India, Iran seeking more comprehensive energy partnership: Envoy

IRNA – India and Iran have arrived at a political understanding that they want to take their relationship in the energy sector ahead, evolving it from that of a buyer and seller to a more comprehensive partnership, said the Indian ambassador to Iran.

Speaking to Tehran-based English newspaper Iran Daily a few days after the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence Day [which was marked on August 15, 2017] in Tehran, Saurabh Kumar also touched upon other important issues relating to ties between Tehran and New Delhi in different fields as well as topics pertaining to his own country.

He said the 70th anniversary of Indian Independence [marked on August 15, 2017] was an important milestone for the country, as in five years’ time it would be celebrating the 75th anniversary of its independence, and during the five-year period, India plans to accelerate the implementation of a number of important schemes and plans to achieve desired targets. These plans have been drawn by the government to accelerate the country’s development in various sectors, raise people’s prosperity, and move toward the greater use of green energy. These initiatives have been launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and include Make in India, Skill India, Start Up India, to name a few.

In the last 70 years, India has come a long way. Twenty years have elapsed since the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence, and it has made tremendous progress in various sectors since then, the envoy said, adding that of course, the larger significance of the day is to celebrate and cherish our independence.

Commenting on the historical significance of India’s Independence Day, Kumar said on August 15, 1947, India achieved independence. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, we had begun a very unique form of struggle against our colonial rulers which was peaceful. It was a very innovative form of resistance, the hallmark of which was civil disobedience, in which the public at large did not go along with the directives and laws, particularly those which were not in favor of the people and the country, put in place by colonial rulers.

The day is very important because on this particular day we achieved what we had set out to accomplish. Another hallmark of the colonial period was the ‘divide and rule’ policy. While India achieved its independence, it was also partitioned into two dominions which became sovereign entities of India and Pakistan. Although very painful, this division is now history and the two countries have both moved on. India is home to all its people irrespective of caste, religion and creed. It is not a country based on any particular religion. The country has the second largest Muslim population and also the second largest Shia community. India is home to all religions of the world, the diplomat said.

Touching upon the India plans to promote and increase the use and generation of green energy, he added that generating solar energy and other forms of renewables, and promoting their use is being given a great deal of emphasis in India. There are projects currently underway in the country to this end and goals/targets have been set in this regard. The objective is that, in the next couple of years, India will replace, to a good degree, fossil fuel with renewable and greener (solar, nuclear and wind) energy. In a few years, we would like to see non-fossil fuel-based energy constitute 40 percent of our energy basket.

India’s energy consumption per capita and greenhouse gas emission per capita remain very low compared to international averages. However, while we are promoting the use of green energy in the country, of equal importance to us is the provision of energy to all our citizens. Therefore, we would not want our development process to be impeded in any way as we move towards green energy.

Commenting on energy ties between India and Iran, he noted that such ties are very important. The two countries have held elaborate discussions in the past about this aspect of mutual relations. Both sides have arrived at a political understanding that they want to take the relationship in this sector ahead, evolving it from that of a buyer and seller to a more comprehensive partnership. Considerable progress has been made to this end, but there have been some setbacks, too.

The two sides are currently holding negotiations on the development of the Farzad B gas field [in the Persian Gulf]. Two weeks ago, the Indian company [involved in talks with the National Iranian Oil Company] put forward a fresh proposal and some new ideas to the Iranian company for developing the field. We are hopeful that progress will take place in this regard. Traditionally, Iran has been the second largest crude supplier to India. While we continued procuring crude from our friend, Iran, at the time of sanctions, despite the limitations in terms of payment, Iran’s position slipped. Fortunately, Iran has currently regained its lost place as India’s second largest oil supplier, the Indian official said.

Talking about the recent visit by the Indian Minister of Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Shri Nitin Gadkari to Iran, the Indian diplomat said.

He was in Tehran to represent the Indian prime minister at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s second inauguration on August 5, 2017. This day was very critical in India, as voting for the new Indian vice president was taking place in the country. The Indian minister made a special effort to visit Iran on that date. The government of India was very keen to be represented at the ceremony at a high level. Minister Gadkari cast his vote early in the morning and then took a special flight to Iran. During his stay in Tehran, he had a short conversation with President Rouhani and met with Iran’s First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri. He also held extensive talks with his Iranian counterpart, Abbas Akhoundi, in which all aspects related to developing the transit system of Chabahar Port [in southern Iran] and Indian investments in the project were discussed.

