Friday, October 03, 2008

Tata abandons cheapest car plant
Protests outside the Nano plant
Work at the West Bengal plant was suspended in August

Indian firm Tata Motors has abandoned plans to build the world's cheapest car in the eastern state of West Bengal.

Tata group chief Ratan Tata said: "We have little choice but to move out of Bengal. We cannot run a factory with police around all the time."

He was speaking in the city of Calcutta after weeks of protests in a row over land acquired from local farmers.

The car, the Nano, is expected to cost about 100,000 rupees ($2,130). It was due to be launched in October.

Work at Tata's plant at Singur in West Bengal has been suspended since the end of August following protests.

Nano car

Exclusive look at the Tata Nano

Mr Tata said the company had not yet decided where to move production to.

"We have got offers from several Indian states but we have not yet finalised where to produce the Nano," he told journalists.

"We faced considerable aggression in setting up the factory. I had hoped the opposition will see reason and allow us enough land... But that has not happened."

He said his group would still consider West Bengal as an investment destination in future.

"I value the considerable intellectual resources this state has, but something will have to change here," he said.

Mr Tata was speaking after meeting the West Bengal chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya and his colleagues.

"This is a black day for Bengal. We will have so much more difficulty getting investments now," said the state's industry minister, Nirupam Sen.

Woman’s Paper Skin a Walking Notepad

For this Chinese woman who suffers from a condition called artificial urticaria, her skin has served as a notebook for all the years of her life.

This strange medical anomaly has no ill effects, but most agree that it is very weird.

artificial-urticaria Womans Paper Skin a Walking Notepad picture

Huang Xiangji is a 50-year-old woman from Chengdu who uses her skin like writing paper.

Huang claims that when she writes a word on her skin by using her fingernail, the letters protrude from her skin a moment later.

“I used my body as a notebook for years,” says Huang.

Even as a child, she was able to do this and she would often create shopping lists on her arm before going out to the stores. (That’s one list you can’t misplace!)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Strike brings Bollywood to a halt
Bollywood technician
Some workers have not been paid for months, unions say

All work in India's film and television hub of Bollywood has stopped after thousands of technicians and actors began a strike over pay and conditions.

Unions representing film employees in Mumbai (Bombay) say many members have not been paid for months and are threatening to strike indefinitely.

Meanwhile, film producers have told the BBC they will meet to decide their response on Thursday.

They say that they are prepared to weather a long dispute if necessary.

'No compromise'

"Employees sometimes work for as long as 30 hours at a stretch. There have been serious health issues and even accidents. We have been writing to producers but it got us nowhere," said Dinesh Chaturvedi of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees.

He said that workers' patience had reached "saturation point" because wages had not been paid for months and contracts were not being honoured.

Mr Chaturvedi - whose federation of 22 unions represents 147,000 members - said that in some cases wages had been withheld for up to six months, leaving workers on the verge of starvation.

Bollywood actor Salman Khan
The new film industry has suddenly gone quiet

Mr Chaturvedi says the Senior Artists Association is also part of his federation and are part of the non co-operation, although it is not clear if any major stars are taking part in the strike.

Daily wage workers, comprising lighting technicians and camera crew, insist that they are not ready to compromise until their demands are satisfied.

Premsingh Thakur, who heads a union mostly made up of lighting technicians, said that about 35,000 of his members had not reported for work on Wednesday.

"We do not want any bonus. We just want the wages which were decided by producers. Until this matter is solved we will not start work," he said.

The BBC's Prachi Pinglay in Mumbai says that television productions on tight schedules like reality shows are the most affected by the dispute and several shooting schedules for daily shows have been cancelled.

Those on strike range from from dancing girls to carpenters, lighting technicians to cameramen, and soundmen to script writers.

Farhan Khan, who works on the production team of a reality show, told the BBC: "All shooting has come to a complete halt. We are losing money and we just have to wait till it is resolved."

But Sushma Shiromanee of the Indian Motion Picture Producers' Association said employers were prepared to hold out for months if need be.

"There is no shooting at all today, but there is no panic here. The biggest problem is with the TV producers," she told the BBC.

"This is not only harming producers, but daily wage workers, too, who aren't earning anything because of it... They should have sat down with us to talk about this. We can wait for six months if necessary.

Indian ban on smoking in public
By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Passive smoking in India
Passive smoking kills hundreds of thousands every year in India

A ban on smoking tobacco in public has come into force in India.

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss says he aims to cut the number of smokers and to protect passive smokers from the harmful effects of tobacco.

The government says India has more than 120 million cigarette smokers. Observers say the ban will need to be strictly enforced.

Those flouting it face fines of 200 rupees ($4.50). Tobacco smoking in India kills 900,000 people a year.

That figure is expected to rise to a million by 2010.

In pictures

India's health ministry says hundreds of thousands of people who have never smoked die each year by inhaling smoke from other people's cigarettes and bidis (small hand-rolled cigarettes common in India).

