Official Spokesperson (Shri Syed Akbaruddin):Good afternoon friends and thank you very much for being here this afternoon for our regular interaction.
The focus today will be on what we have announced just a few days ago, that is the President’s visit to Norway and Finland. That will be the primary focus of our briefing today. In addition I have a couple of announcements to make and I will make those. After that if any of you are interested in anything else other than the President’s visit or the announcement that I have to make, we would be willing to respond to that.
Before I begin let me introduce to you faces you are familiar with but this is in a different format that you are interacting with them. We have here with us Mr. Navtej Sarna who is Secretary (West) in the Ministry of External Affairs. He is a familiar figure to all of you. I do not need to introduce him further. On his right is Mr. Rahul Chhabra who is another familiar figure. He interacted with you previously, but now he is Joint Secretary (Central Europe) in the Ministry of External Affairs and the pointsperson regarding the two visits of the President to Norway and to Finland. On my left is another familiar figure Mr. Venu Rajamony who is the Press Secretary to the President and whom you have met previously in his current assignment as well as in his earlier assignments when he interacted with you.
What I will do is I will request Secretary (West) to make his opening remarks, after that I have a couple of announcements make and I will make those, and then the floor will be open for questions. As you know, the norm is one question per person. Choose your questions carefully. You have a large number of people to ask questions. Four of us are here to respond to you. So, choose your question and the person who you want to ask your question very wisely and carefully.
With those introductory remarks I will hand you over to Secretary (West) to make his opening remarks regarding President’s visit to Norway and Finland.
Secretary (West) (Shri Navtej Sarna): Thank you, Akbar. Good afternoon friends. Good to be back as always!
I will just run through the basic elements of the two visits and then we can see if you would like any more details. I do not want to overload you with things. I am not even sure how many of you are actually travelling, but I presume some amongst you are.
Let us start with Norway first. Hon. President leaves on 12th October and reaches there the same day. He would spend all of the 13th and the best part of 14th in Norway. Programmatically, he would be having a ceremonial welcome at the Royal Palace on the morning of October 13. Then he will visit the Akershus Fortress where there is the Norwegian national monument where a wreath will be laid. He would also visit the Storting which is the name for the Norwegian Parliament, and have a meeting there with the President of the Storting.
From there on he visits a few places for different purposes. Very interesting is that he will visit something which we call the Fram Museum. At the Fram Museum he would be able to speak on a video link to our scientists up on the Arctic Station, Himadri, which was set up in 2008. And he would also speak to some Ph.D. Students who are working at the University of Svalbard. Svalbard as you know is an island right up there half way to the North Pole from Norway and that is where the Indian station is located.
He would have discussions with their Majesties King and Queen. There would be lunches, banquet. He would also address a joint seminar on business, education, and science and technology, which is being organised in collaboration with the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises.
He is being accompanied, not on flight, but the visit is being accompanied by a large number of businessmen and industrialists. I think they are 45, most of them would carry on to Finland. But that is where we start. He is also being accompanied by senior educationists. So, they would be having their respective dialogues there along with science and technology, in particular earth sciences. I can give you more details if you want on that.
He would be having delegation-level talks, meet the Prime Minister of Norway, and he would also visit the famous Munch Museum for the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, during the visit.
In terms of the relationship and the importance of the visit I would like to add that this is the first ever visit of the Head of State of India to Norway. We have had visits from their side of the Crown Prince most recently, we have hadPrime Ministerial visits, but this is the first visit of the President of India.
The relationship has been cordial and problem free. There are basic commonalities in terms of the value-based governance and political philosophy in terms of rule of law, democracy, human rights and so on. There have been several Ministerial visits from Foreign Ministry as well as from other Ministries.
In bilateral terms the trade is about one billion dollars, and the potential is much more given Norway’s extremely rich resource base as well as other endowments. The basic structure of the relationship in terms of bilateral frameworks in terms of joint commission, working groups is all in place. There are several Indian companies which are active in Norway particularly in the IT field, in new and renewable energy as well as in fishing. There is particular interest in deep-sea fishing. Norway is one of the countries who have tremendous expertise in technology, very expensive technology which takes for deep-sea fishing including for instance krill fishing which is done in the Antarctica down there, and we are looking at ways and means to see how we can cooperate with them in this regard.
