Tuesday 29th August 2017 14:08 EDT

Panchkula, in Haryana, was the eye of the storm as mobs went on the rampage, burning cars, buses and property – anything that caught their attention. They gave vent to their rage at the CBI court judgment pronouncing local godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh guilty of multiple rapes of female devotees in his ashram. Tens of thousands of Singh’s followers converged on Panchkula where the court announced its verdict. The violence that followed overwhelmed the police and administration. Eventually, Army had to be called in to stem the anarchy. Curfew was imposed. Some 30 people died in the police firing and 250 suffered injuries. Ram Rahim Singh was taken into police custody and is in jail awaiting sentencing (now sent in for 20 years)
Haryana Chief Minister Mohan Lal Khattar, a BJP stalwart, associated with Ram Rahim Singh, hoping thus to tap into his vote banks. He has questions to answer, as do BJP national leaders at the centre. The last word on this subject has not been said. Events in Panchkula are a face  that invites civilized revulsion, but reality has to be confronted and not avoided if creative progress is to be assured its right to exist in India (Times of India, Hindu August 26). 

Rail disasters in Uttar Pradesh

The recent rail crashes in Uttar Pradesh included one in which 23 passengers were killed; were due to gross negligence. A coach of the mangled Puri-Haridwar Utkal Express had to be hauled off the track by a crane. Life in these parts (including Bihar) being dirt cheap, the standard procedure has been the predictable enquiry followed by prolonged silence, then a slow descent into closure. 
The Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu altered the script., Serious about transforming India’s mostly geriatric network fit for 21st century purpose, he set about fixing responsibility.

Prabhu pulls up officials

Three top officials have been sent on leave, and four local officials were suspended. Of the first three, one  is a secretary-level officer and Railway Board Chairman Engineering A.K.Mittal, the second a General Manager Northern Railways R.N. Kulshrestha, and the third, Divisional Rail Manager Delhi R.N. Singh. All of whom were sent on leave. There was shock and awe within the moribund bureaucracy. Mittal resigned and was replaced by Ashwani Lohani, CMD of beleaguered Air India, as another railway derailment occurred in blighted Uttar Pradesh, with 78 injuries but mercifully no deaths.
Minister Prabhu said he ‘will not allow laxity in operations by the Board’ and ordered the new Railway Board Chairman to inject an appropriate work ethic.’  The minister offered his resignation to Prime Minister Modi but was advised to put it on hold (Times of India, Hindu, Telegraph August 20, 21, 24).

Bomb blasts put GJM in fix
Bomb blasts in Darjeeling and Kalimpong by suspected Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) has provoked a firm response from the central government in Delhi, with armed police patrolling the streets, even as the GJM Assistant General Secretary Binay Tamang said, ‘ The GJM once again reiterates that that we do not have any tie-up with any insurgent organization either in northeast India, Nepal or anywhere else in the world. Therefore, we reiterate our demand for setting up a high-level committee to examine the blasts.’ 


GJM, caught in a Catch-22 bind, seeks a face saver on talks, with rival, Gorkhaland Liberation Front (GLF) calling for a solution as life becomes progressively harder for people with intensifying economic disruption. ‘People are growing restive. We are looking for a middle path. The two questions of identity and livelihood have to go together, ‘said GNLF leader Mahendra Singh (Times of India August 22). 

Infosys in crisis 

Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka resigned following a running battle with company founder N.R .Narayana Murthy, whom he accused of making ‘malicious and increasingly personal attacks.’ Infosys is the biggest Indian IT company after Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and the early fallout of this conflict, in which the Infosys Board issued a statement in support of Sikka, sent company shares plummeting (Times of India, Hindu, Business Line August 19).
Nilekani to the rescue
Out of the encircling gloom came a shaft of light. Investors and shareholders circulated the name of Nandan Nilekani, once a founding member of the Infosys team, headed by N.R. Narayana Murthy. Nilekani, an acclaimed techie responsible for the game-changing Aadhar Identification Card for all Indian citizens, is the sort of skilled visionary who can pull Infosys out of its present morass. The stock markets in Mumbai and New York rallied at Nilekani’s return. He has taken over as non-executive Chairman, but the appointment of the  next CEO is awaited with keen interest. There has also been a partial clear out of the Infosys Board, with a number of big names still in place (Times of India, Hindu, Business Line, Mint August 24, 25)

