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Transcript of Media Briefing on President's upcoming visit to Nepal (October 28, 2016)

October 29, 2016

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: Good afternoon friends and welcome to this special press briefing for a very special visit. As I had mentioned in my press briefing yesterday Hon’ble President of India would be undertaking a visit to Nepal, a State visit.

This would be the first visit by a President of India to Nepal in 18 years and to brief you on this very important visit which is going to next week, I have with me Shri Rajamony Venu, Press Secretary to the President and Shri Sudhakar Dalela who is Jt. Secretary (North).

The way we will handle it is that Jt. Secretary (North) will give you a broad opening statement which will cover the main points of the President’s visit and that will be supplemented by Press Secretary to the President and then we will open the floor to questions.

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: Thank you very much sir for giving me the floor and thank you all for attending the briefing session this afternoon. Let me begin by wishing you and your family a very happy festive season.

You are aware that Rashtrapati Ji will be paying a state visit to Nepal at the invitation of the President of Nepal Right Hon’ble Bidhya Devi Bhandari. Rashtrapati Ji’s visit to Nepal is the first high level visit from India since the formation of new government in Nepal in August this year.

This visit is also the first visit by any head of state to Nepal after it became republic in 2008. The state visit of Rashtrapati Ji reflects the priority that we attach to further strengthening our age old unique partnership with Nepal and our shared historical and cultural linkages and wide ranging people-to-people contacts. A high level delegation will be accompanying Rashtrapati Ji on this visit.

Most of you follow developments in India-Nepal relations very closely and you are aware that regular exchange at the political level is the hallmark of India-Nepal ties. The intensive high level engagements in recent times has provided considerable momentum to our close and friendly ties with Nepal. And here I refer to the landmark visit of our Prime Minister to Nepal in August and November 2014 and the visits of Prime Minister of Nepal to India this year in February, September and few days earlier for the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit. Our EAM has visited Nepal five times in last two years or so.

Besides high level political exchanges, I must add that a number of bilateral mechanisms at a functional level have met in recent times covering issues such as trade, economic cooperation, agriculture, water resources, power cooperation, defence & security, post-earthquake construction efforts, culture, education and connectivity projects.

On the eve of Rashtrapati Ji’s visit, only yesterday, the meeting of India-Nepal Joint Commission was concluded which is co-chaired by the two Foreign Ministers and which reviewed all aspects of our bilateral cooperation. You have received a detailed readout of this meeting from the Official Spokesperson yesterday.

We are giving particular focus on our ongoing development, connectivity and economic projects as well as number of projects under the lines of credit. These projects are being reviewed periodically at the highest level to ensure their timely implementation. We are also trying to move forward expeditiously on the post-earthquake reconstruction projects where India has committed 1 billion USD assistance to Nepal.

It is in this context with intensified engagements with Nepal that the state visit of Rashtrapati Ji is taking place. The visit by Rashtrapati Ji to Nepal is taking place after a gap of 18 years. The last visit by our President to Nepal was in May 1988.

During the visit Rashtrapati Ji will be holding talks with the President of Nepal and have meetings with the Vice-President and Prime Minister of Nepal and other leaders on a variety of issues of mutual interests and I alluded to some of them just now with the objective of expanding ties with Nepal.

You are aware that Rashtrapati Ji has had very close association with the political leadership of Nepal cutting across party lines as well as civil society over five decades of his public life. For all these reasons that I have mentioned, the State visit of Rashtrapati Ji assumes very special significance for us.

Let me give you an overall sense of the programs during the visit also. Rashtrapati Ji will arrive around noon at Kathmandu on 02 November which is also the main day of engagements. In the afternoon there would be calls by the Vice President of Nepal, Prime Minister and other dignitaries. On the same day Rashtrapati Ji would be meeting the President of Nepal.

Hon’ble President of Nepal will be hosting a banquet in the honor of Rashtrapati Ji in the evening. Thereafter Rashtrapati Ji will be attending a civic reception in Kathmandu and addressing a think tank event in the afternoon. Prime Minister of Nepal will be hosting a banquet in honor of Rashtrapati Ji on 03 November.

Kathmandu University will be conferring an honorary doctorate on Rashtrapati Ji at a special convocation. Apart from Kathmandu Rashtrapati Ji will be visiting Pokhra as well as the ancient city of Janakpur and during his visit he will be visiting sites of historical and cultural significance.

Rashtrapati Ji will be travelling back to India in the afternoon of November 04. As I noted earlier it is a special goodwill visit by Rashtrapati Ji to Nepal which we are confident will further cement our close and multifaceted ties with the people and the government of Nepal. Thank You.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I will now turn to my colleague Shri Rajamony Venu for any points that he may want to supplement.

Press Secretary to President, Shri Rajamony Venu: Thank you Vikas. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Happy Deepawali to all of you.

As has been already mentioned by my colleague Sudhakar, the President is a person who has had long involvement with the people of Nepal, with the political leaders of Nepal and he has been a person who has played an instrumental role on behalf of India in his different capacities as Defence Minister, as Finance Minister and as External Affairs Minister in the process of democratic evolution within Nepal.