There is huge potential for attracting investment from Norway to India both in the infrastructure sector and other sectors. Norway runs what is called the Norwegian Pension Fund, the largest in Europe. It is about USD 850 billion. Some amount of this, a very small amount, is presently being invested in India, I think four billion dollars. But there is a commitment to raise it to USD 20 billion to 40 billion, and we want to see how we can push that further and with which sectors we can do that.
Norway is also the world’s modern maritime nation. They are the descendants of the Vikings. So, this modern maritime nation has a tremendous ship-building expertise, ports and so on. These are some things which we have to look at.
Norway is the world’s third largest exporters of hydrocarbons in the world. They have huge reserves of oil and gas. Most important, they are a source of the most modern technologies in exploration and drilling and so on. So, many of the businessmen and industrialists whom the President incidentally met and had a detailed meeting with early this afternoon would be looking at these aspects also.
A number of agreements would be signed during the visit. I would not go into details but just to tell you they would cover education, they would cover trade as well as cooperation in several other areas. Earth Sciences would be one of the areas.
I must mention in this regard here that, as many of you would recall, in May 2013 India became permanent observer to the Arctic Council and Norway was one of the countries which gave us unconditional support within the Arctic Council to breakthrough, so to speak. And the earth sciences collaboration because of our station in Himadri and other areas has been expanding before and even more so since the fact that we became members of the Arctic Council. This is something which we are looking at going further. The tremendous interest in earth sciences comes from the fact that whatever happens in the Arctic affects us immediately in terms of climate change, in terms of predictability of monsoons, in terms of various other natural phenomena which happen up there and have to researched. We have recently put up a deep-sea probe up beyond towards the North Pole which is playing a very critical role in this research.
There are also agreements being signed between various educational institutions for R&D and for cooperation and exchange; and we will have some more by the time we actually get there, some of them are in the last stages of the pipeline.
We have about 13,000 people of Indian origin there and the President will be meeting a selection of these during his visit.
In global and international issues also Norway has played a very important role. For your background I may tell you that although Norway is not a member of the EU it is very active in the international arena. They have expressed support for expansion of permanent and non-permanent Security Council as well as for India’s candidature for permanent membership. They have helped us in the Arctic Council. They have been helpful and supportive as members of the NSG. This is something which again we will be pushing with Norway and seeking their support for India to get its rightful place in other international fora.
Norway is also destination for our skilled manpower whether they be IT or in other areas. Norway also has a tremendous capacity to import. They are a country which depends heavily on imports rather than exploit manufacturing there, and therefore there is tremendous potential there for expanding our exports.
I will stop there because I see your eyelids drooping. That is always a good sign.
Moving on to Finland, as will the President be on the night of the 14th, he will spend 15th and the most part of the 16th in Finland. This of course is the third visit of a President to Finland. President Giri visited in 1971, President Venkataraman visited in 1988. There have been Prime Ministerial visits from both sides. Some of you would recall the momentous year of 2006 in our bilateral relations in which both Prime Ministers exchanged visits within the same year, and there have been any number of Ministerial visits.
Finland in contrast to Norway is a member of the EU and has been there since 1995. In Finland we also have a reliable trade partner, heavily industrialised in a very green way country which is an important member of the EU. We have USD 1.5 billion of trade. I believe there are about 100 and more Finnish companies in India which are working here including in R&D. India is one of the centres which hosts one of the five global centres of innovation run by Finland called FinNode. One of them is based in India which helps innovation in biotech, energy, etc., for Indian entrepreneurs to work system wide with Finland.
In terms of the programme, after the official welcoming ceremony there will be delegation-level talks. The Mayor of Helsinki will host a lunch for the hon. President. There will be meetings of the Business Delegation and the Indian community. There will be a visit to the Parliament of Finland where he meets the Speaker and other Parliamentarians. He then goes to lay a wreath at the Hietaniemi Cemetary which is a national monument there for people who lost their lives in the wars.
