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Showing posts from December 8, 2016

Rajnath claims ancient Indians accurately calculated age of Earth ( the hindu)

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh misquoted the late astronomer Carl Sagan to claim that ancient Indians accurately dated the age of Earth “to 1.97 billion years”. “Carl Sagan was a well-known cosmologist,” Mr. Singh said in his Hindi address at the India International Science Fair (IISF). “He has said that the cosmological calculations of ancient Indians alone matched with modern scientific theory…It was written in ancient, religious Indian texts that Earth came into existence 1.97 Arab (100 crore) billion years ago. Sagan accepted this. These are the contributions of our country.”

The age of Earth is 4.54 billion years and that of the Universe is 13 billion years. Sagan, in his iconic 1980 television series Cosmos , and book by the same name, did not say the Earth was 1.97 billion years old, or that ancient Indian astronomers had calculated the age of the Earth. He only said that Hinduism was the only one among the world’s religions in which time scales [of the age of the Universe] …

Wrapping food in newspaper a health hazard, says regulator( the hindu )

India’s food regulator has issued an advisory stating that the use of newspapers for wrapping and packing of food items, a common practice by street vendors, poses a health hazard.

The regulator on Wednesday expressed concern over “Indians being slowly poisoned” by cancer-causing agents in newspaper ink.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) restricted the use of newspapers and packaging material saying that consumption of food wrapped in newspapers was “injurious to health, even if the food had been cooked hygienically. Indians are being slowly poisoned due to newspapers being widely used as food packaging material by small hotels, vendors and also in homes in lieu of absorbent paper.”

The food regulator said the chemicals in newspaper ink contain harmful colours, pigments, additives and preservatives.

“Besides chemical contaminants, presence of pathogenic micro-organisms in used newspaper poses potential risk to human health. Older people, children and people with com…

Plea in SC seeks action against Aircel-Maxis (the hindu )

A petition was filed on Thursday in the Supreme Court seeking a direction to the Centre, the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to prevent Aircel- Maxis company from selling its stake/equity or spectrum and to attach its assets.

The application filed by NGO Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), represented by advocates Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva, said the CBI has filed a detailed charge sheet against Aircel/Maxis, its Malaysian owner Ananda Krishnan, the former Telecom Minister Dayanidhi Maran, etc, in connection with the 2G Spectrum scam. The ED has also filed cases against them and has attached properties of Mr. Maran, it said.

The CPIL, which was a petitioner in the legal battle concerning the 2G Spectrum scam before the Supreme Court, submitted that “when action has been taken against the former Minister Dayanidhi Maran, another accused in the case, there was no reason why no action has been taken against Ananda Krishnan and Maxis.”

The application alleged tha…

For god’s sake, do your job: Pranab ( the hindu )

“For demonstration you can choose any other place. But for god’s sake, do your job. You are meant to transact business,” President Pranab Mukherjee has exhorted parliamentarians.

He was delivering the fourth Defence Estates Day lecture on the topic of “Electoral reforms for a stronger democracy” here on Thursday.

The President said he was not referring to one party or two parties as he had no intention of accusing a few individuals of stalling Parliament. Urging the members not to misuse their freedom, Mr. Mukherjee said disruptions were about minorities gagging the majority by coming into the well, shouting slogans and stopping proceedings, leaving the chair no option but to adjourn the House.

He, however, made a specific reference to the Lok Sabha, which has a decisive role in key issues of finance. “You are meant to devote your time to exercising the authority of members, particularly of Lok Sabha members, over money and finance,” the President said.

In the Lok Sabha, little business h…

India, U.S. talk defence partnership ( the hindu)

This status puts India on par with the closest allies and partners

India and the U.S. on Thursday finalised the specifications for designating India a ‘Major Defence Partner’ of the U.S.

This status puts India on a par with the closest allies and partners of the U.S.. The agreement was reached between Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter in Delhi.

India was accorded this status during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington in June.

“The designation as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ is a status unique to India and institutionalises the progress made to facilitate defence trade and technology sharing with India to a level at par with that of the United States’ closest allies and partners, and ensures enduring cooperation into the future,” a joint statement issued after the talks said.

The finalisation reached pertains to U.S. licensing rules and stipulations on which non-papers were exchanged by both sides. This status is bestowed upon the Nort…

Prasar Bharati has no record of how it spent Rs.190 crore(thehindu)

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday expressed shock and wondered if there was some misappropriation of funds when it learnt that Prasar Bharati had no record of how it used Rs. 190 crore allocated by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for telecast of awareness programmes on family planning and population control.

Court surprised

The court was even more surprised when Prasar Bharati said it has received Rs.190 crore and not Rs.160 crore, as stated in an RTI reply by the Union Health Ministry.

