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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (20 August 2020)

August 21, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:

Friends! Namaskar and good evening.
Welcome to this weekly briefing.

I'll start with an update on the Vande Bharat Mission. As on 19 August 2020, 11.23 lakh Indians stranded abroad have been repatriated by different modes under VBM. In the ongoing Phase 5 of VBM around 500 international flights and 130 domestic feeders have been operated so far from 22 different countries and reaching 23 airports across India. Around 375 more international flights are scheduled to be operated by the end of August 2020.

Based on a continuous assessment of demand received from our Missions / Posts abroad, flights have been added for repatriation from Kuwait, Maldives, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, UK and Canada. In addition, number of flights from other GCC countries have been further augmented.

On the bilateral air bubbles, arrangements with US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, UAE, Qatar and Maldives are functioning well. You would have seen the announcement by Minister of Civil Aviation earlier this week that negotiations on air travel arrangements with 18 more countries viz. Australia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Nigeria, Bahrain, Israel, Kenya, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka are ongoing. This will benefit stranded Indians and nationals of these countries.

This was by way of the update. Now we will move on to your questions. So Yatin if you could take over please.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, first question is from Bala Gopal from Mathrubhumi - "any update on Kerala gold smuggling case? Has the UAE government shared its investigation findings with India?" Prashant from AsiaNet has asked - "it has been revealed that UAE consulate officials and some persons accused in the gold smuggling case received commission from a housing project in Kerala done with the aid of the Red Crescent of UAE. Whether MEAs consent was taken for receiving huge aid from Red Crescent, which is a foreign organization? Has UAE responded to our request for questioning their officials?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:
Well Prashant and Bala Gopal, I have responded to this earlier, I have no further updates as of now. You would recall that I'd said the matter is under investigation of NIA and as far as MEA is concerned, we are extending all necessary facilitation.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next set of question is on Shri Kulbhushan Jadhav. Sidhant from WION has asked - "Pakistan has said India wants an Indian lawyer in the Kulbhushan case, but Pakistan would allow only the lawyer practicing in Pakistan, any reaction?" Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - " Kulbhushan Jadhav case me Bharat ki aur se kya progress hai?"(Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) What is the progress from the Indian side in Kulbhushan Jadhav case? Maha from CNN News18 has asked - "has India been able to appoint a lawyer for Kulbhushan Jadhav? What is the progress in the case?" Srinjoy from Times Now has asked - "any new initiative to get Kulbhushan Jadhav back? Is India looking to go to the ICJ as the legal proceedings in Pakistan have not inspired any confidence?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: On this issue, we are in touch with Pakistan through diplomatic channels. For a free and fair trial in keeping with the letter and spirit of ICJ judgement, we have asked for Shri Jadhav to be represented by an Indian lawyer. However, Pakistan has to first address the core issues- giving copies of relevant documents of the case and providing unimpeded consular access to Shri Jadhav.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next set of question is on Nepal. Nainima from The Print has asked - "Nepali media report suggest border talks between New Delhi and Kathmandu will happen soon. Can the MEA throw some light on this?" Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha has asked - "Nepal aur Bharat ke beech haal ke ucchstariya samvad ke kya nihitarth the? Iske kya parinam samne aaye hain?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) What is the outcome of the recent high level meeting which took place between India and Nepal? Similar questions have been asked by Sidhant from WION, Aneesh from UNI, Madhurendra from News Nation and Suhasini from The Hindu.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Look on the India-Nepal boundary issue, I've already made our position very clear in previous briefings. So I have nothing further to add on this. But, to respond specifically to Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha, I think your question is regarding the recent meeting of the oversight mechanism. Now this is a bilateral oversight mechanism, which was established in 2016 between the two sides. Regarding the outcome of this meeting, you would have seen the press release which was issued by our Embassy in Kathmandu. This meeting is a part of our regular consultations and as a part of the mandate of this particular mechanism, there was a comprehensive review of all our bilateral projects.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next set of question is on Bangladesh. Nainima from The Print has asked - "did Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina raise the issue of Teesta water sharing, CA and NRC with foreign secretary Shringla during his visit?" Deepak Ranajan from PTI Bhasha has asked - "Bangladesh ke Bharat ke videsh sachiv ki yatra mein, kin mukhye binduyon pe charcha hui. Isme kin kin baton mein sehmati bani?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) What are the main points, which were discussed during the visit of foreign secretary to Bangladesh? What all was agreed upon? Aneesh from UNI has asked - "foreign secretary Harsh Shringla has written from Bangladesh yesterday, could you share some details of his meeting with hierarchies in Dhaka?" Akhilesh Suman from Rajya Sabha TV has asked - "foreign secretary was in Dhaka for two days, can you please share the outcome of the visit?" Jai Prakash from Dainik Jagran has asked - "what was the major discussion point between foreign secretary and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina?" Similar questions are also asked by Sumit Sharma from Asia Times and Madhurendra from News Nation.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Regarding the outcomes of the visit, I have some details.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla (FS) visited Bangladesh on 18-19 August 2020. During his visit, he called on the Prime Minister of Bangladesh H.E. Sheikh Hasina, on 18 August. Discussions during the meeting centered on the importance of the 100th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 2020 and the 50 years of the liberation of Bangladesh and the establishment of diplomatic ties between India and Bangladesh in 2021. India plans to issue a commemorative stamp on Bangabandhu during Mujib Barsho. The two countries also propose to hold joint events on the occasion. PM Modi had paid tributes to Bangabandhu through a video message in the inaugural Mujib Borsho celebrations in March.

