Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Good evening and a very warm welcome to the first weekly media briefing of the Ministry of External Affairs of 2022. I wish you a Happy New Year. Due to COVID restrictions, we are now doing this on a virtual format till such time situation improves. I don't have an immediate announcement to make, so I would directly go on to the large number of questions that we have received. I would like to give the floor to Yatin. Yatin, could you take the floor.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, the first set of question is on Sri Lanka. Suchita from News 18 Tamil is asking, "Twelve of Indian fishermen were released on conditional basis yesterday by Mannar court. When are we expecting them to reach India? Apart from these twelve, how many fishermen are at present under Sri Lankan custody? What is the status of their vessels? With continuing apprehension of Indian fishermen in large number by Sri Lankan Navy, whether the government is planning to call for a ministerial level talk, Joint Working Group meeting with Sri Lanka?” We have a similar question from Chandrakala from ETV.
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As you are aware, government has taken up with the government of Sri Lanka, the detention of 68 fishermen and 10 boats that had been taken into custody by the Sri Lankan authorities between 18th to 20th December, 2021. These detained fishermen have been provided the necessary support by officials from our Consulate General in Jaffna, including clothes, toiletries, snacks, essentials and masks. Besides facilitating phone calls with their relatives, they've also been provided legal representation. The High Commission of India in Colombo has taken up the issue of early release of these Indian fishermen with the Sri Lankan authorities. As a result of these efforts, 12 fishermen have now been released. High Commission is making arrangements for their early repatriation. The High Commission is also engaged with the Sri Lankan authorities for the early release of the remaining fishermen and their boats. Both sides are in consultation regarding early holding of the Joint Working Group on fisheries.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Ranjana from UNI is asking, "Sri Lankan media quoting the Energy Minister saying that the Trincomalee Oil tank agreement is to be signed soon with India and that India has agreed to extend $1.5 billion credit to Colombo. If there is any confirmation of this please.” Chandrakala from ETV is asking, "Sri Lankan cabinet has cleared the Trincomalee oil tank farm deal with India. If you could brief us on that in detail, if any talks have taken place between Colombo and New Delhi.” We have similar question from Sidhant from WION.
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Yatin. Let me begin with the Trincomalee Oil tank farm issue. We have seen reports on that the Sri Lankan cabinet has approved the development of the Trincomalee Oil tank farms. As you know, energy security is an important area of our bilateral cooperation with Sri Lanka. We are in consultation with the government of Sri Lanka for the modernization of the Trincomalee tank farms. This will allow for storage of fuel and will augment bilateral energy security. As regards the query on extending credit, you would recall that Sri Lankan Finance Minister, His Excellency Mr. Basil Rajapaksa visited New Delhi last month. He briefed the Indian side on the economic situation in his country and his government's approach in addressing these challenges. India has always stood by the Sri Lankan people and the Sri Lanka is an important part of our neighbourhood first policy. Discussions during the visit took place on deepening cooperation in areas of food and health security, energy security, balance of payment issues, and Indian investments in Sri Lanka, among others. I understand that further consultations are ongoing.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Dipak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha is asking, "Maldives mein bharat Virodhi abhiyan ko lekar mantralay ki kya pratikriya hai? Kya iss baare mein Maldives Sarkar ke saath koi charcha hui hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) What is ministry’s reaction on the anti- India campaign in Maldives? Have any discussions taken place on this issue with the Maldivian Government?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Maldives ke saath bharat ke sambandh samay-parikshit hain, ghanist hain aur bahu-aayami hain. Hamari sajhedari ka uddesya dono deshon ke logon ki sajha samridhi ko badhane ke saath-saath dono deshon ke samne aane wali sajha chunotiyan ka samadhan karna aur kshetra mein suraksha ko badhana hai. Iss sajhedari ki parasparik roop se hitkari prakriti ki pushti Maldives sarkar dwara di gayi hai. Bharat Maldives ke saath aapne paramprik roop se maitripurn sambandhon ko aur majboot karne ke liye pratibadh hai. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation)” India’s relations with the Maldives are time-tested, close and multi-faceted. Our partnership is aimed at enhancing the common prosperity of the two peoples as well as addressing the shared challenges faced by the two countries and enhancing the security in the region. The mutually beneficial nature of this partnership has been affirmed by the Government of Maldives. India remains committed to deepening its traditionally friendly relationship with the Maldives.”
