Transcript of Special Briefing by Foreign Secretary on the Visit of Prime Minister of Nepal (April 02, 2022)

April 02, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Good afternoon friends. Thank you for being here today on a Saturday afternoon. As you know, we've just had the conclusion of the talks between visiting Prime Minister of Nepal, His Excellency Sher Bahadur Deuba and Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, and to give us a sense of the talks as well as the overall visit, we have the privilege of having with us Foreign Secretary Sir, Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla. We are also privileged to have with us today, Ambassador of India to Nepal, Shri Vinay Kwatra, as well as Shri Anurag Srivastava, Joint Secretary looking after the Northern Division at the Ministry. So Sir, I would like to hand over the floor to you for some comments.

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Namaskar and good afternoon. We are also very happy to have with us Ambassador Kwatra for the visit as well as on the briefing. First of all, thank you for joining us in this special briefing on the visit of the Honourable Prime Minister of Nepal to India. As you're aware, the Prime Minister of Nepal, His Excellency Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba is on an official visit to India. We have just concluded the bilateral engagement part of the visit. I would of course, start by running you through the program. And after that give you a sense of the discussions and also talk of the outcomes of the visit. The Prime Minister of Nepal arrived here yesterday. This is his first bilateral visit abroad since he assumed office as Prime Minister in July last year. This is Prime Minister Deuba’s landmark fifth visit to India in his capacity as Prime Minister. He has visited India during each of his previous terms with his last such visit taking place in August 2017.

You are aware that our relations with Nepal occupy a very special place in our neighbourhood first policy. It is a unique relationship characterized by open borders and deep rooted people to people contacts of kinship and culture which has very few parallels in the world. Our bilateral relations spanned the entire gamut of political, security, development, partnership, capacity building, trade, culture and of course people to people cooperation. This is therefore a very important bilateral visit, particularly since it is taking place after a relatively long period due to the disruptions caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. I must add here though that despite the pandemic, there have been regular meetings of various bilateral mechanisms. Trade and Commerce flows have continued to take place across our borders uninterrupted, and Indian assisted projects in Nepal have also made steady progress. Prime Minister Deuba is accompanied by a high level official delegation comprising several ministers, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation, Minister of Health & Population and Minister of Agriculture and Livestock and senior government officials, captains of industry and representatives of chambers of commerce.

In terms of major program elements following Prime Minister Deuba’s arrival, yesterday External Affairs Minister called on him, last evening. The National Security Adviser called on Prime Minister Deuba, this morning. This was followed by his visit to Rajghat to pay tribute to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Thereafter Prime Minister Deuba was received at Hyderabad House by the Honourable Prime Minister for talks. After the talks concluded, both Prime Ministers made their press statements, which I'm sure you would have followed. This is not the first contact between the two Prime Ministers after Prime Minister Deuba assumed office. The Prime Minister had made a congratulatory phone call to Prime Minister Deuba soon after he was sworn in on the 19th of July 2021. Both leaders had also met on the side-lines of the COP 26 summit in Glasgow in November 2021.

In the talks today, the two Prime Ministers held wide ranging discussions marked by warmth and cordiality. The talks were positive, in depth and forward looking. The two leaders reviewed the entire spectrum of the bilateral agenda between India and Nepal, covering political, economic, trade, energy, security and developmental issues. Prime Minister Deuba thanked India for standing by Nepal during the COVID pandemic, and supporting the country with the supply of essential vaccines, liquid medical oxygen, medicines and medical equipment. He also expressed appreciation for the efforts to keep bilateral trade and supply chains running unhindered during the height of the pandemic. Prime Minister Deuba stated that his government attached the highest importance to further strengthening economic relations with India. He noted that economic development of Nepal was a priority for his government and in this he sought support and cooperation from India as a close neighbour and a friend.

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi reiterated that India would stand in support of Nepal's development and prosperity. He also assured Prime Minister Deuba that as Nepal's foremost development partner, India would continue to support the development priorities of Nepal to the best of its capacities. The most significant outcomes of the visit have been in the energy sector. During discussions, both sides reached consensus on harvesting, the huge opportunities from mutually beneficial collaboration in the power sector. This collaboration covers the entire spectrum from generation to transmission to power trade. The joint vision statement on power cooperation, which was unveiled today, give shape to a robust and ambitious agenda for this collaboration and I’m told we'll be sharing the vision statement with you shortly. Both Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated one such collaborative venture in the form of the 90 kilometre long 132 KV DC solo transmission corridor transmission line and substation built under Indian line of credit at a cost of 29 million US dollars. In terms of power trade, the Prime Minister conveyed to Prime Minister Deuba that Nepal's power export proposals have been cleared. With this, the quantum of power exported by Nepal to India will go up significantly, which will contribute to Nepal's economic prosperity. There was also a renewed commitment and intent shown by both sides to move forward with the Pancheshwar multipurpose project. The Prime Minister welcomed Nepal's decision to join the International Solar Alliance, which would contribute to global efforts to develop solar energy as a sustainable and affordable option.

