March 19,hindu news crunch

Conflict over living space Wildlife conservation experts call for a policy which accepts that humans have to share space with wildlife and come up with steps to mitigate losses to both

If an animal strays into human habitation, it would be for a specific reason.P.S. EasaP.S. Easa
Author: Mohamed Nazeer Kannur

On March 6, a thickly populated residential area close to Kannur town in north Kerala witnessed what local residents had never imagined. As hundreds watched in fear and trepidation, a leopard that had ‘strayed’ into the town kept forest and police personnel on tenterhooks, trying to hide itself from searing gazes and deafening voices, and sprinting towards non-existent safety and, when not successful, pouncing on anything and everything seemingly animate before it. For the hundreds gathered there and who kept moving with the leopard, it was a spectacle, almost every other mobile phone capturing the animal ‘live’. The onlookers apparently knew little about the inhumanity and unpredictability of the situation that unfolded before them. What was glaring during those eight hours was the lack of proper public awareness on a range of issues relating to what is popularly termed as human-wildlife conflict. As cases of such conflict will continue to be reported, wildlife experts say that awareness initiatives have to be kick-started to keep the public informed about the multidimensional aspects of human-wildlife conflict, its impacts and ways for its mitigation. Over the past few decades, cases of wild animals, mostly elephants, leopards, wild boars and monkeys, straying out of protected areas into human habitations have been hogging headlines. There have been several instances of wild elephants trampling to death people living within or in close proximity to forest areas. Forest officials often find themselves at the receiving end of the ire of settlers whose crops are damaged by wild animals. They come under tremendous pressure whenever such incidents happen as had happened when an Adivasi was trampled to death in the protected area of the Kottiyoor wildlife sanctuary in the first week of February. Quick-fix solution Whenever such incidents occur, blind anger of the local populace would force the authorities to think in terms of quick-fix solutions to avert the wild ‘menace’. The measures suggested and implemented include erection of solar fencing to check the ‘straying’ of wild elephants. On March 8, an Adivasi woman was trampled to death by a wild elephant near the Adivasi resettlement area close the Aralam wildlife sanctuary in Kannur. Adivasi leader C.K. Janu, who visited the locality the very same day, said, “the forest and district authorities are taking no action to check elephant attacks in the Adivasi resettlement area though such attacks have taken the lives of four Adivasis.” Forest Department personnel are the first to face the heat of the public protest. With the government machinery failing to respond to the woes of the affected populace, the protests turn into anger, which often assume dimensions that are intractable. Sensing the political and governance complexities that such situations culminate in, conservation activists have been advocating speedy payment of compensation to the affected to win back the trust and goodwill of the residents in the vulnerable areas. Wildlife conservation experts say the problem will never be resolved unless there is a major shift in the way the officials and the local populace understand the situation. The problem, according to them, is the general perception that wildlife is expected to live only in protected forest areas. Sadly, such protected areas form only a small percentage of the total area and, as all the large wildlife species are biologically programmed to move out to find new territories, it is unrealistic to expect that all wildlife will be confined to islands of forests. Specific reason “Wild animals always have the tendency to move out. Especially after breeding, all the animals tend to move out,” says P.S. Easa, who has extensive experience in areas of wildlife biology, conservation biology and human-wildlife conflict. Dismissing the theory that climate change could be the reason for the straying of wildlife from their habitats, Dr. Easa says that conclusion can be arrived at about such mobility patterns only based on close monitoring of the forest. “If an animal strays into human habitation, it would be for a specific reason,” he says, adding that the reason can either be a disturbance inside the forest environment, including lack of resources such as prey species or territorial issues or other unknown factors. Conflict over resources, according to conservation experts, is inevitable when the same resources are shared by different groups of animals, including humans. Whenever people use the same habitats as animals, there is an interaction which can turn into a conflict which humans tend to define in their favour. Bluntly put, the conservationists are sceptical about media portrayal of this interaction as ‘human-wildlife conflict.’ According to them, the media portrayal of wild carnivores such as leopards as ‘man-eaters’ has only reinforced a negative image of wildlife. “A leopard straying into human settlements is nothing new as the animal has been found even in cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru,” says Arun Zakharia, veterinary officer attached to the Forest Department in Wayanad, who has been involved in saving several leopards and tigers and wild elephants spotted in urban areas in the region including Kozhikode city, Vadakara and Tirur as also in Kannur on March 6. Highly adaptable Since leopard is a highly adaptable species and its prey preferences are very vague, it can survive in any situation. At Tirur, a leopard was found to have survived eating crabs, he says. Tiger, on the other hand, is different because it is a core species and, therefore, cannot be spotted in cities, Dr. Zakharia says. A tiger strays out when it is injured in competition with other tigers over territory, he adds. From his experience, he says that areas of tea plantations such as Meppadi in Wayanad are found to be leopard-resident areas. Human behaviour Deaths caused by attacks of wild animals often provoke public protests. But wildlife lovers say that human behaviour is also to blame for the wildlife straying into human habitations. Wild animals are inherently scared of humans and the attacks in self-defence happen when humans and the wild animal bump into each other. While fragmentation of forests and degradation is as much the reason as the animals’ behaviour for the wild animals’ straying out, humans are also indirectly helping the wildlife get attracted to human habitations including urban areas. “Our unscientific garbage disposal provides easy availability of food to many wild animals such as monkeys and wild boars, while carnivores such as leopards are attracted to stray dogs and other animals that our garbage dumps attract,” says P.V. Mohanan, retired government veterinarian, who now assists the district panchayat to start units for scientific treatment of wastes from animal slaughter centres in Kannur district. Proper waste management practices can be an effective intervention for prevention of human-wild conflict which affects both the humans and the wildlife, he says. Poultry slaughter wastes are found even on roadsides and rivers. Whenever incidents of human-wildlife conflict occur, theories are often floated as to its cause or causes. Recently, the Kannur district panchayat came up with the demands that the Forest Department take steps to ensure adequate food and water inside forests to check wild elephants entering human settlements and wreaking havoc on their crops. Wildlife conservation experts thus warn that the demand for inappropriate management actions can have adverse consequences. What is required is a policy that accepts that humans have to share space with wildlife and come up with measures that will mitigate the losses to both.

Ceiling for housing loan scheme raised Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana

Author: Staff ReporterThiruvananthapuram

The ceiling for annual income and loan amount under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Housing for All-2022, scheme being implemented in the State through Kudumbasree, has been increased. As per this, city dwellers whose annual income is up to ₹18 lakh a year can get an interest subsidy of 3% on housing loans up to ₹12 lakh. People with an annual income of up to ₹12 lakh a year will get an interest subsidy of 4% on housing loans up to ₹9 lakh. In short, housing loans will be available at a rate of 4.5% to 5.5% interest under the scheme. Existing scheme The new scheme is in addition to a scheme being implemented by the Kudumbasree Mission for providing housing loans up to ₹6 lakh to city dwellers whose annual income is less than ₹6 lakh at an interest rate of 6.5%. The scheme to provide housing loans with subsidy to city dwellers whose annual income is up to ₹18 lakh is being implemented in the country for the first time. With an increase in the limit for income and loan amount, the scheme is expected to benefit more people. 20 years If the loan amount exceeds the limit specified under the scheme, interest rates of the respective banks will be applicable. The loans have to be repaid in 20 years. Loans will be available for buying, building, or renovating houses. Subsidy will be available to government officials who pay income tax if they avail themselves of the loan. Housing and Urban Development Corporation Limited (HUDCO) and National Housing Bank are the Central nodal agencies specified for the housing scheme.

Thanneermukkam to become curry leaf village Scheme drawn up to cultivate curry leaf plants in all households in panchayat

Author: R. Ramabhadran PillaiALAPPUZHA

As organic farming is gaining acceptance among rural and urban societies in the State, a novel project is taking shape in Thanneermukkam grama panchayat in Alappuzha. Aimed at attaining self-sufficiency in production of curry leaf (Murraya koenigii), an essential ingredient of Keralite cuisine and a flavouring agent with herbal and aromatic properties, the scheme envisages cultivation of curry leaf plants in all households in the panchayat. The project is set to roll out within a week, panchayat president Sebastian K.J. told The Hindu. Under the project, officially launched a few days ago, two curry leaf plants each will be distributed to all the 12,000 households. “The focus on curry leaf production is rooted in the realisation that the leaves available in the market, mostly coming from neighbouring States, contain harmful pesticide residue. Curry leaf being part of Kerala dishes, raising the plant in one’s own compound could be a sensible decision,” he says. The plants that cost ₹15 each, will be given free of charge to the households. Arrangements have been made to procure the plants from Krishi Bhavans. Guidance will be provided to raise the plants so that Thanneermukkam becomes the ‘first curry leaf village’ in Kerala. High awareness Organic farming has already been taken up in the panchayat and there is adequate awareness on pesticide-free vegetables, Mr. Sebastian says. Consumption of curry leaves is considered beneficial to the body. The International Journal of Environmental & Agricultural Research, in an article published in January 2017, says curry leaf has anti-carcinogenic properties owing to the presence of carbazole alkaloids. It can be used as an antioxidant as it contains tocopherol, b-carotene, and lutein, according to the journal. It also notes that curry leaf farmers are using chemicals more frequently and at high doses for crop protection and increasing yield. When consumed as food, the chemical residues enter food chain. Studies by Kerala Agricultural University and other scientific labs had established the presence of pesticide residue in curry leaf samples collected from various outlets across the State. Experts are of the opinion that consumption of vegetables containing pesticide residue causes various diseases.

Wind farm to be ready soon Facility at Kanjikode Kinfra industrial park has a capacity of 22 MW

Author: K.A. ShajiPalakkad

Making a larger stride in the non-conventional energy sector, Kerala’s largest wind energy farm, with an initial production capacity of 22 MW, will be ready in 10 days at the Kerala Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (Kinfra) industrial park at Kanjikode, near here. Implemented by private sector energy major Noida-based Indox Wind, the wind farm has come up on 27.5 acres, leased out by the State government. Senior company officials told The Hindu that they were awaiting a convenient date of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan for the formal launch. Trial run on Almost all the work is done and the trial run is on, said company representatives. As per an understanding with the State government, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) will buy the power generated by the farm as per the tariff fixed by the electricity regulatory commission. Eleven windmills have been installed in the initial phase at a cost of ₹15 crore each. More windmills will be installed later, based on the result from the 11 windmills. Kanjikode is the first project initiated in the State by Indox Wind, which generates 1,600 MW of power across the nation. Company consultant Suku Nair said it was the first major power sector initiative in Kerala in which the State government was joining hands with a national major in the wind energy sector. The Kinfra park was also becoming the first industrial park in the country to host a wind energy farm. Meanwhile, KSEB officials said that over a dozen companies had shown interest in starting wind farms in the eastern regions of Palakkad district as these areas had a large potential to tap wind energy. Units already functioning in the Walayar-Kanjikode belt and Attappady have proven to be successful. Efforts to tap solar energy in the rain shadow region of Attappady are also fast progressing, they said. A feasibility study conducted by the KSEB said the Attappady region had the potential to generate more than 1,000 MW in the non-conventional sector. The board was also considering planting of Jetropha plants in Palakkad district to generate bio-fuel. The district panchayat has already started work on the Koodal mini-hydel project, and three more mini-hydel projects are in the offing in the district.

