Fulbright US-India Series: Honorable Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Sandhu

Taranjit Singh Sandhu is the current Ambassador of India to the US and former High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka. In this conversation, Ambassador Sandhu provides a historical overview of the relationship between India and the US, and talks about how the relationship has evolved over time. Ambassador Sandhu discusses the strengths of the Indian renewable energy market and what steps the government is taking to facilitate greater access for foreign investors.
I hope you enjoy my conversation with Ambassador Sandhu!

Topics covered in this podcast: ​

[1:42] How has the US-India relationship evolved over time?
[5:03] How can the younger population engage to further strengthen this relationship?
[7:03] What are the specific strengths of India and the US in the development of the energy sector?
[11:53] What exactly is the “One grid, one world” vision?
[15:23] What are the key challenges that investors express, who are interested in Indian investments?
[19:42] What work has the embassy engaged in to address these investor concerns and what policies have been enacted to make investing in the Indian energy market more accessible?
[21:53] Ambassador Sandhu makes a call to action to potential investors interested in the Indian energy space


00:06 Karan Takhar
Hello everyone. This is Karan Takhar welcome to the Energy podcast. Over the past decade, India has done an impressive job of integrating renewable energy into its energy mix. For this Fullbright podcast series, I sought to investigate the enabling factors potential of India's global leadership in renewable energy with the focus on solar. This Fulbright series is broken down into Four Seasons. This season we capture the views of high-level officials of the Indian Government in energy delegates from African countries looking to India's support. We'll try understand how India's continued progress in renewable energy development can improve its leadership position in the world. In this episode, I will be speaking with the honorable Taranjit Sandhu who's the current Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Ambassador Sandhu. I focus our conversation on how renewable energy can serve as a platform to strengthen India's partnership with the U.S. specifically I ask Ambassador Sandhu about how the US-India relationship has evolved over time. What are the key challenges U.S. investors have been communicating to the embassy in terms of being able to enter the Indian energy market what policies the Government has implemented to make this process more streamlined? Lastly, prior to starting the interview, I'd like to give a special thanks to USIF who leads the Fulbright program Professor Vijay Charriere of CLDT at IIT Delhi; Anjali Garg program manager of the IFC Lighting Asia India Initiative who both were instrumental for supporting me during this podcast enabling it to I hope you enjoy this wide-ranging conversation with Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu. 
Thank you so much Ambassador Sandhu for taking the time to participate in this interview I'd like to start out by asking you. Because of all your extensive experience working between the U.S.- India I know you've had multiple postings here So I'd Like to ask? Could you provide a historical overview from your own first-hand perspective about how the US-India relationship has evolved over time?

02:54 Taranjit Sandhu
Certainly Karan you know that we are passing Unprecedented times pandemic economic situation. So there is a lot of uncertainty. However, I believe that every crisis presents itself with a new opportunity. So it's never the end of the road. The US remains a critical partner for India in meeting the developmental aspirations of 1.3 billion people we are collaborating now in for example health sector S&T vaccine development. These are some issues which earlier did not get focused in the public. So we are learning from each other dispatch practices. In fact, given the phase two phase beatings cannot happen we are interacting with one another through virtually most of the interactions. But my priority in days ahead would be to look at what more we can do together for each other for the rest of the world. The more we talk the more we engage the more we get to know one another. The more we build on relationships I look at Youngsters like you for ideas we are always open as you have mentioned has not aware of served in D.C. twice before. There are some relationships which have grown over years. I have the privilege of knowing how To an extent the United States works I strongly feel that we are natural partners with shared values this relationship is certainly beyond governments. The industry thinks times civil society people on both sides people like you are the real actors who drive this relationship. So I do feel that we have come a long way there is no field of human endeavor where we are not collaborating with each other currently. If you look at the two-way trade figures investment figures again people-to-people ties any indicator for that matter it is on upward trajectory.

05:12 Karan Takhar
In my years in India, I was very impressed by all of the great work that's being done. It seems like there's been so much change from the times. I would visit in the past to then living there experience seeing it particularly as you mentioned the population seems like very young very motivated I think I heard you say in the past how like this is one of the key areas where the US India Partnership the future actually is inherent in the young the young engagements so particularly I would just like to briefly ask you like how you think the population the younger population of both countries can engage more.

05:56 Taranjit Sandhu
See Karan as you know I'm sure you know from your own experience that the U.S. When one is young there is fashion there is a lot of energy for innovation in the current scenario I think the future belongs to this because of this unprecedented crisis which we have not only in the healthcare sector but also in it. In fact, the very fact that we are talking to each other through technology I do it all the time many times I mean I'm giving a simple example it gets stuck or something goes wrong. So look at the scope of innovation that's why I do feel that the young it's very important. They are an important bridge between our two countries in India also in small medium sectors is one of the key priority areas. So the Prime Minister is taking personal interest in that our hope is that that will become the driving force. Now for example you know India has about 200000 young students studying. Uh mostly in stem areas here in United States. Now they are another bridge. Many of these kids study here go back set up small innovative units as you would have seen you know look your clean energy side. There is so much tremendous scope of innovation young can play a very important role. So that's why I have earlier also mentioned to you. So there's a lot of hope potential amongst this part of population if I may just add you know? In India Today this is the strongest support the base you have for India investigations. I think we have seen when our presidents of United States up into India this is the young population which comes out they come out in thousands because they are aspirational. They see United States in very positive terms the technology connects many of the innovation areas. So that's where I think a lot of who support innovations You know on the West Coast there are many who invest in these things that's why this is one area where both the countries can connect closely the young will be the Key to task.

