Op-Ed

Bilateral ties: India mending fences with Nepal
Abdur Rahman Khan
14 Jul,2016

Following a serious  deterioration  of   bilateral relations   in the wake of a prolonged border blockade  enforced  by India and Nepal’s decision to recall its envoy and cancellation of the President’s visit, India has intensified various  bilateral engagements with Nepal.

Bilateral ties were strained following the promulgation of a new Constitution that sparked violent protests by Madhesis supported by India.

The perception within the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) that Delhi made a failed bid to topple the Left-led regime in Kathmandu, has not resulted in the ruling coalition cancelling bilateral consultations. An unstable Nepal is not in India’s interest. This is something India does not want but this is exactly what has happened after a few months of stability in the Himalayan nation.

Mending fences

On the backdrop of   the deterioration in ties since September last year, when India expressed its unhappiness with the new Nepali Constitution promulgated on September 20, bilateral relations apparently broke down as   KP Sharma Oli government abruptly cancelled President Bidhya Bhandari’s visit to India at the very last moment.

Meanwhile, Nepal turned to China for the supply of essentials as an immediate relief during the border obstructions enforced by the Indian side. However, former Nepalese ambassador to India Dip Kumar Upadhyaya believe that China cannot be an alternative to India for Nepal, so far as the supply of essentials commodities and economic cooperation are concerned. China cannot solve our problem in the long run, he said.

Under compulsion, the two neighbours - Nepal and India - have planned a number of fence mending efforts  ahead of the planned fourth meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission at the Foreign Minister’s level scheduled to take place in New Delhi after mid-August. The Joint Commission is the highest-level mechanism between Nepal and India that is mandated to review the entire gamut of bilateral relations between the two neighbours.

On June 15, India completed electrification work for seven remote villages in western Nepal’s Rupandehi District at a cost of Rs 10.77 million. Ambassador of India to Nepal Ranjit Rae was present at the inauguration ceremony for the electrification work completed at Bhagwanpur Village Development Committee in Rupandehi

The project included installing seven transformers in seven villages of Bhagwanpur by laying 11 KV power distribution lines and erection of 331 electric poles. The completion of electrification work would benefit people residing in this area, according to a press release issued by the India Embassy in Kathmandu. Rae and Nepali Minister for Commerce and Labour Deepak Bohara, also jointly inaugurated a newly constructed campus building for Pratiman-Neema Memorial Vocational Training Institute at Sidharthnagar in the same Rupandehi District in western Nepal on the same day.

More power supply mooted

Meanwhile, Rajan Bhattarai, foreign policy expert and CPN-UML lawmaker said   that Nepal and India both should maintain smooth and cordial relations as there are no other options available for the two neighbours.

“We must establish good and working relations with India for ensuring smooth supply of essential goods as well for moving towards economic prosperity,” Bhattarai said talking to reporters at an interaction programme in Kathmandu.

Bhattarai is also one of the members of the Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group (EPG) from the Nepalese side. The first meeting of the EPG is scheduled to take place on July 4-5 in Kathmandu. There are four members from each side in the group.

The meeting will review the entire gamut of Nepal-India relations, discuss ways to improve ties and also find out ways to expedite the works of various bilateral mechanisms formed between the two countries. “Nepali people had suffered a lot due to the economic blockade and the devastating earthquake last year and now I think that the (bilateral) relations have returned to normal and it has also started showing improvements in the new context,” Bhattarai said.

 “The regular meetings of various bilateral mechanisms are taking place and the gaps in the relations have been narrowing down,” he added. Officials of both the countries are working on preparing ground for exchange of high level visits between the two countries, he pointed out. India’s ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae recently said that exchange of visits by presidents of the two countries are on the card, though dates are not yet fixed.

Meetings at the Energy Secretary and Commerce Secretary-level are taking place in New Delhi from Tuesday on the two key driving issues between Nepal and India. At the meeting, India has agreed to supply additional 120 MW electricity to Nepal through the Muzaffarpur-Dhalkebar trans-border transmission line. In this context, India has called on Nepal to complete the construction of a sub-station at Dhalkebar at the earliest.
 
Negotiations are on

Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Joint Steering Committee (JSC) in New Delhi, which began on Monday, the Indian side accepted the request from the Nepali side to export more electricity to Nepal. Trade, construction of integrated check posts on the Nepal-India border, expansion of Indian rail up to the Nepal border, and banking facilities to Nepali nationals working in India, among others, are on the agenda of the meeting.

Indian Ambassador Ranjit Rae said that the visits of Nepali President Bidhya Bhandari to India and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to Nepal are on the cards and these will improve bilateral ties.

Senior officials from the ministries of Water Resources held a meeting in New Delhi in May-end to discuss issues including the proposed Koshi High Dam project, inundation in bordering areas in the Nepali Terai due to building of embankments on the Indian side and compensation for the Koshi- and Gandak-affected victims.

Last week, Surveyor General from Nepal and India also held a meeting and decided to install GPS in all 8,000 Nepal-India border pillars and decided to clear the no-man’s land of all encroachments.

Earlier in June, another meeting that deals with procurement of arms and ammunition from India, which was postponed during the economic blockade, also took place in New Delhi.

Officials from Indian Oil Corporation and Nepal Oil Corporation also met in New Delhi early this month to expedite the construction of the cross-border petroleum pipeline between Nepal and India. Since last Friday, Nepal started importing goods form Vishakhapatnam port, the second sea port Nepal is using after Kolkata.

Diplomatic sources said the Home Secretary-level meeting is also planned in Kathmandu for early August.