Connectivity paradigms are very important in a globalized world, added Gaddam Dharmendra, speaking in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily on the sidelines of a ceremony to celebrate the 71st Republic Day of India in Tehran on Sunday.
The Republic Day honors the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect on January 26, 1950, replacing the Government of India Act as the governing document of the country and thus, turning the nation into a newly formed republic.
The Indian ambassador noted that Chabahar port provides connectivity among India, Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asian on the one hand and easy access from Central Asia to Iran and the Indian Ocean on the other, stressing that, “We have to have connections.”
Dismissing some misconceptions arising from inadequate information on what exactly is happening in terms of Chabahar’s development, he said, “Operations were given to us 12 months ago. In this period, we have substantially increased traffic, particularly to Afghanistan, and we are contracting to do much more in the next six months. We are supplying wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar port.”
Turning to the difficulties India and Iran are facing for implementing Chabahar’s development project given the imposition of Washington’s sanctions on Tehran, Dharmendra added, “Realistically speaking, we are in a difficult situation, but are working to overcome the difficulties.”
In May 2018, President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between Iran and the P5+1 in July 2015, and reimposed Washington’s sanctions on Tehran. For the first few months in the aftermath of its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the US granted temporary waivers to the main customers of Iran’s oil, including India. In a few months, however, the White House announced that the waivers had ended in its bid to intensify economic pressure on Iran, and made it difficult for the nation and main partners to continue cooperation in their joint projects, including the development of Chabahar.
Commenting on this, Dharmendra noted that India managed to work with the Americans to get a waiver for developing the port, adding subsequently, a second declaration was issued by the US in writing that India can procure equipment for Chabahar port’s functions.
The ambassador said India is currently working with the ZPMC of China (Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Company Limited) to procure four rail-mounted quay cranes – very big cranes installed on harbor for unloading goods from ship to port – for the Iranian port.
He added we are also working with the Finnish company, Cargotec, to purchase rubber-tired gantry cranes used for loading goods from port onto vessels.
Answering the question if India intended to stop funding Chabahar’s development or allocate less budget to the plan, the envoy gave assurance that there was no cutback in funds.
“What is actually taking place is that provisions are being made and they will be adjusted as we spend money.”
Dharmendra added, “Budgetary allocations are made to ministries on the basis of their requirements. Sometimes, they make a bigger requirement, but allocations are lower than expected or what is requested for. These are all adjusted as it goes forward. Thus, during a financial year, if I can show that I am spending more money on Chabahar, my government will give me more money for that.”
He also stressed that budgetary allocations are notional and technical adding as departments change the amount of their spending, adjustments keep taking place.
Turning to the occasion at the ceremony, the ambassador said January 26 marks the anniversary of India’s Republic Day or the Constitution Day.
“This year we are celebrating the 71st Republic Day of India.”
The interesting point is that 2020 also marks 70 years of the India-Iran treaty of friendship, signed on March 15, 1950, he added.
The ambassador said given this, India and Iran are planning a series of events and programs in 2020.
He further noted that such decisions have been made as the two countries’ leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, have been able to meet in various international meetings and have been giving instructions on what to do to further improve the relationship between New Delhi and Tehran, increase bilateral trade, strengthen their banking and commercial ties and promote cooperation in the development of Chabahar.
On whether India seeks to play the role of a mediator between Iran and the US, Dharmendra said given his country’s longstanding ties, cultural links and connections with Iran, it definitely wants peace in the region.
If India can do anything to help Iran gain and benefit economically and work on its difficulties, New Delhi will be more than willing to work with Tehran.
“The relationship with Iran is very important for us. It is our neighbor.”
He noted that India hopes that Iran can start putting its oil on the market as his country is suffering economically as much as Iran is.
“As you know, we have two big refineries whose feedstock is Iranian crude. We cannot use any other crude for those refineries. These refineries are operating way below capacity.”
He expressed hope that things would improve soon, adding these are all temporary phases.
The Indian envoy, however, stressed that the global energy market has undergone fundamental and structural changes.
“We now see a lot of shale oil on the market. The market is oversupplied and oversaturated with oil and, thus, prices are lower.”