08:39 Karan Takhar
I see. yeah, just from my experience I so saw that to be the case with respect to renewable energy in terms of partnering in this area, what can India bring to the table what can U.S. bring to the table in order to help in the development of clean energy like where do you see the respective strengths of both countries to be?

09:04 Taranjit Sandhu
So let me indicate to you about India first because the U.S. it's a very well-known Advantages scope for which you have as I have indicated earlier you know the new goals for India is neither a compulsion nor just an option but it's our passion. why I'm saying that is because we believe in following green Growth. My Prime Minister has written a book titled Convenient Action. India has huge energy needs which provide huge opportunities for U.S. companies or we welcome U.S. technology investments or future this is evident from series of initiatives That India has undertaken. We have made voluntary commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions intensity of our GDP. We have pledged that 40% of India's power capacity would be based on non-fossil fuel sources. India will create an additional carbon sink through our forest tree cover increase by 2030. In fact, India is one of those few places in the world where forest cover is growing India has one of the world's largest renewable energy expansion programs. The installed capacity of renewables in India has grown by 144% in the last six years. We are confident of increasing clean energy capacity of 134 gigawatts which is going to be 35% of our total to 220 Gigawatts by 2023 to 450 gigawatts by 2030. We have a national policy on biofuels since 2018. Today a unit of solar power is cheaper than energy generated from coal. That itself speaks in a big way you know that we have a role of collaboration we need to further that especially for energy storage Because that is the critical in solar many of the other renewables you are aware of course that along with France we have launched the International Solar Alliance in 2015. This is a reflection of our commitment for universalizing the use of solar energy under one world one son one great project. We just concluded the first world Solar Technology summit. It provides new opportunities for many U.S. companies that are engaged in solar energy. Technology while using social economic gains for the global community we are glad that U.S. International Development Finance Corporation that is DFC are announced $600 million. Financing facility for renewable energy projects in India. So we certainly feel that there's a lot of scope for U.S. companies to get into India.

12:25 Karan Takhar
 I respect to the one grid one World Vision. Could you talk a little bit to how India sees itself? 

12:36 Taranjit Sandhu
Enabling that energy is concerned, I think there is not much that I need to explain to you that why India feels that it has a tremendous potential because we have solar energy in abundance we have huge energy requirements. I mean when I say it's generally here 120 million people. You know for the villages for our industry for expansion for our development purposes energy is the Key to everything that's why we did take the initiative of International solar alliance. We have been pushing very Strongly; while the U.S. government has still not come on board as an entity but the U.S. companies are the leading actors when we say one world one son one grid it means that this is a shared experience India itself. When we finally reach our full potential we will be able to the storage capacity has developed because that's one Q challenge in solar addressing. Right now we are only able to undertake certain activities where there is a storage available there is not too much of transportation involved but ultimately We hope that through the technology we can be one grade. First, at regional level I mean India levels regional level then at the world. Once that capacity has been achieved that is in terms of technology We feel that there are not only we'll be able to first resolve our problems but a number of countries I do know that I have just sold in Sri Lanka I know that despite being a compact country still they are aligned during the times when the water level is low. They are actually dependent on what is generated through diesel. So then imagine if solar energy given this concept was working as a one unit is so easily we could have transported or transferred. I mean how much of clean energy will be available? there's so much of a sync which we talk of. I'm just giving you one small example.

15:28 Karan Takhar
Yeah, that provided a lot of great clarity in terms of enabling storage also furthering the solar sector renewable energy sector not only in India but regionally than globally. I know attracting foreign direct investments very important as the Indian Ambassador to the U.S. are you finding that people are coming to you expressing that there are some challenges in terms of being able to invest directly into the market like what are some of the challenges around that funding?

16:05 Taranjit Sandhu
See again to put things in perspective India received 42 billion U.S. dollars in FDI in the last 19 1/2 years from April 2000 to September 2019. Out of this, about 50% that is 319 billion in FDI was received in the last 5 1/2 years. So India's business-friendly environment has made it the second largest recipient of FDI in Asia among the top ten FDI recipients globally now we received 73 billion in FDI in 2019. Our on ease of doing business rankings we are also rising rapidly. Of course, our target remains to be amongst the top 30. Why I gave you this perspective is so that you know you see it the overall picture how from where we have come to here for foreign investors are taking India's commitment to reform seriously which again is evident from inflow of FDI even during the time of COVID-19 between April to July 2020. The FDI into India stood at 20 million U.S. dollars.

