Friday, December 31, 2010

INDIA SPORTS ROUND UP 2010

It had to end, finally, 70-68 in the fifth, but for 11 hours and five minutes stretched over three days, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut took sport to its logical extreme — into a zone where the outside world, even the happenings on the adjacent courts at Wimbledon, ceased to exist.

Sport seldom leads that sort of separate existence. This was especially true in 2010, a year that will forever be associated with spot-fixing in cricket, corruption in high places in football and organisational shambles at the Commonwealth Games.

Sports fans must be eternally grateful, therefore, to Isner and Mahut. And, of course, to Spain, which achieved its maiden FIFA World Cup triumph by stubbornly sticking to its beliefs.

Nearly all of its opponents defended deep and in numbers. In the final, the Netherlands, once similarly staunch in its aesthetic beliefs, resorted to crude hacking.

But Spain didn't lose faith in its modus operandi. Receive, pass, offer. On and on till the openings came, often late in games.

There was no avalanche. One-nil was the scoreline in each of its knockout games, but that didn't tell half the story of the beauty and bravery of Spain's football.

Receive, pass, offer. The mantra is drilled into anyone who learns the game at La Masia, Barcelona's youth academy. Seven La Masia graduates were on the pitch during the World Cup final.

Three — Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi — form the three-man shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d'Or, the sport's biggest individual honour.

How the mighty fell

Elsewhere, the mighty fell soundly on their backsides. Wayne Rooney, who had only to turn up at matches to find the net prodigiously for club and country last year, endured a torrid 2010, scoring off the pitch but seldom on it.

He also starred in one of the most convoluted transfer tearjerkers of all time, at the end of which he remained a Manchester United player, with a fattened contract to boot.

Further demonstration that sportspersons live in fragile bubbles came from Tiger Woods. We wondered, at the start of the year, if the revelations of his infidelity and the subsequent cancellation, one by one, of endorsement deals that relied on his ‘image' would cause his cold-eyed stare down the fairway to falter. The answer, emphatically, was yes.

Australia, cricket's Tiger Woods for over a decade, fared no better. Failure to regain the Ashes from England was confirmation that the side has an arduous rebuilding phase ahead of it.

In tennis, the year began with a tearful Andy Murray confessing, at the Australian Open podium, that he could “cry like Roger (Federer). It's just a shame I can't play like him.”

It ended with Federer winning the World Tour Finals to cap a run of form that saw the Swiss genius, working with new coach Paul Annacone, rack up a 34-4 win-loss record after his quarterfinal defeat at Wimbledon.

In between, Rafael Nadal ruled supreme, regaining the number one ranking and winning three Slams on the trot, including a first ever U.S. Open crown to become the seventh player in history, and the youngest, to complete a Career Slam.

Two narratives

The women's game, as in recent seasons, contained two narratives — that of the Williams siblings and that of the rest. Serena, who won in Australia and Wimbledon, kept her non-Slam appearances to a minimum, allowing Caroline Wozniacki to become only the second year-end No. 1 without a Slam.

Sebastian Vettel became the youngest Formula One world champion, holding his nerve in a tense final race in Abu Dhabi to pip three other title contenders.

For India, 2010 demonstrated a still modest, but growing presence in world sport. Viswanathan Anand, despite braving a 30-hour bus ride thanks to Eyjafjallajokull, came back from a game down to win his fourth World Chess Championship.

The Commonwealth Games in Delhi produced a best-ever medal tally. The shooters, led by, Gagan Narang, were predictably prolific, but there were surprise successes as well, notably in women's wrestling and a 1-2-3 finish in the women's discus throw.

Somdev Devvarman won the tennis singles gold in Delhi, and carried that form to Guangzhou, where he picked up gold in both singles and doubles. India's 4x400m women's team also did the Commonwealth and Asian Games gold double.

Vijender Singh put behind a semifinal disappointment in front of his home crowd to win the middleweight boxing gold at Guangzhou, where he dismantled Uzbek World champion Abbos Atoev 7-0. Sushil Kumar created history in Moscow, becoming the first Indian to win gold at the World wrestling Championships.

Saina Nehwal won the CWG gold in the badminton singles, and more significantly bagged three Super Series titles, in Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong, on her way to reaching a career-high number two world ranking.

Further cheer came at the Wyndham Championships, where Arjun Atwal became the first Indian golfer to win a PGA Tour event.

China's online population hits 450 million

China’s number of Internet users - already the world’s largest - rose to 450 million this year, more than a third of the country’s population, a senior official said on Thursday.

Official statistics show that the number of users, as of the end of November, is an increase of 20.3 percent compared to last year, Wang Chen, head of China’s State Council Information Office, told a news conference. China’s population is more than 1.3 billion.

China’s boom in Internet usage has come with the growth of an equally extensive policing system, from technical filters that block sites based on certain words to human monitors who scan bulletin boards and micro-blogging posts for political dissent.

Chinese authorities investigated nearly 2,200 criminal cases, and courts handed down sentences in 1,164 cases, he said. More than 1,300 people were punished by the courts, while 58 people were given more than five years of prison time.

Much of China’s online growth has come as more people access the Internet through their mobile phones using popular services that support video and other Web products. A report earlier this year by the China Internet Network Information Centre said about 277 million people get online with their phones.

A memorable year for Supreme Court

The year 2010 was a memorable one for the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia as it asserted its supremacy, particularly in protecting human rights and in exposing corruption at high levels by ordering a thorough probe into the 2G spectrum scam.

Justice Kapadia, first Parsi to become the CJI, believes in silent action. He is reticent about meeting the media.

Concerned at poor infrastructure in the subordinate judiciary, the CJI has taken upon himself the task of providing basic facilities to the judiciary at all levels.

Taking a serious view of irregularities and lapses in the telecom sector over the past decade, the court has taken charge of the 2G spectrum scam probe, being conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation, and widened its scope.

It asked the CBI to register a first information report and investigate the grant of licence from 2001 to 2006-07, with emphasis on the loss caused to the exchequer and corresponding gain made by the licensees and service providers.

The court asked Income Tax authorities to analyse the transcripts made from corporate lobbyist Niira Radia's phone taps and hand these over to the CBI “to facilitate further investigation into the FIR already registered or which may be registered hereinafter.”

In the area of human rights, the court declared “illegal” use of narco-analysis, brain-mapping and polygraph tests on suspects and held that these tests could not be conducted on any person, whether he or she is an accused or suspect, without his or her consent.

Expanding the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution (right to life and liberty) the court expressed concern over lacunae in implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

It said: “The legislative scheme of the Act clearly places the ‘right to livelihood' on a higher pedestal than a mere legal right.” It asked the Centre and the Orissa government to show cause why the CBI should not be directed to investigate this matter in accordance with law.

In a rare instance, the Supreme Court proved that it was not infallible but rectified its mistake at once.

In this case, a trial court in Madhya Pradesh awarded life imprisonment to eight persons in a murder case. On appeal, the High Court acquitted all of them.

However, the State preferred an appeal only against the four main accused. The Supreme Court, while setting aside the High Court judgment, restored the trial court order though the remaining four respondents were not heard or made parties in the appeal.

On a curative petition, the court, correcting its mistake, said: “We see that there is a serious violation of the principles of natural justice as the acquittal of all the accused has been set aside even though only four of them were made respondents before this court and the others were not heard. We are, therefore, constrained to recall the judgment passed by this court. Consequently, the four accused [who were not heard] if they are in custody, are directed to be released forthwith.”

In another instance, the court admitted that its earlier judgment upholding the death sentence awarded by the trial court and confirmed by the High Court was a mistake and violation of the human rights of the accused. The court, in a second review, upheld the Assam Governor's order commuting the punishment to life sentence.

The court held: “Instances of this court's judgment violating the human rights of the citizens may be extremely rare but it cannot be said that such a situation can never happen. On a review of the reasoning in the petition, we find that the finding in the judgment is vitiated by errors apparent on the face of the record.”

Observing that great ignominy attached to the arrest of a person, the court held that it would not be proper for the trial court or the High Court to grant anticipatory bail for a limited duration and thereafter ask the accused to surrender and seek regular bail.

Removal of Governor

The court held that a Governor could not be removed on the ground that he/she was out of sync with the policies and ideologies of the Union government or the party in power at the Centre. Nor could he/she be removed on the ground that the Union government lost confidence in him/her.

It held that a change in government at the Centre was not a ground for removal of Governors to make way for others favoured by the new regime.

In the biggest corporate legal battle between the Ambani brothers, the court held that gas is a national asset and that the Centre's pricing policy would prevail over any private agreement.

It directed Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) of the Mukesh group to initiate renegotiations with Reliance Natural Resources Ltd. (RNRL) of the Anil group for fixing the price of gas to be supplied to RNRL. This judgment paved the way for a fruitful settlement of the dispute between the brothers.

Top ten science breakthroughs of 2010

A mechanical device that operates in the quantum realm tops the Science journal's list of advances in 2010.

Until this year, all human-made objects have moved according to the laws of classical mechanics. Back in March, however, a group of researchers designed a gadget that moves in ways that can only be described by quantum mechanics — the set of rules that governs the behaviour of tiny things like molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. In recognition of the conceptual ground their experiment breaks, the ingenuity behind it and its many potential applications, Science has called this discovery the most significant scientific advance of 2010.

Physicists Andrew Cleland and John Martinis from the University of California at Santa Barbara and their colleagues designed the machine—a tiny metal paddle of semiconductor, visible to the naked eye — and coaxed it into dancing with a quantum groove.

First, they cooled the paddle until it reached its “ground state,” or the lowest energy state permitted by the laws of quantum mechanics (a goal long-sought by physicists).

Then they raised the widget's energy by a single quantum to produce a purely quantum-mechanical state of motion. They even managed to put the gadget in both states at once, so that it literally vibrated a little and a lot at the same time — a bizarre phenomenon allowed by the weird rules of quantum mechanics.

Science has recognized this first quantum machine as the 2010 Breakthrough of the Year.

They have also compiled nine other important scientific accomplishments from this past year into a top ten list, appearing in a special news feature in the journal's 17 December 2010 issue. “This year's Breakthrough of the Year represents the first time that scientists have demonstrated quantum effects in the motion of a human-made object,” said Adrian Cho, a news writer for Science. “On a conceptual level that's cool because it extends quantum mechanics into a whole new realm. On a practical level, it opens up a variety of possibilities ranging from new experiments that meld quantum control over light, electrical currents and motion to, perhaps someday, tests of the bounds of quantum mechanics and our sense of reality.”

