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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Central Government urged to grant Rs 500 cr for relief works

KOLLAM: Revenue Minister K.P.Rajendran has urged the Centre to grant Rs 500 crore for conducting the relief works by considering the increasing incidents of natural calamities in the state.Inaugurating the disaster relief centre at the Collectorate under the UNDP scheme here on Friday, the Minister said that the state would prepare a comprehensive programme for the same in the presence of Union Minister Mullappalli Ramachandran on June 30. The fund provided by the Centre for the relief works is quite inadequate. The norms for allocating relief fund should also be changed, he said.He said that the disaster relief centres would be extended up to taluk, village-levels also. The state had conducted disaster relief awareness programmes during the last one year with the financial assistance of the UNDP to the tune of Rs 3.50 crore and they were found very effective, he said. The disaster relief centres will function by using the modern equipment.The coordinated efforts of various departments are also needed for the same, he said. The Minister released the district disaster relief  project by handing over a copy to S.Suvarnakumar, the secretary of the NGO.The disaster management directory prepared by the Quilon Social Service Society was released at the function by its director Fr Joseph Ditto by handing over a copy to District Collector A.Shajahan.The district disaster relief centre inaugurated at the Collectorate was the first one of its kind in the state. It will provide society-based disaster management training programme in all the 22 fisheries villages of the district.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bitter pill for energy drink

Food and Drug Administration seizes Red Bull cans worth crores of rupees for exceeding permissible caffeine limit; initiates legal proceedings

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Maharashtra has cracked down on energy drink major Red Bull for exceeding the caffeine limit prescribed by the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1956.
    In April, the FDA seized 12 batches (7.74 lakh tins of 250 ml each) of the drink, valued at over Rs 5.8 crore, from Panvel. Officials say all the cans had over 280 parts per million (ppm) of caffeine, while the prescribed limit is 200 ppm.
    Last week, the FDA initiated proceedings against the company over seven batches, and intends to book them against the remaining batches over the next few days.
    "We have initiated prosecution proceedings against Red Bull energy drink," confirmed Maharashtra FDA Commissioner Dhanraj Khamatkar.
    After the tests confirmed high caffeine content, the FDA conducted another raid on Red Bull distributors in the city early this month. It seized Rs 8.72 lakh worth of energy drink from Milestone Merchandise, the company's main distributor in Sewri and Rs 4.17 lakh from Laxmi Enterprises, another distributor based in Mulund.
    "We have sent the contents of the second raid to State Public Health Laboratory in Pune; once the violation is confirmed, we will take legal action against the concerned parties," said Suhas Chaudhuri, Joint Commissioner (Greater
Mumbai), Maharashtra FDA.
    According to medical experts, high caffeine intake is quite harmful. In the short term, regular consumption disturbs the heart rhythm; affects the endocrine and metabolic system disrupting growth; and upsets the neuro-psychiatric system, resulting in enraged behaviour and low-attention span.
    In the long run, high consumption of such energy drinks damages the bones and leads to osteoporosis and arthritis. Research has also cited that there are remote links between such energy drinks and cancer.
    "Such high caffeine drinks are really addictive and very harmful to the health," said Dr Shashank Joshi, a noted endocrinologist at Lilavati Hospital, while adding that even the 200 ppm levels mandated by the FDA on caffeine is a little on the excess side. "The FDA needs to bring the cap down to 150 ppm," he added.
    Red Bull however maintains that it fully meets the safety requirements of the relevant Indian food regulations, and so, has been sold in India since 2002.
    "One 250 ml can of Red Bull energy drink contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee – which is 80 mg or 320 ppm – and this is clearly stated on each can. The limit set forth by the PFA Act applies only to carbonated waters and not to energy drinks containing functional ingredients such as caffeine up to 320 mg/L, taurine, glucuronolactone and B group vitamins," said Vikaas Saxena, Director, Marketing, Red Bull India.

WHAT CAFFEINE DRINKS DO TO YOUR SYSTEM
Nutritionist Naini Setalvad likens energy drinks with caffeine to the H
Bomb – an explosion of energy that
spells disaster for your pancreas and
other glands…
It acts as a diuretic, i.e. increases your urine output and dehydrates the body It takes 24 hours to pass through the kidney and urinary tract. If you drink it before bedtime, it affects sound sleep and diverts energy, which would otherwise be used for muscle and cell repair It increases blood pressure and causes acidity Caffeine contained even in one to two cups of coffee instantly changes the pattern of brain activity. It over-activates the adrenaline gland, causing stress and aggression It gets absorbed into the blood stream within 10-15 minutes and is highly addictive. Since you feel a slump in energy after the initial rush, you reach out for another dose to maintain the "high" In teenagers, excessive caffeine causes headaches, diminished concentration, anxiety and irritability It causes calcium loss, heralding osteoporosis faster and at a younger age, and also raises cholesterol levels Piles and constipation can be aggravated by caffeine, not to mention that it overloads the kidneys, sounding the death knell for diabetics

