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Transcript of Media Briefing on visit of President of Nepal to India (April 16, 2017)

April 17, 2017

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Namashkar, aap sab kaa swaagat hai.

Good afternoon to all of you. We have with us Joint Secretary (North) Shri Sudhakar Dalela to brief all of you on the forthcoming visit of the President of Nepal. So without further ado I would hand over the floor to JS (North).

Jt. Secretary (North Division), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: Thank you very much Gopal. As Gopal has just mentioned the Hon’ble President of Nepal will be paying a state visit to India at the invitation of Rashtrapati Ji from 17 to 21 April, 2017.

You may recall that Rashtrapati Ji paid a very successful visit to Nepal in November last year and had reiterated invitation to Hon’ble President of Nepal to visit India at an early date.

President Bhandari’s visit to India is her first visit abroad after assuming the office of the President in October 2015. A high level delegation comprising ministers, members of parliament and senior officials will be accompanying the Hon’ble President of Nepal.

The upcoming visit of the President of Nepal reflects the priority that India attaches to age old unique partnership with Nepal and our shared historical and cultural linkages and strong people to people connections.

The visit is taking place in the backdrop of intensified bilateral engagements at the political and official levels in recent times. This includes the landmark visits of our Prime Minister to Nepal in August and November 2014.

If we focus in the last six months or so, this is the fourth visit at the Head of State or Head of Government level between our two countries and, to my mind, it is fairly unprecedented. This include the visit of Prime Minister of Nepal in September last year and once again in October for the BRICS-BIMSTEC Summit. Most recently Rashtrapati Ji paid a state visit to Nepal in November last year.

Indeed regular exchanges of visits at the highest political level is the hallmark of India-Nepal relations. I may also add that there had been more than 30 official and ministerial level engagements since the state visit of Rashtrapati Ji to Nepal in November last year which clearly illustrate the wide range and depth of cooperative ties with Nepal.

These exchanges have been immensely useful in ensuring steady progress in our cooperative ties across diverse sectors such as trade, economic, mutual investments, water resources, energy-cooperation including power trading, defence & security, oil and gas, post-earthquake reconstruction efforts, culture, education and most importantly our people to people ties.

At the same time we have maintained our focus on implementation of ongoing connectivity and development projects such as Terai Roads, cross-border rail linkages, developmental of integrated check-posts on the border, cross-border oil pipeline (first in the South Asia) and cross-border transmission lines.

The bilateral oversight mechanism which was established in October last year after both the Prime Ministers decided to set this up in September to monitor and expedite implementation of ongoing projects has met three times already and has been extremely helpful in addressing any implementation challenges on both sides i.e. India and Nepal.

A word on our energy cooperation, I must say that the energy cooperation between our two countries is witnessing a new high with the approval by the Union Cabinet last month, to be precise, the CCEA, for investment of Rs. 5723 crores for Arun-3 power project in Nepal and with the operationalization of Muzzaffarpur - Dhalkebar transmission line. India is currently supplying about 380 MW of electricity to Nepal.

In the meantime Government of Nepal had proposed 16 road projects and bridges of amount approximately USD 300 million under the line of credit of USD 550 million which we have agreed to and we look forward to their implementation in the coming months. It is in this context of intensified engagement with Nepal that the State Visit of President of Nepal is taking place.

The upcoming visit gives us an excellent opportunity to review all aspects of our wide ranging partnership with Nepal and to further consolidate and cement these for the mutual benefit of our two people.

Let me give you an overall sense of the program elements of the visit. Hon’ble President will arrive in Delhi tomorrow i.e. on Monday, 17 April. At the invitation of Rashtrapati Ji she will be staying at the Rashtrapati Bhawan as our honored guest.

President of Nepal will be holding meetings with Rashtrapati Ji and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 18th April, which is the main day of engagement. Hon’ble Vice President, Home Minister, External Affairs Minister, Finance Minister will call on the visiting dignitary on 18 April.

Hon’ble President of India will be hosting a state banquet in honor of the visiting dignitary on the evening of 18 April. The President of Nepal will also be attending a business event on 18 April which is being organized by three apex chambers i.e. CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM. After the Delhi leg is over President Bhandari will be traveling to Gujarat and Odisha and she will be visiting the temples in Dwarka, Somnath and Puri and offering her prayers at the temple there. President of Nepal has expressed the desire to visit the Women Empowerment and Environmental Protection projects in India and we propose to showcase these projects to the visiting dignitary in Delhi and Bhubaneswar. The visiting dignitary will be visiting the Yamuna Biodiversity Park in Delhi on April 18.