Then he would visit a town which is across the Arctic Circle. This would be the first time President of India actually steps across the Arctic Circle. The town is called Rovaniemi. This is where he visits Santa Claus village. This is an actual village where Santa Claus lives, there is a Santa Claus post office, there is a Santa Claus house and various things. Those of you who are not going with us are really going to miss out on something. Well, we would be back in time Christmas! That will be in terms of the programme.
I have told you about bilateral relations. In terms of international issues etc., Finland has been very supportive of India on the Nuclear Suppliers Group issue, in the IAEA, on UN Security Council reforms, as well as for our entry into the Arctic Council.
A number of agreements once again covering again education, energy, fishing and so on and so forth, both on government-to-government, business-to-business as well as institution-to-institution. As you know, Finland is also one of the countries which has already been listed for waiver of diplomatic official passport holders for visa purposes.
Again he will be accompanied by the Business Delegation and by the educationists’ delegation. You have about 5,000 people of Indian origin in Finland. There is interest from the Finnish side for reciprocating this kind of moves. They actually have a strategy document called the India Action Plan which is useful as a framework for pushing cooperation with India. And we have some programmes already working with them which will feed into current political and business philosophies. We have a very active Joint Working Group on innovation, on cleantech and waste management as well as on skill development and training; and these are working well under the rubric of the overall relationship.
I will end here and I will request you to ask Akbar some questions. Thank you.
Official Spokesperson: Before we go to that element, the Press Secretary to the President may like to add something about how the President is seeing this visit as it will be a useful input to all of you. May I request the Press Secretary to make some remarks before we move on to the next element?
Press Secretary to President (Shri Venu Rajamony):Thank you, Akbar.
Secretary (West) has outlined in considerable detail what are going to be the substantive bilateral elements of this visit. He mentioned that this is the first time any Indian President is visiting Norway. As far as Mr. Pranab Mukherjee is concerned as an individual, despite having held various portfolios in the Government in the past he has never had a chance to visit Norway. He has of course interacted with Norwegian leaders when they visited India and met the Finance Ministers of Norway on the margins of various multilateral meetings. Finland, however, is a country which he has visited in the past as Commerce Minister and he is looking forward to going back to Finland. And he is certainly greatly looking forward to visiting Norway the first time.
You have already seen the different components of the delegation. There is the official delegation, there is a major business delegation, and there are senior educationists, heads of Central Universities, Vice-Chancellors, IITs, etc., – I will give you the names – who are accompanying him on the visit. So, the President would like to see the visit as a very substantial one with deliverables back here for people in India, for our country as a whole. And we anticipate that over and above the government-to-government agreements there would also be a number of agreements on the business side as well as in the education sector which would be concluded.
In the education sector, in fact according o information available as of now, with Finland there will be 11 agreements which our Central universities and other
Central educational institutions would be signing. In Norway there would be seven agreements. The Business Delegation also includes several private universities from India and private educational institutions. We will have to see what are the new advances that they make during the course of this visit.
The official delegation which is accompanying the President includes the Minister of State in the Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises Shri Pon Radhakrishnan. There are four Members of Parliament who are accompanying him: Shri Rajiv Shukla from Rajya Sabha, Shri Anant Kumar Dattatreya Hegde from Lok Sabha, Dr. Kirit Premjibhai Solanki from Lok Sabha, and Shri Babul Supriya Boral or Babul Supriyo as he is well-known, Member of Lok Sabha from West Bengal.
The Heads of major educational institutions who are part of the accompanying delegation are: the Director of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal; the Director of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Thiruvananthapuram; the Vice-Chancellor of the Indira Gandhi Tribal University; the Vice-Chancellor of Hyderabad University; and the Director of IIT Kanpur.
Just one quick addition. The President taking a major education delegation along with him is continuation of a practice that he initiated when he visited Brussels and Turkey last year. It is also in continuation of extensive efforts that he has made within the country to convene meetings of Vice-Chancellors, Directors of IITs, Directors of IISERs etc., to improve the quality of education, and also to personally visit as many educational institutions as possible within the country.
