‘We Can Clean Up India’s Most Polluted Rivers’

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When Matti Vanhanen took over as Finland’s Prime Minister in 2003, there was just the Nokia mobile handset that had a presence in India. For the rest, Finnish investment was concentrated elsewhere. This was one of Vanhanen’s major challenges, and he soon set in motion a process that would correct the imbalance. Today, though the total bilateral trade stands at just around $1 billion, R&D collaborations are mushrooming across sectors, including telecom, transport and cleantech. Vanhanen tells Kunal Majumder he expects the Indo- Finnish trade to grow by 15-17 percent annually. Excerpts:

New horizon Vanhanen after inaugurating the Nokia Siemens Network in Bengaluru on February 6
Photo: AFP

Nokia is a household name. What’s next?
The Nokia Siemens Network in Bengaluru will have nearly 200 researchers on board. Kone, one of the world’s biggest global lift and elevator companies from Finland, has its biggest factory in India. Several Finnish companies have production facilities here.

Finland’s high on nuclear power. What’s on the plate for India?
Finnish firms are not into creating nuclear technology, but we do have capabilities in nuclear safety and planning that we are ready to share with India. We can offer know-how and technology in the renewable energy sector and help raise plant efficiency levels.

Many from your delegation were keen on clean-tech.
It is growing rapidly. While most of it is in the energy or renewable energy sectors, we are also collaborating in waste management — which is a huge segment. Rising Indian living standards mean that you will be producing more and more waste in cities and villages. Here Finland has much to offer because we have energy- intensive industries. We lack gas and coal resources. So it was important to develop energy-saving technologies.

Finns are known for water purification technology. How do we clean our polluted rivers?
The sensible way out, I believe, is to indentify the source of pollution and avoid polluting the river. This calls for a closed system, as present in most modern factories, which enables them to clean up their own waste. We have knowledge about that sector. We could help India clean up some of its polluted rivers. Finland is one of the few countries where water can be consumed directly from the pipeline. The small Baltic Sea is highly polluted. There are over 100 million people settled around it, which makes it a gargantuan task. That’s why I am underscoring the importance of addressing the polluting sources.

Climate change sceptics say all that the western companies are interested in is minting money.
Well, to fight climate change effectively we need new technology, so we need to invest increasing amounts in its R&D. This is possible only by creating alternative business models. Like electrically-run cars could eventually replace the ones that use fossil fuel. The only trouble is that there aren’t efficient batteries as yet, and that’s where a good deal of our R&D effort goes. We recently started a factory to manufacture batteries for electric cars. I am very confident it will work and, in turn, make things easier for all those electric car companies.

Finland is known for its technological advancement and state-of-the-art R&D. Which are the sectors you seeking collaboration with India?
I am hoping that collaborations will happen in energy and forest sectors. Finnish and Indian forests are very different, but we could still find some common ground. Deforestation is the single biggest cause for climate change. About 20 percent of the emissions are due to deforestation, and must stop

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