Amid growing security concerns in India about the misuse of Nepali passports, Indian companies seeking to bid for a fresh passport deal in Nepal have crashed out due to unfavourable yardsticks.
India's state-owned Security Printing and Minting Corporation of India Ltd (SPMCIL), which had been awarded the contract to print modern, machine-readable Nepali passports earlier this year but faced the deal souring at the last moment due to a political controversy, is out of the new reckoning.
So is the other Indian company that had shown an interest in bidding for the passport deal: Madras Security Printers.
Though they had picked up the bid documents last month, the Indian companies were deterred from entering the race by the criteria laid down by Nepal's foreign ministry, which says bidders should have executed similar projects in at least two countries.
The smart passport deal triggered a raging controversy when Nepal's coalition government cancelled a bid process and awarded it to SPMCIL but had to scrap it after protests by the opposition Maoists and directives by a parliamentary committee on the ground that it was given to the Indian company out of turn and would jeopardise Nepal's security.
The foreign ministry subsequently called for fresh bids last month; the two Indian companies were among the 16 prospective foreign bidders.
However, at the end, only four companies bid for the five-year project. Besides the two Indian companies, a Chinese company that had picked up the bid documents too did not join the fray.
Now, four companies are in the race: Britain's De La Rue, Singapore's 3M Technologies, Indonesia's Perum Peruri and France's Oberthur Technologies.
The French company, the lowest bidder with an offer of $3.50 per passport booklet, is the favourite to win the contract.
A reciprocal treaty between Nepal and India allows their citizens to visit each other's country without visa or work without an employment permit. Nepali passports are of growing concern to India, especially after revelations that terrorists planning operations in India used Nepal either to enter Indian cities undetected or provide logistical support.
Even last month, Nepal police busted an international gang led by two Bangladeshis based in Kathmandu who were faking Nepali passports.