H.E. Subrata Bhattacharjee, Ambassador Of India To Serbia

Fighting Covid In The “Pharmacy Of The World”

At least 300 million people will be vaccinated in India by August 2021. India plans to use a digital platform called ‘Co-WIN’ to ensure the real time monitoring of the Coronavirus vaccine. Through this application, people across India will be able to register themselves for vaccination – Subrata Bhattacharjee

Just like the rest of the world, India has also spent the last year struggling to cope with the novel Coronavirus pandemic. Given that it is known for its own pharmaceutical industry, it is no surprise that several domestic companies in India are currently testing vaccines against COVID-19. In this interview for CorD Magazine, Indian Ambassador Subrata Bhattacharjee reminds us that “every third child in the world is vaccinated using vaccines produced in India”. That’s why it is expected that Indian pharmaceutical companies will soon be able to offer citizens of India, but also the rest of the world, a reliable solution for preventing the spread of the virus, which will not be expensive and will thus be available to all countries.

While nearly the whole world has been witnessing a spike in Coronavirus cases, in India cases have been declining during recent months. Could you explain the present situation in India regarding COVID-19?

– With a large population of 1.2 billion and high population density of 325 inhabitants per square km, India was naturally worried when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. At its peak in India, the pandemic was causing over 97,000 new infections every day. But that was in mid-September 2020. Until now India has been able to contain the problem significantly, with new infections having now fallen to about 30,000 per day and declining further. Despite the country’s high population density, India has recorded only 6,731 cases of infection and 98 deaths per million residents. At the peak of the pandemic, in mid-September, India had over a million active cases. For many weeks, more people have been recovering every day than there have been new daily cases of infection.

Consequently, the total number of active cases has now fallen below 4,00,000. Significantly, nearly 95% of those infected have already recovered and the fatality rate has been less than 1.5%. Less than 4% of cases are active. This success has been possible thanks to the quick and proactive decisions taken by Prime Minister Modi even before the disease could spread throughout the country. Aggressive containment and screening measures were instituted very early. India was among the first to introduce Rapid Antigen Tests, along with the RTPCR test. Large parts of India made masks mandatory way back in April, with PM Modi himself wearing masks in public since early April. India tests as many as a million people every day. With this, cumulative COVID-19 tests in the country number close to150 million. India also used the lockdown period very prudently, by creating facilities for fighting the pandemic. For example, India set up 15,362 dedicated COVID-19 health facilities, about 1.54 million isolation beds, 270,000 oxygen-supported beds and 78,000 ICU beds. It delivered 32,400 ventilators to state hospitals across the country. It also provided 37 million N95 masks and 16 million PPEs to State Governments. With all these measures in place, India is clearly on the path to recovery.

Speaking at the G20 virtual summit in November 2020, Indian Prime Minister Modi said that terming the pandemic is the biggest challenge the world has faced since World War II. He also called on world leaders to focus their joint decisive action on “preserving the planet”. Do you believe that awareness of the need to protect the planet could really be raised in the post-corona period?

– In a message at an event on ‘Safeguarding the planet’ on that occasion, Prime Minister Modi spoke about the need to fight climate change in an integrated, comprehensive and holistic manner. He said that India is not only meeting its Paris Agreement targets, but will also exceed them. India has been inspired by its traditional ethos of living in harmony with the environment and has adopted a low carbon and climate resilient development approach. In order for humanity to prosper, every single individual must prosper, and we should not merely see labour as a factor of production. Instead, we should focus on the human dignity of every worker. Such an approach, he stated, would be the best guarantee for safeguarding our planet. At the end of the Summit, a G20 Leaders’ Declaration was issued which called for coordinated global action, solidarity and multilateral cooperation to overcome the current challenges and realise the opportunities of the 21st century for all by empowering people, safeguarding the planet and shaping new frontiers.

India plans to use a digital platform called ‘Co-WIN’ for the real time monitoring of the Coronavirus vaccine. Through this app, people in India will be able to register themselves for vaccination

India is one of the countries that has experts working on a vaccine against the virus. How far have they progressed and will you insist on a domestic vaccine or will you import vaccines from other manufactures?

