File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in New Delhi in 2016 (Photo: IANS)
Kathmandu: Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has set course to India—his first overseas visit after the new government in Kathmandu was formed.
The visiting Prime Minister will hold full-spectrum talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which include energy exports, digital payment mechanisms and construction of a cross-border oil pipeline.
Analysts say that Dahal aka Prachanda is following Nepal’s established tradition of the Prime Minister making India as his first port of call.
According to the itinerary made public by Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prachanda is scheduled to hold delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House on Thursday.
The signing of some agreements, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), and a ground-breaking ceremony are expected after the talks, according to the ministry.
Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ emplanes for Delhi from Nepal’s Kathmandu for his four-day visit to India.
(Source: Nepal PM Secretariat) pic.twitter.com/PcS7zfMe94
— ANI (@ANI) May 31, 2023
Nepal has a long listed a long agenda that Prime Minister Dahal plans to discuss and reach an understanding with New Delhi during his trip to the southern neighbour.
Prime Minister Dahal on Monday informed the parliament that the two countries would discuss issues of energy, trade, transit, irrigation, floods and inundation, securing more air routes for Nepal from Indian territory and construction of integrated check posts and an Inland Container Depot (with help of India) among others.
He hinted that cooperation in the energy sector will be one of the big-ticket items on the agenda. “Hydropower is an important sector to forge partnership with India,” he said, informing the Nepali parliament about his visit. “Securing Indian investment by ensuring benefits for Nepal, construction of cross border transmission lines for bilateral power trade and securing the base for electricity export to India will be issues of the discussions between the two sides.”
He said that there would also be a solid discussion on exporting Nepal’s power to Bangladesh through the Indian territory.
There will also be the discussions on concluding the detailed project report (DPR) of the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project to be developed in the Mahakali (Kali) which borders two counties in the western side of the Himalayan country.
There has been little progress in developing the project which is an integral part of the Mahakali Treaty signed in 1996 between two countries. Slow progress in development of the project which is supposed to irrigate large swathes of land of both countries and generate as much as 6480 MW of power, has only given more excuses to Nepal’s critics of the treaty to scorn the political leadership which had signed the treaty.
The treaty had become very controversial in the Himalayan country when it was signed because of perceived little benefit to Nepal compared to India.
In a press briefing about Dahal’s visit to India , Nepali Foreign Minister Narayan Prakash Saud also confirmed that efforts would be made to reach a long-term electricity purchase and sale agreement between Nepal and India.
“We are trying to make a long-term power deal with India to increase investment in the electricity sector in Nepal and to ensure that the electricity produced in Nepal can be sold,” Foreign Minister Saud said in a press conference, as quoted by myrepulica.com, a web portal of Republica daily in Nepal. “After investing millions of rupees in the electricity sector in Nepal, its products can be sold and Investors should be reassured.’
Earlier, a senior official at the Nepal’s Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation had told the India Narrative that Nepal has proposed to sign a 25-year long ‘Intergovernmental Agreement for Power Transfer from Nepal to India.’
Nepal had first proposed to sign such an agreement during the 10th Secretary-level meeting of the Joint Steering Committee on Energy Cooperation in India this February.
Both Prime Ministers are also scheduled to lay the foundation stone of the 400KV Butwal-Gorakhpur Cross-Border Transmission Line, a joint project of the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and the Power Grid Corporation of India.
“A joint venture company established in India has already hired a contractor to construct the transmission line on the Indian territory,” Dirghyu Kumar Shrestha, chief of the transmission directorate at the NEA, had earlier told the India Narrative.
Inauguration of the New Modi-Lekhnath Transmission Line in western Nepal, which has been constructed with the assistance of the Exim Bank of India, is also scheduled to take place during the PM’s India visit.
When it comes to the transport sector, the Indian side will hand over the new 17-km expanded railway line to Bijalpura from Nepal’s Kurta, an official of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, earlier told the India Narrative.
This is the extended part of the Jayanagar to Kurtha railway line which will be extended further to Bardibas in Nepal. Being built with Indian assistance, the passenger railway line is currently under operation from the Indian border town Jayanagar to Kurtha.
The Indian company undertaking the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the proposed Raxaul-Kathmandu Railway is likely to share the DPR of the project during PM Dahal’s visit, according to the official. Konkan Railway Corporation Limited is undertaking the DPR.
Securing extra air routes through Indian air space is another major agenda, according to PM Dahal’s speech at the parliament.
On May 24, a seven-member technical team led by Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation met Indian officials and held talks about the possibility of getting the new entry points.
“Discussions are ongoing. We are hopeful,” Lamichhane told The Kathmandu Post, an English daily in Nepal. “We have requested India to make the L626 route, which passes over Kathmandu-Mahendranagar-Delhi, bi-directional.”
Nepal had first formally requested India to allow air access through Janakpur, Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj and Mahendranagar during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Kathmandu in 2014.
These air routes will facilitate the movement of international flights, particularly those coming from western Nepal, to the two new international airports in Bhairahawa and Pokhara.
During the visit, Nepal PM also wants to reach a certain understanding on revising the Nepal-India Treaty of Transit which was automatically renewed in 2020.
“There will also be efforts to conclude the new transit treaty between the two sides,” PM Dahal told parliament. “The (draft of the) transit treaty has been prepared after extensive bilateral discussions.”
A senior official of Nepal’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supply told the Indian Narrative earlier that Nepal wants more relaxation in provisions that cause procedural delay in shipment of goods to and from the third countries, without specifying the details.
According to another official of Nepal’s Commerce Ministry, there is a plan to inaugurate Integrated Check Post (ICP) in bordering Nepalgunj customs point of south-western town during this visit. The ICP was built with Indian assistance. “The two sides are also expected to lay a foundation stone for the construction of another ICP at Bhairahawa customs point of Nepal with the Indian assistance,” the official said.
An MoU is also scheduled to be signed on the construction of a motorable road in Chandani-Dodhara bordering Nepal’s Sudur Paschim province and India’s Uttarakhand of India, according to the official.
Prime Minister Dahal also hinted that such an agreement for the bridge is on cards during his address to the parliament.
Nepal’s media reported that more agreements could be signed during Dahal’s visit. The Kathmandu Post earlier reported that signing of an agreement for a cross-border digital payment system is also in the pipeline.
The digital payment system 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.
Likewise, according to Nepali media reports, there is also a plan to sign a pact on building a petroleum pipeline from Siliguri in West Bengal, India to Charali, Jhapa, bordering district of Nepal and extending the existing Motihari-Amlekhgunj pipeline to the Lothar, Chitwan in the western side of the southern plain.
Nepali officials said that even though it is not a major issue, the boundary dispute would also be on Nepal PM’s agenda.
There are boundary disputes between Nepal and India particularly over Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura.