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Menon begins Nepal talks amid discord

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon began his whirlwind assessment visit to Nepal today with a flurry of consultations, including a 90-minute meeting with Maoist PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.

world Updated: Feb 17, 2009 17:53 IST

Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon began his whirlwind assessment visit to Nepal on Tuesday with a flurry of consultations, including a 90-minute meeting with Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.

Arriving at the Tribhuvan International Airport in the afternoon after his flight from New Delhi was delayed by bad weather, the Indian envoy told the media that he had come to learn about developments in Nepal's ongoing peace process and the drafting of a new constitution and to reiterate India's support.

Menon, who had accompanied Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee in November as the first Indian official delegation to meet the new Maoist government of Nepal, held a lengthy consultation with Prachanda soon after his arrival.

The talks reviewed the progress on decisions taken between India and Nepal during Prachanda's first official visit to New Delhi last September after assuming office and other commitments pledged during the Indian minister's visit.

Menon is accompanied by Satish Mehta, joint secretary at the ministry of external affairs in charge of Nepal and Bhutan.

The Indian delegation will also meet opposition leader and former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala later during the day.

Though described as a regular visit, Menon's arrival however was preceded by events that read as bad omens.

The Kathmandu Post daily on Tuesday reported that the spurs on the Kosi river, damaged after a devastating flood last year, are not likely to be repaired by mid-March.

The report quoted Nepal's water resources ministry spokesman Mathura Dangol as saying that the Central Water Commission of India had not yet identified the damaged spurs that need to be repaired and fortified.

It also reported the official as saying that there could be fresh disasters if the damaged spurs were not repaired by monsoon since their absence would make the embankment of the Kosi - that was breached last year displacing over 2 million people in India's Bihar state - vulnerable.

During his visit in November, Mukherjee had said India was working closely with Nepal to ensure that work on the breach was completed by March 2009.

The Indian minister had heard tales of woe from several leading Indian business organisations in Nepal and had said they had been taken up with the Prachanda government, which had assured action.

Last year, GMR pipped other Indian rivals to bag the 300MW Upper Karnali hydropower project in Nepal despite objections by local organisations.

From Sunday, locals have stopped work at GMR's site in Achham and Dailekh districts, forcing the company to write to the local authorities for security.

The disruption comes despite talks between Mukherjee and Prachanda last year about India's cooperation for the Nepal government's declared target of generating 10,000 MW within the decade for mutual benefit.

Last but not the least, Menon's arrival comes after an ethnic minister in the Maoist government was heckled for speaking in Hindi at a public meet.

Rajendra Mahato, commerce and supplies minister and chief of Terai party Sadbhavana Party, was not allowed to speak in Hindi at the inauguration of the eighth general convention of the Communist party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist in Butwal town on Monday.

Last year, Nepal's first vice-president Parmanand Jha had triggered violent public protests for having taken the oath of office in Hindi, which is rejected by Nepal for its wide use in India.

First Published: Feb 17, 2009 17:51 IST