Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari will arrive in Delhi on a five-day visit beginning today. This is her first overseas tour during which she will hold talks with President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to strengthen bilateral ties. The visit is taking place even as Nepal and China yesterday began their first-ever joint military exercise with a special focus on combating terror, a move that could make India uneasy. It has been learned that the visit aims at exploring ways to expand cooperation between India and Nepal whose ties faced some strain following the agitation by the Madhesi community last year.
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Bhandari was scheduled to visit India in May last year, but the trip was cancelled after the then cabinet did not endorse the visit programme, citing lack of preparations on the part of the government.
The bilateral ties between the two countries had faced turbulence last year due to the Madhesi agitation and the subsequent blockade which halted the supply of essential goods to landlocked Nepal from India.
Madhesis, mostly of Indian-origin, had been demanding that the new Constitution be amended to include their concerns about adequate political representation and redrawing of federal boundaries.
It will be Bhandari’s first state visit abroad after assuming the charge of the high office in October 2015. She will be staying at the Rashtrapati Bhawan. A high-level delegation comprising several ministers, MPs and senior officials will be accompanying her.
“Her visit will reflect the priority that India attaches to further strengthening the age-old and unique partnership with Nepal, shared cultural and historical linkages, and strong people-to-people relationship,” MEA’s Joint Secretary (North) Sudhakar Dalela said at a press conference today.
He further said, “It is a special goodwill visit and we hope this will help further cement our ties. The visit would also give us an excellent opportunity to review all aspects of our wide-ranging partnership with Nepal.”
On April 18, she will also attend a business event being organised by industry chambers CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM.
“The president will host a banquet in her honour on April 18. She will later visit Gujarat and Odisha and pay obeisance at temples of Dwarka, Somnath and Puri,” Dalela said.
In Delhi, she would also visit the Yamuna Biodiversity Park here.
Emphasising the importance of the visit, the senior MEA official said it comes in the backdrop of “intensified bilateral engagements”. President Pranab Mukherjee had also visited Nepal in November.
These exchanges have been “immensely useful” in ensuring steady progress in co-operative ties across diverse sectors, such as trade, economic investment, water resources, energy sector including power trading, defence and security, oil and gas sector, culture and more importantly, people to people ties, Dalela added.
“At the same time, we have maintained our focus on implementation of ongoing connectivity and development projects, such as tarai roads, cross-border rail linkages, development of Integrated Check Posts (ICPs), cross-border oil pipelines and transmission lines.
“Also, the bilateral oversight mechanism set up last October to monitor and expedite implementation of ongoing projects has met three times already, and has been extremely helpful in addressing related issues on both sides,” he said.
Dalela said the energy cooperation between the two countries is “witnessing a new high”, especially in the backdrop of the India’s approval of the Rs 5,720-crore hydro power project (Arun-III) to be set up in Nepal.
“India supplies 350 MW electricity to Nepal. And their government has proposed 16 road and bridge projects worth USD 300 million under the line of credit of USD 550 million, which we have agreed to and we look forward to its completion in the coming months,” he said.
Later, responding to a question on the post-demonetisation effect in Nepal, where Indian currency is accepted, he only said, “The Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB) and RBI are still in consultation” to smoothen out issues that may have arisen.
(With agency inputs)