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Transcript of Special Briefing by Foreign Secretary on Prime Minister’s visit to Nepal (May 13, 2022)

May 14, 2022

Dr. Adarsh Swaika, Joint Secretary (ERS): Good afternoon friends. Welcome to this special media briefing on Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to Nepal on 16th of May. I have the honour of having with us today, Foreign Secretary Shri Vinay Mohan Kwatra. Joining him is Joint Secretary (North) Shri Anurag Srivastava who handles Nepal Desk. You would have seen the press release of yesterday giving the broad contours of Prime Minister's visit to Nepal, I would now request Foreign Secretary Sir to give you a sense of the visit. And after that, we will take questions. So thank you and over to you Sir.

Shri Vinay Mohan Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much, Namaskar. Good afternoon, everyone and thank you for attending this special briefing on Prime Minister's upcoming visit to Nepal. Prime Minister Shri Modi will be travelling to Lumbini, Nepal, this Monday on 16th of May. The visit of Prime Minister to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha takes place on the auspicious occasion of Buddha Jayanti. This is indeed a celebration of the time honoured civilizational and people to people linkages between India and Nepal, which as we all know, forms a very strong foundation of our close and multifaceted relationship. Mutual visits to places of shared cultural and civilizational heritage, further reinforce these linkages. You would also recall that Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepal had visited India from 1st to the 3rd of April 2022, the fact that a return visit is taking place in such close succession is a reflection of the closeness of our high level exchanges, as well as of the upward trajectory in our mutually beneficial partnership. This will be Prime Minister Modi's fifth visit to Nepal as the Prime Minister and his first visit to Lumbini.

Prime Minister's brief visit, packs in a tight schedule and many engagements. The visit will start with darshan at the famous Mayadevi Temple, which lies at the very heart of Lumbini. The temple marks the site of the birth of Lord Buddha, which is established through the epigraphic evidence provided by the pillar, erected by Emperor Ashoka commemorating his visit there over two millennia ago in 249 BC. It may also be recalled here, that Prime Minister had gifted Bodhi tree sapling from Bodhgaya to this temple, during his visit to Nepal, in November 2014. Prime Minister will thereafter visit the adjacent monastic zone in Lumbini, where he will participate in the Shilanyas ceremony for the construction of a center for Buddhist culture and heritage. This project is being developed and built by the India based International Buddhist Confederation and is located in the west monastic zone of Lumbini. Thereafter in their bilateral talks, the two Prime Ministers will pick up from where they left off in Delhi just last month, the two leaders will build on their productive conversations in Delhi, with a view to further expanding our shared understanding and cooperation in multiple areas including in hydropower development, partnership and connectivity.

In his last official engagement, both Prime Ministers will attend celebrations organised by the Government of Nepal, to mark the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, which we'll see participation by Buddhist monks and scholars. Prime Minister will also address this distinguished gathering at that time. To sum up the visit will, one add to the positive momentum in our bilateral ties generated by high level exchanges, including by the last visit of Prime Minister Deuba to India in April and two the visit also reaffirms our commitment and demonstrates the priority that government of India attaches to the neighbourhood. We will of course share more details on the specifics of the discussions and on the outcomes as the visit unfolds, 16th May. Thank you very much and good afternoon once again and thank you for coming.

Dr. Adarsh Swaika, Joint Secretary (ERS): Thank you Sir, for giving us an elaborate overview of the visit. Now, I would open the floor for the questions, but let me make one thing very clear that firstly, please restrict yourself to questions related to the visit and bilateral relations with Nepal. Secondly, before asking the question, please introduce yourself, as Foreign Secretary is new and I am also standing in for the regular JS (XP). So, please introduce yourself and we will then take questions in groups.

Maha Siddiqui: Foreign Secretary, I’m Maha Siddiqui from CNN News 18. Sir, is the Prime Minister taking a chopper directly to Lumbini? Because there have been some media reports in Nepal suggesting that they would have liked him to land at the second international airport in Nepal.

Sidhant: Hi Sir, Sidhant from WION. What kind of conversation will be there between the two Prime Ministers? Are we looking at some kind of announcements as well, especially on connectivity?

Nayanima: Sir, Nayanima from ThePrint. This will be Prime Minister's first visit since the map issue. Will the border issue be discussed and will there be any discussions on the EPG report? Thank you.

Sachin: Sir mera naam Sachin hai, main Hindi Varta se hoon. Sir mera sawal yeh hai ki pradhanmantri ji ke yatra ke dauran Nepal se kuchh hydropower projects ke silsile mein kuchh naya development hone vala hai, kuchh naye sign hone vaale hai ? (Questioned in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sir my name is Sachin, I am from the Hindi Varta. Sir my question is that during the Prime Minister's visit, will there be any new development in connection with some hydropower projects from Nepal, is something new going to be signed?

