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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (July 16, 2020)

July 17, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:
Good evening.
Welcome to this weekly briefing in the virtual format.

I'll start with an announcement. This is in the form of an update on the Vande Bharat Mission. The fourth phase of the Vande Bharat Mission which is currently underway has been augmented with addition of around 120 new flights between 15th and 31st of July. These additional flights will cater to demand for repatriation from GCC countries, Malaysia, Singapore, UK, Europe, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine. With this augmentation, this phase now has 751 international flights, catering to 34 airports in India. If feeder flights to different states are included, there would be a total of 926 flights under the fourth phase. These include around 180 flights by Indian private carriers - Indigo, Go Air and SpiceJet. As of 15th July, 6,87,467 Indian nationals have returned. 1,01,014 nationals have returned from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh by land borders. The number of returnees by Indian naval ships from Maldives, Sri Lanka and Iran stands at 3,789. You would have seen that the Ministry of Civil Aviation has today announced that they would be starting bilateral air bubbles between India and US, Germany, France, and the UAE. This will allow airlines of both sides to carry passengers to each other under defined conditions. Some of these air bubbles have been finalized, while others are under negotiation. This would help movement of people between these countries and India till international air travel is restored to normalcy. Ministry is in regular contact with Missions and our Posts abroad to monitor the demand for repatriation of stranded Indians and for arranging Vande Bharat Mission flights as required and we are doing this in discussion with the Ministry of Civil Aviation. So, this was by way of update on the Vande Bharat Mission and we can now move on to your questions. I will request Yatin to read them out.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): The first set of questions is on Shri Kulbhushan Jadhav. Shailendra Wangu from News18 has asked - "was Consular access given to Indian High Commission officials today for Kulbhushan Jadhav?" Srinjoy from Times Now has asked - "is India going back to the ICJ on Kulbhushan Jadhav?" Geeta Mohan from India Today has asked - "any response from Pakistan on India's conditions for access to Kulbhushan Jadhav? Also, Pakistani parliament is yet to take up the ordinance which allows review petition. In such a scenario and with the deadline nearing would Pakistan not be in violation of ICJ ruling yet again?" Atharv from Times Now has asked - "there are only 4 days left before 20th July deadline expires. When is Consular access likely? Will we go ahead with access, despite Pakistan not extending unimpeded and unrestricted and unsupervised access? What is the likely next step by the government on this?" Maha from CNN News18 has asked - "did India get unhindered and unimpeded access to Kulbhushan Jadhav today?" Mandira from The Week has asked - "is there an update on the Kulbhushan Jadhav case? Reports suggest that India will get Consular access today. Will India file a petition in Islamabad High Court?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:
India has been requesting for an unimpeded, unhindered and unconditional consular access to Shri Kulbushan Jadhav. On the basis of assurances provided our officials have proceeded for the meeting today. We will assess the situation after our officials return and provide a report. We will provide our comments thereafter.

Yatin you can move on to the next question.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sidhant from WION has asked - "any update on Tablighi Jamaat foreign national?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sidhant, on the Tablighi matter, there has been progress. The number of foreign nationals, in fact, a number of them who had been charge sheeted, for indulging in Tablighi activities on tourist visa, they had filed an application for plea bargain in our courts and the courts have considered their case. The Delhi metropolitan magistrate has on the basis of their application, has fined a number of Tablighis and asked them to leave the country.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next question is on Diamer Bhasha dam. Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - "Pak adhikrit Kashmir mein Cheen ke funds se ban rahe dam ke nirmaan ki shuruyaat ho chuki hai, Bharat ka agla kadam kya hoga?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) Construction of the dam being made with Chinese funds in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has started. What will be India's next step? Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha has asked - "Pakistan ke kabze wale Kashmir mein Gilgit Baltistan mein Pakistan dwara Cheen ke sahyog se Diamer Bhasha baandh ka nirmaan shuru hone ki khabar aai hai. Mantralaya ki kya pratikriya hai?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) It is reported that construction of the Diamer Bhasha dam being made with Chinese assistance in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in Gilgit Baltistan has started. What is Ministry's reaction? Geeta Mohan from India Today has asked - "reaction to Pak-China starting work at Diamer Bhasha dam?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See on Diamer Bhasha dam, I had made our position clear, I think sometime in May. Our position remains unchanged. It is consistent and clear. The entire Union Territory of J&K and the Union Territory of Ladakh have been, are and will be an integral and inalienable part of India. We have strongly protested against the construction of this dam to the government of Pakistan. This dam will lead to submergence of a large part of land of the Indian Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh, and we condemn the continuous attempts by Pakistan to bring about material changes in Indian territories under its illegal occupation. We have also consistently conveyed our protest and shared concerns with both China and Pakistan on all such projects in the Indian territories under Pakistan's illegal occupation where it has no locus standi.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next set of questions is on India-Iran. Anita Joshua from Telegraph has asked, is it true that India could lose Farzad B gas plains because Iran is giving it to a local company as OVL has made no progress. Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - "Iran ke saath Chabahar project mein Bharat ki funding aur nivesh par sawaal khade ho rahe hain. Sarkaar ka kya matt hai?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) Questions are being raised on India's funding and investment in the Chabahar project with Iran. What is the government's view? Abhishek Dhulia from NHK World-Japan has asked - "could you provide more clarity on the status of Chabahar Rail project as there are reports that India is no longer a part of it?" Maha from CNN News18 has asked - "is India out of the Chabahar Zahedan project and Farzad-B as well? If yes, what has Iran told India as to why they have done this? Is the agreement on Chabahar Zahedan scrapped?" Similar questions were asked by Pushkar Banakar, Deepak Ranjan, Geeta Mohan, Athar Khan, Pankaj Pandey and Mandira.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I have a detailed response to this. We have seen some speculative reports about Chabahar Port and the Chabahar Zahedan Railway project. See, with regard to the port, you're all aware that a long-standing commitment from 2003 , was finally operationalized in 2016 during the Prime Minister's visit to Iran. Since then, despite the difficulties posed by the sanction situation there has been significant progress on the port project. An Indian company has been operating the project since 2018 and has steadily scaled up the traffic at the port. Since December 2018, 82 vessels have been handled there, including 52 in the last 12 months alone. The port has handled 12 lakh tons of bulk cargo and 8200 containers. Proactive measures are currently underway to increase the usage of Chabahar Port, both for Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Insofar as the proposed railway line is concerned, IRCON was appointed by Government of India to assess the feasibility of the project. It was working with CDTIC, an Iranian company under their Ministry of Railways in that regard. IRCON has completed the site inspection and review of the feasibility report. Detailed discussions were thereafter held on other relevant aspects of the project, which had to take into account the financial challenges that Iran was facing. In December 2019, these issues were reviewed in detail at the 19th India-Iran Joint Commission Meeting in Tehran. The Iranian side was to nominate an authorized entity to finalize outstanding technical and financial issues. This is still awaited.

