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India, France decide to double trade, push investments

PARIS, June 1: India and France have set an ambitious target of doubling their bilateral trade to over $5 billion over the next three years and attracting French investments of $1 billion to India annually.

The target was set during a meeting between India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath - who is here on a three-day visit for the Indo-French Joint Economic Commission meeting - and his French counterpart Catherine Lagarde. Accompanying the Indian minister is a business delegation of nearly 20 chief executives, headed by S.K. Poddar, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

"The total French investment in India, over the last so many years, amounts to only $750 million that has no bearing on the capacity of the French companies to invest and the requirement of the Indian economy," Poddar said.

"I propose that we set a target of at least $1 billion in French investments in India every year," Poddar told the meeting, which was immediately accepted by the French minister who said that she shared the view.

In a move that would lend greater strength to bilateral trade, Lagarde said she would be happy to lead a delegation of over 200 chief executives of small and medium French firms to India in December. "It is only by involving the small and medium companies that we can add a new dimension to our trade ties and I will be happy to contribute in the effort to promote French SMEs to look at India more closely and seriously," she added.

At the meeting, Kamal Nath said the perception of India in France was still of a mystic country with lots of poverty and problems and not enough potential. "With a cumulative French investment of only $750 million in India, there is something wrong somewhere and we need to identify the problems and fix them."

He said the two sides must identify key areas for promoting trade and investment and a focused effort should be made to increase bilateral economic ties. Another reason for the low level of trade, were the non-tariff barriers, he added.

Kamal Nath said he had raised the issue of L.N. Mittal's bid on Arcelor and had been reassured by Lagarde that the French government treated the issue as a commercial deal that was best left for the markets to determine. "There is no discrimination on basis of colour, race, nationality or religion and the French government will let the markets decide the fate of the deal. We would welcome investments by everyone," Lagarde added.

Harpal Singh, chairperson of Fortis, said the two sides should look at launching some pilot projects in healthcare. "India has the capacities and France needs to maintain its leadership position in healthcare." He said the projects could establish the case of mutually beneficial ties in this key domain, which also found immediate response from the French minister who urged Singh to work out the details.

"One should not consider these as mere outsourcing but as projects that can lay the basis for a new relationship between India and France," Kamal Nath added.

Launch of Radha Krishna: a Daum crystal creation

NEW DELHI, April 12: The eternal love of Indian mythological characters- Radha and Krishna has now been immortalised by the French creator of exclusive crystal sculptures-Daum.

Winner of the Grand Prix award in Paris in 1900, Daum has been represented at all major decorative arts exhibitions in France and abroad.

In collaboration with the French Embassy in India and Ganga Creations Pvt. Ltd, Daum launched its exclusive 'Radha Krishna' figurines at a function held at the embassy of France. The masterpiece was unveiled by the French Ambassador, Mr. Dominique Girard.

Perfecting the technique of acid engraving and addition of metal oxides to render colour in glass, the Daum artists have married the unique and precious material - pâte de verre into crystal , leading to creation of inimitable objet d'art.

France assures India support to get NSG nod

VASCO (Goa), April 3: As India prepares to hold talks with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), its key member France on Monday said it would help in generating consensus for the Indo-US nuclear deal, but ruled out providing uranium till ‘green signal’ from the 45-nation group.

French ambassador Dominique Girard said his country was looking forward to industrial cooperation in nuclear field with India in the backdrop of a joint statement issued by the two countries recently during the visit of President Jacques Chirac.

"This [Indo-US nuclear agreement] is an excellent deal. We are quite happy with it," he told a select group of reporters in Vasco during his visit to witness the start of the week-long Indo-French naval exercises 'Varuna II' off the Goa coast.

On the requirement for NSG's endorsement of the deal, the envoy said, "We will help in that [building of consensus] as much as we can." Supporting India's quest for civilian nuclear energy to meet its growing needs, he hailed its track record, "We feel India should have better access to civilian nuclear technology and materials because of its behaviour, because of its non-proliferation record and because it is a democracy."

Consensus within NSG and its endorsement of the Indo-US deal is a key requisite for allowing international community to resume trade in nuclear field with India. Under the deal, the US is responsible for building consensus for the deal in the NSG. Russia and Britain will also be helping in this process.

India, France hold joint naval exercises off Goa coast

PANAJI, April 2: Adding a new chapter to Indo-French bilateral ties, aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarines of the two countries, supported by their air forces, on Sunday began week-long joint exercises off the Goa coast to tone up inter-operability and make them ready in the event of integrated operations.

The opening day of the exercises Varuna II saw India's Sea Harrier combat aircraft landing for the first time on Charles de Gaulle, the nuclear-powered French aircraft carrier participating in the war games for the first time.

As two Sea Harriers, having the unique capability of vertical take-off and landing, landed on Charles de Gaulle after starting from Indian aircraft carrier INS Viraat a few kilometres away, the French ship became only the second foreign aircraft carrier after the US one, on which the Indian fighters have landed.

Another highlight of the eighth joint exercise is that for the first time, aircraft carriers of both the countries are participating for the first time. The two Navies have been conducting the joint exercises since 2001.

While one of the Sea Harriers took off immediately after landing, another halted for sometime triggering speculation that it had developed some technical problems. Senior offiicials from both sides said it had stayed back for refuelling as it was running short of fuel. The aircraft took off again after about an hour.

A Pre-summer night’s dream – relived with Fireflies

By Sushma Arora

NEW DELHI, March 4: The beautiful lawns of the French Embassy were unsually lit up recently, in the most unique manner when ‘Firefly’ – Ritu Beri’s book – the fairytale of her life, was launched following a fashion show with the similar name. To this the charmingly popular French Ambassador, Mr Dominique Girard, remarked – “My modest house has been transformed to a fairy dream by Ritu, even if for an evening!”

The evening had the glamour and the unmistakable style of India’s unofficial fashion ambassador to style capitals of the world, Ritu Beri. The evening began with a special book reading of ‘Firefly’, brought alive through Ritu Beri’s latest collection. Every outfit depicted the concept of Firefly, perfect for any red carpet. The collection was dramatic, the clothes - a fusion of an Indian spirit, Spanish drama and western silhouette, made to make any woman look and feel sensational.

Firefly was formally released to the world by the Union Commerce Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, and the street kids of The Kalakar Trust, a non-governmental organization working with underprivileged artists living in Delhi’s slums. Priced at Rs 1 Lakh, a limited edition book with only a 100 copies, Firefly is a collector’s item!

The inaugurated book was auctioned and sold for Rs 1.4 lakhs bought by Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. Persuasively goading the audience to bid higher was the unshakeable Siddharth Basu, who just loves adding zeroes to any figure! The book will be sold worldwide in the likes of showrooms of Louis Vuitton.

Published by Ritu Beri, Firefly is the story of her life. “The world I captured through my voyage I present through Firefly. I believe God sent me into this world with a promise. It is his promise I trust. I try to explain all this and more through my Firefly.” Says Ritu Beri.

With the launch of the book, Ritu, who has wowed the fashion circles of Paris and dressing Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman,turned into a writer. I can't be presumptuous enough to write an autobiography but this book looks at the 15 long years I have spent in the fashion industry. It is about my years in Paris, where I come from and my personal life," said Ritu.

The evening got bigger as yet another feather was added to this multifaceted designer’s cap. The International Association for Young Creators (IAYC), which awards a fashion creator every year for their talent and for making a remarkable international impact, chose Ritu Beri for this years ‘Les Trois Fileuses Dor’ award for her outstanding contribution to Indian fashion in the international fashion arena. The award was presented to Ritu Beri by former super model, Anne De Champigneul, the founder president of the IAYC, who especially flew down from Paris to be present at the event.

"Firefly - A Fairy Tale" combines various pieces written over the past three years by the designer on diverse aspects of her life, glossy pictures and paintings and humorous anecdotes."The book is in four parts - my inspirations, my years in Paris, my travels - because I think we grow with every journey we make - and my personal life," said Beri.

Asked about the book's title, Ritu said: "Fireflies have their own glow. Like a firefly, I want to illuminate the world with my own light. And my life has been a fairy tale, every experience is a fairy tale for me."


Iran has right to civil nuclear power: Chirac

PARIS, March 1: Iran has the right to civil nuclear power as long as it respects its commitments to the cause of non-proliferation, French President Jacques Chirac said.

"France believes in the need for the demands of non-proliferation to be respected, but believes this does not in any way prejudice Iran's right to civil nuclear energy within such a framework," Chirac was quoted as saying by his spokesman.

He made the remarks in conversation with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, a few days ahead of a crucial meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which must rule whether to refer Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear programme.

India, France ink Nuclear, defence pacts

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 20: To give a further boost to their strategic ties, India and France on Monday signed a joint declaration on civil nuclear cooperation and a defence pact to coincide with the visit of the French President, Mr Jacques Chirac.

The two countries also resolved to double bilateral trade in five years to nearly $10 billion. The two sides also inked seven other bilateral documents spanning cooperation in diverse fields like space, tourism, education, culture and civil aviation at a specially created stage on the lawns of Hyderabad House here.

The strategic partnership that was forged between the two countries during President Jacques Chirac's last visit to India in 1998 had “gone from strength to strength” and opened “new pathways of cooperation”, said Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister, at a joint press interaction with Mr Chirac. The declaration on civil nuclear cooperation was the new face of this strategic synergy between the two democracies.

Supporting India's civilian nuclear energy programme, Mr Chirac, who arrived here on Sunday on a two-day visit, said the production of nuclear power by India was “necessary” for the country's economic development and to ensure a clean environment. The visiting President, however, refused to dwell on difficulties that came in the way of signing a formal pact on nuclear energy cooperation which was agreed on by the two sides during Dr Singh's visit to Paris last year.

Mr Chirac underlined an increasing “convergence” between the two countries and offered France's support to civilian nuclear energy cooperation with India on “moral and environmental grounds”. He said “we examined various points of view on the question of India's access to civilian nuclear technology. This is necessary for driving the country's economic development without polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse emissions.”

In an oblique reference to the ongoing debate about New Delhi's separation of its civilian and military nuclear facilities, the President said “we appreciate various constraints faced by India, including economic ones and the ones relating to security and national independence.”

The Prime Minister thanked Mr Chirac for “France's support for the ongoing effort to enable full civilian energy cooperation between India and the international community.” Dr Singh reiterated India's “commitment to honour the letter and spirit” of the agreement signed between him and the US President, Mr George Bush, in Washington on July 18, 2005.