The quantum machine proves that the principles of quantum mechanics can apply to the motion of macroscopic objects, as well as atomic and subatomic particles. It provides the key first step toward gaining complete control over an object's vibrations at the quantum level. Such control over the motion of an engineered device should allow scientists to manipulate those minuscule movements, much as they now control electrical currents and particles of light. In turn, that capability may lead to new devices to control the quantum states of light, ultra-sensitive force detectors and, ultimately, investigations into the bounds of quantum mechanics and our sense of reality. (This last grand goal might be achieved by trying to put a macroscopic object in a state in which it's literally in two slightly different places at the same time — an experiment that might reveal precisely why something as big as a human can't be in two places at the same time.)

“Mind you, physicists still haven't achieved a two-places-at-once state with a tiny object like this one,” said Cho. “But now that they have reached the simplest state of quantum motion, it seems a whole lot more obtainable—more like a matter of ‘when' than ‘if.'”

The other nine

Science's list of the nine other groundbreaking achievements from 2010 follows.

Synthetic Biology: In a defining moment for biology and biotechnology, researchers built a synthetic genome and used it to transform the identity of a bacterium. The genome replaced the bacterium's DNA so that it produced a new set of proteins—an achievement that prompted a Congressional hearing on synthetic biology. In the future, researchers envision synthetic genomes that are custom-built to generate biofuels, pharmaceuticals or other useful chemicals.

Neandertal Genome: Researchers sequenced the Neandertal genome from the bones of three female Neandertals who lived in Croatia sometime between 38,000 and 44,000 years ago. New methods of sequencing degraded fragments of DNA allowed scientists to make the first direct comparisons between the modern human genome and that of our Neandertal ancestors.

HIV Prophylaxis: Two HIV prevention trials of different, novel strategies reported unequivocal success: A vaginal gel that contains the anti-HIV drug tenofovir reduced HIV infections in women by 39 percent and an oral pre-exposure prophylaxis led to 43.8 fewer HIV infections in a group of men and transgender women who have sex with men.

Exome Sequencing/Rare Disease Genes: By sequencing just the exons of a genome, or the tiny portion that actually codes for proteins, researchers who study rare inherited diseases caused by a single, flawed gene were able to identify specific mutations underlying at least a dozen diseases.

Molecular Dynamics Simulations: Simulating the gyrations that proteins make as they fold has been a combinatorial nightmare. Now, researchers have harnessed the power of one of the world's most powerful computers to track the motions of atoms in a small, folding protein for a length of time 100 times longer than any previous efforts.

Quantum Simulator: To describe what they see in the lab, physicists cook up theories based on equations. Those equations can be fiendishly hard to solve. This year, though, researchers found a short-cut by making quantum simulators—artificial crystals in which spots of laser light play the role of ions and atoms trapped in the light stand in for electrons. The devices provide quick answers to theoretical problems in condensed matter physics and they might eventually help solve mysteries such as superconductivity.

Next-Generation Genomics: Faster and cheaper sequencing technologies are enabling very large-scale studies of both ancient and modern DNA. The 1,000 Genomes Project, for example, has already identified much of the genome variation that makes us uniquely human—and other projects in the works are set to reveal much more of the genome's function.

RNA Reprogramming: Reprogramming cells—turning back their developmental clocks to make them behave like unspecialized "stem cells" in an embryo—has become a standard lab technique for studying diseases and development.

This year, researchers found a way to do it using synthetic RNA. Compared with previous methods, the new technique is twice as fast, 100 times as efficient and potentially safer for therapeutic use.

The Return of the Rat: Mice rule the world of laboratory animals, but for many purposes researchers would rather use rats. Rats are easier to work with and anatomically more similar to human beings; their big drawback is that methods used to make "knockout mice"— animals tailored for research by having specific genes precisely disabled—don't work for rats. A flurry of research this year, however, promises to bring "knockout rats" to labs in a big way.

Sachin graces IAF calendar

Sachin Tendulkar can now be seen in IAF fatigues along with the Sukhoi fighter aircraft in the force’s 2011 calendar.

The cricket icon, who was recently conferred the honorary rank of Group Captain, features in the calendar wearing a green flying suit with helmet tucked under his left arm.

Sachin appears on the January page of the calendar with an air superiority fighter Su-30MKI in the background, the aircraft which he is likely to be flying in after returning from the ongoing series in South Africa.

Interestingly, Sachin is the only person appearing in the calendar, which otherwise carries the pictures of various fighter planes and transport aircraft of the IAF. The IAF said Sachin had been featured in the calendar to spread awareness about the force among the youth.

On September 3, the IAF conferred the honorary rank of Group Captain on Sachin for his cricketing achievements and contribution to the nation. Sachin is the first sportsperson to be conferred a rank by IAF and the first personality with no aviation background to receive the honour.

“It’s a great pleasure and honour to be honoured by IAF. It was a wishful thinking and it has come true today. I’m extremely proud to be a part of IAF. I want to urge the youth to join air force and serve the nation. So dream, because dreams do come true,” he had said after receiving the honour.

Coins below 50 paise will lose currency from 2011 June 30

Come June 30, 2011, 50 paise will be the minimum coin accepted in the markets as all denominations below it will cease to be legal currency, the Finance Ministry said on Wednesday. The entries in books of accounts, pricing of products, services and taxes should be rounded off to 50 paise or whole rupee from that date. “The procedure for call in shall be notified separately by the Reserve Bank of India.”

KRISHNA WATER TRIBUNAL JUDGEMENT

The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal-II on December 30, 2010 allocated the highest share of Krishna river waters to Andhra Pradesh but distributed the surplus waters, which was hitherto flowing into the State. The shares of other basin States — Karnataka and Maharashtra — were also raised.

The three-member tribunal, headed by Justice Brijesh Kumar, permitted Karnataka to raise the storage level in the Almatti dam to 524.256 metres from 519.6 metres, a measure seen by Andhra Pradesh as depriving its lower Krishna delta region of water supply. The tribunal, however, directed Karnataka to make regulated releases of 8 to 10 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) from the dam to Andhra Pradesh in June and July.

The tribunal asked the Centre to set up a `Krishna Water Decision-Implementation Board' with representation from all the three States.

The tribunal directed the three States to contribute for Chennai city drinking water supply 3.30 tmcft distributed in equal quantity in July, August, September and October, and 1.70 tmcft in four equal instalments in January, February, March and April.

In its order, announced in an open court, the tribunal allocated a total share of of 1,001 tmcft to Andhra Pradesh, 911 tmcft to Karnataka and 666 tmcft to Maharashtra with certain restrictions imposed on each State in keeping with the dependable flows of the rivers on which the allocations have been made.

Fresh assessment

KWDT-II freshly assessed the yearly yields in the Krishna and determined the award on the basis of the yearly yield at 65 per cent dependability which was assessed at a total of 2,293 tmcft.

The total allocation under the award includes the allocations made by KWDT-I at 75 per cent dependable yields plus return flows assessed at 2,130 tmcft. The allocation under the first award was 734 tmcft for Karnataka, 585 tmcft for Maharashtra and 811 tmcft for Andhra Pradesh.

Maharashtra Water Resources Minister Ramrajya Nimbalkar said, “Certain things may be against us but overall we are happy.” Karnataka counsel Mohan Kartike said: “The tribunal has done a great job but areas of specific concern, particularly quantification of surplus waters, remain. We'll look into the award and decide our course of action.” Andhra Pradesh lawyers said they would study the order before expressing a view.

“The States can seek clarifications or explanations on the award from the tribunal within three months and can file for review,” Justice Brijesh Kumar told .

Since the decision of the tribunal has the force and decree of the Supreme Court, no appeal against the award can be filed in any court except before the tribunal itself. The order of the tribunal can be reviewed or revised after May 31, 2050.

States which came up with projects that do not fall within the purview of the tribunal's order may have to modify them. KWDT-II was constituted in 2004.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

INDIA 2010 ROUND UP

DRDO working on cutting submarine vulnerability

Work is apace at the Defence Research and Development Organisation's Naval Materials Research Laboratory at Ambernath in Maharashtra on developing a land-based prototype plug, and subsequently an engineered, operational version of an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system that will significantly cut the ‘indiscretion rate' of diesel and electric submarines.

The ‘indiscretion rate' is the percentage of time a submarine spends snorting when it is most vulnerable. By eliminating the need for conventional submarines to frequently resurface for recharging batteries by breathing in air, it would considerably enhance their sub-surface endurance.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New species of fishes found in Indian waters

The presence of a shark species new to science and 84 other deep-sea dwellers new to the Indian waters have been brought out by a stock assessment of deep sea fishes of the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone and the central Indian Ocean, according to researchers.

Mustelus manglorensis, a new gummy shark species, was discovered from a depth of 500 metres off the Mangalore coast. According to researchers, this is the second gummy shark that has been reported from the Indian Ocean against the 19 known worldwide.

Of the 84 species of fishes found in the Indian waters, 15 were shark varieties, including Baloon, Cat, Lantern and Gulpers. Researchers have also confirmed the presence of 10 species of eels belonging to Conger, Cusk and Snipe families from the study region. Most of the species were found inhabiting the sea at a depth beyond 500 metres, researchers said.

The assessment was carried out by a research team led by B. Madhusoodana Kurup, Director, School of Industrial Fisheries of the Cochin University of Science and Technology. The team included researchers M. Harikrishnan, S. Venu, Sharin Sonia, A.V. Deepu, Ginsen Joseph and Diana. The study was supported by the Centre for Marine Living Resources and Ecology of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

The assessment also revealed that the Indian waters supported rich and diverse deep sea angler fish, which uses the fleshy lobe on its head to catch its prey. The presence of six new species coming under ‘smooth,' ‘double,' ‘dicerateid' and ‘blackmouth' angler fish categories was also recorded. Most of them were found occupying the ocean space between a depth of 500 and 800 metres.

The samples were collected from the exploratory deep sea fishery cruises on board the ocean research vessel Sagar Sampada. Fishing was carried out in depths between 200 and 1100 metres from the Wadge bank in the south and Ratnagiri in the north along the south west coast during the last 10 years. Fishing operations were carried out in 220 stations with high speed demersal fish and shrimp trawls

England retains Ashes with emphatic 4th Test win

England has retained the Ashes in emphatic fashion by completing an innings and 157—run win over Australia on December 29th in the fourth Test.