Health policy wants public hospitals certified for quality Targets safe water for all by 2020

Author: R. PrasadCHENNAI

The long awaited National Health Policy (NHP), announced a few days ago, proposes to raise public health expenditure as a percentage of the GDP from the current 1.15% to 2.5% by 2025. The resource allocation to individual States will be linked with their development indicators, absorptive capacity and financial indicators. “There will be higher weightage given to States with poor health indicators and they will receive more resources. The Policy aims to end inequity between States. But at the same time, States will be incentivised to increase public health expenditure,” says Manoj Jhalani, Joint Secretary — Policy, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. While public health expenditure as a percentage of GDP will reach 2.5% only by 2025, many of the goals listed in the Policy have a deadline of 2025, some of them even sooner. Preventive healthcare The policy stresses preventive healthcare by engaging with the private sector to offer healthcare services and drugs that are affordable to all. It wants to reduce out-of-pocket “catastrophic” health expenditure by households by 25% from current levels by 2025. It wants to increase the utilisation of public health facilities by 50% from the current levels by 2025. The Centre is working on introducing a health card — an electronic health record of individuals. “The health card will be for retrieving and sharing health data by lower [Primary Health Centre] and higher [secondary and tertiary] healthcare facilities,” says Mr. Jhalani. “It will be launched in six months to one year’s time in those States that show interest to roll it out in certain districts or across the State.” Like the Health Ministry’s national strategic plan for tuberculosis elimination 2017-2025 report, the Policy wants to reduce the incidence of new TB cases to reach elimination by 2025. In a similar vein, the policy has set 2017 as the deadline to eliminate kala-azar and lymphatic filariasis in endemic pockets, and 2018 in the case of leprosy. In the case of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases, it envisages a 25% reduction in premature mortality by 2025. Challenging ambitions The policy “aspires” to provide secondary care right at the district level and reduce the number of patients reaching tertiary hospitals. For the first time, there is a mention of public hospitals and facilities being periodically measured and certified for quality. But the most ambitious target is providing access to safe water and sanitation by all by 2020. As per the January 2016 Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation’s country paper, sanitation coverage was only 48%. Other challenging targets set by the Policy include reducing the infant mortality rate to 28 per 1,000 live births by 2019 and under five mortality to 23 per 1,000 live births by 2025. According to the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS-4), IMR was 41 in 2015-16; it took 10 years to reduce IMR from 57 to 41. As against 62% children 12-23 months old, who were fully immunised in 2015-16 according to the NFHS-4 data, the Policy has set a target of 90% by 2025.

1.6-billion-year-old fossil find puts life into Indian geologist’s theories Rafat Azmi of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology was criticised for his interpretation of a similar fossil discovery two decades ago

Author: Jacob KoshyNEW DELHI

Fossils piece together the past, and sometimes — as in this case of a retired Indian geologist — can mend a reputation. On March 14, news agencies across the world reported the discovery of a group of fossils of a 1.6-billion-year-old red algae, a precursor to plant and animal life, from Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh. The findings were reported by a group led by Stefan Bengtson, Emeritus Professor, Swedish Museum of Natural History, in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Biology. What has been eclipsed in the announcement is that one set of these fossils are called Rafatazmia chitrakootensis, named after Rafat Jamal Azmi, a Dehradun-based geologist at the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, who was the first to report these unique fossils over two decades ago. Textbook knowledge Then, however, Dr. Azmi’s findings were widely criticised by the Geological Society of India as the “small-shelly fossils” that he discovered seemed to suggest that animal forms evolved about 1.6 billion years ago, when the textbooks say that shelled creatures are thought to have first evolved at the beginning of the Cambrian “explosion of life”, around 550 million years ago. Moreover, Dr. Azmi interpreted the age of those fossils to bolster his long-standing but unorthodox thesis that the Vindhya mountain ranges, from where he sourced the fossils, were much younger than the Himalayas — only about 500-600 million years old. These are still matters of debate but Dr. Azmi was denied a promotion for two to three years because of these finds. Speaking to The Hindu over the phone, he said he had to “professionally suffer” for his finds and interpretations. “There were allegations in the media and even among the scientific community then that my findings were a fraud,” he said. Professor Bengtson, however, played a crucial role in exonerating Dr. Azmi. He came to Chitrakoot and accompanied the latter to the fossil site to assess his claims independently. “I found indeed the same fossils and was thus able to exonerate Dr. Azmi from the accusations of fraud in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (a top peer-reviewed journal) paper that we published in 2009,” Professor Bengtson told The Hindu in an e-mail. “… the filamentous form of red alga that we report is named Rafatazmia, in honour of Dr Azmi.” Professor Bengtson’s latest study, however, is based on collecting fossils from the same region in 2011, during an expedition in which Dr. Azmi wasn’t involved. So far, the oldest known red algae was 1.2 billion years old, but the Rafatazmia predates them by 400 million years and though they are not skeletal animals of the kind Dr. Azmi believes them to be, they may represent an ancient form that could “rewrite the tree of life”, Professor Bengtson was quoted as saying in a news report. ‘Time of visible life’ “The ‘time of visible life’ seems to have begun much earlier than we thought,” he said. The material structurally resembles red algae, embedded in fossil mats of cyanobacteria inside a 1.6-billion-year-old phosphorite, a kind of rock, found in the Chitrakoot region in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. “You cannot be a 100% sure about material this ancient, as there is no DNA remaining, but the characters agree quite well with the morphology and structure of red algae,” said Professor Bengtson. His group came to their conclusions using X-rays to observe regularly recurring platelets in each cell, which they believe are parts of chloroplasts, the organelles within plant cells where photosynthesis takes place. Honour for Azmi While Dr. Azmi “accepted the honour” of lending his name for the oldest plant-like fossils, he disagrees with Professor Bengtson’s interpretation. Rather than being an ancient precursor to plant life, he suggests that it was more likely that they were algae-like organisms with a shell, that were widespread during the Cambrian era. “Incidentally, we disagreed and probably still disagree about the nature and age of the fossils, but disagreements about interpretation are healthy in science and have of course nothing to do with fraud,” said Professor Bengtson in his e-mail to The Hindu.

Why literature is the answer to fundamentalism All fundamentalists, whether secular or religious, take the complex realities of life and language and reduce them to a few parameters

tabish khair is an Indian novelist and academic who teaches in Denmark is an Indian novelist and academic who teaches in Denmark

For years we have been trying to defuse various kinds of militant fundamentalism by offering alternative messages: Islam is a religion of peace, Hinduism is all-inclusive, America is a nation of immigrants, etc. Such messages have had very little effect on the fundamentalists concerned. As a consequence, liberals and decent conservatives — all those millions of well-meaning people at the centre and a bit to its right or left — often exclaim in rare unison: “Nothing seems to make a difference! What can be done?” Of course, nothing seems to make a difference, because the solution does not lie in the message of any religious, cultural or political text. Not the message of a text, but the process of reading it is the antidote to fundamentalism. You might be wondering what this process that I am talking about might be. Well, let us start at the beginning. Let us ask: what is it that all fundamentalists share? Refusal to engage Despite the fact that different religious fundamentalists seem anxious to chop off each other’s heads, they share two features. Of these, one I have written about in the past: a bid to control women. But there is another feature that is shared by all of them, and even by their secular counterparts. This is their common tendency to reduce texts, including their own sacred ones, to a singular message. It is no coincidence that Islamists do not allow Muslims to discuss the holy texts of Islam openly and historically, and Hindutva fundamentalists want certain readings of their holy texts — even A.K. Ramanujan’s scholarly thesis about the various rewritings of the Ramayana and Mahabharata — banned. There are Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. who get upset if the mythical Santa Claus is played by an African and who are unwilling to concede that Jesus, a Jew from West Asia, must have looked more like an Arab than like Donald Trump. There is a total refusal among fundamentalists to engage with texts and stories in a contemplative, critical and historical manner. Not only do they want to ban certain texts, but even the ones they accept are reduced to limited, sometimes singular, messages. Secular fundamentalists do this too, as the Communists did with Karl Marx’s complex texts in the past, and as neo-liberals are doing today, by reducing even capital to only one of its forms, finance capital. To argue that wealth trickles down is a message that runs contrary to the complexities of economics and experience, just as it is a form of fundamentalism to reduce the state of health of a national economy to basically the indicators of the share market. Social Darwinists reduced and continue to reduce Darwin’s complex texts on evolution — and other texts that followed Darwin — in a similar manner. All fundamentalists — secular or religious — take the complex realities of life and language, and reduce them to a few parameters. They not only ban certain texts, they mostly even confine the ‘sanctioned’ texts to a single message. Learning again how to read This runs against everything that literature does and that students of literature were trained to do. No significant literary text offers only one message. In that sense, the trend to append simplistic morals to literary works is a serious misreading. Even early religious texts — such as the Indian epics — make full sense only in the multiplicity of perspectives and interpretations that they offer. Unfortunately, with the demise of the Arts, this necessary engagement with texts is dying out: even literature is marketed in a singular manner today, reduced to a ‘selling point.’ Fertile ground for fundamentalism The technocratic nature of today’s society is partly to blame. It is not a coincidence that so many of the founders of Hindutva had a technocratic education, as had many European National Socialists, and so many Islamists seem to be technocrats too. Unlike the Arts and pure Science, technology has singular applications. You can use a screwdriver to peel an orange, but it is basically meant to turn a screw. The numerical logic of capitalism — two plus two equals four — has combined with our adoration of technology and its current digital pundits to create fertile grounds for fundamentalism. The antidote to this trend is not to offer other messages but to learn again how to read — and hence think — with complexity. Facile as it may sound, the best way to counter fundamentalism is to teach our children the skills of literary exegesis.