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Killing me softly with your beedis

Dear Pranab Mukherjee,
You have a big budget problem. Your fiscal deficit is huge, but you cannot easily increase taxes
or cut spending during a recession. One easy way out will be to raise taxes yet again on cigarettes. Tobacco causes cancer, so every tax increase can be portrayed as a life-saving measure.
    Yet, this is rank hypocrisy. Indians consume an estimated one trillion beedis per year, against only 106 billion cigarettes. So, taxes on cigarettes leave out 90% of smokers. You must equalise taxes on beedis and cigarettes. If you equalise at the rate for non-filter micro cigarettes, you will get an additional Rs 15,000 crore per year. And if you equate at the standard filter cigarette rate, you will get an additional Rs 80,000 crore a year. A bonanza!
    Why have finance ministers over the years not done this? Because the beedi is the poor man's smoke, and the beedi industry employs millions. Yet, these are horrifying, cruel reasons for tax concessions for proven killers. Yes, the poor buy cheap products, but is a cheap killer like the beedi the right way to help the poor? Surely, they will gain if beedis are made more expensive, obliging them to reduce or stop smoking, and improving their health?
    Dr Prabhat Jha of Toronto University estimates that 930,000 Indians will die in 2010 of tobacco-related causes (respiratory, vascular and neoplastic). Deaths from these causes are increased two to three times by smoking.
    Dr Jha says that smoking even a few beedis per day is harmful. Nicotine is addictive, but mildly so: people give up smoking when high cost and social inconvenience provide proper incentives. In the US and Europe, 30% of all smokers have given up the habit. But in India only 2% of beedi smokers ever give it up, because costs and social pressures are low.
    The beedi industry employs millions. Yet, Pranab babu, can you with a straight face justify employing millions in order to kill millions of others, slowly and painfully? If indeed you regard labour-intensive killing as an industry to be encouraged with concessional taxation, please bring Dawood Ibrahim back to India and make him an adviser in the Ministry of Industrial Development. He knows a thing or two about labour-intensive
ways of killing people slowly with lots of pain.
    A recent study by Emil Sunley, an IMF consultant, estimates that beedis account for 77% of all tobacco consumption but only 5% of excise taxes. His data refer mostly to 2007-08, but the dimensions of the problem have not changed materially since. Sunley says that the tax per thousand is Rs 14 for handmade beedis and Rs 26 for machine-made ones. For cigarettes, the tax per thousand varies from Rs 168 for micro non-filter cigarettes to Rs 819 for the standard 70 mm filter cigarette and a whopping Rs 2,163 for filter cigarettes longer than 85 mm.
    Even the low duty on beedis is largely evaded by cottage industries producing mainly unbranded beedis. Only 360 billion of the estimated trillion beedis produced actually pay taxes. Sunley suggests banning unbranded beedis, which hardly ever pay tax. Tobacco curers, blenders and processors should be obliged to report to whom they sell tobacco, helping check evasion by small or undeclared beedi producers
    Next, the tax on hand-made and machine-made beedis should be equalized. Technology will then shift production gradually towards machine-made production in factories, where tax collection is easier and evasion more difficult. Some producers split their operations into several small companies to avoid taxes, and this can be countered by clubbing together all companies and factories of a group for tax purposes.
    Next, the government should equate the tax on cigarettes and beedis. Obviously this cannot be done in one go. But the government should announce a phased programme to equate taxes at the minimum cigarette level over three years, raising beedi taxes every six months to gradually reach the minimum cigarette tax level of Rs 168 per thousand. At this level, the exchequer should get an additional Rs 15,000 crore in tax. Then over the next few years all cigarette taxes and beedi taxes can be raised to the level levied on standard 70 mm filter cigarettes, which in 2007-08 was Rs 819 per thousand. This should increase tax revenue by around Rs 80,000 crore.

    Finally, Pranab babu, beedi packets should have the same pictorial health warning that is now mandatory for cigarettes. You can improve the health of poor Indians as well as government finances by treating cigarettes and beedis as hazards that should be taxed alike.


