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Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (March 10, 2016)

March 10, 2016

Official Spokesperson (Shri Vikas Swarup): Friends, welcome to the weekly press briefing. I have a couple of announcements.

To begin with, I would like to brief you on four important initiatives with Bangladesh on which decisions were taken during Hon’ble Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015. These were (i) Operationalising the supply of 100 MW of power from India, including from Palatana power plant project in Tripura to the eastern side of Bangladesh; (ii) Leasing of international bandwidth for internet at Akhaura to Agartala from BSCCL Bangladesh to BSNL India; (iii) Extension of the second Line of Credit worth $2 billion for Bangladesh for undertaking various developmental projects; and (iv) MoU signed between Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) and Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation (BPC) for construction of a pipeline from Siliguri to Parbatipur for the supply of high-speed diesel to Bangladesh.

I will now give you details on each of these four decisions. We will shortly be inaugurating the power connectivity between Palatana and Bangladesh as well as the leasing of the 10GB bandwidth by BSCCL from its Cox’s Bazaar internet port to BSNL.

The power connectivity will take our already substantial cooperation in this sector with Bangladesh to a new level as it will allow Bangladesh to address severe power shortages in its south-eastern parts. As you know, we were already supplying 500 MW of power to Bangladesh across the Beharampur- Behramara transmission link on the West Bengal-Bangladesh border and hope to enhance the supply further in due course.

Due to the new telecom initiative, the people of Tripura can avail more reliable internet connectivity which will improve internet speed of the entire North Eastern region, while Bangladesh telecom operators are enabled to effectively monetize their available infrastructure. Currently, Tripura is connected solely through the Siliguri corridor.

The credit line agreement for the US$ 2 billion line of credit was signed in Dhaka on March 9, 2016 by Chairman and Managing Director of EXIM Bank of India and the Secretary, Economic Relations Department, Ministry of Finance of Bangladesh. The signing of this agreement paves the way for initiation of projects in various identified sectors. Apart from infrastructural projects, there is a special focus on social sector cooperation pertaining to health which involves the establishment of medical colleges and hospitals, education under which there will be modernisation of two teacher training institutes and vocational training involving modernisation of 49 polytechnic institutes. This is expected to further integrate the economies of both the two countries and strengthen our practical cooperation in these spheres.

This LOC is the biggest credit line India has so far extended to any country. As you may recall, the first line of credit of USD 1 billion was extended by India to Bangladesh in 2010.

Numaligarh Refinery Ltd and Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation are working on details for the envisaged project of supply of high-speed diesel from Numaligarh to Parbatipur, Bangladesh for a period of 20 years under a JV project between the NRL and the BPC. The product will be transported through a pipeline of approximately 135 kms of which 130 kms will be in Bangladesh and 5 kms in India. As a goodwill gesture, an initial consignment of 2200 tonnes of diesel will be transported from Siliguri to Parbatipur by 50 wagons of Indian Railways. This train will be flagged off from Siliguri on March 17 by the Honourable MoS for Petroleum and Natural Gas, Shri Dharmendra Pradhan.

So this was on Bangladesh.

My next announcement pertains to the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico to India. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, H.E Claudia Ruiz Massieu Salinas, will visit India on March 11 and 12. She will meet our External Affairs Minister. We expect that this meeting will result in a comprehensive review of the entire gamut of bilateral relations, including political ties, commercial and trade relations and cooperation in financial, technical and other areas. We have historical links with Mexico and strong cultural, people-to-people ties. Prime Minister Modi and the President of Mexico had met on September 28, 2015 in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA.

Mexico is Latin America’s second largest economy and its largest trading nation. It is the world’s 14th largest economy. It is, therefore, natural that trade and commerce is one of the main drivers of our bilateral relationship. Our current trade is approximately USD 6.25 billion. Mexico also has one of the world’s largest hydrocarbon reserves ranking among the top 10 oil producing countries. It also possesses the world’s fourth largest shale oil reserves. India is the third largest importer of crude oil from Mexico, hence energy ties are also expected to be discussed during this visit.