Prasar Bharati submitted that it did not keep any record of how the money was spent as 122 programmes were telecast from 30 different kendras and it was not possible to collate all the data of expenditure because there were many “hidden costs”.

Details sought

A Bench of Justice B.D. Ahmed and Ashutosh Kumar was hearing a petition by Satyanarain, who had sought details of how the money granted by the Health Ministry in 2012-13 for family planning awareness programmes on Doordarshan was utilis…

Houdini’s secrets unlocked in Hungar(thehindu)

Ninety years after his death, the secrets of the world’s greatest escape artist, Harry Houdini, have been unlocked in a recently opened Hungarian museum devoted to the Budapest-born illusionist.

Set high in the capital’s lofty Castle district, the House of Houdini lifts the veil on the box of tricks used by the famous magician, who lived most of his life in the United States.

Amid gleaming chandeliers and old Chesterfield seats, the red-painted rooms showcase handcuffs and padlocks used by Houdini in performances.

Visitors can also see props from a recent television production on him such as a box from an illusion where a woman appears to be cut in half.

There’s even a stage where budding magicians charm visitors with card tricks.

“I had an urge to pay tribute to Houdini,” said museum owner and fellow escapologist David Merlini who has dedicated his life to collecting the items on display.

“We are all Houdinis. Everyone has a secret desire sometimes to get out of a certain situation, to be …

Sea Hawks break records in open-water swimming (thehindu)

The expedition was in tribute to martyrs of the 26/11 terror attack

: It was exactly 3:56 p.m. on Thursday when the boat reached the Tannirbhavi beach in Mangaluru. Aboard it was a team of six tired, bruised and extremely happy swimmers, who walked onto the shore and into the open arms of hundreds of Mangalureans waiting eagerly for them. Amidst thunderous applause, the Sea Hawks stood smiling, having not only broken all world records in sea swimming, but also having accomplished their mission.

The Sea Hawks, a mixed team of six servicemen and civilians, set their sights on the longest relay swimming expedition ever attempted as a tribute to the martyrs of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai in 2008, as well as to the martyrs of the recent terror strikes in Uri and Pathankot. The team set off from the Gateway of India on November 26 and after swimming in a non-stop relay for 12 days, in which each team member swam for an hour, the Sea Hawks on Thursday completed a total of 1,013…

Giraffes facing extinction after devastating decline, experts warn (thehindu)

IUCN ‘Red List’ assesses status of the world’s flora and fauna populations

The world’s tallest animal is at risk of extinction after suffering a devastating decline in numbers, with 40 per cent of giraffes lost in the last 30 years, according to the latest “Red List” analysis.

The authoritative list, compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has also added over 700 newly recognised bird species, but 13 of these are already extinct.

It says wild relatives of important food crops, such as mangoes and sunflowers, are now in danger of extinction, cutting the ability to safeguard food supplies by breeding new varieties resilient to drought and disease.

But there is a little hopeful news in the list as well with the rediscovery of a few species thought to have been lost, such a Madagascan freshwater fish which had not been seen since the 1960s, and the recovery of the Seychelles white-eye bird after conservation efforts.

The natural world is in the midst of a mas…

STP functioning found faulty (thehindu)

Operators asked to use alternative methods to bring down coliform content

The Kerala State Pollution Control Board (PCB) has found the functioning of the sewage treatment plant (STP) at Sabarimala Sannidhanam faulty.

A detailed inspection of the STP by an expert team led by District Environmental Engineer of the PCB Alexander George has revealed that the ozonisation system is not working.

The ozonisation system, which forms a key component of the fully biological sewage treatment plant, is used for disinfecting treated sewage. In the ozonisation process, atmospheric oxygen is converted into ozone by passing it through high- voltage electricity. This ozone is injected into water and the ozonised water is used to disinfect treated sewage, he says.

The PCB found from the regular monitoring of the STP that the existing system is inefficient in controlling the coliform count, leaving the total coliform count in the treated effluent at 40,000 to 50,000 every 100 ml. To address the issue during …

Europe walks a tightrope ( thehindu)

As 2016 draws to a close after Brexit in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., it is tempting to label it the Year of Resurgent Nationalism. Yet in its dying gasp the global season of elections has produced two surprise results, in Austria and Italy, which give pause. Last weekend Austria rejected far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in its presidential election, instead placing confidence in Alexander Van der Bellen, a former leader of the Green Party who has said he would be an “open-minded, liberal-minded and above all a pro-European president.” In Italy a more mixed result was delivered, with voters resoundingly defeating a referendum driven by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to change Italy’s constitution by reducing the numbers and power of the Senate. While some in Italy’s political right have seized upon the result as a big victory for anti-establishment forces, the vote defies the simplistic narrative of a “populist revolt against globalisation and elites” that has …

A reform at risk (thehindu)

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is keeping his fingers crossed about sticking to the April 1, 2017 target to implement the Goods and Services Tax regime. The GST Council he heads meets again on December 11-12 to try to reach a consensus on three pieces of legislation that need to be cleared by Parliament in this session for a rollout in April. In its previous three meetings, the Council failed to resolve an impasse between the States and the Centre on who would have administrative control over taxpayers in the new tax regime. The Finance Ministry has proposed a dual control model where both vertically split the taxpayer base for administrative purposes. But States including West Bengal, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh are keen to retain control over all goods and services providers with an annual turnover of less than Rs.1.5 crore. At the last meeting, the States hardened their position by flagging the loss of revenue on account of the demonetisation of high value currency notes.

