11 FEBRUARY 2016
Questions after the deposition
Details from the ongoing deposition of David Coleman Headley have brought back dark memories for India, not just of the horror of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but also of the cold-blooded planning that went into the massacre of over 160 men, women and children. It is certainly important that the Mumbai court has been able to record the testimony of Headley, and make part of Indian court records all that he had told a court in the United States several years ago. The testimony has not yet revealed much that wasn't in the court records, or in the testimony he gave before National Investigation Agency officials in 2010. Even so, it will be significant in the trial of Abu Jundal as well as in a future trial of Hafiz Saeed and any of the masterminds in the unlikely event of Pakistan making them available to India. Although the move from the U.S. authorities to arrange the deposition of Headley for the Mumbai court now hearing the 26/11 conspiracy case has come late, it is still no less welcome. The specifics of how Headley was sent to India, his contacts with the Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership and the Inter-Services Intelligence officers he names for having given him espionage training, and even perhaps locals in India who may have colluded with him, are all vital to the case, and it is hoped that prosecutors will extract more information from Headley in the coming days.
Clearly, the deposition from Headley, who expects a full judicial pardon in exchange for giving it, comes at a cost that must be counted. It has meant that India gives up all chances of bringing the self-confessed terror planner, who scoped out the locations to be targeted as well as the entry and possible exit points for the LeT terrorists. It also means that India has not questioned the delay from the U.S., and prosecutors may not be able to fill the glaring gaps in their understanding of Headley's background that have been raised: including his double role as a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant, the cover for his frequent visits to India, including one after the 26/11 attacks, and the reasons his links with Pakistani military officials were not investigated by the U.S. This is why after the hearing is completed the government must be more forthcoming in explaining its decision to offer a pardon. The deal may have been the best of imperfect choices before India, but given the magnitude of the crime involved, the government must share the details. The spotlight on Headley should also convince Pakistan to fast-track its trial of the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks, perhaps even accepting a similar deposition from Headley in the case. Eventually, it is in the interest of India-Pakistan relations as well as justice for the victims of 26/11 that the trial in Pakistan is brought to a successful conclusion. If Headley's deposition prompts that, the benefit will override all other concerns.
Growth data send conflicting signals
The latest GDP data released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) raise more questions than they answer. While on the face of it, the projection of 7.6 per cent growth at constant prices for the fiscal year ending March 31 sounds both attainable and impressive, a closer look at the other sets of numbers, including the third-quarter reading, raises some flags. The pace of economic expansion is estimated to have slowed to 7.3 per cent in the three months ended December, from 7.7 per cent (based on an upward revision) in the preceding quarter. Separately, the gross value added (GVA) growth projections for seven of the nine industry classifications for the full year show a slowdown from the comparable 12-month period, which is a second flag. The two industries where the CSO expects expansion in the current fiscal to outpace that of last year are agriculture and manufacturing. The ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing' sector is estimated to expand 1.1 per cent in 2015-16 as against a 0.2 per cent contraction, and manufacturing is pencilled to post 9.5 per cent growth, from 5.5 per cent in 2014-15. This is where it gets more confusing. In its latest monetary policy review on February 2, the Reserve Bank of India cited "slackening agricultural and industrial growth" as a prime reason for a loss in economic momentum in the third quarter. With the CSO data showing a 1 per cent GVA contraction in agriculture in the period ended December and the RBI pointing to a decline in rabi sowing by end-January, it is hard to see where the farm sector will derive the necessary impetus from in the current quarter to help undergird overall growth.
As far as manufacturing goes, the January purchasing managers' index (PMI) expanded to a four-month high, partly helped by resumption of output at factories affected by the December floods. Still, the sustainability of this expansion could be undermined as the same PMI release also pointed to a drop in output and new orders for makers of investment goods. The weak overseas demand environment, reflected in the protracted exports slump, is also a dampener. The robust growth estimate brings us to a crucial related question: how reliable are the data as currently calculated, a concern raised by several economists including RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan. He has cautioned against laying too much store by the numbers if they don't adequately capture the net economic impact of an activity. For instance, under the new methodology indirect taxes are included and this is seen by some experts as inflating the overall figures, without necessarily resulting in increased output. The government has an opportunity later this month to address many of these concerns and clarify on both the data points and the rationale behind its methodology when it presents the annual Economic Survey. It is important that it dispels all doubts and enhances the credibility of official statistics at a time when India seeks its rightful place at the high table of the world economic order.