By Anil Giri/Kathmandu Post
Kathmandu, May 20: Five months after assuming office in December last year, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is all set to begin his maiden visit to India. He starts his sojourn on May 31.
Senior government officials confirmed to the Post that Dahal will undertake a four-day official visit to the southern neighbour at the invitation of his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Dahal is expected to call on Indian President Droupadi Murmu and hold delegation-level talks with Modi on June 1 in New Delhi.
Signing of some agreements, a memorandum of understanding, and a groundbreaking ceremony are expected after delegation-level talks between Dahal and Modi on June 1. Visit preparations are underway on both sides, officials said.
As the prime minister wants to make his India visit ‘special’, some remarkable agreements will be reached during the trip, said two officials privy to the developments.
Chief Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi is coordinating with agencies concerned on behalf of the prime minister in order to finalise the agenda, agreements and MoUs to be signed during the visit, according to the officials.
Some Indian ministers including the Minister for External Affairs S Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval will call on the prime minister the same day. Dahal will then take part in some functions in New Delhi before leaving for Mumbai. After completing his engagements in Mumbai, the prime minister will return to Kathmandu on June 3, said officials privy to the visit.
“I can confirm that the prime minister will go on the India visit immediately after presenting the budget in Parliament,” Foreign Minister NP Saud told the Post, adding that his ministry is working with other line ministries to determine the visit’s agenda. Finance Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat will present the fiscal budget on May 29.
After the visit’s confirmation, Saud consulted former foreign secretaries and Nepali ambassadors to India on Thursday and former foreign ministers on Friday where he solicited their views on possible talking points with the Indian side.
Former foreign ministers Sujata Koirala, Raghubir Mahaseth, Prakash Chandra Lohani, and Bhekh Bahadur Thapa were present at the meeting on Friday while former ambassadors Lokraj Baral, Dinesh Bhattarai, Durga Bhattarai, Madhu Raman Acharya, and Madan Kumar Bhattarai were in attendance in the discussion on Thursday, according to the private secretariat of Minister Saud.
Almost all those we consulted advised us to take up matters related to trade, commerce, water resources, transit, border and boundary, tourism, and strengthening cultural and people-to-people ties, said Saud.
“I asked whether the visit is just a goodwill one or if it has a specific agenda and purpose,” former minister Lohani said. “But the foreign minister and foreign ministry officials did not share any specific purpose.”
“I strongly advised them to raise the issue of the eminent persons’ group (EPG) report on Nepal-India relations and ask why the Indian prime minister is not receiving it. The report’s submission is most important and the prime minister should take it up strongly,” said Lohani. “Besides the EPG report, I also gave feedback on issues like water resources, trade, border and boundary.”
Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, another former minister and ambassador to India, who is also the coordinator of the eminent persons’ group on Nepal-India relations, also advised Minister Saud to take up the EPG report with the Indian prime minister and create a positive environment for its timely receipt.
Nepal and India formed an eight-member EPG panel in 2016 to suggest a new blueprint for Nepal-India relations in the changed global and regional contexts. The panel readied its joint report in July 2018. Due to some reservations over the panel’s recommendations, the Indian side is still considering whether and when to receive the report. While finalising it, the panel had agreed that the report would be first received by the Indian Prime Minister Modi.
In a question-answer session in Parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Dahal pointed out that he cannot say anything about the EPG report before his India visit. “Before my India visit, I cannot say whether the EPG report will be received [by the two governments],” said Dahal while responding to a question by UML’s lawmaker Raghuji Pant. “Whether India will receive the report or not, will be known after the visit. Whether we should receive the report will be decided only after talking to the Indian side.”
Senior government officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Post that preparations were in full swing to give a final shape to the agreements and the MOUs as well as a groundbreaking ceremony for some projects. Some agreements are almost final while others are under consideration.
Sources from different ministries told the Post that during the visit India will announce to set up chemical fertiliser industry in Nepal, for which Kathmandu is looking for technical and financial assistance. Similarly, four to five agreements related to hydropower, energy trade, and construction of transmission lines will be signed.
