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Transcript of weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (July 28, 2016)

July 29, 2016

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: Good evening friends and welcome to the weekly media briefing. I do not have any opening statement so we can dive straight into the Q & A.

Question: BSF Director General and other members of the BSF are in Pakistan and I think that today also they are there. What is the agenda this time when both the countries are at loggerheads on various issues? What is happening there and what are the expectations?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: Let me tell you that this was a regular meeting between the Border Security Force (BSF) and Pakistan Rangers. It was held in Pakistan from July 25 - 28, 2016 in Lahore. The BSF delegation was led by the Director General Shri K K Sharma, while the Pakistan delegation was led by Director General, Pakistan Rangers (Punjab) Major General Umar Farooq Burki.

The meeting was held in a cordial and cooperative atmosphere. Consensus was reached that since the last such meeting in Delhi in September 2015, there has been greater adherence to the cease fire along the International Border.

DG, BSF stressed the importance of vigilance against cross-border infiltration to prevent terrorist activities and check smuggling in narcotics. Both sides discussed ways to strengthen measures to coordinate border patrolling on the respective sides of the border and address each other’s concerns in a time bound manner.

DG, BSF invited DG, Pakistan Rangers, (Punjab) to visit India for the next round of these bi-annual talks. The invitation was accepted. You may also remember that another regular meeting between Indian Coast Guard and the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (PMSA) was held earlier, on July 13 – 14 in Islamabad on which a press-release was issued, which is also available on the MEA website.

Question: Sir, do you have any update on incursion or transgression on the border with Chinese, because the question was raised in the Parliament today also?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: Yes, I believe the Defence Minister has answered that particular question. You would have seen his comments that this was not an incursion, it was a transgression on account of the LAC being undefined, so I have nothing further to add.

Question: Vikas, yesterday announced a policy with regards to the persecuted minorities, the migrants who have come to India. What I want to know, is this one of the concessions that you have given this year/academic session or it is going to be a regular policy? Also, can you define the Institutes of Excellence? You have given some names of the Medical Institutions, are engineering institutions included like the IIT’s or other engineering colleges?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: In line with the External Affairs Minister’s commitment to ensure the children of persecuted religious minority migrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan who are residing in India are not denied opportunities in higher education, admissions would now be possible from the next academic year i.e. 2017 – 18 to MBBS, BDS, B Pharma, B Engineering in the institutions in India under seats allotted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

You would have seen the press-release that we put out in this regard, yesterday. I want to make it clear that this humanitarian measure is not specific to the case of Ms. Mashal alone, in fact EAM had received representations from numerous children of these persecuted religious minorities. So it is for the entire section of population who can now benefit from India’s excellent education facilities and equip themselves for a brighter future.

If you see the press-release that we put out, it actually lists the number of colleges which are going to be eligible for this and the very first institution is AIIMS. It is followed by Lady Harding Medical College, VMCC and Safdarjung Hospital, IMS-BHU. These are for MBBS. For BDS also we have some excellent institutions so, I think this is a very pragmatic decision, it’s a very far reaching decision by the government to ensure that the children of persecuted religious minorities who are in India and have the talent can avail themselves of India’s educational excellence.

Question: What about DU (Delhi University)?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: As I said these are limited number of seats available, so we have to go by the seats which have been allocated to us by the two ministries, only those are the ones which are available in this tranche.

Question: Will it be available from 2016?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: No, it is from the next academic year i.e. 2017-18. It is mentioned clearly in the press-release.

Question: Sir, now that a Pakistani terrorist has actually been caught alive and he has confessed, is there anything that MEA would take the issue with Pakistani authorities because you have the evidence in your hands?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: We have seen these reports, we are ourselves waiting to get a full readout from the security agencies, from the Ministry of Home Affairs before deciding on our next course of action.

