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NRI toddlers return from Norway after 1-year ordeal

New Delhi: After nearly a year in foster care in Norway, two NRI toddlers, separated from their parents on grounds of negligence, arrived here today to an emotional welcome following a prolonged custody battle and diplomatic pressure by India.

The children — Abhigyan (3) and Aishwarya (1)– escorted by uncle Arunabhas Bhattacharya and their Norwegian foster father were received at the Indira Gandhi International airport here by their paternal grandparents, relatives and Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur. Their return home came after sustained diplomatic pressure mounted by the government and a protracted legal battle which ended yesterday when a Norwegian court in the city of Stavanger handed over their custody to their paternal uncle Arunabhas.

The children were taken away from their parents –Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya — by Norway`s Child Welfare Services in May last year on grounds of "emotional disconnect" and negligence. However, the parents of the children denied the charges saying it was a case of cultural misunderstanding. Welcoming the return of the children, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna thanked Norway for their release, saying the children "belonged to India".

"They belong to India. They are Indian nationals. I am confident that the uncle will take care of them in the environment of their extended family in India. "I thank the government of Norway and in particular the foreign minister for his constructive approach in resolving this humanitarian issue. I wish to congratulate the judicial system in Norway for taking such an enlightened decision. All is well that ends well," Krishna said.

Reacting to the arrival of the kids, a spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs said for the Ministry the case has drawn to a close. Norway on its part also expressed satisfaction over settlement of the custody row, saying the resolution of the issue illustrated the "good relations" between the two countries. "The two governments have been working very closely and constructively in solving the case. It illustrates the good relationship between the two countries," Norwegian Ambassador Ann Ollestad said.

Kaur, who received the children at the airport too expressed happiness. "The grandparents are very happy to see the kids. The family is relieved," she said. In Kolkata, a relieved grandfather of the children Monotosh Chakravorty thanked the government and media for their sustained efforts in ensuring their release. "I have been waiting for this day. I have been fighting to see their return. And now actually that has happened..we are very much happy," he said. The two children later headed for Kolkata.

The External Affairs Ministry had mounted diplomatic pressure on Norway to ensure return of the kids to India after the case received wide attention in the media. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken up the matter with his Norwegian counterpart during the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul last month. After several twists and turns in the case, the Stavanger District Court on Mondayfinally gave custody of Abhigyan and Aishwarya to their uncle, supporting a joint application submitted by the children`s parents and the CWS.

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