‘In India we want to find the right partners in environment solutions, which I think Sweden is quite good at’
King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden are on a state visit to India this week, their second after 1993. In New Delhi, they are accompanied by a business delegation of some 50 Swedish companies, along with representatives of government agencies and universities. They talk to Renuka Bisht about their personal push for furthering bilateral ties in areas like environment, healthcare and innovation:
What is taking you to Haridwar?
King: We will also take part in the clean-up project on Versova beach in Mumbai before taking part in the inauguration of a sewage treatment plant in Haridwar. This was at one of the exhibitions here in Stockholm, where they were showing me the project of starting to clean the Ganges, which I think is fantastic. So I thought I would come to your country and see how you are doing it. Because it must be extremely important for the environment and for everybody around. I am told that it is a 2,500 km long river. That’s a lot of cleaning to do. I wish you good luck and it is possible.
We started some 40 years ago cleaning the freshwater lake behind the Parliament building in Stockholm. It’s quite a big lake. It is like an octopus, touching a lot of islands and small cities. There is a lot of industry around it. It takes years but it has been cleaned up now. There you can go swim now and if you are really brave, even drink the water. So we are very willing if we can find the right partners in environment solutions, which I think Sweden is quite good at. Now we are trying to make Sweden fossil fuel free.
What do you remember from your state visit in 1993?
Queen: I remember Jaipur which was beautiful. We also had the pleasure to meet the Maharajah of Jaipur and his family and his beautiful daughter. We stayed at their palace and had typical Indian food, which was very nice. We visited a national park as well, where we sat on elephants and saw tigers! I remember the kindness of the people, also towards children. I remember you having a turban on.
King: I don’t remember that.
Queen: It looked good on you.
Why are you looking into geriatric and dementia care at AIIMS?
Queen: Very often there are personal reasons. My mother became ill the last years of her life. And then I had to learn what it was because at that time 25 years ago nobody really talked about dementia. It was something natural that you forget, that everybody forgets. But it’s not really like that. It’s an illness for which unfortunately there is no medication yet. It is a terminal disease. It is very difficult to deal with, for the patient and for the family members as well. I noticed that the nurses didn’t know very much about it nor the doctors. So then I started a group, invited the experts, the universities, to educate them. Now we have nurses and doctors who specialise in dementia. This we do with the Silviahemmet institute.
And they are working very hard because the demand is very big. I don’t know about India but I can imagine it is the same situation. And of course in Japan it is very complicated because until now it was always the eldest daughter who took care of the parents but now she has got her career. So we are working with Japan. We also have cooperation with Germany and South Korea and everybody is very interested. So I hope we do something about this in India also.
How do you address doubts about whether Swedish solutions can work in India?
King: We have many interests in common, like you want to try to clean the Ganges and the beaches in Mumbai. We can see if there are different companies in Sweden that can suit your demands. Take the technology of the Swedish company Solvatten, meaning sunwater. It’s very simple but it works. It’s an old technique actually. It’s basically a plastic container with water, where with the sun and UV beams it can definitely kill many germs and bacteria. It will work in small villages.
Like this there are a lot of techniques. Small innovation can make a big change also. Of course your society is very big. I visited the space sector in Bangalore and then there are the villages. There is a big difference between poor people and high society. And it’s not a small society like Sweden, where everybody knows each other. You have a vast continent.
But this is how we are working, the Queen and myself. We are not supposed to be politicians. We try to be objective and neutral which means that we can take forward certain questions. Like environment I have been talking about since the 1970s, we started with the first environment conference in Stockholm in 1972. And in your country this cleaning effort I think you should be proud of. But it takes time.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.