While the Coun…

Kudumbasree to clean up 1,072 water sources(thehindu)

A Kudumbasree Mission release said here on Wednesday that the members would clean ponds and streams in various locales that had become stagnant over the years. The drive is being launched jointly by the mission officials, members of the neighbourhood groups of the mission, and local body members. Bio-farming Steps would be taken to ensure food safety by starting bio-farming in 20,000 local body wards. It has been proposed to identify 50 cents fallow land in each ward and group farming would be extended to 10,000 acres for making the State self-reliant in fruits, vegetables, and rice. The mission would also publish a farm calendar comprising projects to be implemented in each panchayat during the year ahead. Terrace farming would be popularised. Farming groups would supply seeds and manure to households. A cleaning drive would be launched on December 13 in association with the Suchitwa Mission.

DMIC to have larger mandate(thehindu)

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved expanding the mandate of Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor Project Implementation Trust Fund (DMIC-PITF Trust), while redesignating it as National Industrial Corridor Development & Implementation Trust (NICDIT).

NICDIT will be the apex body under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion for monitoring and implementing all Central efforts for development of industrial corridors.

“There is an existing approval for expenditure of Rs. 18,500 crore, of which the unspent balance will be used by NICDIT. Another Rs. 1,584 crore has been given for four additional corridors and NICDIT’s administrative expenses up to March 2022,” an official release said.

Jallikattu: Give us a second chance, T.N., Centre urge SC(thehindu)

Government should be allowed a degree of flexibility in particular situations: ASG

“For 30 seconds or 15 feet, whichever is longer, the bull runs and is embraced by a tamer.

What is the cruelty in that?” Tamil Nadu government asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The State was arguing in favour of a January 7 Central notification bringing bulls back into the fold of ‘performing animals’ despite the Supreme Court declaring Jallikattu as “inherent cruelty” in a judgment in 2014.

“If I am willing to undertake any steps, any measures, to prevent cruelty under the Prevention of Cruelty Act ... what else is the problem?” senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, for Tamil Nadu, submitted before a Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Rohinton F. Nariman which reserved the case for final judgment.

Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha, for the Centre, said the court could not indulge in “absolute prohibitionism” in the case of Jallikattu. It had to acknowledge that the government should be allowed a deg…

Survey asks which is the most ‘godless’ city in England?(thehindu)

Survey shows Norwich has highest proportion of residents describing themselves as having no religion

Discovering how many people in a given city believe in God (or not) is an almost superhuman task. In territories controlled or influenced by Islamic State, for example, the risks to declared non-believers are drastic and obvious. On the other side of the coin, the state atheism promulgated by the leaders of the Soviet Union meant that believers were stigmatised at best, persecuted at worst.

As sociology professor Phil Zuckerman pointed out in an essay in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism , even the terminology of religious belief can throw up roadblocks to understanding. If my idea of religious practice is a good deal looser than yours, can we have a meaningful conversation about which cities are godless and which are not? Naturally, the methodological hurdles have not prevented researchers from making the leap.

According to the 2011 Census of England and Wales, Norwich had the highest p…

‘Earth’s day lengthens by two milliseconds a century’(thehindu)

Astronomers who compiled nearly 3,000 years of celestial records have found that with every passing century, the day on Earth lengthens by two milliseconds as the planet’s rotation gradually winds down.

The split second gained since World War I may not seem much, but the time it takes for a sunbeam to travel 600km towards Earth can cost an Olympic gold medal, as the American Tim McKee found out when he lost to Sweden’s Gunnar Larsson in 1972.

For those holding out for a whole extra hour a day, be prepared for a long wait. Barring any change in the rate of slowing down, an Earth day will not last 25 hours for about two million centuries more.

