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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (23 July 2020)

July 27, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:

Good evening and Namaskar!
Welcome to this weekly briefing in the virtual format.

I'll start with two announcements. The first one is an update on the Vande Bharat Mission. Under Phase 4 of the Vande Bharat Mission, so far a total of 1197 flights (945 international flights and 252 feeder flights) have been scheduled. These flights are operated by the Air India Group, IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir from 29 countries to 34 airports in India.

Of these, 694 flights have reached India as on 22 July 2020, repatriating nearly 1 lakh people so far. Phase 4 is expected to continue until 2 August 2020 by which time around 80,000 more people are expected to return.

Last week, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had announced establishment of bilateral bubbles with some countries. Between 22 July - 31 August, Air India will be operating 30 flights a week to the US (New York, Chicago, Washington, New Jersey and San Francisco), 4 flights a week to Germany (Frankfurt) and 3 flights a week to France (Paris).

As on 22 July, 7,88,217 Indian nationals have returned. 1,03,976 Indians have returned from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh by land borders.

Ministry continues to be in touch with Missions on specific demands for repatriation from students completing their courses abroad, workers and other stranded Indians with compelling reasons

My other readout is to announce that today we marked another historic achievement towards strengthening India Bangladesh maritime and economic partnership. The first time ever movement of container cargo from Kolkata to Agartala through the Chattogram Port was successfully concluded. The cargo was received this morning by Chief Minister of Tripura Shri Biplab Kumar Deb. With this, the distance and time taken in transportation of goods for India particularly the north eastern states will get reduced. It will enhance business services and revenue generation in Bangladesh. Logistical sector will also get a big boost. This movement was undertaken under the Agreement on use of Chattogram and Mongla Ports for movement of India’s transit cargo through Bangladesh. The SOPs for this were finalized during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India in October 2019. This development is in line with the vision that the two countries have towards further strengthening bilateral connectivity and a mutually beneficial partnership aimed at benefitting people on both sides.

