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We will keep showcasing Make In India and Invest in India programmes to Canadian cos: Consul General Apoorva Srivastava
Apoorva Srivastava

We will keep showcasing Make In India and Invest in India programmes to Canadian cos: Consul General Apoorva Srivastava

| @indiablooms | 29 Jun 2022, 10:38 am

The recent meeting between Indian PM Narendra Modi and his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau at the G7 Summit in Germany triggered speculations that the relationship between the two nations is once again improving. IBNS correspondent Suman Das interacted with Indian Consul General in Toronto Apoorva Srivastava recently to understand the various issues that connect India and Canada intrinsically. Excerpts:

You have served in the Paris and Kathmandu embassies in the past. How is it different to be here in Canada?

As a diplomat you are posted in different parts of the world. Like, Paris was my first posting. I can say that Paris is a beautiful city and the relationship between India and France is very good. Both the countries are strategic partners. I have also served in Kathmandu. In this case also Nepal and India are very close neighbours. We enjoy a very close relationship. It is the same here with Canada where we also share very strong bondage. We are both national and strategic partners. We are also connected by a strong Indian diaspora here. I feel each country has different flavours and I have enjoyed all my postings. Canada is really special to me. In Canada, we have a strong Indian diaspora and I am lucky to celebrate many festivals which previously I could not do elsewhere.This is the beauty of Canada and I am really enjoying it here.

Recently, the Canadian government has decided to issue more student visas and Indian students form a major chunk of it. Ontario remains a popular destination for them. How is your consulate preparing to serve them?

The Indian students form the largest chunk of international students studying in Canada. We have 230,000 number of Indian students studying here already and more are waiting to come here in the coming session. We are working towards the welfare of students. Infact, we have a dedicated wing here to deal with the problems of the students. During the COVID-19 time, we have started several systems to deal with the problems faced by the students. We also keep in touch with several universities. I also personally meet the vice chancellors, students and faculty members of various universities and see the students are taken good care of.

Secondly, we have also made a Whatsapp group called Sahiyog. There, we discuss different problems. If any student is facing some problem then someone will post the matter in the group. In that case,the community members will come together and try to help the students. Thirdly, we also organize a welcome ceremony for the new students and tell them what are the troubles. Whenever we organize something then also we invite students. There are also other incidents like sudden deaths. There are incidents like drowning, accident and even suicides. We need to break that unfortunate news many times to their parents. These incidents are really unfortunate. So, we have tried to create awareness among students to solve the problems. Thus, I can say that we are trying our best in dealing with all these issues.

Is there any programme which was run by the Consulate during COVID time when they were stranded?

Yes, during COVID-19 time we ran a 24x7 helpline for the students. It was operating for three months. It is not operating now. We were also operating a dedicated email ID during that period. These measures really helped the students. Infact, the Sahiyog Whatsapp group was also formed during that period. So, during COVID-19 time if students faced any trouble which included shortage of food, we used to help them.

The world during COVID-19 faced several kinds of challenges. What is your experience with the Indian diaspora during that period?

There were many challenges that people faced during COVID. One of the main problems that we faced was that the flight service suddenly stopped one day and many Indians remained stranded here for one and half months. These people included students, tourists and many more. There were problems related to the supply of medicines. Like, many parents had visited here to meet their children and suddenly they found themselves stranded in this country. Many of them were facing shortage of medicines. So, there were different kinds of troubles which we were facing at that time. During those days, Sahiyog emerged as a big help for people. The Indian community also played a big role. I even sought help from the Indian community members who run hotels here to provide lodging to some people who were stranded in this country. Even food banks were arranged which delivered food to students to the places where they were asked to do so. I can also mention that many Indian students suffered COVID and the Indian community prepared food for them and left them outside their house. The Indian doctors also came up to help the stranded people during those challenging days.

IBNS Canada receives complaints about delays regarding the processing of OCI or issuing of normal visas to the Indians due to BLS. We also get complaints that BLS does not maintain transparency regarding filling out the forms and creates a delay at the initiation of the process. I will really appreciate if you share your views on the matter.

There was some delay during the COVID-19 time. But if you speak about today, then I can say that we issue visa in just three days in the consulate here. In case of OCI, it takes a longer time as it has a lock-in period. We need to wait for all the clearance to come from India. It's written on our website as well that we take 6 to 8 weeks for the issue of it and in 99 percent times OCIs are issued within that period. So, if your application is complete and correct then it takes no time. Problem happens with postal application. People need to be proper while filling the application.Having said that we try to take cognisance of complains whenever we receive one.

How is the trade relationship between India and Canada gearing up?

The bilateral trade between India and Canada is nearly 10 billion dollars, which is basically a two-day of trade between the USA and Canada. There is lots of scope here in enhancing it. We are also working towards it. The biggest piece in the India-Canada thing is the Canadian investment in India. In 2014-15, this investment was 5 billion dollars but now it is 60 billion dollars. Brookfield (a Canadian corporation) has become the largest investor in India. Lots of pension funds and institutional investors have shown confidence from India.  OTPP (Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan) is set to open an office in India very soon. Many of them made a lot of investments during COVID-19 years (2020-2021). All these show they are very much interested in India. Lots of Canadian companies are currently working in India.There are more than 600 companies which have branches in India. Similarly many Indian companies, including pharma, IT, mining, two banks and even startups, are currently based in Canada. NASSCOM led three delegations here in the past three years and brought many startups. Out of those, 20 are nearly on the way to being established in Canada.

What will be your key priorities as the Consul General in the upcoming days?

Basically, my work is going to be the same which I have been doing for so long. I will try to enhance trade relationships between India and Canada. We will try to connect trade organizations from both nations so that it creates more opportunities. We will organize training sessions with Indian companies and startups. We will also keep on presenting Make In India and Invest in India programmes with Canadian companies here. We will continue taking these measures regularly. We are also hosting an Open House programme in the consulate on Wednesday. It is a date when anybody can come and meet me. It was a beautiful stance started by former Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj ji. We have also started doing a lot of consular camps every month. We also initiated a move called Sampark for grievance redressal. Hence, I can say we are doing a lot of things to make life easier.

How difficult is it for you to maintain your work-life balance?

It is difficult to balance your work life. However, we do try to do it. I and my husband (Anshuman Gaur, Deputy High Commissioner of India to Canada) have been mostly posted together. We decided to be posted in Canada so that we could be somewhat living together. He is in Ottawa and I am currently in Toronto. We are trying to manage it in that way. We also have two daughters to look after.

How difficult is the day of  Apoorva Srivastava?

I will love to have a balance in my life-dedicated to my husband, children and work and sometimes to myself. I like travelling a lot. So, sometimes I enjoy going for a drive with my daughters. My work is very hectic and it's like a 24x7 job. It is not an easy thing to maintain balance. But I try to maintain it.

(With additional contribution by Supriyo Hazra/Narendra Modi-Justin Trudeau Image credit: PIB)

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