Deuba leaving for India on Sunday for four-day visit; some deals on cardsThree memorandums of understanding including one on chemical fertiliser, a key issue, likely to be signed.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is set to leave for India. His itinerary, however, has slightly changed. Though he was set to fly to India on January 10, as per the revised travel plan, he will be leaving on January 9 for New Delhi from where he would fly to Gujarat to participate in the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have expedited preparations to finalise the agenda of the visit, multiple officials said.
The prime minister will be leading a 30-member delegation.
According to two officials familiar with the visit, Deuba has called a meeting with Cabinet ministers for Wednesday to draw up the agenda for his meetings with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and other officials.
According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Sewa Lamsal, both sides will jointly announce Prime Minister Deuba’s visit to India.
“As of now, the prime minister’s four-day visit to India has been finalised and preparations are underway,” Lamsal told the Post. “Discussions are still going on at different levels. We don’t have anything concrete as yet to share with the media apart from the fact that the visit has been confirmed.”
Though this is Deuba’s second foreign trip since he was appointed prime minister on July 13, for the fifth time, the visit to India is his first official one.
In November last year, Deuba travelled to Glasgow of Scotland to participate in the UN climate conference. He had held an informal bilateral meeting with Modi in Glasgow as well.
Any Nepali prime minister’s visit to India is followed keenly both in Kathmandu and Delhi. The change in plan also has piqued interests in Nepal.
As per an earlier plan, after participating in the Gujarat summit, Deuba was supposed to fly to Delhi to hold official meetings.
“No big breakthrough is expected on the political and security fronts like boundary dispute and others,” a senior official familiar with the development told the Post. “They might use a broad language like all disputed issues will be sorted out amicably and in consensus.”
Deuba’s visit to India comes on the heels of his comeback as a strong leader in the Nepali Congress from the party’s recently concluded general convention.
“As of now at least three Memorandums of Understanding on different sectors have been planned for signing in New Delhi,” another senior government official said. “Besides signing the MoUs, the prime minister will make a strong pitch for investment and tourism promotion during his meeting with Modi and while using the platform of the Gujarat summit.”
Sources said an MoU will be on importing chemical fertiliser from India under a government-to-government deal, which has been pending for quite a while.
During his meeting with Modi in November in Glasgow also, Deuba had raised the issue and urged the Indian prime minister to expedite the process.
“Since the agenda of procuring chemical fertiliser from India has been on the table for a long time, this time we are expecting a breakthrough,” said the official.
Nepal is set to face shortages of chemical fertilisers which could spell an economic disaster.
In June, Nepali and Indian officials had discussed the signing of a five-year deal to supply chemical fertilisers to Nepal.
“We have received a letter regarding the signing of the MoU from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” said Minister for Agriculture Mahindra Raya Yadav. “The prime minister has called a meeting tomorrow at 3pm. We will know the details then.”
As per the proposed deal, Nepal can buy up to 200,000 tonnes of chemical fertilisers, mostly urea, per year from the southern neighbour without issuing a global tender. The amount will be enough to meet Nepal’s 30 percent annual fertilizer requirement.
Another understanding is related to commencing the cross-border Kurtha-Jayanagar rail service that has been awaiting final approval from both sides for a long time. After signing the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in October last year, India in the same month handed over the 34.9km Kurtha-Jayanagar section of the railway infrastructure to Nepal.
The new infrastructure was built for broad gauge railway operation by replacing old infrastructure for narrow-gauge railway service, which had stopped seven and a half years ago.
“Now we have a new law to operate the railway after the government introduced the Railway Bill but still some technical issues need to be sorted out,” Dipak Kumar Bhattarai, director general of the Department of Railways, told the Post. “We hope to finalise the technical cooperation in the railway sector.”
Another MoU is about rebuilding around 137 health posts with the Indian assistance that Delhi had announced in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes.
India had pledged $1 billion for post-earthquake reconstruction of Nepal and out of that sum, Rs25 billion is in aid and Rs75 billion in soft loan.
“The technical and financial details are yet to be known,” said a joint-secretary at the Ministry of Urban Development that is now assigned to look after the reconstruction work.
Some other issues likely to figure in the meeting are Nepal’s plan to sell electricity in the Indian market, providing air entry routes to Nepal crucial for operating the Bhairahawa airport close to the border, renovation of the central library at the Tribhuvan University and some economic packages that India is currently considering at the top political level, said Nepali officials.
Since some heads of state, top industrialists and business leaders from India and abroad are participating in the Gujarat summit, the prime minister will use the platform to attract investments to Nepal, according to officials.
Due to the fast spreading Covid variant, Omicron, the prime minister will be leading a small delegation and he will make a stopover in New Delhi on January 9 and leave for Gandhinagar the next day.
On January 10, the Prime Minister will participate in the summit; will meet Modi and some other leaders on the sidelines of the summit, said officials who are preparing the visit.
Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit, is a biennial event conceptualised in 2003, and the 2022 event on January 10-12 is the 10th iteration.
Sources said Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka held consultation with over a dozen government secretaries on Tuesday to discuss the possible agenda items for the prime minister’s India visit and urged the secretaries to provide inputs to ministers.
“On the issue of political, security, boundary and other matters, the prime minister will consult other ruling party leaders as well,” said a minister. “Since this is not a bilateral visit and he is meeting with Modi on the sidelines, sensitive political, security and boundary-related issues will just be touched upon.”
The Post has learned that the prime minister has also requested visits to some religious sites in Gujarat like Somnath Temple and Dwaraka Temple.
Soon after he was appointed prime minister, Deuba had received an invitation to visit India.
“But he had requested a delay as the party’s general convention was just round the corner,” said a leader close to Deuba.