After ITC venture, Manipal plans exit from Nepal

September 16th, 2011 - 6:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Kathmandu, Sep 16 (IANS) In a major blow to the image of Nepal’s new Maoist government, India’s influential Manipal Group of Companies is planning its exit strategy just a month after another mega Indian investor, ITC, shut down its garments factory in the turbulent republic due to trade union trouble fomented by the ruling party.

The 16-year-old Manipal College of Medical Sciences, the first private medical college in western Nepal, and its 825-bed teaching hospital have begun drawing up emergency measures to exit from Nepal following a strike since Sunday by junior doctors affiliated to the Maoist union.

On Thursday, the hospital authorities served a legal notice on the striking Nepali doctors, who allege the hospital has been discriminating over pay and perks, giving expatriate doctors more money.

The notice cautioned them that if they did not report for work by Friday, the management would implement the no work, no pay policy approved by the government.

The top management of the group in India will be flying to Kathmandu later this month to hold last-ditch talks with Nepali Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai once he returns from the 66th UN General Assembly in New York.

They will also hold talks with the Indian authorities to ensure that the future of the students already enrolled in the medical college is not affected.

As part of the exit strategy, the college will stop admitting freshers and transfer existing students to its two colleges in India.

To keep its commitment to patients, the hospital will now begin to bring in expatriate doctors if the striking doctors do not return to work.

The group’s decision that it will not run its college and hospital in Nepal if hiccups crop up regularly mirrors the decision by Surya Nepal, ITC’s joint venture in Nepal, to shut its factory in Biratnagar after rampaging workers vandalised equipment and took nearly three dozen other employees captive for 24 hours.

The pullout bid comes at a time when Bhattarai has accepted an invitation from his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh to go on his first official visit to India after returning from the UN.

It is also certain to send out a very negative message on the eve of the 4th SAARC Business Leaders’ Conclave that is being hosted in Kathmandu Sep 20-22 in a bid to promote Nepal as a profitable destination for investors.

Besides frequent strikes by rival trade unions, Manipal has also suffered repeated failures by the government to fulfil the conditions of the agreement it signed, which includes allotting it 25 acre of land free to set up a dental college.

Though Nepal has declared strikes in the essential services sector illegal, the weak government lacks the muscle to implement the ban.

Manipal authorities point at the contrast between Nepal and the two other foreign countries where they have medical colleges - Malaysia and Antigua - saying the other two as well as two more in India are flourishing.

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

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