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Thursday, October 30, 2008


Assam serial blasts kill 66

9 Blasts In 30 Mins, Seething Mobs Attack Policemen

Guwahati: In the worst-ever terror attack in the North-East, nine high-intensity blasts triggered in a span of 30 minutes killed 66 people and wounded more than 470 in four places in Assam—Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon and Barpeta—on Thursday morning.
    In spite of repeated warnings by the army and intelligence agencies, the state administration was caught napping. Timer-equipped explosive devices, packed with RDX, had been planted in two-wheelers and cars which were parked in crowded areas. For the first time, the district magistrate's court in Guwahati was targeted.
    Three of the blasts took place in Guwahati, leaving 33 people dead and more than 200 injured. The worst-hit was the crowded market in Ganeshguri, just 200 metres from the high-security Dispur capital complex. The blast lifted a packed bus, hurled

it on the pavement and smashed it to pieces. The explosive had been hidden in a motorcycle under a flyover.
    The second blast took place at Fancy Bazar and another in the district court complex, which was packed with lawyers and litigants, having just reopened after the Diwali recess. In the court, exploding vehicles added to the carnage. Charred bodies lay everywhere and lumps of flesh clung to mangled metal.
    Almost simultaneously, three blasts occurred in Kokrajhar markets, killing 21 and injuring almost a hundred people. In neighbouring Bongaigaon district, a bomb found in a market blew up when policemen tried to defuse it. An additional SP was injured. In Barpeta Road, 12 people were killed in twin blasts in markets. Scores were injured.
    Officials said there were striking
similarities between the Assam serial blasts and those in Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The blame fell on the extremist United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) and the Bangaldesh-based Harkat ul-Jihadi-e-Islami (HuJI). While Ulfa's top leadership is based in Bangladesh and needs HuJI for logistics and financial sustenance, the Islamic terror group, in turn, draws on Ulfa footsoldiers for its operations, intelligence officials said.
Ulfa-HuJI Suspected
Ulfa, a militant group wanting to set up a sovereign Assam through armed struggle, is suspected to be behind the blasts along with Bangladesh-based HuJI. Ulfa was banned in 1990. Peace talks with Ulfa have not yielded results. It remains wedded to killings, kidnappings, economic subversion. Ulfa has denied involvement in the blasts
Foreign Links
Ulfa has links with anti-India bodies, including close ties with ISI. Its cadres trained in Pak in use of rocket launchers, explosives & assault weapons. Ulfa camps are in Bangladesh. It has links with HuJI and other groups close to Bin Laden. Ulfa's leaders have found refuge in Bangladesh where the outfit also has business ops

Why Did It Carry Out Blasts?
Ulfa is suspected to have carried out HuJI's bidding. It is dependent on HuJI as its leaders' safety depends on it. Over time, its financial, military and logistical support from the ISI and HuJI has grown. Most blasts carried out where Bodos recently clashed with Bangladeshis. Bodos, whose land has virtually been overrun by these illegal immigrants, have been fighting Bangladeshis

Any Govt Response?
Govt taken aback by mass outrage in Assam over blasts. Cabinet met in the evening and was briefed by NSA. Red alert sounded. Assam's borders have been sealed. NSA team, forensic experts rushed there. Decision taken not to reduce security presence during polls
Govt failed, admits Assam chief minister Guwahati: Ulfa and Bangla d e s h - b a s e d HuJI are the prime suspects in the blasts that rocked Assam on Thursday, claiming 66 lives. After the blast, people defied the curfew and poured into the streets of Guwahati, attacking policemen and shouting slogans against the administration for "failing to protect the city''. Several fire engines and police vehicles were set ablaze. The police, who were themselves left shell-shocked by the blasts, struggled to rein in the mobs and had to fire in the air at some places to disperse the crowds.
    Chief minister Tarun Gogoi admitted to a lapse. "There were intelligence inputs but we did not anticipate it would have such a magnitude,'' he said. "I have never seen such intensity of terror attacks.'' The first indications of the threat had come on September 26, when the army gunned down seven HuJI militants in Kokrajhar. From mobile intercepts, the defence ministry said the group had come from Bangladesh and had been planning to link up with another HuJI team already in Guwahati to carry out serial blasts.
    The Assam police refused to heed the army warning. Now, they are examining the army claim to see if there is any link between the September 28 encounter and Thursday's blasts.
    A team of National Security Guards has arrived in the city to conduct investigations and the police's needle of suspicion is pointing at HuJI and Ulfa. "We are examining other outfits as well,'' Assam IGP Khagen Sarma said.
    Ulfa, however, denied its involvement in the blasts.

Tarun Gogoi

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Arctic ice melting fast even in winter

The Arctic icecap is now shrinking at record rates in the winter as well as summer, adding to evidence of disastrous melting near the North Pole, according to research by British scientists.

They have found that the widely reported summer shrinkage, which this year resulted in the opening of the Northwest Passage, is continuing in the winter months with the thickness of sea ice decreasing by a record 19% last winter.

Usually the Arctic icecap recedes in summer and then grows back in winter. These findings suggest the period in which the ice renews itself has become much shorter.

Katharine Giles, who led the study and is based at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London (UCL), said the thickness of Arctic sea ice had shown a slow downward trend during the previous five winters but then accelerated.

She said: "After the summer 2007 record melting, the thickness of the winter ice also nose-dived. What is concerning is that sea ice is not just receding but it is also thinning."

The cause of the thinning is, however, potentially even more alarming. Giles found that the winter air temperatures in 2007 were cold enough that they could not have been the cause.

This suggests some other, longer-term change, such as a rise in water temperature or a change in ocean circulation that has brought warmer water under the ice.

If confirmed, this could mean that the Arctic is likely to melt much faster than had been thought. Some researchers say that the summer icecap could vanish within a decade.

The research, reported in Geophysical Research Letters, showed that last winter the average thickness of sea ice over the whole Arctic was 26cm (10%) less than the average thickness of the previous five winters.

However, sea ice in the western Arctic lost about 49cm of thickness.

This region saw the Northwest Passage become ice-free and open to shipping for the first time in 30 years during the summer of 2007.

