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Thursday, 29 March 2012

Teen discovered locked up in doctor-couple's house with bruises

New Delhi:  A doctor-couple in Delhi's Dwarka area allegedly abused their 13-year-old domestic help, who was rescued by the police on Thursday evening. The couple, who run a clinic in Dwarka, allegedly locked the girl into their home without much food before departing for a six-day trip to Bangkok along with their daughter.
The girl finally mustered the courage on Thursday evening and cried out for help from the balcony. Neighbours called the police, who got a fire engine to bring her down. They allegedly found her bruised.
This was not an isolated incident. The girl says she was often locked up the same way. "There was some food for the first three days ... but after that I could not eat anything. They would often lock me like this and go away," she said.
The girl was brought from an employment agency in Jharkhand but claims she never got paid. She also alleged that the couple beat her up regularly.
"Yes there are CCTV cameras in the house. They would come back and see the footage. If I made any mistake in our work or eat something they used to hit me ... he used to put a pen between my fingers and hit me ...even cut my hair," she said.
The doctor couple is still reportedly in Bangkok on a holiday.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Panel on Mullaperiyar to submit report to court by the third week of February

Tamil Nadu wants it to maintain that dam will continue to serve its purpose

The Surpeme Court-appointed Empowered Committee indicated on Tuesday that it would submit a report on the Mullaperiyar dam to the court in February third week. At a meeting here, it discussed various technical reports on the dam's safety and strengthening measures.

The former Chief Justice of India, A.S. Anand, heads the committee. The other members are: Justice K.T. Thomas, retired Supreme Court Judge representing Kerala; Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, retired Supreme Court Judge representing Tamil Nadu; the former Secretary to the Ministry of Water Resources, C.D. Thatte; and D.K. Mehta, retired Chief Engineer, Central Water Commission.

The committee considered the reports of the studies and investigations conducted by various agencies it had constituted to go into the dam's safety. It also discussed the report of the two technical members who inspected the dam after Kerala raised apprehensions about its safety following mild tremors in the area. The committee discussed the applications filed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu and took their submissions on record.

It also discussed the modalities for finalising its report, as its term ends in February. It decided to meet in the middle of February for finalising the report.

Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu, responding to Kerala's application for a new dam, wanted the committee to maintain that in view of the overwhelming evidence on record on the dam's safety, the existing dam, which was retrofitted and well-maintained, would continue to serve its intended purpose, and that there would be no need for a new one.

Tamil Nadu rejected Kerala's assertion that notwithstanding the unanimous technical opinion, “a public authority [the empowered panel] is endowed with responsibility to take a final call on the replacement of a dam after considering the human factors, viz., the extent and nature of damage to life and property if the dam fails and [the] ecological considerations.” Tamil Nadu said Kerala had taken the extreme stand in desperation.

As for Kerala's stand that a new dam would guarantee the interests of Tamil Nadu, the application said: “In such an event, raising the issues of sharing of the benefits arising from the new dam would tantamount to raising disputes with regard to utilisation of water, the equitable needs of … Tamil Nadu and the equitable sharing of benefits between the two States, which are all outside the scope of the present suit and the inquiry before the empowered committee.”

Tamil Nadu said: “The present dispute is not a “water dispute” as sought to be twisted by … Kerala, but one relating to the constitutional validity of the Kerala Amendment Act, 2006, fixing the water level [at 136 feet] on the alleged pretext of the safety of the … dam. The contentions raised by … Kerala are only an attempt to get over the existing regime and to work out a new regime, which would take away the existing and established rights of … Tamil Nadu to all the waters below the contour line of +155 feet of the existing dam.”

It said Kerala's argument for the principle of just and equitable share and sharing of the benefits of the new dam would show that the “proposal is not bona fide and is only an attempt to get over the existing established rights of … Tamil Nadu to the waters of the Mullaperiyar, which is wholly impermissible. The assertion of … Kerala on sharing the benefits … is totally uncalled-for.”

The committee will continue its deliberations on Wednesday.

Pedestrians find themselves on edge

 WALKERS’ PITFALLS: Pedestrian access to major public transit terminals is very poor, says a study. A scene on Pantheon Road, Egmore, on Tuesday. Photo: S.S.Kumar

Among 21 Asian cities in which ‘walkability' index study was carried out, Chennai came last

With pedestrian footpaths either non-existent or unusable, Chennai's roads are among the least conducive walking spaces in the country, said Pawan Kumar, Associate Town and Country Planner, Ministry of Urban Development.

Quoting from a recent study (June 2011) undertaken by the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia), an NGO, Mr.Kumar said that Chennai scored a mere 47 out of 100 on a ‘walkability index.' Among 21 Asian cities in which a similar ‘walkability' index study was carried out, Chennai came last. “What is worrying is that within Chennai itself, the least walkable spaces are in the vicinity of public transit terminals,” he said.

Speaking here on Tuesday at ‘Municipalika,' an international conference on sustainable cities, Mr.Kumar said: “In most Indian cities, about 20 to 40 per cent of daily trips are by foot. A significant share of the investment made on mass transit systems must go towards providing pedestrian access. Cities must give space for walkers.”

On the question of safe pedestrian road crossings, Mr.Kumar again quoted from the CAI study. In a field survey among pedestrians, which was part of the study, 48 per cent of respondents said they prefer a ground-level crossing. “Technocrats might keep proposing expensive skywalks. But may be that's not what the people want. Decision makers must learn to listen to the people.”

Reflecting on the social equity aspect, he pointed to a study by Future Capital Research, a think-tank, which showed that poor and lower income families spend over 20 per cent of their monthly income on transportation. Mr.Kumar said that at least for their sake, cities must improve pedestrian infrastructure.

Dilipkumar Mahajan, Deputy Commissioner, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, spoke about the success story of the city's Bus Rapid Transit System ‘Jan Marg' (which means ‘People's way'). Erwan Bizien of Parkeon, an on-street parking solutions provider, spoke.

Plastic road work begins

 A stretch of Valluvar Kottam High Road, where the Chennai Corporation began laying plastic roads on Monday. Photo: S.S. Kumar Work on the first plastic road for a bus route in the city commenced on Monday.

The Chennai Corporation's Bus Route Roads Department on Monday started milling and re-laying work on the stretch of Valluvar Kottam High Road and Nelson Manickam Road.

According to Corporation officials, the work on the first stretch of plastic road on a bus route would be completed on January 31. A stretch of 800 metre bus route of Valluvar Kottam High Road from Unit Office 21 Junction to Dr.MGR Salai junction would have 13,700 square metre of plastic road.

A 1,250-metre stretch of Nelson Manickam Road would have 22,500 square metre of plastic road.

The civic body would complete re-laying of 121 plastic roads on 80-km-long bus routes at a cost of Rs.51.7 crore in three months.

Shredded plastic waste would form at least 8 per cent of the weight of the binder used for re-laying. Initially, the civic body planned to use plastic for re-laying of the top layer of 40 mm in the roads.

The 75 to 50 mm macadam layer beneath the top layer of 40 mm is also likely to have plastic content in areas where damage to road is high.

The Corporation has put in place bins for collection of plastic waste in every ward office. The civic body is procuring plastic for road re-laying, as it is yet to get enough plastic waste from residents.

Patch work on Anna Nagar West School Road, Perambur High Road, Greams Road and Taluk Office Road also began on Monday.

Work on 292 km of interior roads started earlier this month at a cost of Rs.59.5 crore. The work would resume shortly.

Power cut goes up to six hours

 Loadshedding has forced students to study under candlelights for the annual examination in Mysore. Photo: M.A Sriram

With public examinations round the corner, parents express concern

Residents in Madurai and southern districts are now facing power cuts for nearly six hours, nearly three times the scheduled duration of two hours. Compounding people's anger is the erratic nature of power supply and power cuts especially at night hours.

K. M. Sundar, secretary of Ajantha Gardens Residents' Association at Valluvar Colony, told The Hindu on Monday that with public examinations fast approaching, children's studies would be seriously affected if this situation were to continue.

Emergency lamp did not serve the purpose as children found it difficult to study under it.

Parents were also having trouble preparing their kids to school and getting ready to office in the morning due to power cuts between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., he added.

T. D. Shanthakumari, a working woman residing at Shanthi Nagar area, said that they were facing power cuts in excess of six hours every day.

“With chain snatching incidents increasing, power cuts after 6 p.m. are causing a lot of safety issues as street lights do not function.”

Stating that on several occasions their area faced sudden power cuts between 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. or from 10 p.m. to 10.30 p.m., she said that senior citizens have trouble in taking rest.

“Invertors cannot be afforded by every one as they are expensive. Also, the response from local TAGNEDCO office to our requests to halt power cuts in nights is not satisfactory,” she added.

P. Pusari, a professional residing at Dr. Kabir Nagar, said that the TANGEDCO was not following the schedule it had announced. “Children are having a lot of trouble sleeping and their studies have been hit hard. This was not the case earlier and the authorities should consider stopping power cuts after dark.”

When contacted, a top official from TANGEDCO, Madurai, said that this was a situation prevailing across the State and not confined only to southern districts. The TANGEDCO Madurai Region comprises Madurai, Dindigul, Theni, Sivaganga and Ramanathapuram districts.

Further, the official said, the quantum of power cuts was decided only by the Load Despatch Centre at Chennai, which factored in the power generation and demand across the State.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Pranab Mukherjee laudsthe balancing measure

"A step that would help in easing the liquidity situation and spur growth without stoking inflation"

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday lauded the Reserve Bank of India's decision to cut the CRR (cash reserve ratio) by 50 basis points as a step that would help in easing the liquidity situation and spur growth without stoking inflation.

The cut in CRR from 6 per cent to 5.5 per cent with effect from January 28 will result in the release of an additional Rs.32,000 crore into the monetary system and thereby ease the liquidity situation.

Commenting on the RBI action, Mr. Mukherjee, who was in Dehradun during the day campaigning for the Congress ahead of January 30 Assembly polls in Uttarakhand, said: “[The Reserve Bank's] announcement should help address the money market liquidity, which had tightened in the past two to three months, while balancing the downside risk on growth and deceleration in moderation of inflation”.

Mr. Mukherjee pointed out that consequent to the CRR easing, banks “will have more money to lend and liquidity will increase. Because of the inflation pressure, they (the apex bank] have not altered the interest rates ... I welcome the decision of the RBI”.