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Madhurendra from News Nation is asking, "Afghanistan ko gehun bhejne mein Pakistan ki oor se kya dikkatein aa rahi hein aur kab tak pehli khep bhejne ki yojna hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) what are the problems being faced from Pakistan side with regard to dispatch of wheat to Afghanistan and by when the first consignment will be dispatched?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As you are aware, we are committed to supplying 50,000 tonnes of wheat. Jaisa main pehle keh chukka hoon, hamne Afghanistan ko manviye sahayta ke roop mein 50,000 ton gehun ke sath-sath jiwan rakshak dawaiyon ki aapurti karne ki pratibadhta ki hai. Hum Pakistani pradhikariyon ke saath gehun ke shipment ke sahi taur tarikon par baatchit kar rahe hein. Iss bich humne pichle mahine hawai marg se jiwan rakshak dawaon ka shipment bheja tha. Hum Afghanistan ke logon ko manviye sahayta pradan karne ke liye pratibadh hain. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) As I have said before, we have committed to supplying 50,000 tons of wheat as well as lifesaving medicines as humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. We are in discussions with Pakistani authorities on the exact modalities of shipment of wheat. Meanwhile, we sent a shipment of life saving medicines by air last month. We remain committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
As I had mentioned earlier, we are working on these modalities and as soon as we have update, we will come back to you.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Shailesh Kumar from National Defence is asking, "how China's new law on land border passed on 23rd October, that came into effect from 1st January, would affect India China bilateral relations in view of long-standing military stand-off in Eastern Ladakh and construction and renaming of villages in Arunachal Pradesh? We seek MEA’s reaction to that.”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: We had seen reports of the Chinese side naming some places in Arunachal Pradesh last week. We had at that time conveyed our views on such a ridiculous exercise to support untenable territorial claims. Calling Tuting as "DouDeng” or River Siyom as "XiYueMu” or even Kibithu as "Daba” does not alter the fact that Arunachal Pradesh has always been and will always remain an inalienable part of India. We hope that instead of engaging in such antics, China will work constructively with us to resolve the outstanding friction points in areas along the Western Sector of the Line of Actual Control in India-China border areas.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sidhant from WION is asking, "we have seen a video of Chinese soldiers in Galwan. What is your reaction to that?” Tawqueer from Yomiuri has asked, "what is India's reaction to the unfurling of Chinese flag allegedly in Galwan Valley. Has India taken this issue diplomatically with China?” We have similar questions from Vineet Dikshit from Newsgate, Dipak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha, Srinjoy from Times Now.
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I think the media reports that you are referring to or have been by all these journalists are not factually correct. And various Indian media outlets have released photographs contradicting the claims. So I really don't have much to say on that anymore.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Madhurendra from NewsNation is asking "Pangong lake par cheen ke awaidh pul nirman par Bharat ki kya pratikriya hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) What is India’s reaction on the issue of illegal construction of bridge over Pangong lake by China?” Tawqueer from Yomiuri has asked, "what is India's position over the bridge being built by China near Pangong Tso in Ladakh?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Regarding reports about a bridge being made by the Chinese side on Pangong lake, government has been monitoring this activity closely. This bridge is being constructed in areas that have been under the illegal occupation by China for around 60 years now. As you're well aware, India has never accepted such illegal occupation. Separately, Government has been taking all necessary steps to ensure that our security interests are fully protected. As part of these efforts, Government has also during the last seven years increased significantly the budget for development of border infrastructure and completed more roads and bridges than ever before. These have provided much needed connectivity to the local population as well as provided logistical support to the armed forces. Government remains committed to this objective.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sidhant from WION is asking, "we saw the Chinese Embassy writing to Indian Members of Parliament. What is your reaction to that?
