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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (June 11, 2020)

June 12, 2020

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Friends, Namaskar and good evening! Welcome to this weekly briefing in a virtual format. Nice to see all of you. I'll start with a few updates, first on the Vande Bharat Mission. The major focus of the ministry continues to be on the repatriation of Indians stranded overseas through the Vande Bharat Mission. As of today, 1,65,375 Indians have returned. These include 29,034 migrant workers, 12,774 students and 11241 professionals. More than 61,000 Indians have returned through land border immigration checkpoints, from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. A total number of about 4 lakh persons are registered so far with our missions abroad for repatriation to India on compelling grounds. Apart from Air India flights, repatriation has also been arranged through other streams, these being, through Indian Naval vessels, which have brought back our nationals from Sri Lanka, Maldives and Iran, through foreign carriers coming to India to pick up Nationals from other countries, through chartered flights, and from land borders. In fact, as on date a naval repatriation is under way. INS Shardul is returning from Bandar Abbas, after picking up 233 Indian nationals who were stranded in Iran. It has in fact reached Porbandar, earlier today afternoon. With these four other streams already operational, we would be significantly accelerating the rate of repatriation in June. I would also like to announce that the phase 3 of Vande Bharat Mission has been initiated from today onwards. It will last till the 2nd of July. Phase 3 will have 432 international flights from 43 countries, reaching 17 states and union territories. In this phase, we also have 29 flights from private carriers, 24 Indigo flights from GCC countries and from Malaysia, 3 Go Air flights from GCC countries, and 2 Vistara flights from Singapore. Ramping up our operations in Africa, we have arranged flights from 6 countries in Africa. The number of flights from USA and Canada have also been increased, given the huge demand. There are 53 flights from USA and 24 flights from Canada. There are 170 flights from GCC countries. We would also have 16 flights each from Paris and Frankfurt, which are to be used as hubs in Europe. The third phase of the Vande Bharat Mission has therefore widened our reach by including more countries, increasing the number of entry points by expanding on the number of connecting flights and using the hub and spoke model at both ends. In addition, it may be recalled that we had earlier evacuated 2468 Indian nationals and 48 foreigners from some severely affected areas from February to April 2020 and this was before the global travel restrictions came into place. The evacuation of more than 99,000 foreign Nationals from different cities of India to 113 countries has also been facilitated by the government.

The COVID-19 control room within the MEA is being manned 24x7 by teams from MEA since 16th March 2020. The control room has received more than 27,000 calls and 73,000 emails till today morning. I also have another update and this is on Mission Sagar, you would recall that under Mission Sagar, the government had sent the Indian naval ship Kesari to Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles, and this ship went with medical and food supplies to these countries. Mission Sagar is inspired by Prime Minister's vision of Sagar, which is security and growth for all in the region. INS Kesari departed India on 10th May for Male, carrying on board 2 medical assistance teams, consignment of Covid related medicines, and essential food items. After offloading essential assistance in Maldives, INS Kesari visited Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros, and Seychelles. After delivering its last consignment at Seychelles on 8th of June, it is now on its way to Mauritius and then to Comoros, where it will re-embark with 2 deployed medical assistance teams and then head back to India. So, INS Kesari has essentially completed its mission and it has delivered supplies and essential commodities to these countries as per schedule. This is by way of updates I wanted to share with you. Now, we'll move on to question answers. I will request Pawan to go over our questions that we have received and then I will respond to them.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): So, the first question is on the Vande Bharat Mission from Neeraj from News18 India - Vande Bharat Mission ke tahat abhi tak kul kitne bhartiyon ki wapsi hui hai? Kitne bhartiya inme se Corona positive hain?

