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Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (May 21, 2020)

May 22, 2020

Sh Anurag Srivastava: Namaskar. Good evening. Welcome to this virtual briefing. I will start with a statement on developments on LAC with China. This is a statement on record. Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the Line of Actual Control in the western sector or the Sikkim sector is not accurate. Indian troops are fully familiar with the alignment of the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously. All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India's normal patrolling patterns. Indian side has always taken a very responsible approach towards border management. At the same time, we are deeply committed to ensuring India's sovereignty and security. The Indian troops strictly follow the procedures laid down in various bilateral agreements and protocols to resolve any situations which may arise due to difference in perception of the LAC. The two sides have established mechanisms to resolve such situations peacefully through dialogue. Both sides remain engaged with each other to address any immediate issues. In accordance with the consensus reached in Chennai, Indian side remains firmly committed to work for the common objective of maintenance of peace and tranquility in border areas. This is an essential prerequisite to the further development of India-China bilateral relations. I will move on and give you an update on the Vande Bharat Mission. You know that we have moved into the second phase of this mission from 16th May onward and this phase will last till the 13th of June. We are looking to bring back our nationals from 47 countries on 162 flights in this phase. And in this phase we are including places like Istanbul, Ho Chi Minh City, Lagos, etc and also increasing flights to the US and to Europe. We also looking at developing Frankfurt as a hub. We are also receiving our nationals stranded abroad onboard flights from other countries, which are coming in to evacuate nationals of those countries. We are bringing back our nationals for from far-flung areas like Argentina, South Africa, Peru, Mongolia, etc. In fact, a flight from Buenos Aires arrived early this morning at 2:35AM with a total of 62 Indian nationals. About 300 pilgrims from Ladakh, arrived on 17th May on board Mahan Air flight from Iran. Other flights from Djibouti and Hong Kong have brought our nationals who were stranded in those places. Today is day 15 of the Vande Bharat Mission. As of today afternoon, 23,475 Indian nationals have safely returned under this mission. They include 4883 workers, 4196 students, 3087 professionals among others. As of now, 2,59,000 people have registered to return from 98 countries. Most of those who have registered to return are workers - about 28%, students - about 25%, professionals - 14.5%, short-term visa holders and tourists - about 7%. Then there are others like fishermen, deportees, those granted amnesty, etc. In terms of numbers among those with compelling reasons who have registered to return, about 16,990 are those facing medical emergencies and 8746 pregnant women and elderly persons have registered to return. We are also facilitating travel of our nationals as well as foreign nationals on outbound flights under Vande Bharat Mission. Three flights to the UK on 16th, 18th and 20th May have already left. Two flights have departed to the US on 18th and 20th May. There are 4 more flights scheduled to the US and 2 to Frankfurt. Operations under this very large and complex exercise are going on smoothly, the Ministry and its Missions are working very closely in this whole exercise with the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Home Affairs, Health and Family welfare, Bureau of Immigration, as well as with concerned state governments. Now, we can move on to your questions. Garima you can start with the questions that we have received on the Vande Bharat Mission.

Ms Garima: Sir, the first question is from Huma Siddiqui of The Financial Express. She asks, will the MEA share the number of Indians repatriated so far and how many of them are students. She also asks, is there going to be a third phase of repatriation. Additionally, Manoj Menon of the Mathrubhumi Daily has asked, large number of stranded Indians in Gulf countries are seeking permission for chartered flights. What is the government stand on chartered flights? He also has a second question, that is, there are some reports about Covid positive cases in passengers returned from abroad. Some states demand detailed Covid tests before repatriation. Is it possible? Lastly, he asks, please share the details of Vande Bharat Mission third phase. Is there any plan to include private airlines in the third phase?

Sh Anurag Srivastava: Huma, I have already answered your question on the number of Indians repatriated and how many of them are students. We will also put out these numbers and share it with you. There will be a third phase of repatriation. As of now, the second phase as I told you started on the 16th of May and this will last till the 13th of June. Manoj, on chartered flights, there is a protocol which the Ministry of Civil Aviation has and that is being followed. And, on your other question on Covid testing, there are stringent health protocols in place for all flights under the Vande Bharat Mission and wherever possible passengers undergo testing. In fact, in a few cases, passengers have not been allowed to board the flight after they tested positive. There is full medical screening and only asymptomatic passengers are allowed to board. And, before embarkation, on board and on disembarkation, all health protocols are being followed. Other question, details of third phase, of course, we will announce it in due course. Is there any plan to include private airlines? See, we are very receptive to the idea and Ministry of Civil Aviation is already in discussion with private airlines to see how they can be included under the Vande Bharat Mission so that we can increase the number of flights. You can move to the Nepal related questions.

Ms Garima: On Nepal related, Geeta Mohan of the India Today has asked us, how has New Delhi engaged with Kathmandu since the eruption of the border controversy, especially between the announcement by the President and Prime Minister of Nepal, to the launching of the map. Kallol of The Hindu has asked us, Nepal has shown archival maps to prove claims to the Kalapani region. It shows the area is to the east of the river Kali. Nepal says it proves it's right over the territory as per the Treaty of Sugauli. What is India's response to the archival maps? He also asks, Nepal says Treaty of Sugauli was sealed with the East India Company. However, the East India Company was accused of atrocities against the Indian people. Is the treaty signed with the colonial commercial entity acceptable to a 21st century India? Pranay of ABP has asked us, in a statement you expressed hope that the Nepalese leadership will create a positive atmosphere for diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issue. Can you please elaborate it further and does it include a demand for withdrawal of new Nepalese map? Madhurendra of News Nation has asked, kya Nepal ki taraf badte seema vivad ke peeche Videsh Mantralaya bhi Cheen ka haath dekhta hai, jaise ki Army Chief ne apne bayano mein kaha tha? Siddhant has asked us, the ongoing India-Nepal diplomatic row, do you think Kathmandu is doing at the behest of someone? Raising the matter because of China or a nationalistic Nepali PM doing it on his own accord? Neeraj Kumar of News18 India has asked us, as India clear its stand on Nepal new map, Nepal is continuously disparaging India. Do you think that Nepal is working on the behest of China as Indian Army Chief also hinted? Siddhant of WION again has asked, China has reacted to India-Nepal diplomatic row, two countries should resolve their differences properly through friendly consultations and refrain from taking any unilateral action that may complicate the situation. Any reaction to China giving its opinion? And lastly, Manish Jha of TV9 Bharathvarsh has asked, whether Government of India is accepting that Nepal is acting with Chinese backup?