The UCL researchers used satellites to measure sea-ice thickness from 2002 to 2008. Winter sea ice in the Arctic is about 8ft thick on average.

The team is the first to measure ice thickness throughout the winter, from October to March, over more than half of the Arctic, using the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite.

Giles's findings confirm the more detailed work of Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, who has undertaken six voyages under the icecap in Royal Navy nuclear submarines since 1976 and has gathered data from six more voyages.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Here’s a car to beat traffic lights

New Gadget Ensures You Always Reach An Intersection When The Light Is Green

London: Imagine driving to office without having to stop at traffic lights. Well, your imagination will soon turn into reality — thanks to a German auto-maker which has developed a new device called Travolution, which when fitted inside a car, ensures you can always arrive at a traffic light when it is green.
    In fact, the in-car gadget tells drivers how fast to go in order to sail through a junction by speaking to special transmitters fitted inside a traffic signal that can be up to 300 yards away, the Daily Mail reported.
    It arrives at the calculation after plotting the car's position and
approach route, then displays the optimum speed on a screen.
    The system will benefit the environment by cutting exhaust emissions because fewer cars will be stationary at lights — and it'll improve fuel economy by ending stop-start inefficiency, according to its creator Audi.
    However, the company has claimed that the technology would not benefit the driver if the roads are too clogged.
    Travolution, which works on the Wireless Local Area Network technology, was initially developed by the Technical University of Munich in ventureship with traffic technology firm GEVAS.
Professor Fritz Busch of the university said: "The new approaches to network-wide control of traffic lights, together with communication between traffic lights and intelligent cars exploits a potential for improving traffic flows that has previously gone untapped."
    Though initial tests have produced successful results, Audi has said that further tests are expected next year before it goes for massscale production of the gadget.
    Kate Dixon of Audi UK said that if a minimum of 10% of cars in any given town were fitted with the technology, all road users would notice an improvement in traffic levels. Dixon added: "Obviously, if the traffic is solid then Travolution won't assist you. But if the traffic is moving slowly then it will advise you what speed to maintain in order to avoid stopping". PTI

GOODBYE TO JAMS? By communicating with transmitters at traffic signals, the in-car gadget tells drivers how fast to drive to sail through a crossing


n What Does A Launcher Do?
Holds 12 concrete segments in the air while they are fixed together, then puts them down as one completed section to bridge gap between two pillars that have already been constructed

n What Went Wrong?
The launcher had already pulled up 10 segments. As it was pulling up 11th, a malfunction occurred and the block fell. Resultant imbalance caused the first 10 segments and launcher to also crash

n Why Did It Happen?
Initial reports suggest mechanical failure in launcher lining. Work on 24 launchers throughout Delhi suspended. Case of negligence filed against contractor

Two persons were killed and 12 others were injured when a large portion of an elevated Delhi Metro bridge, along with a launcher being used to construct it, came crashing down on Vikas Marg on Sunday morning. A bus, two cranes and three cars were crushed under the concrete span weighing 440 tonnes and the launcher weighing 400 tonnes

Cars and aircraft out of paper?

Ten times lighter, but 500 times stronger than steel, buckypaper is envisioned as the wondrous new material for light aircraft and cars, more powerful computers, and even improved TV screens...

 It's called 'buckypaper' and looks a lot like ordinary carbon paper, but don't be fooled by the cute name or flimsy appearance. It could revolutionise the way everything from TVs to airplanes are made.
Buckypaper is 10 times lighter, but potentially 500 times stronger than steel when sheets of it are stacked and pressed together to form a composite. Unlike conventional composite materials, though, it conducts electricity like copper or silicon and disperses heat like steel or brass.
Buckypaper is a derivative of the ultra-tiny cylinders known as carbon nanotubes – tube-shaped carbon molecules 50,000 times thinner than a human hair.
Due to its unique properties, it is envisioned as the material of choice for future aircraft and automobiles, computers, hi-tech TV screens and many other products.
"All those things are what a lot of people in nanotechnology have been working toward as sort of Holy Grails," said Wade Adams, a scientist at US' Rice University.
However, researchers at Florida State University say they have made important progress that may soon turn hype into reality.
So far, buckypaper can be made at only a fraction of its potential strength – in small quantities and at a high price. The Florida State researchers are developing manufacturing techniques that soon may make it competitive with the best composite materials now available.
"If this thing goes into production, this very well could be revolutionary technology for the
aerospace business," said Les Kramer, chief technologist for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, which is helping fund the Florida State research.
In 1985, British scientist Harry Kroto joined researchers at Rice University for an experiment to create the same conditions that exist in a star. They wanted to find out how stars – the source of all carbon in the universe – make the element that is a main building block of life.
    Everything went according to plan, with one exception.
    "There was an extra character that turned up totally unexpected," recalled Kroto, now at Florida State University.
    The surprise guest was a molecule with 60 carbon atoms shaped like a soccer ball.
    To Kroto, it also looked like the geodesic domes promoted by Buckminster Fuller, an architect, inventor and futurist. That inspired Kroto to name the new molecule buckminsterfullerene, or buckyballs for short.
    For their discovery of the buckyball – the third form of pure carbon to be discovered after graphite and diamonds – Kroto and his Rice colleagues, Robert Curl Jr and Richard E Smalley, were awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1996.
    Separately, Japanese physicist Sumio Iijima developed a tube-shaped variation while doing research at US' Arizona State University.
    Researchers at Richard Smalley's laboratory then inadvertently found that the tubes would stick together when disbursed in a liquid suspension and filtered through a fine mesh, producing a thin film – buckypaper.
    So far, the Florida State institute has been able to produce buckypaper with half the strength of the best existing composite material, known as IM7. Wang expects to close the gap quickly.

