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Modi, Deuba to continue talks on hydropower, connectivity

By Suhasini Haidar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepal counterpart, Sher Bahadur Deuba, will focus on connectivity and electricity projects during their bilateral talks on Monday, when Mr. Modi travels to Lumbini to attend Buddha Purnima celebrations.

Giving details of the Prime Minister’s visit to Nepal, which will span only a few hours, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said it was significant that the bilateral meeting was taking place just a month after Mr. Deuba visited India for talks on April 1-3.

“In their bilateral talks, the two Prime Ministers will pick up from where they left off in Delhi just last month and 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,” Mr. Kwatra told mediapersons on Friday.

The leaders are expected to sign some agreements after the meeting, although officials said they were still being finalised.

This is the first visit to Nepal by Mr. Modi since the Kalapani-Susta dispute broke out between the two countries in 2020, and Nepal amended its Constitution to incorporate a new map showing parts of India in its territory.

Asked whether the issue would be discussed by the two leaders, Mr. Kwatra said boundary issues would be discussed by established bilateral mechanisms, which, he said, were the “best way forward in discussing those issues, discussing in a responsible manner without politicisation of the [border] issues”.

Mr. Kwatra said the Prime Minister would begin his visit to Lumbini with a visit to the Mayadevi temple, followed by a foundation stone-laying ceremony for a Buddhist cultural centre in the complex.

However, the Foreign Secretary sidestepped a question about Nepali media reports that suggest that Mr. Modi would be flying to Lumbini by helicopter from Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh rather than flying directly due to the fact that the Gautam Buddha airport in Lumbini, which will be inaugurated by Mr. Deuba on Monday, has been built by a Chinese infrastructure company.

According to the Kathmandu Post, a high-level Chinese delegation is expected to attend the inauguration of the airport at Bhairahawa, about 10 kilometres from the Lumbini complex, and the Indian delegation sought to avoid the event.

“I don’t think it’s correct for me or for anybody else to comment on those issues, because those involve many parameters, including security,” Mr. Kwatra said.

The Gautam Buddha airport is Nepal’s second international airport, and the government has been keen to discuss opening new air services between the two countries connecting the new airport.

Power sector cooperation

During the bilateral talks, the leaders are expected to take forward the “Joint Vision Statement” on power sector cooperation that was released during Mr. Deuba’s visit to Delhi.

Nepal has invited Indian companies to invest in the development and operation of renewable power projects. Speaking at a public event this week, Mr. Deuba said he would raise the issue of the long-pending 6,480 MW Pancheshwar multipurpose dam project, which has yet to make headway despite several attempts by both sides to kickstart it, especially during Mr. Deuba’s previous tenure five years ago when he visited India.

Mr. Kwatra said the project would be “fast-tracked” once the Detailed Project Report (DPR) is finalised by both sides. The original DPR for the Pancheshwar dam was presented in 1995, while a second DPR was filed in 2018, but the project has not yet taken off from the ground.

Another proposal that has not made much progress is the report of the “Eminent Person’s Group” (EPG) to upgrade relations and update bilateral treaties, which was announced by Mr. Modi during his visit to Nepal in 2014. The final report was completed in 2018.

Asked whether the EPG report had been shelved given that there has been no movement since 2018, the Foreign Secretary said the group had not submitted its report to the government yet.

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