On the RBI statement that a high fiscal deficit was preventing the apex bank from easing interest rates, Mr. Mukherjee noted that while the government had been taking steps, it would unveil measures to tackle the issue in the Budget for 2012-13. “... We want to reduce it by adjusting the fiscal policy, which I am doing ... and I shall [disclose] the essential features in the Budget,” he said.

Echoing similar views, Economic Affairs Secretary R. Gopalan pointed out that the cut in CRR would ease liquidity, reduce the cost of funds and thus provide a boost to growth. “CRR cut ensures that fair amount of money is available, the cost of fund is reduced ... All these things are good to create a growth enhancing impression,” Mr. Gopalan told reporters here.

Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) Chairman C. Rangarajan also dubbed the RBI measure as a “wise decision”, to catalyse growth without fuelling inflation. The cut in CRR signals that the next step — provided inflation declines further — is a cut in interest rates. “But reduction of the policy rate will have to depend upon the behaviour of non-food manufacturing inflation. Unless that comes down and give definite signs of a decline, the policy rate cannot be changed. I think that's the real message from the Reserve Bank,” he said.

Produce request letter for chartered flight: CIC

RTI activist says Alliance Air has only partly complied with order

Serving a show-cause on Alliance Air, the Central Information Commission has directed the Central Public Information Officer to “disclose the name of the person/body/organisation making the request for the chartered flight,” which was operated in 2010, after cancelling the scheduled service. This chartered operation was allegedly to facilitate a service carrying the daughter of a former Civil Aviation Minister and a few members of an Indian Premier League team.

This direction comes as Right to Information activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal complained that the public sector company had only partly complied with the CIC order.

When the company said it had made a call to its call centre to change the flight allotment, Mr. Agrawal sought the details of the communication, documents and file notings. The company refused to disclose them as also the names of the officials who gave and received the orders.

Hearing an appeal, the CIC noted that the company, to protect its commercial confidentiality, had the right not to disclose the terms and conditions of the agreement it signed with India Cements Limited. But “the commission finds no reason to deny the rest of the information requested by the appellant.”

The CIC has directed the company to provide India Cement Limited's request letter for the chartered flight, file notings and documents about the decision within a fortnight.

Referring to a newspaper report, Mr. Agrawal had said in his application: “A Union Minister has no right to run a public sector undertaking like his private business firm by making it dance to the requirements of his family members. However, if the news report is wrong, it will rather clear the position of all concerned, including Alliance Air and the Union Minister. Therefore, it is in the interests of all, including the public interest, to reveal the sought information.”

Proposal to take excess garbage to Vilappilsala

The Hindu Ministers P.K. Kunhalikutty and V.S. Sivakumar and Mayor K. Chandrika attending an all-party meeting on the Vilappilsala garbage plant issue, in the city on Tuesday. Photo: S. Gopakumar

Source-level treatment of waste to be promoted

Committing itself to continuing with the practice of treatment of garbage at source in the capital city, the government on Tuesday made out a case for a small quantity of garbage to be taken to the garbage treatment plant at Vilappilsala for treatment.

This proposal was mooted by Industries Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty during talks with the representatives of the Vilappil Samara Samithi and later at an all-party meeting on the garbage issue.

A large portion of the garbage generated in the capital city would either be treated at source or be buried in identified spots. However, there would still be some tonnage of garbage left out. This would be taken to Vilappilsala till the network of small treatment plants and large processing plants planned by the government became operational.

Samithi representatives told the government that they needed five days to consider this proposal and to present it locally at Vilappil. Samithi representatives later told media persons that they would present the government's proposal to the people of Vilappil who would have the final word on the subject.

Briefing press persons on the talks, Mr. Kunhalikutty said the government viewed both sides of the problem—the suffering of the people of Vilappil and the garbage crisis faced by the capital city—with equal seriousness. The samithi representatives wanted an immediate and permanent closure of the garbage plant. The government's stand was that this was not possible and would only lead to a crisis in the capital city.

Over the last one month the culture of treating garbage at source had steadily caught on in the capital city. This would be continued. The police were also acting firmly against those who dump garbage by the wayside. The government believed that this alone would reduce by a great extent the quantity of garbage that needed to be taken away for treatment.

The government reportedly told the samithi that it would need a minimum of six months to have an alternative garbage treatment system up and running.

The government and the City Corporation would work together to put in place a welfare package for the people of Vilappil. This would include drinking water schemes and health schemes, he said. The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and the Samithi representatives appeared to have imbibed the issues as delineated by the government, he said.

Mr. Kunhalikutty later told The Hindu that the government had more than a dozen sites in mind for setting up garbage treatment plants. These were areas where there was very low density of population. “The government does not wish to reveal the exact location of these sites,” he said.

Apart from a string of small-scale treatment plants, the government also proposed to set up a large treatment plant somewhere between Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam. Even if there were plants, a large-capacity plant was unavoidable, he argued. Once all these plants were up and running there would actually be a shortage of garbage to be treated, he claimed.

Meantime, a team from the Suchitwa Mission left for Germany on Tuesday to study the ‘cold mineralisation' technology for treating garbage. The government would take a final call on the technology after studying the report submitted by the team.

Meanwhile, the LDF parliamentary party in the Corporation council decided to call off its agitation in front of the Chief Minister's residence. Party leader V.S. Padmakumar said here that this decision followed the government's resolve to resume operations at the Vilappil plant.

Pushing Iran to the brink

The EU has decided on oil sanctions that Tehran has long said would represent a declaration of war. What will follow?

The decision to impose a European Union oil embargo on Iran, agreed on Monday, by European foreign ministers, sets a potential bomb ticking, timed to detonate on July 1.

On that day, according to the measures on the table in Brussels, Europe will stop importing oil from Iran, about a fifth of the country's total exports. At about the same time, U.S. sanctions targeted at the global financing of Iran's oil trade will kick in. Iran could still export some oil to Asia, but at big discounts.

Unlike previous sanctions on Iran, the oil embargo would hit almost all citizens and represent a threat to the regime. Tehran has long said such actions would represent a declaration of war, and there are legal experts in the West who agree.

The threat of an immediate clash appeared to recede over the weekend when the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier and its task force, including the British frigate HMS Argyll, travelled through the Strait of Hormuz without incident. This was despite warnings from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that it would oppose the return of a U.S. carrier to the region.

But tensions are almost certain to build again as the effective date of the oil sanctions approaches. The U.S. has already begun beefing up its military presence in the region, and the IRGC is planning naval war games next month.

The Strait of Hormuz is the kink in the hose of the Gulf's oil supply to the world. A small amount of pressure can have a disproportionate effect, sending crude prices soaring and starving the world's oil-dependent economies.

At its narrowest point, the strait is 20 miles wide, but the channels down which more than a third of the world's ocean-borne oil flows — 17m barrels — are just two miles wide in parts.

An Iranian official raising the prospect of closing the strait in retaliation for the threat of sanctions was enough for the world price of crude to rise to $115 a barrel. Maintained over the long term, that is costly enough to strangle any hint of a global economic recovery.

That is what makes Iranian naval action in the Gulf such a potent weapon. But it is a decidedly double-edged one. For, while Saudi Arabia can bypass the strait by pipeline, Iran's oil terminals are west of the choke point — and oil accounts for 60 per cent of its economy.

The U.S. has made clear that interruption to sea traffic in the Gulf would trigger a military response in which Iran's nuclear facilities would be on the target lists. Until now the costs of a war with Iran outweigh the gains of setting the nuclear programme back. But if the U.S. were going to war over oil, that cost-benefit analysis would change.

So closing the strait outright would be — if not suicidal — an exercise in extreme self-harm for Iran. But the choice facing Tehran is not a binary one.

There is a spectrum of options falling well short of total closure; harassment of the oil trade would drive the price of crude up and keep it up, very much to Iran's benefit, but fall short of a casus belli. However, exercising such options requires subtlety and fine judgment on all sides and that is by no means a given.

In a period of sustained high tension, an over-zealous IRGC commander could seize his moment to start a war, or a nervous U.S. captain, seconds from Iran's anti-ship missiles, could just as easily miscalculate. The last time Iran and America played chicken in this stretch of water, in 1988, a missile cruiser shot down an Iranian Airbus, killing 290 civilians including 66 children. There is no doubting the firepower at America's disposal. The Fifth Fleet, whose job it is to patrol the Gulf, is expected to be beefed up from one to two aircraft carriers. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has quietly boosted its army's presence in Kuwait. The Los Angeles Times reported that it now has 15,000 troops there, including two army brigades and a helicopter unit. The U.S. is also bolstered by the naval presence of its British and Gulf allies.

The Iranian military looks puny by comparison but it is powerful enough to do serious damage to commercial shipping. It has three Kilo-class Russian diesel submarines, which are thought to have the capacity to lay mines. And it has a large fleet of mini-submarines and thousands of small boats which can pass undetected until very close. It also has a “martyrdom” tradition that could provide willing suicide attackers.

The Fifth Fleet's greatest concern is that such asymmetric warfare could overpower the sophisticated defences of its ships, particularly in the confines of the Hormuz strait, which is scattered with craggy cove-filled Iranian islands ideal for launching stealth attacks.

In 2002, the U.S. military ran a $250m exercise called Millennium Challenge, pitting the U.S. against an unnamed rogue state with lots of small boats and willing martyr brigades. The rogue state won, or at least was winning when the Pentagon brass shut the exercise down.

In the years since much U.S. naval planning has focussed on how to counter “swarm tactics” — attacks on U.S. ships by scores of boats, hundreds of missiles, suicide bombers and mines, all at once.

One U.S. naval response has been to develop a new kind of fighting vessel, the littoral combat ship (LCS). The LCS is sleek, small and agile with a shallow draft and high speeds, allowing it to operate along island-pocked coastlines. At the low-tech end of the scale, the Fifth Fleet is reported to have deployed dolphins trained to seek out mines.

Ultimately, the U.S. response to swarming will be to use its dominance in the air and multitudes of precision-guided missiles to dramatically wipe out every Iranian missile site, radar, military harbour and jetty on the coast. Almost certainly, the air strikes would also go after command posts and possibly nuclear sites too. There is little doubt of the effectiveness of such a strategy as a deterrent but it also risks turning a naval skirmish into all-out war at short notice.

