It is said that hardship draws people (and nations) closer. The deadly coronavirus has undeniably enhanced India Canada collaboration in mitigating its fallout.
The 20th special flight took off from India on May 4, to ferry stranded Canadian nationals back home. A key supplier of pharmaceuticals, India rushed 5 million (50 lakhs) tablets of hydroxychloroquine to Canada. Meanwhile Canada (and Indo-Canadians) took care of over 70,000 Indian students, who were in distress due to closure of educational institutions.
“Several temples, gurudwaras, NGOs, and cultural organizations being run by people of Indian origin (PIO) are providing food, shelter, medicines etc to the Indian students and other Indians stranded here. Diaspora groups have set up helplines to provide free advice” says High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria, adding “We, at the High Commission, have tried to facilitate connections”.
Prime Minister Modi tweeted (28 April) – “Had a warm exchange with PM @JustinTrudeau. Thanked him for looking after Indian citizens in Canada in these difficult times”. Canada now hosts 1.6 million PIOs (People of Indian Origin) and 700,000 Indian nationals, which is sizeable, given its small population of 37 million.
In recent years Canada has become a magnet for Indian students and highly skilled youngsters. There has been an unprecedented 700 per cent increase in the numbers of Indian students from 31,975 in 2015 to over 225,000 in 2019-20. They constitute 35 per cent of the entire international student body in Canada (642,000) and contribute C$ 10 billion annually to its economy.
Canada is the only developed country that admits some 350,000 immigrants every year. Indians have been getting a lion’s share due to their educational achievements and linguistic abilities. 80,685 Indians were cleared for immigration in 2019 as against 39,705 in 2016 marking a 200 per cent jump.
This is in sharp contrast with the neighbouring USA which is progressively tightening employment-based immigrant visas (green cards). America’s loss is Canada’s gain. Consequently, a number of US, European and Indian tech firms are establishing a presence in Canada, sharpening its innovative edge.
During their telephonic conversation, Prime Minister Trudeau conveyed his appreciation to PM Modi for “India’s ongoing help to repatriate Canadians seeking to return home…. and for India’s commitment to the continued export of key pharmaceutical products”.
It is estimated that some 40,000 Canadians were in India on 25th March, of which 28,364 are registered with the federal government’s Canadians Abroad Service. About 9000 Canadian permanent residents and citizens, wanted to go back. With India’s support the Canadian government has already operated 20 special flights. More are in the pipeline. However, each passenger has to shell out C$ 2,900 for an economy seat on the special flights. In normal times a one-way ticket can be obtained for less than half that price.
India will start evacuating its nationals stranded abroad on ‘compelling grounds’ in a phased manner, beginning 7th May. Our High Commission and Consulates in Canada, have made imaginative use of social media, to compile particulars of individuals who want to return, that runs into several thousands. An overwhelming majority are happy to stay on.
Turning to pharmaceuticals, Canada imports around 70 per cent of prescription drugs and 90 per cent of ingredients for drugs manufactured indigenously. China and India produce 80 per cent of the active ingredients of prescription drugs sold in North America. Notwithstanding supply chain disruptions, India made a special provision to rush 5 million hydroxychloroquine capsules, to Toronto. The medication will be used for lupus, malaria or rheumatoid arthritis cases and not for clinical trials or to treat Covid-19.
Both countries are regularly comparing notes on dealing with the pandemic. We are sharing details of the India model and keeping abreast of the Canada model. PM Modi states – “Collaboration and partnership between India and Canada is vital to fighting the pandemic including through medical research and supply chain management” (Tweet on 28 April).
Given the synergies and complementarities, robust multifaceted engagement would indeed yield rich dividends to both India and Canada. The recent experience could be the catalyst for turning a new leaf in the relationship.
(The author of this opinion article is Mr Vishnu Prakash, former Indian High Commissioner to Canada)
Article has been sourced from ANI