There were important outcomes in the area of connectivity. It is a historic day in many ways for people of India and Nepal. The first passenger train on the first cross border broad gauge rail link was jointly flagged off by the two Prime Ministers. The inaugural passenger service between Jaynagar which is in the state of Bihar, to Kurtha in Nepal, will now connect the two countries via rail in addition to road and air links. It will also fulfil a long standing demand of the people on both sides of the border for resumption of cross border passenger train services.

The launch of the RuPay card in Nepal is also a significant milestone in enhancing financial linkages between the two countries. With this launch, the domestic variant of RuPay card will work in about 1,400 POS machines in Nepal. It is expected to facilitate bilateral tourist flows, strengthen people to people linkages, and further contribute to establishing RuPay’s International credibility, credentials and visibility. Both Prime Ministers also witnessed the progress in India's post-earthquake reconstruction efforts in Nepal, especially in the 132 health posts that are being constructed in the 10 districts of Nepal with a $50 million grant. This is part of India's $1 billion commitment to assist Nepal in its post-earthquake recovery. This follows the construction of 50,000 houses for those impacted by the earthquake in Nepal, a project which was completed in November 2021. Among the agreements exchanged in the presence of the two Prime Ministers, both sides concluded an MOU on technical cooperation in railways, which will focus on capacity building, logistics support and training of Nepal's railway personnel. Indian Oil Corporation and Nepal Oil Corporation have signed two MOUs, one for the renewal of the supply of petroleum products for a period of five years and another for sharing technical expertise. Both Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction over the substantial set of outcomes from the visit. There was a sense that the extensive discussions between the two leaders have provided a high level direction and shaped a robust and forward looking bilateral agenda in diverse sectors, particularly in the areas of energy and connectivity. Prime Minister Deuba extended an invitation to the Prime Minister to visit Nepal at a mutually convenient date. Prime Minister Deuba leaves for Varanasi early tomorrow morning. Varanasi as you'd be aware, is a city that symbolizes the deep religious and cultural connect between our two countries. He would be accompanied by the Honourable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh for this leg of the visit. I will stop here and take a few questions.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Sir, thank you for the detailed overview. Please introduce yourself and your organization.

Manish Jha:
Sir main Manish Jha hoon, TV9 bharatvarsh se. Aaz ham logon ne dekha ki Prime Minister Deuba ke press statement ka jo last hissa tha, jisme woh keh rahe the ki Prime Minister Modi ke saath hamne border issue bhi discuss kiya hai, agar iske baare mein thoda aap share kar sake aur kya hum samajh sakte hai ki Prime Minister Oli ke samay jo relation mein hamein tension dekhne ko mil raha tha kya woh thoda sa yahan par moderate huaa hai easy huaa hai ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir, I am Manish Jha, from TV9 Bharatvarsh. Today, we saw in the last part of Prime Minister Deuba's press statement, in which he was saying that with Prime Minister Modi he has also discussed the border issue, if you can share a little about it. And can we understand that the tensions in the relations that we were seeing during the time of Prime Minister Oli have moderated a bit now, have they eased out a bit?

Sidhant: Sir Sidhant from WION. Connectivity is an important element of the relationship. Any update on the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway connect? If you can give us any details on that?

Akhilesh: Sir mein Akhilesh Suman hun Sansad TV se, Bihar (inaudible) badh se pidit hote hein, (inaudible) to kya iss bar Nepal ke Pradhan Mantri ke saath baatchit mein iss mamle ko uthaya gaya hai, iss ka koi nidan dhundne ke liye? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir I am Akhilesh Suman from Sansad TV, Bihar (inaudible) is affected by floods (inaudible), so has this matter been raised this time in the conversation with the Prime Minister of Nepal, to find a solution to it?