So this is by way of the two announcements. Now we'll move on to your questions. Yatin could you take over please.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, Rekha Dixit from The Week has asked - "when does work on Chabahar Phase-2, our second terminal begin, any update please?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Rekhaji, in my briefing last week, I had responded to various questions at that point of time on the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway Line and I had provided an update on the status of cooperation under this project. Now by way of update, you would have seen a tweet on the 20th of July by our Embassy in Iran, our Ambassador was invited by the Deputy Minister and head of Iranian Railways, Saeed Rasouli, for a meeting to review the cooperation under the project and they had a good meeting. The ongoing cooperation was reviewed during that meeting and I would like to particularly draw your attention to the statement by the Deputy Minister and head of Iranian Railways who said that vested interests were behind reports that Iran has excluded India in this project. So, I don't think I need to clarify further on this matter, but this is by way of update that you wanted.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, Shailendra from News18 has asked - "there are reports that UK parliamentary group which visited Pakistan occupied Kashmir received funds from Pakistan, your reaction to that?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, we've seen these reports and these reports, they raise serious questions about the impartiality and objectivity of this group. In fact, some of you had reported earlier about the visit of this group, and I don't think I would say anything further on this.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, B Balagopal from Mathrubhumi has asked - it is reported in the media that Faisal Fareed, an accused in Kerala gold smuggling, is in the custody of UAE police. Did the government of UAE officially inform India about his custody? If yes, has India started the formal process of extradition of this accused? Has the UAE government shared the investigation findings on the Kerala gold smuggling case with India?" ManojMenon from Mathrubhumi has asked - "we have come to know that UAE is also investigating on this case, please share the details. Do we have any official confirmation about the arrest of Faisal Fareed by UAE police? Is there any inquiry by MEA on the functioning of the UAE consulate in Trivandrum?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: In response to your questions on this Kerala gold smuggling case, you know that the matter is under investigation by the NIA, so therefore I would not provide specific responses or comments on this issue. What I'll say is that the UAE authorities are extending all necessary cooperation to us in the investigations.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sidhant from WION has asked - "How India is facilitating Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan come back to India, any plans to give them citizenship?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sidhant, I think your question is on the context of the recent kidnapping of ShriNidan Singh and you would have seen our statement earlier this week. There has been a recent spurt of attacks on the Hindu and Sikh community in Afghanistan and these attacks have been done by terrorists at the behest of their external supporters. We have been receiving requests from the members of these communities. They want to move to India. They want to settle down here. And despite the ongoing Covid situation we are facilitating this request. Our embassy in Kabul is providing necessary visas to come here. And once they reach here, their request will be examined and will be acted upon based on extant rules and policies.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, Sidhant from WION has also asked - "Buddha statue was vandalized in Pakistan, any reaction to that?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I think you're referring to this incident of 18th July in the Mardan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where during the excavation of one of the houses there, a Gandhara style Buddha statue was found and what we understand is four Pakistani citizens at the behest of religious cleric who told them that their faith will be renounced if they don't dismantle that statue, they broke that statue with a sledgehammer. Now, this has been widely condemned. The monks in Gaya city have condemned this vandalisation. There's also been widespread concern expressed by a cross-section of people in our country and we have expressed our concerns to Pakistan. We have conveyed our expectation that they should ensure the safety, security and well-being of the minority community there, as well as protect their cultural heritage.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, Saurabh from News Mobile has asked - "there have been security concerns raised on business in India directly owned by Chinese government and the PLA. What is the Indian government doing to check their activities?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Well, I'm not aware of the basis of the reports on which this question has been asked, but what I can say is that India offers one of the most open regimes for FDI anywhere in the world and from time to time government issues regulations related to FDI keeping the overall objective of national interests in mind.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Subhajyoti from BBC has asked - "Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has apparently raised the issue of Kashmir in his telephonic conversation with Bangladesh Prime Minister yesterday. What is India's trend over this issue?" Kalol from the Hindu had also asked this question.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, our relations with Bangladesh are time-tested and historic. You would know that this year is the celebration of Mujib Borsho and both countries are taking a lot of steps to strengthen this partnership in this year. We have also stood with Bangladesh as our ties have been forged by history, by our common sacrifices. As regards J&K, we appreciate their consistent stand that Jammu and Kashmir and all developments in Jammu and Kashmir are matters internal to India and this is a stand that they have always taken.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, Venkat Narayan has asked - "there are reports that 3 Chinese journalists have been expelled. Who are they? Why were they expelled.kindly clarify?" Anita Joshua from Telegraph has asked - "Have three Chinese journalist based in India been asked to leave?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I have no information on this.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Neeraj from News18 has asked - "VBM ka chautha charan aaj khatam hone wala hai. Kya panchwa charan shuru ho gaya ya chauthe ko extend kia gaya hai?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) "The last phase of the VBM will come to an end today. Has the fifth phase started or the fourth has been extended”

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Neeraj ji, jo chautha charan hai, jaise ki maine bataya, woh 2 August ko khatam hoga aur panchwe charan ke bare mein jab bhi faisla hoga, uchit samey pe hum log aap ko iski soochna de denge. (Answered in Hindi, Approximate translation) "Mr. Neeraj! the fourth phase, as I told, that will come to an end on 2nd August and whatever decision shall be taken regarding the fifth phase, we shall keep you informed at an appropriate time.”

