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Transcript of Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (May 28, 2020)

May 28, 2020

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson): Namaskar and Good Evening! I will begin with a short update on the Vande Bharat Mission and then we'll go on to take your questions. The Vande Bharat Mission as you would know is in full swing. Phase 1 has been successfully completed and phase 1 went on from 7th May to 16th May, during which 16,716 stranded Indians returned. We are in the phase 2 of the Vande Bharat Mission which started from the 17th of May and it will go on till the 13th of June. As of 4 p.m. today 45,216 Indians have returned. These include 8,069 migrant workers, 7,656 students and 5,107 professionals. About 5,000 Indians have returned through land border immigration checkpoints from Nepal and Bangladesh. A total of 3,08,200 persons have registered their request with our missions for repatriation to India on compelling grounds. During the ongoing phase 2, a total of 429 Air India flights from 60 countries are scheduled to land in India. The Indian Navy will be making 4 more sorties to bring back returnees from Iran, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. We are also assisting return of stranded Indians from remote locations in Latin America, Caribbean, Africa and parts of Europe. This is being done by taking advantage of foreign carriers flying to India, primarily for evacuation of their nationals. Recently about 300 stranded Indians from Peru, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal and Netherlands were brought in. We'll be exploring more such options. Private airlines have now been included under Vande Bharat Mission phase 2. Chartered flights have also begun to operate and return of our nationals through land borders has commenced. The numbers are expected to go up in the coming days with the permission for chartered flights and more efficient use of quarantine capacity. MEA as you would know is working in close coordination with its missions abroad as well as various stakeholders, the State Government's, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Department of Military Affairs, Air India, and the Indian Navy for these repatriation efforts. MEA has designated Additional Secretary level officers to coordinate with State Governments on quarantine and other logistical issues. On 26th May External Affairs minister had a detailed review meeting of all stakeholders. The focus of the meeting was to ramp up the scale of Vande Bharat Mission and to enhance its efficiency. We are targeting to bring back 1,00,000 passengers from 60 countries by the end of phase 2. Preparations for third phase of Vande Bharat Mission are well under way. I'll also give you an update on the functioning of the MEA COVID-19 control room. This control room as you would know is being manned 24x7 by teams from within the Ministry since 16th March. The control room has received more than 22,500 calls and 60,000 emails till today morning, that is 28th of May. I will now move on from here and we will take your questions, that we have received in advance and I will request Pawan to read them out and I will then respond to them.

Mr Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):
Sir, the first set of questions is on the Vande Bharat Mission. We have Sidhant Sibal - when will the third phase of repatriation start and has the repatriation of Indians from Africa started? How many Indians being repatriated from Africa?

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson): See as far as the third phase of Vande Bharat Mission goes, you would know that the second phase ends on the 13th of June and thereafter we will plan third phase. On return of Indians from Africa, we have included Lagos, Cairo, and Nairobi as part of Vande Bharat Mission second phase and you can see the updated schedule of flights on our website. We have also managed to get back our nationals from Djibouti and Ethiopia on chartered flights. Pawan, you can move on to the next set of questions.

Mr Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): The next set of questions is on Nepal. We have Kalol from The Hindu who's asked - despite earlier reports, Nepali Congress hasn't taken a final decision on the new Nepal map which is to be taken up on Saturday at a party central committee meeting. This provides a window of diplomatic engagement to India as the Nepali Congress is under pressure to support the map. Is India planning to engage Nepal in the coming 3 days and stop the crisis from escalating further? Akhilesh Suman from Rajya Sabha TV has asked - Nepal has put the release of new map on hold because of the budget session in the parliament of Nepal. Whether we have conveyed our issues with Nepal? Sachin from Times of India has asked - Nepal is still trying to push through a constitutional amendment to validate its new maps. Has India officially registered a protest and if yes what has been their response? How long before the foreign secretary-level talks can take place on the border issue? Similar questions have been asked by Madhurendra from News Nation.

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson): As far as our engagement with Nepal goes, India attaches great importance to our deep-rooted historical, cultural and friendly relations with Nepal and in recent years these relations have seen an upward trajectory. This is visible, this is evident from the expansion and diversification of our bilateral cooperation. There's also increased GOI assistance for development and connectivity projects. We have had timely implementation of several large-scale and critical projects and even in this challenging COVID-19 situation we have ensured unimpeded trade and supply of essentials, including medicines to Nepal. We are also providing medical supplies and other facilitation. On the recent developments on the boundary issue, we continue to monitor the situation in Nepal. We note that this matter is receiving the careful consideration in Nepal and we are open, India is open to engaging with all its neighbours on the basis of mutual sensitivity and mutual respect in an environment of trust and confidence. This is a continuous process and it requires constructive and positive efforts. You can move on to the next set of questions.