He therefore attaches the highest of importance to this visit as was already mentioned, he is not only going there with all the wealth of contacts that he has there it is also the first Presidential visit from India to Nepal in 18 years and it is the first ever high level State visit after the democratic constitution was established from any country in the world. So all these add to the significance of the visit, not to mention all that would be discussed during the visit, the agreements which would be signed and the detailed program that the President has within the short period of 2 days.

During this presidency, President Pranab Mukherjee has received in Delhi a large number of leaders. This includes the former President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, it includes former Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, it includes former Prime Minister Dr. K P Oli. Just recently the Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. Khadga Prasad Sharma had come and called on the President and the Prime Minister Mr. Prachanda was himself here recently and had called on the President.

The President will be accompanied by a minister-in-waiting that would be Dr. Subhash Bhambrey, Minister of State for Defence. He also will have four Members of Parliament accompanying him. This include Mr. L Ganeshan, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) from the DMK, Shri Jagdambika Pal, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) from the BJP, Shri R K Singh, Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) from the BJP and there would be one more Member of Parliament whose details are still awaited and will be finalized shortly. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: With that the floor is now open to questions.

Question: How are things in Nepal and the anti-India feeling that was so prevalent earlier. Has it come down, have we been able to reassure them?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: As I mentioned to you, we are in a phase of very intensive engagement at the political level, at the functional level and we are trying to work with the Government of Nepal in different areas. There have been cases where we have had concerns about the safety and security of our people working there, but we are working very closely with the Government of Nepal to address those concerns.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I think the point that you were making that if you look at the statement that was issued when the previous Prime Minister of Nepal had come, Mr. K P Sharma Oli. He himself had said that I am very happy that the misunderstanding that had been there have been removed and I am going back a very satisfied person and the relationship with India is restored to its original level.

He said that and of course since then we have had two visits by Prime Minister Prachanda and he has also reinforced the age old ties of the "Roti-Beti Ka Rishta” between India and Nepal and I think this is a forward looking relationship and this visit will add to the forward looking component of that.

Press Secretary to President, Shri Rajamony Venu: If I can also add to that when Mr. Prachanda was here, President Mukherjee had very clearly conveyed to him that India has nothing but goodwill for Nepal and that India’s interest in Nepal is only Peace, Stability and Prosperity of Nepal.

Question: India has actually been pursuing for the earthquake rehabilitation and projects were not coming forth from the Nepal side. Are the projects now ready, because we were ready to give money but they were not ready with the plans? Is there any update on that?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: Thank you for this question. I must say that we are moving forward now. You are right that Government of Nepal took some time to share with us the projects that they want to undertake under the grant assistance of 250 million dollars that we have committed to Nepal in the areas of Housing, Culture, and Health & Education. We have received some projects in the area of cultural heritage sector and we are trying to work with the Government of Nepal to put in place implementation modalities to begin the work on these projects. We are also trying to engage with the Government of Nepal to have clear projects in the area of health and education and we hope to have more details from the government of Nepal in the coming days and weeks.

Question: Anything in the housing area?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: In the housing sector, we have committed to give 100 million dollars of grant assistance for 50 thousand households in Nepal. We have received the list of beneficiaries who the Government of Nepal would like us to assist. Government of Nepal has granted first tranche to different households in the affected area and there also we are trying to work and put in place the implementation modalities to ensure that the assistance that we provide is utilized effectively by the beneficiary household in the areas affected.

Question: Yesterday in your readout you have also mentioned that we have proposed Nepal for earthquake reconstruction and today there is some briefing also on that. China also has proposed Nepal help in reconstruction efforts. So that are the areas that we and they are accepting or not accepting and what is the area that is left for China?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: Last year, if you recall, there was International Donor’s Conference held in Nepal for which our External Affairs Minister went. India has committed the largest assistance package to Nepal in terms of reconstruction assistance. As I mentioned this assistance package comprises of two areas. One is grant assistance of 250 million USD in the areas of housing, cultural heritage sector, health & education, which is divided as 50 million dollars for each of these three sectors and 100 million for the housing projects.

In addition we have committed to provide a line of credit to Nepal dedicated to reconstruction project of the amount 750 million USD. During the visit of Prime Minister of Nepal last month on 16th September, we have also signed the agreement to operationalize this line of credit. Now the Government of Nepal will be sharing with us the exact proposals that they want to cover in this line of credit and we would be very happy to expedite the implementation of these projects as and when we receive it.

Question: Nepal is the current Chair of SAARC, including all that had happened in the past two months including the cancellation of Islamabad Summit, will that also be one of the topics that could be discussed between President Mukherjee and the Nepalese leaders particularly in view of the fact that many of the SAARC leaders feel that SAARC has become dysfunctional and possibly it is time to move on to BIMSTEC or some other grouping?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: I will try to respond to that. I think with Nepal we have a very robust bilateral engagement across all sectors you can think of, but in addition we also cooperate with Nepal in terms of sub-regional cooperation within the framework of BBIN (Bhutan-Bangladesh-India-Nepal) and also BIMSTEC and SAARC.

