Nitesh Kumar Sahoo

Kathmandu: India and Nepal on Thursday agreed to step up efforts to advance mutual cooperation during a "productive" meeting between Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and his Nepalese counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal.

Shringla began his two-day official visit to Nepal on Thursday. He was accorded a warm welcome on his maiden visit to Nepal which is happening at the invitation of Nepal Foreign Secretary Paudyal, amid a strain in bilateral ties following a bitter border row between the two countries.

"FS @harshvshringla had a productive meeting with @PaudyalBR during which they took stock of bilateral cooperation and discussed issues of mutual interest," the Indian embassy in Kathmandu said in a tweet.

"Both sides appreciated the progress made on the numerous bilateral initiatives and projects. It was agreed to take further steps to advance mutual cooperation," it said in another tweet.

Shringla arrived at Tribhuvan International in Kathmandu on Thursday morning.

While interacting with local journalists, he said, "I have wanted to come here earlier also, but because of COVID-19 I couldn't do so. I am very happy to be here. I was here in Kathmandu earlier too, though this is my first visit to Nepal as a Foreign Secretary. We have very strong relationship. Our endeavour will be to see how we can take that relationship forward".

"I would like to thank the government of Nepal, the foreign secretary for the warm hospitality extended to us. We have some very good meetings ahead of us and we will look forward to how that goes. My first meeting will be with the Nepalese Foreign Secretary and then I will meet Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali. I will also hold meetings with high dignitaries in Kathmandu," he said.

Shringla's visit will be a continuation of the regular exchange of high-level visits between the two friendly neighbours, the Nepalese Foreign Ministry said in a statement this week.

He is also scheduled to call on Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Thursday. On Friday, he will give a lecture on India-Nepal relations at Hotel Soaltee Crown Plaza in Kathmandu and will inspect three schools built under Indian assistance at Gorkha, the epicenter of the 2015 earthquake, it said.

Shringla will also hand over COVID-19-related support to the Government of Nepal before wrapping up his two-day visit on Friday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had pledged to construct 50,000 houses in Gorkha, the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake.The construction of forty thousand houses has already been completed there.

"We have also focused in education sector. India has also rebuilt school buildings in Gorkha district. He will inaugurate three school buildings built in Gorkha under India's assistance," he said.

Shringla will also inaugurate a Buddhist monastery in Manang district situated in remote mountainous region of Nepal near Tibetan border, which was renovated under India's assistance.

Earlier this month, Indian Army chief Gen. M M Naravane travelled to Nepal on a three-day visit during which he held talks with Nepal's top leadership and discussed bilateral relations.

During the visit, he called on Prime Minister Oli, who is also the Defence Minister of Nepal. Oli told him that problems between Nepal and India would be resolved through dialogue.

Gen Naravane's three-day visit to Nepal was largely aimed at resetting bilateral ties that came under severe strain following a bitter border row between the two countries.

The ties between the two countries came under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80-km-long strategically crucial road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand on May 8.

Nepal protested the inauguration of the road claiming that it passed through its territory.

Days later, Nepal came out with the new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as its territories.

After Nepal released the map, India reacted sharply, calling it a "unilateral act" and cautioning Kathmandu that such "artificial enlargement" of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it.

In its reaction, after Nepal's lower house of parliament approved the bill, India had also termed as untenable the "artificial enlargement" of territorial claims by the neighbouring country.

India had said Nepal's action violates an understanding reached between the two countries to resolve the boundary issues through talks.

Meanwhile, Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe is scheduled to visit Nepal shortly after Shringla returns home, according to Foreign Ministry sources here.

Wei is likely to arrive here on Sunday on a four-day official visit, though the date of the trip is yet to be officially announced.

(With PTI Inputs)