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Transcript of Virtual Weekly Media Briefing by the Official Spokesperson (September 24, 2020)

September 26, 2020

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Good evening friends! Welcome to this weekly briefing in the virtual format. I will start with an update on the Vande Bharat Mission. As on 23 September, 15.42 lakh Indians have been repatriated through different modes of the Vande Bharat Mission.

VBM Phase 6 is operational since 1 September. As on 22 September, 630 international flights and 142 feeder flights have been operated from 24 countries reaching 24 airports across India and repatriating an estimated 1,24,000 persons. The Phase will continue to be operational until 30 September 2020.

I would also like to mention that the Air Suvidha digital platform has been made available for all arriving international passengers from 8th August onwards. This platform allows for exemption from institutional quarantine for incoming passengers on VBM flights. This service has been made available in response to the long-pending demand of passengers for seeking exemption from institutional quarantine on the basis of their RT PCR report. It has helped to reduce passenger processing time on arrival.

I also have a curtain raiser press statement on the upcoming virtual bilateral summit between India and Sri Lanka. You would have seen our press release yesterday.

A Virtual Bilateral Summit is being held between PM and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on 26 September 2020, hosted by India.

The Virtual Bilateral Summit will be Prime Minister Modi’s first such virtual engagement with a neighbouring country and also Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s first diplomatic engagement with a leader of a foreign country after he was sworn in as PM on 09 August 2020.

India- Sri Lanka bilateral relations are marked by regular high level exchanges. Such exchanges have provided momentum to mutual cooperation and ties which are multi-dimensional in nature and cut across spheres such as commerce, security, defence, culture, tourism etc.

PM Modi has maintained regular interaction with both the President and Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. The Virtual Bilateral Summit is preceded by the State visits of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to India in November 2019 and February 2020 respectively. Since then also, leaders have kept in close touch and spoken to each other on telephone on several occasions including in the context of cooperation to tackle the health and economic impact of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the election victory of PM Mahinda Rajapaksa led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), PM Modi was the first leader to congratulate Mr. Rajapaksa over telephone on 06 August 2020. PM Modi also sent congratulatory letters to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Most recently, Both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa called PM on 17 September 2020 to wish him on his birthday. Earlier on 27 May 2020, Prime Minister Modi had spoken to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to congratulate him on having completed 50 years since first entering the Parliament of Sri Lanka.

A Virtual Bilateral Summit under challenging circumstances posed by COVID-19, testifies to the deep-rooted civilizational ties and shared heritage between the two neighbouring countries. This is also a reflection of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ approach and SAGAR doctrine.

The Virtual Bilateral Summit will give an opportunity to the two leaders to comprehensively review the broad framework of the bilateral relationship in the context of the time-tested friendly ties between the two countries and give broad political direction for a strengthened and deepened collaborative partnership on key issues of mutual interest.

So Yatin can you start please?