It is a special goodwill visit by President of Nepal to India and we are confident that the visit will further cement our close and multifaceted ties with the people and government of Nepal. I will stop here and I will be happy to take a few questions on the visit. Thank You.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Thank you very much Sudhakar for that very comprehensive statement about the visit of the President of Nepal and also putting in to the context of our very close relationship and the recent developments that we have had. The floor is now open to questions. We will take few questions and cluster them together and so on and so forth.

Question: Nepal ka jo sanvaidhaanik sankat rahaa hai usko lekar Bharat ki apni chintaayein rahi hain, jin chintaaon ko Bharat ne jaahir kiyaa thaa use kis had tak Nepal ne apne sanvidhaan mein shaamil kiyaa hai aur kya in muddon par bhi baatcheet hogi?

Question: My question is slightly different by related to Nepal nevertheless. Pakistan had recently announced that it had taken up with Nepal Foreign Ministry the alleged disappearance of one of its former army officer close to the Indian border. Just wanted to check if Nepal has taken up this issue with India?

Question: Nepal ke saath jo bhi connectivity projects hain unka status kyaa hai, is baare mein kuch jaankaari uplabdh karaayein.

Question: Nepal is the SAARC chair. Are we going to take up the issue of the fact that we were not given consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav with them?

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: This is called a back door question. I will keep your question on the sidelines and after this interaction is over will perhaps we will get to it. Now JS (North) will answer the other three questions.

Jt. Secretary (North Division), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: Thank you very much for these questions. I think essentially they relate to what is happening in Nepal politically in terms of the constitution implementation process and also a question on connectivity project. I will answer the question in the sequence they were raised.

In terms of the internal political developments in Nepal, it may not be proper for me to really speculate but what I would like to say is that India has an abiding interest in peace, stability and development in Nepal.

During our high level political exchanges in recent time the Government of Nepal has shared with our leadership its government’s priorities and efforts to address all constitution implementation issues by taking all sections of society on board.

Government of India have been very supportive of these efforts of taking constitutional implementation issues forward through dialogue and consultation and of an inclusive agenda in its widest possible definition and it is our hope that these efforts would further consolidate democracy in Nepal and result in long term stability, peace and prosperity in Nepal.

The question that whether these issues will come up in conversations between our leaders with the visiting dignitary, I certainly would not like to speculate on the nature and content of the conversation that our leadership may have with the visiting dignitary. But I believe the conversation with the visiting dignitary will be very wide ranging, on all aspects of our bilateral ties and other issues of mutual interest.

Now on the question regarding the connectivity projects that has been raised, I must note that we have a very wide range of projects on connectivity. Briefly I will walk you through some of the projects that we are doing on rail linkages, in terms of developing integrated check-posts on the border, in terms of developing cross-border transmission lines. I would say that is a very positive story in terms of India-Nepal cooperation.

As I mentioned to you earlier we are now exporting power to Nepal at their request of the order of about 380-400 MW and we have almost finished work on two more transmission line projects, from Kataiya to Kusaha and Raxaul to Parwanipur, and we believe with the conclusion of these two projects we will be able to supply more power to Nepal which will help them meet the challenge of power deficit in Nepal at this stage. I also alluded to you about the Arun 3 project which is being developed by our PSU, Satluj Jal Vidyut Vikas Nigam Ltd.

It is a large project and as I mentioned the CCEA has already given its approval for the project and we are working very closely with the Government of Nepal to take this project forward.

It’s a very large project and I am sure that this has multiple benefits for both sides and also in terms of power situation in Nepal and perhaps hopefully exporting power to India which will also help address the issue of trade deficit that we have with Nepal.

So that is a very brief glimpse of our connectivity projects. Apart from connectivity projects we also have a number of projects in terms of small development projects in Nepal.

We are constructing a polytechnic, Dharamshala in Pashupati Nath Temple, so there are multiple projects that we are implementing right now in Nepal and we are very happy that this program is moving forward positively.

As I mentioned to you during the visit of Prime Minister Prachanda to India in September our leadership decided to set up this oversight mechanism which is being chaired by our Ambassador in Kathmandu and the Foreign Secretary of Nepal.

