Narendra Modi's Israel visit: For Tel Aviv, the path to New Delhi runs straight through Maharashtra

Mumbai has always had a special connection with the Jewish people. Mumbai's textile industry was established by David Sassoon, a Baghdad-born Arab Jew. His son Abdullah, later built Sassoon Docks, Mumbai's oldest dockyard.

After Israel was established in 1948, Mumbai's Marathi-speaking Jews gradually migrated to the homeland. While the community lost much of its clout in the post-Independence era, modern Mumbai owes a lot to the small community.

Mumbai's Jewish connection was repeatedly stressed by Israeli consul-general David Akov, who mentioned an interesting tidbit during his meeting with the press on Tuesday: Outside of India, the largest Marathi speaking population lives in Israel. Akov also called Israel the land of innovation and technology for Maharashtra.

Akov’s comments on Maharashtra perhaps reflects the importance Israel attaches to India’ s biggest economic powerhouse. “We believe that the connection with Maharashtra will be immediate. We expect Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel will first bring benefits to Maharashtra which will then spread to other parts of India," the senior diplomat said.

Ever since Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis came to power in 2014, the western state’s economic ties with Israel have grown stronger. The 46-year-old chief minister also paid a visit to the Jewish state in April 2015, seeking Israeli expertise in agriculture, water management and urban development.

Collaboration on Smart Cities plan

During Fadnavis' Israel trip, the Maharashtra government and the Tel Aviv Municipal Corporation agreed to collaborate on the Smart City project. When Firstpost asked Akov to elaborate on the cooperation that had taken place, he said, “Devendra Fadnavis’ first meeting in Tel Aviv was with the city’s mayor. The earliest collaboration was in sharing a digital platform, with Thane and Tel Aviv coming together for the project. While it is called DigiTel in Tel Aviv, it is called DigiThane in Thane. It is also the first connection for Israel in the Smart City project. “

 Narendra Modis Israel visit: For Tel Aviv, the path to New Delhi runs straight through Maharashtra

David Akov believes that Maharashtra is a key player in India-Israel ties. Twitter @Israelinmumbai

DigiTel is an e-government app which also works as a smart card to pay all utilities. The app helped Tel Aviv bag the World Smart Cities Award in 2014. Based on the app's success, the Thane Municipal Corporation decided to collaborate with Israel to launch its own version of the app.

Akov added that there was a lot of potential to tap Israeli technology for the Smart Cities plan. “We are also trying to expose municipal commissioners in Maharashtra to Israeli technology by helping them visit Israel. By conducting programmes of ideas and technology, we expect the commissioners to bring the practice back to India. We hope this materialises soon.”

Drip irrigation to Maharashtra’s rescue?

During his 2015 trip, Fadnavis praised Israel’s drip irrigation system, which could help farmers in the drought-prone areas of Marathwada. The consul-general claimed that efficient water management technology helped Israel become “water autonomous”. However, drip irrigation, which uses little water for more crop yield, still constitutes only a small percentage of Indian agriculture. Nevertheless, Akov was confident that the holistic approach provided by the method will encourage India to completely shift to drip irrigation in the future.

Israel being an arid and resource-scarce country, developed various efficient farming techniques as a counter-measure. While pitching Israeli agriculture technology as suitable for Maharashtra, Akov stressed on the Moshav model of farming — which emphasises cooperative farming, members belonging to the system train together, buy seeds together, market their produce collectively and share machines like tractors — claiming that aspects of it would work across the state.

Akov said that that Israel was running a Moshav-based project in the Yavatmal district, adding that there are also four Centres of Excellence for agriculture and innovation in Maharashtra, which were built under the India-Israel action plan. Each of the four Centres of Excellence is dedicated for a particular crop. Israeli agricultural experts train farmers to utilise Israeli farming methods at these centres in Aurangabad, Indapuri, Pune and Nagpur.

When questioned about the problems implementing the plan in Aurangabad, Akov said many farmers are already being trained in the Israeli methods of farming and that the training often depends upon the availability of Israeli farmers. He reiterated that farmers need better technology to overcome agricultural failures.

The diplomat said that as a remedial measure, the next phase of the plan will be to look beyond Centres of Excellence and train farmers to use technology on their land.

Maharashtra likely to benefit from new Israeli fund

Akov told the gathering that the Israeli Knesset authorised its biggest ever India-related fund for collaboration in research and development, agriculture, water resource management, health and innovation.

With just Rs 500 crores in the fund, the sum may look paltry. However, Akov said that even a country like China had been allotted a slightly lower budget. The senior diplomat argued that Israel focuses on jump-start collaborations — with Israeli companies being small and focusing on niche technology — so there was an emphasis on utilising funds wisely.

With Israel willing to collaborate on a Government to Government (G2G) as well as Business to Business (B2B) basis on agriculture and water resources technology, Maharashtra has much to gain.

And speaking on the potential of the Indian market, Akov said, "Israel has no market. Israeli entrepreneurs think of India as a huge market." He further added, "India, on the other hand, can utilise Israel’s technology and innovation. So it is a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Updated Date: Jul 06, 2017 06:25:08 IST

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