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): So the first question is on Kerala gold smuggling related issues. Johny Thomas from Malayalam Manorama has asked - "what MEA's position on import of holy books from UAE for distribution among the public? Are foreign diplomats allowed to engage in religious activities, including distribution of religious books in India? Has UAE informed MEA about the plans to shut down their consulate in Trivandrum?" Balagopal from Mathrubhumi has asked - "did the Ministry of External Affairs seek the formal explanation from the Government of Kerala about the protocol violations in accepting aid from the UAE Red Crescent? If so, has the Ministry received any reply from the state? Did the custom department seek clarification from the External Affairs Ministry for questioning UAE Attache Rashid Khamis Al Sheimeili, with regard to his involvement in gold smuggling links?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Since the matter is presently under investigation, I will not be able to share specific details. You would recall that I had mentioned Ministry is looking into other aspects like the MoU that has been mentioned in the question and these aspects are being looked at from the legal angle. As and when there is an update we will tell you.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next question is from Suresh from Kantipur Express. There are reports that Nepal has requested Indian Government to consider export restriction on onion. What's the latest update on this?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: We are aware that many countries in the neighborhood import large quantities of onion from India and we are in close consultation with other stakeholders in GOI. I understand a decision has been taken that those shipments which have already been handed over to customs before the imposition of this export ban could be released for export and in this regard some movement has already happened to some of our neighboring countries. We will continue to monitor the situation.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Naynima from The Print has asked - "Nepal is now planning to conduct a census in Kala Pani Lipulekh region. What is India's reaction and when is New Delhi planning to hold the FS level talks on the border issue?" Similar question from Anish from UNI.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Naynima, I have already made our position clear on the boundary issue. I have nothing further to add at this stage.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next set of question is on Gilgit-Baltistan. Sidhant from WION has asked - "how do you see, calls in Pakistan for declaring Pakistan occupied Kashmir Gilgit-Baltistan as 5th Pakistani province?" Nainima from The Print has asked - "how is India viewing the moves taken by former of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to make a political comeback and developments around Gilgit-Baltistan?" Srinjoy from Times Now has asked - "Pakistan is holding elections in the Gilgit area which is Indian Territory, your comment please?" Shailendra from News18 has asked - "Pakistan Gilgit-Baltistan ko province ke taur par ghoshit karne wala hai, ispe aapki kya pratikriya hai? Saath hi November mein Pakistan occupied Kashmir mein chunav ki ghoshna bhi kar chuka hai, ispar bhi pratikriya bataiye? "(Questioned in hindi ;Approximate translation)” Pakistan is going to announce Gilgit-Baltistan as a province, what is your reaction on this? Also it has announced elections in Pakistan occupied Kashmir, what is your reaction on this? Similar question from Vijayalakshmi from India TV.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: We have seen the statements by the Pakistani leadership and media reports in this disregard. Any action by Pakistan to alter the status of the militarily occupied so-called "Gilgit - Baltistan" has no legal basis whatsoever and is totally void ab initio. Our position has always been clear and consistent, the entire territories of the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been, are, and would remain an integral part of India. Pakistan has no locus standi to comment on India's internal matters.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - "Pakistan mein jari alpsankhyako par atyachar aur Sikh ladki ka haal mein hue apharan mamle mein Bharat ke kade rukh ka kya parinaam samne aaya hai?" "(Questioned in hindi ;Approximate translation)” "What has been the result of India's stern stand against the persecution of minorities in Pakistan and the recent kidnapping of a Sikh girl? "

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Madhurendra ji, Sikh ladki ke apharan ke mamle mein aapne dekha hoga ki Sikh samudaye mein behad gussa aur chinta hai aur yeh gussa aur chinta jo hai representation ke roop mein unhone hum logo ko dia. Saath saath mantralaya ne senior Pakistani diplomat ko summon karke ek strong protest lodge kia, ek note verbale dia aur aapko gyat hoga ki yeh pehli ghatna nahin hai, is tarah ki ghatna hoti aa rahi hain aur ab shayad kuch khabren hain ki uss ladki ko ab riha kar dia gaya hai. Hamari Pakistan sarkar se hamne yeh unko kaha hai ki unko alpsankhyako ki suraksha ke liye har tarah ka jo bhi zaroori kadam hai woh uthana chahiye aur unki suraksha jo hai usko sunishchit karna chahiye. "(Answered in hindi ;Approximate translation)” Madhurendra ji, In the kidnapping case of the sikh girl you must have seen that the Sikh community is very angry and worried and they have forwarded a representation to us expressing their anger and worries. Immediately the Ministry summoned the Pakistani diplomat and lodged the protest. Handed over a Note Verbale and you must be aware that this is not the first case and similar incidents have been reported in the past also and there are reports that the kidnapped girl has been released. We have told the Pakistan government to take all necessary steps to safeguard the minorities must ensure their safety and security.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha has asked - "aisi khabren aai hain ki Pakistan ne Islamabad mein Bhartiye uchayog ke varisht rajnaik ko visa jari karne se mana kia hai, ispar mantralaya ki kya pratikriya hai?" "(Questioned in hindi ;Approximate translation)” There are reports that Pakistan has refused to grant visa to a senior diplomat of the Indian High Commission, what is the Ministry's reaction over this issue?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Deepak ji, Pakistani side ko kuch reservations thi hamari senior designate ke baare mein aur yeh administrative issue hai, hum isko handle kar rahe hain. "(Answered in hindi ;Approximate translation)” Deepak ji, the Pakistan side had certain reservations regarding our senior designate and this is an administrative issue, we are handling it.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Huma from Financial Express has asked - "what is the agenda of the India-Sri Lanka virtual summit?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Huma, I think I gave a detailed readout which broadly tells you what is the context of this summit and what is the agenda going to be.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sidhant from WION has asked - "has India received Russian invitation for SCO BRICS meet in November?" Ranjith Kumar from Rakshak News has asked - "has Prime Minister Narendra Modi confirmed his participation in forthcoming SCO and BRICS summit?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: We are in discussion with the Russian side to finalize a date for the summit and we'll make an announcement as per standard procedure.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Kamaljeet from Aaj Tak has asked - "how many Sikhs brought back from Afghanistan since lockdown, how does Government of India plan to help them?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Kamaljeet, we have been receiving requests from Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan to grant permission to settle down in India and these requests have specifically gone up after the attack in the Gurudwara in Kabul, in March 2020. We see a targeted persecution of the minority community members by terrorists and their sponsors and this is a matter of serious concern. Now to ensure their safety and well-being, our mission in Kabul has been actively in contact with them and they have facilitated the smooth arrival from Afghanistan despite the Covid related restrictions. In terms of numbers what I have is that so far 357 members of the minority community have arrived from Afghanistan to India since the lockdown and the Indian-Sikh community here is also assisting in making their stay comfortable in India.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Brahma Prakash from Zee News has asked - "Zakir Naik ko le kar khufia agencio ke havale se nai jankari samne aai hai. Zee News ke paas iske pukhta saboot hai ki woh mobile app aur video link ke zariye Bharat mein lagatar katarta fela raha hai. Malaysia se Zakir Naik ko wapas lane ki abhi kya stithi hai?" "(Questioned in hindi ;Approximate translation)” " New reports are there, coming through secret agencies regarding Zakir Naik. Zee news has clear evidences that he is continuously spreading fanatism in India through mobile app and video links. What is the latest update with respect to extradition of Zakir Naik from Malaysia?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Zakir Naik ke mamle mein hum Malaysia sarkar se sampark mein hai aur unke extradition ke liye follow up kar rahe hain. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) Regarding the Zakir naik issue, we are in touch with the Malaysian Government and following up his extradition”