    "By the end of next year we should have a buckypaper composite as strong as IM7, and it's 35 per cent lighter," Wang said.
    Buckypaper now is being made only in the laboratory, but Florida State is in the early stages of spinning out a company to make commercial buckypaper.
Wang believes buckypaper's first uses will be for electromagnetic interference shielding and lightning-strike protection on aircraft.
    "Electrical circuits and even natural causes such as the sun's activity can interfere with radios and other electronic gear. Buckypaper provides up to four times the shielding specified by the aircraft industry," Wang said.
    Typically, conventional composite materials have a copper mesh added for lightning protection. Replacing copper with buckypaper would save weight and fuel.
    Other near-term uses would be as electrodes for fuel cells, super capacitors and batteries, Wang said.
    Next in line, buckypaper could be a more efficient and lighter replacement for graphite sheets used in laptop computers to dissipate heat.
    The long-range goal is to build planes, automobiles and other things with buckypaper composites. The US military also is looking at it for use in armour plating and stealth technology.
    "Our plan is perhaps in the next 12 months we'll begin maybe to have some commercial products," Wang said. "Nanotubes obviously are no longer just lab wonders. They have real world potential. It's real." AP

TOP RIGHT: Ben Wang and his team from Florida State University are developing techniques that may soon make buckypaper (top) competitive with the best composite materials available today. On his computer screen, is a microscopic view of buckypaper

Two killed as Delhi Metro flyover collapses

19 Oct 2008, 1400 hrs IST, TIMES NEWS NETWORK & AGENCIES

NEW DELHI: The driver of a Blueline bus and a labourer died and 17 people were injured when a girder launcher and a part of the under-construction
Metro flyover collapses in Delhi
Metro flyover collapses near Shakarpur area in New Delhi. (Pic courtesy: Times Now)
overhead Metro line between Lakshmi Nagar and Nirman Bhavan in east Delhi collapsed and fell on passing vehicles on Vikas Marg at 7.05am on Sunday. The accident occurred when workers were lifting a 400-tonne concrete span of the bridge with the help of a crane.

According to eyewitnesses, the launcher, which was launched on top of the newly constructed girder, collapsed along with a 34-metre-long span comprising10 segments of the bridge on top of the Blueline, two cars and two trailers.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has ordered an inquiry into the incident and has asked IIT-Delhi to depute a structural engineer who would conduct the probe along with the DMRC design chief and a representative of the foreign consultant which is working on the project along with DMRC.

The dead are 28-year-old Surinder, who was driving the Blueline and 25-year-old labourer Chhotte Lal. The injured have been taken to Lok Nayak Hospital, Hedgewar Hospital and the MCD Hospital in Karkardooma.

Of the injured two are said to be in a critical condition, one person had to undergo amputation of both legs and another person underwent an amputation of one leg.

"It is a big shock to us. We are taking it seriously and we are for an independent high-level inquiry," DMRC spokesman Anuj Dayal said.

Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said 17 people were injured in the accident.

While DMRC officials said that the accident could have been caused by a mechanical failure of the lining of the launcher, they admitted that there might have been errors like faulty anchoring of the machine. "Safety pins should have been in place and all bolts should have been tightened before start of launching,'' a senior official said.

The mangled remains of the vehicles were removed late in the morning. Traffic on Vikas Marg was disrupted all morning.

"I was sleeping and woke up hearing a huge sound. I thought it was an earthquake and rushed outside only to see the bus under the debris," said Anand Kumar, who lives near the accident site.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This space engineer has licence to kill

S Krishnamurthy is the only man who has the permission to kill ISRO rockets that go awry and can pose a danger to life and property on earth

CHENNAI: The name's Krishnamurthy. S Krishnamurthy. He is 59 and has a dull designation — General Manager Safety. However, he is the only man licensed to kill in midair; the rockets of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) without seeking anybody's permission.
    The aerospace engineer at Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) has used his 'licence' once, in 2006 — destroying ISRO's Geosynchronous Space Launch Vehicle (GSLV F02) that was carrying the 2,168-kg Insat 4C communication satellite.
    As India prepares for the October 22 launch of its moon mission Chandrayaan, Krish
namurthy and his team members are also getting ready in their remote location away from the mission control room.
    They will monitor the flight path of the moon rocket, diligently plotting the Instantaneous Impact Point (IIP) — the point where the vehicle or its debris would fall.
    Laughing at the sobriquet 'James Bond', Krishnamurthy said, "I will push the destruct button only when the rocket veers away from its path endangering lives and property."
    Terming each rocket launch as unique, he said, "Prior to any launch, we will critically analyse all the systems and do a cause and consequence
    For each launch the boundaries are strict and crossing any of them will call for rocket destruction.
    "After the launch, four radars at SDSC will track the ascending rocket. We will get the rocket's performance through telemetry data. We will know the performance of the rocket exactly."
    Event at the rocket design stage it is ensured that the hardware will fall into deep sea, he said. Recalling the GSLV F02 flight, he said, "We saw the rocket failing and moving in a wayward manner. It had to be destroyed." On July 10, 2006, when the group saw the GSLV F02 going
awry, 45 seconds after the liftoff Krishnamurthy pressed the "destroy" button.
    Soon after that a huge ball of flame was seen in the sky, though the dark clouds obscured a lot.
    The vehicle at that time was 15 km over the sea and the debris would not have fallen on land even if the vehicle was not destroyed. Three huge pieces — probably the strapon motors — came down separately with a thick trail of smoke behind.
    Krishnamurthy said a day prior to the moon rocket launch, ISRO will inform the aviation authorities to avoid the skies over Sriharikota and the rocket's trajectory. IANS

Art competition in Pakistan raises awareness of environmental issues

A pencil sketch by one of the participants in the Friends of the Environment art competition. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan
A pencil sketch by one of the participants in the Friends of the Environment art competition. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan

In Islam, protection of the physical environment is one of humankind's responsibilities as stewards of the Earth. As part of its "Ethic of Sustainable Environment," the Aga Khan Development Network's Ethical Framework notes that "care of the environment, in its comprehensive meaning, is a duty of trusteeship which humankind owes by virtue of its vicegerency over creation."

As issues of climate change, pollution and energy consumption dominate world headlines, members of the Jamat, together with other citizens of the world, are increasingly aware of their own impact and responsibility over the environment. While younger generations in particular may witness the full force of these issues, they are also able to contribute towards solutions.