Dr. Adarsh Swaika, Joint Secretary (ERS): Maybe Sir we can take these four questions, and then take the next set of questions.

Shri Vinay Mohan Kwatra, Foreign Secretary:
Thank you. See, insofar as the questions of the one which was asked by Ms. Maha Siddiqui and also any other question that might be there in this respect. And so far as the questions relating to the logistical arrangements of Prime Minister's travel are concerned, I don't think it's correct for me or for anybody else to really comment on those issues, because those involve many parameters, including security.

With regard to the question that Sidhant, you asked about, what kind of conversations will take place and whether issues relating to connectivity will come up or not? As I mentioned to you that the entire scope and the landscape of India-Nepal partnership is very wide and extensive, you can take any aspect of human economic endeavour, and you will find a very robust partnership between India and Nepal, in that area. The conversations between the two leaders, as they mentioned will of course pick up from where they left off last month, when Prime Minister Deuba visited here, and would no doubt cover all elements of a bilateral engagement, whether it is development partnership, whether it is the assessment and stocktaking of how connectivity projects are doing, what more can be done to connect the two societies of South Asia, and also aspects relating to hydropower cooperation, I mean, that's a question which was specifically asked, trade investment is another area, which is very strong in our partnership. The entire domain of Development Partnership, which covers cooperation in many areas, whether it is health, whether it is education, whether it is institution building, so I have a feeling that the conversation between the two leaders will have a comprehensive agenda, will cover the entire scope of our discussions and I would not like to single out one area in particular, like you mentioned connectivity, I think it will touch upon everything. Of course that would include connectivity.

Ms. Nayanima you asked the question relating to the border. See insofar as the border discussions, boundary discussions between the two countries are concerned as you all know, there are established bilateral mechanisms which exists between the two countries. We have always maintained that they are the best way forward in discussing those issues, discussing in a responsible manner, without really politicization of those issues. So, that is a subject which will essentially be in the scope of those established bilateral mechanisms.

Sachin aapka prashn tha ki hydropower ko leke donon desho ke beech mein kya sahyog ko leke koi nai ghoshana ki apeksha hai ki nahi ? Dekhiye jo Bharat-Nepal ke sambandhon mein hydropower urja ka jo sthan hai woh atyant mahatvapurna sthan hai, isake antargat jaisa aap bhalibhanti isase parichit hai ki Bharat ne kafi badi matra mein Nepal mein hydropower ke kshetra mein nivesh kiya hai, na keval nivesh kiya hai balki hydropower se nirmit urja ka jo vyapar hai donon desho ke beech mein woh bhi ek vyapak roop le chuka hai chahe Nepal se urja ka niryat ho. Aapko yaad hoga ki jab pichle mah jab pradhanmantri Deuba ji ki Bharat yatra thi uske dauran Bharat ne lagbhag 360 mega watt bijli ka Nepal se Bharat ke prati niryat ki anumati di thi. Chahe Nepal se bharat ko niryat ho, chahe Bharat se Nepal ko niryat ho urja ka, chahe Nepal dvara nirmit urja ka evacuation ho Nepal mein Bharat ke liye ya anya deshon ke liye ya Nepal mein anya nivesh ki pariyojnaen ho, toh, ye hydropower ka pura kshetra bahut hi vyapak hai. Is vyapak kshetra ke lagabhag har bhaag pe donon desho ke beech mein lagatar varta jaari hai aur isi varta ka mukhya ansh jarur donon desho ke neta jab milenge to unki varta mein bhi ubhar ke aayega . Koi pratyaksh roop se alag se ghoshana hogi ki nahi, ye kehna mere liye is samay uchit nahi hai. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Sachin, your question was regarding any new announcement on cooperation between the two countries in the field of hydropower? See, hydropower energy has a very important place in India-Nepal relations. As you are well aware, India has made significant investments in the hydropower sector; not only has India invested in the sector, the trade of hydropower energy between the two countries has also increased, including the export of energy from Nepal. You may recall that during the visit of Prime Minister Deuba ji to India last month, India allowed export of about 360 MW of power from Nepal to India. Whether it is the export of energy from Nepal to India, whether it is the export of energy from India to Nepal, whether it is the evacuation of the energy generated by Nepal for India or for other countries, or other investment projects in Nepal; the whole sector of hydropower energy is very broad. There is continuous ongoing dialogue between the two countries on almost every element of this broad sector and the main aspects of this dialogue will surely figure in the talks when the leaders of the two countries will meet. At this stage, it is not appropriate for me to comment on whether there will be a separate announcement.

Suhasini: Foreign Secretary I’m Suhasini Haider from The Hindu. In August 2014, when Prime Minister Modi had first come to Nepal as Prime Minister, he had agreed and it's in the joint statement that the Eminent Persons Group would meet and their report would be reviewed. I think Nayanima, asked about that. That report was finalized and presented in July 2018. It's now four years later, where even the things that are the points, proposals in the reports such as fencing the borders, such as talking about upgrading the India and Nepal friendship treaty, none of those have even been discussed and the report has not actually been presented to the Prime Minister even. Should we assume that the EPG report is now dead in the water?