England retained the Ashes for the first time on Australian soil since 1986—87. It travels to the final Test in Sydney starting Sunday with a 2—1 series lead, but as the Ashes-holder, England needs only to draw the series to keep the urn.

Tim Bresnan claimed the final wicket and his fourth of the innings when Ben Hilfenhaus was caught behind for a duck to dismiss Australia for 258. Last batsman Ryan Harris could not bat due to a foot injury.

Brad Haddin and Peter Siddle shared an 86—run eighth—innings partnership, but that only delayed the inevitable. Haddin ended the match on an unbeaten 55.

Australia’s loss looked inevitable from day one when it was dismissed for a paltry 98 in two rain—shortened sessions on the first day. A capitulation became inevitable early on the third day when England replied with a first—innings total of 513 for a massive 415—run lead.

Bresnan claimed the vital wickets of Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey after tea on Tuesday to become the architect of yet another poor Australian batting performance.

Bresnan, who replaced Steven Finn in England’s bowling attack for the fourth Test, ended the innings with figures of 4—50. Tremlett had 1—71, Anderson had 1—71 and Swan finished with 2—59.

Shane Watson provided Australia’s second highest score of the match with 54, while the England line-up featured knocks of 168 from Jonathan Trott, 85 from Matt Prior and 82 by Alastair Cook, proving the MCG wicket had plenty to offer the batsmen.

Siddle’s bowling provided the only highlight for the Australians, taking 6—75. Johnson, who took 9 wickets in Australia’s 267—run win at Perth in the third Test, was far less effective in Melbourne, conceding 134 runs for his two wickets.

Australia captain Ponting’s future has come under intense scrutiny in the light of the series loss, his failure with the bat, a finger injury and his unseemly remonstrations with the on—field umpires on Monday after having a reviewed decision ruled not out.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Russia puts European satellite Ka-Sat in orbit


Russia on December 27th put into orbit the European Ka-Sat satellite launched overnight by a Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

"The satellite was successfully put into orbit at 10:03 Moscow time (0703 GMT)," the Khrunichev space centre said December 27th.

This was Proton's first successful launch after a failure on December 5 of three Russian navigation satellites, Glonass, to reach orbit. They fell into the Pacific some 1,500 kilometres (937 miles) from Hawaii.

After the incident, Russia has temporarily suspended Proton launches. Some experts have said programming errors caused failures.

Ka-Sat will ensure access to broadband Internet for poorly served terrestrial networks in Europe and Mediterranean basin. The satellite was constructed by EADS Astrium for Eutelsat, Europe's leading satellite operator.

Monday, December 27, 2010

183 Elephant Corridors Identified


The Ministry of Environment and Forests has identified 183 corridors for elephants. Out of this 138 are State Elephant Corridors, 28 Inter State Elephant Corridors and 17 are International Elephant Corridors. Every year the Ministry receives proposals in the form of Annual Plan of Operation from States / Union Territory’s for various activities under Project Elephant which includes restoration of Elephant Corridors also. In the last three years Rs. 4.5 crores has been released to Kerala and Rs. 3.25 crores to Tamil Nadu for acquisition of land for Elephant Corridors. The acquisition process are done by respective State Governments.

Nationwide 38 Sites Identified for Plantation and Conservation of Mangroves

The Ministry has a Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Conservation and Management of
Mangroves in the country. On a nation-wide basis, 38 sites have been identified as appropriate for
planting of mangroves and their conservation and management. The State-wise list is given in
Annexure-I. As per the State of Forest Report 2009, published by Forest Survey of India, the
mangrove cover in the country stands at 4639 km2 out of which 353 km2 is in Andhra Pradesh.
Under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme for Conservation and Management of Mangroves,
100% central assistance is extended to Coastal States/Union Territories, who so request, for
implementation of their approved Management Action Plans which comprise components such as
Survey and Demarcation, Afforestation and Restoration of Mangroves, Alternate and
Supplementary Livelihoods, Protection Measures, Education and Awareness etc. The details of
central assistance provided to Coastal States/Union Territories for conservation & management of
mangroves during the last three years and the current year.

‘Conservation of Mangroves’.
State/Union
Territories Mangrove areas
West Bengal
1. Sunderbans
Orissa 2. Bhaitarkanika
3. Mahanadi
4. Subernarekha
5. Devi
6. Dhamra
7. Mangrove Genetic Resources Centre
8. Chilka
Andhra Pradesh
9. Coringa
10. East Godavari
11. Krishna
Tamil Nadu
12. Pichavaram
13. Muthupet
14. Ramnad
15. Pulicat
16. Kazhuveli
Andaman & Nicobar
17. North Andamans
18. Nicobar
Kerala
19. Vembanad
20. Kannur (Northern Kerala)
Karnataka
21. Coondapur
22. Dakshin Kannada/Honnavar
23. Karwar
24. Manglore Forest Division
Goa
25. Goa
Maharashtra
26. Achra-Ratnagiri
27. Devgarh-Vijay Durg
28. Veldur
29. Kundalika-Revdanda
30. Mumbra-Diva
31. Vikroli
32. Shreevardhan
33. Vaitarna
34. Vasai-Manori
35. Malvan
Gujarat
36. Gulf of Kutchh
37. Gulf of Khambhat
38. Dumas-Ubhrat

Green Cover of Sahyadri Mountain in Maharashtra


In the Sahyadri Mountain Range, there are a total of 699 Village Forest Committees which includes tribals and other weaker sections of the society. The Ministry of Environment & Forest has sanctioned an outlay of Rs.1575.93 lakhs under this programme for the year 2010-11 for the Forest Development Agencies in the Sahyadri Mountain in Maharashtra. In the National Afforestation Programme, Afforestation is done through People’s participation through the Joint Forest Management Committees or Village Forest Committees at the Village Level.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has no specific programme for the maintenance of green cover of Sahyadri Mountain in Maharashtra. However, the Ministry of Environment & Forests is implementing the National Afforestation Programme for afforestation and eco-restoration of the degraded forests in the country and adjoining areas. The scheme is implemented through the State Forest Development Agency at the State Level, Forest Development Agencies at the Forest Division Level and Joint Forest Management Committees at the village level. The Forest Divisions in the Sahyadri Mountains in Maharashtra are also funded in this programme.

Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law

Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law –Cebpol at Chennai
India –Norway to Cooperate in Biodiversity
Minister of State for Environment and Forests (I/C) Shri Jairam Ramesh said, “Biodiversity is a subject of great significance to us and working with like minded people, we will be in a stronger position to preserve and protect our bio-diversity.” After signing a Letter of Intent by Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Environment & Forests, India, and Mr. Erik Solheim, the Norwegian Minister of Environment & Development here today, Shri Ramesh said, “This is significant from the point of view on global warming. We will emerge as world’s second largest coal user within 7-8 years, any technology for carbon capture and sequestration is of great importance to us. The Access and Benefit sharing protocol, finalized at Nagoya recently, demonstrates the seriousness.” The Minister added that India will establish the National Institute of Himalayan Glaciology in Dehradun and we are looking for partnership in the field of study of glaciology from Norway.”

Mr Eric Solheim, Minister of Environment and International Development, said, “ This agreement is crucial because the centre is being set up in Chennai after signing of important agreement was achieved on sharing on genetic resources was achieved in Nagoya. The core of the agreement is the company’s work for research and develop new medicines on the basis of genetic resources will have fair distribution of revenues in the world. With this arrangement we should progress scientifically.” Referring to other areas of cooperation, Mr Solheim said, “India and Norway can work for carbon capture, glaciology and at South Pole expeditions.”

The Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to establish a Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law (CEBPOL) in the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), Chennai, which is a statutory autonomous body of the Ministry responsible for implementing the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. The Government of Norway has offered to provide technical and institutional collaboration for the CEBPOL.Norway is the first developed country to have recently enacted a national legislation on ABS. India and Norway can thus learn from each other’s experiences relating to ABS and traditional knowledge. The Norwegian partners for cooperation with NBA would be the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management and Fridtj of Nansen Institute. This collaboration is an outcome of the close Indo-Norwegian dialogue under the Joint Working Group on Environment.

The objectives of CEBPOL are to develop professional expertise in the complex and still-evolving policy and legal issues relating to biodiversity, including on access and benefit sharing, inter alia through research, development and training; and to provide advice and expertise to the Government on these matters. The Centre is also expected to contribute to strengthening the implementation of the Biological Diversity Act.

The setting up of this Centre is a very timely initiative taken by the Government, considering that the recently concluded Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, has adopted a Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing. The Protocol adopted after intense negotiations sets out rules and procedures for prior informed consent for access to genetic resources for ensuring fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from these resources and associated traditional knowledge. As a mega-diverse country, and as a victim of bio-piracy, India has played an important role in ABS negotiations.

National Antibiotics Policy


Anti-biotic resistance is a universal evolutionary phenomenon, as bacterias are surviving both in environment and human bodies. Within the human body, due to prolonged use of anti-biotics, bacteria may start various defensive mechanism like mutation, conjugation, transduction or transformation, etc. so that it can counter the assault of anti-biotic, resulting in anti-biotic resistance. Irrational use of anti-biotic and over-prescription of anti-biotic are also other contributing factors for anti-biotic resistance.

Government has constituted a Task Force with the following terms of reference:

1. To review the current situation regarding manufacture, use and misuse of anti-biotics in the country;

2. To recommend the design for creation of a National Surveillance System for anti-biotic resistance.

3. To initiate studies documenting prescription patterns and establish a monitoring system for the same.

4. To enforce and enhance regulatory provisions for use of anti-biotics in human, veterinary and industrial use.

5. To recommend specific interventions/measures such as rational use of anti-biotics and anti-biotics policies in hospitals which can be implemented as early as possible.

The Task Force is expected to submit its report by month end, and the future course of action will depend on the examination of its recommendations.

This information was given by Minister for Health and Family Welfare Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad in written reply to a question raised in Lok Sabha 19th November 2010.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

GSLV flights jinxed

Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) flights from Sriharikota seem to be jinxed. Out of seven GSLV flights from 2001 till the latest flight on December 25, 2010, four have failed. The previous GSLV flight on April 15, 2010 also ended in failure.

