August 25, 2017
Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Namashkar. Thank you very much for coming to this special press briefing. As you are aware we are in the middle of the visit of the Prime Minister of Nepal to India and to brief you on the visit we have with us the Foreign Secretary of India. We also have the Ambassador in Nepal and Jt. Secretary North, Shri Sudhakar Dalela. The format is very clear to you all, FS will brief you first and after that we will take few questions depending on the time we have.
Foreign Secretary, Dr. S. Jaishankar: As AS(XP) said we are still in the midst of the visit by the Prime Minister of Nepal. This is a state visit and the Prime Minister was accompanied by his wife, the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance, Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation as well by Minister of Commerce and a number of officials.
The Prime Minister’s program yesterday began with meeting with our Prime Minister. It was a one on one meeting and today in morning was the official welcoming ceremony. Then the Prime Minister Deuba went to Rajghat to pay tributes to Mahatma Gandhi’s memory. Then he held talks with the Prime Minister. Our Prime Minister hosted a lunch, many of you would have seen the press statement after the talks and then he called on Vice President and the President. He has just finished the call on the President. Two ministers from our side called on the Prime Minister i.e. External Affairs Minister and then Finance Minister.
This is Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s first state visit since assumption of office as Prime Minister this time. He is Prime Minister for the fourth time in Nepal and he has been four times to India as the Prime Minister earlier. In terms of the rest of the programs, I believe he has event today. Yesterday, he had a business meeting with the business community and then from Delhi he goes on to Hyderabad, to Tirupati, to Bodh Gaya and then he returns to Nepal.
In terms of the substance of the discussions and the outcomes, I’ll just very quickly run you to that that. Today, at all the meetings actually our leaders expressed their sympathy and distress at the floods that had hit Nepal. As you all know there is flood in Nepal and flood on our side in Bihar and UP as well, so there was both an expression of sympathy, condolence and also of support. You would also be aware that we had announced immediate relief assistance of 25 Crores. I am happy to share with you that our first lot of supplies have actually reached Biratnagar today.
What I would like to do is perhaps thematically, rather than describe which issues came up exactly where, I would like to cover the issues in common and we are happy to address questions in detail.
Broadly the discussions covered a little bit of what was happening in Nepal then obviously a lot of what was the India Nepal cooperation especially in development assistance and connectivity as well as the discussions we had on the way already on the earthquake reconstruction issue.
Now in terms of the discussions on developments in Nepal, the two Prime Ministers were of the view that democratic institutions were indispensable for peace, development and prosperity. The Prime Minister of Nepal briefed our Prime Minister on recent developments in his country. Our Prime Minister welcomed the successful conduct of two phases of local level elections and congratulated the Prime Minister of Nepal in this regard. He also appreciated the efforts being made by the Government of Nepal to take all sections of society onboard in the constitution implementation process and in establishing Nepal as a Federal Democratic Republic.
The Prime Minister of Nepal thanked our Prime Minister and the government for the assistance that we have provided for the conduct of the local level elections. In terms of our bilateral ties, we covered a number of areas like defence, security, the development partnerships that we have, connectivity issues, capacity building issues, people-to-people contacts.
On thedefence, security side, there was a recognition that being an open border both of us had to take extra care to ensure that this border is not misused and does not poses security issues, this did come up in many of the meetings and we reaffirmed our continuing commitment for training and capacity building of security forces of Nepal.
On the development assistance side, much of the discussion was on the earthquake reconstruction. On the earthquake reconstruction, we have reached a stage, again if I can walk back a bit, we had committed a billion dollars for reconstruction efforts in Nepal. We were the largest donor commitment. Now what we have done since then we have worked on the ground and essentially come up with projects in different sectors. There are four broad sectors for this earthquake reconstruction. One is housing where we have made a commitment to help with 50,000 houses, this is an owner driven reconstruction program.
Then we have the health sector where we have identified a hundred 157 projects. The education mainly schools, where we have identified 70 of them for reconstruction and the cultural heritage sites, as you know many of the monuments and major cultural centers of Nepal were damaged or destroyed during the earthquake, so we identified 28 of those. So what we did today, we signed four agreements which dealt with the modalities of assistance so this is an enabling document and this will now help us to move forward in all these sectors.
Staying on the development side as in terms of the macro picture, one of the developments today was that from our side NITI Aayog and Nepali side National Planning Commission agreed on a policy dialogue where we would learn from each other’s experiences, which we felt was a very useful step.