Peace and belonging in an ancient land Finding treasure in the Neelkanth temple in Bundelkhand

rana safvi is a historiam, author and blogger documenting India’s syncretic culture is a historiam, author and blogger documenting India’s syncretic culture

One whose Throat is Blue I bow to Nilakantha [who has] ten arms, three eyes, is sky-clad [and] lord of the directions, dark-eyed and adorned by/with poison. — Translated by Rohini Bakshi One of the most famous legends, which has been described in the Bhagavata Purana, the Mahabharata, and the Vishnu Purana, is that of samudra manthan, or churning of the ocean. It is about the time when the gods and demons fought and the demons often got the upper hand. On being appealed to, Lord Vishnu advised the gods to solve the problem diplomatically, which resulted in an alliance between the gods and demons to churn the sea of milk for the nectar of immortality, which they would divide equally between them. Lord Vishnu assured the gods that he would ensure that they alone got the nectar of immortality. During the churning, many objects came up. One was the halahala, a pot of potent poison which could destroy everyone. Again, on Lord Vishnu’s advice, the gods approached Lord Shiva, who was the only one capable of swallowing it without being affected. Lord Shiva swallowed the poison while his consort Goddess Parvati, it is said, held his neck to prevent it from going into his stomach. The poison turned his throat blue, which is why he’s called Neelkanth, or the one with a blue throat. Though the poison didn’t harm him, Lord Shiva’s throat was burning and he came to earth to rest. According to legend, that place was Kalinjar where the Chandela rulers, who were Shiva bhakts, built in the 10th century a magnificent Neelkanth temple. The Chandela rulers of Bundelkhand also built the Kalinjar fort, which lives up to its name, ‘The destroyer of time’, between the 9th and 13th centuries. It is one of the few forts that stood against the invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni. It lies on a hilly plateau, 1,203 ft above the plains in the Vindhya range. The breathtaking temple The entrance to the fort and the palaces inside are impressive, but it was Neelkanth temple that took my breath away. It was the best part of my trip to Bundelkhand. From the top, the 165 steps that lead down to it in a long and winding route look daunting, but don’t let that deter you. It’s worth every bit of the effort. Though the scenery accompanying the journey down the steps is enough to refresh tired feet, it was the first sight of the Grecian altar-looking 16-pillared yagna mandap from the top that was enough to give us a sense of purpose. We continued with renewed vigour. The mandap, which is said to have once been covered, now stands under the open sky as a testimony to time. There are carvings and statues on the rocks all along the route. At the museum of Kalinjar fort, the Archaeological Survey of India officer said that out of the 874 specimens of sculpture they had there, most were found during excavations of the temple. I can well believe him after seeing the riches there. A door leads to the village. On the way, an adorable Ganesha statue keeps guard. On the rock, just a little way above the mandap, are spectacular statues of Chamundi Devi. Behind the mandap is a small shrine cut into the rock itself, with a tall Shivling installed in it. The unique feature of the Shivling is that it is always wet near the throat portion, even if there is a drought or famine in this area. The door of the cave is a massive stone shutter-like thing, which the pujari told me used to move, but they no longer know the secret lever. To the right of the temple, a few steps down, is the most amazing statue of Kal Bhairav (incarnation of Lord Shiva) carved in the rocks. This is easy to miss as most people return from the mandap area. It is 24 ft high, 17 ft wide, has 18 arms, and is garlanded by skulls. The statue is majestic and stunning, and gave us the feel of the power of destiny, for which it is worshipped. Just above the temple is a natural water source that never dries up. Water continually drips onto the Shivling, keeping the neck moist. Thirty-five steps lead up to the sarovar cut in the mountains behind the temple. It is said that this contains treasure, and there are some indications written on its walls. I don’t know how true this is, for surely someone must have found it if it was material treasure. To my mind, it’s treasure of the spiritual kind, for I felt a great sense of peace here.

A simple bicycle and the complex practice of democracy If we don’t have a stake in democracy, don’t see it as belonging to us, it might even be hijacked from right under our nose

rajeev bhargavais a political theorist at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhiis a political theorist at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi

What is democracy? Abraham Lincoln’s phrase — that it is political rule of the people, by the people, for the people — is surely a clich�. But is it also a good description of democracy? Is it weightier than what we have come to suppose and frequently dismiss? The cycle as a metaphor Let’s take a simple example. A village has a bicycle to fetch goods of daily use. So far, the cycle is used exclusively by the Pradhan, to procure goods only for himself and his family; but now, following a change of heart or popular pressure, the Pradhan also uses the bicycle to ferry goods he thinks would meet the basic needs of other village folks. The cycle is now used, at least some times, also for the people. On receiving some articles of subsistence, they begin hoping that a day will come when they would be able to ride the cycle, see, touch, smell the goods themselves and choose what they really want. Instead of being content with things handed out to them, they can now go to the market, see the entire range of goods on display and decide what, by their own reckoning, best satisfies them. So, they somehow manage to persuade the Pradhan to let them ride the bicycle and visit the market. They now realise that there were many things that they had not even conceived they needed. They also begin to enjoy the ride to the market and back. Indeed, the cycle takes them to entirely new worlds, beyond the market, beyond the immediate world of things they need. It fires up their imagination, helps them forge new relations, conjure up new worlds. Riding the cycle has its own rewards, its own thrill. The bicycle now doesn’t merely work for them, but is also worked by them and for that reason works even better. At this stage, however, the Pradhan changes his mind and takes this cycle away from them; and the village is back to square one — the people return to their deprived state. In a fix, the poor villagers realise that the mere opportunity to use the cycle was never enough. It should always have belonged to them. They should have claimed it as theirs, have had a greater stake in it. They, and not the Pradhan, should have collectively owned it because, in the last instance, its use depended on their having a permanent, inalienable right to it. So now they strive to make the cycle theirs, to prevent it remaining an exclusive possession of the Pradhan. They realise that they should not even view the cycle as a thing of mere use, with an instrumental value. Rather, it should always have been something of intrinsic value, indeed an integral part of who they are. Losing it would not just be a temporary deprivation from which they can recover easily and quickly by getting a replacement, but the alienation of a basic capacity to determine the course of their life, a shattering blow to their self-confidence and self-esteem, to their very sense of self. Once they reclaim it, they can legitimately say that the cycle not only functions for them, is run by them, but also belongs to them. It is theirs; for them, by them, and even more importantly perhaps, of them. Decision-making and identity I hope the reader has understood that what is true of a simple bicycle is also true of the far more complex practice of democracy. Democracy is an institutional mechanism which helps us obtain resources that potentially satisfy us, enable us to lead the life we wish and choose. But it works for us only if we all take part in running it. If we allow some elites (the Pradhans) to take charge, rely exclusively on them to get us the resources that we need, the chances are that we may never get the resources, or receive them sporadically, dependent on the elites’ whims and fancies. Besides, we would be deprived of the sheer pleasure of decision-making, of taking an active part in choosing and allocating resources, of determining the course of our collective and individual lives. And, finally, if we don’t have a stake in democracy, if we feel we don’t own it, don’t see it as belonging to us, as a constitutive part of our identity, then one day it might even be taken away from us; hijacked from right under our nose by someone. So, we must ensure that democracy is not just for the people, is run by the people but also is of the people. It belongs to us; that is to say, it is ours. A lot of thought, it appears, was invested by Lincoln in this short, by now clich�d, phrase!

Sleeper T cells exposed Long-lived, HIV-infected T cells evade discovery, thereby thwart attempts to find a cure. Now researchers report in Nature that they have identified a protein which sits on the surface of such dormant, infected T cells, and leads to their exposure, towards developing a cure.

Peace and belonging in an ancient land Finding treasure in the Neelkanth temple in Bundelkhand

rana safvi is a historiam, author and blogger documenting India’s syncretic culture is a historiam, author and blogger documenting India’s syncretic culture

One whose Throat is Blue I bow to Nilakantha [who has] ten arms, three eyes, is sky-clad [and] lord of the directions, dark-eyed and adorned by/with poison. — Translated by Rohini Bakshi One of the most famous legends, which has been described in the Bhagavata Purana, the Mahabharata, and the Vishnu Purana, is that of samudra manthan, or churning of the ocean. It is about the time when the gods and demons fought and the demons often got the upper hand. On being appealed to, Lord Vishnu advised the gods to solve the problem diplomatically, which resulted in an alliance between the gods and demons to churn the sea of milk for the nectar of immortality, which they would divide equally between them. Lord Vishnu assured the gods that he would ensure that they alone got the nectar of immortality. During the churning, many objects came up. One was the halahala, a pot of potent poison which could destroy everyone. Again, on Lord Vishnu’s advice, the gods approached Lord Shiva, who was the only one capable of swallowing it without being affected. Lord Shiva swallowed the poison while his consort Goddess Parvati, it is said, held his neck to prevent it from going into his stomach. The poison turned his throat blue, which is why he’s called Neelkanth, or the one with a blue throat. Though the poison didn’t harm him, Lord Shiva’s throat was burning and he came to earth to rest. According to legend, that place was Kalinjar where the Chandela rulers, who were Shiva bhakts, built in the 10th century a magnificent Neelkanth temple. The Chandela rulers of Bundelkhand also built the Kalinjar fort, which lives up to its name, ‘The destroyer of time’, between the 9th and 13th centuries. It is one of the few forts that stood against the invasions of Mahmud of Ghazni. It lies on a hilly plateau, 1,203 ft above the plains in the Vindhya range. The breathtaking temple The entrance to the fort and the palaces inside are impressive, but it was Neelkanth temple that took my breath away. It was the best part of my trip to Bundelkhand. From the top, the 165 steps that lead down to it in a long and winding route look daunting, but don’t let that deter you. It’s worth every bit of the effort. Though the scenery accompanying the journey down the steps is enough to refresh tired feet, it was the first sight of the Grecian altar-looking 16-pillared yagna mandap from the top that was enough to give us a sense of purpose. We continued with renewed vigour. The mandap, which is said to have once been covered, now stands under the open sky as a testimony to time. There are carvings and statues on the rocks all along the route. At the museum of Kalinjar fort, the Archaeological Survey of India officer said that out of the 874 specimens of sculpture they had there, most were found during excavations of the temple. I can well believe him after seeing the riches there. A door leads to the village. On the way, an adorable Ganesha statue keeps guard. On the rock, just a little way above the mandap, are spectacular statues of Chamundi Devi. Behind the mandap is a small shrine cut into the rock itself, with a tall Shivling installed in it. The unique feature of the Shivling is that it is always wet near the throat portion, even if there is a drought or famine in this area. The door of the cave is a massive stone shutter-like thing, which the pujari told me used to move, but they no longer know the secret lever. To the right of the temple, a few steps down, is the most amazing statue of Kal Bhairav (incarnation of Lord Shiva) carved in the rocks. This is easy to miss as most people return from the mandap area. It is 24 ft high, 17 ft wide, has 18 arms, and is garlanded by skulls. The statue is majestic and stunning, and gave us the feel of the power of destiny, for which it is worshipped. Just above the temple is a natural water source that never dries up. Water continually drips onto the Shivling, keeping the neck moist. Thirty-five steps lead up to the sarovar cut in the mountains behind the temple. It is said that this contains treasure, and there are some indications written on its walls. I don’t know how true this is, for surely someone must have found it if it was material treasure. To my mind, it’s treasure of the spiritual kind, for I felt a great sense of peace here.

