By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi: India today reached out to old friend Nepal and carried out a comprehensive review of bilateral economic and development cooperation projects in an attempt to counter China’s efforts to expand its footprints in the Himalayan nation.
The reach out took place two days after Prime Minister of Nepal K. P. Sharma Oli spoke to India Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Aug. 15 to greet the people on India’s 74th Independence Day. The meeting is significant as it has come amidst a bitter India-China face off along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.
In an affirmation of India’s continuing role as a friend of Nepal, Ambassador of India to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra and Foreign Secretary of Nepal Shanker Das Bairagi co-chaired the eighth meeting of the oversight mechanism through video conferencing and agreed to expedite the implementation of various ongoing projects.
The oversight mechanism was set up in 2016 to monitor the progress of various India-assisted projects in the Himalayan nation. The last such review was held at the seventh meeting took place on July 8 last year.
Then the mechanism reviewed the implementation of projects such as cross-border rail links, petroleum pipelines, roads, bridges, integrated border check posts, energy, irrigation, and post-earthquake reconstruction.
Today, both Kwatra and Bairagi noted the progress made in the development projects over the last one year, including reconstruction of 46,301 earthquake-affected houses (out of 50,000 houses committed by India) in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts, the operationalisation of Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum products pipeline, the Integrated Check Post at Biratnagar and the High Impact Community Development Projects.
Representatives of various ministries, departments and agencies of Nepal, officers of the Embassy of India, consultants and contractors engaged in implementation of the projects attended the meet. The next oversight mechanism will take place on a mutually convenient date.
Though India and Nepal have had age old civilisational and cultural links there have been some disturbing noises emanating from the Himalayan nation, ostensibly at the behest of China, which wants to expand its influence in the region.
Nepal recently claimed three areas Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura in the Indian state of Uttarakhand as its own. The row started in May when India opened a new road to Lipulekh region on the border with Tibet. The 80-km road opened by India’s Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh provides a link to the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage.
Then, there have been some controversial remarks made by Oli over the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and claims over Lord Rama’s birthplace.
Last month, China started groundwork to lay the proposed strategic railway line connecting Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu and finally to Lumbini, close to the India-Nepal border and known as the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Interestingly, the rail link project estimated to be worth $300 million had been moving at a snail’s pace since 2008 but seems to have assumed importance of late.
As a countermeasure, India too has proposed six railway lines to Nepal till date, of which two projects are showing some progress.
India has been ignoring the controversies being raised by the Nepali leadership and highlighting that it has continued to provide trade links to Nepal during the pandemic. India has ensured that 100 per cent fuel supplies from India to Nepal were not affected.
Also, medical assistance in the form of medicines and equipment were provided to the Himalayan neighbour. On Aug. 9, the Indian Army gifted 10 Intensive Care Unit ventilators to the Nepali Army in order to support its efforts to fight against the pandemic.