Difference has been made in Indo-Oman ties.
The strong, historical relations between India and Oman, their geographical proximity and their common interests at different levels date back to the age of "Majan" (old Oman) and the civilisation of the Indus Valley. The artifacts related to Gujarat clay found at a dig in Oman at Ras Al Hadd confirm the historical and civilisational links between the two countries during the Bronze Age (3500 - 1000 BC).
Ancient trade between Oman and Indus Valley Civilisation flourished in the third millennium BC. There is evidence of regular trade with India in frankincense and myrrh in the 1st Century BC. The art of wood carving and pottery making in Oman evolved from contacts with ancient Gujarat.
Around the end of the 8th century AD Oman's commercial relationship with India was strengthened to a great extent. India-Oman contacts at the advent of Islam are explained by the Shrine of Cherman Perumal, the King of Kerala who settled down in Salalah. The entire Indian west coast ranging from Gujarat to Malabar in Kerala traded with Oman.
By the middle of the 18th century and 19th century AD onwards, Oman became a principal port exporting coffee and other local products from interconnecting Gulf countries to India and the Red Sea. During the period of 1862- 1970 AD, the dhow trade between Indian and Oman flourished.
Bepur in Kerala and Sur in Oman became important dhow making centres. During this period, traditional Indian traders made Oman their business centre and settled in Oman. Their relationship with local Omanis and the Royal family grew more and more cordial and intimate as days passed. By the end of 19th century around 2000 'Banyans' made Oman their home.
The Omanis had great faith in the 'Banyans' and used to deposit their ornaments, gold and silver coins and cash with these Kutch traders.
To translate the civilisational links and historical ties into official engagement between the two countries, India opened her Consulate here in 1955 which was turned into an Embassy in 1977. Today, more than 585,000 Indians are working in Oman. They have earned respect as a peaceful and law-abiding community contributing positively to nation building of Oman.
A number of high level visits in the recent past reflect the warm and friendly relations between the two countries. Most importantly the visit of His Highness Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers of Oman to India in December 2007 and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit to Oman in November 2008 have set the stage for regular high level visits in recent years. The warmth in relations is also illustrated by the various ministerial and delegation level visits exchanged between India and Oman over the last three years. One of the recent visits was that of Indian Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahmed to Oman in June, 2011.
The growing connectivity between the two countries and steady development of the two economies during the past few years has resulted in a noticeable increase in bilateral trade and commerce. Bilateral trade figure was registered at $4.5 billion in the financial year 2009-10 stepping up from U$ 2 billion in 2008-09. By July 2010, there were 1537 joint ventures between both countries in Oman, and investments from both sides totaled $7.5 billion. There are more than 140 large Indian companies present in Oman.
During the last three years, Indian and Omani companies have made significant progress in new tie ups and investments in each other's country. Oman India Fertilizer Company (OMIFCO), a $969 million joint venture for producing fertilizer in Sur has continued to perform beyond expectations. The Jindal Group acquired Shadeed Iron and Steel plant in Oman in May 2010 from Abu-Dhabi's Al Ghaith Holdings (AGH) for $464 million in the port city of Sohar and has also dedicated it to the nation in May 2011. The Group is planning to invest another $500 million for expansion of its facilities in Sohar.
Another public sector joint venture, Bharat Oman Refinary Limited (BORL) promoted by Bharat Petroleum Corporation and Oman Oil Company (which has 26 percent equity in the project) and located at Bina, Madhya Pradesh, India was commissioned in May 2011.
The foundation of India-Oman Joint Investment Fund was laid during the visit of Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India to Oman in November 2008. During this visit, a MoU was signed between State Bank of India (SBI) and State General Reserve Fund of Oman (SGRF) to set up a Joint Investment Fund to make equity investments in various economic sectors of both the countries. Final documents related to the establishment of the Fund, were inked in July 2010 during the visit of the then Omani Minister for National Economy Ahmed bin Abdulnabi Macki to India.
The joint venture has started operations in February 2011 with an investible corpus of $100 million (going up to $1.5 billion) to be contributed equally by SGRF and SBI. The fund is being operated by a joint management company headquartered in Mumbai.
The fund is exploring opportunities in all sectors without any specific preference. The Sultanate of Oman and India have also signed a final report, on promoting economic relations and mutual cooperation which has identified nine areas of cooperation: agriculture, health care, infrastructure, tourism, chemical and fertilizer, education, oil & gas, power and mining.
The report was developed by the Supreme Committee headed by Mohammed bin Al Zubair, Adviser to His Majesty the Sultan for Economic Planning Affairs, and Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission of Government of India. The Supreme Committee was tasked to review the whole gamut of India-Oman relationship and to suggest a way forward for leveraging economic stakes for mutual benefit.
India and Oman have also signed various agreements covering cooperation in investment and finance, defence, science and technology, agriculture and higher education. Last year, the two countries signed an MoU on cooperation in culture.
Under the MOU, visits by the cultural, art and literature delegations and the exchange of knowledge, expertise and information relevant to support the cultural and art programmes are being promoted. In addition, the Embassy continues to promote endeavors of the Indian Community residing in Oman to bring India cultural events/groups to Oman. We also expect a few more cultural troupes from Indian Council for Cultural Relations to visit Oman this year.
During the past couple of years, the Indian economy has proved its resilience especially in the years of global crisis. The Indian economy has grown close to 8.5 to 9 per cent in the previous few years.
