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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.”

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Uppinangady incident: leaders trade charges

Ivan D'Souza, secretary, Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee, told presspersons on Tuesday that organising the Hindu Samajotsava “was a clear attempt to start a communal riot” in Uppinangady.

He said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government “should not treat it lightly”. He claimed that the Congress leaders had met senior police officers and conveyed their apprehensions to the latter.

He said that District In-charge Minister had not visited the spot and reassured the people. “What (else) are elected representatives for? They should speak to those who have been pained by Sunday's events,” Mr. D'Souza said.

Leaders of the Muslim Central Committee, at another press conference, demanded that Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat should be prosecuted for using bad language during his speech and for making insulting remarks about Muslim women who wore burqa.

Committee president and former Chairperson of the State Minorities Commission K.S. Mohammed Masood demanded that Mr. Bhat be arrested for making “offensive remarks”.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader M.B. Puranik said that Hindu Samajotsavas had been organised for the last 25 to 30 years. The case against Mr. Bhat should be withdrawn or else “we (VHP) would put various kinds of pressure (to get it withdrawn),” Mr. Puranik said. He said that if anybody was “pained”, then there were methods to voice their objections, but “to take the law into their own hands” was not the way.

General Secretary of the Mangalore unit of the Hindu Hitarakshana Vedike and Mangalore University Syndicate member Harish Achar said the vedike “fully supported” the statements made by Mr. Bhat during the samajotsava, and that “no inflammatory statements” were made.

He said that the vedike had compiled a list of around 50 to 60 names of people who had allegedly participated in Sunday's events and submitted it to the Uppinangady police. In a separate statement, Hindu Janajagriti Samiti said Hindus were targeted on the day of samajotsava.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) issued a statement and demanded strict action against elements which sought to spread communal violence and take the law into their own hands.

Veggie prices shoot up again

Bangaloreans were smiling all these days after vegetable prices returned to earth at the beginning of the New Year. Well, that smile has slipped a bit as prices have shot up again, climbing as high as 50 per cent.

Worse is to come as industry experts forecast further increase in prices because of two reasons. The first being the start of the marriage season and other auspicious occasions, and the second — and more serious — depleting arrivals because of destruction/ poor yield due to the cold spell during the last two months.

While the prices of carrot and beans were already high, it is okra that tops the list with Hopcoms selling it at Rs. 49 a kg. Even its wholesale price on Tuesday was Rs. 30.

G.M. Venkatesh, a senior executive with a vegetable retail chain, blamed the severe winter affecting the vegetable's harvest. He said even beans and cucumber also have taken a beating thanks to the weather.

Sandeep, who looks after Green Fresh at Kenchanahalli Cross on Doddabasti Main Road, predicted that with summer round the corner, prices will only increase.

It has been bad for consumers this past week with prices zooming up. They were moderate at the beginning of the month, said Ranganathan, a vegetable vendor in Sampangiramanagar, who said that such inflation would eat into his profits as he has to spend a good to procure the vegetables from Krishna Rajendra Market. His customers also have cut down on buying, he said.

Homemaker Uma Hande, who lives in K.R. Puram, confirmed this. “I'm in the middle of creating a terrace garden to beat the price rise. Vegetables like tomato and leafy vegetables could easily be grown in pots.”

But she said fruits were a problem, sighing over their exceptionally high prices, especially pomegranate and apple, which are being sold not less than Rs. 180 and Rs. 130 a kg in neighbourhood shops. The only solace is by papaya (Rs. 15 to Rs. 20), yelakki banana (Rs. 30-35) and to some extent sapota (Rs. 30-35), she said.

Vilappilsala plant can become a model for the country, say experts

If properly managed and operated the Vilappilsala plant can be upgraded as the best solid waste treatment plant in the country, say experts.

Speaking to The Hindu they said that once the leachate treatment plant and sanitary land fill inside the plant was commissioned the Vilappilsala plant could become a model waste treatment plant worthy of emulating in cities all across the country.

“The windrow composting technology used in Vilappilsala plant is undoubtedly the best available technology for processing biodegradable waste. It is an internationally accepted organic waste processing technology which is also mooted by the Union Ministry of Environment,’’ said Babu Ambat, executive director of Centre for Environment and Development (CED), an agency providing technical support to waste treatment plants in various states.

Mr Babu Ambat said that the processing plant at Vilappilsala, designed and constructed by Poabson Group, is one of the best in the State. CED has been operating the plant for the city Corporation for the last four years.