The very first flight in March 2001 was aborted one second before the lift-off because one of the four strap-on booster motors around the core first stage did not develop adequate thrust. So the computer aboard the rocket aborted the flight. Indian Space Research Organisation's rocket engineers solved the problem in less than a month and the flight took place on April 18, 2001. But the Russian cryogenic stage atop the vehicle underperformed and the satellite GSAT-1 was put in lower orbit than targeted. So the ISRO had to fire the liquid apogee booster motor on board the satellite more than needed to put the vehicle in the geo-synchronous orbit. Thus precious fuel was lost and the satellite ultimately came down in its orbit. The mission ended in failure.

The next two GSLV flights were a big success and they put their satellites in orbit. But the flight of the GSLV-F02 on July 10, 2010, with INSAT-4C, ended in failure because of a manufacturing defect in one of the components of four strap-on booster motors. The vehicle was destroyed in mid-flight by the Range Safety Officer and its debris fell into the sea. The ISRO salvaged some parts of the vehicle from the Bay of Bengal.

The third failure took place on April 15, 2010 when the GSLV-D3 did not put GSAT-4 in orbit. This flight had raised a lot of hopes because it carried an indigenous cryogenic engine. It did not succeed due to the failure of the fuel booster turbo pump in the Indian cryogenic upper stage. There were two reasons for this failure — gripping at one of the seal locations and seizure of rotor rupture of turbine casing caused probably by excessive rise in pressure and temperature.

The GSLV-F06 flight on Saturday has also ended in failure because a command to control the vehicle did not reach the actuator in the first stage of the vehicle. This vehicle carried a Russian cryogenic stage in the third topmost stage.

After a delay of five days, because of leak of helium gas from one of the valves in the Russian cryogenic stage, the GSLV-F06 finally took off on Saturday.

While it cost Rs. 175 crore to build the GSLV-F06, for the GSAT-5P it cost Rs. 150 crore.

The GSLV is a three-stage vehicle, with the first core stage powered by solid propellants, four strap-on motors around the core stage, which are fuelled by liquid propellants, the second stage propelled by liquid propellants and the third topmost stage uses cryogenic propellants.

U.S. brings Silk Road to India

The significance of the signing of the intergovernmental agreement on the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project (TAPI) on December 11 in Ashgabat cannot be overstated. It can only be captured if one says with a touch of swagger that TAPI has been the most significant happening in the geopolitics of the region in almost a decade since America invaded Afghanistan.

The heart of the matter is that TAPI is a Silk Road project, which holds the key to modulating many complicated issues in the region. It signifies a breakthrough in the longstanding U.S. efforts to access the fabulous mineral wealth of the Caspian and the Central Asian region. Afghanistan forms a revolving door for TAPI and its stabilisation becomes the leitmotif of the project. TAPI can meet the energy needs of Pakistan and India. The U.S. says TAPI holds the potential to kindle Pakistan-India amity, which could be a terrific thing to happen. It is a milestone in the U.S.' “Greater Central Asia” strategy, which aims at consolidating American influence in the region.

Washington has been the patron saint of the TAPI concept since the early 1990s when the Taliban was conceived as its Afghan charioteer. The concept became moribund when the Taliban was driven away from Kabul. Now the wheel has come full circle with the incremental resuscitation of the project since 2005 running parallel to the Taliban's fantastic return to the Afghan chessboard. The proposed commissioning of TAPI coincides with the 2014 timeline for ending the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's “combat mission” in Afghanistan. The U.S. “surge” is concentrating on the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, through which TAPI will eventually run. What stunning coincidences!

In sum, TAPI is the finished product of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Its primary drive is to consolidate the U.S. political, military and economic influence in the strategic high plateau that overlooks Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan and China.

TAPI capitalises on Turkmenistan's pressing need to find new markets for its gas exports. With the global financial downturn and the fall in Europe's demand for gas, prices crashed. Russia cannot afford to pay top dollar for the Turkmen gas, nor does it want the 40 bcm gas it previously contracted to purchase annually. Several large gasfields are coming on line in Russia, which will reduce its need for the Turkmen gas. The Yamal Peninsula deposit alone is estimated to hold roughly 16 trillion cubic metres of gas. But Turkmenistan sits on the world's fourth-largest gas reserves and has its own plans to increase production to 230 bcm annually by 2030. It desperately needs to find markets and build new pipelines.

Thus, Ashgabat is driven by a combination of circumstances to adopt an energy-export diversification policy. In the recent months, the Turkmen leadership evinced interest in trans-Caspian projects but it will remain a problematic idea as long as the status of Caspian Sea remains unsettled. Besides, Turkmenistan has unresolved territorial disputes with Azerbaijan. In November, a second Turkmen-Iranian pipeline went on stream and there is potential to increase exports up to 20 bcm. But then, there are limits to expanding energy exports to Iran or to using Iran as a “regional gas hub” — for the present, at least.

Therefore, Turkmen authorities began robustly pushing for TAPI. The projected 2000-km pipeline at an estimated cost of $7.6 billion will traverse Afghanistan (735 km) and Pakistan (800 km) to reach India. Its initial capacity will be around 30 bcm but that could be increased to meet higher demand. India and Pakistan have shown interest in buying 70 bcm annually. TAPI will be fed by the Doveletabad field, which used to supply Russia.

Ashgabat did smart thinking to accelerate TAPI. The U.S. encouraged Turkmenistan to estimate that this is an enterprise whose time has come. Funding is not a problem. The U.S. has lined up the Asian Development Bank. An international consortium will undertake construction of the pipeline. A curious feature is that the four governments have agreed to “outsource” the execution and management of the project. The Big Oil sees great prospects to participate. The Afghan oilfields can also be fed into TAPI. Kabul awarded its first oil contract in the Amu Darya Basin this week. The gravy train may have begun moving in the Hindu Kush.

On the map, the TAPI pipeline deceptively shows India as its final destination. What is overlooked, however, is that it can easily be extended to the Pakistani port of Gwadar and connected with European markets, which is the core objective. The geopolitics of TAPI is rather obvious. Pipeline security is going to be a major regional concern. The onus is on each of the transit countries. Part of the Afghan stretch will be buried underground as a safeguard against attacks and local communities will be paid to guard it. But then, it goes without saying Kabul will expect the U.S. and NATO to provide security cover, which, in turn, necessitates a long-term western military presence in Afghanistan. Without doubt, the project will lead to a strengthening of the U.S. politico-military influence in South Asia.

The U.S. brought heavy pressure on New Delhi and Islamabad to spurn the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project. The Indian leadership buckled under American pressure while dissimulating freedom of choice. Pakistan did show some defiance for a while. Anyhow, the U.S. expects that once Pakistanis and Indians begin to chew the TAPI bone, they will cast the IPI into the dustbin. Pakistan has strong reasons to pitch for TAPI as it can stave off an impending energy crisis. TAPI is in actuality a Silk Road project connecting Central Asia to the West via Gwadar, which will make Pakistan the U.S. gateway to Central Asia. Pakistan rightly estimates that alongside this enhanced status in the U.S. regional strategy comes the American commitment to help its economy develop and buttress its security needs in the long-term.

India's diligence also rests on multiple considerations. Almost all reservations Indian officials expressed from time to time for procrastinating on the IPI's efficacy hold good for TAPI too — security of the pipeline, uncertainties in India-Pakistan relationship, cost of gas, self-sufficiency in India's indigenous production, etc. But the Indian leadership is visibly ecstatic about TAPI. In retrospect, what emerges from the dense high-level political and diplomatic traffic between Delhi and Ashgabat in the recent years is that our government knew much in advance that the U.S. was getting ready to bring TAPI out of the woodwork at some point — depending on the progression of the Afghan war — and that it would expect Delhi to play footsie.

Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh found time to visit the drab Turkmen capital in a notable departure from his preoccupations with the Euro-Atlantic world. The wilful degradation of India-Iran ties by the present government and Dr. Singh's obstinate refusal to visit Iran also fall into perspective. Plainly put, our leadership decided to mark time and simply wait for TAPI to pop out of Uncle Sam's trouser pocket and in the meantime it parried, dissimulated and outright lied by professing interest in the IPI. The gullible public opinion was being strung along.

To be sure, TAPI is a big-time money-spinner and our government's energy pricing policies are notoriously opaque. Delhi will be negotiating its gas price “separately” with Ashgabat on behalf of the private companies which handle the project. That is certain to be the mother of all energy “negotiations” involving two countries, which figure at the bottom of the world ranking by Transparency International.

Energy security ought to have been worked out at the regional level. There was ample scope for it. The IPI was a genuine regional initiative. TAPI is being touted as a regional project by our government but it is quintessentially a U.S.-led project sheltered under Pax Americana, which provides a political pretext for the open-ended western military presence in the region. As long as foreign military presence continues in India's southwestern region, there will be popular resistance and that will make it a breeding ground for extremist and terrorist groups. India is not only shying away from facing this geopolitical reality but, in its zest to secure “global commons” with the U.S, is needlessly getting drawn into the “new great game.” Unsurprisingly, Delhi no more calls for a neutral Afghanistan. It has lost its voice, its moral fibre, its historical consciousness.

Finally, TAPI is predicated on the U.S. capacity to influence Pakistan. Bluntly speaking, TAPI counts on human frailties — that pork money would mellow regional animosities. But that is a cynical assumption to make about the Pakistani military's integrity.

Swaminathan conferred CNN-IBN Lifetime Achievement Award

Veteran agricultural scientist M. S. Swaminathan has been conferred the CNN-IBN Indian of the Year 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award for his “outstanding leadership in the field of agriculture that has contributed to ensuring food security for millions of Indians.”

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee presented the award to Dr. Swaminathan at a function here. Dr. Swaminathan, a statement from CNN-IBN noted, has “worked consistently towards the actualisation of his dream of a hunger-free world with the help of his innovative concepts of sustainable development, especially with eco-friendly techniques of agriculture, food availability, and biodiversity conservation.”

China gives green light to first ‘Made in China' Bollywood film


The Chinese government's official film production company has given its backing to the country's first ever home-made “Bollywood” film production, a $ 10-million project that will be set in China and India and is looking to rope in some of India's biggest stars.

While State-run film companies in China have recently begun investing in Hollywood productions, this will mark their first entry into Bollywood. Indian films are widely popular in China, but are accessible only through the pirated DVD market, with censorship restrictions limiting imports.

