PM Oli visit: India-Nepal rail and river links on the anvil

The announcement of the connectivity projects came during Nepal’s PM KP Oli’s three-day visit to India, amid increased anxiety in New Delhi over China’s growing economic and strategic clout in Nepal

Photo courtesy: Twitter/@MEAIndia
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@MEAIndia

Dhairya Maheshwari

A proposal to build a railway line to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu and develop the river transport system in the country are the two connectivity initiatives New Delhi has offered to Nepal on the second day of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s maiden three-day visit to India.

“We have agreed to expand the railways, by looking into the possibility of assisting Nepal to construct an electrified railway line from Raxaul in India to Kathmandu in Nepal, effectively connecting the Kathmandu Valley with the rail network,” foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale informed mediapersons at a press briefing in New Delhi on Saturday.

A joint statement released by Nepal and India said that preparatory survey work on the proposed railway line would be carried out over the next year, following which the funding and other modalities would be worked out. India will bear the lion’s share of the cost of the project, according to the statement.

The joint statement also said that work on the railway line from Jayanagar (Bihar) to Janakpur (Nepal) and from Jogbani (Bihar) to Birtatnagar Custom Yard would be completed in 2018.

Besides boosting railway links with Nepal, New Delhi will also back another connectivity project which would link Nepal’s rivers to India’s and ultimately to the Indian coast.

“The second area is to build inland connectivity between India and Nepal through inland waterways. This is a priority for the Oli government,” Gokhale said at the press conference.

“This would facilitate movement of cargo and help connectivity in Nepal,” India’s top diplomat added

A separate joint statement by India and Nepal noted that the initiative would enable cost effective and efficient movement of cargo and would help the growth of business and economy of Nepal.

On top of India’s commitment to improve Nepal’s railways and inland water connectivity, increased cooperation in agriculture between the two neighbours is being billed as the third major takeaway from Oli’s visit.

“Prime Minister Oli emphasises in various meetings today that Nepal is largely an agriculture-dependent country. He wanted to give some momentum to this sector in Nepal, in terms of modernising the agriculture and laying greater emphasis on organic farming,” Gokhale said.

“We will collaborate in all areas of interest, whether its research and development or awarding scholarships,” the foreign secretary added.

The announcement of these initiatives come amid increased anxiety in New Delhi over its waning influence in the landlocked Himalayan country, even as China makes economic and strategic inroads in the region. While India continues to remain Nepal’s largest trading partner by a long shot (bilateral trade stood at $4.3 billion in 2015), China (approx $ 1 billion in two-way trade) is fast catching up.

China and Nepal last year started works on a cross-border railway link that would connect Lhasa to Kathmandu, part of China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

India has opposed the OBOR as one of its projects, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

When asked by a reporter if Nepal’s keen interest in the OBOR came up during discussions between Modi and Oli, Gokhale said it didn’t.

He said, “The issues of OBOR and China weren’t raised during the bilateral discussions. Our focus was on bilateral relationship.”

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