Forest cutting leaves animals homeless: A participant from southern Pakistan expressing herself at the regional competition. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan
Forest cutting leaves animals homeless: A participant from southern Pakistan expressing herself at the regional competition. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan

In December 2007, the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, Pakistan launched an art competition with the objective of encouraging youth to participate in a fun activity, while simultaneously raising awareness about the importance of the natural environment and methods of preserving it. The Friends of the Environment competition brought together young participants from cities and villages across the country to explore these issues through drawing and painting.

Supported by the Ismaili Council for Pakistan, the contest was organised in three age groups comprising 9 to 20-year olds and drew some 40 000 participants at more than 1 000 screening locations. Artwork themes covered a variety of topics including contaminated water, noise pollution and the impact of earthquakes in Pakistan.

Chief guest, Mr Iqbal Walji, President of the Ismaili Council for Pakistan, and the guest of honour, Ms Salima Hashmi, inaugurate the exhibition at the national finals in Lahore. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan
Chief guest, Mr Iqbal Walji, President of the Ismaili Council for Pakistan, and the guest of honour, Ms Salima Hashmi, inaugurate the exhibition at the national finals in Lahore. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan

Based on the quality of their work, around 4 000 participants were selected to take part in local competitions where they were given an art kit and had 90 minutes to produce a new piece. A jury evaluated their work on criteria that included originality, skill, ability to inspire, and thematic relevance.

Three-hundred twelve local winners advanced to regional competitions held at ten locations across Pakistan, where they were asked to create works of art representing one of eight themes. A jury of artists of national repute then selected 30 winners. These larger events were also marked by presentations and small exhibitions on the environment, as well as the distribution of certificates.

A regional winner from Islamabad who lost his forelimbs, sketches with his feet during the final event. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan
A regional winner from Islamabad who lost his forelimbs, sketches with his feet during the final event. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan

The Friends of the Environment competition culminated at Lahore in June 2008 with an impressive final ceremony that celebrated all the contributions and recognised the top 30. Winning pieces were placed on display for the public and artists from the oldest age category inspired attendees by performing live paintings.

Addressing an audience of 700, Chairman Hafiz Sherali of the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, Pakistan said "the paintings that are on display not only reflect the artistic abilities of our youth but also light a candle of hope, that we may live in a healthy environment." The audience was also treated to a stunning musical performance by Shehzad Roy, President of Zindagi Trust, while major national media networks provided coverage of the festivities.

Mrs Uzma Al-Karim, master of ceremonies at the final event, receives a shield from the chief guest. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan
Mrs Uzma Al-Karim, master of ceremonies at the final event, receives a shield from the chief guest. Photo: Courtesy of ITREB Pakistan

Friends of the Environment shed light on a number of talented artists and engaged many youth in issues affecting the environment. Some may seek to contribute to environmental initiatives, including projects already underway in Pakistan, such as the rehabilitation of the Altit and Baltit forts in the Northern Areas or the promotion of indoor air purification technologies for populations in rural areas.

With a generation of artists and youth better informed about the challenges of the environment, Pakistan may look to the future with greater hope.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Transfer money, technologies to fight climate

WASHINGTON: Transfers of financial resources and technology by industrialised countries to developing countries "are fundamental to the success of  any Global strategy to address the issue" of climate change, finance minister P. Chidambaram has told a meeting of world financial leaders here.

Noting that developing countries are the most vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change, Chidambaram Sunday called for a higher World Bank support for adaptation efforts in the Climate Investment Funds, than the $500m envisaged.

The finance minister's statement to the Development Committee of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund was read out at its annual meeting here, held about six weeks before the next summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. At the last summit at Bali in December 2007 it had been estimated that developing countries would need $1.3bn a year to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.

Climate change is caused by increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases - mainly carbon dioxide - due to uncontrolled industrial activities such as power generation from coal. The overwhelming increase in this concentration is due to activities in industrialised countries, especially since about the middle of the 19th century.

At the same time, Chidambaram pointed out: "There is no escape from the reality that for fast emerging developing countries consumption of commercial energy will increase, and even with continuing decline in energy intensity of GDP growth."

In India, about 400m people still do not have access to electricity, and the country is on a massive drive to increase power generation.

Reiterating India's commitment to evolve and pursue a strategy of environmentally sustainable development, Chidambaram said it aimed to ensure that its per capita carbon emissions will never exceed the average of the per capita emissions of developed countries.

This is a commitment first declared by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the 2007 G7 summit in Germany. While the principle has been opposed by both Republicans and Democrats in the US, most European Union countries and other developing countries have remained silent on it.

Adverse effects of climate change include fall in farm productivity, more frequent and more sever droughts, floods and storms and a rise in sea level. Experts around the world have identified India as one of the countries most vulnerable to the ill effects of climate change.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Now, share a cab at the click of a mouse

To reduce traffic congestion on city roads, website launches free taxi-pool service where commuters can coordinate with each other

Tired of waiting for share-a-cab facilities at your nearest railway station? Fret not. You can join a taxi-pool service that offers you a lift right at your doorstep, with just a click of the mouse. In its bid to provide a solution to the growing traffic congestion in the city, a carpooling website has introduced a taxi-pooling system from this week.
    Though the website www.carpoolmumbai.com was founded in 2006, it got a boost only after the Mumbai Traffic Police recommended it to citizens at the beginning of this year. The website provides a platform where people interested in taking or offering lifts can co-ordinate with each other. As carpooling became popular, the website introduced a system where people could co-ordinate with each other and then meet to share a taxi.
    Hitesh Jain, the website's managing director, said,
"There are more than 15,000 people who take taxis from the suburbs to their offices in south Mumbai and back in the evening. These people travelling from one part of the city to another can use the share-a-taxi facility. This will bring down the number of taxis on Mumbai roads by a third."
    Though the share-a-cab system is available in various parts of city, it is mainly limited to the business districts and the nearest railway stations such as one between Nariman point and CST and Worli to Parel station. The website hopes to provide a solution to the thousands of commuters who regularly travel in the north-south direction.
    Jain said, "People can register themselves on the website and find out, who else will be travelling to the same destination on a particular day, at a particular time. The members will be provided with the contact details of other members and they can
share the taxi fares among themselves. The service we provide is absolutely free."
    Sunit Kumar, a transport expert and consultant with an infrastructure firm said, "We need taxi-pooling in the city as it will not only reduce traffic congestion but will also help reduce pollution and save fuel. Only strong public transportation facilities can alter the city's current traffic scenario."
Carpooling is a shared use of a private car, in particular for commuting to and from work and other purposes, often by car owners (drivers) and people (passengers) travelling to the same destination by other means of transport. Carpooling it is most appropriate for pre-planned or regular journeys including:
    Getting to and from work. Getting to the airport, railway stations
Traveling to a festival, temples, marriage, big event or show.

