Transcript of Media Briefing by Secretary (West) on Hon. President’s ongoing visit to Norway

Press Secretary to President (Shri Venu Rajamony): Good evening friends. We are privileged to have Ambassador Browne also join us this evening. Secretary (West) will take you through what has been happening today, and then we are open to any questions you may have. All of you have already seen the programme and you know the different items on the agenda.

Secretary (West) (Shri Navtej Sarna): I would just go through the events this morning. It has been quite an intense day with several events packed in. And it is not yet over, the gala dinner is still to be held this evening.

This morning the proceedings started with a very elaborate and a very colourful ceremonial welcome at the Royal Palace of the President of India by Their Majesties the King and Queen and also the Crown Prince who escorted the President from the hotel to the Royal Palace, and the Crown Princess was also present during the ceremony. The ceremony which was conducted in the forecourt of the Royal Palace involved the usual playing of national anthems, the inspection of the guard, gun salute; and then Their Royal Majesties escorted the President into the palace where there was an exchange of gifts.

Thereafter the President proceeded to lay a wreath at the national monument at the Akershus Castle, after which he went to the City Hall where he was welcomed by the Mayor of Oslo and was shown the entire City Hall. It is a very impressive city hall, the most important thing being that he was welcomed into the hall where the Nobel Peace Prize is given, and the significance of hall and the huge frescoes that elaborate those walls was explained to him. There was also a cultural performance in honour of the President. By the way, Their Majesties the King and Queen accompanied him right through this entire programme.

Before the City Hall, the meeting at the Storting, or the Norwegian Parliament, took place where he was welcomed by the President of the Storting and delegation-level discussions were held. The Storting, for your information, is the unicameral Parliament of Norway with 169 members who are elected for four years. The interesting thing about Norwegian Parliament is that it cannot be dissolved and there are no by-elections. The Parliament has a very significant role in the running of the government.

The discussions were very wide ranging and philosophical in nature. The President discussed and elaborated on the process of Constitution building and the specific context as to how the Indian Constitution came to be built and not simply during the three years of work of the Constituent Assembly between 1947 to 1950, but actually how the traditions of our Constitution had been set up. And given the President’s phenomenal personal experience of Parliament Affairs, this was a fascinating elaboration for the Norwegian guests.

He also congratulated the Nobel Prize Peace Committee and expressed appreciation at the fact that these two individuals had been picked and recognised for their work and the spirit which had informed their life’s work towards protection of children.

The Constitution discussion came up in the context that Norway has just celebrated 200 years of its Constitution. Adopted in 1814, it is one of the first written Constitutions. The President of the Storting actually then responded by saying how their own Constitution had developed over these 200 years in response to the changes in the country, society and the world.

The President also invited the President of Storting to visit India and this would further strengthen the bonds between the two Parliaments. The President of Storting incidentally has visited India earlier but as a member of the Standing Committee on Women and Family Matters of the Norwegian Parliament.

Thereafter, Their Majesties hosted the President and his delegation for a lunch at the Royal Place in the presence of senior members of the Norwegian Government including Ministers, the Crown Prince, and the Princess.

Some of you have already seen the events at the Fram Museum which followed. For those who were not there and for your background, I think this was a very significant event during which the President was not only acquainted with Norway’s tremendous history in terms of polar research, polar expeditions, and the tremendous work of Norwegian explorers over the last 150 years or so, but also had a video conversation with Indian scientists at the Himadri Station in Svalbard, Ny-Alesund. The Himadri was set up in 2008. And he also spoke to three Indian Ph.D. students who are working on various aspects of Arctic research at the University of Svalbard. He congratulated and encouraged both the scientists and students to continue their work. He sought their feedback on various aspects including the possibilities of further strengthening cooperation between India and Norway so that the work they are doing gets impetus. He asked them some questions to seek their views on climate change, on changes in the Arctic, and what they thought was the way forward in tackling these common issues.

Just by way of background I can tell you that Himadri was set up in 2008 but India’s and polar research and polar expeditions go back to 1981 when we first went to the Antarctica. But it was more than two decades later that we also moved towards the Arctic. At the Himadri, since it has been set up, 200 scientists from various Indian universities and institutions have worked. At any time there are five or six scientists who are working there, today there were five, and they stay there 175 days in the year which is from March to November. It is extremely difficult, trying conditions but then there is no substitute for actually doing this research.

The areas on which they are working are several and diverse. I think at the moment there are 25 Indian projects in various aspects of Arctic that are being studied including the atmosphere, the microbiology and glaciology because it is believed that it is in the Arctic and the higher latitudes where the drivers of climate are. And this was one of the things that came up during the President’s interaction, the linkage between what happens in the Arctic and what happens for instance to the Indian monsoon. So, there are linkages. The interesting achievement in this regard also is, as recently as May 2014, the Indian team managed to put a deep-sea observatory probe which is collecting information on climate changes under the Arctic Ocean. And this is half way up to the North Pole. This is a very significant achievement which will produce some very valuable data.