My last announcement pertains to the upcoming SAARC meetings. Joint Secretary (SAARC), Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and EAM Sushma Swaraj will be proceeding to Nepal for SAARC- related meetings in Pokhara between March 14-17. I would now like to share some more details with you regarding these meetings. The 52nd session of the Programming Committee of SAARC which is a Director Generals level forum (meaning a Joint Secretary level forum) will be held in Pokhara on March 14-15. The 42nd Standing Committee of SAARC, which is a Foreign Secretaries level forum, will be held on March 16. These meetings will prepare the ground for the 37th session of the Council of Ministers on March 17, which will be attended by the Foreign Ministers of SAARC. These meetings are a part of regular interactions within the SAARC framework. The last round of meetings was held in Kathmandu in November 2014 prior to the 18th SAARC summit. We expect these meetings to afford us an opportunity for a comprehensive review of decisions that have been taken across all SAARC forums over the past year-and-a-half. Our focus would be not only to take stock of these situations but also work out the way forward on priority issues where a coordinated approach is necessary. We also hope to review the state of play on agreements that were close to finalisation at the last Summit but could not be concluded. We also plan to seek the views of our partners in SAARC on the key initiatives mooted by us at the last Summit, including the SAARC satellite, the E-Knowledge network project etc. As is customary, the working of the various SAARC specialised bodies and regional centres will be scrutinized during the meetings and directions given for their work over the coming year.

That concludes my announcements and now the floor is open for questions.

Q&A

Q. We believe that the Pakistan Cricket Board has conveyed that the Pakistan government wants a written explicit assurance from the MEA guaranteeing security to its players, if you could talk about that. And Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean President, has pulled out of the ‘Art of Living’ event citing inadequate security and protocol. Does the MEA have a view on that?

Official Spokesperson: Well, in so far as the first part of your question is concerned, matters of security, as you know, are dealt with by the Ministry of Home Affairs, so you should direct your question to them. However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that all necessary arrangements, including those for security, have been made in the past for all international sporting events organised in India. Recently, as you are aware, the South Asian Federation Games saw good and enthusiastic participation of large contingents from all SAARC countries, including Pakistan. We are confident that the ICC World T20 will also be a resounding success in all aspects.

So far as the second part of your question is concerned, pertaining to the cancellation by President Robert Mugabe, I think you should ask the ‘Art of Living’; the invitation was extended by the ‘Art of Living Foundation’.

Q. Sir, Foreign Secretary visited the US and held discussions there. Could you tell us the nature of discussions and, secondly, more specifically, have India and America agreed for anti-terror mechanism, especially against Jaish and Lashkar-e-Taiba?

Official Spokesperson: Well, Foreign Secretary Dr S. Jaishankar has just returned, in fact, I think less than an hour ago, from a visit to the United States. During his stay in Washington DC, he held a range of meetings, including with National Security Advisor Ambassador Susan Rice, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, US Trade Representative Michael Froman, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller as well as other senior officials. In the US Congress, Foreign Secretary held meetings with the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee Senator John McCain, and Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Richard Burr to exchange views on regional, bilateral and international issues. The meetings focused on further consolidating bilateral relations in key areas of cooperation, including defence, trade and investment and civil nuclear energy and enhancing convergence on regional and global issues.

In so far as the second part of your question is concerned pertaining to collaboration against Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, yes, as happens with strategic partners some of these concerns were discussed particularly as these concerns are common to the United States as well.

Q. It is regarding SAARC satellite project? How many SAARC members have associated themselves with this project?

Official Spokesperson: I think a large number of member countries have associated themselves with this project. We have received their support for the project in writing together with the details of the technical parameters that they were supposed to provide us in order for us to start that particular service. But, as to which countries have so far not given their commitment, I’ll have to get back to you.

Q. Can you give some details of the attack on an Indian medical student in Russia? When and how did it take place? Which medical college he was student of? And how has India taken it up with Russian authorities?

Official Spokesperson: Well, this case concerns Mr Yasir Javed, who was on a business trip for participation in a local trade exhibition in the Kazan Republic of Tatarastan. Mr Yasir Javed, who entered Russia on February 26, was allegedly attacked by some unknown persons on March 3, and was in a coma since then at the Kazan City Trauma Centre. He passed away unfortunately at 21:00 hrs on March 8.

A team from the Embassy of India, Moscow, was immediately sent to Kazan. They are presently there assisting in expediting the documentation formalities for transfer of the mortal remains to India as soon as possible. The embassy team met officials at the hospital, the investigator of the case and the police department to facilitate the early release of the body and to ensure proper investigation of the case. The Mission has also requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation to expedite the process of handing over the body after completing due formalities, so that the body can be transported to India at the earliest. The Embassy has also sought an investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of an innocent person and the filing of a criminal case. We expect to receive the body by tomorrow. The expenditure of the transportation of the mortal remains of Mr Yasir Javed and travel expenses of his brother Mr Iqbal Javed Hussain will be borne by the government.