“There have been issues of space constraints in the processing plant as it was not enough to properly process the 250 tonne waste that was daily brought to the plant. This was also the reason for the odor problem there because of lack of aeration facility. But now the area of the processing plant is being doubled to two lakh square feet. With this the issue of space constraint will also be solved,’’ he said.

Social activist and rural technology exponent R.V.G. Menon also said that unlike high technology solutions like pyrolisis and incineration, composting, as done in Vilappilsala, was best suited for treatment of biodegradable waste in our state.

“The biodegradable waste generated in our climatic condition has about 70 percent moisture. But for technologies like pyrolisis and incineration dry waste is best suited as it has high energy content.

Experts all over the world say that the best technology for organic waste with high moisture content is composting or biogas,’’ said Mr Menon.

He, however, added that the composting facility at Vilappilsala could be upgraded by facilitated proper aeration or biofilters.

In the case of plastic waste, the Corporation could think of transporting plastic to recycling units outside the state after converting them into pellets using plastic shredders.

“However, segregating plastic and organic waste is also pertinent. Although plastic shredders can be installed at Vilappilsala, it should be ensured that it is properly segregated and does not get into the composting facility,’’ Mr Menon said.

While the experts concede that decentralized waste treatment facility in different parts of the city is definitely required to bring down the volume of waste transported to Vilappilsala, a centralized treatment plant is also inevitable for a city like Thiruvananthapuram.

Social and environmental activist B.R.P. Bhaskar said that while conventional method of taking the entire municipal waste for processing in far off villages is not feasibility in Kerala because of the sheer density of population, source level processing was also only a partial solution.

“Not all waste generated in a household can be treated there. That is why we require an integrated method of decentralized and centralized facility. The Vilappilsala plant can be reopened as a centralized plant, but only after the authorities convince the people there and assure them that the plant will henceforth be properly managed without endangering their health or environment,’’ he said.

“Vilappilsala plant can no more be treated as a dump-yard of the city. The volume of waste taking to the plant has to be significantly brought down,’’ said COSTFORD director P.B. Sajan.

Mr Sajan put forth a novel idea to ensure efficient management of the plant. “Why not involve the Vilappil panchayat in the plant operation. This way they can ensure that plant is properly managed and also make it an income generating initiative by selling the manure produced there. The Corporation should of course pay the operational expenses,’’ he said.

“And as long as the issues at the Vilappilsala plant remain unresolved, there will be public opposition for setting up plants elsewhere,’’ Mr R.V.G. Menon added.

Want to retire at peak of my career: Afridi

   Pakistan’s flamboyant all-rounder Shahid Afridi wants to retire at the peak of his career so that he is remembered among cricket’s legends.

“I have not as yet made up my mind when to call it quits. But certainly one thing I have decided is that I want to retire when I am performing well so that people remember me positively,” the 31-year-old said.

Last year, Afridi retired in protest after being stripped of the one-day team captaincy by the Pakistan Cricket Board. But he made a comeback to the national team for the ODI series against Sri Lanka last November.

“I want to retire when I feel I am at the peak of the career and have also contributed to Pakistan cricket as other legends of Pakistan cricket have done,” he said.

“I want to be remembered like Imran Khan, Javed Miandad or Wasim Akram are remembered today. And my ambition remains to reach a consistent scale of performance as these legends did in their careers,” Afridi added.

Where there are wheels, there's always a way

49th National Roller Skating Championships returns to the State after two decades

The Channammanakere Achhukattu skating rink is ordinarily not an easy place to find. It is hemmed in by a park and a playground on two sides, a giant drain cuts off access from the third, while on the fourth, the (most preferred) entrance is tucked behind a BBMP health centre.

But this week, there should be little difficulty locating it. Close to 800 skaters from across the country have descended on the venue for the 49th National Roller Skating Championships; it is unlikely the neighbourhood has witnessed such activity previously. The competition will be in progress till Saturday, with 100 gold medals on offer in various disciplines.

A long hiatusThe national championships have not been held in Karnataka for over two decades and the current edition too was originally allotted to Nagpur. “We were desperate to host something big here,” says S. Indudhar, Secretary of the Force One Skating Academy that operates the rink. “They looked at our venue and our enthusiasm for conducting the Nationals and they said yes without any hesitation.”

For Mr. Indudhar and those who worked long to establish the rink, the event is a culmination of all their painstaking effort. The project was conceived, he reveals, because he and other interested parents were tired of driving their children to Mysore every weekend for practice.

