“Unlike other countries, France will not ask India to change its nuclear liability Act. This is a law passed by the Indian Parliament and we shall work within the framework of that law to provide civilian nuclear technology to India,” French Ambassador to India Francois Richier told The Hindu in an exclusive interview on the occasion of France’s national day, July 14.
Mr. Richier said the Indian Parliament was sovereign and in its wisdom had passed the nuclear liability Act [Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010]. It was up to France to decide on the best way to work within the framework of the Act to provide nuclear reactors to India in a manner that would take into account the interests of both sides.
In a wide-ranging interview that emphasised the “substantive nature of the Indo- French partnership,” Mr. Richier said there was great scope for the two countries to further ties, not just “the four strategic pillars of our relationship, namely cooperation in the military, space and nuclear sectors and counter-terrorism,” but also in student exchanges and specific areas of economic activity where there was a close fit.
French investment in India was far higher than reflected by official figures, Mr. Richier indicated. “When we ask companies to give us investment figures, France is among the top three investors in India, not the ninth as shown by official figures. This is because investments do not always take the direct route but may come via Mauritius or Singapore or cash-rich subsidiaries not necessarily located in France,” Mr. Richier said.
Asked whether French intended to play an active role as a “pivot” to further India’s negotiations with the European Union on a free trade agreement, Mr. Richier said: “India has not specifically asked us to play such a role but given the close nature of our partnership we would be willing to act as a facilitator.”
Last month the outgoing Foreign Secretary, Mr. Ranjan Mathai told The Hindu in Paris that France, because of its close strategic ties with India, could play a greater role in conveying some of India’s concerns to the European Union.
Mr. Richier said he planned to take several measures to make life easier for Indian students wishing to study in France. “Many in India do not know that the HEC business school is ranked higher than Harvard by the Financial Times and that it costs three times less to go there than to study in America. We have some 200 MoUs under way between universities in India and France and the number of students has gone up from about 1,500 a few years ago to 2,600 this year, which is significant. I have proposed that Indian students who graduate with higher education degrees from France be given automatically renewable five-year visas,” Mr. Richier said.
At the moment obtaining a student visa for France is a painful, lengthy and expensive process. All certificates have to be attested first by the Home Departments of the States where they were issued before they can be “apostillated” by the Central government for which there are only four centres — Delhi, Kolkata, Shillong and Hyderabad. After that, these documents must be translated into French at significant cost by a translator duly recognised by the French state. A student graduating from a French educational institution today has six months in which to find a job and apply for residency. Youth unemployment is around 20 per cent and most graduates take about a year on an average to find a job.
“I agree it’s difficult. But in Britain they do not even get that,” Mr. Richier laughed. He agreed that the process was cumbersome and expensive, but he also said it was necessary to avoid fraud.