Swaraj arrives in Nepal for Joint Commission meeting

sushma_swarajExternal Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reached Kathmandu on Friday on a three-day visit during which she will co-chair a meeting of the Joint Commission, taking place after a gap of 23 years, with her Nepalese counterpart to discuss key political, security and border issues.

The Joint Commission meeting (JCM) will take place tomorrow and will have five clusters — political, security and border issues; economic co-operation and infrastructure; trade and transit; power and water resources; and culture, education and media.

Swaraj’s visit is also expected to prepare the ground for a two-day visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi next month.

Modi will arrive here on August 3 on a two-day official trip, the first bilateral visit by an Indian premier in over 17 years. In 1997, then Prime Minister I K Gujral had visited Nepal.

The last Indian Prime Minister to visit Nepal was A B Vajpayee in 2002 for a SAARC summit.

During her stay here, Swaraj will also call on top leadership including Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and hold meetings with leaders across the political spectrum, including Maoist leader Prachanda.

The Indian delegation for the JCM will comprise officials from various ministries including Power, Water Resources, Commerce, Road Transport, Railways, Human Resources Development, Culture, besides the MEA and Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

Even though the meeting of JCM was taking place after a long period, India has 25 bilateral mechanisms with Nepal where both are interacting on a regular basis.

The visit, first by Swaraj after becoming External Affairs Minister, is also likely to push trade ties between the two countries. At present the annual bilateral trade is approximately USD 4.7 billion and India accounts for 47 per cent of foreign direct investment in Nepal.

Swaraj is here on Foreign Minister Mahendra Pandey’s invitation.

There are six million Nepalese workers in India. Annually three thousand Nepalese are provided scholarships by India.

India’s new government has already outlined its priority of improving ties with the neighbouring countries and as part of that effort Prime Minister Modi has already visited Bhutan.

As close neighbours, India and Nepal share a unique relationship of friendship and cooperation characterised by open borders and deep-rooted people-to-people contacts.

There has been a long tradition of free movement of people across the borders. Nepal shares a border of over 1850 km to the south with five Indian states – Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

External Affairs Minister in the UPA government S M Krishna had visited Nepal in January 2010 and again in April 2011.

Then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had visited Nepal in November 2011.

The India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 is the bedrock of the special relations that exist between India and Nepal.

Under the provisions of the treaty, Nepalese citizens have enjoyed unparallelled advantages in India, availing the facilities and opportunities on par with Indian citizens.

The Treaty enabled Nepal to overcome the disadvantages of being a land-locked country. Overtime, many regimes in Nepal have raised the issue of revision of the treaty. India has maintained that it is willing to examine all bilateral arrangements with a view to further strengthening ties.

India contributes to the development efforts of Nepal by undertaking various projects in the areas of infrastructure, health, rural and community development and education.

India continues to be Nepal’s largest trade partner, source of foreign investment and tourist arrivals. Bilateral trade between India and Nepal has increased substantially since the signing of the Trade Treaty in 1996 and received further impetus after the signing of the revised Trade treaty in 2009 which has provisions that allow Nepal greater access to the Indian market.

There is vast potential for cooperation between India and Nepal in the field of water resources. Nepal has 43,000 MWs hydropower potential. Both countries have recognised that they should enhance cooperation to exploit the hydropower potential.