“The rink in Mysore was much better than what existed here. Once our kids started winning medals and doing seriously well, we wondered why we couldn't have a world-class facility in Bangalore.”

The project would not have taken off without strong political will, Mr. Indudhar admits.

M. Venkatesh, Councillor from the Vidyapeetha ward and a relative, pushed the case as did Basavanagudi MLA Ravi Subramanya. Construction of the 200m banked track began in October 2009 and was completed by the BBMP, at a cost of about Rs. 40 lakh, in nearly a year and a half. “Today, I'm extremely happy,” says Mr. Indudhar. “All of us parents have done it with a lot of dedication. We were confident from the beginning.”

Many hopefulsThe Force One Skating Academy today has close to 250 skaters on its rolls, with several of them hopeful of medals in what will be happily familiar environs. The track itself has received widespread praise, with some going so far as to call it India's best. “I wouldn't say it's a lot different from any other venues that have hosted the Nationals but the track is definitely much smoother,” said Ashok Das, a competitor from Uttar Pradesh.

Karnataka has finished overall champion for the last six editions, seeing off competition from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. “I'm sure we will win this time too,” says Mr. Indudhar. “After all this is our home.”

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Why sleep over repatriation of foreign prisoners, asks court

All prisoners in jail should be sent back within a month

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed serious concern over the inordinate delay in the release and repatriation of foreigners languishing in Indian jails even after completing their sentences.

A Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and H.L. Gokhale, hearing petitions, directed the Centre to deport all foreigners in prison within a month to their countries, mostly Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Iran. It directed the Union Home Ministry to submit a compliance report by February 28.

Ad hoc steps

The Bench pointed out that the government had been taking only ad hoc steps, that too at the instance of the court for deporting those who had completed their sentences and whose nationalities had been established through diplomatic channels.

Violation of Article 21

Justice Lodha said: “This amounted to a gross violation of Article 21 of the Constitution relating to personal freedom. We are constrained to observe that the government has failed to appreciate the urgency and allowed the matter relating to repatriation of a large number of prisoners to linger, ignoring their right to liberty.”

Referring to the Home Ministry's affidavit filed in November last, the Bench said, “It showed that the deportation of some of the foreign nationals was withheld because of the delay in providing special consular access.” Having a dig at bureaucratic delay, Justice Lodha said, “We don't want bureaucrats to sleep over the files.”

The court said that under Clause 4 of the May 21, 2008 Indo-Pak agreement, the two governments should provide nationals of either country consular access within three months of their detention or arrest. But in several cases, consular access was being provided only upon completion of sentence by the convicts. This resulted in delays in the verification of their nationalities and subsequent repatriation.

Will ease liquidity situation: industry

  Industry and commerce bodies on Tuesday hailed the cut in cash reserve ratio (CRR) by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) by 50 basis points as a measure at restoring the growth trajectory by helping ease the liquidity situation in the banking system.

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Director-General Chandrajit Banerjee expected the new measure to ease liquidity situation which had remained tight since November 2011 and stressed that the RBI had recognised that the challenges to growth was on account of weakening demand condition.

Hailing the decision as bold, Mr. Banerjee agreed with the central bank's assessment that fiscal deficit posed a challenge and the government needed to address the issue and bring it down to 3 per cent over a five-year period and altogether eliminate revenue deficit within the same time span.

Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) Secretary General D. S. Rawat said the RBI's action would release Rs.32,000 crore into the system and help fund viable projects held up due to liquidity crunch. He said the focus had now shifted from controlling inflation to restoring growth momentum and hoped the GDP during 2011-12 would touch 7 per cent.

Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) President R. V. Kanoria said the cut in cash reserve ratio to 5.5 per cent was a welcome step but said that in view of the uncertain growth prognosis a cut in repo rate would have acted as a strong enabling factor in spurring investment activity.

Woman hacked to death by two posing as policemen

 The house in Gerugambakkam from which a woman was abducted and murdered on Tuesday morning. Photo: A. Muralitharan A 39-year-old homemaker was allegedly kidnapped from her residence in Gerugambakkam, near Porur, in the wee hours of Tuesday and hacked to death by two unidentified persons who posed as policemen.

Police sources said the victim, Ambika, lived in Akash Nagar with her husband Ravi (40) and two sons – Bhagya (16) and Aravind (14). Ravi, who worked as a manager in a restaurant in Parry's, usually returned home only after midnight.

