Prime Minister Dahal’s India visit deferred until MayRailway, two-way trade, hydropower and Indian investment in Nepal are on the agenda of bilateral discussions.
The much talked about India visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been deferred until May.
Although the Indian side has already communicated the date of Dahal's state visit, the two sides have agreed not to disclose it until some agendas get a concrete shape, officials from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Post.
After the Indian side indicated that the visit can happen anytime in the first half of May, the two sets of officials have been busy finalising the text of the agreements to be signed in New Delhi, and logistics and other related preparations.
“The prime minister’s visit will get momentum when the new foreign minister is sworn in,” Haribol Gajurel, chief political adviser to the prime minister, said. “We hope it will happen before mid-May.”
NP Saud of Nepali Congress is set to be sworn in as the new foreign minister on Sunday.
Earlier, the prime minister was expected to visit New Delhi in April, but due to tricky domestic politics and lack of clarity on some of the agreements to be signed, the trip got deferred. The prime minister has received a formal invite for the visit.
“Once the two sides agree on the date and other logistics and preparations, we will formally announce the visit,” said Sewa Lamsal, the foreign ministry spokesperson.
Officials said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expedited its consultations with other ministries to streamline the agenda of the prime ministerial visit.
“A slew of agreements will be signed and we are in touch with the Indian side,” said an official privy to the developments, adding that the prime minister wants some important and remarkable agreements to be signed during the visit.
One major takeaway of the visit could be the signing of an agreement for the construction of the Raxaul-Kathmandu railway with India’s financial assistance whose detailed project report (DPR) has been prepared by the Indian consultant Konkan Railway Corporation Limited (KRCL).
KRCL has already handed over the DPR to India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
During a press conference on March 27, Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, who then held the physical infrastructure and transport portfolio, had said that the DPR of the proposed Kathmandu-Raxaul railway would be prepared within a month and the Nepali side could receive the report a month later.
To discuss the DPR of the 136 kilometre-long railway that will link Kathmandu with the Indian town Raxaul, Nepal and India are holding a meeting of their joint working group on railway by the end of this week, said an senior official at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport.
Meanwhile, the Chinese side has just started the feasibility study of a railway linking Kathmandu with Kerung. The announcement of the construction of the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway will be of geopolitical importance to both Kathmandu and New Delhi, said experts.
It would take at least 48 months to complete the feasibility study of Kerung-Kathmandu railway.
“The Indian Railways has already reached Raxaul. Geologically, it will be easier to extend to Kathmandu,” former secretary at the physical infrastructure ministry Madhusudan Adhikari said. “The Indian rail will touch Kathmandu before the Chinese rail does.”
“On the Chinese side, there are geological and other technical difficulties but that is not the case with the Indian side. There are geological advantages, the mobility of goods and people is high compared to the northern side. The Raxaul-Kathmandu railway will be more beneficial also from the economic perspective,” Adhikari added.
The proposed alignment of the railway is from Raxaul-Nijgadh to Khokana. A 40-kilometre section of this will have a tunnel and about 35 small and big bridges. The railway will have the broad gauge, even as Nepali officials have been insisting that it be made of standard gauge. In the joint technical meeting on railway, the funding modalities will be discussed, the officials said.
“We expect India to build the rail with a grant,” an official at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure said. The upcoming joint technical meeting will also discuss the investment as well as financing modalities, to be finalised during the prime minister’s visit.
Other railway-related agendas for bilateral negotiation involve building cross-border railways between Nepal and India at three other locations, expansion of the service of the Janakpur-Jaynagar railway to Bardibas.
The second major breakthrough during the state visit could be in energy sector cooperation, the officials said.
The preparation of the project development agreements (PDA) of Phukot-Karnali hydroelectric plant with an installed capacity of 480 megawatts and Lower Arun (669MW). Nepal and India will also be discussing the export of electricity generated in Nepal to Bangladesh via India. A government-to-government agreement for the sale of Nepal-generated electricity to the Indian market for 25 years is also on the agenda.
Moreover, the Nepali side will request for a regular meeting of the Nepal-India Boundary Working Group (BWG) that is mandated to carry out works in the fields of construction, restoration and repair of boundary pillars, including the clearance of ‘no-man’s land’ and other technical tasks, sorting out the issues related to boundary and border.
Nepal is also seeking air routes for the swift operationalisation of Bhairahawa and Pokhara airports. Kathmandu has been badgering the southern neighbour for air entry points through Mahendranagar and Nepalgunj in order to facilitate aircraft movement to the two new international airports in Bhairahawa and Pokhara.
Import of 300,000 tonnes of wheat from India, supply of chemical fertilisers and signing of an agreement for cross-border digital payments using e-wallet are on Nepal’s wish list at the forthcoming talks.
Nepal and India have several other outstanding issues related to trade, commerce, transit and India-funded projects in Nepal, which are also likely to feature at the bilateral talks in New Delhi.
This will be the return visit of the prime minister after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Nepal last year.