Hostage crisis: Two IL&FS employees released in Ethiopia

Mumbai, Maharashtra, IndiaUpdated: Dec 02, 2018, 08:00 PM IST

File photo Photograph:(Reuters)

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Harish Bandi, one of the two employees released, was suffering from gastric issues and swelling in one of his fingers while the other, Bhaskar Reddy, was down with severe fever.

Two of the seven IL&FS employees held hostage in Ethiopia by unpaid local staff have been released on health grounds, a source said.

The two had sent an e-mail from captivity to the Indian Embassy on their medical condition, the source said, adding that the embassy helped in securing their release.

Harish Bandi, one of the two employees released, was suffering from gastric issues and swelling in one of his fingers while the other, Bhaskar Reddy, was down with severe fever.

"A mail was written to the Indian Embassy in Ethiopia, which acted promptly and with the help of local police the two employees were released," the source close to the development said.

Both the employees were then taken to a local hospital near the project site with the help of police, and from there to the capital city Addis Ababa, where they are recuperating.

The five employees currently in captivity are surviving on boiled rice, sweet potatoes and vegetables they had grown in their camp area, but the stock may not last for long, the source added.

The seven Indian workers of a unit of IL&FS have been held hostage since November 25 at three sites in Ethiopia's Oromia and Amhara states by unpaid local staff.

IL&FS had defaulted on paying both taxes and local employee pensions for nine months.

The local workers have supposedly not been given salaries for October and November by a subsidiary of IL&FS Transportation Networks (ITNL).

A possible termination of some road projects being built by Indian and Spanish joint ventures may have triggered local employees to take such an action.

The employees were reported to be working on road construction projects for joint ventures between IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd and Spanish firms Elsamex S.A. And Ecoasfalt S.A.

An earlier attempt to escape by these seven employees was thwarted by locals, as they thought if these employees leave, they would not get their dues, the source added.

Indian employees of ITNL in Ethiopia too have not received salaries from July 2018, the source added.

ITNL, through its wholly owned subsidiary Elsamex SA, has been executing road projects across three sites in Ethiopia.

In a statement on Saturday, the cash-strapped Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) said the two employees of ITNL were released as a result of collective and sustained engagement with various authorities.

The five other employees of ITNL are being held captive in the African nation.

Four staffers -- Sukhvinder Singh, Bishnu Nagaraju, Chaitanya Hari and Khurram Imam -- are under house arrest at one of the locations of Nekemte-Bure road project, while another Indian expat Neeraj Raghuwanshi is been held hostage at a different location at the same project site.

Apart from the above mentioned, there are eight other Indian employees of ITNL who are in Addis Ababa and their movements have not been restricted, the source said.

ITNL's subsidiary has employed close to 800 Ethiopian workers for its three construction sites.

In Saturday's statement, IL&FS said it has been making all-round efforts, in coordination with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Government of India and the Indian Embassy in Addis Ababa, to ensure the safe and early return of its employees.

ITNL had sought approval on November 16, 2018, through its authorised dealer bank, to remit funds overseas but approvals are awaited, the statement said.

ITNL is the largest build-operate-transfer (BOT) road asset owner in the country with approximately 13,100 lane km in its portfolio.

It has an international footprint covering Spain, Portugal, and Latin America with the acquisition of Elsamex S.A., a Spain-based highway operations and maintenance and allied services provider company.

IL&FS Group and its various subsidiaries, including ITNL, are facing a liquidity crisis and have defaulted on various debt payments.

As of October 8, 2018, the total debt of the group stood at Rs 94,215.6 crore.

After the IL&FS crisis had a cascading effect on the market, the government on October 1 superseded its board and appointed a seven-member board headed by Uday Kotak as the chairman. The new board is working on a resolution plan for the debt-ridden company.