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Madhurendra from News Nation has asked - "Kulbhushan Jadhav mamle mein kya update hai?" "(Questioned in hindi ;Approximate translation)” Is there any update on Kulbhushan Jadhav case?

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Madhurendra ji, Kulbhushan Jadhav ke mamle mein hum continuously kaam kar rahe hain aur pure prayaas kiye ja rahe hain ki unka safe return yahan pe ho aur jaisa bhi update hoga hum aapko inform karenge. .(Answered in Hindi; Approximate translation) Madhurendra ji, We are continuously working in Kulbhushan Jadhav case and we are putting our best efforts for his safe return and whatever update will be there, we shall keep your informed.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sidhant from WION has asked - "Turkey raked Kashmir once again, we have responded to. But it is for second year in a row, Turkey has raked Kashmir. How majorly Turkey's action has impacted ties?" Similar question has also been asked by Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: You would have seen the right of reply exercised by our Permanent Mission in New York where we have stated inter alia that the remarks of the President of Republic of Turkey on the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir constitute a gross interference in India’s internal affairs and are completely unacceptable.

Turkey should learn to respect the sovereignty of other nations and reflect on its own policies more deeply.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Huma from Financial Express has asked - "on VBM, any updates as many Indians are still stuck in the Gulf region and other countries?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Huma, I just gave an update on the Vande Bharat Mission and I have spelled out the numbers to you of the Indians who have been repatriated so far.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Gautam Lahiri has asked - "latest status of air bubble travel agreement with Bangladesh and other countries in future and what's the expected time line?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: We have offered air bubble arrangements to Bangladesh as we've offered to our other neighbors. We have something already with Maldives and Afghanistan. The matter is presently under discussion.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Sidhant from WION has asked - "Pakistan raised the issue of Jammu & Kashmir at CICA Ministerial Meeting and also referred to it indirectly at SAARC Ministerial Meeting. What is our reaction to that?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Sidhant, it is very typical of Pakistan to use such fora to raise bilateral and contentious issues which are against the principles of such organizations as well as against the spirit of these meetings. What else can we expect of a country that indulges in cross-border terrorism as a part of its state policy.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Akhilesh Suman from Rajya Sabha TV has asked - "EAM has participated in SAARC Ministers Meeting. What is outcome and what was India's position on important issues?"