A Beijing-based film group, Lighthouse Productions, is behind the $ 10-million project, which is being backed by the China Film Group Corporation, the country's biggest State-run film enterprise.

“Chinese audiences are interested in Indian films and dance, but have little opportunity to experience Indian cinema."

“Gold Struck” tells the story of two Indian and Chinese research students who meet in an American university, and embark on an adventure that takes them back through time to Qin Dynasty China in 220 BC. The working languages for the film are Mandarin Chinese, Hindi and English. The film, replete with song and dance sequences, would be shot by Hong Kong-based director Tony Cheung in the “Bollywood-style,” .

Big names being sought

The production is slated to begin in the second half of next year. Ms. Shyu is in India this week, meeting potential distributors. Lighthouse has already initiated talks with Mumbai-based Eros International, and was looking to sign “big-name talents” from Bollywood. Shahid Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor have been mentioned as possibilities, subject to their availability to begin filming in 2011.

Sea water as a social resource

The year 2010 marks the 80th anniversary of the Salt Satyagraha launched at Dandi by Mahatma Gandhi and at Vedaranyam by Rajaji to establish that sea water is a social resource. A Sea Water Farming project and a Genetic Garden of Halophytes are being launched at Vedaranyam on December 26, 2010 to initiate a new era in strengthening the livelihoods of coastal fisher and farming communities.

Sea water constitutes over 96 per cent of the global water resource, while ground water's share is only 1.7 per cent. Currently, we are overexploiting ground water leading to the rapid depletion of the aquifer, while we hardly make use of the water of the oceans and seas for agriculture which consumes nearly 80 per cent of the available fresh water. It is in this context that Mahatma Gandhi's salt satyagraha launched in Dandi, Gujarat, 80 years ago assumes wider significance. The Dandi March was designed to protest against the salt tax imposed by the then colonial Government, thereby emphasising that sea water and the salt manufactured from it are the property of the people and not of the Government.

Gandhiji's historic Dandi March to break the Salt Law started on March 12, 1930. C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) planned a march from Tiruchi to Vedaranyam for a similar purpose. On April 13, 1930, Rajaji started from Tiruchi and he was joined by large numbers of people at Thanjavur, Kumbakonam and other places. Sardar Vedaratnam Pillai was also an important leader and there is a memorial in his honour at Vedaranyam. Sixteen days later, Rajaji and his followers picked up a handful of salt and were immediately arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment. Early this year, the Dandi march was commemorated through a programme for the conservation of the coastal ecosystem initiated by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) under the leadership of Mr. Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

Programme launch, aim

On December 26, 2010, which marks the sixth anniversary of the tsunami which caused severe damage in Tamil Nadu and other States, a Salt Satyagraha Memorial Programme is being launched at Vedaranyam by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) with support from the Society of Integrated Coastal Management of the MoEF, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India and the Government of Tamil Nadu. Its major aim is to harness sea water for raising agri-aqua farms and bioshields along the coast. The crops chosen obviously have to be tolerant to saline water. These salt-tolerant plants, or halophytes, constitute two per cent of terrestrial plant species. Halophytes have been tested in several laboratories as vegetables, oilseed crops and fodder plants. Experiments have been carried out in the U.S., Mexico and India with Salicornia brachiata, also known as sea asparagus, to assess its usefulness as a protein feed for livestock and as a source of oil. Salicornia is also being regarded as a good feedstock for biodiesel production.

Among other species chosen for economic exploitation are Atriplex and Sesuvium portulacastrum. Sesuvium has been cultivated in Italy and in the Middle East with sea water. In India, research has been carried out at the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research's (CSIR) Central Salt and Marine Chemical Research Institute, Bhavnagar, and at Annamalai and several other universities. The crops chosen for sea water farming should be economically attractive, in order to offset the cost of pumping sea water. Also, the agronomic techniques used should belong to the ever-green agriculture category, i.e. higher productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm. The aquaculture techniques chosen should involve Low External Input Sustainable Aquaculture (LEISA) technology.

The components

Dr. V. Selvam and his colleagues of MSSRF have standardised techniques for raising halophytes and for rearing fish in experiments conducted on a participatory research mode in farmers' fields near Chidambaram. The sea water farming project will have the following components:

•Cultivation of Salicornia for production of oil seed and biosalt using seawater for irrigation.

•Seawater-based agri-aqua farming system involving cultivation of halophytes, mangroves and culture of fish

•Restoration of degraded mangrove ecosystems and raising new mangrove forests

•Development of the Vedaranyam area on the biovillage model, with concurrent attention to ecological rehabilitation and generation of new on-farm and non-farm sources of income through market-driven micro-enterprises.

They will be initially implemented with the participation of the fishing community of Seeruthalaikadu village in Vedaranyam taluk in Nagapattinam district, as a self-replicating model so that sea water farming becomes a movement in coastal areas. Exposure visits, orientation workshops and technical training will be organised. The demonstrations will be taken up in mudflats, where no other plants are growing now due to hypersaline condition. Baseline data on geological, geophysical and hydro-geological characters are being collected and these parameters monitored regularly to assess how halophytes play a role in reducing soil and ground water salinity in the mudflat. Anna University has already prepared a detailed land use and land cover map of the area.

The project will involve the regeneration of degraded mangrove forests and raising new mangrove plantations. It was observed during the tsunami that mangrove forests serve as bioshields and speed-breakers. Thus, coastal afforestation will help managing the impact of sea level rise and contribute to carbon sequestration. Through a Joint Mangrove Management system, MSSRF has restored about 1,500 ha of degraded mangroves in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal in partnership with State Forest Departments and local fishing communities. After the tsunami, mangrove bioshields were established in about 280 ha in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Both the restored mangroves and mangrove bioshield are managed by multi-stakeholder based rural institutions.

The per capita availability of freshwater has gone down from 5,000 cubic metres in 1981 to 1.700 cubic metre now. This led the Supreme Court of India to direct the Government of India to constitute a Committee of Experts, under the Chairmanship of Dr. T. Ramasami, Secretary, DST, to standardise solutions for the problem of water scarcity.

Three groups

The DST has classified the technological approaches for solving these problems into three groups. First, Winning water from sustainable resources, second, Augmentation of quality of water from available and accessible sources, and third, Renovation and Recycling. A Technology Mission on Winning, Augmentation and Renovation (WAR) for Water was launched by the DST in August 2009. The Vedaranyam Sea Water Farming project is designed to help in augmenting water availability for agriculture. Through halophytes, sea water can become a substitute for freshwater in raising crops in the coastal areas, where over 20 percent of our population lives.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has projected that an additional 200 million hectares of new cropland will be needed to feed the population of nearly eight billion over the next 30 years. Some calculations show that only 93 million hectares of additional land may be available for crop cultivation. This too will be at the expense of forest land. On the other hand, we have large areas of arid and semi-arid land along the sea coast. With sea water farming we can extend the area of cultivation by growing not only halophytes but also relatively salt-tolerant plants like coconut, date palm and cashewnut. Mangrove and non-mangrove bioshields will help meet the challenge of sea level rise. The MoEF has calculated that we may have to be prepared for a one metre rise in the mean sea level by the end of this century. The Vedaranyam project can thus strengthen the livelihood security of coastal communities, and help tackle the challenge of sea level rise.

Genetic garden

In the Genetic Garden of Halophytes, there may be over 1,600 species belonging to 550 genera and 117 families. The garden will initially comprise halophytes occurring along the coasts of India including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Mahatma Gandhi's emphasis on the social ownership status of sea water should be converted into scientifically designed sea water farming practices to strengthen water security for agriculture. For domestic needs more expensive methods of solar desalination, and reverse osmosis can be adopted. But for agriculture, it will be best to use this vast resource for livelihood benefits through halophytes on the one hand and through marine fish species on the other. The 80th anniversaries of the Dandi and Vedaranyam marches can then mark the beginning of a new era in the livelihood security of coastal fisher and farm families.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Russian Parliament approves New START

The Russian-American New START treaty won preliminary approval of the Russian Parliament, even as Moscow rejected as “unacceptable” the U.S. Senate ratification resolution.

The State Duma, Lower House of Parliament, supported the treaty by a 350-56 majority in a first of three votes on December 24, but postponed its final approval till next year. In Russia, international treaties must be approved by both Houses of Parliament in contrast to the U.S. Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev hailed the pact as “a cornerstone of stability in the world and Europe for decades to come”.

“He succeeded in pushing through the ratification of the most important document on strategic offensive weapons in fairly difficult conditions,” said Mr. Medvedev in a live television interview on Friday. Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow “categorically” rejected “unilateral interpretation of some sensitive issues” in the ratification resolution approved by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.

Speaking in the State Duma, Mr. Lavrov took objection to the U.S. Senators' claim that the New START did not impose any limitations on the deployment of a global missile defence.

“The treaty in its preamble clearly establishes linkage between missile defences and strategic offensive weapons,” Mr. Lavrov told Russian legislators.

Provision

He warned that Russia could avail itself of the treaty provision allowing either side to withdraw from the pact in the event of extraordinary circumstances.

He said the Senate's claim that the New START did not apply to non-nuclear strategic weapons that could be developed in the future as “an unacceptable interpretation of the treaty”.

20,483 play chess under one roof, enter Guinness

Gujarat, through Ahmedabad, has staked its claim to find a place in the Guinness Book of World Records by assembling 20,483 players to play chess simultaneously on one platform.

The “Swarnim Chess Mahotsav” was organised here on December 24 by the Department of Sports, Youth, & Cultural activities and the Gujarat Chess Association as part of the golden jubilee celebrations of the State. Besides Chief Minister Narendra Modi, world chess champion Vishwanathan Anand was present on the occasion, and as a token, he played simultaneously with 64 participants at the Mahotsava. An official representative of the Guinness Book was present to ensure that the ceremony conformed to the rules and regulations for records.

A spokesman of the State government claimed that Ahmedabad had broken the record set in current Guinness record-holder Mexico City when, on October 21, 2006, 13,446 players played chess simultaneously. The former world champion, Anatoly Karpov, was present in the record chess ceremony at Mexico City.

Preparations for the performance have been in progress since June, when chess competitions were organised in some 8,000 schools and over 900 colleges in the State. Over 94,200 students had registered for participating in the performance, of whom 20,480 were selected, and three more added on the spot. About 1,000 select masters played simultaneously with over 20,000 players. Guinness Book adjudicator Tarika Vara announced the new record in the name of Gujarat for the highest number of participants in a game of chess under one roof.