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Neeraj, kitne bhartiya is mission ke tahat wapas aaye hain, iski sankhya maine abhi aapko de di hai. Kitne corona positive hain, yeh sankhya mere paas nahin hai, lekin main aapko yeh bata sakta hun ki poore etihat ke saath yeh operation kia ja raha hai, jahan tak ho sake passengers ko test kia ja raha hai, flight mein chadne ke pehle aur poori medical screening ho rahi hai. Jo asymptomatic hain, unhi ko lia ja raha hai flight mein, aur flight mein chadne ke pehle, flight ke andar, aur flight mein se utarne ke baad har tarike se poorajo medical protocol hai uska palan kia ja raha hai, aur main yeh kehna chahunga ki Vande Bharat Mission mein yeh saare etihat barte ja rahe hain.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):Sir, the next set of questions is on Nepal, I will read them all out. Kadambini Sharma from NDTV India has asked - the new map has been presented in Nepali Parliament and due to pass tomorrow. Has FS reached out to Nepal? Neeraj from News18 India has asked - Nepal se seema masle par baat-cheet ka Bharat ka koi plan hai, report ke mutabiq Nepal ne anurodh kia hai baat-cheet ke lie? Ajay Buwa from Sakal has asked - when will the foreign secretary level talks be held with Nepal? Ranjit Kumar from Rakshak News has asked - Nepal has requested India for foreign secretary level talks. Are the dates being scheduled for talks on Lipulekh issue? Maha Siddiqui from CNN News18 has asked - is there FS level virtual meeting in plan between India and Nepal? Has India reached out to Nepal as it takes up the Constitutional Amendment Bill to change its map showing Indian territories? Sachin Parashar from Times of India has asked- now that the Nepal parliament has agreed to the proposal by Prime Minister Oli for the validation of Nepal's new map, how does India plan to address the issue? Will India now agree to have formal dialogue with Nepal on the border issue? Nayanima Basu from The Print has asked - why is India not talking to Nepal? What is the strategy on Nepal? (Inaudible) from The Hindu has asked - Nepal Prime Minister Oli has said that Nepal doesn't accept insulting comments from UP CM Yogi Adityanath. UP CM had said - Nepal may end up as Tibet, if it follows aggressive policy against India. Agni Roy from Anandbazar Patrika has asked - India faked river boundary, said Nepal PM and slams UP Chief Minister's remark, how should we look into this? Sidhant Sibal from WION has asked - Nepal has said that it would like to have a dialogue with India, also on remarks by the Nepal PM on Yogi Adityanath on the presence of Indian forces. Sanjeev Trivedi from News24 has asked - why is it that we haven't yet opened a dialogue with Nepal? Suresh from Kantipur Express has asked - What's the latest update on the border issue with Nepal? Is there any possibility of talk on the border dispute soon? And, lastly Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - Nepal ne bhartiya kshetra par apne claim ko barkarar rekhte hue naye map ka sansad patal par rakha hai, Bharat ki pratikriya kya hai?

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, we've already made our position clear on these issues. We deeply value our civilizational, cultural and friendly relations with Nepal and our multifaceted bilateral partnership has expanded and diversified in recent years. This is because of the enhanced Government of India's focus on humanitarian, development and connectivity related projects. In line with Prime Minister's initiative to chart out a common strategy to combat COVID-19 in the region, India has been reaching out to friendly neighboring countries including Nepal. We have extended all possible technical, medical and humanitarian assistance. We have supplied about 25 tons of medical aid, this includes Paracetamol and Hydrochloroquine medicine, test kits, and medical supplies also. We have also ensured that despite the lockdown on both sides, there has been no untoward disruption in trade and supply of essential goods to Nepal. India has also helped in repatriation of Nepalese nationals stranded abroad on humanitarian grounds.
You can move on to the next set of questions.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):So the next set of questions is on China. We have received several questions on China. They pertain to the situation on the ground, on the reports of disengagement, on the current situation in specific area on the border, on a reaction to the statement by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson regarding positive consensus on present and future engagement between the two sides, on the nature and level of contacts, and on the outcome of the meeting of the corps commanders (Inaudible). This questions have been asked by Vishnu Som from NDTV, Kadambini Sharma from NDTV India, Srinjoy from Times Now, Dhairya Maheshwari from India TV web, Agni Roy from Anandbazar Patrika, Maha Siddiqui from CNN News18, Devirupa Mitra from The Wire, Mukesh Kaushik from Dainik Bhaskar, Sidhant Sibal from WION, Ranjit Kumar from Rakshak News, Ajay Buwa from Sakal, Elizabeth Rosh from The Mint, [Inaudible] Kumar from Sunday Guardian, Brahma Prakash Dubey from Zee News, Naveen Kapoor from ANI, Manas from PTI, Shailendra Wangu from News18, Archana Chowdhary from Bloomberg News, Madhurendra from News Nation, Sanjiv Trivedi from News 24 and Zubel from BBC Hindi.

