Originally Published 2013-11-18 09:14:32 Published on Nov 18, 2013
The relationship between India and Sweden has always been low-key. But it's also mature one with immense possibilities for cooperation and collaboration.
Time for a Swede deal?
"At some point or the other, almost every Indian must have literally held a flaming bit of Sweden in his hand. The extremely popular Wimco matches was established by Swedish Match AB way back in 1926. Technology major Ericsson can trace an even earlier history with India, having supplied switching systems in 1903. But the following titbit of history may surprise even those well versed with the historicity of Indo-Swedish relationship. The Svenska Ostindiska Companiet (SOIC) or the Swedish East India Company was established over two centuries ago in 1731. Colonial trade was only part of the reason. The other was recognition of the deep seated legacy shared by both countries, most notably symbolised by a common Indo-European family of languages.

India's relationship with Europe is predominantly seen through the lens of the big three – Britain, France and Germany. Yet in an unobtrusive manner independent India and Sweden not only deepened their historical engagement, but extended it further into political, economic and strategic spheres with a special emphasis on scientific and technological cooperation. Such has been the maturity of the relationship that even potentially contentious issues like India's choice of the British Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft over the Swedish Viggen or the unseemly controversy over the selection of the 155mm Bofors howitzers did not lead to frostiness and lethargy, often seen in other bilateral relationships.

Both countries realise the importance of this unique bond and there has been a renewed momentum in the last couple of years in expanding the scope of cooperation with a number of ministerial visits and visits of high powered delegations taking place on both sides. In fact more than 20 important MoUs have been signed between the two countries in the last decade or so. It's in this context that India needs to specifically focus on leveraging the Swedish expertise in the fields of sustainable engineering, renewable energy, environmental protection, skill development and education. Energy is a critical ingredient of sustainable and inclusive growth. Needless to say sustainability and inclusiveness are the cornerstones of environmental protection and quality of life.

Fortunately the foundation for such focussed cooperation has already been laid by the Science and Technology Agreement signed in December 2005. Moreover, the MoUs signed in the field of Healthcare and Public Health in February 2009, Environment in November 2009 and Renewable Energy in April 2010 strengthens this foundation. The visit of the Minister of New and Renewable Energy Dr. Farooq Abdullah to Sweden this year, originally slated to have taken place in September 2012, is being keenly watched by diplomats, Indian and Swedish industry and policy makers for the new directions that it may possibly set in the India's quest to achieve sustainable energy security.

It's a pressing imperative considering that 33% of India, almost 400 million people, lack electricity. Access to quality electricity and other forms of energy is critical for India's push towards rural development. Not just for rural industrialisation, but India's push towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially MDGs 4 and 5 related to reduction of maternal and child mortality, depend to a large extent on providing sustainable energy to the network of sub-centres (SCs), primary healthcare centres (PHCs) and community healthcare centres (CHCs). According to Planning Commission estimates India will require up to 950 GW of power by 2030 for the economy to achieve an annualised growth rate of 7-9%. Currently, India's predominantly coal-based power plants produce just about 225 GW of power. It's neither feasible nor environmentally desirable to rely only on conventional sources of power. The good part is that the Indian government is also thinking on the same lines and both the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) and Ministry of Power (MoP) are focussing on large-scale projects like the Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Mission (JNNSM). It's here the Sweden can be of great help to India. Even though renewable energy constitutes just slightly above 12% of India's installed capacity, the Indian electricity sector is one of the world's most active ones in deploying new renewable energy technologies, especially wind energy. India has an installed renewable power capacity in excess of 30GW, which is more than the total installed capacity of Austria.

Nearly 48% of Sweden's energy comes from renewable sources with wind power alone accounting for over 3 percent of electricity use. Additionally, Swedish science and technology sector is one of the world leaders in greenfield areas of wave power, biofuels, hydrogen and fuel cells and, of course, micro-hydroelectric systems. India has vast unutilised hydel power potential. Sweden is also a leader in smartgrid technology and as a result its T&D losses are in single digits. India's T&D losses, on the hand other, go up to 35%, depending on the condition of the State Electricity Board (SEB) in question, with over half of that loss coming from technical issues of obsolescence and grid management. Sweden already has strong business presence in India with over 170 joint ventures and wholly owned subsidiaries. With the recent establishment of the Swedish-India Business Council, with an impressive membership of 150 Swedish companies, the business environment has become more conducive. The Indian corporate sector's recognition of the unique advantages provided by Sweden can be seen from the recent acquisition of the Swedish speciality pulp maker and bio-refinery company Domsjo Fabriker by the Aditya Birla Group and the purchase of a Swedish telecom company Teligent by Altruist Technologies.

Sweden is also an acknowledged leader in innovative technological, managerial and policy practices for environmental protection. The country has put in a lot of money and effort in developing clean technologies and, quite obviously, a developing India could benefit immensely from it. Ecologically friendly urban development, integrated solid waste management, air and water quality management, clean production and technology, climate change, including CDM and environmental health, can be the primary areas of cooperation. A growing industrial and manufacturing base in India requires sustainable technologies and Sweden can be in areas of waste management, waste-to-energy solutions, zero discharge systems, sewage treatment, e-waste management and bio-medical management. There is promising research taking place in Indian research institutions on bioremediation technologies and techniques and collaboration between the two countries on this field will be mutually beneficial.

None of these collaborations, however, will reach its logical conclusion unless it's simultaneously matched by training programmes between the two countries. The path to such programmes has already been set up by Saab India, which recently launched the Diploma Employment Enhancement Programme (DEEP) for developing the skills of young Indians. There is, however, a need to deepen such engagements to beyond skill development to include knowledge transfer and, eventually, knowledge creation and co-creation. Some preliminary efforts in this direction have been made. The Swedish South Asia Studies Network (SASNET) is one such effort. But, quite obviously, there is scope to expand and deepen such engagements through joint research projects, increased doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships and opportunities and more relationships between scientific, technological and social science institutions of higher learning. The new global order is going to be dominated by Asia and India is going to play a critical role. Sweden, on the other hand, is already a knowledge powerhouse and has a unique relationship with Asia and particularly India. Both countries stand at the cusp of great geostrategic opportunities and possibilities. All they need to do is reach out and embrace each other.

(Dr. R. Swaminathan is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation and a Fellow of National Internet Exchange of India)

Courtesy : Diplomatist Magazine

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