1. a) Fire in the woods: on Theni forest fire tragedy

The forest fire in Tamil Nadu’s Theni hills that claimed the lives of 11 trekkers and severely injured many others is a heart-rending tragedy, with many of them being women who were out to celebrate International Women’s Day. Questions are naturally being asked whether the Forest Department failed to stop treks during the February-June fire season, and whether the response to the early distress alerts was slow. It appears that the difficult terrain gave many of those caught in the fire line little chance, and proved challenging for the State’s rescue operation launched in coordination with the Central government. The residents of the hills played a commendable role in aiding the effort. Yet, several families are left scarred as they try to cope with the loss of loved ones. The tragedy has highlighted the lack of emphasis on safety in the way such events are organised. Indeed, if there is any lesson that can be learnt from the episode, it is that such adventures should place safety above everything else, and that the government has a key role to play in evolving the protocols. In a country with rich landscapes and forests, the wish to briefly leave the urban life behind and take to the outdoors is but natural. But as the trek from Kurangani to Kolukkumalai shows, there are hazards. The risk of fire is particularly important, given that 55% of forest cover in India is assessed by the Indian Space Research Organisation as being vulnerable. With constant improvements to remote sensing capabilities, and through partnerships with organisations such as the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Remote Sensing Centre has been issuing day and night fire alerts to forest departments. This should have alerted the Forest Department to stop trekking tours, and the State government’s inquiry into the Theni tragedy should reveal whether it was part of the alerts system, and whether they were actually issued. The probe should also determine whether the fires were triggered by burning of grass on the lower slopes. Ideally, the database of fires, including the GIS information, should be made available on the Internet. Also, organisers need to be trained in fire escape manoeuvres, and carry the right equipment, including wireless communication sets. Care must be taken to see that small children are not part of such groups. Raising safety standards in tourism and creating safe experiences is the imperative, as more young Indians will continue to seek adventure. The importance of raising the capabilities of district hospitals has also been underscored by the disaster.

  1. b) The French connections

With French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to India, the India-France Strategic Partnership launched in 1998 seems finally to have come of age. In these two decades, both sides have gradually enhanced cooperation in diverse fields covering civil nuclear, defence, space, counter-terrorism, education, research and development in science and technology, culture, urban development, climate change, trade and economics and people-to-people contacts. The slew of bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding signed, the detailed ‘joint statement’ and accompanying ‘vision statements’ on cooperation in space and the Indian Ocean Region, the boat ride in Varanasi, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s warmly reciprocated diplohugs indicate that the relationship has received a momentum that gives it critical mass and greater coherence.

A shared world view

As a country that has prided itself on its ‘exceptionalism’, France has always been sympathetic to similar Indian claims based on its ancient civilisation. This is why both countries were quick to voice support for global multi-polarity once the Cold War ended. French discomfort with the U.S.’s unipolar moment in the 1990s was evident when it described it as a ‘hyperpower’. Defence cooperation with France began in the 1950s when India acquired the Ouragan aircraft and continued with the Mystères, Jaguar (Anglo-French), Mirage 2000, Alizè planes and the Alouette helicopter. Joint naval exercises, later christened Varuna, date back to 1983. Cooperation in the space sector has continued since the 1960s when France helped India set up the Sriharikota launch site, followed by liquid engine development and hosting of payloads. Today, it is a relationship of near equals and the ‘vision statement’ refers to world class joint missions for space situational awareness, high resolution earth observation missions with applications in meteorology, oceanography and cartography. Inter-planetary exploration and space transportation systems are cutting edge science and technology areas that have also been identified. Yet the Cold War imposed limitations on the partnership. After the Cold War, France decided that its preferred partner in the Indian Ocean Region would be India. In January 1998, President Jacques Chirac declared that India’s exclusion from the global nuclear order was an anomaly that needed to be rectified. After the nuclear tests in May 1998 when India declared itself a nuclear weapon state, France was the first major power to open dialogue and displayed a far greater understanding of India’s security compulsions compared to other countries. It was the first P-5 country to support India’s claim for a permanent seat in an expanded and reformed UN Security Council.