GSLV-F06 launch fails

The launch of Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, GSLV-F06, from Sriharikota ended in failure onDecember 25, with the rocket bursting to a ball of fire as it ascended into the sky.

After a smooth 30-hour countdown, the GSLV-F06 lifted off from its launch pad at 4 p.m.. It ascended into the sky majestically, giving no hint of the disaster that awaited the rocket. As it was climbing into the sky, the rocket lost it trajectory and exploded into a ball of fire. Soon after, the sky was filled with white, reddish-orange and dark-grey smoke.

Flaming debris from the rocket came down in a shower over the Bay of Bengal. It is not known whether the range safety officer in the mission control centre pressed the ‘destructive’ button to destroy the rocket, as it was wearing off its path.

Telemetry data has to be analysed to know the exact failure of the launch, an ISRO official said.

The rocket GSLV-F06 was to have put into orbit communication satellite GSAT-5P.

The previous GSLV flight flown in April 2010 also ended in failure.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Onion prices Hike

Even as it faces the heat of skyrocketing prices of onion which is ruling between Rs 70-80 a kg, the government on Tuesday said any respite to the commoner from the high rates may take 2-3 weeks.

The centre, however, ruled out any immediate plans to import onions to arrest prices even though small consignments arrived from Pakistan.

With wholesale rates at the biggest producing centre, Nashik in Maharashtra crossing over Rs 70, there are fears that the retail selling price in Delhi and elsewhere may edge towards Rs 100 a kg.

“Onion prices will remain high for the next 2-3 weeks and the situation is likely to improve only after two-three weeks,” Mr. Pawar told reporters here.

The prices of onions have soared to Rs 60-70 per kg in retail markets in Delhi and many other important cities of the country from Rs 35-40 just a few days ago.

“Because of heavy rains in Nashik area substantial quantity of onion has been damaged.

Our expectation is that with the arrival from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh in the next 2-3 weeks, prices will come down,” Mr. Pawar said when asked about the reasons for sharp rise in prices.

Onion prices in various Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs) in Nashik, the main trading centre for the bulb, have soared to a high of Rs 7,100 per quintal.

This was due to shortfall in production following untimely rains in the growing areas of Maharashtra in November.

On Monday, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma as well as Nafed Managing Director Sanjeev Chopra had attributed the sudden rise in onion prices to hoarding and speculations.

Asked whether government will import onion to boost domestic supply, Mr. Pawar said: “as of today there is no proposal to import“.

Meanwhile, some traders in north India have started importing onions from neighbouring country Pakistan.

As many as 13 truck loads (5 to 15 tonne per truck) of onion have arrived from Pakistan, a senior official of Customs department in Amritsar had said yesterday.

The landed cost of onion from Pakistan stood at Rs 18-20 per kg.

Mr. Pawar highlighted the steps taken by the government to control prices such as suspension of exports till January 15 and more than doubling minimum export price of onion to USD 1,200 per tonne from USD 525 per tonne.

“Ban on onion exports should help reduce the prices,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nafed -- the regulating agency of onion exports -- and National Consumer Co-operative Federation (NCCF) have started selling onion at Rs 35-40 a kg in the national capital to provide some relief to the common man.

Nafed and NCCF have 25 retail outlets in Delhi.

“We hope the voluntary suspension of exports, raising of minimum export price and retail sales by Nafed and NCCF will definitely have a correction on prices,” Mr. Chopra said.

Onion production stood at around 12 million tonnes in 2009-10 fiscal, out of which 1.9 million tonnes were exported.

In 2010-11, production in Kharif season is estimated at five million tonnes.

Sahitya Akademi awards

Eight books of poetry, four novels, three collections of short stories, four works of criticism, one travelogue, an autobiography and a play were among the literary works in 22 languages that have won the Sahitya Akademi Awards for 2010.

The awards announced here on Monday were recommended by jury members representing 22 languages, and approved by the Executive Board of Sahitya Akademi which met under the chairmanship of its president Sunil Gangopadhyay.

The poets honoured are Aurobindo Uzir (Bodo), Arun Sakhardande (Konkani), Gopi Narayan Pradhan (Nepali), Vanita (Punjabi), Mangat Badal (Rajasthani), Mithila Prasad Tripathi (Sanskrit), Laxman Dubey (Sindhi) and Sheen Kaaf Nizam (Urdu).

The novelists who have won the award are Bani Basu (Bengali), Esther David (English), Dhirendra Mehta (Gujarati) and M. Borkanya (Manipuri).

Uday Prakash (Hindi), Nanjil Nadan (Tamil) and Manoj (Dogri) have won the awards for their short story collections.

Keshada Mahanta (Assamese), Rahamath Tarikere (Kannada), Basher Bashir (Kashmiri) and Ashok R. Kelkar (Marathi) won the awards for their books of criticism.

The other winners are the former Union Minister M.P. Veerendra Kumar (Malayalam) for his travelogue, Pathani Pattnaik (Oriya) for his autobiography and playwright Bhogla Soren (Santhali).

Sahitya Akademi secretary Agrahara Krishna Murthy said the awards for Telugu and Maithili would be announced in a few weeks. He said the books were selected on the basis of recommendations made by a three-member jury in the respective languages.

The awards, which include a cash prize of Rs.1 lakh, will be presented to the winners on February 15 next year during the Festival of Letters in the capital. The festival will also include a seminar on the works of Rabindranath Tagore.

Mr. Murthy said the Akademi is instituting the Yuva Sahitya Puraskar for debutant writers in Indian languages under the age of 35 from next year. Earlier this year, the Akademi had instituted the Bala Sahitya Puraskar for writers of children's literature.

Managing the anticipated food crisis

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has alerted developing countries about possible steep rises in food prices during 2011, if steps are not taken immediately to increase significantly the production of major food crops. According to FAO, “with the pressure on world prices of most commodities not abating, the international community must remain vigilant against further supply shocks in 2011.” World cereal production is likely to contract by 2 per cent during 2010 and global cereal stocks may decline sharply. The price of sugar has reached a 30-year high while international prices of wheat increased by 12 per cent in the first week of December, 2010, as compared to their November average.

The quantitative and qualitative dimensions of the under- and mal-nutrition prevailing in our country are well known. The Steering Committee of a High Level Panel of Experts on Food and Nutrition set up under my chairmanship to advise the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) recently concluded what we need urgently is a comprehensive coordinated approach, not piecemeal approaches, to tackling chronic, hidden and transitory hunger. This is also the lesson we can learn from countries which have been successful in combating hunger such as Brazil which, under its “Zero Hunger” programme, has achieved convergence and synergy among numerous nutrition safety net programmes. To some extent, this is what is being attempted under the proposed National Food Security (or Entitlements) Act of the Government of India.

What should be our priority agenda for 2011 on the food front? At least six areas need urgent and concurrent attention. First, the National Policy for Farmers placed in Parliament in November 2007, on the basis of a draft provided by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF), should not continue to remain a piece of paper, but should be implemented in letter and in spirit. This is essential to revive farmers' interest in farming. Without the wholehearted involvement of farmers, particularly of young as well as women farmers, it will be impossible to implement a Food Entitlements Act in an era of increasing price volatility in the international market. The major emphasis of the National Policy for Farmers is imparting an income orientation to agriculture through both higher productivity per units of land, water and nutrients, and assured and remunerative marketing opportunities. The Green Revolution of the 1960s was the product of interaction among technology, public policy and farmers' enthusiasm. Farmers, particularly in north west India, converted a small government programme into a mass movement. The goal of food for all can be achieved only if there is similar enthusiastic participation by farm families.

Second, every State government should launch a “bridge the yield gap” movement, to take advantage of the vast untapped yield reservoir existing in most farming systems even with the technologies currently on the shelf. This will call for a careful study of the constraints — technological, economic, environmental and policy — responsible for this gap. The Rs.25,000-crore Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana of the Government of India provides adequate funding for undertaking such work both in irrigated and rainfed areas. Enhancing factor productivity leading to more income per unit of investment on inputs will be essential for reducing the cost of production and increasing the net income. Scope for increasing the productivity of pulses and oilseed crops is particularly great. The programme for establishing 50,000 Pulses and Oilseed Villages included in the Union budget for 2010-11 is yet to be implemented properly. The cost of protein in the diet is going up and Pulses Villages will help to end protein hunger.

There are outstanding varieties of chickpea, pigeon pea, moong, urad and other pulses available now. What is important is to multiply the good strains and cultivate them with the needed soil health and plant protection measures. The gap between demand and supply in the case of pulses is nearly 4 million tonnes. We should take advantage of the growing interest among farmers in the cultivation of pulses, both due to the prevailing high prices and due to these crops requiring less irrigation water. Such high value, but low water requiring crops also fix nitrogen in the soil. Before the advent of mineral fertilizers, cereal-legume rotation was widely adopted for soil fertility replenishment and build-up.

Third, the prevailing mismatch between production and post-harvest technologies should be ended. Safe storage, marketing and value addition to primary products have to be attended to at the village level. Home Science colleges can be enabled to set up Training Food Parks for building the capacity of self-help groups of women in food processing. A national grid of ultra-modern grain storage facilities must be created without further delay. In addition to over 250 million tonnes of food grains, we will soon be producing over 300 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables. Unless processing and storage are improved, post-harvest losses and food safety concerns will continue to grow.

We should also expand the scope of the Public Distribution System by including in the food basket a whole range of underutilised plants like millets and, where feasible, tubers. The NCF pointed out that eastern India is a sleeping giant in the field of food production. The sustainable management of the Ganges Water Machine (this term was first used by Professor Roger Revelle) will provide uncommon opportunities for an evergreen revolution in this area. Fortunately Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is taking steps to make Bihar the heartland of the evergreen revolution movement in this region. The Ganges Water Machine is capable of helping us to increase food production considerably, provided we utilise ground water efficiently during rabi and replenish the aquifer during kharif.

Four, a nutrition dimension should be added to the National Horticulture and Food Security Missions. Hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micronutrients like iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A and Vitamin B12 can be overcome at the village level by taking advantage of horticultural remedies for nutritional maladies. Popularisation of multiple fortified salt will also be valuable, since this is both effective and economical.