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: We have seen reports about the political counsellor at the Chinese Embassy, writing letters to Honourable Members of Parliament on their participation at an event. The substance, tone and tenor of the letter are inappropriate. The Chinese side should note that India is a vibrant democracy and Honourable Members of Parliament as representatives of the people undertake activities as per their views and beliefs. We expect the Chinese side to refrain from hyping normal activities by Honourable Members of Parliament and complicate further the situation in our bilateral relations.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Another question from Sidhant, "what has been the status of exports so far since we saw resumption of exports, how many countries we have sent the vaccines to?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As you are aware, we have resumed overseas supply of Made in India vaccines, of course keeping in mind our domestic requirements of vaccines. Details of all such overseas shipments are being updated regularly on the ministry's website, and I would invite you to monitor that periodically.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sridhar from Asian Age is asking, "has the surge in the COVID third wave in India affected the proposed physical participation of top foreign dignitaries both for Vibrant Gujarat Summit next week and the Republic Day Parade later this month? Has there been any confirmation by Heads of State of Central Asian Republics to attend Republic Day parade as chief guests?” Vinay Kumar from News Mobile is also asking, "any confirmation of this year's Republic Day parade chief guests? Have invitations been sent to Central Asian Presidents?” Maha from CNN News 18 is asking, ”will there be any Republic Day guests this year with the Omicron numbers going up?” We have similar questions from Huma from Financial Express and Gautam Lahiri.
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I see the continuing interest in our Republic Day chief guest issue but let me first address the Vibrant Gujarat. This is the flagship event of India which is organised by the government of Gujarat and we've always seen high level international participation in this event. Of course I understand that due to COVID restrictions, the event has been postponed. We will see when it's reset. As regards the Republic Day, as I've been saying you are aware that announcements of this nature are made at a suitable time. We will share with you details once that is finalized.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Huma from Financial Express has asked, "when is the Two Plus Two meeting between India and USA and will it be in person or virtual?” We have similar questions from Maha from CNN News 18, Sudhi Ranjan from Bloomberg, and Dipak from PTI Bhasha.
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Our dialogue and engagement with the US has been intense and regular. We look forward to holding the next Two Plus Two ministerial meeting with the United States. Details of this are still being worked out.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Huma from Financial Express is asking, "situation in Kazakhstan is deteriorating. Are we planning to repatriate Indians who are stuck there?” Kallol from Hindu has asked, "do we have any stand on current political situation in Kazakhstan?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Our embassy in Kazakhstan is closely monitoring ongoing developments there, particularly from the perspective of the safety and welfare of Indian nationals in that country. We will of course assist any Indians in distress. For the moment we are not aware of any such situation.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Gautam Lahiri has asked, "what is India's response to Pakistan's proposal to hold SAARC Summit?” Maha from CNN News 18 has asked, " has India received any official invitation from Pakistan for the SAARC Summit? and what has been India's response?” We have similar questions from Madhurendra from News Nation, Chandrakala from ETV, and Jaiprakash from Dainik Jagran.
