Wednesday 11th October 2017 19:18 EDT

Tragedy laced with farce, is never a distant spectacle in India. Close ups are what you can normally expect.  Mumbai, known as the Maximum City, because of its teeming, ever growing population, with migrants pouring from all parts of the country in search of a better life, has a creaking infrastructure. Heavy monsoon rain brought a crumbling   four-storied tenement in the poorer quarters crashing to the ground, taking its toll of lives and injured; elsewhere,  one flooded street concealed an open man-hole which sucked in a pedestrian, who perished. The local Shiv Sena mayor fled the scene, scared off by a swelling crowd of enraged citizens. 

If this wasn’t bad enough, the Elphinstone footbridge at a suburban rail station, unable to bear the combined weight of commuters from two trains which had entered the station simultaneously, leading to a stampede in which 22 passengers died and many more injured and hospitalized.

‘The expected blame game took off as if from a starter’s gun; public anger went viral as TV reports crisscrossed the country. The pretender to the Shiv Sena’s throne, Raj Thackeray swore on television that he wouldn’t permit a stone to be laid at Mumbai for the projected high speed bullet train to Ahmedabad. The matching hooligan voice of the unelectable Rahul Gandhi called for the arrest of Suresh Prabhu and Piyush Goyal, the former and present Railways Ministers, for homicide, adding to the unseemly circus of politicians determined to extract every ounce of advantage from the situation.

Responsibility, neglect

Pinning responsibility for such disasters is both easy and difficult. The relatively easy bit is to point the finger at those in authority now; the difficult bit lies in accepting the accumulated inertia and negligence of the past. The Railways were perceived as cash cows by ministers devoted to reckless expansion of rail track without matching development of passenger safety and convenience. Thus trains are overcrowded, time-keeping is abysmal, and the railways experience a nightmare. Inquiries come and go as their reports and recommendations gather dust.


Prabhu was the first minister in decades to set in motion railway modernization, with safety and public comfort in mind. A rusted behemoth cannot be put right with one or two measures; but a raft of sweeping coordinated, across-the board reforms. This, realistically, will take years of dedicated service to accomplish. Minister Prabhu, now in charge of the Commerce Ministry, used his broom for purpose as Railways head; the baton has been passed to Piyus Goyal for his outstanding record as Minister of Power. He has a daunting challenge ahead of him as the new Railways Minister, but he has the intellect, determination and administrative experience to make a success of his new ministry (Times of India October 2, earlier media reports).

Darjeeling strike called off

Gorkhaland leader, Bimal Gurung, suspended the strike in the hill districts of Darjeeling following a direct appeal from Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who assured him that talks would commence within a fortnight on a separate Gorkhaland carved out of West Bengal (Times of India, Hindu September 27).

Operation Arjun

India’s paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF) launched a commando strike across the line of control in Kashmir on the farms and dwellings of senior Pakistani military officers in retaliation for Pakistani firing targeting civilian areas in which a number of children were killed. Clearly, it is no longer a tooth for a tooth, but a knock-out blow for every transgression. Pakistan sought a ceasefire without further ado (Times of India September 27).

Jihadi attack on Srinagar foiled

A terrorist attack targeting Srinagar airport was neutralized by a coordinated operation by the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force and Border Security Force. The three-man jihadi squad, holed up in nearby house, died fighting. A BSF soldier was also killed. Acting on an intelligence tip-off from a Pakistani-based jihadi, the security force intercepted the three Jaish-e-Mohammed operatives(Hindu, Times of India October 4).

Astra launch revisited

Returning to the recent Astra missile test, its advanced features – including its Beyond Visual Range - are comparable with the best state-of-the art systems available anywhere today. For instance, the missile with its smokeless propulsion capability can be launched at its target without giving away its position; it is also equipped with a RF seeker, whose development owes most to the vision of the late APJ Abdul Kalam. Astra has an advanced Electronic Counter-Counter measures (FCCM) capability to surmount defensive methods to defeat its purpose.. Finally, Astra is endowed with superb maneuverability, thanks to its cutting edge technologies in avionics, navigation and missile guidance in which subsystems and components, including sensitive sensors, play a critical role (Financial Express September 18).