There have also been some reports regarding the Farzad-B Gas field negotiations in which ONGC was involved in the discovery stage. Follow-up bilateral cooperation was however impacted by policy changes on the Iranian side. In January 2020, we were informed that in the immediate future, Iran would develop the field on its own and would like to involve India appropriately at a later stage. This matter remains under discussion.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): The next question is from Sidhant - "Pak had allowed Afghan goods to be exported via Wagah. Do we have comment on this?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sidhant, this is another example of Pakistan's creation of a mirage of goodwill. Let us be clear on this. Pakistan is not allowing Afghan trucks to carry Afghan goods and is seeking monopolistic transport practices. It is not allowing Afghanistan two-way transit rights, as committed under Article 3 of the "Freedom of Transit of Afghanistan of the Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement". This is the APTTA agreement. So, Pakistan has been following a policy of creating captive markets by denying full transit access to Afghanistan by restricting products from India and other countries. It is failing to fulfill its own commitments under APTTA. Pakistan has even denied transit of humanitarian grant assistance, including wheat from India to Afghanistan.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next set of questions are on South China Sea. Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - "South China Sea mein America ka stand ki Cheen ka koi offshore claim nahin mana jayega. Uspe Bharat ka kya stand hai?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) "America has taken a stand on South China Sea that none of China’s offshore claim will be accepted. What is India’s stand? Manas from PTI has asked - "Secretary of State, Pompeo has called China's behavior in South China Sea aggressive. What is India's reaction to that?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:

