New Delhi: With the resource-rich Arcticregion becoming the focus of heightened attention, President Pranab Mukherjee'svisit to the two Nordic countries of Norway and Finland last week was a crucialstep by India to assert its "willingness to have a strong presence in theArctic Council and to work closely with" the eight countries of theregion.
Mukherjee, who paid a six-day visit to thetwo countries from October 12, was also the first Indian President to cross theArctic Circle when he visited the village of Santa Claus in the Finnish town ofRovaniemi.
Last year, India, along with China, Japan andSouth Korea, were granted observer status to the Arctic Council. Its eightmembers are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and theUS.
A United States Geological Survey (USGS)report of 2008 says that the Arctic seabed contains nearly 20 percent of theworld's oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.
With global warming melting the sea icearound the Arctic in the summer months by around 40 percent over the past fewdecades, a shorter sailing route across the Northern Sea is also opening up anew maritime proposition. Taking the Northern Sea Route rather than the PanamaStrait is estimated to shorten the journey between the Pacific and AtlanticOceans by about one third (roughly 4,000 nautical miles) of the total,according to estimates.
"The Arctic has great significance; it is a new maritime region openingup. And the president himself actually going to the Arctic Circle shows ourcommitment to the fact that we are willing to have a strong presence in theArctic Council and willing to work more closely with the countries involved;keeping in view their sensitivities on environment, on indigenous population,on proper use of resources," a senior official, who had accompanied thepresident, told a news agency.
"We are not there to just go and trybreak through and get what we want, we have to work with the people, with theArctic Council. We also explained to them what kind of research goes on theArctic, which was very well received," the official, who did not wish tobe named, said.
India has a research station, Himadri, inSvalbard, Norway, set up in 2008. President Mukherjee spoke to the around fivescientists present at Himadri through radio link. He also spoke to three IndianPhD students who are working on various aspects of Arctic research at theUniversity of Svalbard.
The Indian scientists are conducting researchon climate change, on the changing nature of Arctic glaciers, glaciology,microbiology, and also monitoring changes below the Arctic Sea, which wouldshed light on how the ice is melting, and how it would impact the Indianmonsoon.
The official said that while the shortenedsea route in the Arctic is a possibility but India would work with othercountries on that. "We are engaging significantly with the Arctic Council,India's polar research is recognised," he said, adding that last year thenexternal affairs minister Salman Khurshid had visited the Himadri station andPresident Mukherjee's recent visit the region "shows our commitment toworking with them on all fronts".
Mukherjee was accompanied by 45 businesspeople and senior educationists on the trip, which saw several agreements inkedbetween the Indian businesspersons with their counterparts from the twocountries, as well as between Indian educationists and heads of educationalinstitutes from Norway and Finland.
Besides talks on trade and investment, cleantechnology and IT, India also held talks on deep sea fishing and ports withboth countries.
Norway has tremendous expertise in deep-seafishing and its technology, including krill fishing. India is looking at waysand means for cooperation in this regard, Navej Sarna, Secretary (West) in theMinistry of External Affairs said at a briefing ahead of the visit.
Mukherjee, during his talks with theleadership there, also positioned India as a manufacturing hub and as a viableinvestment destination under the Narendra Modi government's "Make inIndia" slogan.