Why PM Modi's visit to Nepal is strategically important for both countries

NEW DELHI: In a clear sign that relations with Nepal hold importance for India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting the neighbouring country for the third time in four years. It is the first high-level visit from India since the formation of a new government in Nepal this year. The visit is being seen as an attempt by both countries to bring back normalcy in ties after a spell of uneasiness, and is particularly important in the backdrop of Beijing strengthening its political and economic ties with the Himalayan nation.
For Nepal, Modi’s visit shortly after the formation of the strong leftist government led by Nepalese Prime Minister Oli is being seen as India’s endorsement of the Nepalese Constitution that was promulgated two and a half years ago. Oli was among the key leaders who played a major role in drafting the 2015 constitution, which failed to get India’s endorsement, resulting in an official blockade against the neighbouring country.

Earlier today, the PM flagged off his visit to Nepal with a visit to Janakpur where he jointly launched the Ramayan circuit along with Oli to promote tourism in Nepal and India. Fifteen destinations in both countries, such as Ayodhya, Nandigram, Shringverpur and Chitrakoot, will be developed to promote religious tourism.

five reasons why PM Modi’s visit to Nepal is crucial for both countries:

1. Modi and Oli will get the ball rolling for the construction of the 900 MW Arun III project in Sankhuwasabha district of eastern Nepal being developed by India through remote control. The two prime ministers will jointly inaugurate the project, the largest hydropower project to be developed in Nepal, that is expected to be completed within five years at a cost nearing Rs 6,000 crore. The venture will transform the Nepalese economy by generating around 900 MW of power as it aims to provide billions of dollars to the Nepal government in the form of free electricity, royalty and tax. India, too, would benefit through the supply of the electricity generated by the project.

2. Modi’s visit will also give impetus to another key connectivity and infrastructure project -- the Raxaul (Bihar)-Kathmandu rail link that was announced during Oli’s visit to India in April this year, which will connect Nepal to the Indian railway system. A survey of the area will be completed by the end of this year, according to sources, who added that despite the “challenging terrain, the focus is on “implementation”. The Raxaul-Kathmandu rail line will expand “connectivity” between the two neighbours and “enhance people-to-people linkages and promote economic growth and development”. It is especially important in the backdrop of China also proposing to build its own railway line between Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Kathmandu by 20122, with an apparent aim at reducing the Nepalese capital’s dependence on India.

3. In addition, prime ministers of both nations will hold discussions on boosting inland waterways transport. Kalughat in Bihar has been identified as the transhipment point. In the past month, both sides reviewed the the trade and transit treaty, which might have to be amended for the inland waterways transport initiative to take off. Nepal is a landlocked country and a separate river transport system will give the country a much-needed route all the way to the sea, resulting in cost effective and efficient movement of cargo, within the framework of trade and transit arrangements.

4. Development assistance is PM Modi’s visit's agenda, which includes talks on moving forward on an agricultural partnership, under which India will share its experience with organic farming, new initiatives of soil health cards, etc. Initial meetings have been held and pilot projects have already been identified. In addition, power cooperation will be another key area of discussion. India’s power regulator has already solicited responses from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh to decide the terms of the power trade. Modi will also emphasise that Nepal should also complete its commitments with regard to land acquisition, forest clearances etc, much of which was responsible for delays in earlier projects. 

5. Talks on the ambitious Pancheshwar multi-purpose dam project could also be on the cards. Sources have said the detailed project report is complete. This project, which was conceived 22 years ago, besides generating hydro-power to the tune of 4,800 MW, augmenting irrigation potential and controlling floods, also has the potential to address Delhi’s growing water demand through a proposed Sharda-Yamuna inter-linking of rivers.


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