Around 1.30 a.m. on Tuesday, while he was on his way home on a moped, Ravi noticed two men standing at a bend that led to his street. They were attired in police uniform.

Ravi was stopped by the two men, who started enquiring about Ambika. The two claimed that there were some irregularities in the functioning of a Self Help Group that Ambika presided over and she was wanted for questioning.

Ravi told them that he was Ambika's husband and took them home. What happened next is unclear, but sources in the Crime Wing of the Mangadu police say that when Ravi went into the kitchen to prepare coffee, Ambika was abducted.

During interrogation, Ravi said that the two men claimed to be policemen from the High Court police station and just before he went into the kitchen, they told Ambika: “The inspector is waiting to question you at the street corner. Come with us.”

When Ravi came out of the kitchen, the two men and his wife were missing and he frantically started searching for Ambika. She was later found with her throat slit, just 100 feet away from the house. Since there were no streetlights, the men were untraceable. The Mangadu police have registered a case under Section 302 (Punishment for murder) of the IPC. A special team has been formed to investigate.

World stocks up as Apple result lifts tech shares

  World stocks rose on Wednesday as investors stayed calm in the face of a possible debt default by Greece to search for good deals in technology shares boosted by stunning results from Apple.

Benchmark crude rose to nearly $99 per barrel while the dollar rose against the yen but fell against the euro.

European shares followed their Asian counterparts higher. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.4 per cent to 5,774.31. Germany’s DAX climbed 0.5 per cent to 6,448.33 and France’s CAC-40 added 0.4 per cent at 3,334.50.

After a session of slight losses on Tuesday, Wall Street appeared headed for a higher opening. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 0.1 per cent to 12,644 while S&P 500 futures added 0.2 per cent to 1,314.40.

Asian stocks posted solid gains. The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo rose 1.1 per cent to close at 8,883.69. South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.1 per cent to 1,952.23 and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 1.1 per cent to 4,271.30. Markets in Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan remained closed for Chinese New Year.

Japan’s powerhouse export sector got a lift from a moderation in the yen’s strength even as the country reported its first annual trade deficit since 1980. A strong yen, which hit multiple historic highs last year against the dollar, shrinks the value of overseas earnings when repatriated and makes Japanese products less competitive.

Honda Motor surged 3.8 per cent. Mitsubishi Motor jumped 4.4 per cent and Sony added 4.8 per cent. Tire-maker Bridgestone added 4.2 per cent.

Technology stocks were elevated after Apple reported earnings that sailed past analyst estimates. Apple said late Tuesday said it sold 37 million iPhones in the last three months of 2011, vastly exceeding estimates and propelling the company to record quarterly results.

That stellar performance reverberated throughout the global tech industry. South Korea’s LG Electronics, which ranks No. 2 globally in flat screen televisions, jumped 4.1 per cent. Hynix Semiconductor, the world’s second-largest memory chip maker, added 1.9 per cent.

In Australia, shares in Lynas soared 5.1 per cent after the company said it had secured the funding necessary to complete construction and start-up at its rare earths processing plant in Malaysia.

Benchmark oil for March delivery rose 8 cents to $99.03 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 63 cents to end at $98.95 per barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.

In currency trading, the euro rose to $1.3031 from $1.3021 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar rose to 77.98 yen from 77.73 yen.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Number of competent mathematicians inadequate: Manmohan

 The Hindu Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal after releasing a commemorative stamp on mathematics genius Srinivasa Ramanujan in Chennai on Monday. Photos: V. Ganesan Declaring 2012 as the ‘National Mathematical year’ as a tribute to maths wizard Srinivasa Ramanujan, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday voiced concern over the “badly inadequate” number of competent mathematicians in the country.

He also said that the perception that pursuit of mathematics does not lead to attractive career possibilities “must change.”

“It is a matter of concern that for a country of our size, the number of competent mathematicians that we have is badly inadequate”, he said at a function to here mark the 125th birth anniversary of Ramanujan.

Dr. Singh also declared December 22, the birthday of Ramanujan, as ‘National Mathematics Day.’ Students have not pursued mathematics at advanced levels over more than three decades, which has resulted in a decline in quality of mathematics teachers at schools and colleges, Dr. Singh who is on a two-day visit to the state, told a galaxy of academics at Madras University.

“There is a general perception in our society that the pursuit of mathematics does not lead to attractive career possibilities. This perception must change. This perception may have been valid some years ago, but today there are many new career opportunities available to mathematics and the teaching perception itself has become much more attractive in recent years”, Dr. Singh said.