Aerospace PSUs Super integrators

G. Sateesh Reddy, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and Director General, Missiles & Strategic Systems (the brains behind Astra), addressing a convocation at Hyderabad University, said large public sector undertakings (PSUs) in the aerospace and defence sector were self-transforming into super integrators, with the private sector providing critical inputs in the new business environment.

HAL’s success

Citing Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Dr Reddy said the company had successfully developed and tested the Light Combat Aircraft or Tejas for the Indian Air Force, enabling India to join a select band of counties with the capability to design and manufacture frontline fighter aircraft. Dr Reddy dwelt on the success of BrahMos, the world’s only supersonic cruise missile developed jointly with Russia.

Overall outlook

Summing up, Dr Reddy cast his gaze on the entire range of transformative technologies across strategic sectors under the umbrella of the Departments of Atomic Energy, Space, Defence Research and Development and foresaw them playing a critical role in taking the country forward to the next level through innovation cooperation. He predicted the India would generate 30,000 MW from the Atomic Energy Department during the next decade (Business Line October 3).

Bases readied for Rafels

The Indian Air Force is undertaking major infrastructure upgrades in its base at Ambala, Haryana, - some 220kms from the Pakistan border to prepare for the arrival in September 2019. of two squadrons of fourth generation + French Rafele warplanes manufactured by the Dassault Aviation Company. Several Dassault teams have arrived to advise on the upgrade. Currently, the base is home to two squadrons of Jaguars and one of the MiG 21Bison. A second base at Hasimara, West Bengal, will accommodate the second squadron of Rafels (Hindu October 2).

Rupee surge hedge

The Reserve Bank of India taking advantage of the current surge in foreign exchange reserves to over $400 billion to by US dollars as a precautionary move against a sudden outflow in the future. The rupee’s present strength at 68-65 to the dollar is seen as satisfactory.

Rajan legacy

It was the policy of the previous Governor of the RBI, Raghuram Rajan, to strengthen India’s foreign exchange reserves. When he took charge in September 2013, these reserves stood at $277 billion. Its present figure shows an increase of 45 per cent (Business Line October 2).

$6 trillion GDP prediction

Goldman Sachs, the US-based global financial services major, India is expected to be the world’s fastest growing large economy to reach a GDP of $ 6 trillion in the next 10 years. Growth has risen to 6.9 per cent from the 5.8 per cent of the 1990s. Digitization, said its report, would boost digitization by 50-75 bps, enabling India to reach the predicted $6 trillion (Business Line October 3).

Core sector growth rise in August

Core sector growth of 4.9 per cent in August rose to a five-month high on augmented industrial activity, with improved coal and electricity production and increases in car sales and motorcycle sales, which have crossed 2 million.

Maruti Suzuki, leading the pack in India, registered 10 per cent growth, South Korea’s Hyundai was second, with Tata Motors, on the comeback trail in third position, registering 18 per cent growth in September. (Times of India, Business Line October 4).

Tom Alter

Son of American missionaries, Tom Alter was born in Mussoorie and educated at Woodstock School, then went to Yale University in the United States, returning to India without completing his studies and trained at the Pune Film Institute starting o small parts on screen and stage in Bombay on the strength of his mastery of Urdu and Hindi. His break to stardom came with his role as young Captain Weston in Satyajit Ray’s classic ‘Shatranj Ke Khilari’, in which his encounter with Richard Attenborough as Sir James Outram is etched in the memory of those privileged to have seen the film’s premiere in 1977 at London’s South Bank..

Thereafter, he acted in major roles in Hindi cinema under such famous directors as Shyam Benegal and Raj Kapoor. His stage rendering of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and the greatest Urdu poets, Ghalib, were an unforgettable experience for lovers of theatre.

Tom Alter died in Mumbai of skin cancer on September 29, aged 67. He had a good many years left when he left his many friends and admirers with only memories to cherish.

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