Responding to a question, the Prime Minister said “all facilities provided by India through international cooperation for civilian nuclear energy will be subject to safeguards under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

A joint statement issued at the end of the talks between Mr Chirac and Dr Singh called the joint declaration on cooperation in civil nuclear energy “an important step forward in the realisation of that objective”.

Though the contours of civil nuclear cooperation topped the agenda, the ongoing controversy surrounding India-born steel magnate Laxmi Mittal's bid on European steel major Arcelor also figured in the discussions between the two leaders.

Responding to questions on the controversy, Mr Chirac defended European “concerns” over what he called “a hostile takeover bid” without presenting any concrete plan or explanation for such a move. The President said “a hostile bid has been made with no prior explanation or reasons. We will act in accordance with our principles and values.”
Dr Singh said: “It is my hope that a fair decision taking into account all the stakeholders will be taken in this matter.”

The pact on defence cooperation includes “building upon and expanding cooperation in the defence and military fields, defence industry, production, procurement, research and development of defence material, joint exercises, professional exchange and training.”

An agreement for production of satellites for third countries was also signed between Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and European Aeronautic Defence and Space's Astrium.

Another agreement between Indian Airlines, India's state-run domestic carrier, and Airbus SAS of France was signed for the purchase of 43 aircraft. In September, the Indian government had approved the purchase valued at $2.2 billion.

Three memorandums of understanding on promotion of tourism, energy efficiency and management education were also inked between the two sides. The two countries further fine-tuned their convergence on major global issues and agreed to work together for an early conclusion of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.

Mr Chirac repeated France's “firm support” for India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Earlier in the day, Chirac was given an inter-services guard of honour in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Declaring Chirac “a statesman and true friend of India”, the Prime Minister said: “India and France share a close and strategic relationship and the ties have grown from strength to strength due to the personal endeavour of President Jacques Chirac.”

India, France to ink nuke declaration

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 17: India and France will ink a declaration on nuclear cooperation for peaceful purposes and an agreement on defence cooperation during President Jacques Chirac's two-day visit here beginning February 19.

Speaking to this correspondent, the French Ambassador, Mr Dominique Girard, said that several agreements and memoranda of understanding were slated to be signed during the visit. "The most significant will be a declaration on civil nuclear energy which will enumerate the cooperation perspective showing the stepping of the relationship between the two countries," said Mr Girard. He said the defence framework agreement would reconfirm the long lasting and reliable four-decade-old ties and give an additional impetus to the relationship.

The Ambassador said the State visit by President Chirac eight years after the official visit made in 1998 is opening up a new phase in the development of relations between India and France. "The year 1998 marked a founding date in terms of awareness at the highest levels of the French State that India was now a major emerging power. Eight years later, the outline of a genuine partnership between our two nations, proud of their position in the world and aware of the responsibilities that this entails, is to be confirmed."

At a separate briefing a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr Navtej Sarna, said the two countries would also sign a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the tourism sector.

Mr Girard said the significant of the visit can be gauged from the fact that as many as five French Ministers, parliamentarians and 40 CEOs of the leading French companies would be accompanying the President. The delegation would include the French Foreign Minister, Mr Philippe Douste-Blazy, the Defence Minister, Mrs Michele Alliot-Marie, the Economics, Finance and Industry Minister, Mr Thierry Breton, the Tourism Minister, Mr Leon Bertrand, and the Trade Minister, Mrs Christine Legarde.

The President, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, will ceremonially receive Mr Chirac in the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan on Monday and in the evening will host a banquet in his honour. "There will be delegation level talks with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and there will be calls on by the National Advisory Council Chairperson, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and the Leader of Opposition, Mr L.K. Advani," said Mr Sarna.

In the evening President Chirac will deliver a keynote address at Vigyan Bhavan on India-France Economic Partnership and there will be interaction between the accompanying business delegation and their Indian counterparts. "President Chirac's visit follows Dr Manmohan Singh's to France in September 2005 and is a strong reflection of the commitment of the two countries to vigorously pursue their strategic partnership by intensifying bilateral relations and cooperation in various areas of their engagement, including political and economic," said Mr Sarna.

"Trade forms an important part of our relationship and we feel there is scope to double this from the current 3.5 billion euros. French FDI in India is currently $760 million," he added. This will be Chirac's third visit to India in three decades. He was here in 1976 as the prime minister and in 1998 as the president. On both occasions, he was the chief gust at the January 26 Republic Day parade.

IFFI Goa to commemorate the magic of French cinema

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: The magic of French cinema would be unveiled at the prestigious 36th annual International Film Festival of India (IFFI) to be staged in Goa from November 24.

Speaking to this correspondent, Sanjit Rodrigues, CEO of IFFI and Entertainment Society of Goa, said that it would be for the first time ever that an entire day would be dedicated to celebrate the magic of any country.

"We will honour the French cinema by celebrating a special French Day during the festival. This will be a very important occasion for the people of Goa and for the Indian film industry as we hope to strengthen Indo-French ties in the field of film and entertainment, a very big part of both our cultures. On French Day (December 2) we will be paying tribute to a very famous French actor Isabelle Huppert for her incredible contribution to world cinema," said Rodrigues.

Jean-luc Levaud, Cultural Counsellor at the French Embassy, said, "I am delighted that the French participation at this year's IFFI will be more important that it has ever been. Thanks to our teams' joint efforts and the French Embassy, a dozen of French productions will be showcased at this 36th edition of IFFI and more than ten delegates will be coming from France to attend the festival in Goa."

French Ambassador Dominique Girard, who would lead his countries delegation, is expected to make a special announcement regarding Indo-French Initiatives in Cinema.

Sanjit Rodrigues said the French film called L'enfant (The Child) directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne and winner of the Palme d'Or (the Golden Palm) at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival will be the closing film at the IFFI in Goa.

Also present at the conference was producer and actress Pooja Bhatt, presenting her new movie, "Holiday" filmed in picturesque Goa. The lead stars of "Holiday" Onjolee Nair and Dino Morea will perform at the opening ceremony of the film festival.

Commenting on the occasion, Rajat Mukarji, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Idea Cellular said, "Innovation is the essence of Brand Idea. Mobile telephony is emerging as a platform for cinema and entertainment. For us an association with IFFI is a perfect brand fit. Not only is it a privilege to be associated with an event of this stature but also there is an equally high sense of belonging and intimacy with the soul of the event. We at Idea believe that this is convergence of a different kind."

The delegation from France will include internationally renowned Directors like Alain Corneau and two time Academy Award winner Regis Wargnier, Veronique Cayla, Director General of the National Centre of Cinema (a government body which handles the entertainment policy for the French Government), Jerome Paillard, Executive Director of the Cannes Market and a host of other film professionals.

Adding glamour to the occasion will be Supermodel, actress and one of the L'Oreal Professional Dream Team faces Noemie Lenoir and actor- director Alain Chabat. They would be given a red carpet welcome at the India premiere of "Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra."

Sabbas Joseph, Director, Wizcraft, said the IFFI Goa would also have a host of other exciting events this year. "For the first time IFFI will showcase a host of special events like the Goa Music Day, Namaste India music concert and street animation among others."

Joseph said "these have been planned to spice up the festivities during the entire duration of the Festival and are a part of the 'Idea Celebrating IFFI Goa 2005' initiative sponsored by Idea Cellular."

This event has been planned and executed by Wizcraft International Entertainment Pvt. Ltd on behalf of Entertainment Society of Goa.
Sabbas Joseph said the last day of the 'Idea Celebrating IFFI Goa 2005' festival would see the Goa Music Day, celebrating the song and melody of Goa and its people.

"Through the day, the local Goan musicians will perform at 101 significant places to bring out the true spirit of Goa and every nook and corner will be alive with the sound of celebration."

This special day culminate into the preview of the movie 'Dubai Return' that will be attended by the stars of the film- Irfan Khan, Divya Dutta, Ritu Shivpuri, director Aditya Bhattacharya and producer Manya Patil. To top it all will be the breath taking performances by singers Sudesh Bhosale and Oliver Sean. The will be joined by Sagarika, Shivani Kashyap, Australian singer Ayesha London's Bandish Project and DJ Platinum and Band of Boys - the artists who came together to bring you the fantastic soundtrack to 'Dubai Return'.

Rhone-Alpes beckons India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 31: Rhone-Alpes, the second largest region in France, is all set to woo India. Recently, the region's President (equivalent to Chief Minister), Jean-Jack Queyranne, along with a 30-member high-level delegation, toured New Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai for five days to strengthen economic, higher education and research as well as tourism ties with India.

To prove that the State means serious business, President Queyranne, who is also a Member of Parliament, inaugurated the Delhi office of the Enterprise Rhone-Alpes International (ERAI), to promote regional investments and partnerships in both the countries. The Rhone-Alpes investment promotion agency would soon set up another office in Bangalore. The organisation plans to develop and train a sales force for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) willing to develop their businesses in the subcontinent.

Queyranne said "the objective of the mission was the mobilization of socio-economic operators from the Rhône-Alps headed towards India, introduction of the Rhône-Alps region in India and ensuring the continuity of the exchanges with this country in the framework of a decentralized co-operation with Karnataka."

"Our trade offices will explore Indian commercial partners for firms in Rhone-Alpes. We also plan to help about 100 SMEs in the region to export their products and invest in India as well as to set up shop," said the President.

The decision to promote trade and investments comes in the wake of the Indo-French agreement on doubling bilateral trade, signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with the French President Jacque Chirac during his visit to Paris in September last.

"ERAI will also help Indian firms invest in the Rhone-Alpes region by providing its expertise to select the right partner, location and capital for marketing and exporting their products," said Pascal Weber, Managing Director, ERAI, India.

"We intend to boost economic cooperation in diverse sectors such as infrastructure, IT, pharma, food processing, automotive and aeronautics," Queyaranne said.

The high-level delegation included Jean-Louis Gagnaire, Vice-President, in-charge of Economic Development; Roger Fougeres, Vice-President, in-charge of Higher Education and Research; Hervé Saulignac, Second Councillor in-charge of Power, Information Technology and Communication and President of the Regional Committee of Tourism, Rhône-Alpes.

President of Rhone-Alpes Tourism Herve Saulignac admitted that this was the first time the region was making a foray into India. "We have been going to various countries for tourism promotion within Europe and outside Europe including the US, Japan and China."

Why India? "In the recent past India has been playing a significant role on a global front as a result of opening of its economy and more significantly broad basing its outlook," he said.

Marc Bechet, Director-General of Rhone-Alpes Tourism, said Rhone-Alpes is an all-season ideal romantic destination for Indians. "We will rope in tour operators, Bollywood, Internet and newspapers and magazines to promote our region in India."