Geomagnetic storms New research tells us that when solar storms take place on the Sun, they not only send bursts of charged particles on to the earth, disrupting its magnetic field. The storms can also decrease the number of free electrons over polar regions of the ionosphere. This could lead to improving radio communication and navigation over the Arctic.

CCMB researchers control weight and fat gain in animals Metabolism of rats, rabbits seems modulated through intervention to promote energy expenditure

Author: R. Prasad

The two chains of clusterin protein, which are normally expressed in several tissues and can be found in several body fluids, when present together tend to lower lipid levels but administration of one of its chains — alpha or beta — results in completely different outcomes. Cells treated with a recombinant beta chain tend to accumulate fat while cells treated with an alpha chain showed no increase in lipid accumulation. Rabbits administered with a recombinant beta chain showed nearly 40% increase in weight while animals given an alpha chain showed no such increase. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports. “Two chains of clusterin when present together tend to decrease body weight but one of the two chains (beta clusterin) increases body weight. This is quite unusual,” says Dr. Ch. Mohan Rao from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, and the corresponding author of the paper. “So the alpha chain should ideally be compensating for increase in body weight. But the alpha chain does not do that.” Only lean mass, no fat “While excess energy gets accumulated in the form of fat when beta chain was injected into rats, we did not see this in the case of alpha chain. One possibility is that the alpha chain helps in the metabolism of food in such a way that fat does not accumulate,” he says. “Dissected rats that were given alpha chain showed increased levels of lean mass.” Apparently, there was no difference in the food intake between animals treated with alpha or beta chain. “It means that weight increase can happen even when there is no increase in food intake. It is the energy management by the body that is important. And alpha chain seems to modulate metabolism in such a way to promote energy expenditure and thus prevent fat accumulation,” he says. The effect of alpha and beta chains were tested on myoblast cells, fibroblast and cancer cells. The individual chains were injected into rabbits as well. “In my lab we study the effect of small heat shock protein on health and disease. To raise antibody for clusterin we injected the chains separately into rabbits. One set of rabbits was gaining weight while the other did not. That’s when we investigated the reasons. The animal-house in-charge noticed the change in the animals,” recalls Dr. Rao. Rats too gained weight Though the effects of the two chains were seen in rabbits, the researchers turned to rats as more animals were required for investigating the effect of individual chains on animals. “We could see fat accumulation in cells from day two onwards. We observed for 10 days and fat accumulation continued for all the 10 days; we could study cells continuously only for 10 days,” says Suvarsha Rao Matukumalli from CCMB and the first author of the paper. “In the case of animals injected with beta chain, fat accumulation continued for four-five months. The controls and animals given alpha chain did not show weight or fat gain.” When cells were administered both the chains simultaneously, the cells did not accumulate fat for two-three days but started thereafter. “Fat accumulation was not as much as when only the beta chain was given but fat accumulation nevertheless continued,” says Ms. Matukumalli. But the effect of both the chains in animals was quite different. “When we introduced both alpha and beta chains together in animals we did not see any weight gain. The animals were very much like the controls,” she says. “Only large-scale, in-depth studies can reveal if alpha chain prevents weight gain.”

Flexing nanotech to prevent steel corrosion Other methods have shown limitations

Author: K.S. Sudhi

Turning to nanotechnology, a group of marine researchers from Kerala is attempting to combat corrosion of steel used for making fishing boats. Corrosion of steel has been a major cause of concern for the fishing sector of Kerala where steel vessels have almost replaced wooden ones. There is enhanced threat of corrosion in the case of welding joints and the hull of a vessel. The non-availability of good quality steel (BIS 2062 Grade B steel) as specified for boat-building has compounded the problem. Scientists at the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT), Kochi, have successfully tried applying nanomaterials like nano iron oxide, zinc oxide, cerium oxide and titanium oxides on steel surfaces under lab conditions. According to Dr. C.N. Ravishankar, director of the institute, these nanomaterials have high surface area and increased adhesiveness to the substrate. According to Dr. P. Muhammed Ashraf, Principal Scientist at CIFT, who led the research programme, the boat-building steel was coated with nano-trimetal oxide mixtures, and its evaluation in laboratory showed about 40% corrosion inhibition under marine environments. He said that the coating also exhibited healing stress at a faster rate. Conventional methods of coating of steel materials with ceramic, polymeric and electro-deposition are effective only to a limited extent. Corrosion-protection methodologies usually employ organic or inorganic-based coatings on steel. The researchers pointed out that the major disadvantages shown by these coatings are poor adhesion, coating defects, poor scratch resistance, optical transparency, low coating flexibility and vulnerability to abrasion. Even the recently introduced nanomaterial-incorporated polymer coatings have their own set of challenges — they tend to develop pinholes and pores, which could lead to the penetration of corrosive agents into the matrix followed by corrosion.

Bhavani, BengaluruChandan Kumar Mishra. JNCASR, BengaluruE. Duvarahesh, Tiruchendur, Tamil Nadu

Transparency of glass Why is glass transparent to visible light but opaque to UV light? Bhavani, Bengaluru When light is incident on a material, it can be either reflected, absorbed or transmitted, or a combination of all the above phenomena might occur. As far as opacity (or transparency) of a material is concerned, we need to think in terms of absorption and transmission. Based on the material’s composition and property, a specific wavelength or a range of wavelengths might have enough energy to transfer an electron from the ground state to the excited state and hence that wavelength gets absorbed. The material thus appears as opaque to that wavelength. On the other hand, if the material transmits most of the incident light, it appears as transparent with respect to the incident light. In the case of glass which mostly consists of silica and aluminates, the energy associated with of UV light (~7eV) is enough to excite electrons from the ground state (valence band) to excited state (conduction band) and consequently this light gets absorbed. Beyond the range of UV light (wavelength >400 nm), the energy of visible and infrared light are not enough to excite the electrons and most of the incident light gets transmitted. Thus glass appears transparent to visible and infrared light. Chandan Kumar Mishra. JNCASR, Bengaluru This week’s question Why do newly bought cell phones have to be charged for seven to eight hours at a stretch? E. Duvarahesh, Tiruchendur, Tamil Nadu

Instant response Ramakrishna T. (left), Mohan Rao (centre) and Suvarsha Matukumalli studied rats injected with beta chain and found fat accumulation from day two onwards. Special arrangement

Telescope upgrade to sniff out solar storms It can accurately determine the time taken for the solar storm to travel to the earth

Author: Shubashree Desikan

The GRAPES-3 experiment at TIFR’s Cosmic Ray Laboratory in Ootacamund is getting upgraded. The telescope made news last year when it detected the effect of a solar storm that hit the earth in June 2015. The upgrade will play a major role in getting precise information about the propagation of storms in ‘the last million miles’ (from the L-1 point) of their journey from the Sun to the earth. The upgraded detector will have an increased coverage of the sky and improved capacity to determine the direction of incident cosmic rays. The latter property, of being able to discern the direction of detected particles, makes it unique among cosmic ray detectors in the world; it can also to measure the intensity of the particles. Since the enhanced facility can cover a wider field of view (from present 37% to 57%), the chances of spotting solar storms will be higher. The sun is at a distance of 150 million kilometres from the earth, and satellites have been placed at a distance of nearly 1.5 million kilometres, at the so-called L1 point, where they orbit the Sun along with the Earth. Since charged particles from a solar storm will first impact the satellites before hitting the earth, they act as an early warning system. Depending on the speed of the storm, it will take about 20-40 minutes to reach the earth from the L1 point. However, the GRAPES-3 may differ from the satellite estimates of the travel time. This is what Sunil Gupta, Head of the GRAPES-3 experiment, terms traversing the ‘last million miles’. He says: “GRAPES-3 has an important role in understanding the propagation of storms from the L1 point to its impact on the Earth. We have seen indications that the actual time taken may not be what the satellites predict.” Taking preventive steps It is important to know the time when plasma will reach the earth, accurately, so that preventive and protective measures can be put into place in case a solar storm were to strike the earth. If the earth’s magnetic field were to be weakened by extreme solar storms, charged particles would shower on to the planet. Apart from rendering electronic devices defunct, charged particles in an extreme solar storm can also short current carrying over-head high voltage lines, leading to large-scale transformers burn out and thereby, power blackouts. A 2008 study conducted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences estimated that an extreme event could lead to a loss of 40% of transformers in the U.S., which, in turn, could take years to restore. The up side is that the way to prevent such a disaster is well understood: simply switch off the power lines on being informed of an approaching solar storm! And for this to be possible, an accurate determination of the time taken for the solar storm to travel to the earth is needed, which is where the GRAPES-3 set up comes in.