Official Spokesperson: Before we open the floor for questions I have two quick announcements to make. The first relates to the Second India-Canada Strategic Dialogue. This will be held on the 14th of October. The External Affairs Minister Shrimati Sushma Swaraj will co-chair this meeting along with her Canadian counterpart Mr. John Baird. Mr. Baird will be in Delhi from 12th onwards for this event. This is an annual event which was agreed to between India and Canada during the visit of Prime Minister Harper in 2012. The first such dialogue was held last year in Toronto in September and this is the second such consecutive dialogue which we hold annually.
The emphasis is to try and focus on areas where we can cooperate during the forthcoming year. So, during the course of their discussions they will discuss a whole range of bilateral issues. These will include matters relating to security, defence, counterterrorism, space and nuclear. In addition there will also be economic initiatives relating to the government’s development programme agenda and how Canada can contribute to it. Also, given that India and Canada have extremely close cooperation in international fora there will be discussion on international issues as well as on regional issues of interest. We will give you a readout of this once the meeting is over on the 14th.
The second announcement that I have to make relates to the ASEM Summit in Milan. The summit will be held on the 16th and 17th in Milan, Italy. India will be represented by the Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen. V.K. Singh.
You are aware that ASEM was set up in 1996 while we joined as a member in 2007. The last Foreign Ministers’ meeting of ASEM was held in Gurgaon last year. The summit is a biennial one which is held once in two years.
The principal theme of the summit this year, that is the 10th ASEM Summit will be: “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security”. The areas of focus are to be: financial and economic cooperation through enhanced Europe and Asia connectivity, as well as Europe-Asia partnership in addressing global matters in an interconnected world. India’s approach is likely to be that we will emphasise that connectivity should not be limited merely to geographical connectivity, but should have connectivity of institutions, people-to-people ties and systems so that Asia and Europe work as a bridge with each other. Hence we will articulate our views on expanding cooperation and connectivity in terms of tourism, in terms of mobility of people, education and business ties.
We intend to make specific proposals on each of these at the summit and will follow it up in the next meeting that usually is one year later at the Foreign Ministers’ level. These are the two announcements that I have to make.
Now the floor is open for questions. We will go in a sequential manner that is first any questions relating to the President’s visit to Norway and Finland, followed by the two announcements that I have made, and if any of you is interested in anything else after that I am willing to answer those questions too. The floor is now open.
Question:This question is to Navtej. Presently India’s interest in the Arctic region so far is scientific research, etc. But now many countries have become permanent observers. They are not looking at only on the scientific issues, rather they are exploring the possibility of extracting the resources from the Arctic region. How is India looking at the Arctic region’s possibilities in future? Is India competing with those countries or will India’s interests be limited to only scientific exploration?
Secretary (West): I certainly would not foreclose any possibilities in regard to whatever benefits the Arctic might offer to the world. At the same time, we really do not believe in entering organisations or situations like this with an avowed objective of exploiting resources. So, I think we have to work very carefully in the Arctic Council. It is a very delicate, fragile environment. We have to work with full sensitivity to the people of the countries of the Arctic Council who are the Arctic members. It is not only the states that are involved, there are also the various indigenous populations in the Arctic who are permanent participants as against observers in the Arctic Council. We have to keep their interests in mind. So, certainly we will go along with the Arctic Council as it opens up different areas, as different possibilities open up.
Much of this is also theoretical like if the ice melts, there will be shorter maritime routes. Well if there are shorter maritime routes and they work, then normal economic considerations will be seen along with the various laws, the law of the sea and other laws, that will prevail over that time. So, without ruling out anything I would like to underline that our focus at the moment is scientific and technological and earth sciences oriented. It is very difficult terrain and we have to see how the other countries approach it also.
Question (Mukesh Kaushik, UNI): You mentioned that the President would be visiting the Santa Claus village. Would he be carrying some return gifts for Santa Claus from India?
Secretary (West): A return gift always depends on the gift. If there is a gift, there will be certainly a return gift. But maybe Venu has something to add to that.