Within last six months this body has met three times and this is a body where we invite all the stakeholders who matter in the implementation of these projects whether its consultants from our side, contractors, different agencies on both sides and we really go into detail of each and every project.

It is this oversight mechanism that we have made progress in terms of finishing our transmission line projects, making very significant progress on ICP in Birgunj and also other projects that we have our agenda.

I must also confess that apart from grant assistance project that we have we also have a large line of credit which is available to government of Nepal and as I mentioned they have given a list of 16 projects recently and we have approved these projects and we hope to see their implementation on the grounds in the coming month or so. So it’s really a very large bouquet of projects that we are doing in Nepal and as I said both the governments are really committed to taking it forward.

Question: Given the comparison that with Bhutan we get very amount of electricity and we do have very fantastic relationship as far as power projects are concerned but with Nepal it is not like that. So what are the hiccups because we have fantastic people to people contacts, cultural relationships everything but when it comes to power projects we fail to get anything rather we are delivering whatever they want. So what is the status?

Question: This is again on connectivity. Nepal has already approved China’s ambitious BDIM corridor and we are hesitant about the Chinese proposal of BCIM corridor but we need connectivity and that connectivity is necessary for our entire North East region.

I want to know from you the details, you have mentioned something about the projects but not in details, you have mentioned that we are working on several projects like rail, road and other connectivity but what is the status of this connectivity and what is the status of what you call "the economic corridor” as suggested by the plan and vision. I want to know some details about it?

Question: Could you focus on rail projects between India and Nepal. There were talks about two lines, what is the status of those lines?

Question: In terms of air connectivity, are there any proposals from either of the side to enhance air connectivity because earlier Nepal Royal Airlines had shut down, so are there any talks in that area?

Jt. Secretary (North Division), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: Thank you very much for these very relevant questions. First question was on power projects and you compared Nepal and Bhutan. You are absolutely right that we have a very successful cooperation with Bhutan in hydro-power cooperation.

We have finished three projects in Bhutan with the combined installed capacity of about 1400 MW and whatever consumption Bhutan has we import power from Bhutan so it’s really a very win-win situation for Bhutan in terms of exporting power to India and of course it is green energy. We are doing a number of projects in Bhutan in this area totalling around 3000 MW in this stage and we are very satisfied with the state of cooperation with Bhutan.

I would like to really look ahead in terms of India-Nepal cooperation in hydro-power sector and as I alluded to you it is really witnessing a new beginning if I may say so and as I mentioned to you it is not a small thing for us to approve an investment of about 6000 crores worth of project in Nepal. This agreement was signed in 2014 and SJVNL is very committed to implement this project, in fact both the governments are really committed.

This project has to be financially closed by this September and in a project of this scale you always have challenges in terms of land acquisition, regulatory clearances etc. so through this bilateral oversight mechanism we are trying to address these bottlenecks and I must acknowledge that we are getting very good cooperation from Government of Nepal.

From our side we have already approved the project at the Cabinet level and I really believe that this project should take off in the right spirit and it will have multiple benefits for the people at large on both sides.

We are looking ahead and we are very positive and we are committed to moving ahead on this power project as I mentioned. As I told you earlier we have finished part of the Muzaffarpur Dhalkebar line which was inaugurated by the two Prime Ministers in February last year when Prime Minister Oli came to India. We have installed new transformer for this line in January because there was request from Government of Nepal to supply more power to Nepal.

So with this installation we are supplying about 80 MW more from this year and once this line becomes 400 KV line we will be able to export more power through this line. So again this is a very positive project that we have implemented. As I already mentioned we have almost finished two more projects of connectivity on power side and we hope to supply additional power if there is a request from Government of Nepal through these lines.

There was a mention of rail connectivity, I will try to give you some details and let me illustrate few projects so that you have a sense of what we are doing right now with Nepal. I mentioned to you about integrated check-posts. Right now we are developing two such check-posts on India Nepal border. One is Raxaul-Birgunj and the other one is Jogbani-Biratnagar.

ICP is a very large facility, now the Birgunj ICP which integrates many departmental offices in one place with large warehousing capacity, large parking space which really facilitate not only movement of people but also movement of cargo, trucks and everything. Now this Birgunj project is really moving forward and we have finished almost 85% of the project and we intend to conclude this project this year.