Turn to music to keep your brain fit The brain is a plastic, remouldable entity, and triggering this property can help us recover some lost functions

speaking of scienceD. Balasubramanianspeaking of science

Compared to earlier centuries, people live longer now. Longevity has steadily increased across the world, thanks to various health care efforts. This has also lead to an increase in the incidence of age-related disorders, such as senile dementia. Today there are about 47 million people across the world affected by cognitive disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and related disorders. We have about 4.1 million people across India affected by dementia, China is worse, with 9.2 million there. An individual with dementia tends to have short-term memory loss, problems in movement of limbs, incoherent speech and related problems. It is a cognitive disorder where the normal nerve circuitry in the brain has become distorted. Nerve fibres tend to get entangled (much like a cross connection or short circuit), protein molecules in the cells precipitate out of solution and form plaques, affecting nerve conduction. Part of the brain becomes dysfunctional. As of today, there are no effective drugs to treat and overcome Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and related disorders, though molecules such as L-Dopa offer some short-term relief. And it is well nigh impossible to take the brain out, correct the misconnection, do some rewiring and place the repaired brain back. Transplanting a brain is, of course, unthinkable, since it effectively means transplanting a person! Signs of hope Against this bleak picture, there are some hopeful signs. If we cannot remove errors and rewire, can we stop further damage, allow neighbouring nerve cells to do double duty and make up for what has been damaged? We know that this may be possible; for example when a finger is lost or amputated, the neighbouring brain areas take over the functions of that area of the brain which previously handled the amputated digit. In other words, the brain is not a static, stone-like entity but a plastic, remouldable one. If we can find ways to trigger such neuro-plasticity, we may be able to recover some of the lost functions, and hopefully delay any further damage to the brain circuitry. Remarkably, and gratifyingly, music is able to do so. We have now come to realize that music not only calms and comforts the mind but also can take on a therapeutic role. “Music Therapy is a non-pharmacological way, with a long history of use and a fine usability for dementia patients” write Dr David Calimag and colleagues in their paper ‘Music Therapy is potential intervention for cognition of Alzheimer’s disease: a mini-review’, which has appears in the journal Translational Neurodegeneration (2017) (DOI: 10.1186/s40035-017-0073-98). That music plays a key role in cognitive development has long been known. We process music with almost every part of our brain. The baby in the womb feels the pulse of the mother, and likely even her humming in tune. Lullabies calm and comfort and teach the baby. While the oft-quoted claim that the IQ of children improves upon listening to Mozart needs solid scientific proof, it seems likely that not just listening, but training in music appears to foster cognitive development. The book ‘Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain’ by the famous neurologist-writer Dr. Oliver Sacks points out that music is part of being human. And that many people with neurological damage learn to move better, remember more and even regain speech through listening to and playing music. Therapy for Alzheimer’s This is the basis of music therapy. Dr. Concetta Tomaino, a music therapist, is reported to have played an old Yiddish song to an old man in the last stages of Alzheimer’s, and after repeatedly listening to it for a month, he attempted to speak and sing it himself and resumed talking and moving about. Closer home, the renowned music therapist Mrs. Rajam Shankar of Secunderabad tells me that her singing the Raga Kalyani likewise activated a lady patient, who eventually started singing herself and slowly regained her activities. Readers will also enjoy the captivating award-winning film ‘Alive Inside’ which tells the stories of several dementia-afflicted patients and how music turned their lives around (available at watch?v=6FwfV9pnj8o). Music therapy is a growing field, taught and practised in India and across the world. But it is important that appropriate and rigorous guidelines are drawn and certification done in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. It is also useful to analyse the reported individual cases where it has helped (and where it has not), and attempt to draw rational and empirical guidelines, particularly since it involves human subjects. Not without caveats Some caveats are in order. There are claims on the Web that raga X helps liver function, raga Y helps in diabetes, and so forth. These are over-claims, since music affects the brain and helps in cognition, not in curing metabolic disorders. Some others claim that some ragas are better than others for dementia. This too is a “one size fits all” claim. Music therapy is a deeply personal one, and depends on the mental condition, background and similar factors and thus is individual-specific. Also, is a song better or just chanting a note or even meditating – or a combination thereof? Here again, is it not better for the therapist to decide, based on the conditions of each specific patient?

How much a good sleep is worth Improving your sleep quality is as beneficial to health and happiness as winning the lottery, according to research by the University of Warwick, U.K. Dr. Nicole Tang of the Department of Psychology has discovered that working on getting a better night’s sleep can lead to optimal physical and mental well-being over time and that quality of sleep is more important than how many hours of it you get. Analysing the sleep patterns of more than 30,500 people in U.K. households across four years, Dr. Tang found that improving your sleep quality leads to levels of mental and physical health comparable to those of somebody who’s won a jackpot of around �200,000. The study shows that positive changes in sleep over time — improved quality and quantity, and using less sleep medication — are linked with improved scores on the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ), which is used by mental health professionals to monitor psychological well-being in patients.

Shaped by the climate The size and shape of the nose in different human populations is not simply the result of chance but evolved, at least in part, in response to local climate conditions, report Arslan Zaidi and Mark Shriver of Pennsylvania State University, U.S. in a study published on March 16, 2017, in PLOS Genetics. The nose is one of humanity’s most distinctive facial features, which also has the important job of conditioning the air that we breathe, to ensure that it is warm and moist when it reaches the lungs, which helps to prevent infections. Previous studies suggest that people whose ancestors lived in hot, humid places tend to have wider nostrils than people whose ancestors came from cold and dry environments, but whether these differences arose in response to local climates or just due to chance was unknown. In the current study, researchers looked at West African, South Asian, East Asian, or Northern European ancestry.

They have the healthiest hearts The Tsimane people — a forager-horticulturalist population of the Bolivian Amazon — have the lowest reported levels of vascular ageing for any population, with coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) being five times less common than in the U.S., according to a study published in The Lancet and being presented at the American College of Cardiology conference. The researchers propose that the loss of subsistence diets and lifestyles in contemporary society could be classed as a new risk factor for heart disease. The main risk factors are age, smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes.
What is a ‘vernal window’? With the first day of spring around the corner, temperatures start to rise, ice melts away, and the world around us starts to blossom. Scientists refer to this transition from winter to the growing season as the “vernal window”, and a new study led by the University of New Hampshire, U.S., shows this window may be getting longer. “Historically, the transition into spring is comparatively shorter than other seasons,” says Alexandra Contosta, a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Earth Systems Research Center. “You have snow melting and lots of water moving through aquatic systems, nutrients flushing through that water, soils warming up, and buds breaking on trees. Something striking happens after a very cold winter or when there’s been a lot of snow. Things seem to wake up all together, which is why spring seems to happen so quickly and can feel so dramatic.” However, research shows that the extent of snow cover over the Northern Hemisphere has declined significantly in the past 30 years. Climate change is altering the timing and duration of the vernal window.

Need stents? Skip a beat no more The ceiling on prices of stents comes as a boon for patients. The onus is now on them to hold hospitals to account

Author: Jyoti Shelar

On February 9, when 31-year-old Mumbai resident Augustine Chettiar underwent an angioplasty, a top-of-the-line drug-eluting stent called Alpine by Abbott cost him ₹1.2 lakh. He required two stents — tiny mesh-like devices that release measured doses of medication in the blocked artery — for two of his blockages. But during the procedure, a complication forced the doctor to use both stents in one single artery. Mr. Chettiar was advised to get the second blockage fixed after a few weeks. On February 14, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) announced a ceiling on the prices of stents. The bare metal stent was capped at ₹7,260 while all drug-eluting stents were capped at ₹29,600. When Mr. Chettiar went for his second angioplasty on March 3, a high-end drug-eluting stent called Xpedition from Abbott cost him merely ₹29,600. And to top it, he also received a clear bill that marked out the stent price. Hospitals under the scanner Hospitals across the country are closely being watched by the NPPA and the State Food and Drug Administration authorities on their pattern of billing after the capping of stent prices. The NPPA has directed all hospitals to issue detailed bills to the patients, specifically and separately mentioning the cost of the coronary stents, along with the brand name of the manufacturer, importer, batch number and other details. Those who fail to comply stand to be pulled up by drug controllers. “When we got the hospital bill after the second angioplasty, it was simple and understandable. More importantly, the price of the overall procedure reduced drastically,” says Mr. Chettiar’s wife Angela. “My husband had an insurance of ₹5 lakh. But the first procedure at Holy Spirit Hospital in Andheri cost us ₹4.5 lakh, of which ₹2.24 lakh was merely for the two stents. Fortunately, his company got the insurance firm to pass the additional amount for the second procedure that he underwent at Surana Hospital. It cost us merely ₹1.5 lakh,” she adds. While lakhs of patients have benefitted from the government’s decision, the NPPA continues to receive complaints from across the country of overcharging and lack of clarity in the bill. “Most of the complainants have got a refund from the hospitals. There are some others for whom we have asked for copies of the bill for better clarity,” says NPPA Chairman Bhupendra Singh, adding that they have asked the State drug controllers to re-audit all angioplasty cases from February 14, of hospitals that have complaints against them. A month since the price ceiling was introduced, the NPPA has received 37 cases of which five are fresh complaints. Don’t miss the fine print Activists say that patients need to come forward and complain against any kind of non-compliance. “The government has set up a system in place. So it is now up to the patients and relatives to ensure that the bill they get is itemised,” says health activist Dr. Abhay Shukla. The new rule has drained out a major chunk of revenue for hospitals and thus there are chances of them trying to recover the money by inflating other costs. “The ideal way to compare is to get a bill of a patient who has undergone the procedure before February 14 and check if the hospital is overcharging in other aspects of the bill,” suggests Dr. Shukla. Hospital owners, however, see a new era of trust and greater volumes that will offset potential losses. “People who needed more stents and underwent cardiac surgeries can now afford angioplasties. The number of angioplasties will definitely see a rise now,” says Dr. Prince Surana, medical director of the Surana Group of Hospitals in Mumbai.

Clinical benefit yes, cost-benefit no? Medical practitioners are upbeat about the advantages of using cholesterol-lowering drug Repatha, but investors are not impressed

Author: gina kolata

The first rigorous test of an expensive new drug that radically lowers cholesterol levels has found that it significantly reduces the chance that a high-risk patient would have a heart attack or stroke. These were men and women who had exhausted all other options. The results of the study, which cost about $1 billion and was paid for by Amgen, maker of the drug, were published on Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology. The drug, Repatha, is called a PCSK9 inhibitor and can make cholesterol tumble to levels almost never seen naturally in adults, or even in people taking cholesterol-lowering statins. The Amgen drug and a similar one, sold by Sanofi and Regeneron, were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015 with the hope — and expectation — that they would lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and not just reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, the dangerous kind. That hope has now been realised for the Amgen drug. “This is like the era of the statins coming in,” says Dr. Eugene Braunwald, a cardiologist at Harvard Medical School, who was founding chairman of the research group that conducted the study, but was not an investigator on it. Like statins, which were introduced in the 1980s, the new class of drugs has the potential to improve the health and longevity of millions of Americans with heart disease, the nation’s leading killer, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths. “It’s a new ball game,” he says. Issue of cost But cost will be an issue. Statins are available as cheap generics. The new drugs have a list price of $14,523 a year. “The next big challenge is financial: how to pay for it,” says Dr. David Maron, director of preventive cardiology at Stanford, who also was not involved in the study. Insurance companies have been reluctant to pay for the drug without evidence it protected high-risk patients from heart attacks and strokes. Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for the insurers’ organisation, America’s Health Insurance Plans, says insurers would consider the new data. Investors greeted the trial results with initial disappointment and appeared to assume that insurers would continue to restrict access to the drug, in part because it did not show a benefit in overall death rates from cardiovascular causes. Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a Yale cardiologist, agrees that given the expense of the drug, the results raise questions about what it is worth and who should get it. But he called the study “a solid outcomes trial” and said “we should celebrate” that it showed the drug is capable of reducing risk. The problem, he said, was that expectations were running so high. “There was a lot of hubris about how pushing LDL down to 30 would eliminate heart disease,” he says. Of course, it did not. About 10% of patients taking the drug had a heart attack or stroke, or died of heart disease during the trial. The study The study involved 27,564 men and women. About 80% had already had a heart attack, and the rest had had a stroke or had pain in their legs and feet from narrowed arteries. They were taking optimal doses of inexpensive, cholesterol-lowering statins, which gave them an average LDL of 92, well within the range — an LDL of under 100 — that has been advised for high-risk patients. All continued with their statins, but half were assigned to inject themselves with Repatha, also known as evolocumab, and the rest were assigned a placebo. Those taking the new drug reached an average LDL of 30. A quarter of participants got to an LDL of 19 or lower. Amgen estimates that about 11 million Americans are eligible to take the drug. They include people like those in the study and people who have a genetic condition, familial hypercholesterolemia, that results in intractably high LDL levels and a grave risk of a heart attack. NYT