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: We have seen media reports regarding the Pakistan Foreign Minister's remarks about the SAARC Summit. You are aware of the background as to why the SAARC summit has not been held since 2014. There has been no material change in the situation since then, therefore, there is still no consensus that would permit the holding of the summit. I think I'll leave it at that.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Jaiprakash from Dainik Jagran is asking, ”Pakistani Pradhan Mantri Imran Khan ne Kashmir ko lekar antarrashtriye samudae ko Bharat ke khilaf kadam lene ki appeal ki hai. To iss par aapki kya pratikriya hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran khan has appealed the international community to take necessary measures against India over the issue of Kashmir. What is your reaction on this?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me make two points. Do batein kehna chahunga. Pehla, Jammu-Kashmir ka kendra shashit Pradesh Bharat ka abhinn aur avibhajya hissa hai, jaisa ki aap sab jaante hain. Doosra, aapne jis tipanni ka ullekh kiya hai, woh ek aise desh ke Pradhan mantri ne ki hai jo khule aam seema paar aatankwad ko badhawa deta hai, jisne Osama Bin Laden ko panah di aur jiska chaukane wala manavadhikar record se poori duniya wakif hai. Aab mujhe nahin lagta ki mujhe aur iss ke baare mein kuch kehna hai. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) I would like to make two points. First, the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of India, as you all know. Second, the remarks that you referred to are of the Prime Minister of a country that openly sponsors cross-border terrorism, that hosted Osama Bin Laden, and whose appalling human rights record is known all across the world. I don’t think I have to say anything more on this issue.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Tawqeer from Yomiuri is asking, "was there any discussion on RELOS between telephonic conversation of EAM and Russian Foreign Minister?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As you probably would have seen, EAM has had a number of conversations with his counterparts across the world over the last couple of days. He spoke with his US and Russian counterparts I think on the fourth of January. He spoke with Australia and Indonesia yesterday. He also spoke with Maldives and Bhutan yesterday. Today, he has, I think, already had discussions with Nepal and Bangladesh, as also with I think, Nigeria and Singapore. These conversations reflect both the exchange of the customary New Year greetings, as well as the practice of virtual diplomacy due in COVID times. As you are aware, we have been engaging in virtual format meetings at various levels with our foreign interlocutors. Through the social media, EAM has been sharing important elements of his conversations, and I am sure you have been following that. I think it would not be appropriate for me to share any more details of the conversations at this moment.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Ranjit Kumar from Rakshat News is asking, "Russia had officially declared its proposal to host RIC summit a few days ago. Is India still considering the proposal to attend the summit?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As you are aware, the RIC or the Russia, India, China, Foreign Ministers meeting was held, I think on November 26th, in the virtual mode. I don't have anything else for you on subsequent developments.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Nirendra Dev is asking, "the visit of Mr. Peter Szijjarto, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hungary is perhaps planned for 11th January 2022. Could we get some detail on this?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I'm not aware of any such visit. If there is any Ministerial visit particularly at the Foreign Minister level we will certainly announce it at the appropriate time.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Parikshit from CNBC is asking, "MEA has said that they are developing a next generation passport, how different would this be from the present passport and when will it be available to citizens?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me mention here that it has been the constant endeavour of the ministry to enhance passport services, in fact all citizen services, that we provide and introduce new features and facilities in the passport in our passport services. As part of this, honourable Prime Minister had announced that India would be introducing e-passports. We are in the process of implementing this project. Once this is ready for launching, we will certainly share with you more details that you sought and asked.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Chandrakala from ETV is asking on Prime Minister's visit to UAE, "is the date and schedule confirmed? If so, please brief us on his visit and the purpose behind this visit?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I don't recall we had announced any such visit. We will certainly share with you details as and when PM’s overseas visits are finalised as we've always done so.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Dipak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha is asking, "Bhagode hira karobari Mehul Choksi aur Nirav Modi ke mamle mein taaza sthithi kya hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate translation) What is the latest update in the matter related to fugitive diamond merchants Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi?”
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Dekhiye iss vishay par koi nai jaankari hamare pass iss hafte to nahin hai. Kuch aayegi to hum jaroor aapse update share karenge. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) We do not have any information over this issue in the current week. If any update comes, we shall share with you.
Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): I have no further questions sir.
Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay. So that was the first briefing of the New Year. We look forward to continue to engage with you and thank you very much for joining us. Namaskar, Good Evening.