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Pune hosts first India-Africa Chiefs Conclave

The first India-Africa Chiefs Conclave is being seen as a logical continuation of this deepening interaction between India and African nations on defence and security issues…reports Asian Lite News

The Indian Army is set to host the first India-Africa Chiefs Conclave today, with the aim of providing a fillip to cooperation between the Indian Army and the armies of African nations. The conclave will be held on the sidelines of the Africa-India Field Training Exercise, AFINDEX-23, which is taking place at the Aundh Military Station in Pune, Maharashtra from March 21-29.

This is being viewed as another example of India’s determined push to counter the growing Chinese influence in the continent of Africa, particularly when it comes to matters of defence and security.

“The inaugural Edition of India-Africa Chiefs’ Conclave, on the sidelines of #AFINDEX 23, is being organised at #Pune on 28-29 March. Defence Chiefs & Representatives of 31 African Nations will attend the Conclave to enhance defence & regional cooperation,” the Indian Army tweeted on Monday.

The Ministry of Defence had earlier announced that the army chiefs of at least 10 African countries, including Congo, Niger, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Uganda, Seychelles, Gambia, Tanzania, and Kenya, will attend the conclave, while military heads of 12 other nations will send their representatives.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is set to attend the conclave and deliver an address.

Additionally, the Army Design Bureau (ADB), Indian Army and FICCI will jointly organize an ‘Equipment Display’ on March 29 – 30, at Aundh Military Station, Pune. The event will showcase Indian defence industry capability and enable exports to friendly nations.

It may be recalled that the first India-Africa Defence Ministers Conclave was held on the sidelines of the DefExpo 2020 in Lucknow. The conclave adopted the Lucknow Declaration which lays down the framework for defence cooperation between India and African nations.

As a follow-up to the Lucknow Declaration, the first India-Africa Defence Dialogue (IADD) was held at Gandhinagar on the sidelines of DefExpo 2022. The overarching theme of the dialogue was ‘India-Africa: Adopting Strategy for Synergising and Strengthening Defence and Security Cooperation’.

IAAD has been institutionalised to be held once every two years on the sidelines of DefExpo. The IADD is meant to explore new areas of convergence for mutual engagement, including in spheres like capacity building, training, cyber security, maritime security and counter terrorism.

The first India-Africa Chiefs Conclave is being seen as a logical continuation of this deepening interaction between India and African nations on defence and security issues.


The nine-day Africa-India Field Training Exercise, AFINDEX-23 is being held in Pune from March 21-29 with the aim of boosting overall cooperation between India and African countries.

It involves the participation of new generation equipment manufactured in India, showcasing the country’s defence manufacturing capabilities.

The exercise involving the countries in the African continent is the second such military game being hosted by India; the first Africa-India Field Training Exercise was held in Pune in March 2019.

The AFINDEX-23 exercise has been divided into four phases, beginning with training for participating personnel, followed by a humanitarian mine action and peacekeeping operations phase. The exercise will culminate with a validation exercise on March 29, which will be witnessed by the army chiefs of the participating African nations.


India and African nations also work closely on maritime security under the aegis of several multilateral mechanisms.

These include the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), an inter-governmental organisation which was established in March 1997. The IORA Secretariat is hosted by the Government of the Republic of Mauritius. In addition to Mauritius, other African nations who are members of IROA are Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, and Tanzania.

“Covering a vast maritime zone of nearly 68.56 million sq. km. and incorporating coastal states from South Africa in the west, running up the eastern coast of Africa, along the Gulf to South and Southeast Asia, ending with Australia in the east, IORA serves as the ‘first line of defence’ to build upon existing national, regional and international measures, thereby enhancing coordination and supporting harmonised international Maritime Safety and Security (MSS) collaboration,” the IORA states while listing its focus and priority areas.

Additionally, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium was established as a multinational naval mechanism in 2008; the Indian Navy hosted the inaugural IONS seminar the same year. Several African nations, including Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, and South Africa are members of the forum which seeks to increase maritime cooperation among the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region. (India News Network)

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Pune to host G20’s first Infrastructure Working Group meet

According to the official statement of the Ministry of External Affairs, the outcomes of the IWG feed into the G20 Finance Track priorities and promote Infrastructure Development…reports Asian Lite News

The first Infrastructure Working Group (IWG) Meeting is all set to begin in Pune from Monday under India’s G20 Presidency and will focus on various facets of making cities economic centres of growth, financing urban infrastructure, and making it future-ready in all aspects.

The meeting will also lay emphasis on directing fiscal investments for unlocking Pvt financing for energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable infrastructure and mitigating social imbalances. The IWG meeting, held as part of India’s G-20 Presidency, is scheduled for January 16-17 in Pune, Maharashtra, and will bring together forum members, guest countries and international organisations invited by India to discuss the 2023 Infrastructure Agenda.

The meeting is being hosted by the Department of Economic Affairs, and the Ministry of Finance, along with Australia and Brazil as the co-chairs, the official statement of the Ministry of External Affairs read.

