Tuesday 07th June 2016 19:42 EDT

Triumph and Tragedy often go together. India experienced both last week. First the tragedy in which 19 lives were lost and many more injured, some seriously, in a massive fire that broke out at India’s largest arms depot in Pulgaon, near Nagpur, Maharashtra – which is Asia’s second largest -  at 2 am on Wednesday, June 1. It took five hours for ten fire engines to bring the blaze under control. The Pulgaon depot, which built on a 7000-acre site houses weapons and ammunition for all  three services, and is the only one of its type in the country. 

While there have been significant improvements to the facility. Storage facilities in ordinance depots across India are generally poorly maintained with lax security. Early estimates of losses at Pulgaon are worth Rs 3000 crore. The accident could have had more dire consequences if the blaze had spread. In the event 130 tonnes of mines exploded, leaving the rest of the ordinance at this sprawling facility untouched.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and the Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh Suhag rushed to the scene to assess at first hand the scale of the damage. Sabotage is unlikely to have been responsible, opined the Defence Minister, but it would be left to the court of inquiry to examine the evidence and pass judgment on the cause of the blaze.

Buoyant economy

The good news is that the economy grew by a higher than expected 7.9 per cent in the final quarter of the 2015-16 fiscal ending March 16, bringing the overall growth figure for the year to 7.6 percent, the highest in five years. India has confirmed its place as the world’s fastest growing economy among larger nations. This is great fillip for the government, which has completed the second year in office. The core sector of the economy grew by 8.5 per cent in April, an increase from the 6.4 per cent registered in March 2016. The Indian economy is now worth $2 trillion.

Agriculture showed a revival by growing 2.4 per cent in the March quarter as opposed to the retraction of 1.7 per cent in the same 2015-15 quarter. The fiscal deficit at 3.9 per cent, a tad lower the projected target, was ‘bang on target,’ said the Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das. Encouraged by the strong 2015-16 numbers, the Finance Ministry expected GDP growth to be 8 per cent in the current fiscal ending 31` March 2017 (Times of India, Business Line, Hindu, Mint June 1)

India up three places in competiveness

India’s global competitiveness rose three places to 41 from a year ago. This telling improvement is due largely to exchange rate stabilization, fiscal deficit management and ongoing efforts to tackle corruption and cut red tape, according to a survey by the Swiss-based IMD World Competitiveness Centre. The Centre has also found about 70 per cent of the executives surveyed on attractive economic indicators rated cost competitiveness, skilled workforce and a dynamic economy made the economy more vattractive (Hindu May31)

JLR powers

Tata growth India’s largest automobile manufacturer Tata Motors for the quarter ending March 31 beat street expectations pretty handsomely on the strength of its Jaguar/Land Rover performance. Consolidated net profit rose to Rs5,177 crore, up 21 per cent from the previous year’s quarter. At a standalone level the company posted a net profit of Rs464.99 crore, an improvement over the net loss last year of Rs1,164.25 crore.

Increased sales across India, especially of medium and heavy duty trucks helped improve profit margins, the exceptional performance this time round most to JLR sales (Mint, Hindu May 31)

Digital vans tour rural areas

The government rolled out a campaign tounder which 65 digital vans equipped with internet and audio visual facilities will tour 657 districts by March 2017 to increase awareness about various e-governance in rural and semi-rural areas. ‘The aim is to reach out to more than 10 lakh (one million) citizens and register over 1.5 lakh for MyGov digital locker, Aadhar and other digital services,’ said a Telecom Ministry official ((Hindu May 30)

Celebrating technology

Speaking to an audience of students, young achievers, developers and entrepreneurs in New Delhi, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, said, ‘When you change the way you look at the world, you change the world you see. It is not about celebrating our own technology, it is about celebrating the technology that India creates.’

Talks with PM

Earlier in the day, Nadella met Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and discussed enhancing Microsoft’s contribution to the government’s digital initiative Nadella later had a session with top industry executives and called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Times of India May 30)

What brings Nadella to India again?

