New Delhi: With an aim of giving a boost to India's relations with Scandinavian countries, President Pranab Mukherjee today left on a tour of Norway, the first by the Head of State, and Finland during which efforts will be made to attract investment from Norway to India.
Accompanied by Union Minister of State for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises Pon Radhakrishnan, the highlight of Mukherjee's visit to the two nations will be that he would be crossing the Arctic Circle and visiting the village of Santa Claus before he returns to India on Friday.
He was given a ceremonial send off at Rashtrapati Bhavan by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Irani, Lt Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung and the three service Chiefs.
The focus of the visit would be work out a mechanism for attracting investment from Norway to India in the infrastructure sector and other areas.
At present a meagre four billion dollar of investment of the 850 billion dollar Norwegian Pension Fund flows to India, said Secretary (West), MEA, Navtej Sarna.
But there is a commitment to raise it to 20 billion to 40 billion dollars, “and we want to see how we can push that further and with which sectors we can do that,” he said.
The Norwegian Pension fund, earlier knows as ‘Oil fund', is a result of large state revenues from petroleum activities which resulted in substantial financial assets.
Started in 1990 to help in long-term and sound management of the Fund, it also helps to ensure that both present and future generations can benefit from Norway's petroleum wealth.
As Norway is the world's third largest exporters of hydrocarbons in the world and has huge reserves of oil and gas, the President, before his departure, had a meeting with businessmen and industrialists to understand how India could be benefited from the Scandinavian nation.
Norway is a source of modern technologies in exploration and drilling besides being having tremendous ship-building expertise.
A number of agreements would be signed during the visit which will cover the fields of education, trade and cooperation in several other areas including Earth Sciences. Norway has given unconditional support for India's candidature in the Arctic Council as an observer.There are 12 non-Arctic countries which have been admitted as observers to the Arctic Council.
India has a station ‘Himadri', located in the middle of North Pole and Norway.
“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,” Sarna said.
India find Norway as an important country in the international fora. Although Norway is not a member of the European Union, it is very active in the international arena. Norway has expressed support for expansion of permanent and non-permanent Security Council as well as for India's candidature for permanent membership. “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,” he said.
In the second leg of his tour, Mukherjee will reach Finland on October 14 where the Mayor of Helsinki will host a lunch for the 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 will also lay a wreath at the Hietaniemi Cemetery which is a national monument for people who lost their lives in the wars,” Sarna said.
He said the President would visit a town which is across the Arctic Circle, the first time that the President of India actually steps across the Arctic Circle. “The town is called Rovaniemi. This is an actual village There is a Santa Claus post office, there is a Santa Claus house and various things,” he said.
He said 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 India's entry into the Arctic Council.
The two countries hope to sign a number of agreements once again covering education, energy, fishing etc on government-to-government, business-to-business as well as institution-to-institution. “Finland is also one of the countries which has already been listed for waiver of diplomatic official passport holders for visa purposes,” he said.
The President returns to India on October 17.