The Prime Minister said the mathematical community has a duty to find out “ways and means” to address the shortage of top quality mathematicians and reach out to the public, especially in the modern context, where mathematics has tremendous influence on every kind of human endeavour.

Noting that the Central government has pursued a policy of encouraging scientific activities of diverse kinds, the Prime Minister said, “Given our traditions, we naturally attach special importance to mathematics...in many ways, mathematics can be regarded as the mother science“.

He said Ramanujan overcame formidable difficulties to reach the pinnacle of greatness, illustrating the inadequacy of University evaluation system in the early decades of the last century, while at the same time showing the system displayed enough flexibility to take care of mavericks like him.

“There have been many reforms since those days but there would still be talent which would elude proper evaluation. Our institutions of higher learning must be sensitive to this problem.”

“A genius like Ramanujan would shine bright even in the most adverse of circumstances, but we should be geared to encourage and nurture good talent which may not be of the same calibre as that of Ramanujan”, Dr. Singh said.

Honouring Professor Robert Kanigel, who has written a biography of Ramanujan, Dr. Singh said this book has made Ramanujan well known to the public at large all over the world.

He said the country was proud of Ramanujan and Tamil Nadu has a special claim on him for he was a Tamilian.

“Along with C V Raman and Subramanyam Chandrashekhar (both Nobel laureates), he is among the three great men of science and mathematics that Tamil Nadu and India have given to the world of modern times”, he said.

Old RTC buses to run as ‘student specials'

Corporation to introduce these vehicles only after re-checking their condition

The APSRTC is planning to revamp some old buses and introduce them as ‘student specials' on a few routes for the convenience of students attending colleges on the city suburbs.

12-lakh kmA bus which completes 12-lakh kilometres of operations needs to be scrapped. There are many old buses that have crossed this mark but yet a few of them are good enough to be operated for some more time, said APSRTC Vice-chairman and Managing Director B. Prasada Rao.

The corporation would be introducing these vehicles only after re-checking their condition.

Outdated spares would be replaced with new ones before commencing operations. “We will not compromise on the safety of passengers. We will adhere to all safety norms and then begin services on the college routes,” he said.

“Running time of a bus is not the only factor that needs to be taken into consideration for scrapping a bus. At times, body and chassis of buses, which completes 12 lakh kilometres, gets damaged but the engine continues to be in a good condition. Authorities will identify such buses for extended operations,” he explained.

20 busesPresently, a few such revamped buses were being operated in Khammam and Mahabubnagar districts without any technical glitches. Plans have been chalked out to ply 20 such buses from January for the benefit of college students in Ibrahimpatnam, Hayathnagar and other areas on the suburbs, he said.

“These buses will shuttle for couple of trips in the morning and evening,” Mr. Rao added.

Parliament discussion on Lokpal Bill tomorrow

 Preparations underway on Monday at the MMRDA Ground for Anna Hazare's fast in Mumbai. Photo: Shashi Ashiwal The Lok Sabha will begin discussion on the Lokpal Bill on Tuesday, even as Anna Hazare begins his three-day fast at the same time in Mumbai for a “strong” Lokpal.

The House will witness a day-long combined discussion on the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill, 2011 and the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to give the ombudsman a Constitutional status.

The Public Interest Disclosure and Protection to Persons Making the Disclosures Bill, 2010 (popularly known as Whistleblowers’ bill) will also be discussed along with the two bills.

Congress has already issued a three-line whip to its members to remain present in the Lok Sabha during the debate.

It has also requested its allies in the UPA to issue similar whips.

The Lokpal Bill seeks to provide for the establishment of Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayuktas in states to inquire into allegations of corruption against public functionaries.

The Bill had faced objections from various political parties including the BJP at the stage of introduction last week, saying 50 per cent quota for minorities in the Lokpal bench and the Search Committee was “unconstitutional.”

Several parties had slammed the measure claiming that the Bill made it obligatory upon states to establish Lokayuktas and it was an infringement on the federal structure of the country.

Some others had criticised the move to put the Prime Minister under the ambit of the anti-corruption watchdog.

Mr. Hazare has announced that he will begin his three-day fast at Mumbai from Tuesday to protest a “weak” Lokpal Bill.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi had declared that she will fight for the Lokpal Bill.

She had recently told party MPs that to tackle the issue of corruption, three bills with major implications are to be passed soon — those relating to the protection of whistleblowers, enhancing judicial accountability, strengthening anti-money laundering operations and controlling bribery of Indian public officials by foreign companies.