He said of one lakh Indians who visit France every year, only 10,000 visit Rhone-Alpes region. "We plan to increase this to 50,000 visitors from India in three years, Bechet added.

With its capital at Lyon, Rhone-Alpes region is a seat of high-tech industries, an internationally focused higher education system and is one of France's top two regions for investors. It has 30 global networks and NGOs, some of the world's largest service sector companies and is a popular venue for numerous international biennial cultural festivals and cinema.

Besides being Europe's leading center for micro and nano technologies, technological synergies and research and development, Rhone-Alpes scores top marks for leisure and quality of life. It is for this reason it is nicknamed as world's five-star capital of tourism, gastronomy and heritage.

India, France ink Scorpene deal

NEW DELHI, Oct 6: France has inked USD 3 billion (Rs 13,000 crore) deal for India's acquisition of six Scorpene submarines.

The French delegation, which included officials and members of the Dcn-International, the manufacturers of Scorpene, held talks with the officials of the Defence Ministry and Navy to finalise the final delivery schedule of the subs and to further strengthen strategic ties between the two countries.

Under the announcement made jointly by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on September 12, the six Scorpene Submarines are to be manufactured at Mazagoan Docks in Mumbai under full technology transfer.

Scorpene, billed as the world's most silent underwater killer machine, would be manufactured under technology transfer by the state-owned Mazagoan Docks in Mumbai and delivered between 2010 and 2015.

As part of the deal, the submarines will be armed with EADS SM39 Exocet sub-harpoon anti-ship missiles. The other powerful weapons payload on the subs include Black Shark and other advanced torpedoes.

With the capability to strike targets underwater, on surface and on land, Scorpene has a radical new design with reduced sound emissions which enables the submarines to strike at long distances without detection. The submarines have an operational cycle of 240 days a year and endurance to carry 50 days patrol to ensure maximum utilisation.

They also offer advanced capabilities for mine warfare, intelligence gathering and special operations. Their acquisition would enable India to reopen its submarine building assembly lines.

India smart card base to touch 400 m in 3 years

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 19: Living up to its IT super power status, India is switching over to smart card technology in a big way covering mundane activities like driving licence to health care. Already 70 million Indian are proud owners of the new microprocessor based chip card. And in another four years the smart card base would touch 400 million to the envy of advanced G-5 nations.

The usage of smart cards, which are capable of storing up to 8 MB data, would range from driving licence to vehicle registration, National ID card to access control, retail, loyalty, banking and finance to healthcare and toll collections.

"Smart card base in India is estimated at about 70 million now. This is projected to cross 400 million numbers in next three years," Mr Vijay Parthasarthy, Managing Director, Gemplus India Ltd, told this correspondent on the sidelines of a seminar entitled "French Smart Card Technology".

The Union Minister of State for Communications & Information Technology, Mr Shaqeel Ahmad, inaugurated the seminar jointly with the Chargé d'affaires of French embassy, Mr François Goldblatt. The seminar was organised under the patronage of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology.

Lauding the pioneer role of French companies in this area, Mr Ahmad said a pilot project on national ID cards would be launched soon. The Registrar General of India (RGI) is going to float a tender for 2.8 million citizens cards for 20 districts in India. Based on the pilot project's success, RGI would come out with citizens card nationwide by 2006-end, said the Minister.

Mr Goldblatt said with more than 50 million mobile telecom subscribers and an average of 2 million new mobile subscribers, subscriber identity module (SIM) in the mobile industry currently is the key mass-market application that empowers the expansion of the Indian smart card market. He said it was also interesting to note that Smart Cards are now also proliferating into new application areas in India, which would in the near future fuel growth of the business.

"Both governmental and security applications include National ID card, driving licence and vehicle registration, access control, retail, loyalty, banking and finance, healthcare, toll collections, among others. The undertaking of these various pilot projects clearly shows that though Indian smart card market is still at a nascent stage, it is clearly the future hub of activities and Indo French partnership for many cutting edge technology and know-how developed in France," added Mr Goldblatt.

A Frenchman, Roland Moreno, invented the smart card in the early seventies. As of today, companies such as Gemplus, Oberthur, Schlumberger, Sagem, Axalto, Atmel, Bull and Ingenico are among the major world players in smart cards, readers, payment terminals and secure transaction systems.

Mr Vijay Parthasarthy said the Indian subsidiary of France-based Gemplus said it is eyeing a large chunk of growing business of sim cards in mobile telecom market and sim cards in other areas of activity, including the proposed national citizens cards.

As the business grows in India, the company would increase the size of its technical development and support centre in Bangloare, which employs just 20 people at present. He said the company is likely to capture 25 to 30 per cent of expected 400 million sim cards in mobile telecom segment in India in the next two-three years.

Worldwide, Gemplus has sold 300 million sim cards in the total one billion-sim card market. He said Gemplus would bid for the national citizens cards. He said a card would cost between US $1 to 2 and would be less expensive when every citizen of more than 15 years of age is given the card because of volume. The company is also eyeing a big share of business in credit and debit cards when they are changed to smart card from the present magnetic stripe cards.

At the seminar, Dr. S.K Sinha, Director National Informatics Center, Ministry of Communications & IT, made a presentation on the "Role of Government in Smart Card Security Infrastructure".

A smart card is a card that is embedded with either a microprocessor and a memory chip or only a memory chip with non-programmable logic. The microprocessor card can add, delete, and otherwise manipulate information on the card, while a memory-chip card like the pre-paid phone cards Indians are familiar with undertake a pre-defined operation.

Smart cards, unlike magnetic stripe cards, can carry all necessary functions and information on the card. Therefore, they do not require access to remote databases at the time of the transaction.

France promises India nuclear energy help

PARIS, Sept 12: France has joined the United States and Britain in backing India's atomic energy programme and promised to do all it could to help the country get access to civilian nuclear technology and equipment.

In a dramatic policy shift in July, the United States promised India full cooperation in developing its civilian nuclear energy programme. Britain gave its backing last week. French President Jacques Chirac and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said they would work towards conclusion of a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement.

"France acknowledges the need for full international civilian nuclear cooperation with India and will work towards this objective by working with other countries and the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) and deepening bilateral cooperation," according to a joint statement issued soon after Manmohan-Chirac talks. Manmohan stopped off in France on his way to the United Nations in New York.

France, which has the highest number of nuclear reactors after the United States, is a member of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), an informal group seeking to control nuclear-technology exports. Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran told newsmen that France would work with the group to try and get restrictions on supply of equipment and technology lifted.

Washington had barred providing atomic technology to India because of New Delhi's status as a nuclear power that has refused to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. India caused international outrage in 1998 by testing a nuclear weapon. Its old foe, neighbouring Pakistan, carried out five nuclear tests soon afterwards in a tit-for-tat response.

But the United States changed policy in return for New Delhi's commitment to adhere to international non-proliferation regimes. Monday's statement said France noted "India's strong commitment to preventing weapons of mass destruction proliferation and the ongoing steps it is taking in this regard."

It was also announced that President Chirac would visit India for two days from February 20 at the invitation of the Prime Minister. The statement noted that the Governments of the two countries accorded high priority to the exchange high level visits for the further intensification of the bilateral ties.

Manmohan Singh described India's ties with France as "privileged and strategic". The French President welcomed the Prime Minister at the Elysee Palace where a ceremonial guard of honour was given to him. The two leaders held wide-ranging discussions on India's bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council and trade and economic cooperation.

"For France, India is a major partner in the world today. And this is the reason why France has always supported India's positions, in particular her legitimate aspiration for a seat at the UN Security Council as a permanent member," said Chirac.

The Prime Minister reiterated that India and France were strategic partners. "We had a very rewarding defence cooperation and we're going to build on that. India has had a very strategic partnership with EU of which France is a very important member and can play an important role," said Singh. "We have to strengthen economic alliances and trade. Trade and investment between India and France is still below potential," he added.

India also decided to acquire six highly advanced French Scorpene submarines worth $3 billion (about Rs 13,000 crore). The move comes just days after placing an order for 43 Airbus aircraft at a cost of about $2.4 billion (nearly Rs 9,800 crore) from an European consortium that includes France.

France to help enhance India's N-status

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 12: France would do all to enhance India's nuclear status in the comity of nations and work towards New Delhi's aspirations to acquire civilian nuclear energy.

This is expected to be the highlight of Prime Minister Mammohan Singh parleys with French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin on Monday. The talks between the Prime Minister and the French leadership are expected to cover bilateral cooperation in economic, defence and nuclear fields.

The Prime Minister would also be meeting with leading French captains of industry and would be seeking their support for India's economic advancement. The Prime Minister arrived on a three-day visit to Paris on Sunday. He is en route to New York to attend the 60th UN General Assembly. External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh is accompanying the Prime Minister.

Foreign Secetary Shyam Saran has termed the visit as a landmark one as it was taking place after a gap of seven years. France has been an important European strategic partner in India's quest for an increased role in global affairs and a ready friend for giving access to high technology in various sectors including nuclear cooperation.

Describing Indo-French ties as strategic in nature, Saran said the partnership had resulted in Paris co-sponsoring the G-4 resolution and supporting New Delhi's candidature for permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

As far as trade cooperation is concerned, Saran said that France has always been forthcoming in the fields of electronics, avionics, nuclear energy, and even since the 1960s, it has helped India to become an important trading partner. In numerical terms, Saran said that there has been a 25 per cent increase in trade since 2004 and India had attracted 760 million dollars in foreign direct investment.

The current trade between the two countries stood at Euro 2.9 billion with Indian exports accounting for Euro 1.6 billion and imports at Euro 1.36 billion. The long negotiated two billion dollar deal for acquiring six Scorpene submarines, already believed to have been cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security, is expected to be wrapped up during the visit.

As part of the high-level exchanges, President Chirac will visit India early next year. When asked whether the Prime Minister would be taking up the controversy surrounding the ban on turbans, the foreign secretary said that Paris had taken note of New Delhi's demarche on the issue, and "something has been done".

The dream of an inhabitant of Mogul

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Sept 11: The French Ambassador, Mr Dominique Girard, has inaugurated a rare exhibition titled "the dream of an inhabitant of Mogul" at the National Museum in New Delhi. The exhibition is organised around the collection of miniature paintings by Imam Bakhsh Lahori, illustrating the Fables of Jean de la Fontaine.

These precious and exquisite paintings have come back to India for the first time since these miniatures were sent back to their rightful owner, the Baron Feuillet. This has happened thanks to the initiative of the French Embassy, under the scientific supervision of the curator, Dr Jean-Marie Lafont (Professor in Delhi University,) and of Mrs Christiane Sinnig-Haas, Director of the Jean de La Fontaine museum in Château-Thierry.