Question: Sir, yesterday MoS had a meeting with the State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi. Can you give us details about what transpired in the meeting and also when can we expect a high-level visit from India to Myanmar or vice-versa?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: As you are aware, MoS General V K Singh met Myanmar’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Madam Aung San Suu Kyi in Vientianne on the 26th of July, on the sidelines of the various ASEAN related meetings which were taking place there. Madam Aung San Suu Kyi enquired about External Affairs Minister’s health and mentioned that she is looking forward to visiting India. That itself will provide an opportunity for a very high-level review of India-Myanmar relations. The two leaders spoke about India’s assistance to Myanmar in various areas. MoS conveyed Government of India’s willingness to strengthen democratic institutions in Myanmar, particularly with respect to training of their Parliamentarians and to share our experience in areas such as federalism, center-state relations, distribution of power and resources between the center and the state and political reconciliation. In addition they discussed the Government of Myanmar’s support for India’s developmental projects such as the Kaladan Multimodal Project and the Asian Tri-lateral highway. There was a specific discussion on India providing help to Myanmar on rubberized roads, on which a concept paper has been shared with the Government of Myanmar.

Madam Aung San Suu Kyi conveyed Myanmar’s interest in developmental projects and the role that Indian consultants could play in those. She also conveyed an interest in learning from India’s experience in solar power and the use of technology for using recycled waste matter in construction of roads.

This gives a broad sense of the kind of discussions that took place with Madam Aung San Suu Kyi. She is a very valued interlocutor for us on all aspects of India-Myanmar relations and we look forward to her visit to India.

Question: Sir, can you confirm the Home Minister’s visit to Pakistan and also will there be bilateral meetings and will India be raising Kashmir and terrorism?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup:Yes, I can confirm that Hon’ble Home Minister will be representing India at the 7thmeeting of the SAARC Ministers of Interiors/Home, which is being hosted by Pakistan on August 4, 2016 in Islamabad. This would be preceded by the 7th meeting of SAARC Secretaries of Interior/ Home on August 3, 2016 and 7th meeting of SAARC Immigration Authorities on August 2, 2016.

The sixth round of the above meetings was held in Kathmandu in September 2014, where also Hon'ble Home Minister Shri Rajnath Singh and the then Home Secretary, Sh. Anil Goswami had participated. If you look at the previous meetings in these particular sectors, India has participated at the level of Home Minister and Home Secretary.

These meetings, as you may know, discuss regional cooperation on a number of security related matters and take stock of progress in various regional mechanisms.

Our participation is in the context of our 'Neighborhood First' policy and our commitment to regional cooperation within the SAARC framework. The meeting also provides an opportunity for us to underline the high importance we attach to achieving forward movement on security cooperation in the region.

I would like to once again emphasize in the context of your question that he is going for a multi-lateral event.

Question: Sir, you just spoke about the Home Minister’s visit, but you also said that we had two other rounds with Pakistan, at BSF level and the Coast Guards level. What is the signal that we are trying to send out? You mentioned with reference to the Home Minister’s meeting that this is strictly multi-lateral event/conference, but we are engaging at the bilateral level as well. So given all these engagements, what is the signal that we are trying to send?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: The signal is the same that we have maintained from the beginning. We want a peaceful, cooperative relationship with Pakistan. We are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues with Pakistan, but in an atmosphere free of terror and violence. It is incumbent upon Pakistan to create the right conditions for that political dialogue to take place. However, as far as the nuts and bolts of the issues that concern India and Pakistan and issues which are important to us, no one can deny the issue of firing across the Line of Control or across the International Border is important to us. Similarly, the issue of fishermen straying into each other’s waters and getting caught, these are important issues to us. Humanitarian issues will always be important to us, in fact they are important to both countries and any mechanism or institution which promotes cooperation on humanitarian issues, must be pursued.

Question: Is the Home Minister going to have a bilateral meeting with his Pakistani counterpart and hand over any information, any dossier, any follow-up bilaterally on India’s terror concerns?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: There is no such proposal, he is going for a multi-lateral SAARC event.

Question: Sir, what is the status regarding this prisoner Gurdip Singh in Indonesia, has he been executed? What is the status on this?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: You must have seen the tweet that EAM issued late last night about the fate of Gurdip Singh. Indonesia will be executing 14 death-row convicts later this week. It could happen as early as tomorrow, we do not really know. The convicts include persons from Indonesia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Mr. Gurdip Singh from India.

