By Ateet Sharma
New Delhi, Apr 11: India has decided to launch a 'strategic partnership on water' with the Netherlands, a world leader in water management, by elevating the existing Joint Working Group on water to the ministerial level. The decision follows a virtual summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Netherlands PM Mark Rutte on Friday where the two leaders discussed in detail the bilateral cooperation and new ways of strengthening the relationship. Rutte has just begun a fourth term as the Dutch Prime Minister after his People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) had powered to a fourth consecutive victory last month.
The Indo-Dutch partnerships in water are strong, diverse, and mutually beneficial. Cleaning up the river Ganga has been one of the key priorities of PM Modi since he first took office in 2014. During his visit to the Netherlands in 2017, Modi and Rutte agreed to work together to clean up the river.
With more than a one third of its area lying below sea level, the Netherlands remains the best protected delta in the world. Over the decades, the Dutch have mastered the art of flood protection and water supply and treatment, in the process also helping other countries across the globe in the prevention of flood disasters.
Having successfully overcome the water related challenges, the Dutch, besides being a global maritime power, have also become world leaders in technology solutions in delta management, flood control, desalination of soil, ports and inland waterways, water recycling as well as wastewater to energy conservation.
The Indo-Dutch partnerships in the field of water are strong, diverse, mutually beneficial and cover areas like tackling river water pollution including river Ganga, delta management, promoting water management, water quality issues and waste water recycling, decision support systems and introduction of new water technologies.
The Indian government has been focusing on promoting water efficiency, its quality and safety through flagship schemes and initiatives like the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, water to every farm campaign (har khet ko pani), Per drop more crop, Namami Gange Mission, the Jal Jeevan mission and the Jal Shakti Abhiyan, a 'catch the rain' campaign.
On Friday, both Modi and Rutte reviewed the ongoing projects in the water sector including the Dutch India Water Alliance for Leadership Initiative (DIWALI), the Local Treatment of Urban Sewage Streams for Healthy Reuse (LOTUS-HR) and the Indo-Dutch R&D projects under Namami-Gange Programme. The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) have been working closely with the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) on these projects.
Both leaders also discussed the upcoming joint Indo-Dutch interventions like the R&D projects on 'water as leverage' in selected towns in Ganga Basin and another pilot project on 'pollution and effective waste management of textile industrial cluster' in Haryana's Panipat. They also noted the joint DST-NWO support to the consortium 'Water4Change' for designing integrated urban water systems formed during the 2019 Technology Summit in which the Netherlands was a partner country.
"Innovation, technology and governance are key aspects of Indo-Dutch water cooperation. The two leaders agreed to further intensify and broaden the cooperation in new areas, including water budgeting, cost effective decentralised treatment technologies, converting wastewater to energy, application of AI in decision making, non-point pollution source assessment and abatement, mapping of ecosystem services, reclaiming river space basin protection against disasters and river hazard management," said Sandeep Chakravorty, the Joint Secretary looking after Western Europe in the Ministry of External Affairs.
As innovation, technology and governance are key-players in Indo-Dutch water cooperation, respective institutions in both countries collaborate in several projects, including in setting up a waste2wealth approach to solid waste and wastewater in the Hindon Basin; in assisting leather industries in Kanpur and Unnao to adopt eco-friendly technologies; and in conservation of water through efficient agriculture practices in the sugarcane industry of Uttar Pradesh.
Dutch companies like DHV Haskoning, Paques, Solidaridad, Waste, Waternet etc have been active in India for quite some time addressing the issues of irrigation, municipal water and wastewater.
In the context of new geopolitical and geoeconomic realities, both leaders also shared views on regional and global issues of mutual interest including post-Covid economic recovery, climate change and the Indo-Pacific. India welcomed the Netherlands' guidelines on the Indo-Pacific which recognises the importance of the region for global peace, security and prosperity and identifies India as a key partner to engage with.
"Prime Minister Rutte mentioned that with France and Germany, they are working with the EU to come up with EU's Indo Pacific strategy and said that in any Indo Pacific strategy, India is going to have a critical role and appreciated India's importance in the Indo Pacific context and mentioned the convergences that exist between the Dutch Indo Pacific policy and India's own Indo Pacific oceans initiative," said Chakravorty.
As the two leaders reaffirmed their conviction to further strengthen the multifaceted cooperation and possibly meet at the upcoming India-EU Leaders' Meeting in Portugal in May 2021 which will set a new milestone for India-EU Strategic Partnership, Rutte mentioned that a Dutch frigate will soon be conducting exercises with the Indian Navy, and perhaps make port calls in India.