Transcript of Media Briefing by Official Spokesperson (October 31, 2014)

Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon for our regular interaction. I have two announcements to make following which the floor will be open for any questions that you may like to ask on those announcements. After that in case you have any questions on anything else, I will try and respond to them. The announcements that I have to make relate to (1) an outgoing visit, and (2) an incoming one.

The External Affairs Minister, Shrimati Sushma Swaraj, will be visiting Mauritius from the 1st to the 3rd of November. You are all aware that India and Mauritius have a truly exceptional relationship of friendship and shared historical and cultural heritage. Mauritius is also our gateway to the Indian Ocean and to Africa.

During her visit to Mauritius the External Affairs Minister of course will be meeting with her counterpart the Foreign Minister of Mauritius Dr. Arvin Boolell. She will also be calling on the President of Mauritius Mr. Purryag and also call on the Prime Minister of Mauritius Dr. Navin Ramgoolam.

In Mauritius she will participate in the commemoration of the 180th anniversary of the Apravasi Diwas. This is the day when indentured labour from India arrived in Mauritius way back on 2nd November 1834 on MV Atlas. It is, therefore, an occasion to pay tributes to the ancestors of all those who landed on the shores of Mauritius from India. On the 3rd, there is an international conference on indentured labour at which the External Affairs Minister will deliver the keynote address.

On her return journey from Mauritius, the External Affairs Minister will also stopover in Male and have discussions with her counterpart the Foreign Minister of Maldives Dunya Maumoon. That is about the outgoing visit.

We also have a visitor coming next week. The External Affairs Minister Shrimati Sushma Swaraj will play host to the Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Mr. Rogozin. Both the Ministers will share the 20th session of the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation which will be held on the 5th of November. The last meeting of this forum was held in October 2013. Of course they have had inter-sessional meetings subsequently. You are also aware that Mr. Rogozin was in Delhi in June this year following the new Government taking over in India.

During his visit to India, apart from chairing the Joint Commission with the External Affairs Minister Mr. Rogozin will also call on the Prime Minister, and will participate in the plenary session of the Trade and Investment Forum which will be attended by 200 business entrepreneurs and enterprises involved in trade between India and Russia.

The Intergovernmental Commission is the precursor to the annual summit meeting between India and Russia which will be held this year later in December. The Commission has various subgroups relating to trade and economic cooperation, energy, tourism, science and technology, information and communication technology, as well as modernisation and industrialisation.

The meetings of the Working Groups of the sub-commission will cover the entire expanse of our bilateral relations in these matters and will submit proposals that will be considered by the two leaders when they meet at the summit meeting in December.

I think I will stop at those two announcements. I am ready to take any questions that you may like to ask on those issues first.

Question:The 200 business delegates, are they of both the countries?

Official Spokesperson: This is a total of 200 participants. These include of course Indian business enterprises which are dealing with Russia as well as leading Russian business enterprises dealing with India.

Question:What is the status of the discussions or consultations on the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement between India and Mauritius?

Official Spokesperson: The India-Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Convention is an important agreement between our two countries. We have an agreed format in which all issues on this matter are being discussed. Given the nature of our close bilateral relations and ties, we are confident that we will take into account each other’s concerns and interests while making any changes to it. Discussions on this are an ongoing issue. Once these are ready and there is agreement between the two countries, we will then move to the next step of amending it. We will of course ensure that the legitimate interests of India as well as those of Mauritius will be secured in any new agreement that we arrive upon.

Question:Male has recently given assent to the maritime silk route proposed by China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also proposed some parallel trade routes for India. Do you think this issue is going to come up when External Affairs Minister is going to Male and discuss with her counterpart?

Official Spokesperson: First of all, let me clarify there is no issue of a parallel or an alternative route. What exists, exists. If a silk route exists, so does a spice route, so does a mausam route. So, there is no issue of a parallel or an alternate route.