Q. I have two related questions. One on the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the CBI has reached out to the MEA for the extradition of Lalit Modi, and we are told that there was a meeting organised with the Interpol as well through video conferencing. Any kind of details, any kind of outcome on that? And secondly, on Vijay Mallya as well, there was a recent Supreme Court notice just yesterday. We were told that it could be sent to the Indian mission in London. Has there been any progress on that?

Official spokesperson: On Lalit Modi, we have yet to receive the request from the Enforcement Directorate. So, as soon as that comes, we will take immediate action. As far as Vijay Mallya is concerned, to the best of my knowledge, MEA has not yet been asked to take any action.

Q. Sir, is there any trilateral meeting happening between India, Iran and Afghanistan? If yes, are there details on that?

Official Spokesperson: Well, we have been discussing for the past few months a trilateral transport and transit agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan utilizing the Chabahar port and the onward connection to West and Southwest Afghanistan through the Zahedan province. The first meeting of the expert group was held in Tehran last year. Only a few points of the draft are left to be finalised. The second meeting is scheduled to take place in India very shortly in which all these remaining matters we expect to tie up.

Q. Sir, when exactly is this meeting expected to take place?

Official Spokesperson: Sometime in April.

Q. Vikas, are any bilateral meetings scheduled for the Foreign Secretary and External Affairs Minister with their Pakistani counteprarts in Pokhara?

Official Spokesperson: No schedule of bilateral meetings has been drawn up. I’m not just responding in respect of Pakistan, we do not have any schedule of bilateral meetings. As you know, they are going for SAARC related events.

Q. Sir, there appears to be a move by the Pakistan foreign ministry to popularize tourism in large parts of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). Is there anything the Indian government plans to do about it?

Official Spokesperson: Well, you know, our position on Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir is well known and does not require reiteration.

Q. Sir, this is regarding Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s event. Since the point is about the protocol not being provided to Robert Mugabe. To what extent was the MEA involved with the event? If you could elaborate on that and this refusal of Robert Mugabe to come and participate in the event. Is it a setback to the MEA?

Official Spokesperson: No it is not. As I said we were not the people who invited, the invitation was extended entirely by the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Foundation and the only thing that I can speculate is that currently, if you see, no presidential level participation is there at this particular event. So that might have been a reason. As I said, I cannot speculate, it is between the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Foundation and the dignitary concerned.

Q. I wanted to follow up on the question on Mr Jaishankar’s visit to the US. I am aware that you wouldn’t to comment on the internal election process in the US, but Donald trump has made some statements about questioning the H-1B visa programme calling it an abuse and a way to bring in low wage workers. Obviously that programme brings in a lot of Indians to the United States, He’s also talked about not letting any Muslims entering the United States. I’m just wondering if either Foreign Secretary Jaishankar or other Indian diplomats may have expressed some concerns about these statements to the US government.

Official Spokesperson: Look, presidential elections are an internal matter of the United States. It is not the policy of the Government of India to comment on the election dynamics of any foreign country. Moreover, India-US relations enjoy bipartisan support in the US and the change of government does not affect the strategic underpinnings of the India-US relationship. That’s all I would say.

Q. Related question on FS meeting USTR Michael Froman. Were there any discussions on the WTO dispute that we have dragged US for the visa fee hike and also on the solar dispute?

Official Spokesperson: Well, as I said, I would not comment on specific discussions, you know all matters of mutual interest were discussed and these issues are certainly something which have been on the agenda of India-US relations.

Q. Sir, recently in the border area, some tunnels were discovered by security forces. Have you taken this matter with Pakistan and at what level you discussed this with?

Official Spokesperson: Yes, our Border Security Force has officially taken it up with Pakistan. They have sent a formal request for a joint inspection as was provided for in the talks that were held between the two DGs in September 2015. We are now awaiting the response from the Pakistani side.

Q. Sir, recently there was some confusion about India acknowledging and accepting 86 prisoners Pakistan had recently released. What is the confusion about? Why did it take one day for us to acknowledge them? And secondly, sir, jo Smitha ne poocha tha, are you going to give any written assurance to the Pakistan cricket team for security or not? Uspe agar app kuch kahenge…

Official Spokesperson: See, on the security guarantees, I have already answered. It is for the Ministry of Home Affairs to answer that particular question.