The National Museum has not only housed this unique exhibition but has also complemented it with some rare manuscripts from its archives.
The Fables of Jean de la Fontaine, written at the end of the 17th Century, are probably one of the most famous collections of French poems. Even today, school children recite them all over French territories. They draw their inspiration from the fables of the Pancatantra and the Tutinama, as well as from the ancient Greek fables of Aesop.

This exhibition is a visual treat, resplendent and glorious, dating back to the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. A kaledeiscope of colours, these exquisite miniatures form an integral part of the precious collection of the French National Museums. French influence can be seen in many a detail of the paintings, the most obvious of all being the 'volets' from Provence and Italy, which appear in many illustrations of the fables.

FEUILLET DE CONCHES: THE LINK BETWEEN LA FONTAINE AND INDIA: The Baron Bastien Félix Feuillet de Conches was born in Paris in 1798. He was an art lover, a collector, an Anglophile, with a passion for history and rare objects, for autographs and for La Fontaine. He described himself as "The Curious" in his memoirs. He deserves a special mention amongst the art collectors of his time, whose tastes he faithfully embodies.

The illustration of La Fontaine's fables was Feuillet's passion. His dream was to constitute an international collection of La Fontaine's fables. Feuillet's high posting as Minister Plenipotentiary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs helped him in this regard. He would entrust French ambassadors or envoys abroad with a mission, that of finding the best illustrators for his dear fables. He would then submit very precise indications of the very section of the fable he wanted to have illustrated.

Jean de La Fontaine never set foot in the India of his fables. The Baron Bastien Félix Feuillet de Conches never travelled to the India of his precious miniatures. As for Imam Bakhsh Lahori, the artist from Punjab, he knew nothing of the country from where his order originated. However, these strange fables which were passed on to him abridged and translated were not totally alien to him.

IMAM BAKHSH LAHORI AND MAHARAJA RANJIT SINGH: Imam Bakhsh Lahori was an artist and a painter from Lahore. From 1837-39, he was engaged in illustrating the fables of the Fontaine under the supervision of the French General Allard. His works are deeply influenced by the colour of the Moghul monuments of Lahore, still existing in his time, in their pristine grandeur.

Imam Bakhsh Lahori never had an access to the text of the fable, but only to the text extract or the explanations of Feuillet regarding the sequence he had to illustrate. The magic of the poems remained unknown to him: his domain was that of the visual projection of a summarized version. He was probably very familiar, however, with some of La Fontaine's fables inspired directly by stories from the Pancatantra or the Tutinama. Settings and characters in Imam Bakhsh Lahori's paintings are often reminiscent of the engravings of other European illustrations of La Fontaine, which tends to prove that the French generals in Lahore had shown the artist copies of other European editions of the same fables.

These splendid miniatures were executed at a time of peace, when art was flourishing in the state of Punjab under the benevolent reign of Ranjit Singh. As it stands today, the miniature paintings of the Fables by Imam Bakhsh are the most achieved and the most beautiful production of the Lahori School under Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Top French honours seven Indians

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, July 14: In a first of its kind, the French Government honoured seven Indians on a single day. The event was marked to coincide with the Bastille Day, the French national day. The French Ambassador, Mr Dominique Girard, bestowed the top French awards on Indian luminaries.

The Knight of the Legion of Honour was bestowed on Mr CNR Rao, noted scientist and honorary president of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Research, Bangalore. Mr. M.C Gupta, fomer Director, Indian Institute of Public administration was honoured with the Officer of the National Order of Merit and Mr M N Sharma, architect, was given the Officer of the Order of Arts & Letters. The Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters was conferred on Mallika Sarabhai, danseuse, Mr Nirmal Varma, writer, Mr Naresh Kapuria, artist and Ms Alarmel Valli, dancer.

The highlights of the national day celebrations included splendid fireworks that lit up the evening sky and a discotheque replete with a French DJ, which a tribute to the GenNext largely represented among the invitees.

Bastille day, the French national day commemorates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille - a prison - symbolised the absolute power of King Louis XVI and thus its fall marked a victory for liberty and will of the people. Today Bastille Day celebrations combine the formality of military parades and the conviviality of street dances and fireworks in France.

French scribe, interpreter released after 5 months

BAGHDAD, June 13: French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi interpreter Hussein Hanun have been freed following five months in captivity, and she was to fly back to Paris later on Sunday, sources said.

A plane carrying Aubenas took off from Baghdad airport around noon, French Ambassador Bernard Bajolet said, without disclosing its destination. "She was thinner but surprisingly vivacious and smiling, she got through this ordeal with exceptional courage," Bajolet said.

In Paris, a spokeswoman for foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he would fly to Cyprus to greet Aubenas, a writer for the center-left daily Liberation who was captured in Baghdad in January. "They have been freed," spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo di Borgo said in Paris, adding that Aubenas was expected to arrive at a military airbase outside the French capital later in the day.

Aubenas's newspaper said the pair were released on Saturday, but Hanun was not seen on Sunday at his house in northern Baghdad, and it was not known if he too would fly to France. Aubenas, a 44-year-old reporter who has covered many of the world's hot spots in her 18 years at Liberation, "is in good health", editor Antoine de Gaudemar said.

The pair were abducted after leaving her hotel in Baghdad on January 5, triggering a massive public campaign in France and elsewhere in Europe for their release. On her latest assignment to Iraq, Aubenas was reporting on the fate of Iraqis driven out of their homes after the US military assault on the city of Falluja.

New centres for getting French visa

NEW DELHI, June 12: The French Embassy has opened three new visa application centres in New Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai for the benefit of students, businessmen and tourists keen to visit France. The centres will remain open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The French visa procedure requires candidates to submit their applications after making a prior appointment at the centres.

Those applying for the short-term Schengen Visa can make the appointment by dialling 011-5113111 for Delhi, 044-52638000 for Chennai, and 022-56314000 for Mumbai. Those with Internet access can also log on to the French Embassy website:

Chirac names De Villepin Prime Minister

PARIS, June 1: President Jacques Chirac, shaken by the defeat of the European Union constitution, appointed Dominique de Villepin, a loyalist who jetted around the globe galvanizing international opposition to the Iraq war, as prime minister to lead a new government Tuesday.

Villepin, 51, moves from the Interior Ministry to replace Jean-Pierre Raffarin, dumped after voters Sunday roundly rejected Chirac's call to ratify a European Union constitution, humiliating the 72-year-old president — a leading proponent of the charter.

Chirac asked Villepin to form a new government — the makeup of which was not expected to be announced until at least Wednesday.

In Villepin, Chirac opted for a trusted pair of hands, rather than a radical change in direction for France. The senator's son, a former foreign minister and writer who speaks excellent English, has long been close to Chirac. He was Chirac's voice at the U.N. Security Council in the crisis over Iraq in 2003, arguing that war should be a last resort.

There was speculation the ambitious and popular Nicolas Sarkozy, a two-time minister who heads Chirac's governing center-right party, will be brought back into the new government.

Such a decision would be remarkable because of the sometimes open rivalry between Chirac and Sarkozy, who makes no secret of his presidential ambitions. Before Sunday's referendum, Sarkozy delivered what was interpreted as a veiled warning against making Villepin prime minister, saying only people who have held elected office — which Villepin never has — "have the right to speak in the name of France."

Lawmaker Yves Jego, who is close to Sarkozy, told France-Info radio he was being brought back as interior minister, a post he held in 2002-2004. He claimed Sarkozy also would be allowed to remain as head of the center-right UMP party, even though Chirac previously has said that job is incompatible with holding a government post.

Keeping control of the UMP would give Sarkozy the electoral machine he will need if he runs for the presidency in 2007.

There was no confirmation from Chirac's office of a post for Sarkozy. The silver-haired Villepin arrived at the presidential Elysee Palace just minutes after Chirac bid farewell to Raffarin with a handshake on the palace steps. Chirac then spent more than an hour with his new prime minister.

Villepin takes over at a difficult time. Unemployment is running at 10 percent and the French political establishment is reeling from the referendum vote that was as much a repudiation of Chirac's economic and social policies as it was a refusal of the EU treaty.

The outcome was not even close — the referendum on approving the proposed EU constitution was defeated by 55 percent to 45 percent.

Villepin's aristocratic air and the fact that he has never been tested in an election also could be drawbacks as the government tries to reconnect with the people.

Opposition Socialists dismissed Chirac's choice as a mere shuffling of personalities, not a radical change in direction. Senior Socialist lawmaker Jean-Marc Ayrault called Villepin's appointment the "ultimate attempt to save an administration in agony."

"The new prime minister will have no economic, financial or social room for maneuver," he said. "You can't heal a crisis with a poultice."

Philippe Moreau Defarges, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations, called the appointment "a real catastrophe."

"People will come out on the streets to show their anger," he said. "It's a man who has never been elected, who doesn't represent the people at all. The crisis is not over yet."

For Chirac, Villepin was a known quantity — having been his closest adviser from 1995 to 2002. But Villepin also carries the blemish of being among those who counseled Chirac to dissolve the legislature in April 1997, a political disaster that led to victory for the left and saddled the president with a Socialist prime minister for the next five years.

Chirac may be hoping to groom Villepin as his eventual successor, perhaps at the next elections in 2007. But if Villepin's stewardship goes poorly, it also could ruin his chances of taking over as head of state.

Raffarin, in a short address after the president accepted his resignation, said Villepin's government would work to bring a significant drop in unemployment in the last two years of Chirac's second term — which could be his last. "I confirm this commitment, even if the drop in the dollar and the rise in oil prices delay it for a few months," he said.

Raffarin defended his three-year record as prime minister, saying he acted to protect the future of the pension system and state health care, among other programs.

"I have always been aware that what is healthy for the nation does not go unblamed by public opinion," Raffarin said, referring to polls showing him to be one of the most unpopular prime ministers of the Fifth Republic founded in 1958.

French voters reject first EU Charter

PARIS, May 30: French voters soundly rejected the European Union's first constitution Sunday, a stinging repudiation of President Jacques Chirac's leadership and the ambitious, decades-long effort to further unite the continent.

Chirac, who had urged voters to approve the charter in the bitterly contested referendum, announced the result in a brief, televised address. He said the process of ratifying the treaty would continue in other EU countries. "It is your sovereign decision, and I take note," Chirac said. "Make no mistake, France's decision inevitably creates a difficult context for the defense of our interests in Europe."