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Akhilesh ji, you would have seen the press release that we have should a few hours back on this meeting. Now, just to flag some salient points - this was an informal meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers, which has traditionally been held on the sidelines of the UNGA since 1997, and it was held in virtual mode with the participation of all SAARC leaders. There was a report from the Secretary General on the status of the regional cooperation since the last informal meeting in New York in September 2019. In the meeting there was a review of regional efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and in their country statements, participants appreciated the leadership of PM in convening the video conference of SAARC leaders on the 15th of March this year to take collaborative measures towards combating the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. In this context, EAM in his intervention highlighted various measures taken by India as a follow-up to this video conference. He recalled that the COVID-19 emergency response fund for countries in the region which was created following this initiative. In this fund, India has already committed 10 million dollars and all other SAARC member states have also generously contributed to the fund. He also recalled that as a follow-up to this SAARC leader’s video conference, meeting of health professionals, of trade officials, and COVID-19 information exchange platform "COINEX" was done. There was also an initiative on foreign exchange currency swap support and activation of the SAARC for Food Bank mechanism. EAM reiterated India's continued commitment to assisting countries in the SAARC region in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. So this is what I have by way of details of this meeting.

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): Next set of question is on line of actual control. Nainima from The Print has asked - "will Joint Secretary Naveen Srivastava be part of the seventh round of senior commander level talks also? Has this become a norm now? Any idea when will it be held since the joint statement said, as soon as possible? Also did India raise the issue of status quo ante during the meeting?" Shailesh Kumar from National Defence has asked - "what is the latest official update on standoff position in Eastern Ladakh post consensus reach between two countries after external affairs level talks and latest military commanders meeting? Is PLA de-escalating and going back from Indian territories?" Srinjoy from Times Now has asked - "what is the situation on ground, post commanders meeting in Ladakh?" Deepak Ranjan from PTI Bhasha has asked - "Ladakh gatirodh ke mudde par Cheen aur Bharat ke beech taaza vaarta ke kya parinaam samne aaye hain?" Manas from PTI has asked - "has India observed any lowering of aggressive posturing by Chinese military in Eastern Ladakh? Has there been military buildup by China along the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh? Is there any possibility of a soluble talks in next couple of weeks?" Similar questions from Madhurendra from News Nation and Shankar from India versus Disinfo.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: As you are aware the 6th meeting of the Senior Commanders of India and China took place on 21 September in Moldo.This meeting took place in the backdrop of the meeting of the Defence Ministers of India and China in Moscow on 4th September and also the meeting of the two Foreign Ministers on 10 September. The two Foreign Ministers had reached an agreement that the two sides should continue the dialogue and quickly and comprehensively disengage in all the friction areas.

The Senior Commanders met after a period of nearly 50 days.

After the meeting the two sides have also issued a joint press release that you would have already seen.

I would like to highlight that this is the first joint press release after any Senior Commander’s Meeting. As such, it reflects the stated commitment of both sides to disengage along the LAC. As we have pointed out earlier, disengagement is a complex process that requires redeployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC. This would require mutually agreed reciprocal actions. Even as two sides work towards complete disengagement in all friction areas, it is at the same time also necessary to ensure stability on the ground. The latest Senior Commander’s meeting should be seen in all this overall context.

The 6th meeting gave the Senior Commanders an opportunity to have candid and in-depth exchanges of views on stabilizing the situation along the LAC. The two sides have also decided to strengthen the ground communication to avoid any further misunderstandings and misjudgments, stop sending more troops to the frontline, refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, and avoid taking any actions that may complicate the situation.

The way ahead will be to refrain from making any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo, while the two sides continue their discussions to achieve complete disengagement in all friction areas and to ensure full restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas.

In this regard, the two sides have also decided to have the next meeting of the Senior Commanders at the earliest. In parallel, the next meeting of the WMCC is also likely to take place soon.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Are there any further questions?

Shri Yatin Patel, OSD (PR): No Sir.

Shri Anurag Srivastava, Official Spokesperson: Thank you. So this concludes the weekly briefing.

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