So with that let me come to the connectivity and the infrastructure cooperation that we have with Nepal. Both of us attach a lot of value to it. Many of you are familiar not just with Nepal but with larger neighborhood the fact that we have a “Neighborhood First Policy”, you heard the Prime Minister say on many occasions that “Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas” is not just a domestic policy, it has a foreign policy aspect to it as well.
The underline thinking is really that if India grows then our prosperity and our development must also percolate to our neighborhood and they too must have stakes in what is happening in India. So with that in view actually we reviewed on going connectivity and infrastructure projects and we also chartered out the agenda ahead of us. In terms of the highlights of that review, a big part of that pertains to the railway sector where there has been progress ontwo rail links projects from Jayanagar-Vijaypur-Bardibas and the Jogbani-Biratnagar rail link but the two Prime Ministers also felt that we should move more expeditiously to complete the field location surveys of the three other rail links to which we have committed. The Newjalpaiguri-Kakarbita, the Nautanwa-Bhairawa and the Nepalgunj Road to Nepalgunj.
Then on the land we are today building ICPs and we are hopeful that ICP Birgunj which is the most advanced, would be operationalized by December this year and again the two Prime Ministers put emphasis that the other two ICPs at Bhairawa and Nepalgunj should be expedited with all the approvals of their engineering designs.
Moving on from the ICPs to the roads, we have had this Terai Road Project underway for some time that has made progress in the last year certainly since the last visit of the last Nepali Prime Minister. We have now awarded contracts for 12 packages dealing with nine roads covering roughly about 240 kms and I think the expectation is that the Nepal side would work to remove the encumbrances and other impediments which would allow the project to move forward quickly.
Two other projects on which the Prime Ministers noted that the preparations had been made and that they needed to be expedited. One was the Dharamshala – the Pashupathinath Temple and the other being the Nepal-Bharat MaitriPolytechnic at Haidada.
On the energy side, we have been working on a very important project. This is a petroleum pipeline project from Motihari to Amlekhgunj and what we were able to present before the Prime Ministers today was the fact that the detailed engineering route survey and the engineering design reports of the project have been finalized. So the Prime Ministers really pushed us to move much faster on this and we have also agreed that we would consider looking at the construction of an LPG pipeline from Motihari to Amlekhgunj, a natural gas pipeline from Gorakhpur to Sunwal and extending the Amlekhgunj pipeline to Chitwaan which is further west in Nepal.
In terms of the future agenda, I am still staying with the infrastructure connectivity side. Actually when the External Affairs Minister had gone recently to Kathmandu for the BIMSTEC meeting, we had discussed at that time that we would like to know Nepal’s priority so that our assistance cooperation offers really target what are their priorities. So in the last few days and weeks the Nepali side was actually able to share with us what are their national priorities and out of those we examined what we think of doable and n what mode and in some cases it was much easier for us to make a commitment and in some cases clearly we need to have further discussions.
I think the two important commitments that we made today both under grant assistance, where one was for a technical institute at Dhangadhi and the other for the GP Koirala National Center for Respiratory Diseases at Tanahon. In addition ot that we agreed that we would examine the feasibility of cooperation in ten other areas and this included two railway projects which are essentially extension of railway projects which are planned now, which is Kushinagar-Lumbini-Kapilvastu as well Bardibas-Birgunj. Then upgradation of two roads, these are roads which are two-lane roads, the proposal is to look at making them into four lane roads and then the possibility of construction of an international airport at Nijgadh. Then the idea of constructing more motorable bridges across the Mahakali River. Then the expansion and renovation of the Maitri Bridge at Birgunj-Raxaul. The development of a dry port and DodharaChandni. The possibility of special economic zones on the India-Nepal border as well as the development of a number of cross-border transmission lines. What we would be doing is that we would be giving out the details in the joint statement which will be released later in the evening.
So as you can see these are a pretty broad array of infrastructure and connectivity issues, ranging from rail-road airport, bridges, dry port, industrial manufacturing zones as well as transmission lines. Our expectation is that we would be able to have feasibility discussions with the Nepal side in the coming months and we would certainly like to be in a position to make clearer commitments inthe near future.
Water and energy were the two other subjects of considerable discussion. One of the more noteworthy areas of progress during this visit was with the respect to the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project. You heard both our Prime Minister and Prime Minister Deubarefered to it in their remarks. We have really very positive and productive discussions. The Short point that is we have a Detailed Project Report which has been under discussion now for some time now and we have been directed to close it out in the next month. I can’t overstate the importance of this project. This is really roughly of 5000 MW project. It would, be in this part of the world, really a mammoth project which has been under discussion. The agreement for this was signed 20 years ago coincidently by Prime Minister Deuba in one his early incarnations in that position. Moving this would be a very very big step in our bilateral energy and water cooperation.