With votes counted in all of France and its overseas territories, the "no" camp had 54.87 percent, with only 45.13 percent voting "yes," the Interior Ministry said. Turnout was close to 70 percent - testifying to the passions that the treaty and the debate surrounding it aroused.

The treaty's rejection in France - the architect of the European project - could set the continent's plans back by years and amounts to a personal humiliation for the veteran French leader. Although Chirac argued that the constitution would streamline EU decision-making and make the bloc more accessible to its 450 million citizens, opponents feared it would strip France of its sovereignty and generous social system and trigger an influx of cheap labor.

"I think that the constitution will destroy our political structure. It's just about economic interests," said Anne Le Moel, a "no" voter and 42-year-old professor of philosophy, repeating what had become a battle cry among the charter's opponents.

All 25 EU members must ratify the text for it to take effect as planned by November 1, 2006. Nine already have done so: Austria, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.

Treaty opponents chanting "We won!" gathered at Paris' Place de la Bastille, a symbol of rebellion where angry crowds in 1789 stormed the prison and sparked the French Revolution. Cars blared their horns and "no" campaigners thrust their arms into the air. "This is a great victory," said Fabrice Savel, 38, from the working-class suburb of Aubervilliers. He was distributing posters that read: "No to a free-market Europe."

EU leaders in Brussels, Belgium, vowed to continue their effort to have the constitution approved. "I am not a doctor, but the treaty is not dead," said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. "This ratification process will continue."

The Dutch vote Wednesday, with polls showing opposition to the constitution there running at about 60 percent. On Friday, the constitution's main architect, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, said countries that reject the treaty will be asked to vote again. France was the first "no" - even though it was a founder member of what over 50 years has grown into the EU.

India, France forge cooperation in infrastructure, tourism

NEW DELHI, April 24: The French Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Spatial Planning, Tourism and the Sea, Mr Gilles de Robien, will be on an official visit here on Monday to forge new areas of cooperation in the infrastructure and tourism sectors. The visit is expected to take Indo-French trade ties to a new high.

The French Minister will be accompanied by a high-level 25-member delegation consisting of senior French government officials, Maison de la France (French Tourism Office) and CEOs of over a dozen French companies belonging to the rail, road and air transport sectors such as Aéroport de Paris, Alstom, Lafarge, Sagem, SNCF International and SYSTRA.

During his stay here, the French Minister would hold talks with the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, the Railway Minister, Mr Lalu Prasad, the Urban Development Minister, Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, and the Minister for Rural Development, Dr Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

Mr de Robien will co-inaugurate with Mr T R Balu, Minister of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways, the "Indo-French Day on Roads: Showcase of French technical know-how". Topics to be discussed include road surface and soil treatment, road equipment and road engineering. Several high level meetings between officials from Tourism Ministry and senior members of the French Tourism Office (Maison de la France) will be held during this visit to explore means of providing further impetus to the booming tourism industries of the two countries.

Baba Anand's works to be displayed at Galeries Lafayette windows

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, March 12: An Indian has done it again. This time at the art and culture capital of the world Paris. Renowned Indian artist, Baba Anand, has been invited to showcase his elaborate artworks in the giant windows of the renowned Departmental Store Galeries Lafayette in Paris. This is the first time in the history of Galeries Lafayette that this deluxe and highly prestigious establishment has invited any internationSal artist to visualize and conceptualize their peerless windows for them. Baba Anand has complete artistic license for this project.

Baba Anand has unique style of collage that portrays a rejuvenating freshness and originality. His religious pieces utilize traditional images of Krsna and other Hindu deities, which he decorates with materials such as sequins, crystals, and gold dust. These images are then displayed in colorful, highly decorative mattes, using flowers and other unusual objects.

Presently, within the framework of the "Artists-In-Residence" programme of the French Embassy in India, Baba Anand is working on a special project that will be displayed in the 30 giant windows of Galeries Lafayette. To introduce the Paris Project of Baba Anand, the French Ambassador to India, Mr Dominique Girard, presented a collection of Baba's artworks, at his residence.

Galeries Lafayette, boasting of 10 floors, balconies and a beautiful glass and steel dome inspired by a Byzantine style, was inaugurated with great pomp in October 1912. The high-fashion displays and grand architecture of Paris' resolutely old-world Galeries Lafayette is the main attraction for visitors to this famous store.

The vitrines (windows) of Galeries Lafayette are famous the world over for their creative scenographie especially for Christmas and during their special promotions. Galeries Lafayette also has an Art Nouveau staircase built in 1912 by the architect Cahnautin. The store is classified as an historic monument.

Baba Anand, who first discovered France in 2002 and has mounted 5 shows since in collaboration with the French Embassy in India, has been invited to showcase his elaborate artworks in the windows of Galeries Lafayette, at the initiative of the Cultural Section of the French Embassy in India. Baba Anand is also creating the visual concept for the windows for the India promotion that opens on the evening of April 26.

Baba Anand creates a kitsch charm that is a stylistic hiatus from established genres. The clever use of kitsch in his work has also been seen as an attempt to lighten up the dark mood of art so prevalent in his native region. These richly textured works, so vibrant and dramatic, represent a creative vision, which crosses boundaries and challenges assumptions.

Baba Anand is also in love with the world of Indian cinema and has used Bollywood as the inspiration for many of his mixed-media three-dimensional paintings. The artist transforms Hindi film posters from the 40's to the 70's, embellishing them with crystals, sequins and the like, and adding elements such as artificial roses and tiger-striped mattes. These powerful works of art are at once seductive and playful, challenging stereotypes and celebrating the power of kitsch.

Baba has traveled extensively with these pieces, having mounted shows in New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Chandigarh, Bangalore, Hyderabad, London, Cannes and New York. His works have been featured in many International Publications such as British Vogue, Vanity Fair, Nice Matin, Elle, New York Magazine and India Abroad to name a few.

Baba is the only artist who paints on old Bollywood movie posters and is consciously and consistently trying to use the lost beauty and glamour of yesteryear Bollywood. "My art arises from past associations with the glamour of the world ...My work is a tribute to the more flamboyant entertainers and movies that have become immortal over the years." The posters that he has worked upon are retro from the 1950's through to the 1970's.

In September 2004, Baba designed the CD cover for French singer " Pascal of Bollywood". The album was released in November in Paris and is hugely successful in Europe.

Mantras and French nuptials: a perfect Valentine's day

By Sushma Arora

Pix: Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Feb 14: Smiles lit up the faces of Sophie Henon and Regis Mendola as the French Ambassador, Mr. Dominique Girard pronounced them man and wife on Valentines Day, on the sprawling lawns of his Nyaya Marg Residence. Dressed in a white silken dress and a multi-hued coat designed by Sanskar's Sonam Dubal, Sophie Henon, currently serving as the Press Attache, French Embassy had chosen Valentine's day to tie the knot with ex-colleague Regis Mendola, hailing from the picturesque town of Nice.

"Having met in India, and having our daughter Océane in Delhi, it would have been out of place to marry somewhere else…after all the Ambassador and the Embassy have been the privileged witnesses of our Indian love affair! " said Sophie.

Once the civil marriage ceremony was solemnised by the French Consul, the mix of Indian and French gathering were escorted to the flower decked Hindu mandap where the French couple exchanged garlands and tied the mangal sutra, now admist chantings of Hindu mantras and conch shells. It was a unique experience both for the audience and the couple as the colourful Indian wedding rituals blended with the formal Western marriage ceremony.

Ustad Bismillah Khan's shenhnai and Richard Wargner's Lohengrin- the Nuptial March made a perfect musical setting for the event. The Indo-French touch had percolated down to the food too - you could choose between tangri kebabs and the traditional French cake called 'Pièce montée' - (reserved for marriages and baptisation ceremonies). For the French couple who both grew up on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea the choice of Trivandrum and Maldives' sun bathed beaches as a honeymoon destination is of course natural.

French vertical gardens now in India

By Sonia Sarkar

NEW DELHI, Feb 21: Indoor gardens abound in today's urban homes but vertical gardens growing on the walls of your home is a novel concept - mastered and perfected after years of research by Patrick Blanc, a French botanist. Blanc's vegetal walls adorn the Pershing Hall, Hotel in Paris, the French Ministry of Culture and the Musée du quai Branly, a few steps away from the Eiffel Tower. A project to cover a 70 floor skyscraper in Tokyo with vertical gardens is now being studied by him! He has even given a green touch to parking lots and shopping malls usually known for their austere concrete settings.

In India, during his stay as an 'artist in residence', Blanc created eight columns of such 'vertical gardens' inside the French Embassy hall, New Delhi. He has used more than hundred species of plants- all of the tropical variety and procured locally (including a Banyan!). Says Philippe Gaudin, maintenance in-charge of this unique garden over the last two years, "I trim the stalks, regularly remove dead leaves which fall in the water basin below and spray insecticides once a month- and that's it! " So perfect is Blanc's indoor creation, that a couple of sparrows have even chosen to make it their home.

The infrastructure needed for such a garden is simple- an aluminium armature fitted on a stone/brick column, covered by panels of PVC foam and polyamide felt. Various plants are then stapled on to the felt layer while the roots are inserted into the film. Patrick Blanca researcher at the main French research institute CNRS, sticks to a general pattern while weaving the plants into the film, focussing on the individual requirements of light and moisture for each variety and of course their ability to co-exist.

Wondering how the plants survive indoors without soil ? Each such vertical garden is fed by a system of electrovanes and calibrated pumps. Minerals are mixed in water which is sucked in by the pumps and sprayed at regular intervals to the plants through the felt layer.

While in Malaysia, Blanc noticed that, several plant varieties grew on rocks, tree trunks or slopes often surviving on a thin humus layer. It was this observation which led to his concept of creating a vegetal wall. Opposing the Darwinian theory of the "survival of the fittest", Blanc insists "the art of co-existence in undergrowth plants is remarkable - in their struggle for light, the plants continuously learn to live together." A fact to ponder in the context of human ethnology and behaviour!

France honours Pascal Vincelot

NEW DELHI, Jan 7: The Government of France has conferred the prestigious award of the 'Chevalier dans l'Ordre national du mérite' (Knight of the National Order of Merit) on Dr. Pascal Vincelot, Managing Director, BioMérieux. Mr Alain Mérieux, Head of Biomérieux, France who is in India presented Mr Vincelot with this award at the Residence of the French Ambassador on Friday evening.

BioMérieux is a global clinical diagnostics company with operations in 130 countries. A world leader in bacteriology, food and environmental microbiological controls, it specialises in the manufacture and sale of diagnostic equipment for tuberculosis detection in India.