So that is a very substantive, concrete, large connectivity project and as you know Raxaul-Birgunj is one of the main trading point between India and Nepal for bilateral trade as well as third country trade.

We have also awarded the contract for the Biratnagar ICP last year and we intend to focus on this project. You mentioned about rail links between India and Nepal, India is developing five rail links at this stage and the work on two rail links, one is Jogbani-Biratnagar and the other one is Jayanagar – Bardibas. These two projects are being implemented in first phase and as per the details available to me we have almost finished 37% in Jogbani-Biratnagar in terms of physical progress and 28% in Jayanagar – Bardibas rail link.

We are also in the process of developing and completing detailed engineering report for the remaining three connectivity projects on the rail side. So these are the five projects that we are doing right now.

You have asked about road, SASEC and SEZs. So on SASEC as you know recently the SASEC Finance Ministers met in Delhi. There is a very unique project that we are doing with Nepal, it is called Mechi bridge road project which is being partly assisted by ADB funding and an Indian company NHIDCL is doing this project and we are working with the government of Nepal to do this project on road connectivity. As you know Mechi Bridge is very important for connectivity between India and Nepal from the West Bengal side of the border.

Now we have good road connectivity between India and Nepal but our effort is to continuously improve not only the cross-border connectivity but also the highways on the Indian side of border and Ministry of Road Transport and Highways is trying to focus on that bit and improving infrastructure on our side also.

You have also mentioned about SEZs, we have been discussing about how we can improve our economic linkages, how we can promote mutual investments and it is in that context we have had conversation with the Government of Nepal on how we can develop SEZs. I do not have anything specific at this stage but this is the beginning of the conversation on how to really enhance our partnership on economic project, on investments by India into Nepal and develop some of these industrial corridors.

Last question was about air connectivity. I think we have good air connectivity. We have air services agreement and had a meeting early this year in Delhi. We are quite open to looking at ways and means to enhance it further. We are quite open in terms of moving ahead in terms of air connectivity for improving the movement of people for tourism and business people.

As of now connectivity has improved in last few year and we are absolutely committed to making it even better. Because ultimately as I mentioned that India Nepal partnership is really a people driven partnership and if you can improve connectivity in any form whether it’s road, rail, power or air connectivity or digital connectivity. We are quite committed to making progress in all these fronts.

Question: India had announced its demonetization move in November last year and Nepal where Indian currency is in big circulation, there was earlier a regulation of 4500/- per person. What is the current status on that, what is NRB and RBI working on to help those people who are still in possession of Indian currency?

Question: There is a sentiment in Nepal which has been negative because of trade imbalance. Yes, Nepal is dependent on 70% imports from India but at the same time there are people in Nepal who feel that trade from Nepal into India is very low, some putting it in the ratio of 13:1. So how do you address that or do you feel that it is unfounded?

Jt. Secretary (North Division), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: First on the demonetization. You are absolutely right, government of Nepal has made a request to government of India for exchange of demonetized notes and in this context what I can tell you that the Nepal Rashtriya Bank and RBI are in consultation, have been engaged in a dialogue. They met in January in India and very recently a delegation from RBI went to Kathmandu to hold discussions.

These are fairly technical regulatory issues in a sense so I am not very competent to give you full details of what they are discussing but what I can say that RBI and NRB remain engaged and what I have understood from RBI and DEA Ministry of Finance that progress so far has been very good. So I think we should allow this dialogue to continue and I am sure very soon we will reach a solution which is acceptable to both sides. This issues is in focus for both the sides at this stage.

Question Contd. : (Inaudible)

Jt. Secretary (North Division), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: I do not know, I cannot prejudge what they will discuss. Right now the notes have been demonetized so you cannot carry these notes to Nepal in any case but if you are asking me what was permissible earlier, as per the RBI and FEMA guidelines anybody going to Nepal could carry upto 25000/- in these denominatized notes till 8th November last year.

Now on the issue of trade imbalance, you are absolutely right that there is an imbalance certainly. While our trade is 5 billion USD, Nepal’s export to India is about 600 million USD, rest is our export to Nepal. Our endeavor has been to look at how we can improve our efforts to address this imbalance in trade and one of the ways is to really look at hydro-power cooperation.