17:26 Karan Takhar

17:35 Taranjit Sandhu
India has also undertaken IPR-related reforms. I know some of these are challenges that's why I'm linking to you in positive sense on what is being done so I'm sure our national intellectual property rights policy has been put in place our shortest time taken to grant a patent recently has been 67 days from the day of filing of the report over the years.
Government has not only relaxed FDI reforms but has undertaken series of tax labor-related reforms. India offers a transparent predictable tax regime. Our system encourages supports honest taxpayers are GST is unified fully it enabled indirect tax system insolvency front of the C code has reduced risk for the entire financial system or comprehensive labor reforms will reduce compliance burden for employers. It will also provide Social Security protection Workers so these are some of the undertakings which issue are basically with respect to many of the challenges which are fees but I must also mention to you that we are continuously even during the times of COVID I have spoken to number of industry majors here as well as small medium industries trying to get inputs including especially in the area of energy as well as cleaning it. So as to get input from them my Government that this is the expectation. Whatever challenges they are facing in India to the extent. We can help to minimize those and listen to their problems so that there is we can respond. So these are kind of activities which did.

19:45 Karan Takhar
Arctic that's really interesting. Have they been able to provide inputs or is that still in process you know?

19:51 Taranjit Sandhu
My energy minister feels very very odd we have a street direct link here between us our people as well as so whatever inputs we get I'm also reaching out one by one to the big actors to hear apart from doing group distance we have reached out to many of the clean energy companies getting input should be happy. If you share your study with us we will certainly get it looked into some of the observations which you have studied come across because you have been talking to so many of these people.

20:33 Karan Takhar
Great. Yeah, I'll definitely share them. spoken to many of the bigger actors in the Indian market the whole idea behind engaging in this process was to kind of show how attractive of an area India is specifically within clean energy two people in the U.S. who might not be aware. So that they don't miss it lastly my final question is not sure if this has been an input that you get. From actors in the U.S. just from my own observations and conversation. I know that there's some hesitancy to invest in emerging markets also India because while there might be strategic clarity from the Central Government in this space there also have been instances where the local state Governments sometimes form commitments and then say if there's a turnover a party they back out of the commitment. So I'm just curious to hear your thoughts on what you would say to potential investors who have these concerns of the Indian market.

21:45 Taranjit Sandhu
So Karen firstly on the issue of what you are in a sense Alluding to is some kind of an unpredictability. So we have certainly taken that on board in fact if you see the comments of my Prime Minister to one of the two major U.S. businesses Stevens he spoke at he has touched upon this predictability aspect at the federal level we are fully conscious we are now. Now also in a phase where we are getting our states to interact with your states plus we are also getting all states to interact with some of the business. So industry majors here Which we are facilitating directly so that the states are making presentations. On attracting the business from here to come invest in their States this is what they will lay out for their you know so in a sense no creating a competitive because you need to remember is that like the United States India is also a very robust federal polity. So we also like you have powerful governors in your country. We have powerful achievements. But in fact, the COVID crisis has shown how Indian federalism Our works at its best. You saw you were in India when the lockdown occurred how every week my Prime Minister was taking the initiative talking to the Chief ministers who were involved. now also with the numbers increasing, we are wherever the states of finding a challenge Federal Government in a system so I'm just giving you one example of the critical thing but I also want to underline specifically in response to your question that you know in partnership with the state governments. The Federal Government in India is making efforts to streamline business regulations through a single-window system Labour law reforms et cetera. To improve the ease of doing business environment in the full country. So we have created what is a business reform action plan. Rankings of the state number recent ones were released on 5th September 2020. Now, these are based on the implementation of the business reforms Action plan this is an effort to create competition amongst the states so that they become response Say to investments attracting investments what I told you we are doing here as an embassy creating a platform for each state. Now we had Karnataka Chief Minister coming on. We have the Deputy Chief Minister Maharashtra coming on their investment and interacting directly with the business. So those are some. I'm also talking to governors of the states here. Encouraging them by telling them these are the areas where in India you can invest taking into account what are the comparative advantages for each so that's kind of this thing. So as I told you that the objective of the action plan which the business reform action plan to actually lay out series or reforms targeted at increasing transparency and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the regulatory framework services for businesses. India the ranking this time gives full vintage with the feedback from over 30000 respondents at the ground level who gave their opinion about the effectiveness of the reforms. So some of the states have shown extraordinary energy in putting together Action plans making sure that the reforms happen So the ease of doing business ranking of the state or a reflection of the efforts made by the states the rankings are competitive this by the Indian Commerce minister recently instead pointed out that India is amongst the very few nations that has begun the state-specific rankings which in turn helps the overall federal promises which are being kept; the state governments in India are now being very much made part of the reforms being undertaken for improving business climate. So therefore the question of backing down from commitments in the future will not arise.

26:51 Karan Takhar
Thank you so much, Ambassador Sandhu. Thank you for all of your time today. I hope you enjoyed that episode do check out the show notes For more information on my guest. See you next time.

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