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: As you are aware a meeting was held between the corps commanders of India and China on 6th of June in the Chushul-Moldo region. This meeting was in continuation of our diplomatic and military engagement, which both sides have maintained in order to address the situation in the areas along the India-China borders. It was agreed in this meeting that an early resolution of the situation would be in keeping with the guidance of our leaders. The two sides are therefore maintaining their military and diplomatic engagements to peacefully resolve the situation at the earliest, as also to ensure peace and tranquility in the border areas. This is essential for the further development of India-China bilateral relations. Pawan you can move on to the next set.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):The next set of questions is on US. Sridhar from Asian Age has asked - despite massive social unrest and racial tensions in the US, due to the police brutalities, the US instead continues to lecture India on religious freedom and human rights. A top US official, Sam Brownback has now once again flagged the issue. What is India's response? Mr. N B Nair from Sputnik News has asked - the annual international religious freedom report submitted to the US Congress, lists several alleged violation of religious freedom in India. Has the Ministry of External Affairs noticed the content and if so what is the reaction to it? Nayanima from The Print has asked - will MEA take up the US State Department's religious freedom report of 2019 with the Trump administration? Have you discussed the matter with the US ambassador here?

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See the report is published annually by the US State Department as part of the legal requirement to the US Congress. It is an internal document of the US government. India's vibrant democratic traditions and practices are evident to the world. The people and the government of India are proud of our country's democratic traditions. We have a robust public discourse and we have constitutionally mandated institutions that guarantee protection of religious freedom and rule of law. Therefore, our principled position remains that we see no locus standi for a foreign entity to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):Sir, the next question is on Pakistan from Sidhant Sibal. How is cooperation happening India and Pakistan and India and Iran on the locust attacks? Any talks happening?

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: It may be recalled that last month we have taken an initiative to develop regional cooperation to control locust and as a part of this cooperation, we have dispatched 20,000 liters of pesticide to Iran. This pesticide is expected to reach Iran in the port of Chabahar on the 15th of June and it will be used in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of Iran. As regards Pakistan we had proposed to them that we can activate the technical level meetings in the run-up to the main meetings and these technical level meetings could take place between the locust warning organizations. We had also proposed that we can undertake coordinated locust control operations, and we could facilitate the supply of pesticide. We have not received any formal response from Pakistan, but we understand now that the technical level meeting is proposed on the 18th of June.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):There is one more question on Pakistan which has been asked by Vijay from India TV and Shailendra Wangu from News18 - Pakistan prime minister quoting a news report in the Pakistani media has tweeted that he's ready to offer help and share Pakistan's successful cash transfer program with India. Can we have a reaction from MEA?

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Pakistan is better known for making cash transfers to bank accounts outside the country, rather than giving money to its own people. Clearly, Prime Minister Imran Khan needs a better set of advisors and better information. Pakistan would do well to recall that they have a debt problem which covers 90% of the GDP and they've been asking for debt restructuring. As far as India goes, our stimulus packages is as large as the GDP of Pakistan.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):Sir, the next question is from Manas from PTI- the UK has indicated about the legal issue which would further delay Vijay Mallya's extradition. What is the issue? Has the UK conveyed about it to India? On the same topic Parikshit Luthra from CNBC TV18 has asked - Vijay Mallya has applied for political asylum on humanitarian grounds. It seems that extradition could be delayed by a few months. Is there any update on the timeline for his extradition?

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: After Vijay Mallya's leave to appeal to the Supreme Court that application was rejected, we have been in touch with the UK side for his early extradition, and we have also requested the UK side not to consider his asylum, if requested by him, because there appear to be no ground for his persecution in India.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): There is question again from Parikshit Luthra from CNBC TV18 –Europe has signed an FTA with Vietnam. Have you seen any forward movement on possible trade agreements with allies or the RCEP agreement? Has India had any recent communication with the RCEP secretary?

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: On RCEP, I would advise Parikshit that you check with the Ministry of Commerce. It is their subject. Any further questions.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR): Sir, there is one more question from Kamlesh Gaikwad from Kesari. This question is on My Life My Video blogging contest that Yoga at Home and Yoga with Family, considering the June 21 International Yoga Day, whether you have any responses from other countries on this in the present pandemic situation?

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: The 6th International Day of Yoga is going to be observed through digital platforms in view of the COVID-19 situation and in line with the theme which is Yoga at Home and Yoga with Family. Our missions and posts across the world are encouraging participation locally. They have along with cultural centers where ever we have them, they have been working to organize various events around the International Yoga Day and one of these events is the My Life My Yoga video blogging contest, which has been announced by our missions. And in fact, they've also circulated content in local language. It has been receiving good response. Are there any further questions.

Mr. Pawan Badhe, OSD (PR):No Sir, I don’t have any more questions.

Sh. Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: So, if there are no further questions, this concludes the briefing. See you again next week. Thank you!


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