As I mentioned if Arun-3 project takes off, not only it will meet the requirements of Nepal but there may be a surplus power which they can export like in Bhutan’s case where they are exporting more than 1000 MW already and with the conclusion of other projects that export will further enhance. So it will certainly make a dent in terms of trade imbalance.

The endeavor of both the governments is to really improve conditions of trading on the border and any non-tariff barrier that we perceive have, we try to address them and make sure that we make it easier for our business people to do trading.

I must note that our Finance Minister was in Kathmandu recently this year to attend the Nepal Investment Summit and before that in February our Railway Minister attended the Nepal Infrastructure Summit. So we are really reaching out and we really want to enhance this engagement to a new level.

In terms of Nepalese exports to India, in the last 20 years it has increased by 11 times and our bilateral trade has increased by 7 times but I take the point that there is an imbalance and we are absolutely open to looking at ways and means to see how you can address it more reasonable. As I said earlier recently we have addressed the challenges on the exports of leather from Nepal to India.

We have notified land customs stations from where they can now export leather products to India. So we keep making progress and we have multiple forums to address these issues at various levels of government. At Commerce Secretary level, at Joint Secretary level and other different ways. So we would like to strengthen this segment of our cooperation.

Question: Could we get the break-up of the fund assistance. How much has been given upto now and how much more will be given after the visit of the President?

Question: Nepal and China today start the first ever joint military exercise and at the same time we see Nepalese President coming to India. So how India reads this new development and does it impacts India and Nepal cooperation?

Question: On the question of local body elections in Nepal. Madhesi parties have announced a boycott and they have been saying that there should be constitutional amendments before Nepal goes to elections. So where does India stand on this, has India been monitoring and does India supports that there should be immediate consultations on constitutional amendments?

Jt. Secretary (North Division), Shri Sudhakar Dalela: First question was on exact financial details of projects that we are doing in Nepal. I can give you some figures at this stage, for example the five rail links that I mentioned to you, two are in phase I and for the other three we have begun the preparations of detailed engineering designs and reports.

The project that we are doing right now Jogbani – Biratnagar and Jayanagar – Bardibas, the estimated costs for them are, one is 210 crores and the other one is 480 crores. These are the two right now which we are actually implementing on the ground.

Similarly for the Integrated Check Post at Birgunj, the approximate cost is 115 crores and the Jogbani Biratnagar ICP side ICP would be roughly 100 crores. I must also mention that it is not only about developing the facility on the Nepalese side which we are doing from GOI Grant Assistance, the MHA has also developed the facilities on the Indian side of the border in Raxaul and Jogbani. So these are in fact mirror image facilities on the two sides of the border.

We are doing Terai road project in Nepal which is about 500 crores. Similarly I can go on and on but I have given three concrete figures at this stage. The general point that I would like to make that we have a really large menu of connectivity, development and economic projects and we are making steady progress.

Both governments are now focusing on implementation. I think that is the key word now for us that we have large projects, let’s implement and finish it. In some areas we have made progress and in other areas we are committed to make progress at a faster pace.

There was a question on Nepal-China defence exchanges and President’s visit. There is of course no connection between the two, these things are planned much in advance. Nepal of course has its own relationship with China and it is not for me to comment on it.

As far as we are concerned relations between Nepal and India are time tested, unique and very very close. Ours is a people centered partnership as I mentioned earlier, our relation with Nepal have their own logic and they stand firmly on their own. Both government of India and Nepal are committed to deepening our relations in all areas of cooperation.

Last question once again was on the constitution amendment process, as I mentioned earlier it would not be proper for me to speculate on internal political developments in Nepal. I have tried to answer this question earlier, perhaps I can reiterate that.

India certainly has an abiding interest in peace, stability and development in Nepal. As I mentioned earlier that during high level exchanges government of Nepal has shared with us their priorities for addressing all constitutional issues in Nepal by taking all sections of society onboard.

India has been supportive of the initiatives for taking all sections of society onboard through dialogue and consultations and as I mentioned, for an inclusive agenda in which Government of Nepal is committed to. It is our hope that these efforts will yield results and they will further consolidate democracy in Nepal and result in long term stability, peace and development in Nepal. Thank you.

Official Spokesperson, Shri Gopal Baglay: Thank you very much. Thank you Sudhakar for your very patient and very detailed handling of all the questions from the floor. With that we conclude this interaction. Thank you all.

(Concludes)

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