India is the world’s second largest country in terms of population, and a global superpower. Norwegian national development cooperation started in India, and prawn fishery and artificial fertiliser were important keywords in the first decades of cooperation.

Facts about India

The flag for India
Life expectancy
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GNI pr capita
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Percentage poor people (below 1.25$)
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The flag for India

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Bilateral assistance million kroner

Norwegian development aid to India was the very first commission for the precursor of today’s Norad. The fund, which was also known as ‘the India Fund’, was established at record speed in June 1952.

In May of the same year, the first Report to the Storting on development aid had been dealt with by the Storting. Earlier that year, a proposal for tripartite cooperation between Norway, India and the UN had been approved by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

India, which gained its independence from British colonial rule in 1947, pursued a policy of modernisation through the use of Western technology. Nehru and the dominant party, the Indian National Congress, favoured a semi-planned economy, and from 1951 they introduced five-year plans modelled on the Soviet Union.

Creating growth in a coastal fishery in Kerala

The first Norwegian development aid project concerned fishery development in two villages at the mouth of the Asthamudi lagoon in the Indian state of Kerala. A Norwegian delegation selected this project in autumn 1952 in collaboration with Indian authorities, according to the historian Jarle Simensen.

Indian planning authorities initially proposed a fishery project for modern deep-sea fishing in Bombay (now Mumbai), but Norwegian authorities wanted a project that also involved rural development, and hence the Kerala project was chosen.

In 1959−1960, as part of the Norwegian-Indian project, a new type of 25-foot motorised fishing boat was developed, which was a success with the fishermen. These boats, which replaced traditional non-motorised fishing boats, could also be used for prawn-trawling, and the prawn catches formed the basis for export. In addition to new fishing vessels, the Kerala project also included the establishment of a fish-refining industry on land, maternal and child health centres for the entire population, and an improved water supply.

In 1961, the Norwegian-Indian project moved from the two villages to the city of Cochin (now Kochi) in Kerala, where Norway helped to establish a modern fishery centre. The authorities in Kerala took over and continued the rural project at the mouth of the Asthamudi. The fishery cooperation in Kerala was discontinued in 1972.

Through the Kerala project, Norway helped to fulfil India’s wish for larger catches, more jobs and economic growth related to the fisheries in Kerala and other states. The Norwegian contribution was later criticised by Norwegian social science researchers for being too technologically oriented and too closely linked to a model of raw material exports. Subsequent assessments state that based on its preconditions, the project was successful.

Artificial fertiliser for the green revolution

In 1972, India became a main partner country for Norwegian development aid. The aid was increased throughout the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. The increase came primarily through commodity assistance, a type of aid whereby the donor country pays the costs of importing goods to the recipient country.  In Norway’s case, the goods imported were Norwegian, of which artificial fertiliser constituted the main product.

In India, the ‘green revolution’– based on modernising agriculture using modern techniques such as increased irrigation, artificial fertiliser and new and more productive varieties of grain – started in the 1960s. The results in the form of larger harvests were good, especially in northern states such as Punjab, although adherents of more organic farming techniques have since pointed out many negative aspects of this development.

A total of 60 per cent of all Norwegian aid to India between 1970 and 1985 was in the form of artificial fertiliser from Norsk Hydro, a large Norwegian exporter of the product. The deliveries constituted only a small proportion of India’s total consumption of artificial fertiliser. Since these products would presumably have been imported in any case, the commodity assistance meant in practice that India could spend its limited currency reserves on imports of other goods. In addition to artificial fertiliser, Norway provided other forms of commodity assistance, such as paper for printing school textbooks.

Controversial support for family planning

In the 1970s and 1980s, Norway provided support for an Indian family planning programme, the All India Hospitals Post Partum Programme. The aim of the programme was to slow the population increase, and sterilisation was included as a key element.

The sterilisation policy was highly controversial in relation to the state of emergency introduced by Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister between 1975 and 1977, following widespread political unrest in India. During the state of emergency, extensive sterilisation campaigns were conducted, and coercion was also used. In Sweden, Swedish support for India’s family planning programme was later strongly criticised in the media, and Swedish support for the programme was discontinued. No similar criticism arose in Norway, and Norwegian support for the programme continued well into the 1980s.

An economic superpower with many living in poverty

Since the time of its independence, India has been an Asian superpower. After the turn of the millennium, the country’s international status was further enhanced when India emerged as one of the economically fast-growing BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

Economic reforms aimed at liberalising the economy began in 1991. With regard to domestic politics, the Indian National Congress lost ground from the 1990s, in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in particular, which formed part of the coalition government from 1998 to 2004 and again from 2014.

In 2007, India passed the threshold for being classed as a low-income country and became a middle-income country. The proportion of the population living in extreme poverty fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 21 per cent in 2010. There are large discrepancies between the different states, and not all social groups have the same opportunities to participate in the economic growth. 

For two decades until 2002, Norway supported the Women’s Economic Programme, which gave occupational training to women in low-caste groups and urban slum-dwellers. India provided increasing funding for the programme, and in 1997 it became part of the country’s five-year plan. During the period in which it received Norwegian support, altogether 166 000 women and girls received occupational training in a broad range of occupations. According to one report, 60 per cent of them found employment or started their own businesses.

In 2017, India was still a major recipient of international development assistance, but also provided development aid to poorer countries.  In 2015, India’s aid to other countries amounted to NOK 14.5 billion. Most of this went to India’s neighbouring countries in Asia.

Research and neonatal health

Economic development, environment and energy, health and research have constituted the main areas for Norwegian development aid to India since the year 2000. Support for Norwegian-Indian research cooperation has been steadily growing.

2006 saw the start of a partnership between Norway and India with the aim of reducing the number of mortalities among newborn babies, pregnant women and women in labour. Through a joint effort by the two countries, pilot projects were initiated in four states, with the idea that Norway would help to develop and test innovative methods of delivering health services for women and babies. If the interventions were successful, they would be taken over and scaled up by Indian health authorities. The partnership - named the Norwegian-Indian partnership initiative (NIPI) - was considered to be a great success.

Altogether 17 of 24 pilot projects associated with hospitals, educational institutions and local communities were taken over by Norwegian authorities and incorporated into healthcare plans at national level as well as in the states concerned.

Fødende kvinne i India undersøkes av helsepersonell
NIPI - saving lives
The Norway India Partnership Initiative (NIPI) aims to provide catalytic and strategic support to India's national effort under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) to reach MDG 4 - reduce child mortality.
Published 28.08.2014
Last updated 28.08.2018