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The Rediff Interview/Ranjan Mathai, Indian ambassador to France

'We are all equal, and entitled to the same amount of atmospheric space'

September 30, 2008

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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] is in France [Images] for a dialogue with leaders of the European Union and a summit with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In the first part of the interview with senior rediff.com contributor Claude Arpi, India's Ambassador to France Ranjan Mathai discussed Indo-French nuclear cooperation.

Part I: 'India values its nuclear partnership with France, Russia'

In this concluding segment of an exclusive interview, the ambassador highlights India's expectations for the strengthening of the political dialogue between the two sides and stresses India's global role in tackling climate change issue.

The prime minister will meet MEDEF (Mouvement des Entreprises de France or French CEO's Union). There is a feeling that what is needed is facilitation for the small and medium-scale industries to invest in India or vice-versa. In a way, it seems easier for large companies to come to India.

The prime minister will address the India-EU business summit which is held in Paris. He will be accompanied by Mr Kamal Nath. There will be a very large number of French companies involved. I have seen the initial list of some 120 companies which will be participating; the MEDEF told us that they expect around 200 companies. This includes a large number of companies listed in the CAC 40 (the French Sensex), but also several small and medium-scale industries.

The day after the summit, FICCI will have an India-France business forum with French small business groups. Mr Kamal Nath will participate in this as well as in two other sessions, one being a meeting between the Committee Colbert and its Indian counterpart in the field of luxury goods.

A few words about educational exchanges. One critique is that there are very few Indian students in France. Perhaps the language is a problem, but 1,300 students is really a small number. How are you planning to improve this situation?

If you compare the numbers with Indian students in the US, one factor is definitively the language; another factor is that one generation having gone there (to the US), the next generation tends to follow. Linkages have been created between universities and individual academics, and these have not grown to the same extent with France.

US universities also offer financial assistance to Indian students. (About the number of students] Mrs Valerie Pecresse (the French minister for higher education and research) has also quoted this low figure of students when she visited India last November. Since then, many new exchanges have taken place. A Consortium of Indo-French Universities (CIFU) has been recently set up; its first meeting will be held in the next few months. They are working on mutual recognition of degrees, mobility of students, sharing of semesters, and other very innovative projects.

In the fields of sciences and engineering, a number of scholarships have been created. French companies have decided to sponsor some of them. In sciences and engineering, we expect a large increase of the number of students in the months and years to come.

Some institutions like the IITs already have their own tie-ups with some Grandes Ecoles (French prestigious schools of higher learning].

The IIMs and other business schools have started this, they have signed their own agreements with French business schools. This is complementary to the efforts of the consortium which is led by the Consortium of Indian Universities. This is a good project.

In France and Europe, the public and the governments are deeply concerned about environment and climate change. France and Europe would like India to be more active in the fight against global warming. What is the Indian government's response to this? Do you agree that India (and China) are more interested by growth than environment?

No, I don't agree. In fact we have always been interested by environment. In Stockholm, during the first UN Conference on Environment, one of the few world leaders who participated (apart from the host country), was Mrs Indira Gandhi [Images]. That was in 1972. The interest level of the other nations was not high at that time.

Of course, things have evolved; today it is a matter of global concern. The prime minister has announced a national action plan for adaptation. We are doing what we can in the field of renewable energies. We even created a ministry for renewable energy more than 20 years ago. We are one of the largest producers of wind power. We have also heavily invested in solar energy. We are now working on energy efficiency.

You must also remember that on a per capita basis, the CO2 emission is 1/5 of the European level and nearly 1/15 of the US. In India, CO2 emission is 1.6 tonnes per capita, in the EU it is 8 and the US, 19. France is slightly lower than the EU average because of its heavy investment in nuclear energy for electricity. Our prime minister has said that India will ensure that India's per capita emission will never exceed the levels of developed nations.

The planet would face a catastrophic scenario, if it did.

You have to take to account that we are human beings. We are all equal, and entitled to the same amount of atmospheric space. When you say the per capita argument is catastrophic, it appears to us that we have not the same rights than others. Every human being should be treated on the same basis.

We have been at the forefront of asking for a global cooperation to tackle this issue through three aspects. First, we need a transition to a new energy era, then we need more open trade in lower carbon technology for industrial processes, finally we need to look at lifestyles.

The latter is a matter of education, recycling, organising society to reduce waste, etc. But for the first two which are crucial for the economic suitability, we have to look at enough financial flows into these new technologies into the developing world. Then, when you have these new technologies, like clean coal, there is the cost element because of patents.

To give you the example of the HIV/AIDS campaign; the global community took a conscious decision, that if a company can produce at a lower price drugs which can help dealing with global calamity, then the drug is made available. The crisis had to be overcome by ending the monopoly of a few companies.

In the same way, if a breakthrough is made in new technologies, it should spread through the world. We should agree that it a global issue, not a commercial issue.

India and France have set up a joint working group for the purpose. We will meet very soon. We will look at technologies, finances and what can be done to support sustainable development.

Another summit will be held -- the EU-India summit. What are your expectations for this summit?

Let me clarify that the main interlocutor to the European Union is my colleague in Brussels.

As you know France is holding the presidency of the EU and we have been in dialogue. We are therefore looking forward to this summit to be held in Marseille. It will be a privileged dialogue between the top leaders of the European Union and the prime minister of India.

We hope that during the talks, some progress will be made on the path towards a broad based trade and investment agreement.

Then we expect a strengthening of the political dialogue between the two sides. We also hope to achieve some progress on other items related to education and culture. We finally understand that there will be a joint work program on energy issues and climate change which is a crucial issue.

Brussels seems indeed to be very keen on a dialogue on environment with India.

We have a Joint Action Plan. It defines the joint executive programme in different fields. On the occasion of the summit, the entire JAP is going to be reviewed. We are hoping for progress in all fields.


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