Beginning his career as a pathologist in Senegal, Dr Pascal Vincelot headed the Brazilian BioMérieux subsidiary and later was the Marketing Europe Director at BioMerieux, France. Since the inception of its India operations in 1998, Dr Vincelot has built strong partnerships with the medical community in India, focussing on finding healthcare solutions between emerging countries and creating synergies between emerging economies --namely Brazil, Russia, India and China, where he has participated in setting up subsidiaries. Dr Vincelot is an active member of the European Business Group and the CII Medial Equipment Division.

The French Ambassador, Mr Dominique Girard, told this correspondent that the conferring of this distinction is a well deserved recognition of his constant engagement in advancing Indo-French co-operation in the fields of medicine and the fight against infectious diseases.

Created in 1963, the National Order of Merit recognises distinguished qualities which have been acquired during a civil or military career, or in private enterprise. It is one of the most prestigious awards given by the French Government.

French Minister hails India's decision

PARIS, Jan 5: The French Defence Minister, Michelle Alliot-Marie, on Wednesday attributed criticism of India's decision to refuse international aid to "a lack of knowledge about India and the country's economic, technological and financial capabilities." She said India's decision was a gesture of solidarity towards countries that needed it most.

Mrs. Alliot-Marie paid a condolence visit on behalf of her Government and the European Union to the Indian embassy here during which a three-minute silence was observed in memory of the tsunami victims. Her visit was part of a gesture of solidarity undertaken by the E.U. Governments, marked by silent tributes across Europe in memory of those who perished.

French newspapers, radio and television stations have tended to deride India's efforts to go it alone, saying the country was determined to prove its worth as a regional power. On Wednesday morning the national French radio carried reports from Tamil Nadu suggesting the State Government had not honoured its promises of boats and financial help to fishermen. It also quoted French NGO workers who said the fishermen had been distributed sub-standard "smelly rice" and used clothes. "However I cannot comment because there will be repercussions from the Government," said the person questioned.

The influential daily Le Monde in a despatch on Wednesday said India was " fuelled by her desire to assure its supremacy in the Indian Ocean zone, which will soon be reinforced by the launch of a second Oceansat satellite. The extension of the Nicobar air base aimed at making it a strategic and humanitarian pivot in the region. A good part of the base with its second runway still under construction was destroyed by the tsunami. In the same vein, the country, which is discovering the need to prevent further catastrophes is floating the idea of constituting its own tsunami alert system in conjunction with its neighbours."

Describing India as a "great and powerful nation," Mrs. Alliot-Marie said the French President, Jacques Chirac, was "ready to undertake joint action with India aimed at other countries." Asked about the international tensions on who should take the lead in coordinating the international aid effort, Mrs. Alliot-Marie replied: "All polemic over such a subject is out of place. I think the initial friction and misunderstanding was also due to the fact that the enormity of the catastrophe had not become apparent."

India's Ambassador, Dilip Lahiri, explained India's efforts to help not just Indian victims but those in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. He emphasised the need to establish an early warning system though the Indian Ocean is not naturally prone to disasters of this nature.

World's tallest bridge inaugurated

MILLAU (France), Dec 15: Thundering fighter jets streamed the blue, white and red of the French tricolor as President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday dedicated the world's tallest bridge, a skyway span dwarfing the Eiffel Tower by more than 50 feet. Ahead of its public opening Thursday, the Millau bridge in southern France has been celebrated as a work of art combining the strength of cement and steel with the "delicacy of a butterfly."

Images of the bridge, which dominates the Rhone Valley countryside for miles, have appeared in national media for days.Stretching 1.6 miles through France's Massif Central mountains, the bridge will enable motorists to take a drive 891 feet above the Tarn River valley. Chirac underscored the national pride stirred by the bridge by lifting a French flag from its ceremonial plaque, followed by air force jets trailing the colors of France.

"This exceptional opening will go down in industrial and technological history," Chirac said, praising the designers and builders for creating "a prodigy of art and architecture - a new emblem of French civil engineering." The bridge will serve as a symbol of "a modern and conquering France," he said.

Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the steel-and-concrete bridge with its streamlined diagonal suspension cables rests on seven pillars - the tallest measuring 1,122 feet, making it 53 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower.

Foster said in an interview with regional daily Midi Libre that the bridge's airy and fluid appearance was designed to have the "delicacy of a butterfly."

"A work of man must fuse with nature. The pillars had to look almost organic, like they had grown from the Earth," Foster, who also designed London's Millennium Bridge. In an editorial Tuesday, Le Monde declared the bridge "a work of art."

Colorado's Royal Gorge Bridge, towering 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River, is the world's tallest suspension bridge - but it is designed for pedestrians. The Kochertal viaduct in Germany was the highest roadway, at 607 feet, officials said. Millau, whose skyline is dominated by the bridge, had until now been best-known outside France as the site where anti-globalization crusader Jose Bove dismantled a McDonald's restaurant.

The $523 million bridge was commissioned to open a new north-south link between Paris and the Mediterranean and is expected to relieve bottlenecks caused by trucks and tourists headed to the Riviera. Special roundtrip bus rides over the bridge were planned for Wednesday for residents a day before the span opens to vehicles.

Some 28,000 vehicles a day are expected to cross the bridge in the summer months, and about 10,000 a day the rest of the year, according to France's Eiffage construction company, which built it. Tolls for motorists will vary from $6.50 in winter to $8.60 in summer. Trucks will have to pay $32.24 year round.

Indo-French trade heading for 5 b Euros

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: France hopes to increase its bilateral trade with India to 5 billion Euros in the next three years. "This is being done through a commercial action plan where India finds a special place," informed Mr Francois Loos, visiting French Minister for External Trade. Mr Loos is on a visit to India and is leading a delegation of CEOs from France.

Mr Loos said that the French Government was pushing French companies to go to India and invest. "We release advertisements to motivate French businessmen to go to India," he said and added that.there were already 200 French companies in India and these have provided 20,000 jobs to the local population.

The visiting Minister informed that the two-way bilateral trade between France and India was 2.5 billion Euros in the year 2004 with the balance in favour of India. This year there was growth of over 25 per cent in trade as compared to last year. ''We are looking at India with deep interest for investment and collaborations in a range of sectors including nuclear energy, automobiles, automotive components, waste water treatment, agri food processing, entertainment, bio-technology, tourism, IT, pharmaceuticals, Infrastructure, energy and aerospace,'' he said.

France, he said, realised the growth prospects in Asia in the coming decade and beyond and ''we would like to substantially step up our presence in India and translate our intentions into concrete projects''. Some of the proposals being discussed between the two countries include proposals for manufacture of helicopters in India and technology transfer for production of satellites, he said.

Mr Loos also invited the Indian businessmen to invest in Europe and make France a gateway. Some of the Indian companies that have invested in France include Tatas, Wipro, Infosys and Ranbaxy.

Speaking at an interacting meet with Indian businessmen at FICCI, the Minister assured non-discriminatory treatment to all Indian professionals visiting that country and exhorted entrepreneurs to take advantage of France's expertise in cutting edge technolgies for the benefit of the two countries. ''Historically, we have been a country of immigrants,'' he said and held out his government's assurance to remove any impediment in the flow of two-way trade and movement of people.

The FICCI President, Mr Y K Modi, pointed to the areas of concern in the Indian industry in trade engagements with France and other EU countries. These were anti-dumping duties and non tariff barriers, harmonization of standards, especially in pharmaceuticals and agro-processing, and restrictions in movement of professionals and delay in grant of visa and work permits.

India, France to boost bilateral trade

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Dec 9: India and France have agreed to take concerted measures in coordination to expand and diversify the pattern of bilateral trade and investment. This was decided at a meeting between the Commerce and Industry Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, and the visiting French Minister for External Trade, Mr Francois Loos.

Addressing the inaugural session of the 13th Indo-French Joint Committee meeting here on Thursday, Mr Kamal Nath invited France to invest in Special Economic Zones being set up in the country. He pointed out that economic presence of France in India, while growing, was not commensurate with the economic complementarities and the business opportunities, which existed.

The French Minister said at the meeting that India was a strategic country for the foreign trade of France and informed that the European nation had adopted a Commercial Action Plan in order to develop its economic and commercial ties with India. In a joint statement signed at the conclusion of the Joint Committee meeting in the evening, both sides agreed to take concerted measures to expand and diversify the pattern of bilateral trade and investment.

In a one-on-one meeting with French Minister, Kamal Nath raised the issue of difficulties faced by Indian IT firms in obtaining visas and work permits for their personnel in France. He also raised the issue of short duration of visas granted to Indian professionals. Mr Nath suggested that French authorities could consider introduction of a work permit or visa regime, which would facilitate easier movement of professionals and the issue of five-year green cards for IT professionals and personnel could also be thought of. The Indian side also suggested a bilateral framework for recognition of mutual technical qualifications.

Later Mr Loos told newsmen that there are 297 Indian IT professionals in France but the country needs many more. "We find the current number of Indian IT professionals in France quite few," he said. He expressed the hope that the Union Cabinet will clear the acquisition of 43 Airbus aircraft by Indian Airlines, approved by the Public Investment Board recently.

"I hope that the acquisition will be cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs," he said. The Indian Airlines Board had in April 2002 cleared the 2.1 billion dollar deal to purchase 20 Airbus 321s, 19 Airbus 319s and four Airbus 321s as part of its fleet expansion and replacement programme.

India also invited French Telecom Industry to set up manufacturing facilities in the country to tap the opportunities provided by the rapidly expanding telecom sector. During the meeting with the French Minister, who called on the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Mr Dayanidhi Maran explained the visiting Minister and his delegation about the scope and future trend of the telecom industry in the country.

The number of mobile subscribers has already exceeded the fixed telephone subscribers and in the next three years 120-150 million telephone connections are planned to be provided. In addition to this, in view of the recent announcement of broadband policy a target of providing 10 million broadband connections in the next three years has been set, said Mr Maran.

The visiting French Minister pointed out that Alcatel is already working closely with the Indian Telephone Industries to manufacture the telecom equipment. He further showed keen interest in introduction of smart card technology and setting up of GSM handset manufacturing facilities in India.

France honours Anand Mahindra

MUMBAI, Dec 8: Mahindra and Mahindra Vice-Chairman and Managing Director Anand Mahindra was honoured with the "Ordre National du Merite" by the French Government, here on Wednesday. French External Trade Minister Francois Loos honoured Mahindra for his 'contribution to the corporate world', a French consulate release said.

