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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (January 28, 2022)

January 28, 2022

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Good evening, Namaskar. Thank you for joining us for this edition of the weekly media briefing that we have for you. We have a number of questions I understand already so I don't have any immediate announcement. Yatin if you take us to the questions.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir first set of question is on India’s supply of wheat to Afghanistan. Dhairya from Sputnik is asking, "Pakistan's foreign ministry has said that it has got back to India with details of the plan to transport humanitarian assistance of wheat to Afghanistan. What's the current status of the wheat consignment scheduled to be delivered to Afghanistan through the land route?” Sidhant from WION is asking, "is there any update on the humanitarian support of wheat that India was to send to Pakistan via Afghanistan?" Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha is asking, ”Bharat dwara Afghanistan ko manviya sahayata pradan karne ki pahal ke tahat Pakistan ke raste Afghanistan ko gehun evam anya sahayata pahunchane k mamle men ab tak kya pragati hui hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Under the initiative of providing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by India, what is the progress made so far in the matter of providing wheat and other aid to Afghanistan via Pakistan.” We have similar questions from Shailendra from News 18 India, Madhurendra from News Nation, and Nayanima from The Print.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Okay. Thanks, Yatin. Let me begin by saying that government is committed to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people comprising of food grains, COVID vaccines and essential life saving drugs. During the last few weeks, 3.6 tonnes of medical assistance and 500,000 doses of COVID vaccines have been supplied. The process to procure the wheat, which was asked by all the journalists and to arrange its transportation is currently underway. Naturally this takes some time. We will share with you updates as soon as we have them. We hope to be able to do this shortly.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next set of question is on Ukraine. Nayanima from the Print is asking, "what is India’s official view on the Russia-Ukraine crisis? Has India discussed the issue with the US as well as with Russia?” Maha from CNN News 18 is asking, "what is India's response to the heightened tension over Ukraine?” Vineet Dikshit from News Gate is asking, "situation in Ukraine is volatile. What is India’s take on the situation. How many Indian nationals are in Ukraine now? Any advisory being issued to them? India has good relations with Russia and Ukraine. What happens if Ukraine asks India for military assistance keeping in mind when US & UK and other countries have gone ahead in this direction.” We have similar questions from Neville from Sky News, Sidhant from WION, Ranjeet Kumar from Rakshat News and Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Yatin. We have been closely following the developments relating to Ukraine, including the ongoing high-level discussions between Russia and the US. Our Embassy in Kiev is also monitoring local developments. We call for a peaceful resolution of the situation through sustained diplomatic efforts for long term peace and stability in the region and beyond.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Anish from Asianet is asking, "what’s the update on Pakistani religious tourists visit to India, that was scheduled to take place from today?” Suhasini from The Hindu is asking, "has government sent any response to proposal by Pakistan for religious pilgrims to be allowed to travel by air? Please give us details of whether the Pakistan Hindu Council has also been in touch with government for reciprocal flights from India?” We have similar questions from Shailendra from News18 and Kavita from Haribhoomi.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As you are aware, under the 1974 protocol between India and Pakistan, visits to religious shrines are being facilitated regularly. There is interest on both sides to expand the agreed list of shrines and the mode of travel. It naturally needs to be discussed under the protocol. Let me underline that India has a positive approach on this matter and is willing to engage the Pakistani side. You're also aware that currently restrictions are in place on movement and gatherings in view of COVID-19 pandemic. As the situation normalizes, we expect that this time can be utilized to hold discussions under the bilateral protocol. It is our hope to facilitate early exchange of visits to all shrines of interest to pilgrims.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Dhairya from Sputnik has question, "four US Congressmen from the Democratic Party have criticised India's human rights track record under the current government. The online event was organized by Indian American Muslims Council and attended by former Vice-President. How would you like to react to that?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: We have seen reports on this event. India is a robust and vibrant democracy. It does not require certification from others. The claim that others need to protect our constitution is presumptuous and preposterous. The track record of the event organisers is as well-known as the biases and political interests of the participants.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Gautam Lahiri is asking, "what is India's view on 4 years imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