Prime Minister of Nepal recently participated in the BRICS-BIMSTEC Outreach Summit and we are also engaged with Nepal in the context of BBIN. I am quite confident in the conversation that our Rashtrapati Ji will have with the political leaders they will discuss full range of issues covering bilateral, regional and international issues and I am sure regional cooperation issue will figure in the talks.

Question: You just spoke about how the President has good relations with the leaders of various political parties in Nepal. Now during his visit, is the focus also going to be on amendments to the constitution of Nepal with regards to the Madheshi issues and their demands for amending the constitution?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: I assume the discussion will cover all range of issues as I said covering all aspects of bilateral cooperation, regional issues and international issues. What I can say in the context of the question that you have raised is that during the high level political exchanges we have had recently the Government of Nepal has shared with our leadership its government’s priority and efforts to address all the constitution issues by taking all the sections of the society on board. Our government has welcomed these efforts and we hope that these efforts would further consolidate democracy in Nepal and result in long term stability, peace and prosperity in Nepal. As I said Rashtrapati Ji will be meeting a number of political leaders not only through formal engagements but also through various other public engagements and I am sure there would be a set of conversations where they will discuss full range of issues.

Question: Will the President of India meet some Madheshi leaders also in Nepal?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: As I just mentioned apart from formal engagements in terms of meetings with the President, the Prime Minister, the Vice President, there would be number of opportunities for the Rashtrapati Ji to interact with the political leaders, with the members of civil society at different places and I am sure he will have an opportunity to interact with Madhesi leaders also.

Question: I just want to know if an eminent persons group will also be travelling with the President and will Mr. Sham Sharan and other important interlocutors will also be travelling with them?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: I am not sure whether they are travelling for the visit but since you mentioned the issue of eminent persons group, I wanted to, perhaps for the benefit of everybody, mention that this group has been constituted and this has met twice this year and we are very happy with engagements from both sides to look and India-Nepal relations from a different perspective and we hope to have their suggestions in due course.

Question: As you said this visit will enhance the engagement with Nepal and high level so what kind of agreements are going to be signed, can you give us some detail? And also to Mr. Rajamony, can you give some details on the visit to Pokhra and Janakpur?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela:
I will try to address the first question as well as partly the second question. As far as agreements are concerned, I must note for the benefit of all of you, in the last year or so we have had a really very very intensive engagement with Nepal particularly this year. We have put in place a number of new agreements to promote our cooperation in trade, economic, connectivity, people-to-people connections, tourism and we are trying to implement these agreements and MoUs that we have signed. I think our focus at this stage is to really implement what we have signed.

We do not expect to have a number of agreements signed this visit. As I said we are trying to consolidate and implement what we have agreed. We really have a very very robust institutional arrangement in terms of cooperation with Nepal and we really want to focus, as I mentioned earlier whether it is connectivity projects or development projects or ICPs on the border or transmission line projects or hydro-power projects.

We really want to move on the ground and it is for this reason we have also decided to set up a joint oversight mechanism to review these projects very regularly and make sure that it addresses all the pertinent that we have.

On the second question, as I mentioned to you, it is not very common for Rashtrapati Ji to visit three cities in one place. So I think for this reason also this visit is very important. He is visiting Pokhra where he would be interacting with Gorkha ex-servicemen who served in Indian army, so this visit is extremely important for us.

Janakpur is a very ancient city and the city is important for pilgrims of both India and Nepal and from wider South Asian region. Rashtrapati Ji will be visiting cultural places in Janakpur and he will also have a civic reception at Janakpur.

Question: As you rightly said this would be first presidential visit to Nepal after 18 years and Nepal is a very close neighbor of India so can you explain this long gap?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: I am not sure that I can explain the long gap but perhaps I can say is that we hope that we will not have a long gap for the next visit.

Press Secretary to President, Shri Rajamony Venu:
The political uncertainty in Nepal has been an obvious reality.

Question: Who was the last President of India to visit Nepal?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: Late President K R Narayanan in 1998 and before that it was Late President Giani Jail Singh Ji in 1986.

Question: Terrorism has been a major issue. What kind of assurances we have got from the Nepalese leadership because we have a porous border with Nepal, can you shed some light?

Jt. Secretary (North), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: We have very strong security cooperation with Nepal as you said we have an open border and our security agencies on both sides cooperate very intensively and closely.

I terms of terrorism, I am sure you must have seen the press statement issued by Foreign Office of Nepal as SAARC chair condemning cross-border terrorism and underlying the need for conducive environment in the region to enable and foster regional cooperation. We would like to work with Nepal, we already very closely work with Nepal on security issues and I am quite confident that in the time to come we strengthen this cooperation further.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Vikas Swarup: I see no other questions so this press briefing comes to a close. Thank you all and may I wish all of you a Happy Dhanteras and a Wonderful Deepawali in the coming days.

(Concludes)

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