    'Taxi pooling is needed, but I doubt if it will be successful. Instead, a share-a-taxi stand should be created at all railway stations. – Manoj Vaidya, Goregaon resident

    'We sometimes share a taxi among our colleagues. However, we are not very regular. I would like to be part of such a taxi-pool service. – Yogesh Wargehede, Mulund resident

    'It will help curb my expenses. I had joined a car pool but I found it difficult to co-ordinate. The similar problem may arise with the taxi-pooling service. – Jyoti Krishna Patel, Bandra resident

Secure your wi-fi or face consequences

State govt plans punitive action against users, housing societies and offices who don't secure their internet connections against misuse

Internet users whose Wi-Fi connections are hacked into and misusedss, could face punitive action for not securing their accounts.
    The state government has asked all municipal corporations in Maharashtra to make amendments in their building proposal bye-laws so that Internet users, housing societies and offices are held responsible if their Wi-Fi connection is not secured against misuse.
    The state government has also said that municipal bodies that do not enforce the rules will also face the rap.
    This decision comes as after the Ahmedabad blasts, it was found that American mutinational company official Ken Haywood's Internet connection was used to send a terror email, minutes before the blasts. The building where Haywood stayed had Wi-Fi and he was one of the users.
    The state government had recently held a high level meeting at which the decision to hold users and housing societies responsible for securing Wi-Fi connections was taken.
    State chief secretary Johny Joseph said it was compulsory for Internet users to secure their connection. "They should take precautions so their Internet connection is not misused. While giving permission for the construction of buildings, the residents (building society committee) of the building should give an assurance that this will be done.
    "Residents of existing buildings also need to inform in writing to the civic building proposal department, saying they have taken Internet connections that are secure. If despite warnings, building societies fail to secure their connections, then the municipal corporation and user will be held responsible if some body misuses the Internet connection," said Joseph.
    According to a senior state government official, the quantum of fine and punishment is yet to be decided.
    The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) had written a letter recently to Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh saying they have seen serious misuse of Wi-Fi or wireless networks by terrorists and others.
    Many of the e-mails sent out by terrorists recently were sent through Internet connections in the city.
    Mumbai city alone has some 15,000 insecure network connections according to the FICCI. "We should penalise people or companies that have insecure wireless networks. We believe that unless there is a strong deterrance mechanism in place, people will not secure their Wi-Fi networks. We have suggested that Internet users should be given at least a month's notice to secure their Wi-Fi networks. After that, police and municipal authorities should clamp down on people who do not follow the law and charge fine or impose a prison term for frequent offenders," said Sushil Jiwarajka, chairman, FICCI.
    "Many countries have made it mandatory for Internet service providers to secure Wi-Fi connections before providing Internet access. We will not be the only country in the world to have a law which penalises insecure Wi-Fi connections. We are however, the first country in the world to see such misuse of insecure Wi-Fi connections," Jiwarajka added.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Are businesses and government agencies prepared for the implications of nuclear disasters?

by invitation BEYOND N-DEAL

Biz opportunities to reduce risk

SOON India will move ahead with the long-awaited 123 nuclear deal. But do the businesses understand the implications of the deal beyond the political rhetoric? The deal will be done, but what's next? One of the issues least likely to attract business attention at this stage is the unlikely but potentially devastating possibility of nuclear disaster.
    Are businesses and government agencies prepared for the implications of nuclear disasters? Prudent and active efforts can ensure that businesses and local authorities are well prepared but this will require vigilant public debate and business involvement. Yet there is hardly any public debate about how businesses can go about safeguarding India from the risks that nuclear power brings. That public debate is lacking is odd, but unfortunately, not uncommon.
    A nuclear disaster is too serious of a matter to be left to businesses. The businesses should say the same about the government. The fact is that both must prepare jointly.
    First, and most importantly, businesses must understand the basics of nuclear disaster risk: fundamental concepts, the disaster cycle, and even nuclear disaster myths. Businesses of India, even the corporate entities with global brand and ambitions, just do not know enough. This creates great risk, not just for responders, but for all. In this regard, chamber of commerce, universities, business federations, media and governments have a huge role to play in educating the businesses about what nuclear power can and cannot offer.
    Second, as nuclear energy related institu
tional architecture is designed and built, businesses must debate how India can institutionalise nuclear disaster risk reduction efforts. Are India's nuclear policies, strategies, geographic and sectional plans, and programme and project proposals available for public debate and open to improvement
in favour of risk reduction? Nuclear safety requires an informed businesses that can extract accountability from public institutions. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster on the unfortunate 26th of May in 1986 was the result of a long chain of government neglect for safety measures. An informed business could have held safety standards higher and avoided the disaster. How high are our expectations? Businesses must utilise the procedures of the Right to Information Act to demand that safeguard information and performance data — vital to pub
lic safety — be publicly available.
    Third, reducing nuclear risk is costly. Although it is potentially less so than the environmental cost of coal, financing nuclear risk reduction will require upfront capital. The government has not shared who will cover these costs, how, and under what arrangements. Should the cost be distributed equally among citizens or among users through energy bills?
    One desirable option is to mandate commer
cial insurance where premiums are set by an actuary in proportion to the level of risk of the facility. If managed well, nuclear facilities would then have a direct financial incentive to implement pro-active risk reduction efforts. India's ambitious insurance companies
    have a role to play here.
    Fourth, how will India select technology that reduces risk? Sure, experts will have some say, and supplier firms will aggressively promote their products in order to get the prime government contracts. If the process were to be an open market transaction, contracts would be awarded based on a balance of cost vs. quality and safety. Yet the government procurement system is likely to include other factors that influence decision-making. If authorities — suffering from multiple budget squeezes of existing debt finance, inflation,
and expensive food and fuel subsidies — decide for less costly technology, India risks becoming the global dumping ground for out-of-date and risk-exposed technology and expertise? Who will want responsibility for this type of technology and infrastructure?
    Fifth, a huge number of nuclear power plant options will soon arise, and project after project will line up for approval. How will vulnerability and risk assessments of these projects be audited, and who will conduct them? The National Disaster Management Authority will rush to create such guidelines. Will this be enough? How will the businesses know how cost effective and safe the guidelines are? Have such guidelines helped in the past? Will this process remain in the public domain? To improve safety, these processes and standards should remain transparent and open for scrutiny and improvement by citizens and businesses.
    Sixth, nuclear risk reduction is not a single-agency agenda. It needs a wide range of public and private partnerships demanding good governance, private sector involvement, military readiness, and even regional geo-political considerations. Most agenda setting will be done by public authorities and expert committees. However, worldwide experience shows that necessary and effective alarms are often sounded by a citizen or a business interest, be it about a leak of radioactive material or an abuse of power. Civil society needs to ensure that this space for public alarm remains open and that an aware public feels confident and safe in uncovering abuses and shortcomings in nuclear security that put the public and businesses at risk.
    Seventh, India will need a renewed national legal framework for securing these nuclear developments, as well as for enforcing high standards and accountability. Who will develop and enforce the safety framework and standards? The government should make this information available in simple terms. Businesses should not wait for another disaster to design safety and recovery blueprints; they should draw lessons from the Bhopal tragedy that has drawn out decades of procedures, court cases, and struggles for compensation. The businesses must actively work with their representatives in parliament to establish an appropriate new framework.
    The businesses of India should be preparing to ask these questions to this or the next government. Political leaders, from Left to Right, should be preparing to answers these questions of real risk with real solutions.
    The writer is director, All India Disaster Mitigation Institute

