Connect to share and comment
Government officials boost security, but refrain from blaming Pakistan for a bomb at a Pune tourist cafe. The environment minister shelves a genetically modified eggplant. Weak monsoons hurt food production. Industrial output surges. India's largest cell provider is negotiating to get into the African market. And street food beckons the brave.
Top News: India’s government held its composure and refused to point fingers in the mid-February bomb attack in the western city of Pune, which killed nine, including two foreigners, and injured 60 people. The bomb was left under a table in a popular café frequented by tourists and foreigners. The Pune blast was the first major strike since the November 2008 terror attacks in which nearly 170 people died in Mumbai city, embittering relations between India and Pakistan. Since then diplomacy has been tense, with India insisting that Pakistan take responsibility for the attacks launched by terror groups based on its soil. However, both countries announced recently that their foreign secretaries would meet for bi-lateral talks in a few weeks. The Pune violence has not derailed the tentative diplomatic overture that India has made toward Pakistan after a one-year gap, despite the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party demanding that diplomacy be suspended.
India’s government, meanwhile, asked cities to step up security in anticipation of serial terror strikes. Indian investigators are looking for clues that might link the bomb blast with the Pakistan-based Lashkar e-Toiba terror group that India blames for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
India has put on pause any plans to allow the commercial cultivation of genetically-modified eggplant. After years of campaigning by environmental and civic groups and even state governments, the federal government buckled under the pressure last week. Any final decision would be made only after consulting farmers, scientists and consumer groups, India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh said. The move is a setback for the American seed giant Monsanto, whose joint venture in India is helping develop GM crops.
While a decision on genetically-modified foods has been stayed for now, India has already allowed the commercial cultivation of genetically-modified cotton. But India’s commitment to food security is being threatened by erratic food production and a burgeoning population. Some GM food protagonists argue the country needs another food revolution, possibly powered by GM foods, to ensure food security to its citizens.
Money: Following last season’s weak monsoons, India’s food output is likely to drop 7.5 percent this year, as per a government estimate. This will likely further drive up food prices in the country. Last year’s rainfall was both erratic and deficient, the worst monsoon in over three decades. India, a country of 1.14 billion people, heavily depends on the monsoon, as most of its farmland is rain-fed. Prices of rice and sugar, which declined in production, have shot up in the past months. Inflation has become a challenge for the government since it is reluctant to raise bank interest rates for fear of stifling economic recovery.
India’s industrial output swelled at its fastest rate in a decade in December indicating robust economic activity. The output makes India among the first countries in the world to see the first signs of an economic turnaround. Industrial production rose 16.8 percent in December compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the government’s Central Statistical Organization.
India’s largest cell phone service provider, Bharti Airtel, is negotiating a $10.7 billion deal to buy the African operations of Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications Co, known as Zain Africa BV. The latest move follows the failed attempt last year by Bharti to enter the lucrative and underserved African region by bidding for the MTN Group of South Africa. Besides India, Bharti operates in the neighboring Sri Lanka and has announced a plan to acquire majority stake in a leading cell phone services operator in Bangladesh.
Elsewhere: There is no shortage of restaurants in food-crazy India. But that does not stop roadside stalls, hawkers, pushcarts and hole-in-the-wall restaurants from conjuring up a delectable array of street foods that are delicious on the palate and easy on the wallet. In cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi, Indians throng the street sides to enjoy special treats that are local as well as seasonal. In Mumbai’s famed Chowpatty Beach, stalls hawk bhel puri, a quickly-tossed creation of puffed rice, chopped onions, boiled chopped potatoes, green chillies, coriander and a liberal dose of powdered spices. In other parts of the same city, locals dig in to the vada pav, a hearty breakfast originally concocted for the working classes. But the vada pav has since caught the imagination of foodies. The dish is a burger lookalike, with the vada (a fried ball of boiled potatoes and spices) ensconced between two slices of bread liberally doused with spicy chutneys. Hygiene and adulteration are two concerns with gorging on the street. For those adventurous enough to eat on the street, roadside foods are yummy.