As regards the meeting there, this is going to be a short meeting, this is only a stopover visit. What are the issues that will be discussed? Certainly all issues which are high on our agenda will be discussed and I will share with you the outcomes of those. Certainly I am not going to talk to you in advance of the two Foreign Ministers talking of what they will discuss. So at this stage I will stick to my standard policy which is we will tell you the outcomes, we are not going to negotiate through Rajya Sabha Television.

If there are no questions on this part, we can move to anything else that you may have.

Question:I wonder if you would care to comment on the report out of Times of India from Mumbai, this is about a lady who was applying for a passport and the advocate on record has said that if she is unwed, she needs to declare who her husband is for her child if she is applying for a passport; and if she was raped, then she has to inform as to who the father was.

Official Spokesperson: Let me try and comment on that.

Number one, I do not know what transpired in the court, I am not the lawyer’s lawyer. Let us be very clear. But I will give you what the Ministry of External Affairs view on this is, what the Government of India’s position on this is. And I am shocked if you think that is our view. If anyone thinks that is the view of the Government of India, I am appalled by that. Let me tell you what our view is so that all of you are aware of it.

First of all, in such matters when you apply for passport it is normal that there may be a child with a single parent. Now in all cases, whether it is a mother who is a single parent, or a father who is a single parent, the Ministry of External Affairs only asks for two documents: (1) A birth certificate from the Registrar of Births about the birth of the child. This is normal. (2) An affidavit which the single parent swears before a Magistrate. He or she does not need to come to the passport issuing authority and make that statement, but a statement which is sworn before a Judicial Magistrate.

I will now read to you what it has so that all of you are aware. The name of the father should be left blank and should not be entered into the passport without his consent. To safeguard against cases of abduction, kidnapping, the only requirement is of an affidavit of the mother that the child is hers and supported by a birth certificate. Similarly, vice versa. I will now circulate to all of you here a copy of this affidavit which is a public document which has no mention of any of the things that you are saying. Therefore, I am surprised that you or anyone else would think that the Government of India would discriminate on the basis of gender of a person and is so insensitive that they would ask the questions that you mentioned have been reported. That said, aI am not a lawyer, I do not know what the lawyer said, and I cannot stand for the lawyer. But I can stand for what our views are. These views are based on case law as well as a sensitive approach to our citizens. This is not meant to harass anybody, this is meant to ease grant of passports.

So, please come around and I will distribute to all of you copies of that document which all of you can study and make out for yourself whether there is any issue of gender discrimination or insensitivity in that. I hope that answers your question.

I suggest that before you ask me further questions on this read the document.

Question:Will any action be taken by the Government against the lawyer? If she is hired by you, then obviously you have a right to terminate her services or keep her going as your lawyer. And if you could tell me when she was hired?

Official Spokesperson: Shrinjoy, I do not know the details of when a lawyer in a certain case has been hired. But if you would like to know, we will find that out. These are government counsels who are provided to us. That said, we do not speak for the lawyers; we will examine what you say has been said by the lawyer. This is today a report. We will certainly examine the lawyer’s version of this. But if your report is correct, it is absolutely contrary to what the Government of India or the Ministry of External Affairs stands for. We do not stand for gender discrimination. We do not countenance insensitivity in such matters. I hope that is clear to everyone once and for all.

Question:Five fishermen were given sentence to death by a Sri Lankan court yesterday. In this regard Dr. Subramanian Swamy has written a letter to Sri Lankan Prime Minister and Prime Minister Modiji that under 2010 bilateral pact between India and Sri Lanka the five convicts should be transferred to India. Is MEA considering these aspects? Is it legally possible to bring those five convicts to India?