Sh Anurag Srivastava: The first set of questions, which are largely on the revised map and our statement in response to queries on the revised map of Nepal was released yesterday. Our position on this matter is consistent. As far as the issue of revised map go, in our statement, which I have referred to, it has been conveyed that the revision is a unilateral act and it is not based on historical facts and evidences. Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by us. Now, regarding the comments and statements made by others, I would not like to comment on that and what I will say is that all matters related to outstanding boundary issues will be dealt with between India and Nepal and we hope that the Nepalese leadership will create a positive atmosphere for diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues. We have a set of questions on China, but after my statement, those questions are largely answered. You can go to a question that Siddhant has on China.

Ms Garima: Sir, his question is - China was recently in the news for unilaterally changing things on the ground in South China Sea. Last month, it approved the establishment of two districts to administer disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Before that, Beijing had issued new names for 25 islands or reefs and 55 undersea entities in the South China Sea in a bid to reaffirm its sovereignty in the region. What is India's take on this?

Sh Anurag Srivastava: Siddhant, our position on this 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 with the freedom of navigation and overflight and unimpeded lawful commerce in these international waterways, in accordance with international law. 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. Yes, you can take the other questions after this.

Ms Garima: Yes, we can now take a question on Pakistan. Parul Chandra of SNG has asked us - you may have seen the numerous tweets put out by Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan on Kashmir in recent days. What she's looking for is a response to a claim by him, which he has repeated more than once. I won't repeat the claims, but she would like to know if we have a response to Imran Khan's tweet that India's planning a false flag operation in Kashmir.

Sh Anurag Srivastava: See Parul, our position in this matter and facts on the ground are well known. I do not want to dignify such malicious propaganda with a comment.

Ms Garima: Sir, we can take the next one which is on WHO. Siddhant of WION has asked us, while India has supported the resolution in WHOs World Health Assembly to find the source of Covid. Any view, New Delhi holds, what is the source of Covid?

Sh Anurag Srivastava: Siddhant, we engaged in negotiations convened by the WHO and others and agreed to co-sponsor the resolution which was adopted unanimously by the World Health Assembly on May 19th. We did so because with regard to our interests on the management of global health issues and availability of affordable medicines and vaccines, these interests were suitably taken into account, taken into consideration in this resolution and it is important to underscore that the resolution was eventually acceptable to all members of the WHO. Our position is well reflected in the resolution and we have joined the resolution, we are a party to it. So therefore, I don't think I have anything further to add on, what we think about the sources of the virus, etc.

Ms Garima: Now, we move onto other miscellaneous questions, Maha Siddiqui of CNN News 18 has asked us - what are the dates for the India-Australia virtual bilateral meeting? Will a discussion on the threat of economic retribution by China to Australia for pushing a resolution in World Health Assembly be discussed? How does India plan to cooperate with Australia on this count? Huma Siddiqui of the Financial Express has asked us for any update on the External Affairs Minister talking to his counterparts in the Latin America region. Pranay of ABP has asked us - after the recent court judgments related to economic offender Vijay Mallya, India's efforts to extradite him from the UK got a boost. How Government of India is to ensure his early extradition and by when is he expected to be back in India?

Sh Anurag Srivastava: On the India-Australia bilateral summit, the date for the virtual summit with Australia will be conveyed at an appropriate time through diplomatic channels. And, as far as the agenda goes, all matters of bilateral and multilateral relations of mutual interest will be discussed whenever this summit is held. See Huma, in the last few weeks, EAM has had telephone conversations with around 15 of his counterparts from Latin American countries. In his conversation, EAM exchanged notes on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic with his counterparts. He explored avenues of possible health cooperation and development partnership. He also assured that India will be a reliable provider of medicines to these countries. You would know that we have surmounted logistical difficulties and sent essential medicines to far-off countries in the region like Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Jamaica. So that essentially, summarizes his discussions with his counterparts in Latin America. On Vijay Mallya, in a major development last week, which all of you would have followed, Vijay Mallya's application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected by the UK High Court on 14th May and Government of India is in touch with the UK side regarding the next steps in the extradition process.

Ms Garima: Sir, lastly we can take a question on repatriation, Anita Joshua of The Telegraph has asked us - why have there been no more repatriation flights to West Bengal after the flight from Bangladesh?

Sh Anurag Srivastava: You would know that the flight from Dhaka arrived on the 18th of May to Kolkata. There are two more flights which are scheduled to Kolkata on the 27th of May and on the 1st of June. And, as we go along, there are further flights which are planned from Europe, from UK, and from other destinations.

I think there are some further questions. There's one on Vijay Mallya, I think I've already answered this. This is a question from Parikshit. I have answered questions on the developments on the LAC with China. I don't see any further questions. So this concludes today's briefing. Thank you!
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