The TB time bomb

Chapal Mehra

Disease control in India is a story of contradictions and tuberculosis (TB) is no exception. Earlier this week, India’s Health Minister, J.P. Nadda, spoke at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Health Ministers’ meeting in Delhi — on TB — stating his government’s intention to address the disease aggressively. Not too long ago, India’s Finance Minister too spoke of TB elimination. Welcome and well-intentioned, these claims are at odds with India’s full-blown epidemic of TB and drug-resistant (DR) TB — a crisis that is decades in the making, from benign neglect by successive administrations. TB is a staggering epidemic that affects 2.8 million and kills 485,000 Indians, pushing individuals, families and communities into poverty, suffering and debt. Such claims then must be borne out by thoughtful strategy, commitment backed by sufficient funding. However, these seem to be missing. India recently released a draft of its latest strategic five-year plan to control TB which takes the approach to find, treat, prevent and build for TB control on a massive scale. However, the plan ignores the fact that most Indians affected by TB do not seek care under the government programme. It is usually their last choice. Even the poorest prefer to pay and go to the private sector because it is efficient and accessible. They land up in the public sector penniless and much sicker. That most TB-affected need efficient care with dignity and respect has escaped India’s health programme planners. Glossed over TB’s institutionalised neglect is not limited to the government alone. In its recently released first ever priority list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the WHO didn’t include DR-TB. The list is supposed to provide direction globally to government priorities for research on bacteria for which we need new antibiotics. There is already shrinking support for research into new TB antibiotics primarily because TB is a disease with a large market at the base of the pyramid. This is borne by the fact that despite its massive human costs, only two drugs have been developed in four decades and remain expensive and inaccessible to most. Such omissions let the pharmaceutical sector and government off the hook from pressure to invest in research for new drugs. Why is TB ignored? Perhaps because its fundamentals are beyond the capacity of the health establishment. A lack of preventive strategies, poor nutrition, and rapid urbanisation with limited public awareness all feed India’s epidemic. Many of these are domains traditionally outside of disease control programmes though they have an impact on disease control. Mr. Nadda listed numerous achievements among which were mandatory case notification from the private sector, inclusion of new Cartridge Based Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (CB NAAT) machines for early detection, and the introduction of new drugs such as Bedaquiline. What missed mention was that the increased case notification is but only a fraction of the cases detected and treated privately. The government has failed to implement TB notification successfully. India does have 500 new CB NAAT machines but they remain underutilised, highly rationed and of limited reach to most of the TB-affected. We still don’t know the government’s forecasting mechanism for procuring cartridges to make these tests accessible. What’s more, most TB patients rarely get tested upfront for drug resistance. As a result, numerous cases of DR-TB remain undiagnosed, poorly treated and often lost or what the WHO terms “missing”. Access to new drugs like Bedaquiline is best explained in the struggle of an 18-year-old girl who desperately needed the drug and went to the Supreme Court to get it. Had she got this treatment sooner, she may not have died. India’s spending per TB patient is the least among BRICS countries. The answers lie in expanding the capacity of the public sector, aggressively engaging the private sector, increasing budgets, and creating a massive campaign to ensure awareness and empowerment among those most severely affected. We need access to a free and reliable TB test, counselling, free high-quality treatment, and economic and nutritional support. Until then, TB will continue to devastate the foundations of this aspirational superpower. Chapal Mehra is a Public Health Specialist and independent writer who works with TB survivors. He is the Convener of Survivors Against TB

Bilateral exercises give fresh push to India’s strategic ties The Army has conducted exercises with 18 countries in the last three years

Author: Dinakar PeriNEW DELHI

India is leveraging bilateral military exercises to further strategic cooperation. The Indian Army is currently engaged in or has just concluded four separate exercises with the armies of Nepal, Oman, Singapore and the U.S., with a focus on aspects like counter-insurgency, jungle warfare, heli-borne and special operations, meant to promote interoperability. The exercise with Nepal also comes at a time when the Himalayan neighbour is expected to conduct its first military drills with China. Latest drills The Surya Kiran exercise with Nepal is underway at Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, while the Al Nagah-II exercise with Oman is underway at Bakloh in Himachal Pradesh. They are infantry exercises meant to improve interoperability and focus especially on counter-terrorism. Both the exercises are spread over 14 days. According to information submitted in Parliament by Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre on Friday, during the last three years India has signed defence agreements/memorandum of understandings (MoU) with 21 countries. The Army has conducted exercises with 18 countries during the three-year period, including the current year, and Indian military personnel attended training and courses in 34 countries. This is the ninth edition of the Surya Kiran exercise from March 9-20 with Nepal. The Nepal contingent is represented by 300 personnel, including 26 officers. One officer said the aim of the exercise was to conduct battalion-level combined training between the two armies. “Both the contingents would be working in a mixed group, which will allow them to enhance tactical level understanding of battlefield procedures,” he stated. There is a component involving special heliborne operations in the counter insurgency environment, in which the Nepal Army personnel would be trained in basic skills of launching helicopter-borne operations. There is also a component on the study of Left Wing Extremism in South East Asia and the Indian Army hopes to gain from the experience of the Nepal Army, including their best practices. Meanwhile, the Army’s Para Special Forces and U.S. Army’s Special Forces honed their skills from February 27 to March 12 in Jodhpur. The exercise covered a range of activities, including advanced marksmanship, sniping techniques and military free fall. “It was a platoon strength exercise with focus on joint exercises based on counter- insurgency and counter-terrorist operations in the rural desert terrain,” a senior officer said. There were also case studies to include lessons learnt from operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East, among others, which the U.S. has been involved in for a long time and which are of interest for India. Training agreement The Bold Kurukshetra exercise with Singapore is an armoured exercise under way at the Babina field firing range in Uttar Pradesh, involving 250 soldiers from each side. India and Singapore have an agreement that allows the latter to use the Indian Army’s facilities for training and exercises. The agreement on utilisation of facilities by the Singapore Air Force was initially signed in October 2007 and Army facilities in August 2008.

tokyo A touch of recycling, Japanese style

Pallavi aiyar is an author and journalist based in Tokyo is an author and journalist based in Tokyo Japan will collect old mobile phones, computers and small household appliances from residents for metal, which will be used to make medals for the Tokyo Olympics

There are no trash cans in Tokyo. Or at least none when you really need to get rid of that increasingly insipid wad of chewing gum. One reason for this litter bin lacuna is that the Japanese are acutely conscious of waste and recycling. Rather than thoughtlessly chucking their wrappers and cans in the nearest dustbin, citizens are encouraged to take them home, to be subject to one of the world’s most elaborate recycling processes. Legislation dating to the late 1990s mandates that every household must separate waste into burnable and non-burnable categories. But this is just the tip of the recycling iceberg. There is a vertiginous array of categories to further sort non-burnables into: plastic and PET (polyethylene terephthalate), cardboard and glass, spray cans and old cloth. But if you end up scratching your head over which category to sort an empty pizza box into, voluminous municipality-issued explanatory material is on hand. In Japan’s second-largest city, Yokohama, for instance, citizens are given a 27-page manual on how to sort about 500 different items (eg: lipstick is usually “burnable,” but an empty tube can go into “small metals”). Businesses have to pay — based on weight and volume — for recyclables to be collected. Households must put out their trash for collection in local authority-designated clear bags. If the trash is sorted incorrectly, it is simply not collected. Instead, a large, red sticker explaining the error is put on the bags, leaving the miscreant crushed under the weight of neighbourhood social shame. A major problem with waste that most countries have is with household plastic, a lot of which either gets burned, causing enormous air pollution, or buried in landfills, leading to environmental contamination. But in Japan, over 70% of PET bottles, 77% of other plastic, and over 90% of aluminium cans are recycled. In comparison, the U.S. rate for recycling PET and other kinds of plastic is just over 30% and only 67% for aluminium. In India, households rarely do even the most basic dry and wet waste segregation. Most garbage is burnt, or dumped in landfills where rag-pickers recycle a certain percentage. Recycled material in Japan is used in textiles, sheeting, industrial materials, toys, household items such as egg boxes, furniture and so on. There are many innovative examples. Toyota and other carmakers are designing cars that are made almost completely of recyclable materials. Tokyo’s Haneda Airport is built on an artificial island made of garbage. The Japan Denture Recycle Association, a one-man initiative, recycles the metal from donated dentures, with the proceeds going to UNICEF. From mobiles to medals And now, even the Olympic Games are going to get a touch of recycling, Japanese style. Tokyo will host the 2020 Games, and from next month, collection boxes are going up all over the city for residents to donate old mobile phones, computers and small household appliances. The idea is to collect enough metal to make all 5,000 Olympic and Paralympic medals with recycled materials. Discarded consumer electronics like smartphones and tablets contain small amounts of precious and rare earth metals, including platinum, palladium, gold, silver, lithium, cobalt and nickel. The Tokyo Games organising committee says it hopes to accumulate as much as eight tonnes of metal, including 40 kg of gold, 2,920 kg of silver and 2,994 kg of bronze. The Tokyo Olympics sports director, Koji Murofushi, told media that the project would allow all Japanese to take part in creating the medals that will be hung around athletes’ necks: a truly Olympic upcycling effort.