Official Spokesperson: Let me go one by one. Yes, it is true that a lower court in Sri Lanka has passed a judgment which passes the death sentence against five Indian nationals. Secondly, it is also true that the Government of India through a lawyer will contest that. The legal process is not complete. This is only the first step that has been taken in that legal process. Third, our High Commissioner today in Colombo has had detailed discussions with the lawyers. Their assessment is that there has been a miscarriage of justice and they would like to appeal against that. They are as of now waiting for an authenticated or final copy of the judgment, and only based on that they will take the next action. And that next option of course will include a possible appeal to the court of appeals against the judgment. That is where we are in the legal process.

Simultaneously, there is concern in our Government on this judgment and this concern has been conveyed to the Sri Lankan authorities both in New Delhi at the highest level that the Sri Lankan authorities are present here as well as through our High Commission to senior levels in Sri Lankan Government including the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary because these people were apprehended by the defence forces, and other important officials in the Sri Lankan Government.

It does not end there. Let me try and explain to you the legal architecture that we have between India and Sri Lanka. Let me give you an example. There have been cases of, by my account, two Indian nationals previously who were given the death sentence. This was in the 1990s. That death sentence after it was pronounced was commuted by the executive authorities in Sri Lanka, which means finally the President of Sri Lanka, to a life sentence. Following that they served some period in Sri Lankan prison, after which India and Sri Lanka have a pact which provides for sentenced prisoners to serve their sentences in their respective countries. Under that, two of these Indian nationals who were originally given the death sentence, whose death sentence was then commuted to life imprisonment, were transferred to India in 2013. Following that, one of them completed his term and has been set free, another one is currently serving his sentence in India. So, there is a legal architecture available between India and Sri Lanka to address these matters. However, let me clarify that this executive action can only be triggered after the legal process is complete. You cannot trigger this off while there is a legal process on.

So my request to you, and through you to your readers, to your viewers, is allow the process to continue. We are confident that truth always prevails. After all it is Satyamev Jayate.

Question:You had spoken about how the MEA is preparing a report for Bangladeshi authorities on the Burdwan blast and also the incident in Birbhum. Has any progress been made on that front? Have you submitted that report so far?

Official Spokesperson: I think in paraphrasing what I said you have embellished what I said. I did not say MEA is preparing a report. I said we had received a request from Bangladesh, and I had also said that we had requested our concerned authorities to provide information that we can suitably share with our friends in Bangladesh. That was what I said.

We have been in consultation, I can confirm to you, even as you speak we are in consultation with our colleagues in the concerned and competent agencies who have this expertise, who have information or are obtaining that. We will take the next step once this consultation process is over.

Question:It has come to light that one or two warships of China and one submarine visited Sri Lanka at the time when the standoff in Ladakh was on its peak. When Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka visited India and Sri Lankan Navy Chief came here, was the issue raised?

Official Spokesperson: I think this question was put to me previously by one of you and I explained to you that the Ministry of External Affairs handles issues when visitors relating to us come. This question that you are asking about the Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka as well as the Naval Chief I think needs to be asked somewhere else because these deal with defence matters. So please ask those who he met, to respond to that question.

Question:Joh document aapne diya hai us par ek clarification chahiye. Meri jankari ke mutabik Bombay High Court ke judges ne bhi yahi puchha tha. Clause 2 ka agar dekh payen middle-wala hissa, judge ki taraf se bhi yahi puchha gaya tha agar koi ladki joh shaadi-shuda na ho aur usko baby ho, toh aisi sthiti mein Clause 2 mein voh kya bharegi. Iska javaab aapke vakeel ne yahi diya tha ki unko bataana padega ki unke saath rape kisne kiya hai. By the way aap keval agar itna bata den ki usmein kya naam bharna padega agar koi gair shaadi-shuda …

Official Spokesperson: I will give you what is written in the rule so that you understand. The name of the father should be left blank and should not be entered into the passport, as admission by a woman of the birth of a child out of wedlock invites social stigma. It should, therefore, be presumed that her affidavit is true. So we go on the basis of the affidavit with that part being blank. I hope that is clear to you.