The government aims to establish a mechanism to receive complaints relating to disclosure on any allegation of corruption or willful misuse of power or willful misuse of discretion against any public servant under the Whistleblowers’ Bill which will also come for discussion in the Lower House tomorrow.

The measure also seeks to provide adequate safeguards against victimisation of the person making such a complaint.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Parliament to decide final shape of Lokpal Bill: Pranab

 PTI Pranab: "It is the job of Parliament to legislate". File photo Ahead of Anna Hazare’s fast demanding a ‘strong’ Lokpal Bill, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday said it is for Parliament to decide what should be the final shape of the legislation.

“It is the job of Parliament to legislate. We (government) had several rounds of discussion with him (Anna Hazare) and his team. We know their viewpoints. About nine rounds of meetings have already been held with them.

Thereafter also, through interlocutors some discussions also took place with them,” Mr. Mukherjee told reporters at his south Kolkata residence.

Asked for his comments on Mr. Hazare’s threat of going on fast and Tuesday’s debate in Parliament on the legislation, he said, “It is for Parliament to decide what should be the final shape of the legislation.

“We brought legislation for the consideration of the House. I can’t make any premature comment on what members will do and respond to various provisions of the legislation. You will come to know of it later,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

Mr. Hazare is set to hold his three-day fast at the MMRDA Ground in Mumbai against a ‘weak’ Lokpal Bill from tomorrow.

Team Anna had on Sunday shot off an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and MPs wanting enactment of “real and best possible” anti-corruption law which should also provide for an independent investigative wing for the ombudsman.

Pattinson would look to make things difficult for the Indians

He is touted as Australia's next big pace sensation who will make life difficult for Indian batsmen in the upcoming Test series, but not too long ago, James Pattinson was nothing more than a fringe player even for his IPL team — Kolkata Knight Riders.

Team India is justifiably bewildered at the noise which surrounds Pattinson ahead of the opening Test starting here on Monday.

Just two Tests old, the 21-year-old speedster is hailed as the enforcer who would bring India's superstars to their knees in the four-Test series.

It's the same Pattinson who was in the Kolkata Knight Riders' squad during the Indian Premier League last year and was hardly given a look-in.

He now has the opportunity to take it out on his Indian captain Gautam Gambhir for being so dismissive of him earlier this year.

Bought at his base price of $100,000, Pattinson had turned out in only four first-class games for Australia at that stage. But for obvious reasons, KKR didn't see any merit in pushing him ahead of star pacer Brett Lee.

In a matter of six months, Pattinson is one of the most talked-about bowlers from Australia.

He bowls in the 140s and moves the ball disconcertingly for any batsman's comfort.

Former Australian cricketer Dean Jones is also from Victoria and has seen enough of Pattinson to think he is a genuine star performer.

“It's like when your car hits a chicken, it gets a little jolt. But when the car hits a cow, you are startled by the impact. It's the same with Pattinson, when he hits the bat, it jars. He's the real thing,” he said.

Interestingly, not many in the Indian team know that Pattinson was in the KKR squad. But now that the Indians know the tall Victorian is gunning for them, they are losing no opportunity to prepare for what he might dish out in the middle.

Sachin Tendulkar has spent hours and hours on the bowling machine for simulated batting against outswingers bowled at quick pace.

V.V.S. Laxman even wanted Tendulkar to see if he was coping up well against outswingers. Importantly, if his bat was coming down correctly in defence.

M.S. Dhoni too opened himself to a bowling machine in the nets on Sunday. He too wanted to practise against that probing line of on or outside the off-stump.

Seeking advice

It's a preparedness which is well thought of. Pattinson has gone public on how he sought the advice of England bowling coach David Saker ahead of the present series and how he's going to emulate the line of attack which James Anderson adopted so successfully against the Indians this summer.

Pattinson has harped on the ageing Indian line-up and believes it could be found out on Australian soil this summer.

“You watched them (Indian batsmen) in England and you felt that (signs of decline) at times.”

Pattinson said he would discard the option of bowling a barrage of short-pitched bowling. Instead, he suspects swing is the way to go against the Indians. Pattinson professes he is not intimidated by the Indians.

Rather, he wants to be intimidating to the visitors.

Pedestrian killed in hit and run

  A pedestrian was killed on Sunday as he was hit by a speeding vehicle while crossing the road near Tharmekavu temple, Vaikom Road, Tripunithura.