The Prime Minister Deuba also shared with us, on the Nepal Side, two projects which have been slowed down because they faced various impediments in Nepal. Some of it pertains to forest laws and their regulations, those his government has taken steps to address it. For us in particularly One is Arun-3 and the other is Upper Karnali. I think Arun-3 in particular is a project on which we hope to see forward movement because the cabinet has cleared it. This is a public sector project. SJVN is the executing entity on our side and cabinet has cleared the investment into that project.
On our side we had also conveyed to the Nepali side that we had finalized the DPR for the construction of the head regulator and link canal from the Tanakpur Barrage to the Nepali side. This is an old commitment and we arenow in a position to go forward with that. As I began with the floods, let me also tell you that given the flood situation a large part of the discussion especially today between the Prime Ministers. What we would really like to do is to strengthen consultation, coordination between the two sides on the issues of inundation and flood management in the border areas.
The two government also agreed that they would take expeditious steps including joint visits to consider measures for sustainable solutions to the flood problems. There is another project which has been under discussion for some time which is the Saptkoshi high dam and the Sankoshi storage and diversion scheme, this also relates to the flood issue, I think most of you are aware of that. So the two Prime Ministers agreed that the work should commence on the preparation of the DPR for these projects.
In addition to this, power was the other big issue and you would have seen that the two Prime Ministers did virtual inauguration of two transmission lines between Kattaya and Kosaha and Raxaul and Parbhanipur. We had earlier done Muzzaffarpur and Dhalkebar and today really supply of power from India to Nepal has become a very major area of energy cooperation and given the demand situation in Nepal, Prime Minister was very positive on this and assured Prime Minister Deuba that we would be responsive to any future request that Nepal side might have of us.
There were other discussions broadly on people to people contacts, a little bit on trade and economic issues. We signed and exchanged 8 agreements today. Four of them pertained to the four sectors of the earthquake reconstruction as I said. There was one between the Bureau of Standards, one on the narcotics side, one very important one which pertained to the construction of Mechi Bridge and finally one on the Chartered Accountant side.
So this broadly is the summary of the discussion which took place today. At the conclusion of the talks, Prime Minister Deuba invited our Prime Minister to visit Nepal. He said that he would hope that he could come possible for the foundation laying of the Arun-3 project. We are also in discussion with Nepal on BIMSTEC, many of you are aware that Nepal is the Chair of the BIMSTEC. We had a very successful Foreign Ministers meeting. We are discussing a possibility whether there would be a higher level meeting in that regard.
I think from my side that was broadly the visit of the Prime Minister of Nepal. I would be happy to take questions.
Question:There have been reports that China has been keeping Nepal in the loop about the situation at Doklam. Did India also convey its position to the Nepalese PM on what exactly is happening there and also I would presume that because there lot of Nepalese Gorakhas who are in the Indian army so any possibility of conflict would be a concern for Kathmandu?
Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: You are free to presume, that is your privilege but the subject did not come up.
Question:You mentioned about BIMSTEC but it’s almost a year now post after whatever happened after the Uri attack but the secretariat in Kathmandu, is there any roadmap for SAARC ahead that has been discussed or any message from member states of SAARC that has been conveyed to them?
Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:Today there were no discussion pertaining specifically to the SAARC.
Question: Normally when the summit level meeting takes place with an important country like Nepal, generally we talk about all mutual issues, regional issues and also about global issues. So India-China issues are very important regional issue at this point of time, not only in the view of Doklam confrontation but also there is some sort of engagement of Nepal with both countries. Vice Premier of China was in Nepal recently, how did India China relations figure in the discussions?
Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:I think the short answer is it did not.
Question:Less than two days ago, you and the Defence Secretary and the officials from both sides had a long meeting on defence diplomacy where Nepal came up and Bhutan came up on such issues. Those issues, did some of them come up in the meeting with the Prime Minister today?
Question:PM ne bhi flood kolekarcharchaakiaurzaahirtaur par Bihar aur UP donoprabhavithain. LagataarpichhalisarkaronnebhiaurmauzudaSarkarbhi ye kahrahihaiki long term solution kolekarvichaarkiyaajaa raha hai par wo roadmap kyahaijis par vichaarhoga, kis tarahke dam banengeaurkistarahke power project hongejis se jo flood situations haikhastaur par jo Nepal se aanewalinadiyanhain Bihar aur Uttar Pradesh mein, wokhatam ho sake aur un par rok lag sake.
Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:In response to first question the best answer that I could, first of all I am not sure what you are asking but if you are looking at the defence side, as I said there were two aspects to it. One the open border on which both of us agreed that we needed to be very vigilant and ensure that it was not misused and the other was relating capacity building and exchanges that we do with different elements of the Nepali security side and the broad direction of the discussions was how we could expand those cooperation. I hope that broadly answers the question that you asked.
And the question relating to flood, see the issue of flood management, irrigation, these are priority issues. Hamareyahanbhi flood haiaurunkeyahanbhi flood hai. Aaj kajo message thaki, we have to work together on this and we actually have something called a Joint Committee on inundation and flood management and we have joint teams of experts who keep looking on these issue. But clearly the sense of the discussions was that we have to do more, we have to do it more purposefully and more seriously and that is why the idea that we should do joint visits. The important thing was to look for a sustainable solution, it should not be something which is a fix for this year.
Question:The Nepalese parliament failed to pass the constitutional amendment bill to address the issues concerning the Madheshis. Did this issue come up in the bilateral talks today, did India seek any kind of assurance from the Nepalese PM on addressing the Madheshis issues and did he give any kind of assurance on this matter?
Question:Lumbini and Janakpur both are situated in Nepal, was there a talk about Ramayan circuit and Buddhist circuit?
Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:The first question on what had happened recently with regards to developments in terms of the constitutional amendment bill, let me step back a bit, our position as you know has been that you know this is something that our Prime Minister and Indian leaders and spokesman have been saying, that is to have the broadest possible consensus and carry all sections of society on the constitution making and implementation process and for us the issue is that the success of Nepal leads to the stability, and progress and growth of Nepal so it is really the concern and good wishes of a very well meaning neighbor. That was really the approach with which we had the conversation on this.
The Prime Minister of Nepal did share with us that his government and political coalition of which he is the leader has been making efforts in that direction, this is work in progress. Sometimes they make more progress, sometimes they make less progress but certainly there was a commitment and a direction in which they were going and that direction was in terms of broadening the consensus and making the constitution implementation process as successful and effective that they could.
Further, the Ramayan circuit issue came up in more than one meeting, it came up in the meeting with the Prime Minister and I think the President and Vice President also mentioned it. One of the priority project that Nepal has drawn to our attention is to extend the railway link from Kushinagar to Lumbini and Kapilavastu and what we would like to do is the enhancement of rail connectivity, of road connectivity does facilitate the movement of people, it creates a basis for expanded tourism for Nepal and certainly we will be very supportive of them in that. There is a lot of interest on the part of the people of India too but it is something that is very important for Nepal’s own growth possibility so this is an area where we will be veryvery supportive of Nepal.
Question:Aapanekahakiaajjo meeting huihaiusmeinDoklam par koi discussion nahihua. But both the leaders met yesterday also. Kyakaliskolekar koi baathuithi, because yesterday there were extensive talks between the two leaders, to kyaa is baaremeinkobaathuithi? Aur significantly Nepal ke Prime Minister nekahaki we won’t allow any anti-India activity, what do we make of it?
Question:The Prime Minister of Nepal very clearly stated today that there are certain issues in the constitution of Nepal, then he went on to say that hopefully in future, perhaps there will be a constitution which will represent all sides. Now the issue is what is government of India’s position on the Madheshis today, has there been a change in attitude towards Madheshis, are you OK if Nepal doesn’t address the issue in the immediate future because he is talking about hopefully sometime in near future?
Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar:Aisakuchnahithakiaajbaatnahihui, kalhui. Aajbhinahihui, kalbhinahihuithi. Your other question, I think that largely pertain to the security concerns which come from an open border, so that was a reassurance from their side and so you should take that in that spirit.
On the constitution issue, see our position has been very clear and very consistent which is that efforts should be made to take all sections of society onboard in constitution implementation process and in establishing Nepal as a Federal Democratic Republic, this is our position, it cannot be clearer than that. In terms of where Nepal is going, at what speed they are going, how they hope to go forward, that is clearly a judgment which the leadership of Nepal has to make. From our side as I said as a neighbor we wish them well, we would like to see stability, we would like to see harmony, we would like to see prosperity, economic activity and we feel that if there is a broad consensus on this issue it will be helpful in that direction. So beyond that I don’t think it would be right for us to comment on this matter.
Question:Any discussions on the Kalapani issue, this is another tri-junction so was there any discussion regarding the border problem or issues that India and Nepal have?
Foreign Secretary, Dr. S Jaishankar: No.
Official Spokesperson, Shri Raveesh Kumar: Thank you all for coming to this special briefing. Thank you sir for briefing the media and thank you Ambassador and Jt. Secretary North as well.