For that reason, most military analysts argue that if Iran does decide to exact reprisals for oil sanctions, it is likely to follow another route.

Sam Gardiner, a retired U.S. air force colonel who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, believes the most likely model will be the “tanker war” between Iran and Iraq from 1984 to 1987. The aim would be to raise insurance premiums and other shipping costs, and so boost oil prices as a way of inflicting pain on the West and replacing revenues lost through the embargo.

“They wouldn't necessarily do anything immediately. If they do what they did in the tanker war, a mine would be hit and it wouldn't be clear how long it had been there. Things like that push up the price of oil,” he said. “The answer is not to escalate. You start protecting tankers and searching for mines.” Even if Iran decides on retaliation, there is no reason for it to be confined to an immediate response in the strait. It could sabotage Arab state oil facilities along the southern shore of the Gulf, or western interests anywhere around the world, months or years after the imposition of an embargo.

Adam Lowther of the U.S. air force's Air University, pointed out recently on the Diplomat blog that Iran's ministry of intelligence and national security (MOIS) is “capable of carrying out assassinations, espionage, and other kinetic attacks against government and civilian targets”. It is also likely to have covert agents in the U.S., Lowther said.

Ehsan Mehrabi, an Iranian journalist specialising in military and strategic issues who recently left the country, wrote on the Inside Iran website: “I recall an Iranian idiom that was popular among the military officials: ‘If we drown, we'll drown everyone with us.' If attacked by a western power, the war would not be contained within the Iranian borders.” Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA official, said recently: “The Iranians are already superbly placed to make the war in the Afghanistan — which is already difficult — impossible.” All these options are fraught with risks of miscalculation. In the tanker war scenario, maintaining the line between war and peace would be delegated to relatively junior officers, forced to make decisions in a matter of seconds, the exact set of circumstances that led to the 1988 Airbus disaster. Even if Washington and Tehran remain determined to avoid all-out war, with every passing month there is a rising chance of one breaking out by accident.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

RBI move positive: realtors

  Lauding the move by Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to cut cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 50 basis points, real estate developers on Tuesday said it was a positive step in the right direction and would help improve liquidity position of various sectors, including realty.

Stating that time had come to bring down interest rates to boost housing demand, they said the CRR cut would bring in liquidity and help the real estate market which is cash starved. “It is important to see the interest rate shall have to come down to facilitate the home seekers to buy homes,” Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Association of India (CREDAI) President Lalit Kumar Jain said in a statement here.

Unitech Managing Director Ajay Chandra said the reduction in the CRR was a positive move from the RBI as it would increase the credit-supply to different sectors of the economy.

CREDAI Chairman, who is also Chairman of Parsvnath Developers, Pradeep Jain said the apex bank had given a signal that interest rates would come down. “For the real estate sector in particular, this will serve as a signal that interest rates will now ease. Buyers may opt for floating rate loans at this juncture since the signal is clear. Also, the rising input cost will not leave any space for reduction of price,” he added.He said the RBI had attempted to do a delicate balancing act between the need for growth and urgency of containing price line.

Real education

K_Murali Kumar Hope better (civic) sense prevails. Photo K. Murali Kumar. Who is an educated person? A person who has enough knowledge and can apply it in real life. An uneducated person is supposed to be the one without that knowledge. But in general, people's idea of education is different.

One Wednesday, I was tired and famished and waiting for the train that would take me back home after school. I sat in the nearby rickety bench gazing at the trees which seemed mesmerising. Then my attention shifted to the school kids playing, a few women discussing about inflation, and the untidy floor with speckles of food all over.

Civic sense

A young flower seller with patched dress and long neatly plaited hair came and occupied the seat next to me. A gentleman who seemed to be well educated and worked for a reputed IT company (the id card said so) sat in the other seat beside me munching a packet of chips. The gentleman beside me threw the chips packet down after he was done with it. While I was debating if I should pick it up and throw it in the dustbin, or just mind my business, the young girl next to me got up without any hesitation, picked up the packet and threw it in the dustbin. She told the gentlemen that it was wrong to throw the packet down and enlightened him on the outcome of such unsocial activities. The gentlemen flushed with shame and apologised.

I was startled to see a young girl teaching a well “educated” person about common sense. Hats off to that girl!

Sai Praneeth stops Anand Pawar

The Hindu P.V. Sindhu entered the women's final easily beating Aditi Mutatkar. Photo: K. Murali Kumar Petroleum Sports Promotion Board's B. Sai Praneeth, the second seed, ended Anand Pawar's giant killing strides with an impeccable display on the penultimate day of the IFCI 76th senior National Badminton championship.

At the K Raheja-KBA courts here on Tuesday, Sai Praneeth made light of Pawar's challenge to win 21-17, 21-15.

Anand Pawar looked a pale shadow of Monday's version of himself. His backhand flicks were either too long or landed in the net and his otherwise sharp smashes were returned with nonchalant ease by the steady Sai Praneeth.

Anand did enjoy the lead in the first game, at 4-0 and 11-9, but Sai Praneeth produced a string of winners with his half smashes and better net dribbles.

In the second, the PSPB shuttler led from the start to win rather comfortably, with Anand netting a backhand return on match-point.

Sai Praneeth plays his PSPB teammate and top seed Sourabh Varma, who quelled the challenge of fellow PSPB player H.S. Prannoy, the fourth seed.

Prannoy, despite playing with a strapped thigh, won the first game 23-21, and then held two match points at 20-18. But Sourabh, with a string of attacking points, punished Prannoy's slackness to win not only the game 22-20, but also the next 21-16, and the match.

The women's title clash will be between PSPB's ninth seed P.V. Sindhu and second seed Neha Pandit of Airports Authority of India.

Sindhu outplayed fourth seed Aditi Mutatkar, the defending champion, 21-10, 21-12 in just 27 minutes while Neha was equally ruthless on third seed Sayali Gokhale (Air India) winning 21-17, 21-13.

The tall Sindhu used her height to good advantage and often had the static and stiff Aditi stranded and wrong-footed.

Saina can hope for a medal: Gopichand

 “Saina Nehwal has the chance of winning an Olympic medal, but it all depends on her preparations in the three months ahead of the London Games,” said Pullela Gopichand, National coach and former All England champion. He was at courtside on Tuesday, the penultimate day of the National badminton championship.

Gopichand admitted, “European and other countries are progressing ten times faster than India, but what our players have achieved in the last few years is laudable. The fact that Saina has been able to retain her World No. 4 ranking for some time is a great achievement, and if she continues to do so, there is no reason why she cannot hope for a medal in the Olympics.”

“There are some exciting prospects among the boys too. Sourabh Verma, Sai Praneeth, H.S. Prannoy, Srikanth and Sameer Varma are all exciting prospects for the future and should be hearing more about them. On the distaff side, Saina, at 21, is there and P.V. Sindhu, just 16, is progressing well and can be counted. They should be around for sometime and it augurs well for the country. Hopefully in another 3-5 years, someone else will hit the high strings,” Gopi said.

On national structureAbout the national structure, Gopi felt that it was natural for the players to improve their rankings abroad, but should also try and play the domestic events as well.

As for his biography, World Beneath His Feet, Gopi replied, “there are many things in the book that are unknown to average players. I am sure reading the book will benefit students and younger players a great deal.”

SAT operation theatre to be reopened by February

Serious cases are handled at emergency theatre

The operation theatre complex at SAT Hospital here , which is undergoing major annual maintenance work, is expected to be made functional by February first week, according to the hospital authorities.

The SAT Hospital authorities had earlier announced that elective surgeries would not be performed in the hospital till further announcement as the operation theatre was being shut down for annual maintenance. This had, however, created some confusion among the public.

“It is an annual feature in both the Government Medical College Hospital as well as the SAT that we close our theatres by December 15 for major maintenance work and re-open them after the completion of the works, and clearance from the microbiology department by the end of January. This is absolutely necessary because in both the institutions, the operation theatres work 24x7 and is often stretched beyond their limits, necessitating a major overhaul by the end of the year,” SAT Hospital Superintendent K.E. Elizabeth explained.

10,000 surgeries a yearBetween the department of Paediatric Surgery and Gynaecology, over 10,000 surgeries are performed inside the operation theatre complex at SAT every year, which stretches almost across an entire floor of the hospital. The Gynaecology department alone performs some 5,000 surgeries here in a year. Because of the tight schedule, it is not possible for the hospital to have workmen going in and out for maintenance works on a regular basis.

“We announced early itself that dates would not be given for elective surgeries from December 15 onwards. All cases requiring an emergency surgical intervention are being handled in the emergency theatre. Every year, October-November is our peak season when we try to finish off as many surgery cases as possible as the theatre would be closed for the next few weeks,” Dr. Elizabeth pointed out.

The theatre is going in for major repair work, including civil, electrical and plumbing works. The flooring is being re-done and all the air conditioners are being overhauled. The entire theatre, including the ceiling, will be scrubbed and washed out and fungus-proof painting done. After the entire works are completed, the theatre will have to be fumigated. It can be re-opened only after the microbiology surveillance is completed and a sterile bacteria culture report is issued.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Seminar on translation starts on Saturday

   “The Veeramma Gangasiri College for Women will host a two-day University Grants Commission-sponsored national seminar on ‘Globalisation and Translation of Hindi Literature' here from January 28,” college principal C.C. Patil said here on Tuesday.

He told presspersons that the seminar would be inaugurated by Vice-Chancellor of Solapur University Iresh Sadashiv Swami.

“Experts from across the country such as G.V. Ratnakar from Hyderabad, P.D. Ghanate from Hyderabad, Damodar Kadase from Pune, Azeez Nadaf from Hyderabad and Kashinath Ambalgi will participate in the seminar,” Mr. Patil said.

The seminar has been divided into three sessions in which 21 papers will be presented on the subjects ‘Importance and Relevance of Translations', ‘Translation of Hindi Literature in the 20th Century' and ‘Advantages and Disadvantages of Translation of Hindi Literature'. He said over 150 delegates would participate.

Sensex closes above 17k-level after 10 weeks

   The Bombay Stock Exchange benchmark Sensex on Wednesday gained 81 points to close above 17,000-point level after 10 weeks on positive investor sentiment after the Reserve Bank of India shifted focus to economic growth in its policy review on Tuesday.