Shenzhen China’s obsession with flying machines

Atul Aneja writes for The Hindu and is based in Beijing writes for The Hindu and is based in Beijing In July 2016, the Civil Aviation Administration of China released a new set of rules for the use of drones, but critics say they lacked detail or had controversial stipulations

On the street leading to Shenzhen’s noisy Huaqiangbei market, the down-to-earth electronics bazaar where visitors hunt for deep bargains, it is evident that China’s pavement toy industry is undergoing a transition. Instead of the terrestrial objects such as remotely-controlled cars or tanks of the past, it is toys that fly, especially glitzy fighter jets and tiny drone copies, that are a big draw. Popular imagination is fast acquiring its own kinetics. The fascination for drones, of which Shenzhen is a manufacturing hub, is rapidly becoming a national obsession. Even in the faraway U.S., the Chinese preoccupation to pioneer technology that would make waves in the skies is palpable. Last year, the Chinese firm Ehang unveiled the electric Ehang 184 passenger drone at Las Vegas. This is a 142-horsepower “personal flying vehicle” that can scale 11,000 feet to transport one person to his or her destination. The Autonomous Aerial Vehicle (AAV) is essentially a “drone taxi” that can fly for 23 minutes flat. The rider can engage the vehicle through a convenient mobile app. Once the destination is entered, the automatic flight control system chooses the fastest, safest route, cruising at a speed of 100 km per hour. The Guangzhou-based company is already turning many heads, especially in Dubai, the futuristic city of ultra-modern skyscrapers and much more that rises from the barren sands of the UAE. Authorities in the metropolis now plan to induct the pilotless aircraft in July, as part of its smart transportation system. But Chinese drones are not just confined to the civilian domain. China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, the country’s largest missile-maker, has begun to develop military drones that can evade radar and anti-aircraft weapons, says a China Daily report. Back in Shenzhen’s busy business district, a company called DJI has emerged as a global leader of small drones. Its gleaming white and gray 12th floor office, embellished tastefully by white phalaenopsis, showcases a range of drones, whose manufacture began only in 2006. Some of DJI’s latest drones are popular with movie-makers as they can mount professional cameras, slashing shooting costs by eliminating the use of expensive helicopters. There are other drones customised for low-flying that can spray pesticides over crops, 40-60 times faster when compared to a manual operation. Unwelcome intrusion The proliferation of drones, however, has its downside. The People’s Daily online has reported that in January that the local police detained an amateur enthusiast after his drone recorded the descent of a plane — a move that could pose a serious security risk. In another aviation incident, a pilotless vehicle disrupted several flights after its unwelcome intrusion at Chengdu international airport, in southwest China. These incidents highlight the problem of regulations governing the use of drones. In July 2016, the Civil Aviation Administration of China released a new set of regulations, but critics say they lacked detail or had controversial stipulations. For instance, under the current law, operators are not required to get a licence if the empty weight of the drone is less than 4 kg, and take-off weight not higher than 7 kg. Besides, the rules permit the testing of drones in “remote and sparsely populated areas”, without defining precisely what these zones are. With China cornering 70% of the global drone sales, regulation of the industry is urgent for fulfilling the potential of a market, with an estimated size of $1.6 billion in 2018.

London Speaking up for a tolerant Britain

Vidya Ram writes for The Hindu and is based in London writes for The Hindu and is based in London The U.K. has remained deeply divided since the referendum, with the right-wing treating those who have challenged the government’s views on Brexit as anti-national

Over the past few weeks, striking billboards have been making an appearance in locations across the U.K., from Scotland to the south coast, and in boroughs that voted to leave the EU last summer and those that chose to remain. Images of four people with their mouths muzzled by black tape declare: “We did not vote for… price hikes… hate crimes… brutal Brexit… deal or no deal… the people are speaking. Is Parliament listening?” The billboards are the work of Stop the Silence, a U.K.-based non-partisan, crowd-funded group, which is hoping to reinvigorate a progressive debate as the government prepares to begin talks to leave the EU. While the “Brexit bill”, which allows the government to commence discussions with EU partners, has passed unamended through the Houses of Parliament, the public debate has continued, with people in both the remain and leave camps hoping to shape the direction the country takes. However, the country has remained deeply divided since the vote, exacerbated by a right-wing media — and even some politicians — that have treated those who have challenged the government’s approach to Brexit as anti-national “remoaners” hell-bent on defying the “will of the people”. The people behind Stop the Silence are hoping to counter that, focussing on the fact that the kind of Brexit being touted by the government was not the one many voted for. “The notion of the ‘will of the people’ that is bandied around so much is quite difficult to argue with; so we wanted to introduce new lexicon in a non-combative way,” said Steve Machin, one of the co-founders of the movement. “It’s perfectly fine to say yes the referendum is in the past but no, we did not vote for that. That is really what has resonated with the people,” he said, noting that the language of what people did not vote for was also being embraced by politicians who were challenging the government’s approach. With the authorising legislation just through Parliament, the campaign’s coordinators are in the early days of formulating its future direction, though they are clear that they will be counting on responses from the public in their strategy, as they did with the billboard campaign. “We have had an extraordinary response on all levels,” said Liz Holmes, another co-founder. “People have felt their concerns were not being listened to and we are breaking through that wall of silence — it’s as if political time stopped on June 23 and this is the will of the people: take it or leave it.” The campaign also hopes to embrace those who voted to leave who are uncomfortable with the direction of policy and political and media rhetoric. Shaping policy The issue of Brexit has spawned a strong grass-roots movement, with groups — spurred by social media — forming up and down the country. Thousands are expected to participate in a march on March 25 in central London and other parts of the country in support of Europe. While the government is expected to trigger Brexit talks just after, there will be more opportunities to shape policy through legislation that will have to pass through Parliament. “It’s about shaping the kind of Britain we want,” said Ms. Holmes. “We are really concerned about the rise in hate crimes and the atmosphere of divided communities and of a Britain that we don’t recognise. There are millions of people that don’t recognise that. It would be a terrible shame if people thought Britain had lurched to ring-wing ethos because that is simply not true of the majority. What has changed is the loudness of those divisive voices and we want to raise the volume of the vast tolerant majority.”

Dividends out, buybacks in

Buybacks have gained steam in the last 1-2 years, not without reason. Certain tweaks in tax laws in the last two years have made buybacks more attractive. Until two years ago, surrendering of shares of a listed company under the tender offer route was considered an off-market transaction and, hence, not subject to Securities Transaction Tax (STT). This implied that any shareholder who tendered his shares in a buyback offer had to pay short-term as well as long-term capital gains tax. This compared unfavourably with the existing capital gains tax rules if shares were sold in the market. Considering this, SEBI amended the buyback regulations in April 2015. Due to this, buyback through tender offer announced after July 2015 could take place through the stock exchanges; which means that STT would be paid on such transaction. As a result of this, long-term capital gains became tax-free and short-term gains became subject to a tax of 15 per cent (excluding surcharge and cess). Secondly, Budget 2016 imposed a 10 per cent tax (excluding surcharge and cess) on dividends in the hands of large shareholders, ( i.e, those who earn over ₹10 lakh in the form of dividends). This made buybacks a tax-efficient choice over dividend payments, especially for promoters who are usually among the large shareholders. These developments have contributed to a spurt in buybacks and specifically in tender offers (where promoters can participate) in the last two years. About 70 per cent of the buyback offers in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 have been through the tender offer route. In the many years prior to this, open market purchases have been more common. Anecdotal evidence shows that companies have preferred buybacks to dividends in recent times. While eClerx Services declared a dividend of 100 per cent to 350 per cent in the past five years, dividends for the year ended March 2016 came down to 10 per cent. But a buyback amounting to ₹234 crore through the tender offer route was announced in end-August 2016 and promoters also declared the intention to participate. Balrampur Chini, in its recently unveiled dividend distribution policy (formulated due to SEBI requirement for top 500 companies by market capitalisation to disclose the same), has clearly stated that shareholders may not expect dividend in the years in which the company conducts a buyback. The company just closed its buyback amounting to ₹175 crore, in February 2017.

Due Diligence Why bitcoins are a bit risky While bitcoin usage could increase, it is not a substitute for normal currency

UnsuitableVolatile pricesLack of regulationRampant hoardingUnsuitableVolatile pricesLack of regulationRampant hoarding
Author: Lokeshwarri S K

“Bitcoin value hits a life-time high,”; “bitcoins are now more expensive than gold,”; “Winklevoss twins make a bid for an exchange traded fund based on bitcoin.” Headlines such as these are making everyone sit up and take notice of the virtual currency that had faded into oblivion two years ago. Similar frenzy and excitement had prevailed in 2013 and 2014, followed by revelation of a series of scams and nefarious activities involving these currencies. Value of bitcoins had then crashed; bitcoin exchanges closed down and investors had forgotten about them. Not much has changed with respect to the fundamentals of the bitcoins over the last three years. They still remain highly unsuitable, both as medium of exchange and store of value. While bitcoin usage could increase in the years ahead, they carry multiple risks that investors need to be aware of. Bitcoin basics For those who joined the party late, bitcoins are virtual currencies created in 2008 by an anonymous person calling himself Satoshi Nakamoto. He created a system wherein these currencies could be created (mined) by those who could solve some complex algorithmic equations. Every bitcoin transaction is recorded and verified in an open ledger called block-chains, thus preventing counterfeiting or double spending. Using bitcoins is simple, if you are tech savvy. You have to first acquire a bitcoin wallet through one of the sites buying and selling bitcoins. Then you have to transfer funds from your bank to the wallet which can then be used to buy bitcoins. The bitcoins can be stored in the wallets, on your desk-top or mobile, or in the cloud until put to use. Bitcoins can be used to buy products and services from various websites including Microsoft and Dell. Many gift cards can be purchased with bitcoins that can, in turn, be used on online retail stores such as Amazon, Walmart and Target. So far so good. But if you thought that bitcoin is a substitute for your normal currency, think again. Faulty price discovery Bitcoin prices are discovered through exchanges that are unregulated with very lax KYC compliance process. Wash trades, front-running and trading with insufficient funds is said to be common in many of these exchanges. According to the website, Japanese exchange, coincheck, clocked the highest volume in the last 30 days and accounted for 25 per cent of global bitcoin transactions. kraken exchange that operates in Canadan EU, Japan and the US and okcoin that is based in China are next in the list of top exchanges by transaction volume. The largest US bitcoin exchange, bitstamp, accounted for just 14 per cent of global volume. In other words, the value of bitcoin is determined largely by unregulated pools of investors. Lack of regulation The speed of money transfer and the lower cost of transaction in bitcoins are mainly because there is no supervising authority. But with no overseeing authority, instances of price manipulation is common. There is no central authority giving the rights to set up or trade on the bitcoin exchanges either. Regulators, including the Reserve Bank of India, have issued cautionary notices to users, highlighting the risks they take in dealing with these currencies. This causes a problem for bitcoin users too. If the user suffers a loss due to an exchange or the dealer deducting unfair transaction charges, he has no one to complain to. If the bitcoin wallet is hacked into or some bitcoins are lost, there is again no recompense. This lack of regulation had resulted in websites dealing in narcotic drugs and arms smuggling using bitcoins in the past. Price volatility If you thought that bitcoins could become a store of value, then the sharp price volatility seen in this currency is a deterrent to such aspirations. Check this out. One bitcoin could be purchased for $5 in 2011. Between February and November 2013, exchange rate rose from $20 to $1,000. By early 2015, the rate was at $200. In recent times too, volatility has been acute. On January 4, the high was $1,140. But a week later, prices were down more than 30 per cent. The main reason for this volatility is that there is no underlying to which the value of the bitcoin can be pegged. Its price is based just on the demand and supply in numerous unregulated exchanges around the world. The trading volume is quite shallow too. It’s reported that 50 per cent of the bitcoins is held by less than 1,000 people. Hoarding of bitcoins is also quite rampant. Another problem is that only 21 million bitcoins can be mined in all. Over two-third is reported to be mined already. As the number of bitcoins mined reaches the upper limit, the value is expected to shoot through the roof. Vendors facilitating transactions through this currency will then stand to lose. The block-chain revolution While it is best to be wary about bitcoins, the technology on which they are based — block-chains — is likely to grow popular going ahead. An open ledger where users enter information, verified by a set of people, can greatly increase transparency and cut down costs. It’s already used in the financial services industry and could grow in popularity in future.