Elaborating on the latest developments with regard to India’s financing of Chabahar-Zahedan railroad construction project, he added India and Iran are cooperating to have a rail connection between Chabahar Port and Zahedan [both located in the southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan]. This railroad is very important as it would connect the port to the Iranian railway network. For a port to have economic viability, rail connectivity is of the utmost importance. When the Indian prime minister was here in May last year, certain discussions were held between the two sides about this issue and a MoU was signed.

‘The cost of constructing the railroad is large and we are looking at various options to mobilize resources for this purpose,’ he said.

When the minister was in Tehran, the two sides were also provided with an opportunity to take a look at certain areas where they are not working as fast as they ought to. During the Indian prime minister’s last visit to Iran, a trilateral agreement was signed between India, Iran and Afghanistan for the use of Chabahar Port as a transit hub. India and Afghanistan have ratified this agreement, the diplomat noted.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that over a year has elapsed since the signing of the agreement, Iran has not yet ratified the agreement. Chabahar Port’s development agreement is the second area where Iran is expected to increase its decision making pace. We have a commercial contract in place in this area. There are two kinds of investments involved. One part is India’s investment in purchasing the equipment to be used at the port. The other is the $150-million line of credit the country has extended for the project. Quite some time has elapsed and we are still waiting for the Iranian side to utilize the credit line and announce the projects to be implemented in Chabahar, so that the money can be disbursed. This is important because the operationalization of the commercial contract in this regard is dependent on the disbursement of the line of credit.

Commenting on President Rouhani’s reelection and its impact on mutual ties between India and Iran, the diplomat said it is for the Iranian people to choose their president. The Indian government was very happy that President Rouhani was reelected. Certain initiatives were launched during the Indian prime minister’s visit to Iran. Rouhani remaining Iran’s president helps provide continuity for these projects.

Referring to the cultural dimensions of the relations between India and Iran, he added that:’ the most fascinating part of what I do as the Indian ambassador to Iran is discovering the very historical and widespread cultural links between the two countries. Both countries have made efforts to expose each other’s people to cultural groups and performances. A violin group came to Iran last week to perform concerts on August 15 and 16. The Iranian Embassy in India has also done a lot in terms of promoting Iranian culture and the Farsi (Persian) language.’

The most important aspect of the two countries’ cultural ties is that they are based on people-to-people relations. The larger the number of Iranian tourists to India, and vice versa, the easier it would be to expand cultural ties. Such visits have been the main contributing factor to the close cultural contacts between the two sides in the past. It is very important for both countries to have an easy visa policy. I personally would like to see more Indian tourists coming to Iran. I have traveled to different Iranian provinces and cities, and know that Iran has very interesting historical sites, a large number of which have historical links with India. This provides a very good basis for Indian tourists to come and visit Iran.

Commenting on the reason behind the replacement of Farsi language in India, the envoy said for several centuries, Farsi was the official language of India. During the colonial period, however, a decision was taken to make English the official medium of communication in the country. Farsi, nonetheless, still remains very popular in India. A large number of Indian universities have Farsi departments. We have a very rich collection of Farsi books and manuscripts in India. A very old manuscript of Kalileh va Dimneh – a collection of fables from ancient India called ‘Panchtantra’ – was brought out when the Indian prime minister visited Iran in May. Mumbai used to be the center for Farsi publishing. There is a very rich history of Farsi language in India.

He added Iran has very good intercity roads and comfortable and pleasant hotels, the number of which can be increased. Development of tourism infrastructure is a process. What is important is that Iran has historical sites spanning different periods of history – the Elamite period (2700-539 BC) to the eras when Achaemenid (550-330 BC) and Sassanid (224-651 AD) dynasties reigned in the country, and then to the period (1501-1722) in which the Safavid dynasty ruled the state, with all the beautiful Islamic architecture remaining from that era. Very few countries would offer this kind of rich diversity in terms of different historical periods.

Pointing to the two sides’ political relations, he added, ‘We have a very good political relationship. It is a very historical one. I think the message during the visit of the Indian prime minister was that while we have a very good political relationship, we should translate it into economic projects and give our relationship more economic content. The Indian prime minister’s visit provided a template to move in this particular direction.’

In the first week of September the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) will dispatch a very high-ranking delegation of chief executive officers to Tehran. During this visit a decision made during Indian prime minister’s latest visit to Tehran would be fulfilled, which is that the CII would open its 11th international office in Tehran. The two countries also plan to hold talks on cooperation in the port and maritime sector in the beginning of September.