The Sensex added 81.41 points to close at 17,077.18, matching the highest level seen on November 14.

On similar lines, the National Stock Exchange index Nifty rose by 30.95 points to 5,158.30.

Traders said investors confidence got a boost after the RBI on Tuesday reduced the cash reserve ratio (CRR) for the first time since 2009, signalling to banks that they cut interest rates. The Sensex had gained 244 points on Tuesday as well.

Buying activity picked up also on account of investors covering their pending positions created on the last day of current month settlement in the derivatives segment.

Reliance Industries rose by 0.89 per cent to Rs. 790.10 and Infosys by 1.51 per cent to Rs. 2,659.75.

Banking sector stocks rose on expectations that the RBI move would boost revenue of lenders. HDFC jumped 1.12 per cent to Rs. 708.30 and State Bank by 0.75 per cent to Rs. 2,056.60.

The metal sector index gained the most, 1.79 per cent, followed by auto index at 1.15 per cent, IT sector index 1.06 per cent, oil and gas 0.57 per cent and banking index 0.33 per cent.

Stock markets will remain closed on Thursday on account of Republic Day.

Sharapova, Kvitova set up Australian Open semifinal

 APMaria Sharapova swept through to the final four with a straight sets win over Ekaterina Makarova. Former and reigning Wimbledon winners Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova will meet in the Australian Open semifinals after both won in straight sets on Wednesday.

Sharapova won 6-2, 6-3 against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, who knocked out five-time champion Serena Williams in the previous round. Kvitova earlier reached the semifinals at Melbourne Park for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4 win over unseeded Italian Sara Errani.

Kvitova beat Sharapova in last year’s Wimbledon final to claim her first Grand Slam title. “Obviously it was a tough one at Wimbledon,” Sharapova said. “She’s full of confidence and playing the best tennis right now. I look forward to it.”

Sharapova and Kvitova also kept alive their chances of claiming the top ranking, which Caroline Wozniacki will vacate on Monday after her quarterfinal loss to Kim Clijsters.

Sharapova must repeat her 2008 Australian title win. Kvitova only has to match or better the run of Victoria Azarenka, the only other player still in the running this week for the No. 1 spot. Sharapova has dropped one set and lost 21 games en route to her first Australian Open semifinal since she won the 2008 final the last of her three major titles.

“It’s been a long road back to this stage,” said Sharapova, who spent 10 months off court with a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Kvitova was far from her best against an opponent making her debut in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, and with a 0-24 record against top 10 players. The second-seeded Czech made 44 errors and had to come back from a break down in the second set.

“I was a little nervous because I knew that everybody expects it will be easy match,” Kvitova said. “Probably I had in my head that it’s a good draw.”

Some things never change!

The Hindu Caught in the act. Photo: C.H.. Vijaya Bhaskar Recently I read an article about how the State government has implemented an e-challan system for traffic offences and instances of corruption has become strikingly low. There was also a note that the government has approximately earned Rs. 7 crore in income in two months from driving offences. I was impressed and pleased that something good is happening.

Caught

We tend to roam around with friends hitching rides with them on their motorbikes simply because we can't afford to use another two-wheeler thanks to the rising fuel prices. It so happened one day that two of my friends and I were travelling on one bike and were caught by the traffic police. He came to us, calmly took away the bike keys and said, “Park the bike at the side of the road and come with your license.” I told my friend to take out his license, to which he shockingly replied, “I was going to apply for my LLR (Learner's Licence Rule) only tomorrow.”

We approached the police with the most innocent look on our faces. He looked pleased that we didn't have a license and used his most practised verse: “Your vehicle has been seized. Pay a fine of Rs.1500 in court and get it back.” Then commenced an hour of pleading with usual “Sorry, sir”, “We're local students”, “Please excuse us this one time” and so on... But he was unmoved.

No different

My friend suggested that we try bribing the officer. I laughed off the idea and told him that traffic police are not how they used to be and enlightened him about the new system. We tried telling the police that we're engineering students from a decent family but nothing worked. After another hour of standing helplessly looking at him, we finally resolved to call our dads. That's when the officer suddenly threw the key at us and said with irritation, “Decent family? Don't you even have 20 rupees?”

Speaker promises steps to ensure 60-day session this year

 K G Bopaiah Speaker in Legislative Assembly addressing the press conference in Bangalore on 1st, June 2011. Photo: Bhagya Prakash K The first session of the Karnataka legislature, for the current calendar year, is set to be different from the legislature sessions of the past two years, and Governor H.R. Bhardwaj, as is customary, will address a joint session on the first day, January 30.

All the four sessions of the last year did not live up to expectations in terms of debate or the passage of legislation barring the last session in December in which there was a marginally better understanding better the ruling and the Opposition parties.

It was the first session after D.V. Sadananda Gowda took charge as Chief Minister in August and consequently, a better rapport was achieved with the Opposition, given the fact that the latter had focussed attention to bring down the Government of B.S. Yeddyurappa very soon after he assumed office in May 2008.

Speaker K.G. Bopaiah told The Hindu that he will shortly be initiating steps to ensure that the legislature was convened at least for 60 days every year, as envisaged under legislation — the Karnataka Conduct of Government Business in State Legislature Bill which was passed in 2005. In 2010, the legislature was convened for a mere 31 days and it was same in 2011.

In an effort to bring about regularity in holding legislature sessions as in the case of Parliament, and to ensure that the two Houses meet for a minimum of 60 days in a year, the coalition Government headed by Dharam Singh had brought forth the law.

The then Governor T.N .Chaturvedi granted assent in 2005 and ironically to this date (after the Bill became an Act), there has not been a single year when the legislature met for the stipulated period.

As per the the law, the opening session in a year will start in the second week of January with the traditional address by the Governor, and it will be for a minimum of 15 days. The budget session of 20 days will be in the first week of March. A 15-day monsoon session will be convened in the second week of July followed by a 10-day winter session in the second week of November.

The law has been observed more in breach much to the discomfort of the Government and Mr. Bopaiah who has been seeking the cooperation of all political leaders prior to the commencement of every legislature session.

Mr. Bopaiah said: “It requires the cooperation of both the Government and the Opposition and this is lacking. Hopefully things will be better this year.”

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Star performers

Players S.K.Uthappa and Kothajit Singh are keen to excel for India in international hockey tournaments.

Environmental influences do shape individuals. They have spurred two youngsters, hailing from distant corners of the country, to take up hockey seriously despite the not-so-lucrative status of the sport at present. Despite their different backgrounds, S.K. Uthappa (21) and Kothajit Singh (19) share the same passion – to excel on the astro-turf. The two players earned their maiden India shirts in the recently-concluded Test series against South Africa and impressed with their performances.

The chief coach of the Indian team, Michael Nobbs, was delighted to see them perform to their potential and compete for spots in the National side for the forthcoming Olympic qualifier. It was only natural for Uthappa, from Coorg (the nursery of hockey in Karnataka which has produced stalwarts like M.P. Ganesh, B.P. Govinda and Arjun Halappa), to pick up the crooked stick. “In Coorg, everyone plays hockey. My brother played for the Bangalore University.

My family always wanted me to play hockey and represent the country,” said the well-built player sporting attractive locks.

“I thought, let me play the game I am good at,” added Uthappa, who had moved to Bangalore eight years ago to pursue the sport at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre there.

Best player

Uthappa, an attacking midfielder, hogged the limelight in last year's National championship in Bhopal, where he was adjudged the best player. From there, he took the big leap. “Representing the country was a big moment for me. I want to give my best (for India),” said Uthappa, a B.Com final year student at the College of Commerce in the Garden City. “I am grateful to my college which has helped me a lot in pursuing my sport.” A promising player who idolises centre-half Sardar Singh, Uthappa feels his game has improved a lot after attending the National camp.

A video games fanatic and a Chelsea fan to the core, Uthappa is a sportive guy in his inner circle. “All my team mates play pranks on me

for my surname. They say, I am the ‘Robin Uthappa' of hockey,” he says with a smile.

Quite different from the Karnataka player is Kothajit, a typical shy Manipuri. Born to a family of hockey players, the teenager had no choice but to play the sport. “In my family, my parents, three brothers and a sister are all hockey players,” said Kothajit, belonging to the land of Olympian Thoiba Singh.

Incidentally, Kothajit and Changlensana Singh were the latest men's hockey players from the state to make it to National side after several years.

Made a mark

Kothajit, who moved to the SAI centre in Lucknow in 2009 to hone his skills, made his mark in the Ranchi National Games in February last. Later, he proved his worth when he was selected for the National camp. “An Olympics medal is the ultimate achievement in hockey. I am aiming for that,” said the gritty player. “I admire Dhanraj Pillay. I wanted to be like him when I started,” said the midfielder, who began as a forward. Kothajit, despite his passion for hockey, has not lost touch with his studies and is continuing his Std X at present. “I find time to go through my books and prepare for the exams.”

The soft-spoken Manipuri, who loves to go out with friends and watch movies in his free time, is not untouched by the influence of Facebook. “It is part of today's life. I am not a regular Facebooker, but sometimes use it to stay in touch with my friends,” says the happy-go-lucky youth. Kothajit, however, does not forget the primary aim of his life – to make an impact by keeping up the good work on the turf.

Stars on stamps

Some of the couples who made it big on celluloid live on in public memory through postage stamps

‘Marriages are made in Heaven' is an oft-heard phrase. Any marriage in tinsel town has always been viewed with doubts about its longevity. Indian cinema too has had its share of break-ups. The formula for leading men in those days was to marry a simple homemaker, and for the leading lady to marry a successful businessman, preferably from overseas. The woman almost always had to quit her film career post-marriage. There are still successful marriages in tinselville with both partners having scaled heights of professional excellence.

The film industry has been known for its contribution to the Independence Struggle, highlighting social causes such as women's rights and untouchability, and popularising classical music and the arts – it has also contributed to a unique Philatelic Record.

Of the six couples who have been featured on Indian postage stamps, three are from the film industry and the world of Fine Arts. They are from the Hindi, Tamil and Telugu film industries.

Famous actress Devika Rani and her husband, Svetoslav Roerich, who was a famous painter, were honoured with stamps. His father Nicholas Roerich too was honoured with a postage stamp making it a unique family.