Trends Giving away, systematically Mutual funds are coming out with schemes to institutionalise charity

Noble featuresDividends as donationsMatching donations from AMCTreats cancer patientsNoble featuresDividends as donationsMatching donations from AMCTreats cancer patients
Author: Meera Siva

Meera SivaMany of us invest in mutual funds through Systematic Investment Plans, wherein regular units are bought automatically by debiting the bank account. Building on this idea, HDFC Mutual Fund offers a scheme to make periodic donations. The contributions in this case go on an auto-pilot mode from the dividends of the scheme, making it hassle-free for the donor. How it works HDFC Debt Fund for Cancer Cure was launched in 2011 as a three-year close ended capital protected income scheme with an initial corpus of ₹77 crore. Another fund was launched in March 2014 with a corpus of ₹175 crore, which will soon complete its three-year tenure. It has given an annualised return of 8.9 per cent till December 30, 2016. The fund will be passively managed with few restrictions on portfolio construction. For example, the fund cannot buy securities that have maturity beyond the scheme completion date. Securities are typically held till maturity — doing away with interest rate risk on the portfolio. This strategy is typically helpful in a falling interest rate scenario, whereby interest rates can be locked-in for the tenure. The new fund offering (open till March 24) HDFC Charity Fund for Cancer Cure has two separate portfolio options — the arbitrage plan (equity-oriented) and the debt plan (income). Under the arbitrage plan, the scheme will generate income through arbitrage opportunities between cash and equity derivative market. In the debt plan, the scheme will invest predominantly in debt instruments and government securities. Investors in this fund have an option to donate either 50 per cent or 100 per cent of the dividend proceeds to the Indian Cancer Society or other eligible institutions. The donations are eligible for deduction u/s 80G of Income-Tax Act, 1961. The fund also qualifies for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) under ‘Preventive Healthcare’ (Schedule VII of the Companies Act 2013). The money will be used by the Indian Cancer Society for the treatment of the needy and under-privileged cancer patients. How it differs Investors do not pay any investment and management fee for the fund and it is borne by HDFC Asset Management Company. Half or the entire dividend income from the scheme can be donated half-yearly by the fund on behalf of the investor. While no dividend distribution tax(DDT) would be levied on the dividends declared for its arbitrage plan, under the debt plan, DDT at the rate of 28.8 per cent would be levied. The first fund, launched in 2011, made total donations of about ₹13 crore, while the second fund has contributed ₹22 crore until September 2016. Moreover, in the second scheme, HDFC AMC gives a matching contribution, thereby doubling what you donate. So far, donations have been made to nearly 3,100 cancer patients from 28 States. Data shows that two-thirds of the patients were below 30 years of age. Patient data is sourced from the 16 hospitals with the annual income of the beneficiaries being typically less than ₹2 lakh. Donors are updated regularly on the use of funds.

Higher returns push reach of CPSE ETF Fund outperforms benchmark Nifty CPSE index


The Central Public Sector Enterprise Exchange Traded Fund (CPSE ETF) is fast becoming a popular avenue for investments by both, retail and institutional investors. More importantly, the fund that allows one to invest in Navratnas and Maharatnas, is bringing in investors from the far corners of the country thereby enhancing the reach of the equity markets. Data from the National Stock Exchange (NSE) shows that between April 2014 and February 2017, the number of towns from which investments have come into CPSE ETF rose from 498 to 546. Further, cities like Rajkot, Ahmedabad, Vishakhapatnam, Thane, Bhavnagar and Jaipur have seen the number of investors more than double in the last two years. Vishakapatnam, for instance, saw its share go from nil in 2014-15 to 10% in 2015-16, as per NSE data. Meanwhile, cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Gurugram have seen a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) between 12% and 64% over the last two years. Hyderabad accounted for 26% of the investor accounts in 2016-17. Passive investment The CPSE ETF is a passive investment fund that was created to help the Centre in its disinvestment program of divesting stake in select government companies through exchange traded funds. It was introduced in March 2014 through a New Fund Offer (NFO) with an issue size of ₹3,000 crore. The NFO received a strong response across all category of investors and was oversubscribed by over ₹1,300 crore. The ETF went live on April 4 2014 and got listed on both NSE and BSE. The government’s focus on ETF is further corroborated by the fact that the finance minister while presenting the Union Budget 2017-18 had said that a new ETF will be launched in the current financial year. “A new ETF with diversified CPSE stocks and other government holdings will be launched in 2017-18,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said. Incidentally, the second round of the Further Fund Offer (FFO) of Reliance CPSE ETF that closed on Friday was subscribed nearly 3.7 times. The offer received subscription worth ₹9,200 crore as against the issue size of ₹2,500 crore. Further, more than 1.2 lakh retail applications were received during the FFO phase. While the institutional portion was subscribed 7.6 times, the retail segment was subscribed two times. First round The first round of FFO, which closed on January 20, received bids worth ₹12,000 crore, which was more than double the base issue size of ₹4,500 crore. It received more than two lakh applications from 300 cities and towns. The CPSE ETF is not only scoring in terms of investments but also in terms of generating returns. In calendar year 2016, the fund gained 17.43% while its benchmark Nifty CPSE index rose less than 13%. The 50-share Nifty gained a little over 3% in 2016. Since inception on March 28 2014, the fund has registered a CAGR of 14.42% as against the 6.26% rise in its benchmark.

The science behind the squeak of basketball shoes and violins Engineers, rubber experts and a biologist explain the mechanics of the sound

Author: John Branch

It is an unofficial soundtrack of basketball, a noise consistently heard but rarely considered — rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the hardwood. Squeaks are the background rhythm to the game. But that sound is also one of the enduring mysteries of sports and presents a question that gets scientists talking: Why do basketball shoes squeak? To understand, it may help to consider violins and the California spiny lobster. Consider the lobster Sheila Patek, a biologist at Duke University, is an expert in spiny lobsters, among other oddities of the animal kingdom, and several years ago discovered that some species of the clawless crustaceans do something utterly unusual. To scare away predators, they rub a smooth, rubbery protrusion at the base of each antenna against the smooth, hard part of their heads. The result is an audible squawk. The spiny lobster became the first known example among animals of the stick-slip phenomenon, a deeply studied principle of science and engineering. It is when two relatively smooth or flat surfaces become repeatedly stuck and unstuck by the forces of friction, creating a vibration that becomes a noise. It is why brakes and doors squeak on dirty hinges and why wipers chatter on dry windshields. And it explains how the bow of a violin, sticking and slipping almost imperceptibly as it crosses the string, creates sound. “If you’ve ever played a violin, you have to push down and slide at just the right combination to get these two surfaces to stick and slip across each other,” Ms. Patek said. “And on each slip it makes a little burst of sound. And that’s the same thing for a spiny lobster.” And, it now occurs to her, the same goes for something else, something more widely seen than a spiny lobster. “A basketball shoe!” she said with a laugh. Few stop to consider just what it is that they are hearing when shoes squeak. Even fewer have researched the topic. Martyn Shorten, who has a biomechanics consulting firm in Portland, Oregon, and works mostly with athletic shoe manufacturers, is one of them. “The herringbone structures of the shoe outsole are induced to vibrate at their low-order natural frequencies by stick-slip contact with the surface,” Mr. Shorten and his research partner Xia Xi concluded. Reassuring to players “When we’ve tested shoes and they didn’t squeak, it comes up with our players and our testers,” Leo Chang, senior design director at Nike, said. “The squeak is reassurance to a lot of players. They listen for it. It gives them that audio sense of reassurance that they’re sticking.” On the foot’s way to stopping, or to twisting or springing to the next step, the sole’s intricate designs stick, then slip, then stick. It might feel like an instant stop, but the rubber sole is designed for flexibility. Too much grip in basketball is jarring on the body, Mr. Chang said. Not enough traction is dangerous, too. That makes sense to Judit Puskas, a Professor of chemical engineering at the University of Akron. She described the “magic triangle” of rubber technology — rolling resistance (its ability to slip), traction (stick) and wear. Changing one can affect the others. The quest is to find balance, whether in designing tyres or basketball shoes or anything else with rubber components. “The sole makes sure you can stop, but also move quickly, which are two competing requirements,” Professor Puskas said. “You want the rubber to stick enough that you can stop, but you don’t want to stick too much that you can’t move.” The chirp signals balance, but it does not explain how the sound is produced. Greg McDaniel is an Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at Boston University, where he runs the sound and vibration laboratory. The basic rule for creating sound is compressing air, Mr. McDaniel said. In the tiny, vibrating spaces under and within a rubber sole, the air gets compressed. “That compressed air sucks in neighbouring air, causing it to expand, and that expanding air compresses neighbouring air, and you get this compression-expansion, compression-expansion, compression-expansion,” Mr. McDaniel said. “That’s an acoustic wave. The rubber’s moving, and as it moves, it is compressing air. And it compresses air at the same frequency of the vibrations.” New York Times News Service


Arjun here.From Kottakkal, Kerala,India. I am interested in anything that is interesting and writing comes among the top of that list. I read,I write,I live.

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