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MPs in Nepal ban sale of royal property

They have asked the Govt to enforce a ban on King Gyanendra and his kin from selling or transferring their lands in business ventures.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2006 14:40 IST

Faced with continuous difficulties in assessing the extent of property owned by the royal family, Nepal's MPs have asked the government to enforce a ban on King Gyanendra and his kin from selling or transferring their lands or stocks in business ventures.

A parliamentary committee, formed last month to gauge how much land and other properties the royal family owns in order to bring them under the tax net, gave the instructions to Nepal's Land Reforms and Management Minister Prabhu Narayan Chaudhury on Sunday.

This was after the ministry failed to submit complete details about the assets of the current royals as well as the late king Birendra and his family, all of whom died in a shootout in the royal palace six years ago.

The ministry was given a deadline last week to submit the details. At that time, it informed the Natural Resources Committee of parliamentarians that the royal family owned 1,700 hectares of land in seven districts.

However, the minister said details were yet to come from 68 more districts and estimated the total land held by them could go up substantially.

According to the law in Nepal, an individual can own only seven hectares. Till last year, the royal family was considered above the law.

Nepal's new government headed by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has pledged the king's excess property would be nationalised and tax imposed on the amount he would be allowed to keep.

Due to the lack of transparency about the doings of the palace, it is a Herculean task to uncover how much property the royals really own.

While some are held under trusts, some are also in the name of people loyal to the palace.

The parliamentary probe has dragged into fresh controversy Indian tobacco giant ITC's joint venture in Nepal, Surya Nepal, earlier known as Surya Tobacco.

While Surya Nepal maintains there are no shares in the blue chip company in the king's name, it is still widely perceived to have royal connections with the palace holding shares under other people's names.

Along with Hotel Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Nepal's first luxury hotel begun by an uncle of the king, Hotel de l'Annapurna, another five-star run by Gyanendra's aunt and her son, and the Himalaya Tea Garden, a joint venture with India's Goodricke, Surya Nepal, too, came under the scan with the MPs asking for details about the land their offices and factories occupy.

According to Nepal's official media, the ministry informed the house committee that the land occupied by the companies is their own.

The spotlight on these companies is likely to grow sharper in the coming days with the MPs asking the ministry to provide details about the stocks owned by the royals.

Irked by the government's inability to table the full details, the MPs have warned the minister that if he could not make headway, they would summon the minister in charge of the royal palace and the chief secretary, the top bureaucrat in the Himalayan kingdom.

Currently, the prime minister holds the portfolio of the royal palace.

First Published: Aug 14, 2006 14:40 IST