Building a partnership

With the establishment of a Strategic Dialogue, cooperation in defence, civil nuclear, space, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism has grown. An agreement for building six Scorpène submarines in India with French help was signed in 2005. Similarly, technology sharing and acquisitions of short range missiles and radar equipment were concluded. Joint exercises between the air forces and the armies were instituted in 2003 and 2011, respectively. The government-to-government agreement for 36 Rafale aircraft, salvaged out of the prolonged negotiations for the original 126 which were at an impasse, was as much driven by technical requirements as by political considerations. The ambitious offset target of 50% (nearly 25,000 crore), properly implemented, can help in building up India’s budding aerospace industry. In the nuclear field, an agreement was signed about a decade ago for building six EPR nuclear power reactors with a total capacity of 9.6 GW for which negotiations have been ongoing between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and Areva, and now EdF. Terror strikes in France in recent years by home-grown terrorists have enlarged the scope of counter-terrorism cooperation to include cyber security and discussions on radicalisation. Even though these areas provided a robust basis for engagement, it remained primarily at a government-to-government level. In recent years, it was clear that for a wider partnership, strengthening business-to-business and people-to-people relationships was essential. Climate change and renewable energy resources, particularly solar, soon emerged as a new plank, reflected in the multilateral initiative of the International Solar Alliance. Another area identified was urban planning and management of services like housing, transport, water, sanitation, etc using the public private partnership model which the French have employed successfully. Mr. Macron’s visit has enabled progress to be registered across a variety of sectors including the strategic partnership areas. There has been a growing convergence of interests in maritime cooperation. Like India, France has expressed concern about China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean Region. French overseas territories in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans provide it with the second largest exclusive economic zone globally. It has long maintained bases in Reunion Islands and Djibouti and established one in Abu Dhabi in 2009. This regional dimension is reflected in the Vision Statement on cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. The signing of MoUs regarding the provision of reciprocal logistics support to each other’s armed forces, exchange and reciprocal protection of classified information and developing shared space studies and assets for maritime awareness provide the basis on which to strengthen joint naval exercises. With the U.S., naval cooperation has been easier with the Pacific Command which covers China and the region up to the Bay of Bengal but more difficult with the Central Command which covers western Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea because of Central Command’s privileged relationship with Pakistan. Therefore strengthening cooperation with France, particularly in the western Indian Ocean Region makes eminent strategic sense even as India develops its presence in Oman (Duqm) and Seychelles (Assumption Island). The agreement on the industrial way forward between NPCIL and EdF affirms that work at Jaitapur will commence before the end of 2018. Equally significant are the two agreements signed between EdF and other French entities and L&T and Reliance, respectively, reflecting the engagement of Indian industry. Trade has grown in recent years but at $10 billion is half of the trade with Germany. The signing of nearly $16 billion worth of agreements at the business summit indicates that private sectors in both countries are beginning to take notice. There are nearly 1,000 French companies present in India including 39 of the CAC 40 while over a hundred Indian businesses have established a presence in France. In the past, Indian companies saw the U.K. as the entry point for Europe; now with Brexit approaching, Mr. Macron has cleverly pitched that India should look at France as its entry point for Europe and Francophonie! The flagship programme of Smart Cities in which France is focussing on Chandigarh, Nagpur and Puducherry is taking shape as more than half the business agreements signed related to electric mobility, water supply, waste management and smart grids.

Educational links

Potentially, the most significant was the focus on youth and student exchanges. Currently about 2,500 Indians go to France annually to pursue higher education, compared to more than 250,000 from China. A target has been set to raise it to 10,000 by 2020. The agreement on mutual recognition of academic degrees and the follow-on Knowledge Summit, where 14 MoUs between educational and scientific institutions were signed, is a welcome move. Tourism is another area that has received attention. A target of a million Indian tourists and 335,000 French tourists has been set for 2020. Given that France receives over 80 million tourists a year and India around nine million, these targets may seem modest but reflect that while there are only about 20 flights a week between India and France, there are four times as many to Germany and 10 times as many to the U.K. The Strategic Partnership has already created a solid foundation; other aspects have now received the much needed focus and with proper implementation, it can add to the growing strategic convergence that draws India and France together.


1) Heart-rending

Meaning: Causing great sadness or distress.

Example: “a heart-rending story”

Synonyms: Distressing, Disturbing

Antonyms: Comforting

2) Vulnerable

Meaning: Exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

Example: “we were in a vulnerable position”

Synonyms: Endangered, Unsafe

Antonyms: Invulnerable, Resilient

3) Triggered

Meaning: Cause (an event or situation) to happen or exist.

Example: “an allergy can be triggered by stress or overwork”

Synonyms:  Precipitate, Prompt

4) Imperative

Meaning: Of vital importance; crucial.

Example: “immediate action was imperative”

Synonyms: Vital, Exigent

Antonyms: Unimportant, Optional

5) Underscored

Meaning: Emphasize.

Example: “the company underscored the progress made with fuel cells”

6) Enhanced

Meaning: Intensify, increase, or further improve the quality, value, or extent of.

Example: “his refusal does nothing to enhance his reputation”

Synonyms: Increase, Intensify

Antonyms: Diminish, Mar

7) Reciprocated

Meaning: Respond to (a gesture or action) by making a corresponding one.

Example: “the favour was reciprocated”

8) Coherence

Meaning: The quality of being logical and consistent.

Example: “this raises further questions on the coherence of state policy”

Synonyms: Consistency, Soundness

Antonyms: Incoherence

9) Civilisation

Meaning: The stage of human social development and organization which is considered most advanced.

Example: “the Victorians equated the railways with progress and civilization”

Synonyms: Progress, Edification

10) Discomfort

Meaning: Worry or embarrassment.

Example: “his remarks caused her discomfort”

Synonyms: Embarrassment, Unease

11) Christened

Meaning: Give a name to (someone or something) which reflects a notable characteristic.