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Disaster Awareness Week to start today

ISLAMABAD: Disaster Awareness Week will be celebrated from October 5-11 throughout the world. Every year since the early nineties, United Nations organises a World Disaster Reduction Campaign, which culminates on International Disaster Reduction Day, the second Wednesday of October.

This year's International Day for Disaster Reduction falls on the third anniversary of the massive 2005 earthquake that devastated a whole region of Pakistan, a private TV channel reported.

A series of equally devastating disasters this year have highlighted the urgent need to reduce disaster risk and vulnerability to natural hazards.

Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the Wenchuan Earthquake in China's Sichuan province and Hurricane Ike across Texas.

The purpose of week is to have a heightened period of activity to get across key civil defence emergency management messages to the general public. app

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Palin backs oil lobby on warming

New York: The Republican Sarah Palin and her officials in the Alaskan state government drew on the work of at least six scientists known to be sceptical about the dangers and causes of global warming, to back efforts to stop polar bears being protected as an endangered species, the Guardian reported on Wednesday. Some of the scientists were funded by the oil industry.
    In official submissions to the US government's consultation on the status of the polar bear, Palin and her team referred to at least six scientists who have questioned either the existence of warming as a largely man-made phenome
non or its severity. One paper was partly funded by the US oil company ExxonMobil.
    The status of the polar bear has become a battleground in the debate on global warming. In May, the US department of the interior rejected Palin's objections and listed the bear as a threatened species, saying that two-thirds of the world's polar bears were likely to be extinct by 2050 due to the rapid melting of the sea ice. Palin, governor of Alaska and the Republican nominee for US vice-president, responded last month by suing the federal government, to try to overturn the ruling. The case will be heard in January. AGENCIES

GUNS 'N' POSES: US painter Bruce Elliott poses with his nude portrait of Sarah Palin. Elliot says he despises everything the GOP veep candidate stands for, but still finds her 'fascinating'

Earth survived extremes of climate change


Sydney: Nearly 750-550 million years ago, aeons before the advent of dinosaurs, earth survived the severest ice age, alternating with extremes of tropical greenhouse conditions.
    "During these ice age events, any parts of Australia and the world that weren't at that time submerged under the ocean would most probably have been barren, icy wastelands — including destinations that are today considered to be tropical getaways" said associate professor Stephen Gallagher, exchairman of Geological Society of Australia (GSA) and convenor of the Society's Selwyn Symposium and Lecture 2008.
    "Should you have been living back then, instead of taking a beach towel to these destinations, you would instead have been taking a very thick parka, a pair of woolly socks and an ice axe. But of course, back then, it was still hundreds of millions of years before humans would evolve.
    "The extreme climates of the Snowball Earth period, together with the sudden and widespread appearance of very primitive multi-cellular lifeforms in a window of tropical climate between the period's two major ice age events, make this one of the most important and enigmatic episodes in earth's history," he said, according to a GSA release.
    "A key question for scientists today is how these primitive lifeforms not only survived the extremely hostile temperatures of Snowball Earth's ice age periods, but actually seemed to thrive during the wild fluctuations from ice age to tropical conditions and back to ice age," Gallagher added.
    "Indeed, it is thought that the extreme climates of this period may actually have provided the real kick-start that nature needed to get the process of evolution underway."
    "Today's national symposium will bring together leading researchers — including the internationally renowned Paul Hoffman, professor from
Harvard University — to examine the causes and effects of these extreme climatic events and the evolution of early life, and the longer-term perspectives this period offers on the current debate on climate change.
    "Indeed, given the surface temperature of earth could ultimately reach 500°C in the final millions of years before its decline, humankind would first have to survive for many billions of years longer than expected — and second, undergo a significant process of evolution — to exist in those conditions."
    Scientists said earlier this month that ice unearthed in Canada that stayed frozen for 700,000 years, even in warmer times, should allay fears of melting permafrost venting its vast carbon stores to hasten global warming.
    Permafrost, or subsoil that remains frozen year-round, underlies a quarter of the land in the Northern Hemisphere and is estimated to hold twice as much carbon as is in the atmosphere. When it melts, some experts fear it will quicken the pace of warming significantly.
    But the discovery of a coneshaped wedge of subterranean ice near Dawson City, Yukon, that did not melt during balmier times shows that permafrost is more "stubborn" than believed, researcher Duane Froese of the University of Alberta's earth and atmospheric science department said. AGENCIES