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‘1 in 25 deaths worldwide caused by alcohol’

Atenth of deaths in Europe and one in 25 worldwide can be attributed to drinking alcohol, a report said. Alcohol also accounted for five% of years lived with disability around the world, said researchers.
    The findings, published in The Lancet medical journal, found that average global alcohol consumption was around 12 units per person per week. A pint of mild beer contains two units as does a large glass of wine. In Europe, people drink 21.5 units a week —almost twice the world average—while average consumption in the US is 18 units.
    The lowest consumers were those in the eastern Mediterranean, who downed just 1.3 units. The proportion of men hit with alcohol-related deaths was much higher than women—6.3% compared with 1.8%.Among Europeans, alcohol was directly responsible for as many as one in 10 deaths, the researchers found.
    Within Europe, the former Soviet Union countries suffered the greatest burden, with 15% of all deaths, or one in seven, caused by alcohol consumption. Most deaths involving alcohol were the result of injuries, cancer, heart disease and liver cirrhosis.
    Overall, alcohol-attributable deaths had increased since 2000 mainly because of increases in the number of women drinking. The authors, led by Dr Jurgen Rehm, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto in Canada. AGENCIES


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Worried about the safety of seniors home alone?

Grandpa on alert

 Invest in these digital security systems

 Eight murders targeting the elderly in less than four months was the last straw for Ranjeet Pandit, a computer engineer who resides in Pune. Pandit works in Pune while his 70-year-old mother lives alone in Mumbai. "What worried me most was the fact that these murders were all committed by people known to the deceased, like the maid or the security guard. The only way to guard against such criminals was to turn to digital security," says Pandit, who immediately started his search for the perfect security gadgets to fortify his mothers' home in Mumbai. "I was actually surprised as to how easy and inexpensive the whole process has become," says Pandit.
    Today, there are a lot of easily installable and easy-to-use security gadgets in the market. At the same time, of course, there are a lot of counterfeit gadgets and tools around too, so it's a good idea to shop around and check reviews. Some of the known names currently in home security include the likes of Godrej, Zicom, Aftek, ADT and Honeywell. And all of them come with their own brands of the following security systems.
Video door phone
    
The first step towards a secure home is probably the video-door phone. Video-door phones work as an electronic version of the good old peep-hole. This tiny piece of gadget sits at the door and gives you a television-like interface that lets you see outside the door and interact with them before letting them in. Therefore, it's a great idea for elderly couples who live alone in the city. The best part is that the system is not too expensive. In fact you could easily install a basic level video-door phone for as little as Rs 7,000.
Sensors
    
Another inexpensive but effective tool that could beef up your security are sensors or alarms. The best in the market are burglar alarms, motion sensors, fire alarms and glass-break sensors. The basic
versions come in the range of Rs 5,000 odd each. Most versions are sophisticated equipment which let you feed emergency numbers of friends and family into the memory and can also be hooked up to phone lines. This way, in case of a break-in or mishap, the system will convey the alarms to the security guards downstairs and even to the mobile numbers of your trusted people via SMS.
IP camera
    
Wired-up motion sensors and burglar alarms are great, but they still don't solve the problem of known criminals such as the maid or the security guard. The ideal solution is an IP-based camera that delivers live feed from within the house over the internet. It's basically like the regular web camera, except that it has its own web address, so it connects directly to the internet and broadcasts the scene under its radar on the web. "This is one equipment that has finally brought me some peace of mind," says Pandit, "with the IP cam, I can check on my mom via my laptop and in case of some problem, I can quickly call on our neighbours to physically check on her." The only glitch with installing this system is it can be slightly expensive — the
whole set-up comes for a minimum of Rs 15,000.
Surveillance cameras
    
In case you don't want to spend on an IP camera, you can go for its younger brother — the regular surveillance camera. The basic version can come for as little as Rs 4,000. And this is just like a regular camera which will continuously record all the going-ons in the house.
Monitored security
    
Finally, you also have an option of a monitored security system from companies such as ADT and Napco. These systems are basically a set of alarms and sensors connected to a central monitoring system — manned by a team of security and safety professionals. So, say, a criminal breaks into your house, it will immediately set off an automatic alarm and send a signal to the monitoring centre of the security company. It would call the security agencies, the police as well as the numbers of friends and relatives registered during installation. Needless to say, these systems are pretty expensive and require you to pay a monthly fee for round-the-clock monitoring. However it's a worthy investment for peace of mind, don't you think?











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Sunday, June 21, 2009

‘High tides plus rains may pose threat this week’