Gemini Ganesh and Savithri have received this great honour. In a career spanning 50 years, Gemini Ganesh had acted in more than 200 films in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi. He was affectionately called the ‘King of Romance' (Kadhal Mannan). In her 30 plus years of acting career, Savithri acted in more than 300 films. Known for her portrayal of tragic roles, Savithri has also directed a few films.

Singer, actor, producer, director, music composer Kishore Kumar and his actress wife Madhubala were also featured on stamps. One onscreen couple that rocked India in the 1950s was Raj Kapoor and Nargis Dutt. They too were honoured with stamps. In Nargis' case, the stamp shows the logo of the Spastics Society of India, an institution of which she was the founder-patron.

And there are the non-film couples — Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi; Jawaharlal and Kamala Nehru; and C. D. Deshmukh and Durgabhai Deshmukh.

It's great for an individual to be featured on a postage stamp, and quite rare for a couple to be featured on it.

Ba and Bapu

Since Independence, India has issued around 2,700 stamps, and the Father of the Nation and Kasturba Gandhi have been honoured with stamps, both individually and together. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most featured people on stamps and by the most number of countries. The couple adorn both a stamp and a postcard issued by India Post.

Preserved for posterity

From the world of International Cinema, we have the star couple Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh joining the ranks, while the entire Barrymore family, Lionel, Ethel and John, features on a stamp. Alfred and Lynn Fontanne, the famous actor couple, too have been featured. Hollywood comedienne Lucille Ball and her actor-singer husband Desi Arnaz too feature as a couple.

Steps afoot to speed up issue of passports

We will ask the police to send us information online, says Passport Officer

Though it has been more than five months since the inauguration of Passport Seva Kendra (PSK), passport applicants are yet to derive the full benefits of the project. Lack of connectivity between the PSK and the police offices in Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, East and West Godavari districts is resulting in undue delay in the issue of new passports.

“We will ask the Special Branch police to send us the information online to reduce delay,” Passport Officer V.S.D.L. Surendra told The Hindu when the issue was brought to his notice on Tuesday. “About 60 per cent of the applicants are from East Godavari and West Godavari districts and Rajahmundry urban. Software has already been installed at these places for transmission of details online and we have told them that manual reports will no longer be accepted at the PSK after January 27. The other police offices are also expected to go online in the next few weeks,” he said. “Of the remaining 40 per cent applicants, 15 per cent are from Visakhapatnam city and rural areas and 25 per cent are from the Srikakulam and Vizianagaram districts. The Visakhapatnam city Police Commissionerate is said to be in the process of acquiring new systems and other SP offices are also expected to acquire the same in the next few weeks.” Meanwhile, it's learnt that the police are not keen on the online project due to manpower shortage. They are also sore that the PSK authorities, who are said to have initially promised to provide the computers, have put the onus on the police department.

TatkalThe city police are issuing Police Clearance Certificates (PCCs) for issue of passports under ‘Tatkal' only on emergency grounds like employment and health. This decision has been taken to restrict applicants who were going for Tatkal even when there was no emergency.

Applicants can register their details and generate Application Reference Number (ARN) online at any time. Submission of application online and booking of slots can only be done at 7.30 p.m. everyday. A total of 540 tokens will be issued for each day and slots can be taken for the next 15 days.

Stimulus 2011-12- tech quiz with a difference

The Hindu Participants at Ultra Tech Quiz in Hyderabad on Tuesday. Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Anantula Soumya and Gadde Deepti of NIT Warangal emerge winners

The quiz was not based on the usual format that tests general knowledge, awareness and IQ skills of the participants.

It was a technical quiz designed to assess the skills and capabilities of final-year civil engineering students in applying the knowledge, which they have gained during the four years while pursuing engineering, in the real world. And the final year civil engineering students from various colleges in the capital lapped it up.

In the end, final-year civil engineering students Anantula Soumya and Gadde Deepti of NIT Warangal emerged winners in the Ultratech Regional Round of ‘Stimulus 2011-12' quiz competition held here at Mekastar auditorium, Osmania University on Tuesday.

The duo also qualified for the South Zone Round of the ‘Stimulus 2011-12', which will be held in Bangalore on February 22. Final-year civil engineering students from College of Engineering, Osmania University, B. Ramesh and K. Madhukar Reddy were runners-up.

To say that the end of the technical quiz, hosted by noted quizmaster Giri Balasubramanyam, was dramatic would be an understatement. The finale was fitting and was nail-biting. In the end of all the rounds, Osmania University and NIT Warangal were tied at 40 points. The winner was decided through a tie-breaker.

The OU team took the risk and hit the ‘buzzer' and tried to answer a tough technical problem. Their answer was wrong and the NIT Warangal girls emerged winners.

In all, 16 students from eight teams (all Hyderabad based) including College of Engineering, Osmania University, MVSR Engineering College, MJ College of Engineering and Technology, VNR Vignana Jyothi Institute of Technology, JNTU College of Engineering, Vasavi Engineering College, CBIT and NIT Warangal participated in the quiz.

Senior officials from Ultratech Cement handed over certificates and cash prizes of Rs.10,000 for winners, Rs.6,000 to runners-up and Rs.1,000 to other participants.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Strides sells stake in arm to Watson Pharma

  The Bangalore-based pharmaceutical major, Strides Arcolab, sold its 94 per cent stake in Ascent Pharmahealth, a subsidiary with operations in Australia and Southeast Asia, to the U.S.-based Watson Pharmaceuticals which also acquired the remaining 6 per cent stake associated with Dennis Bastas, CEO of Ascent, in a move to restructure and focus its business.

The cash offer from Watson values Ascent at an enterprise value of Australian $375 million ($392.5 million). Ascent is a top five generic pharmaceutical company in Australia and is present in countries across Southeast Asia.

Strides develops and manufactures a wide range of IP-led niche pharma products with an emphasis on sterile injectables. It has 13 manufacturing facilities across five countries and has a 350-scientist strong global R&D Centre in Bangalore.

Arun Kumar, Executive Vice-Chairman and Group CEO of Strides Arcolab, said, “The sale of Ascent is a value-enhancing and forward looking initiative for Strides. We have been clear about our intention to focus on our highly attractive steriles segment, which we expect to be our growth engine going forward. The transaction further facilitates the execution of this strategy and unlocks significant value for the Group. Furthermore, the proceeds from the transaction considerably strengthen our balance sheet.”

T. S. Rangan, Group CFO, Strides Arcolab, told this correspondent that the steriles business contributed around 40 per cent of the company's revenues and about 70 per cent of the operating earnings. “Although Ascent enjoys operating multiple of 20, the highest in industry, its sale will help us restructure our $500 million debt by allowing us to retire around $250 million and will give us some flexibility. Importantly, the saving on the interest paid to service the debt can compensate for the sale of the Ascent business,” he said, adding that all Ascent's 307 employees would be absorbed by Watson.

Watson is a specialty pharma company focussed on urology and women's health. Its President and CEO Paul Bisaro said the acquisition gave Watson a successful commercial structure in Australia and Southeast Asia and a broader product pipeline.

Strides' generic business spans Australasia, Africa and India. After Ascent's sale, Strides' medium-term plan is to grow the injectibles business to global scale through its specialities' division Agila Specialties.

Students angry over fuel prices shut down Kathmandu

  Students in Nepal have shut down the capital with a general strike to protest price increases for gasoline, diesel and cooking fuel.

The strike closed schools and markets in Katmandu on Wednesday. The streets were quiet except for groups of protesters who chanted anti—government slogans. Police in riot gear stood watch but there were no reports of violence.

Students ordered the general strike after the government raised the prices of various fuels by an average of 10 per cent last week. The government has said the increases are necessary because the state-run company that imports and distributes fuel is facing massive losses.

The government has made it clear that despite the backlash, it will not reverse the price increases.

Sumatran elephants could be extinct in 30 years

AP In this January 12, 2012 photo, a Sumatran elephant is seen in Perawang, Riau province, Indonesia. The Sumatran elephant could be extinct in the wild within three decades unless immediate steps are taken to slow the breakneck pace of deforestation, environmentalists warned on Tuesday.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature recently listed the animals as “critically endangered” after their numbers dropped to between 2,400 and 2,800 from an estimated 5,000 in 1985.

The decline is largely because of destruction of their habitat, with forests all across the Indonesian island of Sumatra being clear-cut for timber, palm oil and pulp and paper plantations.

Sumatra has some of the most significant populations of Asian elephants outside of India and Sri Lanka and is also home to tigers, orangutans and rhinos.

“The Sumatran elephant joins a growing list of Indonesian species that are critically endangered,” Carlos Drews of the conservation group WWF said in a statement on Tuesday. “Unless urgent and effective conservation action is taken these magnificent animals are likely to go extinct within our lifetime.”

Indonesia’s endangered elephants sometimes venture into populated areas searching for food and destroy crops or attack humans, making them unpopular with villagers.

Some are shot or poisoned with cyanide-laced fruit, while others are killed by poachers for their ivory.

Supreme Court pulls up Army in Pathribal encounter case

“You don't allow the criminal justice system to go ahead”

The Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the Army for stalling the prosecution in the 2000 Pathribal encounter case in Jammu and Kashmir, initiated by the CBI against five officers, by not taking action under the Army Act and not allowing the criminal courts from proceeding with their prosecution.

Responding to the court's query on January 20 on the stand of the Army, Additional Solicitor-General P.P. Malhotra told a Bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar that the Army was not interested in taking over the case and court-martialling the officers under the Army Act.

The Bench is hearing petitions relating to the Centre's claim of immunity and applicability of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the North East and Jammu and Kashmir. The CBI, on the other hand, registered cases against Army men, treating some of the killings as encounter deaths, and filed charge sheets in the courts concerned. Shocked to hear this response from the Army, Justice Swatanter Kumar told the ASG: “You [the Army] don't want to take over the case and initiate court martial proceedings against them. You don't allow the criminal justice system to go ahead.”

Justice Chauhan observed: “The victims cannot be remedy less. No person can be harassed. No jawan should exceed limits. You cannot interpret and misinterpret the law and expect citizens to wait.”

“We cannot take over the case,” Mr. Malhotra said. “The Armed Forces are bound to protect their men.”

The Army contended that in a disturbed area, where the AFSPA was in force, no inquiry could be initiated against armed forces personnel called in to assist the civilian police, without the government's sanction let alone a charge sheet being filed.