I think more or less I have gone through the day. If the Ambassador, or my colleagues Venu or Rahul have something to add, please do.

Indian Ambassador in Norway (Shri N.A.K. Browne):As what the Secretary (West) has mentioned on the probe that has been put in place, it is at almost about 78 degrees North and it is the first time that we have done this. This probe is going to be functioning throughout the year. So, though the human element is going to be there just from March to November, they will continue to gather data and empirical data is exactly what they need in the high North to arrive at some decisions and certain conclusions as far as the research part is concerned. And this probe actually has been placed in conjunction with the Norwegian Government in the Arctic cooperation that we have been doing with Norway. All in all, it has been a very good success story from both countries in this particular area.

Secretary (West): This is just to say that all this takes on further significance by the fact that in May 2013 India was included as a Permanent Observer to the Arctic Council. So, all this work is being done against a larger political context also.

Press Secretary to President: I will just add two small points for those who were not there (at the Fram Museum). The President had a dialogue with both the scientists in the Himadri as well as the students in the University of Svalbard. The opening line with which the leader of the Himadri team greeted him was, ‘It is cold here but really exciting’. The President wanted to know the nature of the research they are doing, what specific evidence they have been able to collect. And he expressed his deep appreciation for the efforts being made by them despite the extremely hostile weather and environment. He said that he encouraged them saying that the work that they were doing is extremely important and it will lead to our understanding the process of climate change. He asked them to learn, to gather inspiration from the great explorers of the past and to continue with their work.

To the students, he also enquired from the students as to what is the support that both the Government of Norway and the Government of India can together provide to them in addition; and the response that he got was that they really are in the ideal place for field studies but what is needed is more research and the involvement of more universities in the process.

Any questions?

Question:Did these Arctic researchers have said anything about any problems they are facing? There are so many players in that region. Are they facing any problem with the other countries? How do we proceed further in cooperation with the Norwegian Government?

Secretary (West): I think there is enough work for everybody to do. India is the eleventh country which has a station on Svalbard. And I think one aspect that was underlined both in the briefing that the President got at the Fram Museum and which is obvious from what our scientists have been saying and how we have been working is that the only way forward in this is international cooperation. So, there are no problems. It is not competitive, it is cooperative effort that is needed. And I think the scientific endeavour is not just for the good of one country but for the benefit of mankind at large. That is the nature and spirit and the intent of our scientific endeavour.

Question:Sir, jab monsoon aur climate change ke baare mein puchha gaya President ke taraf se toh kya javaab diya unhon ne?

Secretary (West): Unhon ne bataaya ki voh kis tarah ka kaam kar rahe hain. Scientists ne details diya Rashtrapatiji ko ki ve glacier study kar rahe hain aur phir uska kya impact hota hai climate change par iske baare mein bataya. Yeh toh sab jaante hain ki joh Arctic mein hota hai agar Arctic ki ice melt karti hai, toh us mein sea level par effect hota hai, us mein atmosphere par effect hota hai, usmein currents par effect hota hai, aur usse hamaare monsoon par affect hota hai.

Press Secretary to President: There is something called a global conveyor belt whereby the impact of the Arctic is carried all the way up to the monsoons in India.

Question:What is the programme tomorrow?

Secretary (West): Tomorrow he has a meeting at the NHO. There is a high level plenary session, a joint seminar on business, science and technology. This will cover both the educationists who have come with him plus the business delegation which has accompanied the Presidential visit. It will also include the signing of a few agreements at the morning session. And after the President departs, they will branch off into their round tables and both the S&T and business aspects will be discussed. That takes care of the first part of the morning.

He will then have a meeting with the Prime Minister of Norway and their delegation where they will discuss bilateral relations, different aspects, plus of course several global issues and regional issues will no doubt come up for discussion. The Prime Minister will also host the President as well as Their Majesties the King and Queen of Norway at a lunch.

In the afternoon there is a visit to the Munch Museum, the famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch. At that museum also we expect an agreement to be signed. So, the signing of agreements is going to be separated in different ways and you actually have the signing being done at three different venues – there will be signing at the business, scientific seminar; there will be signing at the Prime Ministerial meeting; and there will be a signing at the Munch Museum.

Question:Which type of agreements and how many agreements will be signed tomorrow?

Press Secretary to President: We are compiling the details. Some last minute information needs to be added. It will be provided to all of you, if possible by today evening itself.

Secretary (West): We will give you a list.

Question:Did President discuss any political or bilateral issues specifically with the King and any other government leaders today?

Secretary (West): He did not meet the government people today. He met His Majesty, which was a ceremonial meeting. There was no formal structured government meeting. The Prime Minister was not there. At lunch there were a couple of Ministers, the Trade and Commerce Minister was present, but actual political issues will be discussed tomorrow.

Thank you. We will see you at some stage tomorrow.



October 13, 2014

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