In the financial year 2010-11 the estimated annual growth registered at 8.5 per cent and for the next financial year a growth rate of 8.75 - 9.25 per cent is estimated. India has adopted economic reforms which has gradually opened the market. The Indian market is now driven by new business models which motivates innovations into industry and market practices. Indian business community is willing to share this experience with other countries.
We have also observed the steady progress and diversification of the Omani economy. Thus, India and Oman have a lot to offer each other. We should concentrate on realising each other's experience in various sectors such as food security, medical tourism, agriculture, petro-chemicals, pharmaceuticals, higher education, technical and vocational training and science and technology.
India and Oman could also work to accelerate cooperation between SME sectors of the two countries. India already offers 50 slots for technical training to Omani personnel under its Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme. We have seen overwhelming response from Omani candidates.
To enhance bilateral commercial engagements, Indian Embassy has continued to organise Indo-Oman Business Forum meets to bring business houses of the two countries closer and make them aware of the current economic trends and business opportunities in India and Oman. Besides, the embassy organised five Indo-Oman Business Seminars in Sohar, Sur, Salalah, Nizwa and Buraimi over the past few months to update Omani businessmen and traders on the upward trend of Indian economy. Recently, the embassy organised such seminars in Nizwa and Salalah and Muscat. These seminars aim at increasing bilateral trade exchanges between the two countries and also focused on the exportable Indian brands and products for the Omani market.
The Indian Embassy has also made special efforts to promote tourism in India, including medical tourism. Tie-ups between Indian hospitals and travel agencies in Oman have been facilitated. The embassy has been promoting medical tourism in India through publicising specialty medical care in India at competitive prices through seminars, especially during Incredible India road shows in Muscat and Salalah in 2009.
During the recently held seminars in Nizwa and Salalah, a report on Indian healthcare sector including wellness centers and pharmaceuticals was presented. It is encouraging that more than 35,000 Omani nationals visited India in 2010.
Nearly, 2,000 Indian doctors work for the Ministry of Health, Royal Court of Oman, Oman's Armed Forces and in the private sector. India has also provided experts to the Government of Oman in cartography, statistics, survey, finance, information and audit function in its State Audit Department. Several Indian banks are functioning in Oman either as banks or as the exchange houses. The New India Assurance Co. has been providing insurance services since 1975. Similarly, Oman International Bank and Bank Muscat are present in India.
Indian culture has always been the subject of fascination for the Omani nationals. Due to the civilisational links between the two countries and the Sultanate being home to a large workforce of Indians, Indian cultural aspects have been blended in common Omani life. In order to renew the cultural bond between India and Oman and also to introduce new features of art and culture from India, the embassy has continued to organise cultural events in various cities of Oman.
Recently, Rajasthani dance troupe, Qawwali Group and Baul Group which were sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Indian Social Club saw packed performances in Muscat, Sohar, Nizwa and Salalah. The embassy is also thankful for the support extended by the local event management companies which have brought excellent events in Oman from India.
These events range from painting exhibitions, film festivals, theater festivals, musical performances, textiles shows, classical and semi-classical dance performances, folk art, exhibitions and talk-shows/lectures. In addition, Hindi Diwas, ITEC Day, visit of artisans for live demonstration of Indian handicrafts, etc. are regularly being organised by the embassy.
All those events can be viewed at the embassy's newly created facebook account. I also urge members of the Indian community based in Oman to make use of the online registration facility which has been initiated by the embassy in February 2011 to keep the record of Indian nationals residing in Oman.
With the embassy's support and efforts Indian Schools in Buraimi and Thumrait have been opened. An Indian School in Massirah will be opened in this academic year. With the Indian School in Massirah Island, the total number of Indian Schools will go up to 19 and they will function under the guidance of the Board of Directors for Indian Schools in Oman. The Omani Ministry of Education has now taken over the supervision of Indian schools in Oman under the Board of Directors.
Four years of progress
Four years have just rolled by since I arrived in Oman in August 2007, and it seems that this happened just yesterday. The past four years have seen innumerable number of visits, cultural events, economic and commercial promotions and opening new areas of cooperation between India and Oman all of which happened in quick succession.
I can look back with great satisfaction at the end of these four years and feel happy that a difference has been made in Indo-Oman relations, in raising the confidence, prestige and unity of the Indian community in Oman and in the betterment of the lives of the Indian blue collar workers. A lot more needs to be done but the basic structure is in place and Indo-Oman relations are on a sound footing. Plans are afoot for larger and more diversified investments, opening new areas in bilateral trade; Oman and India have come to recognise each other as promising areas of potential.
I wish to convey my sincere thanks to the Omani authorities who have always been very helpful to me and the Indian Embassy.
I would also like to convey my deep gratitude to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said for his benevolence and patronage of the Indian community residing in Oman. The Indian community in Oman has always been hard working, peaceful, law-abiding, humble and creative. It takes pride in the recognition of its worth by Omani brothers and sisters and the Omani government.
On this happy occasion of National pride, the 65th Independence Day of India, I would like to convey my greetings and best wishes to the Indian community and people of Indian origin residing in the Sultanate, and convey my deep sense of satisfaction of getting the opportunity to represent them in Oman. I am confident that in future, their embassy will continue to work towards improvement of conditions of work and living for the community and for the betterment of our precious relationship between India and the Sultanate of Oman.
Muscat Press and Publishing House SAOC 2011
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