition to the project by NGOs and political parties, three West Seti offices in western Nepal came under attack recently.

With private Indian company, the GMR Group, and the public sector hydropower company Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam having been awarded two new hydropower projects in Nepal, Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry and Power Jairam Ramesh cautioned during a recent visit to Nepal that investors in India and abroad were watching the West Seti project keenly as a test case to decide if they too should invest in the country or quit.

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