The investiture took place at Mahindra Towers, the corporate office of Mahindra & Mahindra, in the presence of Mr Dominique Girard, Ambassador of France to India, Mr Jean-Charles Demarquis, Consul General and Trade Commissioner of France in Mumbai, Mr Jean-Louis Latour, Minister Counsellor, Head of Economic Affairs in South Asia.

“We are proud to honour you today, Mr Mahindra, since you not only brought about success at Mahindras but also continued to convey the values of corporate citizenship within and outside the group, and therefore played a very important role for Mumbai and for your country” said the French Minister of External Trade. On this occasion, Mr Anand Mahindra shared this moment with members of the Board, friends from the corporate world and close relatives.

The “Ordre national du Mérite” was created by General de Gaulle. On 3rd December 1963, he signed the decree instituting and organising the “Ordre national du Mérite” intended to reward "distinguished merit”. Recognizing an outstanding contribution, the “Ordre national du Mérite”, along with The Legion d’Honneur, is the most important decoration awarded by the President of the French Republic.

Among others, Mr Kanwal Sibal, former Foreign Secretary, Mr Anil Kakodkar, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission, and Mr Nadir Godrej, Managing Director, Godrej Industries Limited, have been recipients of this distinction.

France to honour Indian engineer

NEW DELHI, Nov 25: The French government will honour H L Suresh of SS Consultants for his outstanding contribution to the Indo-French Technical Association, according to an embassy communiqué. Suresh, who is chairman of the association's Delhi chapter, will be conferred the title of Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Mérite at a reception to be hosted here on Thursday by French Ambassador to India Dominique Girard.

A chemical engineer by profession, Suresh has a master's degree in petroleum refining and chemical engineering from the Ecole Nationale Superieure du Petrole et Des Moteurs, France. IFTA was founded in 1966 by a group of engineers, scientists and technologists who had secured specialised training in France with an aim to promote scientific and technical collaborations between India and France.

Since its formation in 1966, IFTA has set up chapters in Bangalore, Dehradun, Thiruvananthapuram, Delhi, Kolkata and Pilani (Rajasthan), expanding its membership to over 800 members.

Indian, French aerobatic teams create magic

NEW DELHI, Nov 7: The clear and bright Sunday afternoon sky over Hindon Air Force Station, near Delhi, roared with IAF's Kiran Mk II aircraft and French Air Forces's Alphajets, as a select gathering was treated to a breath-taking display of aerobatics. Nine highly skilled pilots of Suryakiran, the IAF's 'formation aerobatic team', performed some magical manoeuvres with their red and white indigenously-built aircraft as records played 'Ma Tujhe Salaam', sending a frisson of excitement through the spectators.

The occasion was the joint display of aerobatics by Suryakiran and Patrouille de France, the FAF's aerobatic team, one of the oldest full-time military aerobatics teams in the world. The Suryakiran team was led by Wing Commander Sreekumar Prabhakran, an A2 flying instructor with over 4400 hours of flying, and the eight-member Patrouille de France team was led by Commandant Arnaud Amberg.

The French team, which had earlier performed at Pune, performed with eight blue-white-red Alphajet aircraft, a product of Marcel Dassault Breguet Aviation, a French-German joint venture. Amberg and his team's spectacular display in 20 formations (with names like 'Diamant, Arrow, Two beams, Rafale and Concorde) represented the famed French love for beauty and precision.

French aerobatic team to display skills

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Nov 6: French Aerobatic Team, the Patrouille de France, will display its aerobatics flying skills at Hindan air base on Sunday. It will be an occasion for the Patrouille de France to present French military aeronautical professionalism. Fitted with the Alphajet , this will be the Patrouille de France's third air show in India in a span of four years.

Successively equipped with F-84 G, Ouragan, Mystère IV and CM 170 Fouga Magister, the "Patrouille de France" has been flying the Alphajet since 1981. The airshow is a dynamic combination of constantly changing formations, with the pilots handling 'G' forces from 7 to -3.5. With its aeronautical know-how, the Patrouille de France takes pride in its 51 years' experience and is indisputably one of the world's best aerobatics team. The event marks the strengthening of cooperation between the two air forces.

Patrouille de France 2004 will cover a wide spectrum of aerial formations ranging from the 'Leader' to the 'Big Nine', displaying the talent and outstanding capabilities of the Alphajet. The team is led by Squadron Leader Amberg.

India emerging super power: French FM

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 28: The visiting French Foreign Minister, Mr Michel Barnier, has said that India was fast emerging as one of the super powers of tomorrow. Addressing a public interaction, organized by the Editors' Guild of India on "India-France: The European Perspective", Mr Barnier said both India and France believe in a strong and effective multi polar world, on the basis of commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

He said "India is one of the poles of the emerging multi-polar world where at present the US is the sole hyper power. Besides India, the other poles of the multi-power world will be China, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, the US and couple of countries from Africa." The visiting Minister stressed that France had discovered India as an important part of the emerging multi-polar world several years ago. "It is for this reason we had established strategic dialogue with India."

He said the relationship between the two countries was not a purely economic one. "There are also people to people contacts and that is very important in my view and (there is) also political dialogue aspect." He said "in that respect I want to confirm here that the choices that were made by France - the choices that were expressed clearly by President Chirac on his visit here in 1998 - India because of its history, its size, the size of its population, its political determination and also its outlook on the world is and will be truly a genuine strategic partner for France."

In the post cold war era, Mr Barnier said France was the first country to call for a "fair and just" order and in this regard sought expansion of the UN Security Council. He said France favours India, Japan, Germany, Brazil and one other country from Africa as permanent members of the expanded Security Council.

He said the French President, Mr Jacque Chirac, had stated this on several occasions and as lately as early this month in Hong Kong. In the meantime, while waiting for the reform of the United Nations Security Council to make it more representative, he said there were outstanding reasons why France and India should establish a dialogue and should go on working together and examining a number of conflicts and sharing positions on conflicts such as Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The visiting Minister said in the days to come European Union would have a common Foreign policy for all the members of the EU. "You would see that in time to come European Union would speak in one voice."

He failed to give a commitment on sharing of civilian nuclear energy with India. He said there were constraints because of fear of proliferation of nuclear technology and of the international laws.

PM takes up turban issue: The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had specially taken up the turban issue with the French Minister on Wednesday and had impressed upon him the need to allow Sikh students in that country to wear turban in some government schools. According to the Minorities Commission Chairman, Mr Tarlochan Singh, who had met Barnier at a dinner on Wednesday night, said "the French foreign minister told me that both the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh had raised the turban issue during their meetings with him yesterday."

He said that the French minister said they had already admitted around 100 Sikh students to various public schools where the law against wearing the headgear was not applicable. Only three cases were pending which too would be solved by the second week of November, he had assured Dr Singh. The French minister assured him that Sikh students would not lose their academic year.

Mr Tarlochan Singh said that the issue was almost settled and they are in continuous consultation with the Sikh community there. The law was not against any religion, but to prevent the growth of fundamentalist approach by community schools, he said quoting Mr Barnier.

India, France pledge to curb terrorism

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 27: India and France have pledged to work closely to counter terrorism and step up economic and commercial ties as New Delhi invited French companies to make use of vast opportunities now available in this country. During wide-ranging discussions the visiting French Foreign Minister, Mr Michel Barnier, had with his Indian counterpart, Mr Natwar Singh, the two sides noted that international terrorism was one of the serious challenges faced by open democratic, multilingual and multi-cultural societies.

Speaking to newsmen at a joint press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Natwar Singh said "we reiterated our determination to continue to work closely together to counter the menace of terrorism." Mr Singh said French President Jacques Chirac has been invited to visit India and hoped he would be able to undertake it soon.

Besides meeting Mr Singh, the visiting Minister had talks with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee. The French minister, who arrived here this morning on a two-day visit, is accompanied by a delegation of senior officials.

Responding to a question on the Scorpene submarine deal, under which Indian plans to build six of the vessels under licence, Mr Barnier said "the Scorpene talks have been going on for a long time. There have been commitments and undertakings and I hope we can bring this to a close positively, be it today, tomorrow or a further date."

He declined to go into recent allegations of kickbacks paid to agents in the sale of 10 Mirage 2000 jet fighters, an agreement for which was signed between the two countries in September 2000. Under Indian laws, armament firms are barred from appointing middlemen or agents to clinch deals.

"I will not make any comment since there is a court order and I will say even less as the Indian government had made its stand very clear," he said, in a reference to Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy's statement that the government was not aware of any kickbacks being paid in the deal.

On the protest by Sikhs in France against his government's order barring students from wearing religious symbols, Mr Barnier said that France had strong secular traditions. "We have trust and positive relationship with this community and we will go to settle the issue through dialogue and negotiations."

Official sources said the talks between the visiting French Minsiter and Indian leaders were held in a friendly and cordial atmosphere and added that the two countries, which consider themselves as strategic partners, shared fundamental values such as freedom and democracy. India and France are strategic partners and believe in an effective multipolar world. France has expressed support for India's candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council about which the French President, Mr Jacque Chirac, has himself stated publicly on several occasions. Foreign Minister Barnier himself made a statement to this effect at the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2004.

India and France coordinate extensively in the area of counter-terrorism, through an established institutional Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism. An Indo-French Extradition Treaty was signed in January 2003 and the process of ratification is underway.

The two sides also reviewed the economic and trade relations and discussed ways to enhance bilateral trade from the present 2.5 billion euros. France is an important trade and investment partner of India. Total French investment approvals in India for the period 1991 to 2002 amount to US $ 1.71 billion, although actual inflows have been only US $ 0.51 billion so far.

French FM visit to cement ties with India

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 26: The French Foreign Minister, Mr Michel Barnier, arrives here on a two-day visit on Wednesday, to further cement the already warm ties with India. Mr Barnier's visit would provide a timely opportunity for the leaders of the two countries to exchange views and perspectives on regional and international as well as bilateral issues of mutual interest and discuss ways to take forward the relationship into a 21st century partnership.

During his first official visit to India since assuming office in April this year, Mr Barnier would hold talks with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the External Affairs Minister, Mr Natwar Singh, the Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, and other political leaders.

Speaking to this correspondent, the French Ambassador, Mr Dominique Girard, said the visit is the first contact with the new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government at the political level. Ambassador Girard said the Foreign Minister will reaffirm the importance France attaches to the Franco-Indian strategic partnership established in 1998 and will look at ways to deepen it.

"India has a special place in the world today which must be recognized by its major partners, by the EU and the international bodies. We share with India the same positions on the major international issues," he added.

During his stay here, Mr Barnier will inaugurate the new Alliance Francaise building with the Delhi Chief Minister, Mrs Sheila Dikshit, on Wednesday and visit the Kashmiri Gate Metro station built with French technical know-how the next day.

