Jaishankar to begin two-day visit to Nepal on January 4, power pacts on agenda – The Hindu

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Updated – January 02, 2024 06:45 am IST
Published – January 01, 2024 10:42 pm IST – NEW DELHI
Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar. File. | Photo Credit: AP
An agreement on the modalities of purchasing 10,000 MW of hydropower from Nepal and discussions on air connectivity issues, digital payments, and the inauguration of development projects funded by India are all on the agenda as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar heads to Kathmandu for a two-day visit on January 4 and 5.
The visit to Nepal, the first foreign policy foray by the government in 2024, is long overdue, as the Joint Commission Meeting, to be held between Mr. Jaishankar and Nepali Foreign Minister N.P. Saud, has been pending for several months. The last meeting was held in January 2021.
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The visit will also see the first such bilateral exchange between the External Affairs Minister and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka Prachanda. Mr. Jaishankar was travelling abroad when the Nepal Prime Minister visited India in June 2023, although they did interact during Mr. Dahal’s previous tenures when Mr. Jaishankar was Foreign Secretary.
According to sources, a long-term agreement on power and modalities of the decision made in June 2023 “to increase the quantum of export of power, as an objective, from Nepal to India to 10,000 MW within the next 10 years”, would be the major announcement of the visit, something Mr. Prachanda indicated to the media last month.
Technical experts have been discussing the plans for buying Nepal power exports, investments, and construction in power-generation projects, as well as a breakthrough plan to allow Nepal transmission rights to sell power to Bangladesh. During Mr. Prachanda’s visit to Delhi, India agreed to permit the “first trilateral power transaction from Nepal to Bangladesh via India” for up to 40 MW.
“Mr. Jaishankar’s visit for the Joint Commission Meeting is a very positive step, and indicates both sides are moving forward with this formal structure in the bilateral relationship,” Sujeev Shakya, Chairman of Nepal Economic Forum, said, describing the process for the high-level engagement, launched in 1991, that will be held for the first time during Mr. Prachanda’s present tenure. He assumed office in December 2022.
“Any progress on the power agreement will be important for Nepal as it seeks to increase power exports to India and third countries in the region like Bangladesh,” he added.
However, it is unclear whether the two sides will discuss the other structural grouping, of a report by the Eminent Person’s Group (EPG) proposed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to Nepal in August 2014 and formed in 2016, according to which both sides had agreed to study and suggest measures to update the 1950 India-Nepal Friendship treaty and to improve bilateral ties.
The EPG group of diplomats and experts, which finalised the report in July 2018, has not been able to present the report to Mr. Modi so far. More than five years later, the report is in danger of being shelved.
Another unresolved issue remains over Mr. Prachanda’s appeal to Mr. Modi during his visit to India to permit international flights to fly over India in order to access two of Nepal’s new airports at Pokhara and Bhairahawa, near the Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini.
India has not agreed to the overflights thus far, understood to be over the fact that the airports have been constructed with support from China. In June 2023, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said that the issue would require “extensive technical examination” as the airspace issue could “interfere with space commanded by the [Indian] Airforce”.
Meanwhile, in the absence of the permission, the two airports, connected to important tourist destinations in Nepal, have not been able to bring in the required revenues from international airlines and foreign tourists, leading to worries over a “debt trap”.
During the visit, Mr. Jaishankar is expected to inaugurate some high-impact community development programmes, said officials, including the new central library built with Indian assistance at the Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu. He will also take forward discussions over road, railways, and inland waterways connectivity, discussed between Mr. Prachanda and Mr. Modi last year. After holding the Joint Commission talks on January 4, Mr. Jaishankar is due to meet leaders from across political parties on January 5, before returning to Delhi.
As no international dignitaries have been being invited to the upcoming inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, talks between Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Prachanda will be watched for any discussions on the event. Last January, Nepali priests had shipped two Shaligram stones from the Kaligandaki river meant to be used for idols. They are expected to be used in the temple’s construction.
Nepal / international relations
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