Pranay: Sir, Pranay from ABP News. Sir aapne kaha ki Nepal ke sath batchit mein energy cooperation ek mahatvapoorn mudda tha, petroleum export ko lekar ke baat hui hai. To cross border energy trade mein jo quantum hai woh kitna hoga, bharat kitna bijli aayat karega Nepal se aur doosra energy cooperation mein petroleum purchase ke liye jo agreement hua tha uske details aap thoda share kar paayen? kitna bharat dega Nepal ko ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir Pranay from ABP news, Sir you said that energy cooperation was an important issue in the talks with Nepal, there have been talks on petroleum export. So how much will be the quantum in the cross-border energy trade, how much electricity will India import from Nepal? Can you share some details of the agreement for petroleum purchase under energy cooperation? How much will India give to Nepal?

Kavita: Sir main Kavita hoon Haribhoomi newspaper se. Sir aapne security ki baat ki to main yah poochhana chahati thi ki jaise Prime Minister Modi or Nepal prime minister ke beech mein bilateral talks hua usme boundary dispute se related jo issue hai, jaise Lipulekh, Kalapani , Limpiyadhura jinko lekar ke former Nepal Prime Minister ne kafi dispute bhi raha donon desho ke beech mein. Ye issue ko specifically Prime Minister Modi ne uthaya? Uspar kiss tarah ka response Nepal ke jo naye pradhan mantri hai unka raha ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir I am Kavita from Haribhoomi Newspaper, Sir you talked about security, so I wish to ask you that - as bilateral discussions took place between Prime minister Modi and Prime Minister of Nepal, there are issues related to boundary disputes, such as in Lipulekh, Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, about which there was a lot of dispute between the two countries during the time of former Prime Minister of Nepal. Did Prime Minister Modi specifically raise this issue? And on this, what was the response of the new Prime Minister of Nepal?

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: Dekhiye, in general, bahut achchhi batchit hui hai hamare donon Prime Minister ke beech. Aur jo mujhe lag raha hai ye visit bahut hi achchhi direction mein gayi hai. Aur hamari taraf se hum soch sakte hai ki jitne bhi issue, jitne bhi mudde cover ho gaye hai, jo positive constructive agenda mein hai, unki aapko hamne suchna di hai aur iske baad hum vision statement, jo power ke baaren mein cooperation hai, usaki bhi suchna denge iss press conference ke baad. To aap dekhenge ki bahut sare issue jo cover ho gaye hai donon hamare deshon ki janata ke benefit ke liye. toh ismen kaafi laabh hoga donon hamare population ke liye. Jahan tak aapke jo sawal hai ki ek toh aapne security ke baarein mein baat kiya, secondly jo boundary areas, boundary disputes ka jo mudda hai to uske baarein mein aapne dekha hoga ki usme thoda sa press statement mein bhi kuchh kaha tha pradhanmantri Deuba ne. To ye mamla briefly discuss hua tha aur mein thoda sa english mein aapko explain karunga. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Look, in general, there has been a very good conversation between our two Prime Ministers. And what I feel is that this visit has progressed in a good direction. We have informed you about all the issues that have been covered, which are in the positive constructive agenda. And after this press conference we will also share with you the Vision Statement on power sector cooperation. So you will see that a lot of issues which have been covered, will be of great benefit to the people of both our countries. As far as your question is concerned - you talked about security; about the boundary areas; the issue of boundary dispute, you must have seen some mention of it in the press statement of Prime Minister Deuba. This matter was discussed briefly and I will explain it to you in English.

There was a general understanding that both sides needed to address this in a responsible manner through discussion and dialogue in the spirit of our close and friendly relations, and that politicization of such issues need to be avoided. So in general, as you can see the issue of, I think, whether you can say security, whether you can talk about border issues, boundary issues that involved very brief discussion, and essentially, I think there was the sense that we should address it through discussion and dialogue.

I think on the Kathmandu-Raxaul rail link, I think both Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction over the progress made. In particular, the DPR that is underway, I think, has also made good progress and we do believe that this rail link between Raxaul & Kathmandu, will in many senses be a game changer in the connectivity aspect of the relationship. So as I said, the detailed survey is underway, and I think that should also be making good progress.