“They are protected under Section 6 of the AFSPA,” Mr. Malhotra said. This had vitiated the entire CBI inquiry into the episode. The Army personnel shot dead seven alleged militants in the incident. The Army had then claimed that they were responsible for killing several Sikhs in an earlier encounter in Chhattisinghpora during the former U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to India. But the J&K government later sought sanction for their prosecution after some evidence came to light that it was a fake encounter.

Not satisfied with the ASG's response, the Bench sought Army records to show whether these cases had been put up before the Commanding Officer (CO) of the area for his decision. The CO was the authority to decide whether to court martial the men or allow civilian courts to try them.

The Bench also suo motu impleaded the Union Home and Defence Secretaries and asked them to explain their position on whether sanction was a must even for filing an FIR. The Bench said: “These officers will now have to protect themselves. But the Union of India has a dual responsibility. It has to ensure that the innocent are acquitted and the guilty punished.”

The Bench wondered why the Army was reluctant to try these cases when it did not have to take any sanction from the government to act against them. “Article 21 of the Constitution [right to life] is for both the accused and the victims,” The Bench said. It wanted to know from the Army whether in any prior case sanction from the government had been sought for investigating any case.

The Bench directed that the matter be listed for further hearing on February 3.

Supreme Court to hear Amit Shah’s plea to return to Gujarat

  The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear the plea of former Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah, who was forced to leave the State during pendency of his trial in Sohrabuddin fake encounter killing case, for permission to return.

A bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam said that it would hear his plea along with the CBI’s petition seeking cancellation of Mr. Shah’s bail in the Sohrabuddin case.

Mr. Shah, who was directed by the apex court to leave the State during the pendency of the trial in Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, had yesterday approached the apex court saying living outside his home state for the last 16 months has caused “irreparable hardship” to him and his family members.

The apex court had on October 30, 2010, directed Mr. Shah to leave the State and ordered him to stay out till further order.

Pleading with the apex court to modify its order, Mr. Shah said, “He will suffer irreparable injury and hardship if an appropriate order to the effect of modification of order of October 30, 2010, is not made.”

“The applicant has remained outside his own State for approximately 16 months resulting into a situation where one of the largest assembly constituencies in the country, which has reposed faith in the applicant since four consecutive terms, is deprived of its representatives,” he said.

Mr. Shah, a close aide of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was arrested by the CBI on July 25, 2010.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Supreme One on earth

   The Supreme One, who took many incarnations to save us, is without blemish. It is said that the Lord, in His Rama avatara, gave liberation even to blades of grass in Ayodhya.

But how do we surrender to God, who is not present now in our midst as an incarnation? We need not worry, for we have God in archa, that is, the idol form in temples, where we can offer our surrender.

Nammazhvar says of Lord Srinivasa of Tirumala that He is the One with Goddess Lakshmi on His chest, and that he (Nammazhvar) surrenders at His feet. The Lord's archa form shines brilliantly like a lamp lit in a dark room. This world, full of blemishes, has in its midst the Lord who is blemishless, said Akkarakkani Srinidhi.

Five forms

The Lord has five forms — Para, Vyuha, Vibhava, Antaryami and Archa. So how does the archa form score over the other forms? Antaryami is the Lord's presence within every one of us. But we lack the gnana to discern Him as Antaryami. To tell a man who seeks liberation to understand the Lord who resides in him as Antaryami is like telling a thirsty man, who asks for water, to dig a well and then take water from it.

By the time he is finished with the job, he will be dead. Likewise, to tell a seeker of moksha to fathom the Lord in the form of Antaryami will not work.

What then of the Para form of the Lord? To direct a man who seeks liberation to the Para form of the Lord is like telling a thirsty man to walk several miles to a lake to slake his thirst there.

To tell a devotee that he should approach the Vyuha form is like telling him to approach a lake, which may not be several miles distant, but is still at a considerable distance from where he is.

To tell him to approach the Vibhava avataras, which all ended thousands of years ago, is like asking him why he did not make use of the water that a flood brought to the land, years before his birth.

But to guide him to the archa form of the Lord in temples is like guiding him to pools of water that remain after the rain has ended, and the floodwaters have receded.

Suresh Kumar leads delegation to Bihar to study Right to Services Act

   A four-member delegation of the State Government, led by Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs S. Suresh Kumar, is in Bihar to study the implementation of the Right to Services Act in that State.

The State Government has been making arrangements for the implementation of the Karnataka Guarantee of Services to Citizens Act 2011, for providing various services of 11 departments. The Legislature session held last month passed the Bill. The Act would be effectively implemented from March, an official said.

Mr. Suresh Kumar called on Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday to study the concept behind the enactment and implementation of the Right to Services Act there. The Act aimed towards the benefit of the people by eliminating corruption in the delivery of public services.

On Tuesday, Mr. Suresh Kumar and other members of the delegation visited Vaishali and other districts and studied the implementation of the Act. The delegation had interactions with the public and officials to find out the relevance of the Act. The team is expected to return to Bangalore on Wednesday.

Mr. Nitish Kumar told Mr. Suresh Kumar that the Act proved an effective tool in delivering services to the people in a stipulated time.

Survey on for waterway to airport

  With its earlier proposal hitting a blockade on concerns of pollution, the officials of the Inland Waterway Authority of India on Tuesday held an inspection to find out the possibility of developing an alternative water route that links up the airport here with the seaport.

According to official sources, a three-member IWAI team led by its director N. Sivaraman surveyed the existing water-link and its adjacent areas from Neduvannur to Purappillykavu Bund in the Periyar.

The team is scheduled to carry out an inspection on the remaining path to Kochi via Kadamakkudi later this week.

The Department of Water Resources is now mulling over a proposal to develop a way using Chengalthodu, an extremely silted tributary of the Periyar and interlink it to the Manjali River before proceeding to Kochi through the Cherai backwaters.

The IWAI had earlier suggested a 49.5 km long waterway that was divided into three stretches – from the Seaport to Eloor, from Eloor to Kanjoor and from Kanjoor to the airport.

The proposal, however, was shelved on concerns that movement of motorized boats through the Periyar would pollute the water resource and hit the drinking water projects at Chowara and Aluva.

According to A. K. Nazeer, president of the Shareholders' Organization of Cochin International Airport Limited, both the Water Resources Minister P. J. Joseph and V. J. Kurian- the managing director of CIAL as well the secretary of the Water Resources Department, have been briefed of the new proposal.

Experts are of the view that the waterway proposal presented a great opportunity to CIAL to evolve itself as a major cargo station by incorporating a multi-model transport system linking air, land and waterways.

The route is also expected to play a key role in developing the activity of ‘cruise exchange'. With the route, CIAL will be the first airport in the country to get direct waterway connectivity to a major sea port.

The State government had earlier included the waterway project in its 100 day's action plan and earmarked funds for commencing works.

TCS gets nod for Indore SEZ

Videocon allowed to pull out of West Bengal, L&T from Tamil Nadu

The Board of Approval (BoA) under the Commerce Ministry on Tuesday approved the proposal of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to set up a special economic zone (SEZ) at Indore in Madhya Pradesh.

The BoA allowed L&T and Videocon Realty and Infrastructure to withdraw SEZ projects. The L&T project was to come up at Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. “We are not going to hold back on those who do not want to set up their SEZs and instead exit. The Ministry will never stand in their way and instead facilitate the process,” a senior official said after the BoA meeting here.

The Videocon firm had approached the Centre to withdraw its project at Jalpaiguri due to “latest business outlook” in the Northern region of West Bengal. It had been granted a formal approval in May 2009.

Eleven developers, including that of Parsvnath SEZ, had requested for extension of time for execution of their projects. Out of 381 notified zones, only 148 have become operational. The maximum number of SEZs is in sectors such as IT/ITeS, engineering, electronics, hardware and textiles.

It also allowed the Videocon group to pull out from its SEZ project at Jalpaiguri in West Bengal and L&T from Tamil Nadu.

Official sources said the green signal to TCS proposal and a few other promoters had been given at a time when SEZs had lost sheen as a vehicle of investment in the wake of imposition of Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) on the SEZ developers and units in the zones. Slowdown in the realty market has also added to the uncertainty among developers.

The Commerce Ministry, the nodal authority for the SEZs, seems concerned over the entrepreneurs losing interest in these zones, which were initially meant to be tax-free areas. “SEZs will be strengthened if we allow people to come and go as and when they want,” the official said.

The evening that rocked

With seven bands performing music that makes you want to headbang; this year's line up had the crowd grooving till the very end.

The evening skies begin to darken on January 21, as the much awaited Saarang Rock Show (presented by Durex Jeans Blue Love condoms) kicked-off with Family Cheese, runners-up of the Decibels competition.

Various performances

The amicable bassie cheekily requests the audience to oblige to any compelling urges to start jumping around.

Anyway, after a long instrumental jam by the three-piece, the organisers announced that the band had only a few minutes of playtime left. The band responded with a cover of the rock anthem “Comfortably Numb.” Sacrilegious as it may be, the music was cut just as the first solo started.

The next band on stage was greeted with an announcement that proved to be a pleasant surprise for them — Crypted had won the 2012 Saarang Decibels. The happiness of the band members was evident from the performance of their favourite, winning number.

Inner Sanctum, the bad boys from Bengaluru, had nasty-sounding rhythms that got you wanting to headbang— the vocalist/growler kept gyrating his head through most of the songs, with his long hair making a windmill of sorts. They succeeded in getting the crowd warmed-up, despite minor technical mash-ups. They left the crowd wanting more.

Blind Image, who were next on stage, however, were a let-down. Much was expected of them, as they had the reputation of being one of Chennai's leading Metal bands. They lacked a guitarist and in general, the ability to get the crowd to the next stage of excitement.

The slightly dampened spirits of the gathered metal-heads was nothing short of lit into a brightly-burning fire by Scribe, who took over the stage next. The hour-long gig started with the opening track of the Superstar Rajnikanth song, Oruvan Oruvan Mudhalaali which struck awe in the hearts of the southies. As we were to learn from the lungi-clad vocalist Vishwesh, he happens to be the sole Tamilian amongst the hindi-speaking members of the Bombay-based metal band.