We have already conveyed India's position on this issue on December 7th. I don't have any update on this for now.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Another question from Gautam Lahiri, "EAM has invited Bangladesh Foreign Minister for JCC meeting. When this meeting will be held and which issues are to be discussed?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: During his telephone conversation with his Bangladesh counterpart, on January 6th, External Affairs Minister had invited him for the Joint Consultative Commission meeting. As you know, mutually convenient dates for such events are finalized through diplomatic channels. We will share updates on this once we have them.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha is asking, ”Sri Lanka ki aarthik sthirata ke liye kya Bharat ki or se aur vittiya sahayata di jaayegi? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Will there be more financial assistance from India for Sri lanka's economic stability?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Jaisa ki aap jaante hain, videsh mantri ne 15 January ko Sri Lanka k vitt mantra ke saath ek virtual baithak ki thi, jisme videsh mantri ne bataaya tha ki bharat hamesha Sri Lanka ke saath khada hai or madad dena jari rakhega. US $ 400 million ki SAARC Currency swap suvidha ko badha diya gaya hai or US $515.2 million k Asian Clearing Unit niptan ko do mahine ke liye tall diya gaya hai. Iss se Sri Lanka ko phayda hoga. Bharat se indhan key kharid ke liye ek aur LoC US $ 500 million ki bhi di gai hai. Age koi bhi or update hoga toh hum aapke saath sajha karenge. (Answered in Hindi; App.Translation) As you are aware, EAM had a virtual meeting with Sri Lankan Finance Minister on January 15, during which EAM conveyed that India has always stood with Sri Lanka and will continue to extend support. The US$ 400 million SAARC currency swap facility has been extended, and the ACU settlement of US$ 515.2 million has been deferred by two months. Srilanka will be benefited form this. Another US$ 500 million LOC for purchase of fuel from India has also been extended. We will share with you further updates once we have them.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Maha from CNN News 18 is asking, "US has again expressed its displeasure over the S400 deal with Russia. Under the current circumstances between US and Russia over Ukraine, is there more pressure on India that CAATSA restrictions could be imposed?” We have similar questions from Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha and Shailendra from News18.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thanks Yatin. As we have said before India and the US have a comprehensive global strategic partnership. India has a special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia. We pursue an independent foreign policy. This also applies to our defence acquisition and supplies, which are guided by our national security interest.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sidhant from WION is asking, "any update on the 7 Indians on the UAE vessel that was hijacked by Houthis earlier this month?” Ranjana from UNI is asking, "What is the latest update about the seven Indian sailors who are on board the UAE flagged ship Rabawi that was seized by the Houthis on January 2nd. Has any contact been made with the Houthis about their release? The Houthis have also warned of escalation in attacks, what does the Indian government plan to do about the safety of its people in the UAE.”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As per the latest information received from the shipping company based in the UAE, as well as from other sources, the seven Indian sailors are safe, in good health and are being provided regular meals. However, their captors have not been allowing them to communicate with their families. Government of India is in touch with multiple sources, including the UN mission to support Hodeidah Agreement, the UNMHA, to enquire about the safety and well-being of our sailors, as well as to reinforce our message to the Houthis that our sailors should be released at the earliest. As regards the attack in UAE, two Indian nationals were killed in the terror attack on January 17. External Affairs Minister in his telephonic conversation with his UAE counterpart condemned the terror attack in the strongest terms. Subsequently the UN Security Council, of which we are currently a member, in a press statement, condemned in the strongest terms the heinous terror attack in Abu Dhabi, UAE on January 17th. We are closely monitoring developments.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Ranjana has another question, "have the four Indians who froze to death at the Canada-US border been identified. Has it been confirmed to be a case of illegal border crossing? When would be the bodies sent to India? Could you tell us more about the case?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Our missions in Canada and USA have been following regularly this tragic case of death of four people whose bodies were recovered near the Canada US border in Manitoba in Canada on 19th of January. Canadian authorities have confirmed that all four who perished were Indian nationals who belong to one family. The next of kin of the deceased has now been informed. Canadian authorities have also informed that based on the circumstances, the death of all the persons have been determined to be consistent with exposure to the outdoor elements. Our High Commission in Ottawa and our Consulate General in Toronto are working closely with the Canadian authorities on all aspects of the investigation and also providing consular services to the family of the deceased. Our High Commission in Ottawa has issued a detailed press release on the subject yesterday. If there are any further developments, we will share it with you