Pune goes green

Pune is actively promoting the concept of eco-housing on a large scale, encouraging developers to expedite their green housing programmes, says Archana Sinha

    Pune, which has always been conscious of bringing down the effects of global warming, by promoting the concept of eco-friendly constructions, has another reason to stand proud among the modern cities of India. Going green with housing projects in Pune has now received a tremendous thrust from Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) after it awarded the Eco-housing Certificate to two well known developers' projects. The programme to promote environment-friendly buildings in the residential areas on a priority basis started a year ago and only recently, they have finished with awarding the two projects.
    Nyati Environ, Tingarenagar, by Nyati Group along with Kumar Sublime, Kondhwa, and Kumar Sankul by Kumar Builders, have been awarded provisional certificates with five-star ratings as per the norms laid down by PMC. The final award will be given on the completion of the projects. The awards encourage all other builders too to expedite their green housing programmes.
    Speaking on the selection of his project for certification Nitin Nyati says, "I am very happy because I was working towards this for quite some time. We are among the first builders to have complied with the criteria of green buildings laid down by the Central government, which has been adopted by the PMC. In Pune we are conscious of keeping our city comfortable for citizens and almost all my projects, including commercial ones,
will be made on eco-friendly parameters."
    With most cities working towards rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, global warming is an inevitable fallout, if people are not conscious of reducing the carbon emission and toxic effluent by plants that are so closely located to the residential areas. At a recent seminar conducted by Indo-American Chamber of Commerce, experts have laid em
phasis on the urgent need for eco-friendly homes. Says Naushad Panjwani, executive director, project facilities management, Knight Frank India, "More than 12 million homes are required in the next five years and the about one-sixth of the world's fresh water is used by buildings alone, along with one-fourth of its wood harvest and two-fifth of its material and energy flows. If the use of these are reduced and recycled then the reserves of the world's energy and water will continue for a longer time, postponing global warming, which is threatening the very existence of mankind. Most advanced countries have already made construction of these buildings mandatory "
    The certification programme, launched with technical assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), calls for compliance with some eight parameters, which have been developed by the Science and Technology Park (STP) - University of Pune, International Institute for Energy Conservation (IIEC) and the Energy Resources Institute (TERI).
    Says Rajesh Jagdale, director STP, "To encourage developers to adopt eco-friendly techniques, under the 'Eco-Housing Certification Programme', the PMC is offering 50 per cent pay back in the premium charges incurred by developers while granting building permission. Twenty five per cent rebate will be granted at the permission levels on verifying the documents and site visits, the remaining will be given after completion of the project."
    He adds, "Out of the 88 parameters the eight focal areas we have considered are: site detail which concentrates on location of the project, its nearness to civic amenities, top soil condition and if it has been reused for gardening after the building has been made, energy and water conservation techniques that has been planned by the builder, water heating system by using solar energy, solid waste management system that has been designed and implemented, building material which includes fly-ash bricks and other material used that has consumed low energy. We have also allotted some points for any innovative techniques used by the builder. A project has to get a minimum of 500 points to qualify for eco-housing rating. The assessment and monitoring procedure is rigorous. A detailed tracking sheet of the entries is made. Some parameters are assessed before commencement of the project and the remaining have to be followed during the project on progress."

    Speaking on the felicitation, the PMC commissioner Pravinsingh Pardeshi urged developers to implement and take advantage of benefits given by the civic administration to eco-housing projects. Besides providing discounts to developers the PMC also provides subsidy in property tax, based on the certification given by the STP to the projects to the eco-house owners. So it is a win-win situation for both.
    "There are not many developers taking advantage of the eco-housing policy despite the benefits being offered," Pardeshi said, stressing on the aim behind implementing the scheme, which is to promote behavioural changes to reduce carbon footprints. The energy requirement of buildings can be reduced if these norms are followed. Compliance with the norms will go a long way in creating a healthy environment." Pardeshi was proud of the fact that Pune is the first city to launch such a plan at that large a scale.
    Lalit Kumat Jain, chairman, Kumar Builders says, "It is indeed an innovative programme launched by the PMC. Though there is cost attached to the eco-friendly projects, it has a long-term advantage. As president of Promoters and Builders Association of Pune (PBAP), I have taken upon myself that all my future projects have to be 100 per cent ecofriendly projects. Besides this I have also started this drive to influence builders to actively use eco-friendly materials for their housing projects. We are working hard to create awareness and inform builders about the benefits. The STP and PMC is also joining us in the drive."
    With these initiatives Pune, which boasts of huge green cover and initiation of maximum number of environment friendly housing projects, is expected to remain eco-friendly despite rapid industrialisation, leading from the front, showing the way to other cities as well.

in natural and man-made disasters, green homes will play a critical role

In the wake of global warming and increase in natural and man-made disasters, green homes will play a critical role, says Ramakrishnan Iyer

