A temple fireworks display in Kerala went awry leaving over 110 people dead and hundreds more injured. Disaster struck the the precincts of the Puttingal Devi Temple at Pravur south of Kollam when an entire dump of fire crackers to mark the Meena-Bharam festival exploded. Eyewitnesses said that a cracker designed to explode in mid-air fell to the ground sending sparks in all directions, some reaching the exposed storehouse igniting the fireworks inside in a massive explosion, bringing down a building in the vicinity.
The Kerala High Court in a scathing judgment deemed the event as much a crime as a tragedy, and took the local police severely to task for not preventing the hazardous fireworks display, when the local district authorities had issued a ban because of the risk it carried. Buildings nearby were torn apart, flying masonry landed in every direction killing and maiming creatures great and small. Kerala was in shook, as was the rest of India at the scale of the tragedy.
Pankajakshi, an old woman in the neighbourhood, had lodged a complaint with the local police way back in 2012, warning of a possible disaster. Local toughs, however, forced her to withdraw the complaint.
Modi’s prompt response
Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded to the disaster with exemplary promptness, rushing to the disaster site with promises of help to Congress State Chief Minister Ooman Chandy (Hindu, Times of India, Telegraph April 11).
Such tragedies will continue to recur as long as public safety takes second place to the needs of populism by short-sighted politicians greedy for power whatever it takes.
The Hindu (April 12) published an insightful edit-page article on the parlous state of the opposition Congress party. It was bereft of ideas, ideology or anything resembling a national and international vision. It had ceded space to a plethora of squabbling parties and had ceased to be a normal political party. Its only benchmark was loyalty the mother-son duo of Sonia Gandhi and her vacuous heir apparent Rahul. The pair say what they please, do as they please and are answerable to nobody but themselves. They are a blot on Indian democracy and lack the slightest credibility. Their one service to the party and nation is to depart: Sooner, the better.
Gujarat BJP shock rural poll defeat
Although there is still a year and a half to go before the Gujarat Assembly polls, the BJP State unit is taking no chances following the party’s recent defeat in a rural poll. The new chief of the State BJP unit, Vijay Rupani has benn given the task of reinvigorating the party. Chief Minister Anandiben Patel has announced a raft of measures to woo rural voters, the latest being implementation of the National Food Security Act. The previous Assembly elections were held in 2012, when Narendra Modi was chief minister, and the next elections are scheduled for 2017 (Business Line April 11)
Ultra modern Metro for Nagpur
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that the Nagpur Metro Rail will be completed on a fast track basis, and that the ‘ultra modern rail network would change the face of the city.’ The German Finance agency KFW has sanctioned Rs 3, 750 crore for the project. The ‘PPProject Agreement’ was signed in Nagpur in the presence of Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari. The Metro Managing Director, Brajesh Dixit, as well as KFW Director Peter Hilliges signed the ‘Project Agreement’, while a formal comprehensive agreement was signed in New Delhi in the presence of the German Ambassador to India Martin Ney and Urban Development Ministry officials (Business Line April 11)
Colombo port project no threat to India
The Colombo Port City project which Sri Lanka and China plan to develop into a financial hub would not constitute a security threat to India, explained Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe during a visit to Beijing. ‘We have discussed it with India and we are prepared to discuss it with India further. As you know, this is not going to be a China-Sri Lanka venture. It is going to be open to everyone and already many Indian businessmen have told me that they are prepared to come to the port city, said the Sri Lankan Prime Minister.
Andhra Pradesh cooperation
He pointed out that the Sri Lankan government was in talks with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu about greater cooperation between Sri Lankan ports and Visakhapatnam once an economic and technological agreement with India is materialized. ‘What we are doing in Sri Lanka is an economic and technology agreement with India, a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, FTA with Singapore and GSP plus with the EU.’
Sino-Pakistan air exercises
Meanwhile, Sino-Pakistan joint training air exercises commenced as both countries sought to build on the ‘all weather friendship’ with closer military ties clearly targeting India. ‘China’s Air Force hopes to widen the scope of cooperation and dialogue with all countries and regions,’ said a Chinese Defence Ministry statement on its website. (Hindu April 10)
Warning to India
The Pakistan Army Chief General Raheel Sharif issued a belligerent warning to India to stop sabotaging the Sino-Pakistan economic corridor, linking China’s western region to the Pakistan port of Gwador in Baluchistan on the Persian Gulf (Hindu April 14)
Critical phase of reforms
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has said that India was in the most critical phase of its economic reforms agenda since 1991.The Minister listed the Goods and Services Tax (GST) legislation, the Bankruptcy Code and amendments to the Security and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act and prevention of corruption law in the coming session of Parliament . These were government’s priorities, said Minister Jaitley. His comments come in the wake of the Reserve Bank of India’s most robust move to infuse liquidity into the cash-strapped economy and a month after a well received national Budget.
RBI’s revolutionary plan
The Reserve Bank of India has said that India was on the cusp of an economic revolution. The term was used for the second time, when RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan said that Indian banking was in the midst of a banking revolution. He was inaugurating the unified payments interface that will make monetary paymentthrough mobile phones as easy as texting a message. The new interface, plus the rise of specialist banks, could alter retail transactions. The National Payments Corporation of India deserved praise for putting all this together (Mint April 12)
West Bengal Elections
West Bengal chaotic politics is compounded by the incendiary rhetoric of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for whom silence and restraint have long been alien territory. In throwing down the gauntlet to the Election Commission, in such reckless fashion, she is taking a risk too many – something she may come to regret one day. Meanwhile, the Election Commission, undeterred by the Chief Minister’s pyrotechnics, has brought in addition numbers of Central paramilitary battalions to maintain law and in West Bengal in the face of deepening disorder (Telegraph, Times of India April 15)
North Kashmir ablaze
Northern Kashmir was seething as firing by security forces on violent separatists demonstrators resulted in four fatalities. Disturbances continued with stone-throwing youths clashing with police and paramilitary forces. A curfew was declared to quell the violence (Hindu, Times of India April 14,15)
Good Monsoon forecast
The Indian Meteorological Department and private sector weather forecasters are united in their predication of an unusually good monsoon this year. The IMD said the rainfall this year is likely to be ‘above normal’ and may also be 106 per cent of the average 89 centimetres. Rainfall within 96 per cent and 104 per cent of this average are considered ‘normal. ‘The monsoon will be fairly well distributed but south-east India will get slightly less rain,’ said IMD Director General Laxman Rathore. (Hindu April 13) The market has given a positive response to these reports.
Russia eases cheese import norms
After more than a year of talks, Russia has agreed to do away with its precondition requiring Indian dairy companies to own captive cattle farms to export cheese, making it easier for small companies and cooperatives such as Amul to qualify as exporters (BBusiness Line April 12)
India top pick for global investors
Indian markets are the preferred choice of global institutional investors in the Asia Pacific region, according to a Credit Suisse report. ‘Within the Asia-Pacific, survey participants chose three countries as their most overweight country picks: India, Australia and China – cumulatively accounting for around 50 per cent of the total votes. India and China were in the top four overweight countries last year too’ opined the Credit Suisee report (Business Line April 12)