Sanket Pandya, one of the two engineers left stranded in Iran since December 2013, has urged the Indian government to facilitate their early and safe return after the duo were illegally 'confined' following the seizure of their passports when their Goa-based employer got embroiled in a dispute with a company there.
Appreciating the sincere efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj towards securing the release of 39 Indians abducted in Iraq after a political turmoil there, Pandya urged the government to exercise the same political will to bring him and his colleague Mohammed Hussain Khan back from Iran safely.
"Despite repeated and frequent pleas to the previous United Progressive Alliance government to secure our release, nothing happened and we are still held up in Iran for last six months," he told PTI from Iran.
Pandya and Khan's passports were allegedly seized by a private engineering firm in Iran's Zanjan city over a business dispute with their employer Power Engineering India Pvt Ltd.
Both were part of the Indian team sent to Iran for supervision of installation and pre-commissioning of a power plant being set up in Zanjan by the Vazarjahan Company. But their passports were seized after a contractual dispute arose between the two companies leaving them trapped.
In January this year, both of them were shifted to a hotel in Tehran after their 'release' from a guest house in Zanjan, where they were allegedly 'confined'. "We have been facing a lot of problems after the hotel management in Tehran threw us out some time ago compelling us to stay in a nearby Gurudwara for 10 days as our employer had failed making hotel payments in time," Pandya said.
However, they were shifted back after their company made necessary arrangements, Pandya, a resident of Vadodara said. "We do not have any political backing. So the government of India is not pursuing our case seriously with the Iranian authorities ever since we are being kept in the Grand Hotel in Iran," he alleged adding this prompted his 63-year old mother Ilaben Pandya to write to Modi last week.
“Also, my wife Preeti has approached Swaraj, seeking her intervention to secure my release,” he said.
"I had gone on an indefinite fast for 10 days in the hotel after our employer company failed to resolve the business dispute with its Iranian counterpart and ended my hunger strike only when Indian embassy officials in Tehran assured me to make efforts for an amicable settlement leading to our release," Pandya said.
Even Khan (hailing from Haryana) also went on a fast in support of our demands, he said. Pandya alleged that Iranian authorities had also taken them to Ishkfan, a desert-like place located more than 500 kms from Tehran to pressurise both of them to confess to crimes they had not committed.
"Kia", an Iran-based company appointed as distributor of the Goa-based firm, has been helping us in getting legal help and have already changed five lawyers in the past six months for settling the matter in local court, delaying the matter further, he said.
Besides, the Goa-based company does not give them their monthly salary in time, he charged. Also, we are provided with only boiled rice and vegetables for meals, he said.
"It is beyond our tolerance to go through this "ill and inhuman treatment" meted out to both of us, he said. He has also urged the company to take up the business dispute with arbitration courts in Dubai, Singapore or the United Kingdom for resolving the matter and ensure their return.