Nepal, India likely to ink Covid vaccine pact during Gyawali’s visit to New DelhiMemoranda of understanding expected to be signed on Pancheshwar project, border security and medical cooperation.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Pradeep Gyawali is all set to embark on his visit to New Delhi on January 14 to participate in the sixth meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission.
The two neighbours have already started exchanging the texts of at least a couple of memoranda of understanding expected to be signed during the Nepali minister’s trip to the Indian capital. As one of the MoUs is related to cooperation in the health sector, some officials believe this could entail an agreement on the procurement of Covid vaccines from India
“Preparations for the joint commission meeting are in their final stages,” Nepal’s Ambassador to India Nilamber Acharya, told the Post. “The visit also signifies that Nepal-India relations move forward even during difficult circumstances.”
Sources familiar with preparations for the highest-level dialogue mechanism between the two countries set up to discuss the entire gamut of bilateral ties, told the Post that a wide range of issues, including the boundary dispute between the two countries, management of the open border, the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, the trade and transit treaty between Nepal and India could be discussed and some bilateral MoUs could be signed during Gyawali’s visit.
As of Tuesday, some breakthroughs are being expected in bilateral negotiations over the Pancheshwar Multi-purpose Project, a secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office said. Dinesh Ghimire, secretary at the Ministry of Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation visited New Delhi last week and he is reported to have told officials that a positive outcome in the long-drawn project is likely during Gyawali’s visit.
Ghimire also organised a press conference in Kathmandu last week and said that some crucial issues related to the development of the project have been resolved with the Indian side.
Though both sides have yet to announce the dates for the visit, sources at the Nepali embassy in Kathmandu told the Post that Gyawali will land in New Delhi on January 14. Officials involved in the preparations of the visit told the Post that the joint commission meeting could be scheduled for either January 14-15 or January 15 -16.
A proposal is being prepared to sign a memorandum of understanding to further cooperate in the health sector between Nepal and India. The MoU could include an agreement on the procurement of Covid vaccines from India, as well as cooperation between the medical councils of the two countries.
“As Nepal has already requested India to help procure vaccines, an understanding could be reached in this regard,” an official said. Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra had met Health Minister Hridyesh Tripathi on December 31 and discussed importing Indian Covid vaccines to Nepal.
Kwatra’s Nepali counterpart in New Delhi Nilamber Acharya is also reported to have met senior officials from the Pune-based Serum Institute of India which is manufacturing the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and discussed the possibility of providing the jabs to Nepal. “We have received credible assurances from India on providing the Covid vaccine,” Acharya told the Post.
Similarly, the MoU between medical councils of Nepal and India will be aimed at mutual certification of medical students. After the MoU is signed India’s medical council will recognise certificates issued by Nepal’s medical council, Jageshwor Gautam, spokesperson for the health ministry said. As of now, Nepal’s medical council recognised certificates issued by the Indian medical council, but the Indian medical council doesn’t recognise certificates issued by the Nepali medical council.
The countries are expected to reach an agreement on the development of Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu with Indian assistance.
Apart from these MoUs, according to the officials privy to the developments, another MoU is expected to be signed to eliminate cross-border circulation of counterfeit currency notes.
“It is not just counterfeit Indian notes that circulate in the border area, fake Nepali notes are also being circulated,” Chakra Bahadur Budha, spokesperson for the home ministry said. “I do not know whether an MoU has been prepared already, but a proposal was prepared on the issue.”
On the political and security front, matters related to boundary disputes, high-level visits from both sides, the signing the extradition treaty, security challenges posed by the open border, and the report prepared by Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal-India relations are expected to be on the agenda.
“We need to have a deeper conversation with India on boundary matters. So we have to wait until the meeting,” a serving Nepali diplomat told the Post. “We can not expect a final settlement of the border dispute, but can expect some progress.”
On issues related to trade, transit and commerce, the Nepali side has proposed a couple of memoranda of understanding and letters of exchange, said officials.
According to Nepali officials, Nepal has proposed an amendment to the Trade treaty and transit treaty and the bilateral Railway Service Agreement.
During the course of the meeting, Gyawali and his counterpart S Jaishankar are also likely to discuss a proposal to pave the way for Nepal to import chemical fertilizers from India. A request to this end was made during the visit to Kathmandu by Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in November.
As Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the House on December 20, Gyawali will be travelling to Delhi as the foreign minister of a caretaker government.
Gyawali’s visit to Delhi comes on the heels of fast-paced political developments in Kathmandu and a flurry of visits by officials from both India and China.
After a lack of bilateral dialogue between Nepal and India as relations had soured between the two countries over border issues, Delhi took the initiative for a rapprochement in October by sending the chief of Research & Analysis Wing, India’s foreign spy agency. India’s Army chief and the foreign secretary then visited Kathmandu in November. The Chinese defence minister had also landed in Kathmandu the same month.
When Oli dissolved the House on December 20, there were doubts that the bilateral meeting would go ahead. But after both sides agreed to continue talks, decks were cleared for Gyawali’s visit, officials said.