NEW DELHI : The government on Wednesday approved the exemption of India Ports Global Ltd (IPGL) from the department of public enterprises (DPE) guidelines for speedier development of Iran’s Chabahar Port project, which India sees as a gateway to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The approval was given during a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“The Chabahar port will now be built at a faster rate and we have formed a special subsidiary of the Sagarmala company (Sagarmala Development Company Ltd) that will be exempted from DPE guidelines because that will ensure more participation of experts and many other facilities that can be granted to companies…which will open our doors to Central Asian countries directly and, therefore, this is very important," information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters after the cabinet meeting.

“As the Chabahar port is the country’s first overseas port project with strategic objectives, there is an urgent need to allow IPGL to continue to function as a board-managed company, following the instructions of the ministry of shipping and ministry of external affairs, without making the guidelines of DPE applicable to it for 5 years," the government said in a statement.

India and Iran first agreed to develop Chabahar Port in 2003 but US sanctions on Tehran for its nuclear programme and India’s focus on clinching a civil nuclear deal with the US slowed down the development of the port. In 2016, India and Iran signed a pact for developing the port. In 2018, the two countries signed another pact for IPGL to lease the Shahid Beheshti Port, phase 1 of the Chabahar project, for interim operations. However, the US pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal in May 2018, again putting the brakes on the project.

The cabinet also cleared three agreements, including one to establish a joint working group on petroleum with Myanmar, whose president, U Win Myint, arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday on a three-day visit and is set to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday.

The cabinet also approved the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2020, which allows any “willing" woman to be a surrogate mother and proposes that widows and divorced women can also benefit from its provisions, besides infertile Indian couples. The bill incorporates all recommendations made by a Rajya Sabha select committee, which studied an earlier version of the draft legislation, and is aimed at banning commercial surrogacy and allowing altruistic surrogacy, Javadekar said.

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