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Shailendra from News18 is asking, "Mahatma Gandhi ki murti par khalistani pradarshn par hamare mission ne kya kadam liye hein? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) What are the steps taken by our mission on the Khalistani demonstration and desecration of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi?” Sidhant from WION is asking, "Khalistani protests have been seen in US and Milan. Has the matter been raised with the respective governments?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Let me state that we attach utmost priority to the security of our diplomats abroad and the premises in which they work and live in. We work closely with local authorities and host governments to ensure that adequate security is provided. There have been some recent instances where radical elements have tried to vandalize diplomatic premises abroad and disrupt functioning of the missions. Adequate measures were taken against such attempts. There was also an attempt to desecrate the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Washington DC. We have taken up all these unfortunate incidents with the host governments and conveyed our concerns. We have requested a thorough investigation, action against all those involved and prevention of such incidents from happening in the future.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Madhurendra from News Nation is asking, ”LAC par cheen kaa build up badhta ja raha hai, wahi pichhali batchit phir nakam rahi, aage kya ummid hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) China's build-up on the LAC is increasing, while the previous talks have failed again. What do you expect next?” Rajeev Menon from Malayalam Manorama has a question, "China has said that it will work closely with India on solving the border dispute and would oppose third party interference. What is our response to it? What is the status of talks with China?” We have similar questions from Praveen Gautam from Newspoint, and Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As you are aware, the 14th round of India China Corp Commanders level meeting was held on January 12th this year. The two sides agreed that resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest would help in restoration of peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the western sector and enable progress in bilateral relations. The two sides agreed to stay in close contact and maintain dialogue via military and diplomatic channels and work out a mutually acceptable resolution of the remaining issues at the earliest. In this context, it was also agreed that the next round of Commanders level talks should be held at the earliest. We will share with you once we have any update on this.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Praveen Gautam from Newspoint is asking, ”Vaccine maitri karyakram ke tahat Bharat ne apne padosi deshon ke saath aur anya garib deshon ko anudan ke roop men abhi tak kitni vaccine upalabdh karaye hein? (Questioned in Hindi; ApproximateTranslation) How many vaccines have India provided so far as grants to other poor countries along with its neighbouring countries under the Vaccine Maitri Programme?” Munish Gupta from PIO TV is asking, "WHO says 3 billion people still haven't got the first jab. India takes pride in being the world's biggest vaccine manufacturer. Is MEA or Health Ministry or are both working on a policy framework as to when and how to start helping the world?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: You'd be aware that pursuant to honourable Prime Minister's directions we have resumed export of Made in India vaccines. We are updating details of the shipments on the website of the Ministry. I would invite you to regularly check the website for the latest details of the consignments.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Suhasini from the Hindu is asking, "India Central Asia summit joint statement noted Turkmenistan's proposal to speed up TAPI pipeline construction. What is India’s position on this and will India participate in Turkmenistan regional connectivity conference in April?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I think yesterday during the post summit briefing, Secretary West responded to this issue. TAPI is a long-standing project under continuing discussion and we understand that discussions are ongoing at the level of the consortium partners with respect to the business principles of the project, as regards future engagements that question referred to, we will share updates when available.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Suhasini has another question, "the list of dignitaries attending the opening ceremony of Beijing Winter Olympics doesn't include India. Could you confirm whether any Indian official was invited and why government decided not to accept the invitation? Would Indian Ambassador or any diplomatic presence be there?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: I think we have one Indian athlete who has qualified for the Winter Olympics this year. As regards who else will be present I don't have any information on that.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Rajeev Menon from Malayalam Manorama is asking, "Chinese media have reported that India has enhanced navy patrolling in Indian Ocean but it is unmatched to that of China due to lack of funding. What is our response to their propaganda?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: As you have yourself noted, this is propaganda and we dismiss such propaganda in the Ministry.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Madhurendra from News Nation has a question, ”Baluchistan mein ajadi ki avaj ko kuchlane ke liye Pakistan amanviya or barbar ho chukka hai. Bharat ka Baluchistan k maujuda halat par kya kahana hai? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Pakistan has become inhuman and barbaric to crush the voice of freedom in Baluchistan. What does India have to say about the current situation in Baluchistan?”

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson:
"Humara Pakistani authorities say aagrah rahega ki wah Baluchistan mein jo manvadhikaron ka ullanghan ho raha hai use band karen, use roken. Mera yahi response rahega. (Answered in Hindi; ApproximateTranslation) We would urge the Pakistani authorities to stop the continuing human rights violations in Baluchistan.”

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): I have no further questions sir.

Shri Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson: Thank you Yatin. That brings us to the end of this virtual media briefing. Look forward to meeting up again next week.

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