The project development agreements (PDA) of the Phukot-Karnali hydroelectric plant with an installed capacity of 480MW and Lower Arun (669MW) is in the pipeline. Nepal and India will also discuss the export of electricity generated in Nepal to Bangladesh via India, an official at the Ministry of Energy said.
There could also be an agreement on the interconnection service agreement of the Butwal-Gorakhpur cross-border transmission line. The Nepal Electricity Authority and the Power Grid Corporation of India have signed an agreement to develop the 400KV Butwal-Gorakhpur Cross-Border Transmission Line on the Indian side through joint investment. Nepal will, however, develop part of the cross-border transmission line on the Nepal side alone. Around 120km of the Butwal-Gorakhpur Transmission Line’s 135 km length is on Indian territory.
The next agreement on the energy sector is the Project Development Agreement (PDA) on Lower Arun. An agreement between Investment Board Nepal and India’s state-owned Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam was signed to develop the 679MW Lower Arun Hydropower project in eastern Nepal in July 2021. The $1.3 billion project, the single biggest foreign investment project, as per the 2017 cost estimates, is located in Sankhuwasabha and Bhojpur districts. This will be the second mega project undertaken by the southern neighbour after the $1.04 billion 900-MW Arun-3 hydroelectric project on the Arun River.
The proposed energy-related deal is an inter-governmental power trade agreement between Nepali and Indian energy ministries that will provide the overall framework for energy trade between Nepal and India. Similarly, another proposed agreement on energy is between Nepal Electricity Authority and India’s Madhyanchal Vidyut Vitaran Nigam Ltd where Nepal’s NEA would sell up to 200 to 500 MW of electricity to India. This one is still under negotiations, said officials.
Likewise, the construction of an integrated check post in Nepalgunj with Indian assistance will be announced during the visit. Moreover, the Indian side will hand over the new 17-km expanded railway line to Bijalpura. The total length of the railway from Jayanagar to Bijalpura will be 52 km, according to officials. The Jayanagar-Kurtha-Bijalpura-Bardibas railway is one of the five cross-border links being planned between Nepal and India.
The trial run of the new railway line was successfully carried out, a senior official at the Ministry of Transportation and Physical Infrastructure said and, during the visit, this railway line will be handed over to the Nepali side. Similarly, talks are going on to receive the Biratnagar-Bathnaha (India) railway line, said the officials of the ministry. Besides handing over these two railway lines, the Indian side will offer the detailed project report of the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway, said officials. During a recent meeting of railway officials, the Indian side only briefed the Nepali side on the report, rather than handing it over.
The Indian side is also expected to share the DPR of the Raxaul-Kathmandu railway for our consideration, the ministry official said.
Other agreements in the pipeline are the construction of a motorable road in Chandani-Dodhara and an agreement for a cross-border digital payment system, which is expected to boost trade and tourism by eliminating currency-related hassles. The accord will allow Indian tourists in Nepal to make digital payments using Indian e-wallets like BharatPe, PhonePe, Google Pay, and Paytm. Agreements on biodiversity, cooperation in agriculture, and microfinance are also on the cards including an amendment to the Nepal-India Transit Treaty that expired last month but gets automatic renewal for another seven years. Issues of water resources, air routes, trade, commerce, tourism, security, inundation, boundary and border, high-level exchanges, and interactions at various levels between Nepal and India are other items of the agenda of the visit.
We have yet to ascertain the visit’s agenda, Haribaol Gajurel, chief political adviser to Prime Minister Dahal said, adding, “There is clarity in some areas while discussions are underway in other areas.”
“We will discuss a whole gamut of issues, from ways to narrow down trade deficit to getting additional air entry routes to boundary matters. There will also be discussions on energy cooperation and cooperation in the agriculture sector. The prime minister is in favour of seeing some concrete progress. Crucially, we are in favour of resolving the boundary disputes through diplomatic channels,” said Gajurel.