London: UK's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond will make his first visit to India starting on Wednesday during which he is expected to hold talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on key bilateral issues.
Hammond will reach New Delhi tomorrow and as part of his key engagements during the two-day trip, he will inaugurate a new Deputy High Commission in Chandigarh and is also expected to meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
"I am delighted to be making my first visit to India as foreign secretary. The UK's partnership with India is indispensable for both our countries' prosperity and security," the senior Conservative party minister said in a statement here.
"I am particularly pleased to be opening our new Deputy High Commission in Chandigarh. The UK now has more diplomatic missions in India than any other nation does, and more than it has in any other country a sure sign of the great importance we place on our relationship," he said.
Hammond also emphasised the significance of the tour ahead of the unveiling ceremony for a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Parliament Square in London on March 14, a high-profile event slated to be attended by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Hammond said, "Our partnership is deeply rooted in our overlapping histories, cultures and values. This Saturday, the long-awaited statue of Mahatma Gandhi in London's Parliament Square will unite citizens from both our democracies in admiration for his teaching of civil rights and non-violence."
The foreign minister is also expected to raise the issue of the release of British men awaiting an appeal over allegations of possessing weapons in India.
UK Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire, in the House of Commons last week, confirmed, talks will take place about the British nationals, who were among the 35 crew members arrested in October 2013 over allegedly possessing weapons illegally while working for a private US-owned ship M V Seamen Guard Ohio.
The Coast Guard authorities had detained the ship on October 11 last year off Tuticorin port on charges of trespassing in Indian waters and carrying arms and ammunition without licence. Police arrested the crew members on October 18 and they remained in judicial custody for about six months.
33 crew members were granted bail by Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on March 26 last year, which later in July also had quashed invoking of the Arms Act against the crew.
Speaking in Parliament, Swire had said, "We have regularly raised this case at the most senior levels of government and have pressed for the legal process to be resolved as soon as possible.
"(Mr Hammond) will be raising this yet again when he visits India next week. Last month following requests from three of the men we issued emergency travel documents. The men will still require permission from the Indian authorities before they are able to leave the country," he said.