Nepal PM’s Visit To India: The Many Hits And A Few Misses

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 03, 2023, 05:26 PM | Updated 05:37 PM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal at Hyderabad House in New Delhi Thursday (1 June)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal at Hyderabad House in New Delhi Thursday (1 June)
  • Three issues were on top of the agenda of Prime Minister Dahal. But failure to extract concrete commitments from India on the same, has left Kathmandu dismayed. 
  • The four-day visit by Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who prefers to be called ‘Prachanda’ (his nom de guerre) started off on a tepid note on Wednesday (31 May). 

    Soon after ‘Prachanda’ checked in at a plush suite at ITC Maurya in New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra called on him. 

    Kwatra, it is learnt, suggested that a final agreement on three deals that Nepal had on top its agenda be delayed. 

    “Nepal was very keen on India allowing use of its airspace for flights bound for the Bhairahawa international airport, signing a 25-year agreement on export of electricity from Nepal and a final settlement of the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project,” a senior officer of India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) told Swarajya

    But Kwatra’s suggestion dismayed the Nepali delegation. Top Nepali officials accompanying ‘Prachanda’ told the latter that if New Delhi does not relent on these three deals, Kathmandu should also refuse to sign the deals on Lower Arun and Phukot Karnali hydropower projects that India was keen on.

    There was gloom in the Nepal camp and ‘Prachanda’ himself was crestfallen at the prospect of his first foreign visit since taking over as Prime Minister for the third time in December last year coming a cropper. 

    But, according to the Nepal Prime Minister himself, things changed dramatically when he had a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House Thursday (1 June) morning. 

    “I had three one-on-one meetings with Modiji which eased the situation. A lot of hard work was done. At one point I was worried and under pressure that we would not be able to deliver what we had come for. I see Modiji’s initiative in easing the pressure and helping us achieve what we have from this visit,” the Nepali Prime Minister told a member of the media team from Nepal accompanying him. 

    This senior journalist from Nepal who did not want to be named told Swarajya that ‘Prachanda’ was “very happy” with the visit and told the accompanying mediapersons that “a new history is being written on ties” between the two countries.

    “Our Prime Minister (Dahal) was happy that he could convince Prime Minister Modi that resolving the Kalapani border dispute was essential to taking ties between the two countries to new heights. He (Dahal) obtained a firm commitment from Prime Minister Modi that the border dispute will be resolved amicably through foreign secretary-level talks,” the Nepali journalist said. 

    Prime Minister Dahal told his delegation while flying to Indore Friday (2 June) noon that he was “very happy” with his visit to India and that “a number of issues had been resolved and agreements reached”.

    Prime Minister Modi had said that the visit of the Nepali PM and the agreements reached during the visit would “take bilateral ties to Himalayan heights”. 

    But shorn of all that rhetoric, the visit left many in Nepal quite disheartened. That’s because the high expectations raised before the visit had not been met. A senior Nepali foreign ministry official who was part of the delegation told Swarajya  that “despite the many hits of the visit, there were some glaring misses”. 

    Swarajya pieced together the ‘hits’ and ‘misses’ after speaking to India’s MEA officials as well as members of the Nepali delegation accompanying Prime Minister Dahal. 

    The hits: 

    • Revised transit treaty allowing Nepal access to Indian inland waterways

    • Agreement on India allowing Nepal use of its territory and transmission lines to export 40 MW power to Bangladesh

    • Development of 480 MW Phukot Karnali Hydropower Project in Nepal by India’s public-sector NHPC

    • Project Development Agreement (PDA) signed for 679 MW Lower Arun Hydropower Project by India’s public-sector Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam 

    • Inauguration of 400 KV Gorakhpur-Butwal transmission line, the second high capacity transmission line between the two countries

    • Handing over of Kurthea-Bijapur railway line to Nepal

    • Agreement on inaugural run of Indian railway cargo train on the newly-constructed rail line between Bathnaha (India) to customs yard in Nepal 

    • Inauguration of integrated checkposts (ICPs) at Nepalgunj (Nepal) and Rupaidiha (India)

    • Ground-breaking ceremony of ICPs at Bhairahawa (Nepal) and Sonauli (India)

    • Ground-breaking ceremony of Phase II facilities on the Motihari-Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline

    • Ground-breaking ceremony of the Indian portion of Gorakhpur-Butwal transmission line  

    • MoU signed for cooperation in petroleum infrastructure

    • MoU between Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Services and Institute of Foreign Affairs (Nepal)

    • MoU for development of infrastructure at Dodhara Chandani check post along Indo-Nepal border

    • MoU for cross-border digital payments to facilitate trade between two countries

    The misses (according to Nepal):

    • Nepal wanted an umbrella agreement for 25 years to export power to India. But only an agreement in principle at the level of the two Prime Ministers was reached for ten years. Signing a formal agreement and exchange of letters between the two sides has been deferred

    • Failure to reach an agreement on use of Indian airspace for commercial jets headed to Gautam Buddha International Airport at Bhairahawa in Nepal’s Lumbini province.

    India has agreed to allow commercial aircraft bound for Bhairahawa access on one air route (L626) that enters Nepal from Mahendranagar (Bhimdatta) adjoining Uttarakhand, and that too for low-altitude flights (flying between 15,000 feet and 24,000 feet).

    Nepal says that this low-altitude flight path is uneconomical for commercial jetliners and that this air entry route was allowed, anyway, by India in June 2018 (read this newspaper report). 

    Kathmandu says that India has not honoured its earlier commitment (made in 2018) of reviewing the matter in September that year and considering Nepal’s request to facilitate commercial flights bound for Bhairahawa to make the airport viable

    Nepal accuses India of dragging its feet on even preparing the detailed project report (DPR) for the project which has been left hanging for the last 26 years.

    The two Prime Ministers have, once again, agreed to have the DPR ready within a year. But a similar agreement was reached during Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to New Delhi in April 2022.

    These three issues were on top of the agenda of Prime Minister Dahal. But failure to extract concrete commitments from India on these three matters has left Kathmandu dismayed. 

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