    In the wake of global warming and the increase in natural and man-made disasters, it is green homes which will play a critical role towards averting a major ecological crisis. Green makes business sense and there is no alternative left but to go green - this was the message reiterated by speakers during the recent Green Building Congress at Mumbai from September 25-27, 2008, organised by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Indian Green Building Council (IGBC).The future wars will not be fought over land or oil, but over water, they said.
    Among other things, the three-day session
focused on the benefits of Green Homes, including enhanced air quality, excellent day lighting, health and well-being of the occupants, safety benefits and conservation of scarce national resources.
    Highlighting the enormous business potential of Green Homes, Dr Prem C Jain, Chairman, Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) said: "India can garner 25-30% of the world wide Green Homes market, which is expected to see about 15 bn US $ investments by 2012". S Srinivas, Principal Counselor, CII - Godrej Green Building Centre said, "The real estate industry in India is one of the largest economic activities and is on a high growth path. 75-80% of the total real estate demand originates from the residential sector. According to the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation, there is a shortage of 24.7 million houses in the country. The housing requirement upto 2012 is

estimated at 100 bn US$". He went on to stress on an imminent need to bring this sector within the fold of the Green Building Movement in India.
    "Green building practices adopted in residential buildings can substantially reduce or eliminate negative environmental impacts. As an added benefit, green homes reduce operating costs, enhance marketability in case of residential apartments, and reduce health problems resulting from indoor air quality problems," he said.
    Jamshyd Godrej, Chairman, CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre emphasised on the need for the government to take initiative in this area, and bring in energy efficiency norms. Both the state and central government should bring in legislation to make it a green market. The Green Business Centre in Hyderabad is a great example of environmental efficiency . Renewable energy would the prime driving force in the context of Global Climate Change, he added.

    Mr. Rick Fedrizzi, President & CEO & Founding Chairman, US Green Building Council, inspired every individual to realise the importance and need of Green Buildings. Taking the example of the building sector as the largest contributor to CO2 Emissions, Mr. Fedrizzi advocated education and awareness among all stakeholders and especially among children. "An independent study has established that children in green schools perform 20% better on tests and and retain 28% more of what they read. "Let's give them clean air and a non-toxic environment and they will build a better tomorrow,"
he said.
    Highlighting the benefits of green building and creating a business case for the concept, Mr. Fedrizzi said green buildings result in increased return on investment, increased savings in the long term, better quality of life, increased productivity and performance and better health for all.
    The CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad was the first green building in India. Therefore the need is to take forward this initiative more aggressively and create a Green India, he said.
    Highlighting the intangible benefits of Green Homes, Dr. Kath Williams, Past President, World Green Building Council, observed, "Green homes contribute to the community at large. They are affordable, sustainable, maintainable and healthy homes".
Talking about the traditional Indian homes, Dr. Kath Williams said, "Indian ancestors paid special attention to details like adequate sunlight and solar energy while designing their homes. India's priorities are water and waste management, energy conservation, alternative fuels and valuable resources, amongst others. It is important that we learn from our traditions and build homes which will conserve the natural resources".
    The Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) was formed in 2001, and it was realised that one of the priorities for the sustainable building industry was to have a system to define and measure green buildings. Since the CII-Godrej GBC achieved the prestigious PLATINUM LEED rating for its own centre at Hyderabad in 2003, the Green Building Movement has gained tremendous momentum.
    Starting from a modest 40,000 sq ft. in 2003, the volume of green buildings on anvil in India has gone upto over 240 million sqft., said R Parasuraman, Founding Chairman, Indian Green Building Council & Vice Chairman, World Green Building Council [WGBC]. After the initial scepticism in adopting green building practices, it has now been embraced by the developing countries; With 20 members in WGBC as of date, the target is to have 100 members in the next four years. Primarily, the challenges includes availability and affordability of materials, onus of product manufacturing services and products opportunity, commercial value and business opportunity, he said.
    Ajay Mathur -Director General, Bureau of Energy Efficiency said the economy is growing at a rate of over 9% while the electrical consumption is growing at a rate of over 12.5%. This disparity itself should encourage us to go green. Green buildings focus on lighting, A/C, water related performance and comfort which in turn minimise the energy consumption. Developer Niranjan Hiranandani, guest of honour, said as is evident in the case of the Godrej Building, the ten to 15% increased building costs, are recovered in four years. After that the returns are continuous for the future.
    The session also witnessed the launch of the book "Green Homes", by Dr. Prem C Jain, Chairman, Indian Green Building Council (IGBC). Authored by renowned architect Mr. R.K. Gautham, the book elaborates on the design, construction and use of Green Homes and involves readers in environmental conservation.
    The three-day session on Green Building Congress 2008 saw an impressive participation from over 1,000 delegates and all the major stakeholders of the national and international green building movement. The exhibition on 'Green Building Products' saw over 100 green building products/ services on display which attracted over 3000 business visitors. Interesting case studies and presentations on Eco-friendly housing, Green Homes- Energy & Water, Materials & IAQ green building materials, from India and across the world, were shared.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Forestland mapping in Gujarat using GPS

1 October 2008
India - The Global Positioning System (GPS), which will be installed in Dahod, Panchamahals and Sabarkantha districts of Gujarat in October, is likely to reduce paper work thereby making the process of forestland mapping and allotment much easier.

Now, forestland mapping under Scheduled Tribes and other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Right) Act, 2006 will no more be a long-drawn paper work. 

Just like the Madhya Pradesh forest and tribal department, the Gujarat Tribal Development Department (TDD) has affirmed to begin a pilot project to survey forestland claimed by forest dwellers and tribals through the use of GPS system. 

About a month ago, 12 experts from Gujarat TDD were sent to Madhya Pradesh to attain GPS software expertise through which the forestland claimed by the applicants could be surveyed right from the state headquarters in Gandhinagar. 

Various forest department officers raised their eyebrows about the procedure, as it involves extra staff and a lot of fieldwork. But officials claimed that it would reduce a lot of paper work making land allotment easier. 

T L Patel, Joint Director, Commissionerate of TDD said: "There are two ways of surveying and mapping land. While one is done by the District Land Infrastructure Record, under which land is surveyed in every district and includes several experts, the other is by a GPS software, which was initiated by the Madhya Pradesh government." 

As per the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, tribal land rights will be given to those forest dwellers and tribals who occupied the forestland between December 13, 2005 and December 31, 2007, said Patel. 

He further said that claims made by the forest dwellers will hold true even if they have not taken possession by December 31, 2007. The allotment would be based on the specifications provided by them, he said. 

The use of GPS software i.e. Personal Digital Access (PDA) will make things easier. Patel said, "TDD has applied for more than 20 PDA devices from Madhya Pradesh. The experts will be feeding the data, mapping the land on the device and locating it." Finally, the data will be taken to a district office whose server will be directly connected to the TDD state level office, he said. 

Source : http://www.indianexpress.com/

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