Good question. He follows on the trail of Apple CEO Tim Cook and Michael Dell of Dell Inc. According to Prasanto Roy, a senior technology expert and author, ‘In a slowing world economy, India is an under-leveredged, under-penetrated growth market. The home markets of these companies are slowing down or saturated.Apple gets just 1 per cent of its revenue from a market that has 15 per cent of the world’s mobile phones….Microsoft has spent two decades working on that, and with some success, especially in India’s government and public projects.’(Mint May 30)

Chabahar, Gwador, game on

The new Great Game, like the old, is being played across the Asian heartland. India and China are now among its foremost players. Prime Mini8ster’s historic visit to Tehran [see Comment page 3, June 4 issue] to seal the development of the Chabahar port as a rail and road hub, firstly into Afghanistan, then into Central Asia, past the Caspian Sea to the markets of the Eurasian Economic Union, including, most importantly, the Russian Federation. The policy constitutes a marriage between commerce and geopolitics. China is setting up an economic corridor across Pakistan leading to the Pakistani port of Gwador and the markets of the Gulf and beyond. Pakistan will not allow transit facilities for trade between India and Afghanistan. And, of course, there is the Pakistani export of terror across the border into India. Only innocents believe that China has no hand in the exercise.

Iran. Afghan celebration

An exultant Afghan President Ashraf Ghani exclaimed: ’Hundred years from now historians will remember this day [the Trilateral signing] as the start of regional cooperation. We wanted to prove that that geography is not our destiny. With our will we can change geography.’ Iranian President was equally ecstatic: ‘Our two countries [India and Iran] discussed political issues as well as intelligence cooperation and how they can get closer on intelligence sharing and fight together terrorism and work for regional peace and stability.’

PM’s response

Prime Minister Modi responded in a similar spirit: ‘We have also agreed to enhance interaction between our defence and security institutions on regional and maritime security.’ Iran’s E’temad newspaper commented the trilateral agreement ‘will ring danger bells in Islamabad, China and Riyadh.’ (Deccan Chronicle May 25)

Lanba new Naval Chief

Admiral Sunil Lanba took over as the Naval Chief of Staff last week from Admiral Robin Dhawan. The new Vice Chief of Staff is Vice Admiral Karambir Singh. A Navigation and Direction specialist, Admiral Lanba has served as the Navigation and Operations Officer on board numerous ships in both the Eastern and Western waters. He is India’s 23rd Naval Chief of Staff (Hindu June 1)

Warships set out for South China Sea

Four Indian warships docked in naval bases in Vietnam and the Philippines, The Indian Navy will deploy in exercises with the navies of Vietnam, the Philippines, after which they will sail into the Pacific Ocean to exercise with the navies of Japan and the United States. (Telegraph). Defence Minister Parrikar will be visiting Vietnam shortly.

Chinese attacked by Pakistan rebels

This is a dangerous and unwise game with a likely blowback. A Chinese engineer and his driver were injured by a roadside bomb claimed to have been placed by a group called the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army, which seeks an independent Sindh. The group issued the following statement: ‘As a rising imperialist power and supporter of Pakistan’s cause we consider Chinese equivalent to Punjab.’ (The Guardian, UK, May 30). The Sindhdesh rebels wield the big stick in contrast to Mr Mukherjee who spoke softly.

President’s China visit, outcomes

President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to China ended with a flurry of statements of good intent from both sides. He uttered soothing words on Sino-Indian cooperation down the line, on terrorism, trade, investment and the expeditious settlement of the contentious boundary problem. His host President Xi jinping responded in kind. Such sentiments have been aired on numerous occasions before with few tangible results on the ground. That there are few illusions on this score is evidenced by the Indian government’s public admission that China had played a significant role in instigating a Naga insurgent group, now sheltering in Myanmar, to task up arms against the State government of Nagaland, and by extension, the Government of India. (Hindu May23)

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