Let us not keep on saying court mein yeh kaha gaya tha. Aap nahin thei aur main nahin tha vahan par. Aur I am not the lawyer’s lawyer as I said. I am also not the spokesperson of the lawyer. I am the Spokesperson of the Government of India relating to these matters, and I can only tell you what the Government position on this is.

Question:Is there a likelihood of a meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the SAARC summit?

Official Spokesperson: I think I have answered this question last week. It is your job to ask me these questions every week and it is my pleasure to respond to you that as of now there are no such proposals in hand and those who have written about these are fanciful flights of imagination. When we have not decided on this, anything else you write is based on your thinking of it. I can look around and see several of you have written several such kite-flying stories. But I do not want to go down that route because it is your choice to write stories which may not be based on facts.

As of now we have not discussed this issue. There is no request that has been received. There is no request that we intend to give. That is where we are. There is still more than a month to the SAARC summit. Before that there are many other summits. And I had said last time also, focus on those. Do not do this kite-flying for something which is more than a month in advance.

Question:Sir, Jama Masjid ke Shahi Imam ke bete ki dastaarbandi mein unhon ne Pakistan ki Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ko invite kiya hai. Toh voh yahan par aane ke baare mein kuchh unki taraf se koi intimation hai?

Official Spokesperson: I am tempted to evade the question because you heard the laughter. But that said, when voices from the wilderness are heard, these are addressed to all of you, not to me as government. As far as I am concerned, as government I respond to government, not to voices from the wilderness who are always clawing to get space and your mind space.

Question:Coming back to SAARC, there were two SAARC Ministerial meetings held at Delhi – today the SAARC Education Ministers Meeting and a few days back Power Ministers Meeting – where Pakistan did not come, no Minister was represented in that meeting. In one meeting Kathmandu held at the Home Ministers’ level where perhaps Pakistan Minister was also not present. Does it indicate that ultimately Pakistan is not attending the SAARC summit?

Official Spokesperson: Gautam, I am not the spokesperson of the Pakistan Foreign Ministry. This question needs to be addressed to them because they will respond to you. I speak for the Government of India and we attend every meeting of SAARC and for us SAARC is an important organisation. And I can confirm to you, Prime Minister intends to attend this SAARC Summit in Kathmandu.

Question:Mr. Akbaruddin, does the Prime Minister intend visiting Lumbini?

Official Spokesperson: Good try! We will let you know the Prime Minister’s programme. It is not yet finalised. It is a work in progress. Once it is finalised I certainly will share with you what would be the Prime Minister’s programme in Nepal in addition to the SAARC summit. But yes, I can confirm to you that we are working on a SAARC Plus programme. Of course the Prime Minister will attend SAARC, also he intends to have some other elements in that programme which is still a work in progress.

Question:Is there any update on the Indian captives in Mosul?

Official Spokesperson: No. I have informed you what the position was and that remains the position.

Question:Given the fact that President Xi Jinping has kicked off his tour to this region with a visit to Maldives and there is that Chinese investment in the Hula project, there are reports of some more Indian companies exiting Maldives. When Mrs. Sushma Swaraj goes in there, is that a concern that New Delhi would like to sort of express about political interference in Indian affairs?

Official Spokesperson: I do not know, you have mixed up commerce with politics. I mentioned to you that this is a halt in Maldives on her return journey. Therefore, it is going to be a limited duration discussion. All issues that we feel are important and that need to be given prominence in that will figure. And I will share with you what those are. At this stage, like I did not share with Rajya Sabha TV, I do not intend to share it with Headlines Today also.

Question:The new Afghan President on his first visit went to China? India and Afghanistan are very close. So, it did raise a few eyebrows. Any comments on that?

Official Spokesperson: Surprisingly I do not understand what this question is about. Afghanistan and India have a strategic partnership and we are close friends. We coordinate and cooperate on a whole host of issues. If the Afghan President has chosen to visit China on his first visit, we wish him luck because India wants a stable and prosperous Afghanistan and will support the new Afghan leadership in all its efforts towards that end, and I am certain this visit is towards that end, Also this visit is linked with the Istanbul process to which an Indian representative, the Minister of State Mr. V.K. Singh, has gone and he this morning met with our friends there including the Chinese Foreign Minister.

