Will take India-Nepal ties to Himalayan heights: PM Modi
The two sides also signed seven agreements, including the revised Treaty of Transit that will, for the first time, give Nepal access to India’s inland waterways
India and Nepal on Thursday unveiled initiatives to ramp up cooperation in energy, including increasing import of hydropower and allowing power exports to Bangladesh, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured his Nepalese counterpart Pushpa Kamal Dahal of resolving a boundary dispute in the spirit of friendship.
“We will keep working to take our relationship to the height of the Himalayas. And in this spirit, we will solve all issues, be they boundary related or any other issue,” Modi told a join media interaction, speaking in Hindi.
Dahal, also known as “Prachanda”, added: “Prime Minister Modiji and I discussed the boundary matter. I urged Prime Minister Modiji to resolve the boundary matter through the established bilateral diplomatic mechanism.”
Following a meeting of the leaders, the two countries launched several projects to improve rail connectivity for both passenger travel and trade, inaugurated a new integrated check post to boost cross-border trade, and unveiled plans to extend South Asia’s first cross-border petroleum pipeline and to build a second such pipeline.
The two sides also signed seven agreements, including the revised Treaty of Transit that will, for the first time, give Nepal access to India’s inland waterways, and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) and the Nepal Clearing House Limited (NHCL) for faster cross-border payments that will benefit businesses, students and tourists.
The dragging border dispute figured in the talks between the two premiers, and Modi said after the meeting that the issue will be resolved in keeping with the strong religious and cultural ties between the two sides.
Most of the 1,850km border between the two sides has been demarcated, except for two disputed sections at Kalapani and Susta. Nepal triggered a border row in 2020 by issuing a new political map that showed Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh – all controlled by India – as part of Nepalese territory. The row affected ties for several months before a sustained outreach by the Indian side helped improve the situation.
Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra told a media briefing the two premiers outlined how the boundary issue will be addressed. Their remarks “not only speak of the intent of the two leaders and the two systems, they also speak of the specifics through which that intent is to be carried forward”, he said.
Modi and Dahal said the two sides reached an agreement on long-term power trade, under which India will import 10,000MW from Nepal in the next 10 years. The Nepal premier appreciated India’s import of 450MW and thanked Modi for his positive response to a proposal for increasing this by 1,200MW.
“I also appreciated India’s willingness to facilitate the export of hydropower from Nepal to Bangladesh through India. We have agreed that export of up to 50 MW of power from Nepal to Bangladesh via India would commence soon and the three countries would work out an agreement to this effect soon,” Dahal said.
The two leaders marked the handing over of Kurtha-Bijalpura section of a railway line, with a length of 17km, for passenger trains and launched the inaugural run of an Indian cargo train to the Nepal Customs Yard via a rail link constructed with an Indian grant. The new rail links will cut transportation costs and time for trade between Nepal and Kolkata and Haldia ports.
The two leaders inaugurated the Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) at Nepalgunj in Nepal and Rupaidiha in India and marked the ground-breaking for ICPs at Bhairahawa (Nepal) and Sonauli (India).
Ground-breaking was done for the second phase of the Motihari-Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline, to be built at a cost of ₹183 crore. This is South Asia’s first transborder petroleum pipeline, launched in 2019, and has supplied 2.8 million metric tonnes of diesel to Nepal. The two sides said another pipeline will be built to link Siliguri and Jhapa in Nepal.
The two leaders also did the ground-breaking for the Indian portion of the Gorakhpur-Bhutwal power transmission line to be built at a cost of ₹462 crore. This is expected to be commissioned in 24 months.
Modi referred to the “HIT” formula – Highways, I-ways and Trans-ways – that he unveiled during his visit to Nepal in 2014 and said: “Today, after nine years, I am happy to say that our partnership is truly a ‘HIT’.”
He added, “We decided to increase physical connectivity by setting up new rail links. Along with this, it has been decided to provide training to railway personnel of Nepal in Indian railway institutes. To boost connectivity to the far western region of Nepal, two more bridges will be built at Shirsha and Jhulaghat.”
Among the seven agreements signed by the two sides were an MoU for developing infrastructure at Dodhara Chandani ICP, the project development agreement for the 679-MW Lower Arun Hydroelectric Project and an MoU for developing the 480-MW Phukot Karnali hydroelectric project.
Dahal congratulated Modi on completing nine years in government and said bilateral ties are based on the firm commitment of both sides to the “time-tested principle of sovereign equality, mutual respect, understanding and cooperation”.
Sandwiched between India and China, Nepal has always occupied a place of strategic importance. The slew of agreements signed on Thursday are crucial because they signify New Delhi’s strong ties with the regime in Kathmandu, and they will help to forestall Beijing’s aggressive push to increase its influence in the region. The government should continue the outreach.
In order to reduce Nepal’s increasing trade deficit, Dahal sought non-reciprocal market access with more flexible and easier quarantine procedures for agricultural products and simplified rules of origin for other goods. He also sought the lifting of anti-dumping duties on Nepal’s jute products and the review of the treaty of trade.