Essar-Rosneft deal done

The debt-burdened Essar Group concluded the sale of its crown jewel Essar Oilding a captive port, power and retail assets – to Russian oil giant Rosneft and a consortium of investors for $12.9 billion, making it the largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)  into India. Signed originally in October 2016 on the sidelines of the Goa BRICS summit, the deal remained unconsummated by domestic lenders dissatisfied with some of its details. They will get Rs 4,000 crore, paid back for over Rs 45,000 crore of loans, ‘as they have finally elected to stay with the new owner.’    
‘Rosneft has entered the high potential and fast-growing Asia Pacific market,’ said Rosaneft’s CEO Igor Sechin. The deal has cut Essar’s debt by a hefty $11 billion. (Telegraph August 22).

Optimistic Prashant Ruia

Looking relaxed after the largest deleveraging exercise in Indian corporate history, Prashant Ruia, Director, Essar Group, said the sale of its oil and retail assets would add value to shareholder. He explained: ‘I think the oil industry still has a very strong future, at least for the next 40 years, oil will be an important part of the future…And we have not exited refining, we are very much into it in the UK. We still believe in the oil and gas cycle and the refining business,’ he vsaid. (Business Line August 23).

Chabahar on fast track

Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari has promised  his counterparts in Tehran that the Chabahar project would be opened for business at the inauguration of Iranian President-elect Hasan Rouhani. Heads must roll, if required, as the project has considerable economic and strategic ramifications for India. As rail hub, Chabahar will be integrated with the Afghan rail network and give the country access to Persian Gulf markets. Chabahar is also designed to facilitate communication with Russia’s North-South rail corridor, and hence give India market access in the Caspian region and beyond to Russia and Belarus (Mint August 22).

Canadian market for Indian fruit, veggies

Canada has opened its market to Indian fruits and vegetables such banana, mango, pomegranate, custard apple and okra. The Agricultural & Process Foods Exports Development Authority of Canada issued an advisory to Indian exporters to tap into the North American market. The products will be subject to food inspectors on arrival in Canada. The Canadian decision could revive Indian sagging fruit and vegetable exports to the country (Business Line August 23). 
IPL valuation $5.3 billion 
Assured of the fervent support of legions of advertisers and consumer interest groups, cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) coffers swelled to a $5.3 billion tsunami in 2017, a 34 per cent rise over the 2016 audit of $4.2 billion.
According to Duff & Phelps, a global valuation and corporate advisor’s country head Varun Gupta, ‘This IPL has garnered attention for all the right reasons. Namely, a relatively controversy-free tournament, increase in social media engagement, strategic and highly successful marketing initiatives – all of which affirmed IPL’s standing as the most valuable cricketing league in the world.’  
The company’s ‘The Decade Edition: A Concise Report on Brand Values to the Indian Premier League,’ explained that the brand values of all the franchises increased on average by 34 per cent to the year before. Satellite and digital broadcasting and sponsorship deals are up for renewal and will be closely monitored. Television audiences and TV sales have taken a giant leap forward in rural markets (Business Line August 24).  

T-90 tank upgrade 

The Indian Army is to upgrade its Russian-designed T-90 main battle tank (an estimated 4000 currently in service) to enhance power and mobility. These formidable tanks are to be equipped with a new missile system and a more powerful modular engine. 
‘As the design of the INVAR missile has been maximized, both in terms of range and depth of penetration, it is imperative to upgrade it into the next-generation missiles with enhanced capability,’ averred a PTI report. As per requirements, the depth of penetration should achieve 800-850mm penetration and ability to hit mobile and static targets up to a range of 8 km (Hindu August 21).

Apache helicopters for Army

India is set to acquire six US Apache attack helicopters for the Army at a cost of Rs 4,168 crore. These are required to complement critical ground operations.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is to acquire 22 of these helicopters for its exclusive use (Hindu, Times of India August 21,22).

IAF readies Panagarh

Without fanfare, the Indian Air Force has quietly commissioned its Arjan Singh station at Panagarh, some 150 kilometres northwest of Kolkata with the induction of six heavy-lift US-made Super Hercules C-130 and a mid-air refueling Ilyushin-78 to give India’s Eastern Air Command, with its lethal Sukhoir MKI30 aircraft, extra teeth to its operational capability. A similar base at Hindan, near Delhi, operates    C-130s  (Times of India August 24).

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