Both sides discussed the COVID-19 situation. India has provided COVID related assistance to Bangladesh and has also been organizing capacity building courses for Bangladesh medical personnel following the video conference of the leaders of SAARC countries and the creation of the SAARC Emergency Response Fund for COVID-19. Bangladesh has committed US$ 1.5 million to the fund. FS informed Prime Minister Hasina about India’s efforts towards COVID-19 vaccine development and distribution. Both sides agreed to continue their discussions in the area of vaccines and therapeutics.

India’s developmental assistance in Bangladesh as also the projects in the area of connectivity and power were discussed. Several of these projects, including the Rampal Maitree Power Plant, India-Bangladesh Friendship Pipeline, and rail links between Akhaura-Agartala and Chilahati-Haldibari and Khulna-Mongla rail line are expected to get completed next year. It was proposed that the next meeting of the Joint Consultative Commission at the level of the Foreign Ministers should be convened shortly to review the entire gamut of bilateral relationship including the projects. It was also proposed that a high level monitoring mechanism be set up to regularly review the progress of the ongoing projects.

India’s proposal to launch a travel air bubble between the two countries opening limited flights flights for official, business and medical travelers was appreciated by the Bangladesh side.

There were discussions relating to the cooperation in the areas of security, including fencing and joint efforts to prevent trans-border crimes. The issue of safe repatriation of internally displaced persons from the Rakhine state also came up for discussion.

Foreign Secretary also met Bangladesh Foreign Secretary, Mr Masud Bin Momen and comprehensively discussed all issues of bilateral interest. Foreign Secretary also invited the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary to visit India at his earliest convenience.

In the last few years, India and Bangladesh have amicably resolved complex issues including the land and maritime borders, and have taken several initiatives to boost connectivity and trade, including commencement of movement of Indian cargo from Agartala to Kolkata via Chattogram, expansion of the scope of the Protocol that governs trade and transit on inland waterways, India’s gifting of 10 locomotives to Bangladesh, and introduction of parcel and container train services between the two countries.