The G20 Infrastructure Working Group deliberates on various aspects of infra investments, incl developing infra as an asset class, promoting quality infrastructure investment and identifying innovative instruments for mobilizing financial resources for infrastructure investment.

According to the official statement of the Ministry of External Affairs, the outcomes of the IWG feed into the G20 Finance Track priorities and promote Infrastructure Development.

The flagship priority to be discussed in this meeting is “Financing Cities of Tomorrow: Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable.”

Moreover, India also has a crucial role to play in its G20 presidency in the technology sector. As a country with a strong focus on technology and innovations, it has a significant role to play in bridging the digital divide.

Harsh Shringla, India’s Chief Coordinator for G20, earlier said the principle of data for development will be an integral part of the overall theme of India’s presidency of the group of the world’s developed and emerging economies.

On Sunday, Solomon Arokiaraj, Joint Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance said that the G20 delegates have already arrived in Pune for the meeting.

“The first infrastructure working group meeting of G20 is going to happen in Pune. Today is the welcome dinner for the delegates who have already arrived and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow that is the 16th and 17th will be the official proceeding of the G-20 infrastructure working group,” Arokiaraj said on Sunday during a media briefing on the first Infra working group meeting of G-20.

Arokiaraj said that the Infrastructure working group deliberates on various issues related to the infrastructure sector, the challenges, the financing options and various standardisations, and indicators. “So, during different presidencies, different themes have been selected,” he said.

The G20 comprises Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the UK, the US and the European Union. (ANI)

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Wellington college to open its first school in Pune

There are currently six schools in the WCI family of schools with two partners in China and Thailand serving over 5,000 students…reports Asian Lite News.

The UK’s Wellington College International will open its first school in Pune, according to officials. The college had last month announced its partnership with India’s Unison Group to open premium schools in India.

“The long-term strategy is to open a group of schools across India. The first school will open in Pune (opening 2023) and a second to be confirmed soon. We are looking to grow the number of schools, but at a pace where we can ensure the quality and exclusivity (rather than quantity) of provision,” said Anuj Aggarwal, co-founder, Unison Education Foundation.

“Wellington College International Pune will provide an alternative to the current schools in Pune. Wellington’s focus will be on delivering all-round excellence,” Aggarwal said.

Wellington College International (WCI) Pune will be a coeducational day and boarding school for ages 2-18 years with a student strength of around 800. WCI is a leading international schools’ group. It is a subsidiary of the Wellington College, founded under the British Royal Charter in 1853, and a leading UK day and boarding school.

There are currently six schools in the WCI family of schools with two partners in China and Thailand serving over 5,000 students.

The Unison Group provides education in India with four educational institutions in Dehradun and Delhi NCR, including Unison World School, one of India’s leading girls boarding schools.

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Spirit of competition turns barren Pune village green

Taking note of villagers’ objection to the participation of rural women in community outreach initiatives, especially the need to undergo training in a different district, Sunanda took the lead to convince them…reports Sunil Balasaheb Dhumal.

Sayambachiwadi in Baramati tehsil in Pune district, once stricken with drought, is now a picnic spot with a large lake and thriving agriculture. The vision of local elected representatives and aid and expertise from the Paani Foundation has helped transform this village into a water surplus one.

At the epicentre of this transformation is the village lake, spread over 6 acres of land. Manicured lawns slope down the embankment beyond which lies a massive water body in which boating activities were held before the lockdown. Crash guard and drains abutting the asphalted road, fencing, walking track, an open-air gym and benches give this tank bund a plush, well-maintained look.

Located some 60 km from Pune and 30 km from Baramati, the village is spread over 1,403 hectares with a population of 1,800. The village receives moderate rain even during the monsoon and could harvest only the Kharif crop. Post the monsoon, the villagers had to rely on water tankers even to meet their drinking water needs. Four defunct lakes in the village only worsened the issue. Sayambachiwadi had to shed many inhibitions in order to bring about this change, driven by an outlook of villagers not to be tied down by the vagaries of nature, in general, and the southwest monsoon, in particular.

The Water Cup

A gram panchayat decision to participate in the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup organised by the Paani Foundation ushered a turnaround. The competition was hosted annually from 2016 to 2019 and thousands of villages in Maharashtra took part in it. Shramadaan or donation of labour is the key point of this contest in which the villagers put into practice what they learned in the training.

The idea to pitch their names into the ring came from Sunanda Rajendra Pawar, chairperson, Sharadabai Pawar Girls’ College in Malegaon, Baramati. For seven years, NSS students from the college had been undertaking camps in Sayambachiwadi. As part of these annual camps, the students had constructed seven bunds (an earth bank used to regulate the flow of water) in the village from 2011 to 2017.

In 2018, when the gram panchayat first considered taking part in the competition, they faced a mental roadblock. The condition that an equal number of contestants had to be women who needed to undergo six-day training for the competition outside their village was met with disapproval and the proposal fell through in the gram sabha.