To give you a brief background on this case, Mr. Singh is on a death sentence since 2005 in Indonesia. He was arrested on August 29, 2004 at the Soekarno Hatta Airport on charges of drug trafficking, for attempting to carry 300gms of heroin. The Tangerang Court awarded him Capital Punishment in February 2005 against the prosecutor’s request of 20 years imprisonment. His appeal against the death penalty was turned down by High Court of Banten in May 2005. He then appealed to the Supreme Court which also upheld his death penalty. He is presently detained at Nusakambangan Pasir Putih, Cilacap.

Mr. Afdhal Mohammad, the legal representative of Mr. Gurdip Singh, is of the view that he can file for Presidential Clemency under the relevant law before the President of the Republic of Indonesia. Our Embassy in Jakarta has send a Note Verbale to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Indonesia requesting the all legal recourses should be exhausted before the death penalty is carried out. A separate Note Verbale was also handed over in-person by our First Secretary (Consular) in this regard. Even as we speak, our embassy officials, consular officials are camping in Cilacap and have met Shri Gurdip Singh. We have reached out the Foreign Office, we are trying to reach out to the senior leadership of Indonesia. We are also in constant touch with his wife and brother in India and keeping them informed of the current situation.

Question: Sir, there has been a similar case in Qatar also. Can you brief us about that?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: As per the information available with our Embassy in Qatar, 3 Indian nationals, Shri Subramanian Alagappa, Shri Sivakumar Archunan and Shri Chilladurai Perumal were arrested in February, 2012 on the charges of murder of an elderly Qatari woman.

The Embassy had come to know about this case through the representation made by Shri M. Archunan, father of Shri Sivakumar Archunan, one of the three accused in November, 2014. Consequent upon award of death sentence, the Embassy has taken up their cases, seeking an Emiri or a Royal Pardon.

In January, 2015, the Lower Court held them guilty of murder and awarded death sentence to all three accused. With the help of the Embassy, the three Indian nationals filed an appeal in the Appeal Court, challenging the Lower Court’s verdict. However, the Appeal Court, in its judgment, upheld the Lower Court’s verdict in respect of Shri Subramanian Alagappa and Shri Chilladurai Perumal, while commuting death sentence of Shri Sivakumar Archunan into life imprisonment.

The Embassy has obtained a copy of the verdict, and a lawyer, hired by the Embassy, is making preparations for the Supreme Court Appeal in order to file it within the stipulated time.

So as you can see, we are trying our best to see if we can intervene and prevent the death sentence being carried out.

Question: Vikas, this is about the Indian Government’s decision not to extend the visas of these three journalists working with the Chinese news agency. Could you take us into confidence and give us some details about it because as per our Neighbors First policy, we don’t have any Pakistanis working out of India, we don’t have any Sri Lankans working out of India, Bangladesh we have one guy, I don’t know when he is coming. Chinese new agency is a very important agency and there is a lot of anxiety among the journalist community. Could you please tell us something about it? Thanks.

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: Let me say, first of all, that this matter has been under discussion for some time now. Visa of the Xinhua Bureau Chief in New Delhi had expired on the 31st December 2015 while visas of the two Xinhua correspondents in Mumbai, had expired in March, 2016. When the time came for renewing their visas, there were issues relating to their conduct not being in conformity with the provisions of the visa rules. Therefore short-term extensions were given to them in the expectation that they would be replaced. Thereafter, we made it clear to Xinhua that it would not be possible for us to extend the visas of the journalists concerned beyond 31st July 2016.

I also want to tell you that this matter has been discussed with Xinhua and with the Chinese authorities here. Let me assure you through this forum that we expect no issues when their replacements come in due course.

With the expansion of bilateral ties between India and China, the resident journalists in both countries have a key-role in enhancing mutual understanding and appreciation and contributing to stronger people-to-people ties. In this regard, the Ministry of External Affairs of India will continue to facilitate the work of the resident journalists from all countries and their periodic replacement in accordance with the applicable laws.