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Huma from the Financial Express has asked - "what is the situation of repatriation of medical students from Kyrgyzstan?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: As regards repatriation from Kyrgyzstan, we are scheduling additional flights, in fact, a number of such flights have been scheduled and we are hopeful that with these additional flights we will be able to repatriate more and more of our students from there.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Manish Saraf from Business World has asked - "Another killing of an Indian citizen by Nepali police in Bihar, any demarche issued to Nepal by MEA?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: On the Nepal fighting incident, I think you're referring to the incident of 18th of July, and in this one Indian national was injured and what I can say is that we have extensive and continuing cooperation on border security related matters with Nepal. And in fact, there is positive coordination between the relevant departments on both sides. We have established SOPs and mechanisms and under these established SOPs and mechanisms we have taken up this issue with Nepal.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR):Narendra Nath Mishra from Navbharat Times has asked - "kya India ko G7 Summit mein shaamil hone ke liye formal invitation USA ki aur se mila hai?"(Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) "Has India received a formal invitation from the USA to participate in the G7 summit?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Narendraji, 2 June ko baat-cheet hui thi, President Trump aur hamare Pradhan Mantri ke beech mein, to us doran ek nyota dia gaya tha ki G7 Summit mein Bharat bhag le, aur Pradhan Mantriji ne President Trump ko bataya tha ki hum isme khushi se bhag lenge aur hum is Summit ki safalta ke liye unke saath kaam karenge. Uske baad hamari yeh samajh hai ki United States jo hai mezbaan ke taur pe, host ke taur pe, jobhi isse related issues hain us pe kaam karega. (Answered in Hindi, Approximate translation) Mr. Narendra, a conversation was held on 2nd June between President Trump and our Prime Minister in which an invitation was extended to India to participate in the G7 Summit and Our Prime Minister told President Trump that India would be happy to work jointly with them for the success of the summit. After this, it is our understanding that the United States in capacity of host will work on all the issues related to it.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Rekha Dixit from The Week has asked - "how much aid has India extended to its neighbours over past five years?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Rekhaji, I don't have these figures with me now, but what I can tell you is that you can obtain these figures, they are readily available on the MEA performance dashboard. Now this MEA performance dashboard is on the MEA website, there's a link there and I would ask you to go there and have a look.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Suhasini from The Hindu has asked - "US Secretary of State, Pompeo has called for India and US to work together to counter the Challenge from China. What is your response?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Suhasini, I have already conveyed that we are engaged on the issue of peace and tranquility on our borders with China. We are talking to them through established diplomatic and military channels. Now, since India and China are both prominent countries, this issue has attracted interest all over the world. What I can say is that as part of our diplomacy, we are engaged with those interested to convey our viewpoint.

I would like to go back to the question on Kyrgyzstan. I have some specific figures which I would like to share. I think Huma had asked that question. See, on Kyrgyzstan I mentioned to you that we are arranging additional flights. In fact, a significant number of flights have been arranged. This month itself from 3rd to 30th July, 25 flights have been arranged from Bishkek to 13 destinations in India. And when the current phase of Vande Bharat culminates, we would have 88 flights which would have brought back nearly 13,600 Indian Nationals and this includes students. And in fact, I would also like to mention to you that there was a certain restriction because of the Covid situation in Kyrgyzstan for chartered flights and it was due to the intervention of our ambassador that we could obtain an exemption and get chartered flights to operate from there.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Pushkar from New Indian Express has asked - "will the MEA react to the Pak government filing a plea in the Islamabad High Court seeking the appointment of a lawyer for Kulbhushan Jadhav?" Athar from Times Now has asked - "what can be shared on Jadhav, especially after Pakistan has unilaterally moved to the Islamabad High Court stating his inability to choose to appoint a lawyer to represent him? They haven't taken along main stakeholders namely, Indian government and Jadhav himself." Srinjoy from Times Now has asked - "the government has spoken about protecting Kulbhushan Jadhav. What steps are being taken by the government in view of the current and unilateral decisions by Pakistan?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: In fact, to respond to these questions, I think I need to go into some background on this.

Now, you would know that we have so far requested in the past one year, 12 times. We have requested for Consular access to Shri Kulbhushan Jadhav and Pakistan has not been able to provide unimpeded, unhindered, and unconditional access. You would have also seen my press statement of 16th of July where we described how the consular access, the so-called consular access, which was provided by Pakistan and that meeting that our Consular officials had with Shri Jadhav on that day was scuttled. Our Consular officials were not allowed to hand over documents to him. They were not allowed to obtain a power of attorney from Shri Jadhav.

Thereafter, and in fact, similarly on the other front, in terms of seeking relevant documents in order to file his review petition, we had been advised by Pakistan that they would be handed over to an authorized Pakistani lawyer. Now, these documents were in terms of the FIRs, the charge sheet, the orders judgments of the Pakistani Court, including a Field general court martial. So, we had been advised that this would be handed over to an authorized Pakistani lawyer. Now, India appointed a lawyer and we wanted to obtain the relevant documents, but to our surprise when the authorized lawyer went to the concerned authorities, his request was declined.

