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On 20th anniversary of ties, Israel and India embark on second honeymoon

Aug 16, 2012 | Ahron Shapiro

On 20th anniversary of ties
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As India and Israel celebrate their 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties this year, the number of cooperative ventures between the countries are expanding at an accelerating pace.

This week, Israel and India entered a fifth round of talks towards the creation of a much-anticipated free trade agreement.

Meanwhile, on July 31, Israel’s Consul General in India Orna Sagiv spoke before a large audience in Bangalore ahead of Israel’s opening next month of a Indian consulate in the city – India’s third most populous – joining Israel’s other consulate in India’s most populous city, Mumbai, and its embassy in New Delhi.

For much of the past two decades, India’s trade with Israel has been focused on Israel’s defence industry. However, more recently, India has been turning to Israeli agro- and hydro-tech start-ups to improve crop yields and water quality throughout the Indian subcontinent. At the same time, and no less significantly, Indian companies are finding more business opportunities inside Israel than ever before.

Sagiv’s remarks to Bangalore’s community leaders, which highlighted these developments, also focused upon Israel’s imminent creation of three new “Centres of Excellence” to join five already in operation in various Indian provinces. An additional 19 centres are planned.

Israel’s Centres of Excellence are applied research facilities that train teachers who in turn educate Indian farmers on the latest agricultural practices to improve the quantity and quality of their crops, while at the same time vastly improving irrigation use and ecological impact.

As part of the effort to lay down deeper foundations for closer ties between the two countries, Israel will be opening its universities to 100 of India’s brightest scientists and engineers involved in doctorate and post-doctorate studies, on full scholarships jointly financed by the two governments, Sagiv also said.

(This program is in addition to another pact signed this month, that will provide grants for joint research projects between Israeli and Indian academics.)

Sagiv also talked about the progress of Israeli water-technology firms in solving India’s water issues.

Israel and India signed an agreement in February aimed at increasing the number of joint projects, especially concerning India’s urban water quality.

Cleaning up India’s infamously polluted rivers is a top priority in a country of 1.6 billion people – comprising one-sixth of the world’s population.

Israeli water technologies are now being applied to rehabilitate the 2500-kilometer Ganges River – one of the world’s most polluted rivers, according to a story by Germany’s Deutsche Welle.

Israel NewTech, an initiative led by the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour, is matching Israeli clean-tech companies with Indian partners to tender solutions for the Ganges.
The Indian government aims to have no untreated municipal sewage or industrial runoff enter the Ganges by 2020, but according to Oded Distel, head of Israel NewTech, cleaning the Ganges is more like a 20-year mission.
‘It’s a huge project. It combines technological aspects and elements from waste water treatment and water management up to irrigation,’ he said. During dry season, ‘it becomes more a kind of canal for waste water rather than a real living river.’

Israeli companies are being recruited for every step of the project. A highlight of the technology is natural waste-water treatment via the creation of specially crafted wetlands.

[The Israeli] bio-engineering firm Water Revive is looking at natural constructed wetlands as a way to rehabilitate the Ganges. Water Revive marine ecologist Limor Gruber says it involves a series of bypasses, or channels, that divert domestic and industrial waste water from the river to cleanse it naturally, and make it drinkable by the time it flows back into the river. It has been tested successfully on Israel’s Yarkon River, where more than eighty bypasses were installed.

Israeli companies are not only involved in waterway cleanup and drip-irrigation in India, but also cloud-seeding in urban areas where water reserves are low, like Mumbai.

Meanwhile, more evidence of improving Indo-Israeli relations was on display this month in Haifa, where four Indian warships docked for four days in a visit replete with ceremony and significance, India’s Economic Times reported.

The Indian sailors will also be paying their respects at the memorial of Indian soldiers buried in Haifa while fighting for the Allied forces [during World War I] in what has come to be known as the war for the liberation of Haifa.
In a rare tribute to the Indian soldiers who fought for the liberation of the city, the municipality of Haifa has decided to include the stories of their valiant efforts by incorporating them in the school curricula as part of the history textbooks.

Israel has also announced a campaign aimed at increasing tourism to and from India. The plan will include direct chartered flights to Goa, supplementing existing El Al service to Mumbai.

Ahron Shapiro

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