Five, a small farm management revolution which will confer on farmers operating one hectare or less the power and economy of scale is an urgent need. There are several ways of achieving this and these have been described in detail in the chapter titled, “Farmers of the 21st Century” in the NCF report. We need to foster the growth of a meaningful services sector in rural India, preferably operated by educated young farmers. The services provided should cover all aspects of production and post-harvest operations. Group credit and group insurance will be needed. Contract farming can be promoted if it is structured on the basis of a win-win situation both for the producer and the purchaser.

Finally, there is need for proactive action to minimise the adverse impact of unfavourable changes in climate and monsoon behaviour and to maximise the benefits of favourable weather conditions. For enabling farmers to develop a “we shall overcome” attitude in the emerging era of climate change, we need to set up in each of the 128 aqro-climatic zones identified by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research a Climate Risk Management Research and Training Centre. These centres should develop alternative cropping patterns to suit different weather probabilities. They should develop methods of checkmating potential adverse conditions. Along with a climate literacy movement, a woman and a man from every panchayat and nagarpalika will have to be trained as Climate Risk Managers. We will then have over half-a-million trained Climate Risk Managers, well versed in the science and art of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Such a trained cadre of grassroot Climate Risk Managers will be the largest of its kind in the world.

The present year is ending with damage to rice and other crops in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu due to excess of rain towards the end of the crop season. Farming is the riskiest profession in the world since the fate of the crop is closely linked to the behaviour of the monsoon. Even if there is assured irrigation source, natural calamities like cyclones, hail storms and very heavy showers take their toll. The National Monsoon Mission proposed to be taken up with the participation of U.S. expertise will certainly help to refine the prediction of weather as well as the status of crops and commodity prices. Also, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme provides unique opportunities for strengthening our water security system through scientific rain water harvesting and watershed management. This valuable benefit can however be realised only by integrating technology with labour. Once a national grid of Climate Risk Management Research and Training Centre comes into existence, it will be possible to build up seed banks of alternative crops, which can be grown if the first crop fails. Drought and Flood Codes should specify the action possible at the end of such calamities. For example in the flood affected areas, soil moisture will be adequate to grow a short duration fodder crop or a Vitamin A rich sweet potato.

Eternal vigilance is the price of stable agriculture. Early warning helps to take timely action. Food and water security will be the most serious causalities of climate change. 2011 will be a test case to assess whether we as a nation are capable of initiating proactive action to meet the challenges of price volatility, chronic hunger, agrarian despair and climate change.

India renews ties with 'special partner' Russia

Belying predictions of diplomatic fatigue, the last visit to India by the head of a P-5 country in 2010 turned out to be one of the most significant with 30 agreements and a meeting of minds on key political issues emerging from talks here between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

After 90 minutes of restricted talks between the two leaders and 40 minutes among the delegations, Dr. Singh emerged to tell the media that India’s relationship with Russia was ``special and privileged’’ and would develop independent of its ties with other countries.

The highlight among the 30 agreements was the consolidation and extension of strategic cooperation in the civil nuclear, hydrocarbons and space sectors.

Russia joined the U.S. and France in speaking of India and itself as “states possessing nuclear weapons” and promised to quarterback India’s bid for full membership at the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other multilateral export control clubs. Russia reiterated its support to India for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council but the formulation used was the same as in the previous two summit meetings. There was also public acknowledgement of India’s imminent membership of the Russia-China led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Nuclear sector

In the civil nuclear sector, a firm agreement on setting up two more reactors at Kudankulam beyond the four already in the pipeline was postponed pending ongoing talks on the liability issue. The new Indian liability law and Russia’s insistence on a firm assurance for at least a dozen more units held up an announcement of a third nuclear park besides two existing ones at Kudankulam and Haripur in West Bengal. Nor was there an announcement on swapping the location at Haripur with another less politically contentious site, even though the Indian side is believed to have readied a new site for the Russians in Orissa.

These delays did not, however, come in the way of India and Russia agreeing to work together at the global level on nuclear energy. In the first initiative of its kind to be taken by either of them, the two countries agreed to consider cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy with third countries and said that “as supplier states, [they] support multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle at the IAEA”. Both sides also identified joint R&D in reactor technology as an area on which the two atomic energy establishments would hold detailed discussions.

First-ever collaboration

In defence, India and Russia marked the beginning of their first-ever collaboration in producing a next-generation fighter aircraft with the inking of the preliminary design contract agreement between their premier defence aero companies.

With both sides focussing greatly on improving their trade and economic ties, Moscow agreed to smoothen travel procedures for businesspersons and visitors, a long standing Indian grouse that had earlier led to an IT major CEO abandoning plans to invest in Russia. At the same time, both sides agreed to discourage unwanted or overstaying visitors and thereby avoid subsequent diplomatic wrinkles.

Corporate sector

The corporate sector was also active on the sidelines as a result of their greater involvement after the setting up of a joint CEOs forum in 2008. The agreements they signed were joint ventures in steel production, hydel power plants and telecom products.

The intention to collaborate in the hydrocarbons sector was given concrete shape with an inter-governmental agreement that will evolve into an extensive road map largely modelled on the Sino-Russia partnership in this sector. The MoU between Sistema, a telecom-petro giant with rights over two lucrative hydrocarbon fields, and ONGC Videsh progressed to a framework agreement on cooperation.

Three agreements in the space sector would give India access to the Russian satellite constellation, the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). This would widen India’s strategic options as it currently relies exclusively on the U.S.-controlled GPS system of satellites.

The two sides also gave firm shape to a partnership in the pharmaceuticals sector in which India sees a $15-16 billion opportunity with the joining of hands between private sectors of both countries for joint ventures in Russia.

Monday, December 20, 2010

MONTH WISE CURRENT AFFAIRS-INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS

Tentative deal in Iraq keeps Maliki in power
Iraq’s political leaders reached a tentative deal on November 10, 2010, to form a new government by giving a second term to Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, thus breaking the eight-month political stalemate that had plagued the country. The unexpected compromise, after a more than seven-hour meeting, came after the largely Sunni-backed bloc of Iraqiya, which won the most votes in March polls, begrudgingly agreed to back Maliki.

But even as the deal was announced, some Sunni leaders expressed dissatisfaction, a potentially troubling sign for the US as it moves toward the planned withdrawal of all of its forces by the end of 2011. A feeling of exclusion among Sunnis could prompt them to abandon the political process and renew an insurgency that has quieted significantly in recent years, although steady levels of violence continue.

US officials had been pushing a power-sharing agreement between Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, and Maliki, whom they tacitly backed for PM, as a way to break the Shiite leader’s monopoly on government authority and give the Sunni Arab minority a powerful role in Iraq’s next government.

Under the new agreement, it was agreed to appoint a speaker from Iraqiya, then name the current Kurdish President, Jalal Talabani, as President of Iraq. He, in turn, named Maliki as Prime Minister.

Junta’s proxy seeps Myanmar poll
Myanmar’s military-backed party captured 77 per cent of the Parliamentary seats contested in the November 7, 2010 elections, following polling widely decried as manipulated and unfair.

The results point to an overwhelming victory, but there has never been much doubt about the outcome because the junta-proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), fielded candidates in nearly every district, whereas the largest opposition party was able to contest only 164 of the 1,159 parliamentary seats.

The government said the elections, the country’s first in two decades, were a major step towards democracy, but critics, including US President Barack Obama, said they were neither free nor fair.

The polling also sparked violence and some fears of an outright civil war among Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, who make up about 40 per cent of the population. Some have been fighting the central government since Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948.

The West denounced army-ruled Myanmar’s first election in 20 years while State media in China, a key ally of the regime, struck a discordant note by hailing the polls as a sign of progress.

Led by US President Barack Obama, numerous countries decried the vote as neither free nor fair and called for the release of political prisoners, including democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who was sidelined in the polls.

China has long helped economically dysfunctional Myanmar to keep afloat through trade ties, arms sales, and by shielding it from UN sanctions over rights abuses as a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council.

Backgrounder: Elections are very rare events in Myanmar. In the last half a century there was only one—in 1990, followed by the latest held on November 7). A devout Buddhist politician, U Nu, set up an unstable administration on the withdrawal of the British, survived the first two elections, but voluntarily retired after the second. His successor asked the army, soon after, to stand in for some time in the capacity of a caretaker. Nu returned for a second try at governing the multiple insurgency-ridden country, by decisively winning the 1960 election. Yet, in less than two years, the army dethroned the elected government in a coup.

The first military dictator, General Ne Win, was toppled by a students-led agitation in 1988, but another General took power and the military has since then showed no intention of loosening its grip on the country. Currently, Senior General Than Shwe is the top boss and nearing 80 in age.

The Generals did try to create a democratic fa├žade for their rule at one stage by organizing a general election in 1990, but did not know how to tailor it to their desired narrow self-interest and watched their own make-believe civilian political party crushed by the voters. That largely fair election, witnessed by foreign journalists, gave only 10 of 492 seats to the army’s party and 392 to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

The junta responded with iron fist. The result of the election was annulled. Suu Kyi and her NLD were turned into targets for unceasing persecution. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 15 of the 20 years since then. She could not collect the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded. Nor could she participate in the November 7 election because the military junta’s electoral laws were largely directed against her and her party.

Twenty years after that failed election, the army has staged another. This is an attempt no doubt at easing the growing pressure of adverse world opinion. As could be expected, the Generals were careful this time not to make the mistakes of 1990. A new constitution was framed and adopted by a referendum in which 99 per cent of the voters participated and over 92 per cent of them cast “yes” votes. The constitution reserves for the army one-fourth of the seats in each of the two Houses of Parliament and the more important ministries. Also, no constitutional change will be possible without a majority of more than three-fourths. A political party has been created with leading roles in it for about a score of men who were military officers till sometime back.

Prime Minister General Thein Sein resigned from the army to lead the civilian-looking outfit named the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The electoral laws ruled out Aung San Suu Kyi’s participation. Neither convicted persons nor individuals opposing the State organizations could stand for any seat. Roughly 300,000 Buddhist monks representing the religious order were disenfranchised. So were the people in some rebellious ethnic minority areas. No one whose spouse or children are foreign citizens can become the head of the Myanmarese State. Suu Kyi’s British husband is now dead and her two sons are also British living in the UK.

Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy found the dice so heavily loaded against them that they only had one choice—boycotting the sham election. Yet the junta wanted to be doubly sure; it ordered the dissolution of NLD and a few other parties on the ground that they failed to apply for permission to continue political activities.