Example: “we have christened our regular train home the ghost train”

Synonyms: Call, Name

12) Exploration

Meaning: Thorough examination of a subject.

Example: “some changes in the care-giving situation may need exploration”

Synonyms: Investigation, Study

13) Cutting edge

Meaning: The most modern stage of development in a particular type of work or activity.

Example: A company at the cutting edge of mobile communications technology.

14) Imposed

Meaning: Take advantage of someone by demanding their attention or commitment.

Example: “she realized that she had imposed on Mark’s kindness”

Synonyms: Abuse, Manipulate

15) Anomaly

Meaning: Something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.

Example: “there are a number of anomalies in the present system”

Synonyms: Peculiarity, Irregularity

16) Rectified

Meaning: Put right; correct.

Example: “mistakes made now cannot be rectified later”

Synonyms: Correct, Repair

17) Reformed

Meaning: Make changes in (something, especially an institution or practice) in order to improve it.

Example: “the Bill will reform the tax system”

Synonyms: Improve, Better

Antonyms: Preserve, Maintain

18) Counter-terrorism

Meaning: Political or military activities designed to prevent or thwart terrorism.

Example: “he specialized in counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and close-quarters combat”

19) Acquisitions

Meaning: The buying or obtaining of assets or objects.

Example: “western culture places a high value on material acquisition”

Synonyms: Gain, Attainment

20) Instituted

Meaning: Introduce or establish (a scheme, undertaking, or policy).

Example: “the state instituted a national lottery”

Synonyms: Start, Begin

Antonyms: Halt, Cancel

21) Salvaged

Meaning: Rescue (a wrecked or disabled ship or its cargo) from loss at sea.

Example: “an emerald and gold cross was salvaged from the wreck”

Synonyms: Rescue, Save

22) Prolonged

Meaning: Extend the duration of.

Example: “an idea which prolonged the life of the engine by many years”

Synonyms: Lengthen, Extend

Antonyms: Shorten

23) Impasse

Meaning: A situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock.

Example: “the current political impasse”

Synonyms: Deadlock, Stalemate

24) Ambitious

Meaning: (of a plan or piece of work) intended to satisfy high aspirations and therefore difficult to achieve.

Example: “an ambitious enterprise”

Synonyms: Difficult, Demanding

Antonyms: Unambitious, Lazy

25) Home-grown

Meaning: Belonging to one’s own particular locality or country.

Example: “home-grown talent”

26) Radicalisation

Meaning: The action or process of causing someone to adopt radical positions on political or social issues.

Example: “the radicalization of the intelligentsia led to the revolution”

27) Robust

Meaning: Strong and healthy; vigorous.

Example: “the Caplan family is a robust lot”

Synonyms: Strong, Sturdy

Antonyms: Weak, Frail

28) Engagement

Meaning: The action of engaging or being engaged.

Example: “Britain’s continued engagement in open trading”

Synonyms: Participation, Involvement

29) Plank

Meaning: A fundamental point of a political or other programme.

Example: “the central plank of the bill is the curb on industrial polluters”

30) Convergence

Meaning: To come from other places to meet in a particular place; If ideas and opinions converge, they gradually become similar.

Example: Ambulances, police cars, and fire engines all converged on the scene.

31) Presence

Meaning: The state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present.

Example: “my presence in the flat made her happy”

Synonyms: Existence, Appearance

Antonyms: Absence

32) Reciprocal

Meaning: (of an agreement or obligation) bearing on or binding each of two parties equally.

Example: “the treaty is a bilateral commitment with reciprocal rights and duties”

Synonyms: Mutual, Common

33) Privileged

Meaning: Having special rights, advantages, or immunities.

Example: “in the nineteenth century only a privileged few had the vote”

Synonyms: Wealthy, Rich

Antonyms: Underprivileged, Disadvantaged

34) Strengthening

Meaning: Make or become stronger.

Example: “he advises an application of fluoride to strengthen the teeth”

Synonyms: Brace, Nourish

Antonyms: Weaken, Relax

35) Eminent

Meaning: (of a positive quality) present to a notable degree.

Example: “the book’s scholarship and eminent readability”

Synonyms: Obvious, Clear

36) Pitched

Meaning: Set up and fix in position.

Example: “we pitched camp for the night”

Synonyms: Erect, Raise

37) Mobility

Meaning: The ability to move or be moved freely and easily.

Example: “this exercise helps retain mobility in the damaged joints”

Synonyms: Vigour, Strength

38) Significant

Meaning: Sufficiently great or important to be worthy of attention; noteworthy.

Example: “a significant increase in sales”

Synonyms: Notable, Noteworthy

Antonyms: Insignificant, Minor

39) Recognition

Meaning: The action or process of recognizing or being recognized, in particular:

Example: “he stared at her, but there was no sign of recognition on his face”

Synonyms: Identification, Recollection

40) Follow-on

Meaning: A thing which follows on from another.

Example: “it will act as the follow-on to the current version of the software”

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