City's catchment areas get good rain

Mumbai: Although the monsoon has not yet officially arrived in Mumbai, it has rained well in at least four catchment areas on the outskirts of the city since Saturday.
    While Upper Vaitarna recorded rainfall of 49 mm, Bhat
sa received 40 mm, Tansa 27 mm and Modak Sagar 48 mm. "This is a good sign. It should continue raining steadily and uniformly. It will then make a difference and the lake levels will rise,'' said hydraulic engineer S S Korlekar.
Mumbai: Such is the timing of the high tides this year that Mumbaikars, it seems, may have to brace themselves against flooding from the first day of monsoon itself. Data provided by the BMC shows that the city will witness high tides over the 4.5-m mark from Monday to Saturday, just when the first showers are expected to lash the city. It rained in some parts of Mumbai and the suburbs on Sunday.
    While Thursday will see the highest tide of the month—4.97 m at 2:24 pm, Wednesday will witness a tide of 4.95 m at 1:41 pm. However, according to civic officials, this will pose a problem if heavy rain coincides with the high tide.
    Meanwhile, Met officials said that the monsoon is almost here and the rain-bearing clouds are advancing at a fast pace. "The monsoon has advanced on more parts of the central Arabian sea, central Maharashtra, north Konkan and most parts of Karnataka. In fact, it has now reached Alibaug, Pune, Sholapur and Hyderabad. There is a lot of monsoon-related development and thunder clouds are looming over the city. We are hoping that the clouds precipitate in a day or two,'' said Dr R V Sharma, deputy di
rector general of meteorology in Mumbai.
    The civic body has been preparing for a spate of high tides coupled with heavy rains in the months of June, July and August and they claim they are prepared to face such

a combination even at an early stage. While officials admit that the first showers are always more difficult to handle than the ones that come later, they are hopeful that the city will not be thrown out of gear. "We are trying to minimise inconvenience as far as possible. Usually, the first heavy showers cause flooding as a lot of floating material and other dirty matter gets washed out. Once that is cleared, by July, everything gets acclimatised to the monsoon,'' said S S Shinde, deputy municipal commissioner (disaster man
agement). "Though low-lying areas will get flooded when it rains heavily, the problems will not be severe,'' he added.
    Having taken many floodmitigation measures—widening and de-silting the Mithi River, widening drains and clearing railway drains—the BMC is expecting luck to also play a part in determining if the city goes under this monsoon.
    According to officials, Mumbai will be able to cope with rain of up to 350 mm on non-high tide days. Even if there is water-logging, the water should recede quickly in low-lying areas. The weather department pegs rainfall between 124.5 and 244.4 mm as very heavy rain and rainfall more than 244.5 mm as extremely heavy rain. "As soon as there is low tide, the water starts receding. There is no reason to worry,'' said Shinde.
    According to officials, if the city gets even 75 mm of rain when the tide is high on new moon days, water-logging of up to 25 ft can occur and this may not recede before the next high tide. "Mumbai was hit by heavy rain on July 26, 2005 and people were stranded for hours because the water did not recede before the next high tide. But at that time, the intensity of the rain was too high and a 24-hour rainfall figure of 994 mm was recorded,'' said an official.











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Make back-up water plans, rain-starved states told

New Delhi: The committee of secretaries headed by cabinet secretary K M Chandrasekhar on Saturday asked key states facing deficient rains to prepare contingency plans. The committee also decided to convene a meeting of agriculture secretaries from the key states —Maharashtra, MP, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar.
    The move comes a day after the PM expressed worry at signs of a failing monsoon while chairing the Union cabinet meeting and constituted the committee which includes the agriculture and earth sciences secretaries. The Meteorological department had on Friday reported that the rains in June had been 45% below normal and 28 of the 36 meteoroligcal divisions had received less than expected rains.
    The monsoon, already delayed by two weeks, is now expected to cover the west coast by June 22 and the system being formed in the Bay of Bengal is likely to bring rain to the rest of India from June 25.
    However, sources said the IMD has been asked to release daily forecasts keeping in mind the threat of a possible failure that could hit the on-going sowing badly. The government is wary of a failed monsoon, which could hinder its plans of reviving the sluggish economy as well as implementing its Food Security Act. TNN
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Worried, state govt gears up to induce showers

Mumbai: The state government is thinking of inducing rainfall by artificial means if the monsoon does not hit the city within a couple of days. The reason: Maharashtra is facing an unprecedented shortage of water owing to the delay in monsoon.

    "If there is further delay, then the situation will be the worst ever. Monsoons have been delayed in the past too, but the state had never faced such a situation in the last two decades. In such circumstances, we will have to consider the experiment of artificial rainfall,'' a senior irrigation official told TOI.
    As per the storage capacity of major, minor and small irrigation proj
ects across the state, the official said as on June 20, there was only 11% water of the total capacity of dams; it was 18% on the same day last year.
    In the 73 major dams, the official said less than 1,422 million cubic meter of water was available on June 20, the figure was 2,933 million cubic meter last year.
    "It comes to 6% of the total capacity, as against 16% last year and 18% in 2007,'' the official said.
    The situation is similar in medium and small dams. In the 201 medium dams, there was 12% water this year, as against 14% last year, while in the 1,955 small dams, there was 7% water. This figure was 9% last year. "We expect that monsoon will hit the state by June 22,'' he said.


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