On flood control issues, I think, Suman Ji aapne ye prashn pucha tha ki dono deshon ke bich badh hote rehte hein iss mein kya. To isski bhi charcha hui thi in the context of harnessing water resources for mutual benefit, and in terms of power generation, irrigation, flood control. Aur isamen bilateral mechanisms hain jo pehle bhi the aur ye mechanisms abhi on hai or inko activate karke kaise hum in issues ko deal kar sakte hai iske baare mein bhi thoda sa discussion hua tha aur positive way mein dekha gaya ki harnessing water resources in a positive way jaise ki flood control to hai hi but also power transmission, kaise hydroelectric potential ko hum isstemal karen. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) Suman Ji you asked about the problem of floods between two countries. Yes, this issue was also discussed in the context of harnessing water resources for mutual benefit, and in terms of power generation, irrigation, flood control. There have been and there are bilateral mechanisms in this regard which are on and so there was some positive discussions on how we can deal with the issue of flood by activating these mechanisms. Discussions were held on harnessing water resources in a positive manner for not only flood control, but also power transmission and utilising hydroelectric potential.

From what I understand, energy is an ongoing thing. You know, there are a number of projects that are there. And transfers of power will keep taking place because we have a power trade policy, that is in place, that provides for transfers of power. So it is an ongoing process. We don't want to put a specific figure on it. But I think what we can say is that this is definitely a very very positive trend, that power being developed in Nepal, in various projects in Nepal, and many of these involve Indian Companies, Indian investments, that power is coming into India now in a bigger way and our sense is that in this particular year and Ambassador will bear me out on that, the amount of power that will come in to India from Nepal will be significantly enhanced over the previous year. So what I'm trying to say is that there is a great deal of progress in this paradigm of our projects with Indian investments, Indian involvement, where both countries will benefit greatly because Nepal will export power to India and Nepal will also benefit from that export of power and we will also benefit because we require power. So that is a very, very positive development.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
Thank you. Next round of questions. Meghna please.

Meghna Dey: Sir Meghna Dey from DD News. I wanted to ask you were there discussions on the Pashupatinath riverfront development project and if there is any progress on that and also on the Pancheshwar multipurpose project, so these two questions.

Rekha Dixit: Rekha Dixit from The Week Magazine. Sir, coming back to the border issue, you said that, you know, they've agreed not to politicize the matter. But the fact remains that they've made a constitutional amendment, they've changed the map officially, how does one resolve an issue like this? Will it not continue, I mean, Nepal will have to redo all those for us to come to some kind of agreement, which may not be amenable. So what's the way forward on that?

Rajesh Mishra: Thank you, Rajesh Mishra Kantipur media group, Kathmandu se, mera prashn hai ki Pancheshwar to bahut purani pariyojana hai, kya is meeting ke baad uski kaam ki gati mein tivrata aane ki ummid ki jaa sakti hai ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Rajesh Mishra from Kantipur Media Group, Kathmandu. My question is that Pancheshwar is a very old project, can it be expected that the pace of the work in the project will increase after this meeting?

Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Foreign Secretary: So let me start with the question that I had answered earlier about the boundary issue and in particular, you're talking about the politicization or the fact that the two sides had decided that given our close and friendly relations, that we do not politicize such issues. You know, the point is that between two neighbouring countries, between any two neighbouring countries, there are a number of issues that are always on the table. You can take any two neighbours, and you will always have some issues that are outstanding. And I think what is important between two close and friendly neighbours is that you have the ability to sit down, discuss and sort out these issues in a manner that is obviously satisfactory to both sides, and one that takes into account the facts of the matter and everything that is concerned with those issues. We have done that. You've seen that we have sorted out land as well as maritime boundary with Bangladesh, for example, and that is sorted out in a very amicable manner. We had mechanisms for it. Similarly, with Nepal also, we have several mechanisms that discuss issues that involve both our countries. And what we are saying is that the two sides have basically had a brief discussion, and generally felt that, in order to start addressing this issue, we need to have dialogue and discussion in a responsible manner and that's something that we will certainly engage in. And we have no doubt that between two close and friendly countries, we will find the way to surmount these issues. On the Pashupatinath river development project, I think there was generally a review of the river cooperation, or let's say, water cooperation areas. There was satisfaction with the progress on many of these areas, including the Pashupatinath river development project. And as far as we're concerned, we have reiterated our support to take forward any of these projects involving development and growth of Nepal, in a manner that we have done in the past, which means that we will be supportive. As far as Pancheshwar is concerned, similarly, I think there was a sense that these are projects that have the potential to benefit both our people, both our countries, and we should take them forward. So I'm saying in general terms, there was a good discussion on these issues, and I think we came away feeling that, there was a good sense of how to move forward.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you for your comment Sir. I also like to thank Ambassador Vinay Kwatra for his presence as well as Shri Anurag Srivastava, JS (North) for being here. Thank you all friends for joining us. Namaste. Thank you.


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