– Popularly called “Pharmacy of the World”, India could not have been lacking in efforts to produce a COVID-19 vaccine that is very much needed to end the pandemic. Indian companies are known for producing high-quality vaccines at affordable prices. Every third child around the world is vaccinated with vaccines produced in India. So it is no wonder that three Indian companies have taken the lead in producing COVID-19 vaccine in India. Bharat Biotech and Zydus Cadilla, producers of two indigenous vaccines, have begun phase three trials of their vaccines in India. The other company, Serum Institute of India, is producing a vaccine under an agreement with AstraZeneca. PM Modi himself took a tour of these vaccine production facilities. Among foreign companies, Pfizer has also applied for permission to use its vaccine in India. The head of India’s National Expert Group for the COVID-19 Vaccine has already announced that at least 300 million people will be vaccinated in India by August 2021. India plans to use a digital platform called ‘Co-WIN’ for the real time monitoring of the Coronavirus vaccine. Through this app, people in India will be able to register themselves for vaccination. During this time of an acute need for a vaccine worldwide, India is committed to sharing its production capacities with other countries. With this in mind, India invited the ambassadors of many countries to visit vaccine production facilities. Sixty ambassadors visited the vaccine production facilities in Hyderabad, many of whom were greatly impressed and deeply appreciative of India’s role in fighting this global pandemic.

Cooperation between India and Serbia during the time of the pandemic was reflected in Serbia procuring protective pharmaceutical equipment from India. You’ve previously stated that Indian pharmaceutical companies are interested in cooperation with Serbia. In which ways?

– Since I spoke about this to the media in September 2020, we have not only been able to create awareness among Serbian and Indian companies about the opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation, but we’ve also connected companies from our two countries. We have received feedback that many of them are talking to each other. Some Serbian companies have also conveyed to us that they intend to enhance their business with Indian companies and have proposed representing them in Serbia. Indian exports to Serbia of pharmaceutical and chemical products, including active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), have increased from a value of US$ 16.772 million in January-September 2019 to US$ 23.992 million during the January-September 2020 period, representing an increase of 43%. In addition, gloves worth US$2.028 million have been purchased by Serbia.

Apart from medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, have you identified other areas where cooperation between the two countries could be improved?

– At a time when disruptions to the global supply chain have had an adverse impact on the export and import activities of every country, there is a greater need to focus on specific areas for building closer economic and commercial relations between India and Serbia. Apart from medicines and pharmaceuticals, the agriculture sector offers great prospects.

Subrata Bhattacharjee

Agriculture plays a major role in Serbia’s economy. Exports of Serbian apples to India started in October 2020. There are more such avenues to the Indian market. Indian agriculture machinery manufacturers are also taking a keen interest in Serbia. A large delegation of Indian companies exhibited at the International Agriculture Fair in Novi Sad in May 2019. There was a plan for even greater participation in 2020, but the Fair was postponed. Indian companies will attend the next fair in larger numbers. India’s chemical sector is also renowned around the world. The chemical industry in India is valued at over US$163 billion and accounts for approximately 3.4% of the global chemical industry. India ranks sixth in the world in this sector. India is a largely diversified economy that has many other sectors to offer. For example, the Indian automotive industry is the world’s fourth largest. With the country being the fourth largest manufacturer of cars and the seventh largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles, India’s auto component industry has emerged as a robust and high-quality sector, with more Indian firms winning the prestigious Deming Prize for Quality than any other country. India has one of the largest electronics markets in the world and this industry is expected to grow by US$400 billion by 2025.

Furthermore, the consumer electronics and appliances industry in India is expected to become the fifth largest in the world by 2025. India’s digital revolution and the Government’s focus on using technology to improve the delivery of services has opened up further opportunities for this sector and boosted the manufacturing of innovative products. The Indian textiles sector also has a formidable presence both domestically and internationally and is extremely diverse, with hand-spun and hand-woven textiles at one end and high-end capital-intensive products at the other. The textiles and apparel industries in India have strengths across the entire value chain, in products such as fibre, yarn and fabric to apparel. With textile exports standing at US$20.5 billion, apparel exports at US$16.1 billion and handwoven products at US$3.8 billion, India has become the world’s second largest manufacturer and exporter. India is a global powerhouse when it comes to the Information Technology (IT) sector. India’s IT industry has over 1,000 global delivery centres spread across 80 countries worldwide. The revenue of India’s IT and Business Process Management industry is estimated at US$191 billion and is poised to reach US$350 billion by 2025. India has made significant strides in the digital space and innovations, and has now diversified its offer using the latest technology and leading ideas in the fields of artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain. The tourism sector also offers plenty when it comes to cooperation between India and Serbia. With Serbia offering visa-free entry for short visits by Indians and India offering e-Visa to Serbians, movements between the two countries have become much easier. As many as 23 million Indian tourists visit foreign countries for tourism and leisure per year, spending US$23 billion on these trips. Serbia can gain much by attracting Indian tourists to the country.

The Embassy of India in Belgrade marked the day of the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme during November. Around 160 professionals from Serbia have attended courses to acquire various skills under this programme since 2008. What are plans like for the period ahead?