Furiously fast, raucously heavy and dark-sounding, Scribe got what they wanted from the crowd; they made us think of nothing but metal throughout the night. It was a sight to behold as the colourful lights illuminated a scene of utter chaos. Scribe played many songs off their most recent album, Mark of Teja and I Love You, Pav Bhaji was easily the pick of the lot. The beholders were up on their feet, their energy renewed.

And the night was still young. Enter Vildhjarta, which is Swedish for Wild Heart (You pronounce the name of the band as though you intended to get sputum to the back of your throat). The seven-members of the Djent-styled band showed the crowd why the Nordic region is considered the birthplace of Death-Metal. Sure, we didn't understand any of the lyrics, but we were slaves to the addicting rhythms that kept our heads dipping down to the ground and resurfacing up back again and again as the sound of the complex-layered, dissonant guitar-sounds were more or less punctuated by the whisper-screams of the two vocalists. We were completely free from any inhibitions and joyously indulged in the hatred that formed the core of the music played that night. The show came to an end with Vildhjarta playing Dagger again to an enthusiastic bunch of youngsters who had fond memories to take back to either home or hostel.

Arvind is a Final Year Material Science student at CEG, Anna University.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The great nursery school admission circus in full swing

Schools taking advantage of confusion over minimum age; flouting norms at will

While the confusion about the age criteria for nursery school continues with the Government maintaining and supporting increasing the minimum age for admission in nursery classes from three to four years in Delhi, both schools and parents whose children are due for admission are going ahead and admitting three-plus-year-olds to nursery.

“While the Government's move to increase the age of admission to nursery is a welcome one we are not sure about when the court's verdict will come. We understand that the move is a positive step to reduce pressure on children. Since most schools are taking in children who are three plus, we have no choice but to take admission when available. Admissions to KG are very tough in Delhi as there are very few schools offering seats in KG. Many popular schools across the Capital have started calling parents for verification and informal interaction. The admission process to nursery is very much on and parents don't want to risk not getting their children admitted,” said Panwar Bhartia, who is trying to ensure that his three-year-old daughter gets a nursery seat in a Delhi school.

Noting that several schools were not even waiting for the Delhi Government dateline of announcing the first cut-off list on February 1, Sonma Gupta, another parent seeking admission for her child, said: “Several private schools have already started the admission process and are openly flouting the norms laid down by the Government. Parents, of course, are taking admission and paying the school fee to ensure that they have a seat. Some of the popular schools are complying with the guideline but several schools have started taking in students and parents are left with no choice here.”

Sumit Vohra, who has started a website to help parents seeking nursery school admission, said: “Parents whose children don't have any extra points under the sibling/alumni category are finding it very difficult to get admission into any of the popular schools in Delhi. We have received complaints from some parents about the ongoing selection process not being transparent. Several schools have not disclosed the points allotted to each student which leaves the parents confused.”

The RBI's balancing act

  The Reserve Bank of India has managed a delicate balancing act in the third quarter review of monetary policy 2011-12 unveiled on Tuesday. The reduction in cash reserve ratio (CRR) by 0.50 percentage point to 5.5 per cent will somewhat ease the tight liquidity conditions in the money market, while the decision to leave interest rates unchanged sends a clear signal that the apex bank is still not comfortable with the overall picture on inflation. With economic growth visibly slowing down — something the apex bank acknowledges — there was pressure to start the rate reduction cycle. But there are three major worrying factors on the inflation front. First, non-food manufactured product prices continue to be high; much of the drop in inflation in recent weeks was due to a fall in the prices of vegetables and seasonal products. Secondly, suppressed inflation in the form of artificially held down prices of petroleum products is quite significant. Finally, the depreciation in rupee value has also been feeding into core inflation. Given these, it was unrealistic to expect the RBI to embark now on the rate reduction cycle. However, the central bank has done its bit to encourage credit off-take by infusing liquidity (Rs.32,000 crore) through a reduction in the CRR. Despite the RBI's open market operations injecting Rs.70,000 crore over the past two months, money remained scarce, affecting credit flow to borrowers.

So, what are the prospects for the rate reduction cycle commencing soon? Not very bright, it appears. A lot depends on what the government does in the budget for 2012-13. The RBI is clear that the budget should come up with policy initiatives to induce investment and concrete measures for fiscal consolidation, if it is to start pegging rates down. This, especially the latter, is easier said than done. There are several factors that could impact the economy adversely. Not the least of them is the uncertainty in the euro zone, let alone the falling capital inflows in the context of a widening current account deficit. Inflation could once again spiral upwards if fuel prices, especially of diesel, are raised, as they should be. The escalating tensions over Iran portend more trouble, as they could drive up global oil prices forcing the government to pass the burden down the line. Adding wind to the inflationary sails will be a hardening of food prices, especially vegetables, which usually happens with the end of winter. All these, combined with the lacklustre investment climate as evidenced by the declining levels of non-food credit off-take, means that there is enough for the RBI to worry about before it makes up its mind on turning around the interest rate cycle.

Three joggers killed in early morning mishap

  Kayamkulam woke up to a shocking tragedy this morning when three young lives were snuffed out by an unknown vehicle near Maliyekal Junction on the National Highway-47.

According to the Kayamkulam police, Anup, 18, his brother Achu, 15, both sons of Ashok Kumar of Chaithram, Pathiyurkala, and Pramod, 16, son of Prem Kumar, were jogging alongside the NH-47 near Maliyekal Junction when the accident occurred. The vehicle that ran over them is yet to be identified and it was a passerby on a two-wheeler who alerted the police around 5.45 a.m. on Wednesday.

While both Achu and Pramod were killed on the spot, Anup died while being rushed to the Alappuzha Medical College. The bodies of Achu and Pramod are at the Haripad Government Hospital while that of Anup is at the Alappuzha Medical College for post-mortem.

Kayamkulam Circle Inspector A.R. Shanihal, who said the police was trying its best to identify the killer vehicle, said the bodies would be handed over to relatives by evening, but the funerals of Achu and Anup were likely to be held later only, since their father was on his way from Dubai.

TN advances despite Kashyap's heroics

The Hindu A.V. Nivedita of Airports Authority of India in action in Lucknow on Tuesday. Photo: Subir Roy Assam's Anal Kashyap stood between Tamil Nadu and a place in the men's team quarterfinals but lacked support from his teammates as all fancied teams advanced in the National table tennis championship here on Tuesday.

Before Tamil Nadu completed a 3-2 victory, Kashyap twice levelled the match by beating G. Vinod 9-11, 11-7, 7-11, 11-5, 11-7 and R.S. Raja 13-15, 11-4, 8-11, 11-3, 11-8. But Kashyap's teammate Kaushik Kumar Phukon lost the first and fifth singles to Raja and Vinod, in that order.

In between, Sivendra Seshadari expectedly beat Chinmoy Sarma in straight games in the crucial third singles.

Barring this result, that earned Tamil Nadu a clash with Haryana, the pre-quarterfinals in both sections were one-sided.

Petroleum's men, playing without Sharath Kamal who chose to recover from jet-lag after landing from Germany, dismissed Maharashtra ‘B' to set up a clash with arch-rival Railways in the quarterfinals. Gujarat and West Bengal set up an interesting face-off for a place in the semifinals.

In the women's section, the quarterfinalists made it with 3-0 margins.

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) earned the right to challenge runner-up West Bengal after the trio of A.V. Nivedita, Nikhat Bhanu and Karnam Spoorthy stopped AP. West Bengal, a virtual Railways team that failed to qualify, made it past Assam with Anindita Chakraborty, Krittiwika Sinha Roy and Pallavi Kundu finishing the job.

Another interesting quarterfinal is likely between North Bengal and Maharashtra ‘B'. Tamil Nadu's campaign is set to end after running into the mighty Petroleum while Maharasthra ‘A' looks at another easy win after being pitted against Gujarat.

The results (Team championships, pre-quarterfinals): Men: Petroleum bt Maharashtra ‘B' 3-0; Railways bt Chhattisgarh 3-0; North Bengal bt Uttar Pradesh 3-1; Maharashtra ‘A' bt Orissa 3-1; Tamil Nadu bt Assam 3-2; Haryana bt Karnataka 3-1; Gujarat bt Madhya Pradesh 3-0; West Bengal bt Punjab 3-0.

Women: Petroleum bt Chandigarh 3-0; Tamil Nadu bt Chhattisgarh 3-0; Gujarat bt Delhi 3-0; Maharashtra ‘A' bt Uttar Pradesh 3-0; North Bengal bt Madhya Pradesh 3-0; Maharashtra ‘B' bt Jharkhand 3-0; AAI bt Andhra Pradesh 3-0; West Bengal bt Assam 3-0.

Quarterfinal line-up: Men: Petroleum-Railways; North Bengal-Maharashtra ‘A'; TN- Haryana; West Bengal-Gujarat. Women: Petroleum-TN; Maharashtra ‘A'-Gujarat; North Bengal-Maharashtra ‘B'; AAI-West Bengal.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Tribute

The Hindu Amit Saigal, Editor Rock Street Journal Photo: V. Sudershan Amit Saigal, fondly known as ‘Papa Rock', founder of the Rock Street Journal, single-handedly pieced together the Indian rock scene when there was actually no scene. Take any Indian rock band that has made it big today, and they would be lying to say that Amit has not furthered their careers!

My memory of Amit Saigal is vivid as he had actually walked up to us, the MCC Cult-Team at the OASIS Festival @ BITS Pilani in 1993. The timid crusader told us his plans to start up a rock music magazine and it sounded like one of those youthful ideas that would fizzle out when his pocket money ran out, but contrarily RSJ was launched later that year! It was printed at his fathers press in Allahabad and through the years, rock fans fueled the magazine and it flourished. A decade later, I met him again in Chennai, when he came to receive an Award at JRO 2003. Now, two decades later, there are also festivals he pioneered like the GIR, Pubrockfest, Global Groove Convention, Jazz Utsav, Rocktoberfest and the recent India Music Week.

A legend in his own time, his contribution to the independent music scene has transformed an amoeba shaped scene to a defined industry where bands, musicians, promoters and fans have a solid future. Amit moved on to the other side while on a boating trip at the Bogmalo Beach, Goa on Jan 5, 2012. Only 46, his death is untimely, but his dogged zeal will never cease to inspire!

