Nepal-India Joint Commission will only review past agreements, with nothing new on the agendaIndian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will arrive next week to review all bilateral issues with Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, but there is nothing new on the agenda.
With Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar arriving on August 21, the long-awaited fifth meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission has nothing new to discuss.
The meeting is taking place after three years, where Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali will be sitting with Jaishankar to discuss and review all aspects of bilateral ties. However, the agenda is likely to rehash issues discussed in the past, rather than anything new, said foreign ministry officials.
This will be the first high-level visit from India since the reelection of Narendra Modi for his second term in May. Jaishankar is a controversial figure in Nepal for his role during India’s 2015 blockade, and his visit comes on the heels of bilateral irritants, including water-logging on the Nepal side of the border due to Indian infrastructure, disputes over pesticide residue tests on imported Indian vegetables and fruits; and the cancellation of the proposed International Indian Film Academy awards.
“We will review past agreements, projects and commitments. No new issues will come up in the meeting,” said Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi. “We will make a comprehensive review of all aspects of Nepal-India relations under five broad clusters namely political, security and boundary; economic cooperation and infrastructure; trade and transit; power and water resources; culture and education.”
All previous pacts, agreements and projects will be discussed within the purview of those five clusters. The report prepared by the Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal-India Relations, which has yet to be submitted to the prime ministers of the two countries, will also be discussed. The report prepared last year remains with the Group.
“We will be pitching it during the meeting so that an environment can be created to put its suggestions into action,” said a Nepali official familiar with the agenda of the upcoming meeting.
At the top of the agenda is clearing bottlenecks for India-funded projects in Nepal including inundation on the Nepal side of the border during the rainy season; the construction of roads and bridges; cross-order connectivity, including railways; inland waterways; Nepal’s request to use two additional Indian ports in Gujarat and Odisha; energy banking; early financial closure of the Upper Karnali hydropower project; inauguration of an integrated check-post in Biratnagar; cross-border petroleum pipeline and transmission lines; and the finalisation of projects to utilise grant and loan offered by the Government of India for reconstruction.
Speaking at an event on Wednesday, Gyawali said that India-funded projects that have been in limbo for nearly 20 years should be dropped.
“Let's drop projects that have been pending for so long,” he said. “They are only creating irritants between the two countries.”
Gyawali did not mention those projects by name but said that an understanding had been reached between Nepal and India during the Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s state visit to India in April. During Oli’s visit, Nepal and India had agreed to develop a cross-border railway connecting Kathmandu with Raxaul, a bordering Indian city; develop inland waterways from Kolkata to the Nepal border via the Ganga river; and cooperation in the agriculture sector.
“It looks like this government does not want to expedite old projects but wants to execute the promises made during Oli’s visit to India,” said one official on condition of anonymity.
The Joint Commission at the foreign minister level is the highest mechanism that will review all aspects of bilateral ties between the two countries, and is empowered to take decisions as well as carve out a new blueprint. The last meeting of the commission was held in New Delhi in 2016. The upcoming meeting should have been held in February, but was postponed due to the Indian parliamentary elections.
During his time in Kathmandu, Jaishankar is expected to meet with President Bidya Devi Bhandari, the prime minister, and other senior political leaders. Jaishankar will interact with a broad spectrum of Nepali political leaders to discuss what the new government in India thinks about Nepal and, most importantly, help New Delhi carve out its Nepal policy, officials familiar with the plans told the Post.
Jaishankar had travelled several times to Kathmandu as foreign secretary, and once in September 2015 as a special emissary of Modi prior to the promulgation of the new constitution in Nepal. His communication with the top political leadership in Nepal was widely criticised, and later, a blockade was imposed after his return to New Delhi.
The agenda includes Nepal’s ballooning trade deficit with India, signing the mutual recognition agreement with India for pesticide residue test, completing the detailed project report of Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project to start further action, compensation for Nepali citizens as per Gandak Agreement, early completion of the link canal and head regulator at Tanakpur barrage for the discharge of water to Nepal as per the provision of Mahakali Treaty.
Other discussions will be on the synchronisation of customs and connectivity at the ICD Dodhara-Chandani, and border points at Dodhara-Chandani-Khatima and Dhangadhi-Gauriphanta, among others.