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Indians held captive in Kathmandu

world Updated: Aug 07, 2007 16:30 IST
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Two Indians are languishing in a Kathmandu hotel where they have been held captive for over three months for no fault of theirs.

Their employer in Mumbai, they say, has apparently been shirking his responsibility.

Prashant Joshi, a resident of Chirabazar Gaiwadi in Mumbai, and his assistant Shailesh Bhansali from the same city are virtually being held prisoners in Kathmandu's Manaslu Hotel because the travel agency they work for has not paid his bills.

Both are employees of a Mumbai travel agency, Kavita Tours and Travels, which was earlier known as Riddhi Siddhi Travels.

Their plight began after the travel agency conducted a package tour for two groups of holidaymakers from Mumbai but reportedly did not make a full payment to the hotel where the visitors stayed.

The agency had brought about 40-45 people from Mumbai to Nepal via Darjeeling for a vacation tour, with Joshi and Bhansali acting as their escorts.

However, when the holidaymakers started checking out of the hotel, the owner of the agency, Mehul Shah, reportedly said he did not have money to pay the entire bill that came to about Rs.600,000-650,000. He was short by about Rs.210,000.

Shah, the hotel says, told the staff he would come back from Mumbai with another group and clear his dues.

While the hotel allowed the guests to depart, as a precaution, it made Joshi and Bhansali stay back as they were employees of the Mumbai agency.

Though this happened in June, Shah is yet to return or send the money.

"Every time we contact him, he says he will send the money the next day," the hotel staff told IANS. "But that day never comes."

Meanwhile, the two hapless Indians are paying for Shah's absence.

"I was to be engaged in June," a tearful Joshi said. "It's not a joke, being forced to stay away from your family for months, not knowing what's happening.

"Though the hotel is treating us well and we can eat and drink all we want, still, we are virtually prisoners, not allowed to leave the hotel grounds. "

Joshi said his mother had filed a complaint at the Lokmanya Tilak police station. Also, about a month ago, a hotel employee took pity on him and his friend and rang up the Indian embassy in Kathmandu, asking for help.

"He made the call right in front of me," Joshi said. "But the embassy said it would not be involved and asked the hotel to act according to the law of the land. If the Indian embassy can't help a distressed Indian abroad, then who can?"

Joshi said he had been with the travel agency for 17 years.

"This is the first time such a thing happened," he said. "What are we to do? Bhansali and I are just employees. We have nothing to do with the unpaid bills."

Last year, one of Nepal's best-known business houses, the Chaudhury Group, had taken a similar punitive measure but the Indian government did not take it up with Nepal.

A scion of the group had held the father of an employee captive for over a month after the latter allegedly swindled money. The elderly man was rescued only after neighbours intervened.