Mr Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): The next set of questions is on China. Vijaya Lakshmi from India TV has asked - Cheen aur Bharat border par jo halaat bane hue hain, use Bharat kis tarah se dekh raha hai? Sidhant Sibal has asked - have India and China had a conversation at foreign secretary or foreign minister level over and both sides are at touch at what level? Sachin from Times of India has asked - is there any sign of Chinese forces who intruded into the Indian side of the LAC in Ladakh retreating? Can you give us some insight into the ongoing diplomatic engagement between the two countries to diffuse the situation? Has the foreign minister or any other top government official spoken to his counterpart in the past few days? Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - Bharat-Cheen seema vivad ko khatam karne ke liye, diplomatic channel se abhi tak kitni vartay hui? Kis star ki vartay hui aur kya nateeje rahe? Akshilesh Suman from Rajya Sabha TV has asked - what steps are being taken to ensure peace at the border with China? Whether we are having any dialogue with China on this? Suhasini Haidar from The Hindu has asked - are Chinese soldiers at present on Indian patrolling areas and have they set up tents / dug trenches in any part, especially in the Galwan Valley? Manas from PTI has asked - what is the status of diplomatic engagement between India and China on the Eastern Ladakh standoff? There have been reports that Chinese soldiers entered at least 3 kilometers inside Indian side of the LAC, in the Galwan Valley, how is India dealing with aggressive Chinese posturing? Suhasini has asked another question on China that is - China has said that situation is stable and controllable. Would the MEA agree with that assessment on the situation on the LAC? Ranjit ji from Rakshat News has asked - China's foreign Ministry has described a situation on the line of actual control in Ladakh area as stable and controllable. What is India's assessment of the military situation on the border areas? And, lastly Pankaj Pandey from Hindustan has asked - kya Cheen ki or se shaanti ki bhasha ke baad, jameeni star par koi badlav aaya hai aur is maamle mein kootnitik baatcheet kis star par ho rahi hai?

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson): On developments on the LAC I had conveyed last week, that our troops have taken a very responsible approach towards border management and strictly follow the procedures laid out in various bilateral agreements and protocols with China to resolve any issues that may arise in the border areas. The two sides have established mechanisms, both at military and diplomatic levels to resolve situations which may arise in border areas, peacefully, through dialogue. To the objective of maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas with China and our Armed Forces who closely follow the consensus reached by our leaders and the guidance provided. At the same time, we remain firm in our resolve to ensuring India sovereignty and national security. You can take the next set of questions.

Mr Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): The next set of questions is on the US. Parikshit Luthra has asked - how did India react to the recent statement from the US president? President Trump said that US had informed both India and China that it is ready to intervene, had India asked the US for mediation and shared developments at the LAC with the US government. Geeta Mohan from India Today, Vijaya Lakshmi from India TV, Sidhant Sibal from WION, Suhasini Haidar The Hindu, Manas from PTI, Abhishek Jha from DD, Amit Sen from The Hindu Business Line, Maha Siddiqui from CNN News18, and Nainima from Print has asked the question on the similar lines.

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson):
As I have told you, we are engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve this issue. We can move to the next set of questions.

Mr Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): The next question is on Pakistan which Rekha Dixit from The Week has asked - is there any response from Pakistan for our offer of Malathion and spraying of fields with locusts? How many joint meetings have the plant management officers or the locust officials of the two countries had this year?

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson) : You know that we have taken an initiative for developing regional cooperation in controlling desert locust. We are in the process of supplying 20,000 litres of Malathion, pesticide to run for these desert locust operations. This pesticide is manufactured by Hindustan Insecticides Limited and it has been found very effective in controlling desert locust. We also have a channel of communication. This is at the level of locust officials with Pakistan and this channel is normally activated in the month of June. And in view of the alarming situation of the locust problem this year, we have suggested that this mechanism be activated and coordinated control operations be undertaken. We are yet to receive a response from Pakistan. You can take the next question.

Mr Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Next question is on Australia which Sidhant Sibal from WION has asked - any confirmation on the first virtual bilateral meet between Indian PM And Australian PM? Is it on the 4th of June?

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson): Yes, India and Australia will be having a leaders level virtual summit on the 4th of June and we will be discussing bilateral and multilateral issues of mutual interest during this virtual summit.

Mr Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Sir, the last question I have is on the Tablighi Jamaat by Shailendra Wangu from News18 - how many Tablighi Jamaat workers have been granted consular access and if you could name the countries?

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson): We have nationals of 14 countries who've been arrested and are in jail. We are providing physical consular access to them as per request from their respective embassies. I don't have the list of countries. Pawan, you can go on and take any more supplementary questions that we may have.

Mr Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): I have just one question from Pranay. This is on - can you please share the update on diplomatic efforts so far for resolving the faceoff between India and Chinese troops and are there any details on the diplomatic engagement with China?

Sh Anurag Srivastava, (Official Spokesperson): We have engagement both at the military level and at the diplomatic level through established channels to resolve this issue and to give you a background since 1993, India and China have signed several bilateral agreements and protocols to ensure peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas. These established mechanisms include, there are 5 agreements. First is the 1993 agreement on maintenance of peace and tranquility along the line of actual control in the India-China border areas. Then there is this 1996 agreement on confidence-building measures in the military field along the LAC. A protocol on modalities for the implementation of confidence-building measures in the military field along the LAC, signed in 2005. There's a 2012 agreement on the establishment of a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on India-China border affairs. And then there is a 2013 border defense cooperation agreement. What I can tell you is that our engagement at the diplomatic level also continues between both sides, both in Delhi as well as in Beijing. Any further questions? Since there are no further questions, let me conclude this briefing. Look forward to seeing you next time. Thank you!

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