As far as the first part of your question was concerned on why the delay in the arrival of the 86 fishermen plus one prisoner from Pakistan, then let me tell you the facts. We were informed about the release of these 87 Indian nationals by the Government of Pakistan at 1 pm on the 7th of March, at which time the fishermen and prisoner were already near Wagah. This was despite the fact that our High Commission had noted media reports in the morning and had made pointed enquiries with the Pakistan Foreign Office about this matter. The Government of Pakistan had at that time notified that it did not possess any information. Now, you would appreciate that when such a crossover has to happen, travel documents need to be provided which could not be done in the time frame available to the High Commission. This was the reason for the delay. However, the very next day our High Commission officials were able to reach the Attari-Wagah border and the 87 Indian nationals crossed over into India.

Q. Good afternoon. If I may return to Vijay Mallya, you say that MEA has not been asked to take any action but has the Indian High Commissioner in London got any substantial reason to believe that Mr Mallya is in the UK? We watched television reports from outside the gates.

Official Spokesperson: Look, we cannot comment on that beyond what the Attorney General has already said in court.

Q. Sir, the Pakistan High Commissioner last week, he seemed to suggest that one of the reasons why the Mumbai trial is being delayed is because India is yet to respond to a letter which was written by their Foreign Secretary last year in September asking for more evidence. Now, the Pakistan High Commissioner has alleged that India is yet to respond to that letter. Would you like to comment on that? And coming back to the issue of cricket, the Pakistanis are also insisting that they sought an appointment with the Home Minister through MEA on Sunday. It has been four days since they did that but there has been no response yet.

Official Spokesperson: What’s the second part…

Q. The second question is about Pakistan saying that they have sought an appointment with Union Home Minister Mr Rajnath Singh through MEA to discuss the cricket security issue and there hasn’t been any response from the Indian government. So, could you comment on that?

Official Spokesperson: No, on the second part, as I said, I am not going to comment. This entire issue of security needed by Pakistan etc. is to be handled by the Ministry of Home Affairs. I am not going to comment on that.
But on the first part of your question, that Pakistan now needs to interrogate 24 people etc, I just want to tell you the background. Two teams had come from Pakistan as you know in 2012 and 2013 to meet with the people on the Indian side who Pakistan felt were important in terms of the investigations in Pakistan. Because remember, that we have always maintained that 99 percent of the evidence pertaining to the Mumbai terrorist attack is in Pakistan. However, we have always been open to cooperation with Pakistan, anything that helps expedite the Mumbai case trial. So, when the Judicial Commission came from Pakistan it had been mutually agreed between the two sides which are the witnesses that would be examined. There were four witnesses and they were even allowed to be cross-examined during the visit in 2013. Having said that, if Pakistan feels some more witnesses need to be examined, we are open to considering it once we receive a formal request from Pakistan containing the details of these witnesses.

Q. (Inaudible)

Official Spokesperson: No, no. As, I said the last time also a team came from there. So those modalities can be discussed later.

Q. Pathankot attack ko lekar SIT, Pakistan se aane ka plan tha. Uska kuch date taya hua?

Official Spokesperson: Nahi. Jaisa main pehle bhi keh chuka hoon, ki humne Pakistan ke SIT bhejne ke faisle ka swaagat kiya hai, aur ab hum Pakistan se ummeed kar rahe hain ki woh jald hi humein bata sakte hain ki kis thithi ko woh aana chahte hain? Kaun log aana chahte hain? Hum logon ne Pakistan se sirf yeh kaha hai ki aane se pehle humein kuch dino ka notice de dijiye, ta ki hum apni taraf se poore intezaamat kar sake

Q. Sir, my question relates to LOC to Bangladesh. Could you tell us about the first LOC, the $1 billion whether it has been utilized successfully or still some projects are not being completed ?

Official Spokesperson:
Ok. Now, as you know the first LOC of $1 billion was extended to Bangladesh in 2010. Of this $200 million was subsequently converted into grant assistance and the line of credit was enhanced from USD 800 million to 862 million in 2015 through an amendatory agreement. So, the fact that that particular thing has been utilized well has now led us to grant the second line of credit of $2 billion.

With that, this press conference is concluded.
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