Press Secretary to President: I would just like to say that today our relations with all major countries in the world are a two-way street. We are investing in these countries, we are buying technology from them, we are engaging in trade both ways. So, the relationship between India and Finland certainly involves India contributing as much to Finland as much as receiving from Finland.
Question:Navtej, Norway was among those countries which supported India in the NSG except of course the waiver. Norway is developing a thorium reactor. Just wondering, are we looking at cooperation in the realm of nuclear energy and related areas?
Secretary (West): I am not sure, Manish, about the thorium reactor. Do you have a particular name that you want to mention?
Secretary (West): I do know that there is a possibility under consideration of cooperation in nuclear safety issues in the Halden Reactor project, and we hope to push these discussions further.
Before we move on I would like to put a correction. I did mention that we are talking about diplomatic passport holder visa waiver in relation to Finland. What I meant was visa on arrival because the diplomatic passport waiver already exists.
Secretary (West): Yes. That is still under negotiation. For the visa on arrival Finland is one of the countries on the list already, and that is what is to be noted.
Official Spokesperson: If there are no more questions relating to Norway and Finland, we will move on to questions relating to the two announcements that I made.
Question:About Canadian Foreign Minister’s visit, you said how the Indian Government is looking towards Canada to further the Government’s economic agenda.…(Inaudible)… Any recent schemes that the Prime Minister may have spoken about?
Official Spokesperson: Yes, there are two areas that we are focusing on, one is skilling. We already have a Memorandum of Understanding with Canada on this. However, Canada has some of the best technical institutes system, and we are looking towards working with Canada on specific projects of skilling in India. That is number one.
Number two is Prime Minister’s focus on those 500 Indian cities where we wants to focus on urban planning and improvement in urban living conditions. So, this will be another area of focus – urban planning and improvement of living conditions in 500 cities which have a population of more than one lakh.
Number three is smart cities. These are the three areas which we would focus in our forthcoming discussions with Canada on in terms of Prime Minister’s immediate priorities for economic development in India.
Since there seem to be no more questions on this, if you have questions on anything else, I am willing to answer them.
Question (Faraz Ahmed, Lok Mat): Before this government took over, India was characterised by the opposition as a soft state and the previous government was blamed for that. Now that we have a strong government here, when do we expect and how do we expect a befitting reply to Pakistan?
Official Spokesperson: I think what has been responded to is already a befitting reply.
Official Spokesperson: Let me finish. You have had your chance to speak. Let me try and explain our approach to the issue that you want me to respond to and I will respond to. But please give me time to respond to a question that you have thought about for long before asking.
Let me try and place our views on this matter so that you all understand where we are coming from. You are aware that the new Indian Government was always serious about a bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. We had also made it clear that such a bilateral dialogue should be in a peaceful atmosphere and without the shadow of terrorism.
You are also aware that from the first day that this government took office, we have shown readiness to take the first step and engage with Pakistan in a peaceful manner. But what have we received in return? Somebody was talking about return gifts. It is there for all of you to see. A media spectacle before exploratory talks between Foreign Secretaries, hostile propaganda against India at the international level, continued terrorism against India, and more recently violence against our citizens on the international boundary.
Therefore, we are in a mode that we will respond appropriately; it is for Pakistan to either escalate or de-escalate; we will respond as appropriate to what will be their efforts in this regard. Our view is, first and foremost Pakistan and its security forces need to end the present adventurism along the international border and the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. Peace and tranquillity along the international border and Line of Control needs to be completely restored so that our civilian populations can return to their homes and their lives.
Let me also mention to you that while we will not talk out of fear, we have no fear of talks.
Question:Sir, ab se kuchh der pehle Pakistan ka ek bayan tha ki Bharat ko joh situation hai voh escalate nahin karni chahiye aur donon nuclear powers hain. Ek tarah se yeh fact hai nuclear power hone ka Pakistan ki taraf se. Aap ka viewpoint is masle par kya hai?
Official Spokesperson:Dilip, main ne abhi javab diya hai,de-escalation is now entirely in Pakistan’s hands.
Question (Abhishek, PTI): I have a small question. Pakistan is alleging that it was India which started this shelling. How are we going to take that?