True swaraj…

While we have surpassed many obstacles to become a sovereign country 62 years ago, there is a lot more that we, as a country, need to do to become a “developed” nation, feels Samvitha Ram

Today, India celebrates 62 years of being a sovereign, secular and democratic republic. Every year on this day, our amazing country of approximately 1.17 billion people celebrates Republic Day by commemorating the date on which the Constitution officially came into force, and India finally became a truly independent nation in her own stead.

On this day, many writings list the various obstacles that India overcame on her road to independence, and cite examples of the nationalist movements that helped grant us independence from our colonisers. We take pride, today, in the fact that we stand as the world's largest democracy.

Yet, on the other 364 days of the year, it has become characteristic of the youth and the rising generation to complain about what they see as the many flaws of this country, what they see as the “real” India.

It seems only fitting that we explore a couple of key concerns of our next generation, and delve a little deeper into these over-spouted ‘realities' that litter our print and social media today.

Debated issues

A frequently voiced concern of the current generation, and around the world for that matter, is our booming population. Vivid pictures of overpopulated cities and crowded slum areas fill the national and international media.

While these may be true, and do portray a reality, it is not the full version of the truth. Yes, we are a growing population, but it doesn't have to be seen as such a terrible thing. With a population demographic that is relatively young (42 per cent are between 13 and 35, as compared to the world average of 18 per cent), India's youth has the potential to focus their energies in “nation building” and growing our economy.

In addition, many argue that it is this sense of always being a part of an overpopulated culture that has resulted in many Indian citizens developing an amazing sense of hospitality.

Even though we may be cramped for physical space, we have space in our hearts to accommodate and live happily with our crowds.

Another issue that the youth today talk about is the inability of our educational system to cope with the demands of a volatile and unpredictable future. It is often said that the high focus on rote learning in many schools and colleges leaves students unprepared for the workplace of tomorrow and our youth are unable to compete in the “global” economy.

This point of view certainly is grounded in the truth, but needs to be viewed in a slightly different perspective. Indians are a race that can thrive on “creative chaos” — ever willing to learn and able to work through ambiguous situations.

And our country is renowned for its entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity, despite the limitations of our educational system.

Most importantly, at the bottom of the pyramid, with the RTE (Right to Education Act) coming into force, we are already seeing rising literacy levels across the county with several individual states within India reaching almost the 90 per cent numbers in terms of literacy, almost on par with the literacy rates of many of the “developed” nations.

Progress

Yes, the fact is that at the end of the day, India is still a developing country, and a relatively new one at that.

In its six-odd decades of independent existence, it has come a long way from being a dependent, colonised territory to a large, blossoming nation, with a beautiful fusion of cultures, a fast-growing economy, and best of all, a relatively young population demographic.

The youth of India has to take inspiration from the late American President Kennedy's words: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

This attitude amongst an increasingly socially and politically aware youth, holds the key to our country actualizing Gandhiji's dream of “restoring our control over our futures and destiny”, and achieving his vision of true swaraj.

Samvitha is a student of American International School.

U.P. government in trouble over MGNREGS funds

Centre favours CBI inquiry into alleged misappropriation of funds

With the Congress-led Union government favouring a CBI enquiry, in its affidavit before the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, into embezzlement in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme funds, trouble is apparently brewing for the BSP government under Chief Minister Mayawati, who is already bearing the brunt of the NHRM scam in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.

The Centre filed the affidavit on Tuesday in response to a show cause issued by the High Court in connection with a PIL filed before it seeking a CBI probe into the misappropriation of funds by authorities in the State where polls have been notified and are to be held in seven phases. The next hearing has been posted to January 30.

“It is imperative to have a preliminary enquiry conducted by an independent agency like the CBI,” the Union Ministry of Rural Development categorically stated. If the court so desired, “such an enquiry may be ordered.”

The Ministry informed the court that its efforts to seek the concurrence of the State government to agree to a CBI probe had met with failure. The affidavit said Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh wrote twice to the Chief Minister seeking her approval for the probe, but the latter declined permission.

The affidavit underlined the Centre's limitations in ordering a CBI probe, without the concurrence of the State government, into the anomalies reported by, among others, State-level quality monitors. Under the Delhi Police Establishment Act, in the absence of consent from the State government, the only other option for a CBI probe could be on the orders of a constitutional court like the High Court.

The Ministry has appended the correspondence exchanged between Mr. Ramesh and the U.P. government and the reports by competent bodies establishing grave irregularities and misappropriation of funds by authorities responsible for implementation of MGNREGS in districts such as Mahoba, Balrampur, Gonda, Kushi Nagar, Sonbhadra, Sant Kabir Nagar and Mirzapur.

The present CBI probe into the NRHM irregularities was ordered by the High Court. The scam led to the murder of two medical officers, while an engineer attached with the scheme committed suicide.

The Chief Minister, while turning down the request for a CBI probe into MGNREGS funds, complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Mr. Ramesh was indulging in politics and breaching the federal structure.

Ms. Mayawati has dismissed several Ministers in the past couple of months for their involvement in the NRHM scam in an apparent bid to refurbish her image in the Assembly elections.

Mr. Ramesh, in his letters, accused the Chief Minister of allowing misappropriation of MGNREGS funds by not taking any action against those allegedly found in the wrong by various probes.

U.S., Pakistan continue to spar on NATO strike

Islamabad demands full version of U.S. report

Pakistan and U.S. find themselves at odds with each other again with Islamabad rejecting the American probe into the deadly NATO cross border strike that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead and Washington standing by it “100 per cent”.

The first salvo was fired by the Pakistani Army which on Monday officially rejected the probe report of the November 26 attack prepared by American Brigadier General Stepehen Clark saying Islamabad does not agree with several portions and findings of the ‘Investigation Report' as these are not factually correct.

The Pakistani Army also argued that the NATO strike was an “unprovoked attack”.

Hours later, the Pentagon struck back saying the U.S. stands by its own investigation that it was not an unprovoked firing by the U.S.-led forces.

“This [Pakistani military remarks] does not change our belief in the validity of the findings. The statement that this was an unprovoked attack by American forces is simply false,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt John Kirby.

Asserting that the U.S. stands “100 per cent” by the investigation done by a top general from the Central Command (CENTOCM) released last month, Captain Kirby said the U.S. had desired Pakistani participation in that investigation, which then would have been more thorough.

Pakistan's absence from participation in the CENTCOM investigation, Captain Kirby said, “does not change our firm belief in the validity of the findings of the investigations that we did”.

The Pakistani Army which had issued a statement rejecting the probe report, has also uploaded a detailed “Pakistani Perspective on the US Investigation Report”, approved by Defence Committee of the Cabinet, on its media arm ISPR's website.

Saying it has received the unclassified version of the probe report, Pakistan has demanded that “full and complete classified version of the US Investigation Report be made available.”

It has also sought provision of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance picture of the complete incident along with all aerial platform videos and record of radio transmissions and communication between the crew(s) of the aerial platforms involved.

The NATO strike was a huge setback to the then already tense U.S.-Pak relations. Pakistan had reacted angrily after the soldiers were killed and 13 more injured when NATO helicopters and combat jets from Afghanistan targeted two military check posts in Salala area of Mohmand tribal region.

Upbeat Ponting rules out retirement after century

Ricky Ponting said his exuberant celebration of his 41st Test century in the fourth Test against India on Tuesday was not a sign of any impending retirement.

The 37-year-old became only the third batsman in history to pass 13,000 Test runs on his way to 137 not out in Adelaide — his second ton in three Test innings after a two-year drought. As he reached three figures, Ponting waved his bat in the air wildly, prompting speculation that he might be about to make an announcement about his playing future.

But the 162-Test veteran, unbeaten with captain Michael Clarke (140) at day one stumps with Australia sitting pretty at 335 for three, said he would not be retiring after the match, the last in the series.

“How did I know I'd come here and get asked questions about retirement?” Ponting, 37, laughed at the first question of the close-of-play press conference.

“It was a celebration mate, I usually do a similar celebration when I score a Test match hundred. I won't be retiring at the end of this Test match.”

Ponting joined Indians Sachin Tendulkar (15,432) and Rahul Dravid (13,262), in the exclusive 13,000-run club, but the gritty Tasmanian shrugged off the achievement.

“It's never been about making 13,000 runs or 14,000 runs. It's about doing what I can when it's required of me to get my team through a certain situation in a game. That's what motivates me.

“Winning Test matches and winning games of cricket for Australia is what motivates me to keep playing.”

Ponting said he thought his knock on Tuesday was better than his 134 in the second Test in Sydney earlier this month, which ended a two-year, 34 innings spell without a Test hundred.

“I felt I played better today than I did in Sydney, it was probably a better wicket to bat on today, there wasn't much in it for any of the Indian bowlers,” he said.

“It's been a really good day for us and we have to make sure we win the first hour tomorrow and make sure this first innings is a big one. I'm not going to be satisfied with where I am at. You go through too many ups and downs in your career to let moments like this slip.”

Ponting rejected suggestions of a poor Indian bowling attack in their ill-fated series against Australia.

“I don't think this is a bad attack at all, I just think our batsmen have played particularly well and when you put that kind of pressure back onto bowlers, most bowling attacks would look ordinary,” he said.

“India has nothing to lose in its irretrievable series position and has a license to play its natural game against rampant Australia, spinner Ravichandran Ashwin said.

The Indians found themselves in a familiar position in the fourth Test, slaving away in the field as Australia piled on 335 for three on day one.

Ashwin, who was thrown the ball in the fourth over by stand-in skipper Virender Sehwag, believes all is not lost on the flat Adelaide batting strip.

“I think we have nothing to lose at this point in time,” he said. “Being three-nil down gives us a bit of a license to go out and play our natural game which could be a real blessing in disguise for us and all that's important is to (each) get those first 20-30 runs and stick it out.

“We'll have to look for those initial starts and try to capitalise and that could be the crucial part of this game.”

Ashwin said the tourists did not have a psychological block bowling against Ponting and Clarke, who claimed their second centuries of the series on Tuesday. “I don't think there is any psychological block towards that, but we were definitely telling and egging each other on especially in the second session of play,” he said.

“We had to be really tight in that particular phase after lunch where it was quite crucial and that's where we gave a few easy runs to both of them and they just took off from there. After that it was quite easy to carry the momentum on. It's happened in two Tests now in Sydney and now in Adelaide and we'll look to get a couple of wickets tomorrow.”
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