Sridhar: Sir, Sridhar from Asian Age. You mentioned that this is the Prime Minister's fifth visit to Nepal and you also said it was his first visit to Lumbini. So my question is why now? Can you tell us something about the timing, the significance of this visit, is it part of a Buddhist outreach because we have similar facets in our ties with Sri Lanka also with Myanmar, Thailand also being in the BIMSTEC. So why now, why is he going to Lumbini after eight years?

Rishikesh: Hello Sir, Rishikesh from Sputnik News. So, did India convey to Nepal that we are not going to purchase your power, energy project developed by China because this was mentioned recently by Sher Bahadur Deuba.

Tripti: Sir, my name is Tripti and I’m a Nepal born Indian journalist (inaudible). India put its weight behind Nepal for reconstruction after the 2015 earthquake in a big way, we were the first to respond I think. Is Prime Minister Modi likely to get a briefing on reconstruction projects which India has actively contributed, especially heritage?

Ranjana: Sir, Ranjana from UNI. So during the last visit of Prime Minister Deuba in April, in the vision statement, there was a specific mention on the Pancheshwar hydropower project that both sides will direct the officials to expedite; basically to take it forward. So has anything happened since then?

Dr. Adarsh Swaika, Joint Secretary (ERS): We'll stop here and Foreign Secretary will respond to these five questions.

Shri Vinay Mohan Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you. Let me first address this question relating to the EPG, I think which was also asked by Nayanima and I'm sorry, I forgot to pick up that point there. I think you have obviously read the EPG report, which we have not because EPG is an independent group of experts. And I'm assuming that only they have access to the report, but perhaps some others also have access to that. All I would say is that EPG report will be reviewed after it is submitted. And it is yet to be submitted. So I think government will take it into consideration once it is submitted. I think there was another question, Sridhar asked I think - this is the Buddhist outreach, Lumbini, why not etc. etc. See when you look at the fundamental construct of our two societies - India and Nepal, the most remarkable thing about it is the shared civilizational heritage and people to people linkages. And this is something which Prime Minister has repeatedly emphasized, right since his first visit to Nepal in 2014. His subsequent visits have only reinforced that. This time, he's travelling to Lumbini during the auspicious day of Buddha Jayanti. Buddhism is also a part of our shared civilizational heritage. I would really not see too much into it as to why now as if there is a particular motive or a driving force behind it, I think Buddhism is a shared civilizational heritage of our two societies, of our two civilization. And indeed, this visit, as I mentioned, right in the beginning, is a celebration of that civilizational heritage. I don't think you need to really read anything more into that and if you really want to; put a layer of India's neighbourhood first policy, combine the two, you have an answer.

With regard to the question from Rishikesh on the hydropower generation in Nepal and its trade with India, I'm sure you are aware that insofar as energy trade, electricity trade, power trade between Nepal and India is concerned or indeed for that matter, trade of power with any country in the neighbourhood is concerned, it is governed by the CBT guidelines, which have been issued by the Ministry of Power. And any decision to import power, to export power, to purchase power, takes place under the rubric of those guidelines. Those guidelines are not country specific. They are guidelines which are established for trade and those guidelines are very clear. They provide the framework, they provide the structure, they provide details, rules and regulations under which a power from any country can be imported. So those guidelines are very, very explicit about the trade insofar as power sector is concerned. Ms. Tripti your question relating to the cultural heritage project, the reconstruction. If you look at the post-earthquake reconstruction segment of India-Nepal cooperation partnership, you will find that insofar as reconstruction of those cultural sites, which got heavily damaged during the earthquake is concerned, there is a very large bouquet of these projects in which both India and Nepal are currently partnering. And the objective being that these mutually identified cultural sites are restored to their previous glory. There are roughly 28 such cultural heritage projects. I think some is in excess of US dollar 50 million. So, this is a fairly robust and extensive segment of our development cooperation, partnership with Nepal in which the post-earthquake reconstruction element plays a very strong role in it.

With regard to the question relating to Pancheshwar, you see, the discussions on Pancheshwar are ongoing. And it is our expectation that once the DPR of the project is finalized, the project will be able to move very quickly. During Prime Minister Deuba’s visit last month, it was agreed that the two sides would instruct their respective bureaucracies and respective technical experts to expedite this issue and put it on a fast track so that we can move towards finalization of the DPR and the subsequent execution of the project.

Dr. Adarsh Swaika, Joint Secretary (ERS): Any more questions? So if there are no other questions, we close the briefing today. Thank you all for joining us today. Thank you.

Shri Vinay Mohan Kwatra, Foreign Secretary: Thank you very much.

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