Question:I would just draw your attention on Sri Lanka matter which you referred to about two fishermen were brought back in 2013, they were convicted in 1990s. Did these two fishermen commit the same error as the five fishermen committed or was it some other offence for which they were given capital punishment and then were brought back to India?

Official Spokesperson: First of all, I did not say fishermen, I said two Indian nationals. Please look carefully. I said two individuals who were Indians. That said, they may be fishermen, this is not an issue. But they were given capital punishment. As of now our position on these five is that there has been a miscarriage of justice. So, I will not club those who are not yet sentenced through the legal process with those who were sentenced through the legal process whose sentence was commuted. But, death punishment as you are aware is in the rarest of rare cases. I can trace out for you what these issues were. In one case I think it was relating to smuggling of drugs. But I do not know all the details, I will try and get them for you. These Indian nationals were brought back to India. One completed his sentence and one is still serving his sentence.

Question:It has been reported that the new Afghanistan Government has withdrawn the earlier request for weapons from India. Does this detract from the depth of the strategic relationship which India has had with the previous dispensation? And is this an indication of the outline or the kind of ties which Afghanistan would have with India?

Official Spokesperson: Everything that is reported is not gospel truth. I have just proven to you in one other case of this morning that what the view of the Government of India was in another totally different issue. Now, as regards what you are saying, I do not want to comment on unverified reports. As regards India and Afghanistan, our strategic partnership remains as strong as it was under President Karzai. Our National Security Advisor was recently in Kabul and had very good discussions on the entire gamut of our relationship which includes possible cooperation in areas of a strategic nature.

Question:Akbar, Chinese Foreign Office Spokesman had raised objection of a slightly unfortunate kind or in unfortunate language about India’s plans to raise 54 border posts along the Arunachal border. Is that not interference in India’s internal affairs, and how do we respond to something like this?

Official Spokesperson: I suggest you read the news item that you are referring to again. I do not think there was a statement by the Chinese Foreign Office. I would suggest that you look at your facts again. If there have been statements from other than Foreign Office, it is for those who handle those areas or their counterparts to respond. Please have a look again and I am certain that you will realise that what I have said is not wrong.

Question:There have been lots of write-ups on online forums stating that Sri Lankan representatives keep coming in – the Defence Minister, Foreign Minister have come in so far – and Indian representatives have not gone to Sri Lanka to speak about any issues. Whenever we ask MEA, whenever we approach, as a Spokesperson you tell us that continuously we have been talking about the fishermen issue. But things are happening regularly. So when will the Indian representatives go to Sri Lanka? Is there any scheduled meeting that is going to happen soon?

Official Spokesperson: Let me try and answer your question. The very fact that you have said several representatives of Sri Lanka come here is indicative of the fact that we are in regular contact. And as I said, in the last two days our External Affairs Minister talked to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, just less than 48 hours ago. Our High Commissioner has talked to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister twice or thrice in that same period. So, India and Sri Lanka have extensive contacts. It does not require a meeting where you need to go.

However, the External Affairs Minister has in her agenda a trip to Sri Lanka at the earliest opportunity. You are aware that the diplomatic calendar of our Prime Minister as well as our External Affairs Minister is extremely full because there are a large number of their counterparts wanting to meet them. On the other hand with Sri Lanka our Prime Minister and President Rajapaksa have met twice in less than six months. Our External Affairs Minister has met them. So I do not think you should get into where they meet, how they meet or when they meet. That they meet is important.

The fishermen issue, let me tell you, is high on the priority list of both the Prime Minister as well as the External Affairs Minister. I can assure you that both have this as a high priority item on their foreign policy agenda.

Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction.

(Concluded)

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