On the importance of Alliance Francaise, Ambassador Girard said "I would like to draw your attention to the steady increase in the number of people registering for French language classes and diploma courses and the success of the cultural programs which required the construction of more appropriate premises in Delhi. The network of Alliances françaises in India extends to 22 cities and 13 states. It is the most important linguistic and cultural network in the country."

His other engagements include a visit to the Rithala sewage treatment plant here constructed by a French company and an interactive meeting with the members of the Editors' Guild of India on "India-France: The European Perspective".

The visit would also provide the two sides an excellent opportunity to review bilateral relations including cooperation in economic and science and technology sectors.

Ambassador Girard informed that between 1998 and 2003, French exports to India grew at a steady rate of 42.7 per cent whereas the French imports from India grew by 39.1 per cent. In volume, French exports are estimated at Euro 1 billion in 2003 against Euro 701 million in 1998. Over the same period, French imports from India jumped to Euro 1.47 billion (Euro 1.06 million in 1998 over the same period), the trade balance still remaining at a deficit for France going up from € 3530 million to € 468 million. French exports to India are composed mainly of industrial products (capital goods and intermediate goods) which account for 78 per cent of the total export basket to India.

The composition of French imports from India is as follows: For the year 2003-04, the consumer goods and the intermediate goods sectors enjoy 46 per cent (€ 682 million) and 36 per cent share (€ 527 million) respectively. These sectors are followed by the agriculture and allied products sector, which accounts for 15 per cent share in the total French imports from India.

In 2003-04, accounting for 0.46 per cent of the total French imports and 0.32 per cent of the total French exports, India ranked as the 42nd client and 33rd supplier of France. However, for India, France is the 14th client and 17th supplier.

Since the opening of the Indian economy, Ambassador Girard said France has been one of the most important foreign investors in India. Around 200 French companies are established in India, employing with a work force of more than 20,000. Most of them are located in Delhi (40 per cent), then Bombay (30 per cent), followed by Bangalore and Chennai (15 per cent). France is currently the 9th investor in India, behind Mauritius, USA, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland.

In 2001, the stock of French investments in India amounted to € 529 million (1 per cent of the total French investments around the world), making India the 44th partner of France in terms of investment. As many as 23 per cent of the stocks are listed in the hydrocarbon sector, 22 per cent in the chemical industry, 19 per cent in building materials, 14 per cent in the glass industry and 10 per cent in the food industry.

The investments realized by Lafarge (USD 260 million) and Saint-Gobain (USD 150 million) have led to a sharp increase in the stock of French FDI in India in the past few years.

Rohit Bal to attend Saint-Etienne International Design Biennial 2004

NEW DELHI, Oct 19: On the eve of the departure of designer Rohit Bal to France, a sneak preview of the collection that he will be presenting at the St. Etienne Biennial, France (November 6 to 14) was showcased in the presence of French Ambassador, Mr. Dominique Girard and his wife, Mrs. Maud Girard at the French Embassy.

The Saint-Etienne International Design Biennial 2004 is a grand event that brings together a host of creators from about 80 countries: designers, agencies, companies, producers, publishers, design centers, journals and more. To be held from 6-14 November, it is a forum for exchanging ideas on the culture and art of the object, set out over a huge area of exhibition space. It is more than a simple trade fair in that it provides a permanent forum for encounters and debates on the culture built around the object. As is evident, the future of design is today becoming an essential factor for a harmonious development policy.

Saint-Etienne is a city located in the South of France, close to Lyon and is a melting pot of industry and culture, where the influences have been strong enough to prompt the French Government to make it the European Centre for Design. As the French Minister for Culture and Communication, specified at the opening of the last Biennial, 'Saint-Etienne had become the leading city in our country in the field of design.'

In response to the questions prompted by industry and technological developments, the fourth Saint-Etienne International Design Biennial will give plenty of space to those unusual innovations and cultural identities that bring the colour of diversity and originality back to a world greyed out by globalisation strategies.

This year, with the support of the French Embassy in India , the Indian pavilion will be represented by a host of talented designers, from Rohit Bal and Narendra Kumar, to Saleem Bhatri (furniture) and Meera Naidu (textiles). Moreover, the prestigious schools of design , NID, Ahmedabad and Shrishti School of Design in Bangalore will also exhibit their creations at the event.

From garments, to furniture and other indigenous objects, the design fair presents a great opportunity to showcase the rich tapestry of Indian contemporary culture in the global forum. In addition, it gives a new meaning to the Indo-French cultural co-operation based on the long history of cultural and artistic exchanges, but with a new structure. The participants in turn can also soak in the very happening atmosphere that the Saint-Etienne International Design Biennial has to offer.

Chirac favours Indian membership at the UN SC

HONG KONG, Oct 12: The French President, Mr Jacques Chirac, has said that he favoured India along with three other countries for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. When asked at a news conference during a brief stop in Hong Kong whether he'd rather see Germany or Japan get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, he said both of them.
Chirac said he also favours permanent membership for two other nations seeking it, Brazil and India.

Mr Chirac said he also favoured a major African nation, chosen by the continent's countries, to become a permanent member. The UN Security Council, whose members hold coveted veto power, have for years been an exclusive club of the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China. He also called for an increase in the number of non-permanent members to give the council a more "realistic and balanced view of the world."

Petronet CEO bags France's second highest civilian honour

TTO News Service

NEW DELHI, Oct 8: French president, Jacques Chirac, has conferred the country's second highest civilian honour, 'Knight of the Order of Merit', to Suresh Mathur, CEO and managing director of Petronet LNG Ltd.

The legion of honour was given to Mathur in recognition of his "leadership and professional acumen" and for the role in development of India's first LNG import terminal at Dahej in Gujarat. The award was given to Mathur by Dominique Girard, the Ambassador of France in India, company officials said.

Mathur is the founding head of Petronet LNG that built a 5 million tonne per annum capacity LNG import and regassification terminal at Dahej. Petronet imports natural gas in liquefied form in ships from Qatar and regassifies it before selling to customers.

State refiners, Indian Oil Corp and Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd, exploration firm ONGC and gas utility, GAIL (India) Ltd hold 12.5 per cent each in Petronet LNG, while Gaz de France, the project consultant, has 10 per cent stake. Mathur is also credited with negotiating the world's lowest price of LNG.

France rejects Iraq oil claims

PARIS, Oct 8: The French Government has angrily rejected accusations by the US-led Iraq Survey Group that its politicians and companies profited from Saddam Hussein's oil revenues. A prominent Russian party leader also dismissed similar claims, as did the British politician, George Galloway.

With U.S.-French relations still strained from the Iraq war, the French Foreign Ministry issued a tart statement expressing surprise that the ISG had made accusations against companies and individuals ``without having taken the trouble to verify the information in advance with the individuals and companies concerned, nor indeed with the authorities in their countries''.

The ISG, embarrassingly for the US President, George Bush, and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, failed to find weapons of mass destruction. But it included in its report accusations about Mr. Hussein's use of oil revenues. Most of the companies and individuals mentioned in the report are from France or Russia. But individuals from other countries are also named, including Mr. Galloway.

Mr. Galloway, who was out of the country but issued a statement through his office at the U.K. House of Commons, denied having profited from his campaign against Iraqi sanctions. In the main body of the report, the ISG said: ``According to a former high-ranking Iraqi official with direct access to the information, there are two Americans and one U.K. citizen listed as recipients on the list of Iraq's illicit oil allocation programme.'' It does not name the Briton.

But in an annexe to the report, Mr. Galloway's name is mentioned twice as having been allocated oil vouchers, once with a Jordanian businessman, Fawaz Zureikat, and once on his own. The ISG admits that many of those named never converted their allocations into cash. Mr. Galloway said he had not seen the ISG report but noted similar accusations had been made in the past. ``A lie does not become true just because you keep repeating it,'' he said.

France honours three Indians

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI, Oct 28: France has honoured three Indian artists, Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Ram Kumar, in recognition of their contribution to cultural diversity in France and in India. The French Ambassador, Mr Dominique Girard, presented the awards to the renowned Indian artists at a function at the Ambassador's residence here.

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan were given the rank of "Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" (Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters) and Mr Ram Kumar was conferred "Officier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" (Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters).

The order of "Arts and Letters" was created in 1975. The French government gives this Award to "persons who have distinguished themselves by their creativity in the field of art, culture and literature or for their contribution to the influence of the arts in France and throughout the world".

The distinction is divided into three grades ie Knight, Officer and Commander (Chevalier, Officer and Commandeur).

The closeness of the ties between India and France was visible at the conferring ceremony when the French Ambassador spoke in Hindi and the veteran artist, Ram Kumar, spoke in French.

Alliance Francaise, DAAD sign pact

By Deepak Arora

NEW DELHI: In a move that would exemplify European unity, DAAD, German Academic Exchange Service, have decided to move into the building of Alliance Francaise de Delhi (AFD). An agreement to the effect was signed here recently between the two organizations.

The new building of Alliance Francaise is currently under construction and is expected to be ready by June, 2004, according to Mr Jean-Pierre Bricman, Director AFD.

Mr Bricman informed that the visiting French Prime Minister, Mr Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and the Delhi Chief Minister, Mrs Shiela Dikshit, laid the foundation stone of the building on February 7 this year. Alliance Francaise is a leading organization, which promotes French language and culture in India.

The Director DAAD, Mr Ulrich Podewils, said "it has been the common aim of Germany and France to partner in all possible spheres, be it politics, culture, business and education. This unique partnership between the AFD and DAAD is a formidable stride towards exactly this goal."

He said "the two organizations do not intend to project themselves as entities promoting different countries but rather as partners in promoting Europe as a whole." DAAD administers various scholarship programmes and counsels Indian students about study and research opportunities in Germany.

France for India's candidature as UNSC permanent member

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 23: France on Tuesday strongly supported India's candidature as a permanent member of the expanded UN Security Council, describing it as a "natural candidate" for the post.

"It is very hard to imagine how one could exclude India from the possibility of having permanent seat in the Security Council given its characteristics.... It is obvious that a certain number of countries are natural candidates," French President Jacques Chirac told newsmen after his address to the United Nations General Assembly.

But, he said, "we can't prejudge the outcome. We have to wait for the dialogue to take place."

Chirac, who had made a strong case for the expansion of the Security Council in address to the Assembly, was asked about India as he had named only Germany and Japan as the candidates for the permanent seat.

"I am very careful not to express judgments on the countries. I mentioned Germany because this is long time position in France. A long history," he added.



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