Question: There is a new political development in Nepal. Mr. K P Oli has resigned and there are reports that the new coalition has been backed by India and India is happy with the exit of Prime Minister Shri K P Oli. What is India’s official position on it?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: See, governments are neither happy nor sad. Governments have a responsibility to work with whatever political leadership there is, in whichever country. As far as these developments in Nepal are concerned, I would treat them as matters entirely internal to Nepal and I have not comments to offer.

Question: Sir mera sawal Kashmir ko lekar hai. Jis tarah se lagataar Pakistan ka interference Kashmir ke maamle mein dekha ja raha hai aur Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, usmein bhi chunaav ki sthiti hui hai halanki usmein virodh ke bhi tamaam swar ubhar kar saamne aa rahe hain. Toh Bharat ka stand kya hai, Kashmir mein Pakistan ke interference ko lekar aur Pakistan Occupied Kashmir mein hue chunaav ko lekar?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: Dekhiye Pakistan par jo tippani thi, woh Videsh Mantri ne 23 July ko kar di hai, aur mere khayaal se us se jyada spasht tippani aapko mil nahi sakti hai. Usmein unhone doodh-ka-doodh aur paani-ka-paani kar diya hai.

Jahan tak Pakistan ne ye jo chunaav karwaye hain, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir mein, to woh bhi ek farcical exercise hai, to cover up their illegal occupation. Aur hamara maanana ye hai ki is tarah ki sham tactics se woh apne naapaak iradon mei succeed nahi kar sakte. Jis tarh ke protests, wahan break-out hue hain abhi, woh bhi yahi darshata hai ki wahan ke logon ne bhi inko poori tarah se nakaar diya hai.

Question: Sir, there are reports that the Delhi Chief Minister Mr. Arvind Kejriwal and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Bannerji would be travelling to Rome for canonization of Mother Teresa. Can you confirm their visit?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: In view of the importance that we attach to this very significant visit, the Canonization of Mother Teresa, let me tell you, the Government of India’s delegation will be led by Hon’ble External Affairs Minister herself. The composition of the delegation is presently being finalized. I think you have to wait for some more time before I can tell you the details of who are going to be the other members of the delegation.

Question: Sir, we heard the statement by External Affairs Minister on Pakistan few days ago, as you said that she made doodh-ka-doodh and paani-ka-paani. Within a few days you have Home Minister travelling to Pakistan. What really has changed in the last few days that you think is prompting, because this is all symbolically significant that Pakistan will definitely show it to the world that the Home Minister of India is in Pakistan?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: I think I have already made this very clear that the Home Minister is not travelling for a bilateral engagement with Pakistan, he is going for a SAARC related event. You know the importance that we attach to SAARC, to regional cooperation, to regional prosperity.

Prime Minister has articulated his vision on innumerable occasions that we believe that SAARC should be revitalized, that SAARC is an important vehicle for bringing the region closer to each other, for accessing the economic complementarities that exist between our countries and if we ourselves do not give importance to SAARC and to SAARC related cooperation in important areas, such as drug-trafficking, narco-trafficking, border management, anti-terrorism then this will not send a very healthy signal. So please take this in the right context. The Home Minister is visiting Pakistan for a SAARC related event as Home Ministers of India have been attending all previous Home Minister related events in the SAARC context.

Question: Sir, the people of Nepal are again in crisis due to heavy rainfall and landslides. Many Nepalese died and many more became homeless, so is there any initiative by Government of India to help them?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: We express deep sorrow at the loss of life and property in the current spate of floods and landslides in various parts of Nepal. These floods have also affected lives and property across the border on the Indian side. Let me state categorically that the Government of India stands ready to provide any assistance that may be requested by the Government of Nepal to mitigate the suffering of people.

Question: Will you make any comment on the arbitration award on the Antrix-Devas deal?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: No, this was a commercial deal and the right people to ask this question would be ISRO.

Question: What exactly is the status of Gurdip Singh? Is he likely to be executed tonight?

Official Spokesperson Shri Vikas Swarup: No, we don’t know. I spoke to our embassy there, they say it may be later tonight or tomorrow, we don’t know. We are trying our best to ensure that his clemency petition is heard.

Thank you all.

(Concludes)

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