This visit of Foreign Secretary was useful in discussing specific initiatives in several key areas of mutual interest. It also reflects the priority that India accords to Bangladesh as part of its Neighbourhood First policy. The top leadership of the two countries has remained in regular touch which has helped sustain the momentum in our excellent bilateral ties.
And Nainima, to specifically respond to your question, those issues that you mentioned, they were not raised.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Devdeep from Sankei Shimbun has asked - "some media reports suggested that PM Modi and Japanese PM Abe will have a Virtual Summit early next month, is there any possibility of it? Abhishek Dhulia from NHK has asked - "there are reports of a virtual India-Japan Summit in early September, could you provide further details about the meeting?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: See, India and Japan have a regular Annual Summit and you would know that the Summit was scheduled in December last year and it had got postponed. Thereafter the two sides are in touch through diplomatic channels and whenever a date is finalized, we will let you know.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Suhasini from The Hindu has asked - "Bangladesh foreign secretary said, he had raised the condition of Tablighis who are Bangladeshi citizens. What is India's response to them and other countries raising concerns?" She also asked - "has the MEA asked MHA to expedite legal clearances for Tablighi Jamaat activists from approximately 34 countries still being held in India over covid related and visa violation charges?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: On the Tablighi Jamaat activist, I had said earlier that they have put in a request for plea bargaining and that request has been accepted by the court. They have been fined and asked to leave the country. As per the information that I have, about 1030 Tablighi foreigners have been discharged by the courts, as on date and their respective foreign embassies have been informed. Now, of these 1030, 550 have already left the country. Specifically on Bangladesh, the Bangladesh foreign secretary during his meeting with FS acknowledged that most of the Tablighis from Bangladesh have returned home and we will continue to work with the relevant authorities to ensure that others who remain, their return is facilitated.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Prashant from AsiaNet has asked - "is there a consolidated list of Indians died abroad due to COVID-19?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Prashant, I am not aware of any such list.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Suhasini from The Hindu has asked - "what kind of collaboration is India discussing with Russian vaccine maker RDIF? Is India confident that all protocols have been followed in clearing the virus for production?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson:
Look Suhasini, the Government has set up an National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration for COVID-19. The purpose of the group is to keep India in the forefront of any ongoing effort worldwide to innovate, prepare, produce and launch candidate vaccines to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, for India and for the world.

Through the inputs and support of MEA, this Expert Group will help to connect Indian companies that are interested in any candidate vaccines, and facilitate the process of ensuring that the relevant testing data is made available to our regulatory agencies.

The regulator can then decide on the nature of trials that may be needed before a decision can be taken on the use of any candidate vaccine in India.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sir, next set of question is on China. Manisha Jha from TV9 Bharatvarsh has asked - " Bharat aur Cheen ke beech ab tak sainiye aur rajneyik star ke kul 15 se zyada baithak ho chuki hai. Itne prayason mein natije bahut utsahwartak nahin hain. Akhir baat kahan atak rahi hai?" (Questioned in Hindi, Approximate translation) So far more than fifteen meetings have took place at Military and diplomatic levels between India and China and even after so many efforts desired result could not be achieved. Afterall what are the bottlenecks? Nainima from The Print has asked - "update on the WMCC meeting please?" Aneesh from UNI has asked - "what are the updates on India-China border standoff in Eastern Ladakh?" Ranjit Kumar from Rakshak News has asked - "any fresh consensus or any forward movement to resolve the border issue during WMCC?" Sumit Sharma from Asia Times has asked - "what is China's stand on withdrawing its troops from various points of intrusion? What was the outcome of today's discussions?" Maha from CNN News18 has asked - "at the WMCC forward meeting today, what message has India conveyed to China on the stalling of disengagement process in Pangong, Gogra and Depsang. Srinjoy from Times Now has asked - "what has been outcome of today's WMCC meeting?" Similar questions have also been asked by Sidhant from WION, Madhurendra from News Nation, Shankar from India vs Disinfo, Akhilesh Suman from Rajya Sabha TV and Sridhar from Asian Age.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: I have something to share in terms of today's WMCC meeting.

The 18th meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC) was held today. The Indian delegation was led by Joint Secretary (East Asia) from the Ministry of External Affairs, while the Director General of the Boundary & Oceanic Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs led the Chinese delegation.

The two sides had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on the existing situation in the India-China border areas. They reaffirmed that in accordance with the agreements reached between the two Foreign Ministers and the two Special Representatives (SRs), the two sides will continue to sincerely work towards complete disengagement of the troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Western Sector. In this context they agreed to resolve the outstanding issues in an expeditious manner and in accordance with the existing agreements and protocols. The two sides were in agreement that restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas would be essential for the overall development of bilateral relations.

The two sides further acknowledged the need to maintain close communication through both the diplomatic and military channels so as to ensure complete disengagement. In this regard, they also agreed to continue their ongoing engagements including through the meetings of the WMCC.

Thank you.

So this concludes the weekly briefing.

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