The victim, Narayanan Kutty, 52, a goldsmith died on the spot.

He was the son of Goplan Achary of Cherukotayil House, Mulanthuruthy, Karikode. The body was handed over to his wife Saraswathy and relatives, after the post-mortem at the Taluk hospital, Tripunithra. The police held the driver of the vehicle Xylo that caused the accident and confiscated it from near Kalamassery after the Tripunithura traffic police gave an alert about hit and run case.

Pilloor supply disruption

   Pilloor water supply will stand disrupted in Kalapatty, Vilankurichi, Sulur, Sultanpet, Palladam, Pongalur and Madukkarai on December 27 and 28.

A release from the Executive Engineer of the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board says that the disruption will be on account of the leak rectification work the Board will take up on the main supply line along the Vilankurichi Road, Kamarajar Road, Trichy Road and in Singanallur.

The Board will resume the water supply on December 29 morning. It has asked local bodies to make alternative arrangements.

PM showers praise on Chidambaram

  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday showered praise on Home Minister P. Chidambaram, who is in the line of opposition fire, saying he derived “immense” support from his “enlightened leadership.”

“Since 2004, I have been deriving immense support from his enlightened leadership as Finance Minister and then as Home Minister. Whatever task is given to him, he performs with super aplomb,” Dr. Singh said at a function here in Chidambaram’s Sivaganga Lok Sabha constituency.

Dr. Singh’s remarks came against the backdrop of Mr. Chidambaram coming under opposition attack over his alleged role in 2G spectrum allocation scam and the charge of misuse of office in helping a Delhi-based hotelier.

“He and I have been colleagues since 1990s and worked hand in hand. I worked as Finance Minister when he worked as Commerce Minister then,” the Prime Minister said, referring to Chidambaram who was seated among the audience at a function in the Alagappa University.

Gunning for his resignation, BJP has been boycotting Chidambaram in Parliament heckling him whenever he rises to speak, with the party using his alleged misuse of office in helping a Delhi-based hotelier as a fresh ammunition against him.

The UPA Government and the Congress have rallied behind Chidambaram, rejecting the opposition charges and calls for his resignation.

With his engagements in Karaikudi, Dr. Singh wrapped up his two-day visit to Tamil Nadu over which the Mullaperiyar dam row between the state and Kerala cast its shadow.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Pope Christmas message calls for end to violence in Syria

 AP Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful during the "Urbi et Orbi" (to the City and to the World) message in St. Peter's square at the Vatican on Sunday. Pope Benedict XVI called for an end to the bloodshed in Syria and the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in his Christmas message on Sunday, an appeal for peace that was challenged by deadly attacks on Nigerian churches.

Pope Benedict delivered his Urbi et Orbi speech (Latin for “to the city and to the world“) from the central loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica overlooking a sun-drenched piazza below, before thousands of jubilant tourists and pilgrims, and hundreds of colourful Swiss Guards and Italian military bands.

The 84-year-old pope, fresh off a late-night Christmas Eve Mass, said he prayed that the birth of Jesus, which Christmas celebrates, would send a message to all who need to be saved from hardships.

He cited refugees from the Horn of Africa and flood victims in Thailand, among others, and called for greater political dialogue in Myanmar, and stability in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa’s Great Lakes region.

He said he prayed that God would help the Israelis and the Palestinians resume talks.

“May he bring an end to the violence in Syria, where so much blood has already been shed,” he said.

The pope didn’t mention the deadly blasts on churches in Nigeria, but the Vatican issued a statement denouncing the attacks as a sign of “cruelty and absurd, blind hatred” that shows no respect for human life.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Catholic church was praying for all Nigerians confronting “this terrorist violence in these days that should be filled with peace and joy.”

The Vatican press office noted that Benedict’s speech was prepared well in advance of the attacks.

After his speech, Benedict delivered Christmas greetings in 65 different languages, from Mongolian to Maori, Aramaic to Albanian, Tamil to Thai. He finished the list with Guarani and Latin, as the bells tolled from St. Peter’s enormous bell towers.

In the West Bank, hundreds of Christian faithful, defying lashing rains and wind, celebrated Christmas Mass at Jesus’ traditional birthplace of Bethleham on Sunday, spirits high despite the gloomy weather.

Worshippers dressed in their holiday best rushed under cover of umbrellas into St. Catherine’s Church on Manger Square, leaving the plaza, with its 50-foot-tall Christmas tree, deserted. The church was packed, and the overflow crowd waited eagerly in an arched corridor for a chance to enter.