We have articulated our position on South China Sea on several occasions in the past, most recently on May 21, 2020. Our position on this issue has been clear and consistent. South China Sea is a part of global commons and India has an abiding interest in peace and stability in the region. We firmly stand for the freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in these international waterways, in accordance with international law, notably UNCLOS. India also believes that any differences be resolved peacefully by respecting the legal and diplomatic processes and without resorting to threat or use of force.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): So, next set of question is on gold smuggling case. Amriti Sen from Hindu Business Line has asked - "can MEA please clarify if the attache at UAE consulate, in connection to gold smuggling in Trivandrum, came to Delhi on Sunday and has now left the country?" Similar questions have been asked by Anup from Manorama News, Suchithra from News18 Tamil, Maha from CNN News18, Prashant from Asia Newsnet, Manoj Menon from Mathrubhumi, Jomy Thomas from Malayala Manorama, and Saju Mohan from Manorama News.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, on this matter, we have seen the media reports and what I can say at this point is that we are in touch with the UAE authorities regarding the investigation in this matter.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR):Sir. Narendra Nath Mishra from Navbharat Times has asked - "Kuwait mein lakhon Indian par wahan ke kai naye rule ka asar ho sakta hai. Kya Bharat ne Kuwait se contact kia hai?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) Lakhs of Indians might be affected in Kuwait by their new rule. Has India contacted Kuwait?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Narendra Ji, iska maine jawaab shayad pichle briefing mein dia tha ki Kuwait ke jo ghatnakram hai uspe hum baariki se nazar rakhe hue hain aur is mamle ko lekar dono paksho mein baatcheet hui thi, videsh mantriyon ke level pe. Hamare Kuwait ke saath utkrisht dwipakshiye sambandh hain aur yeh sambandh jo hain kaafi gehre hain. Bhartiye samuday ka Kuwait mein aur us region mein jo anya desh hain, un deshon mein kaafi samaan hai, unka kaafi yogdaan hai aur is yogdaan ki kaafi sarhana bhi ki jati hai. To hamari Kuwaiti paksh se yeh apekha rahegi ki in baaton ko dhyaan mein rakhte hue woh apna nirnay len. (Answered in Hindi, Approximate translation) We are closely following developments in Kuwait and I can tell you that this matter was recently discussed between the Foreign Ministers of both sides. We share excellent bilateral ties with Kuwait, and these ties are deeply rooted in our people-to-people linkages. The Indian community is well regarded in Kuwait as well as the rest of the region, and their contribution is well recognized. So, we have shared our expectation with the Kuwaiti side that their decision will take this into account.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): So next set of questions are on Nepal. Medhurandra from News Nation has asked - "Nepal ke PM ke bhagwan Ram par diye bayaan par Bharat ka kya rukh hai?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) What is India’s stand against the statement issued by the Nepal’s PM on the God Ram?. Sidhant from WION has asked - "any reaction to comments by Nepal PM saying Lord Ram was a Nepali?" Similar question was also asked by Pranay.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: The deep and culturally rich heritage of our country is known all over the world. You would have already seen the clarification issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal. So, I don't want to comment any further in this matter. I will also repeat in Hindi. Bharat ki jo vishal aur samridh sanskritik viraasat hai, yeh pure duniya mein sab jante hain iske baare mein. Aur Nepal ke videsh mantralaya ne is maamle ko le kar ek bayaan bhi jari kiya hua hai. Isliye main ispe aur koi tippani nahin karna chahunga. (Answered in Hindi, Approximate translation)

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): So next question is from Suchithra, News18 Tamil - "are there flights to be schedule under Phase 5 of Vande Bharat Mission?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Suchitra as of now, Phase 4 is going on. I had in my update told you this Phase 4 is going on from the 15th of July. It will go on till the 31st of July and when we reach an appropriate stage, we will inform you about the launch of Phase 5, if there is any.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): So next question is from Suman Sharma from European Security and Defence. In yesterday's India-EU initial remarks - "Secretary West mentioned about a new dialogue on Maritime Security. Could you share details about this and how is it different from the previous ones?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Suman, I think you're referring to the Para 7 of the Roadmap 2025 which refers to this Maritime Security dialogue. We earlier had an official level exchange on this subject and we have been having official level exchanges in fact on this subject. Now this dialogue is being institutionalized. What I understand is that this dialogue is in the nature of sharing of information and the sharing of experience. This is what I can say by way of response to your question.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Devirupa from The Wire has asked - "whether MEA is aware about an incident involving a Nigerian student being beaten up at Roorkee Institute of Technology?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Devirupa, we are not aware of any incident involving Nigerian students.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir next set of questions are on China. Srinjoy from Times Now has asked - "do PLA troops remain in the finger five area? What has India said about reducing the masses of troops and heavy weapons including tanks and artillery in the rear echelons? When is thinning out likely?" Nayanima from The Print has asked - "what is the latest update on China? It seems the disengagement process is going to be long-drawn." Similar questions have also been asked by Pranay Upadhyay from ABP.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:

India and China have been engaged in discussions through established diplomatic and military channels to address the situation along the LAC in India-China border areas.

As you are aware, the Special Representatives (SRs) of India and China on the Boundary Question - Shri Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor of India and Mr. Wang Yi, State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of China had a telephone conversation on 5th of July 2020. A meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was also held on 10th of July 2020. In these meetings, the two sides have agreed on complete disengagement of the troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas in accordance with bilateral agreements and protocols. In this context, the Indian and Chinese Senior Commanders held their fourth meeting at Chushul on 14 July 2020. The Commanders reviewed the progress of implementation of the ongoing disengagement process and also discussed further steps to ensure complete disengagement at the earliest.

The two sides remain committed to the objective of complete disengagement and full restoration of peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas. The two sides will continue their diplomatic and military engagements to achieve these outcomes.
The process of disengagement along the LAC is complex and therefore, unsubstantiated and inaccurate reports need to be avoided. The disengagement process currently underway in the Western sector is specifically aimed at addressing face-off situations and close-up deployments of troops along the LAC. It is based on an understanding between senior military commanders. Both sides have agreed at specific points to re-deploy towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC. These are mutually agreed reciprocal actions to be taken by both sides. And as I have already conveyed, it is an ongoing process. This mutual re-deployment should not be misrepresented. There is absolutely no change with respect to India’s position on the Line of Actual Control. We are fully committed to observing and respecting the LAC. Any unilateral attempts to change the status quo along the LAC are not acceptable.

Any further questions, Yatin?
Thank you. So this concludes today's media briefing.

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