– India’s ITEC programme offers a broad spectrum of 300 training courses of different durations at India’s premier training institutes. This began in 1964 and over 160 friendly foreign countries are among India’s ITEC partners. Serbia has been an ITEC partner country since 2008. A hundred and sixty mid-level career professionals from Serbia have undergone courses on a wide and diverse range of skills and disciplines, including in ICT, Expenditure Management, Entrepreneurship, WTO, Banking & Finance, Renewable Energy, Climate Change, Legislative Drafting, Yoga, English proficiency etc. Due to the cancellation of international flights, restrictions on movements and gatherings, the threat of infection spreading from country to country etc., no Serbian was able to travel to India to attend ITEC training programme courses in 2020. In fact, ITEC training courses have gone online, like many universities that are offering courses in this way. However, this is only a temporary development. As soon as restrictions on movements and gatherings are lifted, ITEC courses will begin with renewed vigour, and Serbians are welcome to visit India again under this programme.

Sixty ambassadors visited the vaccine production facilities in Hyderabad, many of whom were greatly impressed and deeply appreciative of India’s role in fighting this global pandemic

Your country received thanks for its support in preserving the territorial integrity of Serbia during the recent meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selaković. Has the Government of India ever considered accepting calls emanating from certain world capitals that encourage countries that have not yet recognised the independence of Kosovo to change their position?

– On the issue of Kosovo, India has a principled stance of supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia. The consistent position that India has taken is borne out of India’s firm opposition to interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. Indian leaders have stated this publicly on many occasions. I am aware that Serbia is currently engaged in discussions aimed at solving the Kosovo issue.

While announcing a major stimulus package to fight the economic impact of COVID-19, India took the initiative to boost manufacturing in India. Can you please share the details of this initiative aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing?

– This is India’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan, or Self-reliant India campaign, the vision of a new India envisaged by PM Modi. It was on 12th May 2020 that he announced the special economic and comprehensive package of INR 20 trillion – equivalent to 10% of India’s GDP – to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in India. The aim is to make the country and its citizens independent and self-reliant in all senses. He further outlined five pillars of Aatma Nirbhar Bharat: economy (quantum jumps, not incremental changes); infrastructure (representing the modern India); systems (technology-driven systems); demography (vibrant demography of the world’s largest democracy); and demand (full utilisation of the power of demand & supply). The Government implemented several bold reforms, such as Supply Chain Reforms for Agriculture, Rational Tax Systems, Simple & Clear Laws, Capable Human Resource and a Strong Financial System. As many as ten champion sectors have been identified for production-linked incentives in order to boost the competitiveness of domestic manufacturing and provide a significant boost to economic growth and domestic employment. These sectors are (i) Advancing Cell Chemistry Battery (ii) Electronic/Technology Products (iii) Automobiles & Auto Components (iv) Pharmaceutical Drugs (v) Telecommunications & Networking Products (vi) Textile Products vii) Food Products (viii) Solar PV Modules (ix) White Goods, including LED and Acs; and (x) Speciality Steel.

Indian exports to Serbia of pharmaceutical and chemical products, including active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), have increased from a value of US$ 16.772 million in January September 2019 to US$ 23.992 million during the January September 2020 period, representing an increase of 43%

India has a very strong agriculture sector and it has undertaken some important legislative measures to reform the agricultural sector. What are these reforms and how are they going to help farmers?

– In September 2020, India enacted two new farm laws for agriculture and amended another relating to Essential agri-food stuffs. The first farm law offers farmers the choice to sell their produce outside of the regulated system for marketing agricultural produce within the State. The second law is an improved version of the Contract Farming Law that removes the complicated system of registration/licensing, deposits and various other compliance orders required for contract farming in various states.

It intends to insulate interested farmers, especially small farmers, against market and price risks so that they can opt for the cultivation of high-value crops without worrying about the market and low prices in the harvest season. This Act also has safeguards against the transfer, sale, lease and mortgage of the land or premises of the farmer. The third Act lays down transparent criteria to regulate the supply of essential commodities under extraordinary circumstances. This removes the arbitrariness in invoking the Act. These measures fulfil the long-standing demand for reforms in India’s agriculture sector. The reforms have farmers’ income at the centre of their agenda. They will enable farmers to connect to markets all over the country. Farmers no longer need to pay a large number of market fees, taxes and charges on their produce. This will improve their returns. Better price discovery mechanisms for farmers will also lead to better remuneration for their produce. As such, these reforms provide farmers with new options for marketing their produce and also give them legal protection for actions that were previously deemed illegal.

Furthermore, these reforms are expected to boost investment in the agriculture sector, through better backward linkages, assured prices and contracts for farm services. They will incentivise private sector investments across the entire cold chain, reducing post harvest losses and ensuring better prices for farmers.


 In a message given at an event on ‘Safeguarding the planet’, Prime Minister Modi said that India is not only meeting its Paris Agreement targets, but will even exceed them


Exports of Serbian apples to India started in October 2020. There are more such avenues to the Indian market


On the issue of Kosovo, India has a principled stance of supporting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia

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