Taking note of villagers’ objection to the participation of rural women in community outreach initiatives, especially the need to undergo training in a different district, Sunanda took the lead to convince them. Her intervention on the importance of water conservation increased women’s participation in the project through meetings, study tours, and this collective hard work helped the village overcome their reservations.

When the proposal was again tabled in 2019, Jaywant Bhapkar and his two friends from the village volunteered. Jaywant said, “At the gram sabha with my friends when no one volunteered for training, we registered our names seeing it as an opportunity for an outing. Since the rule mandated we needed an equal number of women – friend’s wife, a GP member, and a 65-year-old tagged along.”

Training Day

“The training was in Bichkool, a village in Satara district, where the welcome overwhelmed me. Different water conservation structures were built there. They helped us understand how these structures worked through demonstrations. We witnessed how a drought-stricken village was now water surplus. All of this changed my casual attitude,” Jaywant said, remembering the training days.

The returnees shared their Bichkool experience at the gram sabha. But septuagenarian Parubai Narayan Bhapkar remembered that residents of Sayambachiwadi were lukewarm initially to the idea and didn’t commit to participating in the work, believing it would not change things. Prithviraj Lad, the coordinator of Paani Foundation Baramati taluk, helped turn their reluctance into enthusiasm by showing them films of villages that had benefited from the training.

Participants gradually increased in number. On the eve of work, a torchlight march was taken in the village. Everyone took an oath before the Swayambhu (village deity) to work honestly in the competition. The village ultimately lost out in the competition, but they won in the long term.

Out of 19 types of structures that could be built as taught in the training, the local geographical conditions permitted only seven of them to be built. Groups were formed and each group was assigned a task. Villagers built continuous contour trenches (CCT) in the barren areas and revived natural water stream paths. Mud from all four defunct ponds was removed and dumped in 50 hectares of fallow land. Absorption pits were built in every house to retain water. Eleven interlinked farm ponds were created which filled up during the monsoon.

The CCTs, around 6 feet wide and 3 feet deep, which if laid out side to side would stretch out to 9 km, have helped increase the water storage capacity of the lake. Overflow from two such CCTs during the monsoon feeds the lake and the rest recharges the groundwater, which has helped increase the irrigated area to almost three and half times what was before.

Also, bunds were constructed on 250 hectares of land. With the village receiving copious rainfall in 2019 and 2020, all the old and new water sources in the village started overflowing creating an abundance of water in this once water-scarce village. The area under cultivation in the village was 80 acres in 2017 and this went up to 300 acres in 2020, including 250 acres under sugarcane, a notoriously water-intensive crop.

“Living in a drought-affected area, I had never cultivated cash crops. But in 2012, I started planting an acre of sugarcane. At that time I had some water in the well, so I added drip irrigation. All the while I was scared about the scarcity of water. After the water conservation work was done for the foundation, my well is full of water. Now I have five acres of sugarcane crop, in which four acres are under drip irrigation. And I don’t worry about water anymore, but I know the value of water,” Appasaheb Bhapkar, a farmer from the village said.

An era of abundance

Manohar Bhapkar, a former GP member, said that currently there is plenty of water in the village, which is a great relief to the villagers even during the pandemic. During the competition, he was responsible for managing the suction pits, 260 of which were being constructed in the village. This initiative helped treat wastewater from every household there.

Suman Suresh Kamble, a former sarpanch said, “Now my village is not drought-prone. In the past, we had to undertake a long trek every day for water and rely on tankers for water. Now our wells are full in summer also. From the gram panchayat fund, we started boating activities in the lake, created a garden around it, a track for exercise and an open gym for citizens. This now attracts people from Baramati and Pune.” Bamboo is also being grown on the embankment and it is expected that these activities will increase the panchayat income.

The efforts have also helped the village to improve groundwater levels. Lad talks about the village’s water budget which was calculated by accounting for and averaging water use in every household and for each activity. “Sayambachiwadi requires 269 crore litres of water. Before the water conservation in 2018-19, the village had a water deficit of 163 crore litres. After the competition in 2019, the village is left with 53 crore litres of surplus water and water available in wells at 3 meters,” Lad said.

“This has created a peculiar problem in that farmers have turned to water-intensive sugarcane. Proper planning of available water is essential. Meanwhile, due to the pandemic and lockdown since March 2020, we could not carry out water budgeting at Sayambachiwadi. Water conservation work will be beneficial only if farmers plan their crops by available water according to budget,” Lad added.

“As part of water budgeting, we are educating farmers to opt for drip irrigation and grow crops with less water. We have drawn up a five-year plan using various sources of funds under which bunds will be constructed on 200 to 250 hectares each year and 2000 saplings planted and nurtured every year, said Pramod Jagtap, who was the interim sarpanch.”

Sayambachiwadi is now a model for other drought-hit villages with villagers from outside the Pune district undertaking study tours. Rohit Pawar, MLA of Karjat Jamkhed, who visited the village said, “I will strive to implement this project in my constituency. Two groups from Karjat-Jamkhed visited Sayambachiwadi. I like the dedication of villagers, who invest government funds properly.”

(The author is a Pune-based freelance journalist and a member of, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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