Now, in the absence of both, a meaningful Consular access, as well as relevant documents as a last resort, we tried to file his review petition in court on the 18th of July. However, our Pakistani lawyer was informed that review petition could not be filed in the absence of a power of attorney and the supporting documents. So, what has happened is that Pakistan has also created confusion in terms of the last date of filing. They earlier told us that it would be the 19th of July. Thereafter, they said that it is the 20th of July. There's also been considerable inadequacies and shortcomings in the ordinance which has been promulgated by them. It in no way does it fulfill or does it give complete weight to the judgment of the ICJ. There's also been a considerable delay in informing India. They took about two weeks to inform us about this ordinance. And only when we asked did they provide us a copy of the ordinance.

So what appears is that Pakistan's actions with regard to the ordinance, the whole exercise of not providing documents as requested by us, of not providing unhindered, unimpeded and unconditional Consular access, as well as, some of the reported unilateral action of recently approaching the High Court, all of it again exposes their complete farcical nature of Pakistan's approach. Pakistan has blocked all avenues for an effective remedy available to India. Now, Pakistan stands not only in violation of the judgment of the ICJ, but its own ordinance. And in this light, India reserves its position in the matter, including its right to avail of further remedies. So this is in terms of you know, this is a rather long response to your questions, but I think this background was important and this clearly is what our present position is.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, on China, Pushkar from the New Indian Express has asked - "There have been reports of the disengagement process along the LAC slowing down. Is this a sign of China not adhering to the agreements reached during the core commander level and SR level talks?" Maha from CNN News18 has asked - "in the next WMCC meeting, will India raise the issue of the disengagement at Pangong Lake specifically? What will India's message to China be as hiccups in disengagement have cropped up again?" Ranjit Kumar from Rakshak News has asked - "what is the status of the process of disengagement and de-escalation along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh that was agreed during previous WMCC meetings?" Athar from Times Now has asked - "certain media reports suggest that despite promising to pull back in Pangong finger area as well as other places, Chinese troops pull out hasn't happened as we were expecting. Could you comment also how do reports of just a cosmetic pullbacks sit in with the WMCC happening tomorrow? Will this be raised?" Similar kind of questions have been asked by Srinjoy from Times Now, Shankar Kumar from India vs Disinformation, Sidhant from WION, Neeraj Kumar from News18, Sridhar from Asian Age, Anish from UNI, Abhishek from Republic, Rezaul from Hindustan Times, and Sachin from Univarta.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: To respond to all these questions, first of all, I have made clear the position of the Government as regards the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) along India-China border areas through a number of statements in the last several weeks.

As conveyed earlier, respecting and strictly abiding by the LAC is the basis of peace and tranquillity in the border areas. Several agreements concluded by India and China since 1993 firmly acknowledge this. In my statement of June 26th, I had noted that the conduct of Chinese forces this year, including the deployment of large body of troops and changes in behaviour, accompanied by unjustified and untenable claims, has been in complete disregard of all the mutual agreements. We have also made it clear that India is fully committed to observing and respecting the LAC and that we will not accept any unilateral attempts to change the status quo along the LAC.

The two sides have agreed during the conversation of the Special Representatives to work towards complete disengagement of the troops along the LAC and de-escalation from India-China border areas for full restoration of peace and tranquillity.

Both sides are engaged in discussions through the established diplomatic and military channels to achieve this objective expeditiously. I had informed last week that the 4th round of the meeting of the Senior Commanders was held on 14th July, where they also discussed further steps to ensure complete disengagement. In this context, another meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) is also expected to be scheduled soon. As we have stated earlier, the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas is the basis of our bilateral relationship. Therefore it is our expectation that the Chinese side will sincerely work with us for complete disengagement and de-escalation and full restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas at the earliest as agreed to by the Special Representatives.

So this is a read out by way of response to those questions.

Are there any further questions, Yatin?

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): No, sir.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you. So this concludes the weekly briefing.

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