Researchers at Durham University and the U.K.’s Nautical Almanac Office gathered historical accounts of eclipses and other celestial events from 720 BCE to 2015. The oldest records came from Babylonian clay tablets written in cuneiform, with more added from ancient Greek texts, such as Ptolemy’s 2nd century Almagest, and scripts from China, mediaeval…

Guardians of federalism (thehindu)

The AIADMK and the DMK have a shared legacy of social reform, commitment to State autonomy and fiscal federalism. In this phase of centralisation, they need to forge a political culture to cooperate on key issues

It is not easy to fill the vacuum caused by the departure of a popular and charismatic leader. However, this vacuum is not a permanent state. If personalities of equal or even slightly less stature are unavailable, significant political space opens up for other players, principally political rivals or those of a similar ideological persuasion, to capitalise on the situation. Or, as a temporary phenomenon, pretenders claiming to be true legatees of the departed leader, or those claiming to espouse the same causes as her, could emerge as key players.

Bargaining power with the Centre

In Tamil Nadu, the unexpected demise of Jayalalithaa hardly six months into her fourth substantive term as Chief Minister seems to have created such a vacuum. There is no second-line leadership, none w…

The continental shift (thehindu)

Voters in Europe are repeatedly showing they are unpredictable and cannot to be taken for granted by parties or movements of any persuasion

This has been a mind-boggling year for Europe. First Britain’s shock European Union referendum result and the ensuing backlash against immigrants seemed to signal the rise of the right in Europe. The certainty that the right was on a steady march to power seemed confirmed by the U.S. election result and was seized upon by right-wing parties across Europe, who saw it as a sign of the inevitability of the swing towards them. “Their world collapses. Ours is being built,” tweeted Florian Philippot, one of the French National Front leader Marine Le Pen’s most senior advisers, on November 9, while Dutch far right leader Geert Wilders proclaimed on the day that “the people are taking their country back. So will we.” The photograph of Donald Trump, who had described himself as “Mr Brexit”, and Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage by t…

Three years after the Koushal judgment(thehindu)

December 11, 2016 marks three years from the day on which the Supreme Court delivered amongst its most widely criticised judgments since the turn of the century: Koushal v. Naz Foundation . With the stroke of a pen, India’s LGBT community was cast back into the shadows of illegality after a judgment of the Delhi High Court, reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, was reversed in appeal. The process was as painful as the outcome, for the Supreme Court observed that the LGBT community was a “minuscule” minority that did not deserve the court’s time or protection. Despite the court’s observations, there was little doubt about whether this judgment represented the collective view of the judiciary. In an article published in this newspaper two years ago, I explained that courts across the country had begun narrowing the impact of the decision in the months after it was made. The Gujarat High Court intelligently skirted the Supreme Court’s decision on Section 377, holding that t…

The RBI’s big surprise(thehidu)

The Reserve Bank of India has surprised markets by opting to keep benchmark interest rates unchanged and cutting the outlook for full-year growth in the wake of last month’s decision to withdraw legal tender status to high denomination currency notes. In the fifth bimonthly monetary policy statement, the RBI cited a “backdrop of heightened uncertainty.” It listed global factors including the imminent tightening of U.S. monetary policy and the rise in oil prices, and “disconcerting” domestic inflation trends that could potentially endanger its price stability goals. Expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will resume its normalisation of policy by raising interest rates on December 14 have combined with a homeward-bound flight of capital from emerging markets in the wake of Donald Trump’s win in the presidential election to buoy the dollar at the expense of other currencies. The rupee has not been spared, forcing the RBI to intermittently intervene to reduce volatility. Given that t…

Demonetisation is for the long run(thehindu)

It is only rule-based capitalism combined with clean government that can transform India The critics of demonetisation are absolutely right about the adverse short-term impact of the policy. It has caused major inconvenience to a vast majority, particularly to those who have the least financial resources. Of course, it will shave off some amount of GDP growth for anywhere between a quarter and three quarters because of the economic disruption it has caused in different sectors of the economy. According to some, including the venerable Dr. Manmohan Singh, this alone is sufficient to damn demonetisation. After all, the short run is all that matters because in the long run, as Keynes famously said, we are all dead. While that proposition may be true for individuals, it certainly isn’t true for nations. India has a long-term future even if you and I don’t. Also, there is a medium term, longer than an electoral cycle or two (certainly longer than a quarter or two) but shorter than a gener…

Cho Ramaswamy, wit and analyst (thehindu)

It was the eighteenth century satirist Joseph Addison who said his task was “to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality”. For veteran journalist, satirist and playwright ‘Cho’ Ramaswamy, the task may well have been “to enliven politics with wit, and to temper wit with political analysis”. Cho was a lawyer, writer, dramatist, comedian, journalist and commentator, but will chiefly be remembered as a playwright for his 1968 satire Muhammad bin Tughlaq , and as the editor of Thuglak magazine for his refusal to be cowed down by the Emergency. Many looked up to him for political analysis and even voting guidance. Often moving beyond the journalistic role, he utilised his numerous political friendships to bring together parties and leaders and sought to influence major developments. Seen as an upstart when he founded Thuglak in 1970, Cho managed to reflect the unspoken angst of the middle class, which held a dim view of politics and politicians, especially because of the …