Kolkata’s Time of Troubles, it would appear, has no detectable end, as one disaster follows another in a relentless karmic cycle, beginning with fires, moving to collapsed flyovers, bridges, climaxed by a calamitous inferno that raged for three days and more, reducing the once teeming Bagri bazaar to a charred debris of shops, buildings and masses of tangled electrical wires. Mercifully, no lives were lost.
What remains a wonder is that such a site had so long a life unscathed. Shops cheek by jowl, heaving masses of humanity buying, selling, bargaining, dealing, shouting functioned and survived the elements for decades, will confound the gurus of urban development till doomsday.. Courageous and intrepid fire brigades, drove embattled crews through every tangible hazard and obstacle known to man or beast, from lethal wires to empty water tanks and much else, until the blaze was eventually put out.The fire services function with 68 per cent posts vacant. The Great Fires of Kolkata, may in time come to be etched in the public mind to the once Great Fire of London in the late 17th century. Hopefully, they may mark the revival of Bengal’s metropolis (Telegraph, Times of India et al September 15,16,17,18, 19,20).
Chief Minister in Germany, Italy
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, her alter ego Finance Minister Amit Mitra, together with CEOs were in Germany looking for investments in the State.An upbeat Ms Banerjee, in Frankfurt, announced two investment agreements with local Indian entrepreneurs Purnendu Chatterjee and Mayank Jalan. Messrs Chatterjee and Jalan have a presence in Bengal. The Chief Minister had previously visited Singapore, London and Mumbai and returned laden with investment promises. Next stop Italy. No investment bonanza has as yet been sighted, nor is it likely to be anytime soon (Times September 19).
Supreme Court vindicates wronged scientist
Distinguished space scientist Nambi Narayanan lost 24 of his best years fighting false accusations of espionage by the Kerala police. The Supreme Court of India exonerated him from all charges and pinned the blame for his ordeal by those who had in the first instance charged him falsely. Dr Nambi Narayanan described the judgment a ‘watershed in the history of human rights litigation in the country….Justice has been delivered, though belatedly’, he said.
The three-man Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, ordered the Kerala state government to pay the litigant Rs 50 lakhs (5 million) in compensation even as it agreed that nothing could bring back his lost years when his contribution to Indian space science could have been intensely valuable, perhaps path breaking.. The guilty men must be brought to book and punished appropriately (Hindu September 15).
Triple talaq outlawed
Following the Supreme Court of India’s judgment condemning the Triple talaq [instant divorce pronounced arbitrarily by Muslim men against their wives, leaving them free to take another wife, the government has announced a law that would make the practice a criminal offence. In this context, readers may recall that the litigation brought before the Supreme Court was by Muslim wives left adrift to fend for themselves and their children. The new law has safeguards, including bail to the accused, before the commencement of the trial. Opposition to the ordinance, led by the Congress party, is cynical and opportunistic (Hindu, Times of India, Mint September 20).
New bank merger to create behemoth
The government announced the merger of three public sector banks – the Bank of Baroda, Vijaya Bank, and Dena Bank. With a combined business of around Rs 15 lakh crore (£165 billion), the new institution will be India’s third-largest bank after the State Bank of India and ICICI Bank. ‘Nobody will have to worry,’ were the assuring words Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, directed to employees of the two smaller entities in the merger (Business Line September 18).
IAF footprint in Space venture
Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal B .S. Dhanoa said the service was geared up to contribute to India’s manned space flight with a wealth of medical experience.’ We have in-house capabilities at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM ); we have selected our cosmonauts in the past. IAM will play a key role in human engineering and support and the development of the space crew capsule. (Hindu September 15).
UK satellites piggyback into space orbit
India’s space agency, thus far, has launched 239 foreign satellites from 28 countries into orbit. New advanced technologies look set to continue the trend, as evidenced by the UK’s NovaSAR and SI-4, which were put into orbit aboard India’s improved PSLV-C42 rocket. The lift-off took place from the Satish Dhawan spaceport at Sriharikota (Business Line September 1).
India, Pakistan talks cancelled
The planned India-Pakistan dialogue of foreign ministers Sushma Swaraj and Shah Mehmood Quereshi, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, has been cancelled following jihadi killings of three policemen in the Kashmir valley. A Ministry of External Affairs spokesman in New Delhi stated that such talks could only take place after Pakistan had ceased abetting terrorism in India. According to official Indian sources, Pakistan’s India policy was not under the emit of Prime Minister Imran Khan, but under exclusive authority of the Pakistan military and its intelligence nexus, who were calling the shots (Times of India, Hindu, business Line, Mint September 20, 21, 22).
Modi, Ghani discuss security projects
On a day visit to New Delhi, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the present security situation in Afghanistan and the future of Indian development projects in the country. Meanwhile Afghan Ambassador to India, Shaida Abdali, resigned, citing the increasingly fraught state of Afghanistan. There is speculation that he might launch a career in politics on his return to Kabul.
Afghanistan deported a Keralan jihadi who had travelled to the country with the aim of joining ISIS. Nashidul Hamzafar was arrested by Indian intelligence officers on his arrival at New Delhi airport on board a flight from Kabul (Times of India September 20).
India, Russia ties at new level
India and Russia have commenced trading in their domestic currencies, the rupee and ruble, which could set the template for increasing the quantum of bilateral commerce. ‘I hope we will be able to reach the modestly targeted $30 compared with $100 billion in Sino-Indian trade,’ said Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov at a meeting with Sushma Swaraj, India’s Minister of External Affairs in Moscow. The Russian Minister noted that, ‘Today the share of settlements in rubles for exports is 20 per cent, and for imports 21 per cent.’ Trading in US dollars was being reduced, a significant development worthy of close attention by the Trump administration.
Privileged Strategic Partnership
Minister Swaraj replied: ‘India and Russia enjoy a special and privileged strategic partnership. This partnership has strengthened over time and covers a vast agenda involving almost all spheres of human activity. India attaches the highest importance to its relations with Russia.’
Apart from defence and nuclear power technology, the two countries are promoting two-way tourism and exploring the possibilities of working together on projects in third countries (RT September 15).
Karnataka coalition in crisis of confidence
The Congress-Janata Dal (U) coalition government appears to be splitting at the seams over power sharing and individual rivalries, which hardly bodes well for the touted Opposition Front peddled by the Congress leadership (Mint September 19).
IBM labs modernize Indian enterprises
Indian designers realizing that keeping track of advanced global standards through invidual staff would be a herculean endeavour, struck a deal in 2017 with US giant International Business Machines Corp (IBM) to help in that task. IBM used its artificial intelligence system, Watson to analyze hundreds and thousands of images from the internal fashion scene as well as from the history of Bollywood for its client Falguni Shane Peacock brand, which is well satisfied with the outcome.
IBM unit Weather Company is also using Artificial Intelligence to help Pune-based agricultural start-up AgroStar provide critical insights on crop disease risks to more than a million farmers across Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. ‘Everything in the world is data-driven. We have the kind of Watson capabilities that we apply to on this data. This translates into how I get better visibility, better insights and better predictions that power patterns and management dashboards,’ explained Gopal Pingali, Vice President and Distinguished Engineer, Global Technology Services Labs September 10).
Toyota to make Suzuki cars
Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp is to produce sister Japanese Suzuki Motor Corp cars at its Bangaluru plant, thus widening the alliance between the giants in India. The decision was taken following discussions between the two auto manufacturers. A second such Toyota plant in the city could be pressed into service for Suzuki. Should Toyota go ahead with this plan, the company will be able to boost its capacity utilization at this plant (Mint September 11).