There were no election observers from abroad and unlike in 1990, when 60 foreign journalists were granted visas a few days before the polling, no news-person from outside was let in.

Democrats lose control of US House of Representatives
A disenchanted American electorate, in a snub to President Barack Obama, handed a bruising defeat to his Democratic Party and put the Republican Party back in control of the US House of Representatives in mid-term elections on November 4, 2010.

The loss of Democratic control of the House will be an obstacle to Obama’s ability to push through his agenda over the next two years. However, it is by no means an indicator of the President’s own fate. In 1994, the Republicans took control of Congress under Bill Clinton’s Presidency. Clinton, a Democrat, went on to serve for a second term. Besides Clinton, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower both lost control of at least one house of Congress in the mid-terms. No President in the past century has lost his bid for a second term in office after losing the majority in the mid-term elections.

However, Republicans are in no mood to work with the Democrats and the party’s leaders have vowed to do everything possible to ensure that Obama is only a one-term President.

Ireland becomes second Euro nation to seek aid
On November 22, 2010, Ireland became the second euro country to seek a rescue as the cost of saving its banks threatened by a re-run of the Greek debt crisis that destabilized the currency.

The aid, which Irish officials said as recently as November 15 they didn’t need, marked the latest blow to an economy that more than doubled in the decade ending in 2006. The bursting of the real-estate bubble in 2008 plunged the country into a recession and brought its banks close to collapse. With Irish bond yields near a record high, policy makers are trying to keep the crisis from spreading.

The package for Ireland will total as much as 60 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 47 percent for Greece.

The bailout follows two years of budget cuts that failed to restore market confidence as the cost of shoring up the financial industry soared.

UNDP Human Development Report
India is ranked 119 out of 169 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) of the UNDP’s 2010 Human Development Report.

This marks an improvement of just one rank between 2005 and 2010 though the report, a special 20th anniversary edition, places India among top 10 performers globally in terms of HDI measured on income growth. The category is led by China. India comes 10th after Botswana, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Mauritius.

China has improved eight notches (from 2005 to 2010) to secure the 89th position. In South Asia, Nepal has gained five places to reach the 138th rank. Maldives has risen four places to 107; Sri Lanka at 91 too has beaten India in the rankings, though Pakistan has lost two ranks to fall to 125, while Bangladesh is up one at 129.

Though high on GDP growth, India reports severe inequalities (the report for the first time measures inequalities, gender gaps and multidimensional poverty as markers of human development) while several low-income nations have posted huge profits by investing in education and health. Nepal is the only South Asian country, which despite low income, stands as the third best performer in the top 10 movers the report highlights.

These movers are the 10 nations (out of 135 studied for development indicators) that made the largest HDI improvements over the past 40 years. Oman leads the pack having invested its energy earnings in health and education. Except China, which is second on this list thanks to income gains (recording 21 fold jump in per capita income since 1980), all other nine countries are top movers due to health and education benefits. These are Nepal, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Lao PDR, Tunisia, South Korea, Algeria and Morocco. India is 16th in the category.

While India’s HDI value has increased from 0.320 in 1980 to 0.519 in 2010, higher than South Asia’s average of 0.516, India still lags behind among medium HD nations. South Asia, particularly India, post shocking percentage losses in HDI values if inequalities are counted.

The best HDI ranker in the world, Norway, loses just 6.6 per cent to inequality while China loses 23 per cent and Bangladesh 29.4 per cent.

Global giants join hands to save climate
On November 29, 2010, the first day of the Cancun Climate Summit, the global consumer goods industry announced two major initiatives on climate protection: to halt deforestation practices and phase out climate damaging refrigerants that have high global warming potential.

In a statement issued from Paris, this was announced by the Consumer Goods Forum, a CEO-level organisation of 400 global consumer goods manufacturers and retailers with combined revenue in excess of $ 2.8 trillion. The initiatives were announced by the board of directors, comprising 50 CEOs and co-chaired by Muhtar Kent, CEO, The Coca-Cola Company and Lars Olofsson, CEO of Carrefour.

On deforestation, the Consumer Goods Forum decided to mobilise their collective resources to help achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.

On refrigeration, the Forum agreed to begin phasing out hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants as of 2015 and replace them with non-HFC refrigerants.

Deforestation is one of the principal drivers of climate change, accounting for 17 per cent of greenhouse gases today. The consumer goods industry, through its growing use of soya, palm oil, paper and board, creates many of the economic incentives which drive deforestation.

Refrigeration plays a vital role in the retail and consumer goods industry but is also a significant and growing source of greenhouse gases. HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases that are thousands of times as potent as carbon dioxide. While they currently have a relatively small aggregate impact on global warming, HFC emissions are projected to represent 9-19 per cent of projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. The US government has targeted HFC reduction as a priority climate action under the Montreal Protocol, and garnered support from 91 nations at 2010 Montreal Protocol conference in Bangkok.

World mayors sign climate change pact
Mayors from around the world have signed a voluntary pact in Mexico City to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The pact was signed at a meeting meant as a precursor to the UN-sponsored talks in Cancun.
Participants from some 135 cities and urban areas signed the pact committing them to adopt a number of measures to stem climate change.

Meanwhile, a new study has found that fossil-fuel gases edged back less than hoped in 2009, as falls in advanced economies were largely outweighed by rises in China and India.

Annual emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of oil, gas and coal were 30.8 billion tonne, a retreat of only 1.3 per cent in 2009, compared with 2008, a record year.

USA, Australia ink space surveillance pact
On November 8, 2010, Australia and the US signed a pact to increase space surveillance over the Asia-Pacific region by expanding the reach of US military satellites.

The two countries signed a ‘space situational awareness’ partnership at the conclusion of the annual US-Australia security and military dialogue, under which Washington would place more satellite tracking sensors in Western Australia.

The network would give Americans a strategic surveillance capacity over the southern hemisphere to track space and missile launches from China as well as Korea.

The signing of a space pact comes as US and its allies in the Pacific region have accused China of trying to militarise space by investing heavily in space technology.

A space situational awareness partnership statement issued at the conclusion of the security meet said that the US and Australia shared a deep concern about the “congested and contested nature of outer space”.

G-20 Summit
The Seoul Action Plan, agreed at the end of the two-day Summit of the G-20 leaders, called for moving towards more market-determined exchange rates. An undervalued Yuan or a weak Dollar also has ramifications for India and several other countries in terms of their exports becoming uncompetitive. The G-20 group includes India, the US, China, Germany, France, Brazil, Russia and Japan.

In the face of a currency war between the US and China, global leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, agreed to refrain from ‘competitive devaluation’ and bring in exchange rate flexibility to ensure that no country gets undue advantage.

These measures, the leaders said, would help mitigate the risk of excessive volatility in capital flows facing some emerging market economies.

Cablegate Crisis in USA
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis on November 29, 2010, with the leaking to various international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February 2010. At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN leadership.

The cables include comments on a shift in relations between China and North Korea, high-level concerns over Pakistan’s growing instability, and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al Qaeda in Yemen. The cables also contain specific allegations of corruption, as well as harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, from Caribbean islands to China and Russia.

The State department’s legal adviser wrote to the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, warning that the cables were obtained illegally and that the publication would place at risk “the lives of countless innocent individuals … ongoing military operations … and co-operation between countries”.

The electronic archive of embassy dispatches from around the world was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier and passed to WikiLeaks.

The US embassy cables are marked “Sipdis”—secret internet protocol distribution. They were compiled as part of a programme under which selected dispatches, considered moderately secret but suitable for sharing with other agencies, were automatically loaded on to secure embassy websites, and linked with the military’s Siprnet internet system.

More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn (no foreigners).

North Korea shells South Korean island
On November 23, 2010, North Korea fired scores of artillery shells at a South Korean island, killing two soldiers, in one of the heaviest attacks on its neighbour since the Korean War ended in 1953. South Korea was conducting military drills in the area at the time but said it had not been firing at the North.

The attack came as the reclusive North, and its ally China, were pressing regional powers to return to negotiations on its nuclear weapons programme and revelations that Pyongyang is fast developing another source of material to make atomic bombs.

It also followed moves by leader Kim Jong-il to make his youngest, but unproven, son his heir apparent, leading some analysts to question whether the bombardment might in part have been an attempt to burnish the ruling family’s image with the military.

At least 200 North Korean shells hit Yeonpyeong, which lies off the west coast of the divided peninsula near a disputed maritime border. Most landed on a military base there. Photographs from Yeongyeong island, just 120 west of Seoul, showed columns of smoke rising from buildings.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who has pursued a hard line with the North since taking office nearly three years ago, said a response had to be firm following the attack. But he made no suggestion the South would retaliate further, suggesting Seoul was taking a measured response to prevent things getting out of hand.

The two Koreas are still technically at war—the Korean War ended only with a truce—and tension rose sharply early 2010 after Seoul accused the North of torpedoing one of its navy vessels, killing 46 sailors.
The US strongly condemned the attack and called on North Korea to “halt its belligerent action,” and urged nuclear-armed North Korea to “fully abide by the terms of the Armistice Agreement” that ended the Korean War.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the shelling, warning of ‘colossal danger’ from Korean tensions and calling for an end to any hostilities.

The third summit on Global Agenda was held in Dubai in November 2010. The summit gave an opportunity to social, political and business leaders across the world to benchmark key developmental issues against global realities.

The 16th United Nations Climate Change Conference took place in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29, 2010. India was among the 190 UN members who took part in the 12-day event.

The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has included French food in its list of world’s “intangible cultural heritage”. Peking opera and Spanish flamenco dancing have also been included in the list.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has been named the most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine, ahead of US President Barack Obama who takes number two spot. Mrs Sonia Gandhi has been ranked 9th, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh 18th. Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani, Tata Chairman Ratan Tata and head of ArcelorMittal Lakshmi Mittal are also part of the list of 68 people.

India was ranked 119 in terms of human development, according to UNDP’s Human Development Report 2010.

Barack Obama was the fourth US President to address Indian MPs in the historic central hall of Parliament. Three of his predecessors—Dwight Eisenhower in 1959, Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Bill Clinton in 2000—were given the rare honour of addressing the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs. Before Obama, former Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed Indian MPs in 2007.

UN World Day of Remembrance for Road Accident Victims is observed on November 21.