Official Spokesperson: Thank you, Abhishek. I am aware of these allegations which have, as you said, originated in Pakistan. Let me try and say what I have to say on that. I have just to recall something that these allegations are being made by those that harboured Al Qaeda Chief Osama Bin Laden for over a decade at a military garrison town inside Pakistan while telling their western partners who provided them assistance and military aid that they were supporting the global war on counterterrorism against Al Qaeda. I rest my case beyond that.
Question:There have been some reports that after the heavy retaliation by India the firing has stopped to a large extent on the international border also. Can you confirm what are the inputs you are getting on that? The PM himself had said this a couple of days back that he was hopeful about peace and calm returning. So, can you substantiate on it?
Official Spokesperson: You are aware that I only respond to diplomatic issues which are on the table between them. What happens on the border is for our brave sentinels of the border to respond to. There are mechanisms which are in place which are providing that information, and I would request you to follow those. As far as the diplomatic angle is concerned, I have responded to those issues.
Question:Sir, while you spoke about the firing on civilians on the Indo-Pak border, while that has been happening there have been reports that this Pak army offensive in North West Agency, while that has gone on, special efforts were made to ensure that the Haqqanis could go off to Afghanistan. In a situation like this, on the one hand you are letting terrorists go and on the other hand you are firing at civilians, how will you deal with this diplomatically with Pakistan in the future?
Official Spokesperson: Shrinjoy, I think I answered about the track record on this issue when somebody asked me what was my response to allegations that it was India which was provocative. I have explained the track record of those who are trying to blame us without any basis for that. I do not think I need to repeat that but I have explained our view on exactly those lines.
Question:The Norwegian Nobel Peace Committee has awarded an Indian and a Pakistani this year’s peace prize. Do you have a response to that particularly given that the President will be heading to Norway very shortly? Is that the return present perhaps?
Official Spokesperson: Suhasini, return gifts are always given afterwards, I thought we all are aware of this. Maybe you may like to rephrase that question. But that said, I think the President has already issued a statement on this and I would draw your attention to that statement which is now already in the public domain. If you would like, I would request the Press Secretary to read that out.
Press Secretary to President: Let me deal with the Indian part and what the President of India has said. The President of India has congratulated Mr. Kailash Satyarthi on winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to abolish child labour in the country. He has said that the prize should be seen as recognition of the contribution of India’s vibrant civil society in addressing complex social problems such as child labour and the important role played by them in collaboration with the Government in the nation’s efforts to eliminate all forms of child labour in the country.
Question:Sir, Pakistan ki taraf se baar-baar yeh bola jaa raha hai ki Hindustan ki taraf se violation ho raha hai. Aur unhon ne is ko UN platform mein bhi leke gaye hain, aur UN Review Committee ko baar-baar vahan aane ki aur inspection ki baat kar rahe hain. Hindustan is ko kis tarah se le raha hai?
Official Spokesperson:Dekhiye, pehle savaal ka javaab toh main ne de diya hai. Dusre savaal ka javaab main dene ko taiyar hun. Aur agar aap permission dein toh main isko angrezi mein kahun?
I think you are all aware that India and Pakistan have signed the Simla Agreement and have agreed to the Lahore Declaration. Both of these bilateral agreements lay down a clear framework of our bilateral relations and how to resolve outstanding issues that exist between India and Pakistan and to build a peaceful and cooperative relationship that will benefit the people of both countries. In both these agreements clearly there is no role for third parties. UNMOGIP, as we have already said, performs no practical function along the Line of Control and seems to exist only to waste scarce resources. As far as we are concerned, tools of a bygone era are not going to resolve issues that we confront today.
Question (Vijayendra, ABP Ananda): Has Bangladesh Government sought any information on the blast in Burdwan because many organisations from Bangladesh and citizens’ names have come up. Have you shared any information? If so, what are the details?
Official Spokesperson: I can confirm to you that the Bangladesh Government has requested our assistance in this matter. We have received that communication from the Bangladesh Government and have requested our concerned agencies to tabulate information and collate that so that we can share appropriately with our friends in Bangladesh.
Thank you very much. With that we come to the end of this interaction.