Inside, supplicants, some dressed in the traditional attire of foreign lands, raised their voices in prayer, kissed a plaster statue of a baby Jesus and took communion. St. Catherine’s is attached to the smaller Church of the Nativity, which is built over a grotto where devout Christians believe Jesus was born.

“Lots of pilgrims from around the world are coming to be here on Christmas,” said Don Moore, 41, a psychology professor from Berkeley, California, who came to Bethlehem with his family. “We wanted to be part of the action. This is the place, this is where it all started.”

With turnout at its highest in more than a decade, proud Palestinian officials said they were praying the celebrations would bring them closer to their dream of independence.

In Britain, the leader of the world’s Anglicans, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said the summer riots in Britain and the financial crisis have broken bonds and abused trust in British society.

In his Christmas Day sermon, Rowan Williams appealed to those congregated at Canterbury Cathedral to learn lessons about “mutual obligation” from the events of the past year. He said Sunday “the most pressing question” now facing Britain is “who and where we are as a society.”

“Bonds have been broken, trust abused and lost,” he said.

Quraishi rules out change in Uttarakhand poll date

 PTI Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi addresses a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday to announce the dates for the Assembly elections Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur. Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi on Sunday expressed the Commission’s inability to consider changing the poll schedule in Uttarakhand from the already announced January 30 as the date had been decided considering various factors including weather condition.

He claimed that the poll dates announced by the Commission was widely welcomed by the people and political parties in different States.

He was reacting to The Hindu on the concern expressed by State Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri and Congress president Yashpal Arya who claimed that there could be snow falls in some regions of Uttarakhad during January end and hence poll should be postponed to middle of February 2012.

“The Commission fixed the date after consulting experts in the Indian Metrological Department too and it was informed by them that the snowfall could be more only in the second week of February. Moreover, if the polling gets affected due to snowfall in one or two places there is always possibility of adjustment,” Mr. Quraishi said.

The term of the present Assembly of Uttarakhand ends on March 13 and Punjab on March 14 and before that the elections had to be completed, results declared and the new House needs to be constituted in both the States. There should be some time gap between the declaration of the results and constitution of the new Assembly after the new government took over.

Moreover considering the huge geographical area, electoral strength, movement of security forces and sensitive nature of Uttar Pradesh, the poll there should be held in multi phases and the polls in that State could not be held separately later as the polling/results pattern in one State might affect the election results in other States.

“So the polling and the counting of votes in all the States have to be completed by first week of March to enable the constitution of the new Assembly in Uttarakhand and Punjab by second week of March and hence the polling date was fixed as January 30 considering various aspects including examinations,” Mr. Quraishi added.

Mr. Khanduri had on Saturday claimed that it would be snowing in the mountain regions of the State throughout January and sought postponement of the poll. Given the inclement weather, elections in January could have an adverse impact on voting, he had said.

Mr. Arya had said election in January was not only inconvenient for the parties and the voters but would also be a challenge for the Commission.

Rajasthan takes lead

   Rajasthan went to the top of Group ‘B' Plate league of the Cooch Behar Trophy, snatching a 144-run first innings lead against Bengal in the drawn encounter at Kalyani on Sunday.

Chasing Rajasthan's massive first innings total of 553 for eight declared, Bengal, overnight 210 for three, was restricted to 409 on the final day. This meant Bengal added only 199 runs for the loss of seven wickets in the drawn game,

Rajasthan will play Bihar and Bengal will take on Tripura in the next set of matches.

Vihari cracks century

At Hyderabad, G.H. Vihari's unbeaten 100 for Hyderabad was the highlight of the final day's play as the match against Andhra ended in a draw at Gymkhana on Sunday.

Andhra picked up three points for taking the first innings lead, while the home team got one point.

The scores: At Kalyani: Rajasthan 553 for eight decl. drew with Bengal 409 in 169 overs (A. Keshri 102, A. Gani 56, Ravikant Singh 69, S. Lohia four for 127). Points: Rajasthan 3; Bengal 1.

At Hyderabad: Hyderabad 319 & 306 for three decl. in 94.2 overs (Rohit Rayudu 58, Ryan Kaundinya 65, G.H. Vihari 100 n.o., Akash Bhanadari 51, Sneha Kishore three for 113) drew with Andhra 340 & 187 for four (M. Pranith 89, B. Siva Charan Singh 55 n.o.). Points: Andhra 3, Hyderabad 1.
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