"From 2 October India is going to go smoke-free in all public places," Mr Ramadoss said.

"The aim is to discourage the smokers, to make them quit or reduce smoking. Also all non-smoking employees have a right to a 100% smoke-free atmosphere.

"The perils of passive smoking are equally bad."

'Teething problems'

Health experts say passive smoking contains more than 4,000 chemicals and exposure can cause lung cancer, heart disease, bronchitis and asthma.

Cigarettes on sale in India
Auditoriums, cinema halls
Hospitals, health institutions
Railway stations, bus shelters
Restaurants, hotels, bars, pubs
Offices, libraries, courts
Markets, shopping malls
Discotheques, coffee houses
Schools, colleges, fun parks

Can the ban work?

In the capital, Delhi, no-smoking notices have been posted at many office buildings, restaurants and hotels.

The government has provided an exhaustive list of what it deems to be public spaces as well as officials who have the authority to fine law-breakers.

People will still be able to smoke inside their homes, and in open areas.

The health minister says he has written to all state governments asking them to ensure the ban is observed.

Legislation to outlaw smoking in public in India was first passed in 2003.

A ban was supposed to have taken effect in 2004, but it has taken four more years to work out guidelines before it could be implemented.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Threats against Indian protest song

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Tura, Meghalaya


Black Friday tribute song

Three years ago the streets of the quiet and sleepy north-east Indian towns of Tura and Williamnagar reverberated to the sound of rifle fire as police shot dead nine protesters.

They were the single largest acts of violence in the towns since independence from the British. Friday 30 September 2005 became known locally as "Black Friday".

On the third anniversary of the shootings a different sound is being heard through the streets.

It is the sound of the song "Black Friday" by a well-known local rock group, Northwind. The song has rapidly acquired cult following in the western part of Meghalaya since it was written in honour of those who died.

Extremely unpopular

But not everyone is a fan of this particular rock anthem. The band's manager, Dipu Marak, says that he has received anonymous warnings by text message not to distribute the song for broadcast on local radio or TV in the days immediately preceding and succeeding the anniversary.

"The events of that day will forever remain etched in our memories," said Mr Marak.

The band has a cult following in the north-east of India

The students were protesting against the decision of the state government to transfer the education board from Tura to the state capital, Shillong.

Such a move was extremely unpopular in the west of Meghalaya because the area is predominantly made up of members of the Garo tribe - whereas the east of the state including Shillong is mostly inhabited by members of the Khasi tribe.

Protesters complained that the transfer meant that the west of Meghalaya was left with no government departments - all had been transferred to the east.

"I attended the demonstration that was held in a sports stadium Tura. There was a large, confused and angry crowd which the police were poorly trained to deal with," Mr Marak says.

"They panicked and opened fire without much provocation," he says, pointing to bullet marks that can still be seen in and around the stadium.

Bullet holes at the main stadium in Tura
Bullet holes from the shootings can still be seen in Tura

"Some students were shot in the back as they ran away. It was like the killing fields."

A similar protest was held in nearby Williamnagar, 75km from Tura (47 miles) with a similar police reaction. In addition to those killed, 160 students were injured in both towns.

Mr Marak says that it is not clear who has been sending the anonymous threats over the broadcast of the song, "Black Friday".

The police say they had no option but to open fire when students attacked them. At the time of the shootings, the Deputy Inspector General of the Garo Hills range, Vijay Kumar, told the BBC from Tura that the Garo Students Union (GSU) was not given permission to hold a rally.

Despite that, he said, hundreds of people gathered in Tura and threw stones at police - injuring several officers - before the order to fire was given.

The police version of events is strongly contested by the protesters who say that police did initially give permission for the demonstration but then revoked it without letting them know.

'Painful screams'

"I don't suppose we will ever know," Mr Marak says. "But one thing is certain, the police were and are very embarrassed about what happened on that fateful day. It's clear they totally over-reacted and have the blood of innocent protesters on their hands."

The band are idolised in Meghalaya

Northwind's vocalist Reynold M Sangma says memories of the violence remain vivid despite the passing of the years.

"The sound of gunfire and the painful screams still echo in my ears till today. It will haunt me until the end of my life," he said.

Rhythm guitarist Tete S Momin feels equally passionate about the events leading up to and after the shootings.

"What pains the people most now is the denial of justice... police and government officials responsible for the massacre have never been brought to justice," he said.

Bass guitarist Jeetu N Marak says that the "Black Friday" is a tribute to "the fallen heroes of our tribe, who died defending and fighting for our rights".

The song was written during the curfew which was imposed for more than a month after the violence and was first aired publicly on the first anniversary of the killings.

"The people loved the song and thanked us for reflecting the tragic incidents of that day. However, we received threatening and abusive text messages from unknown senders, warning us not to play the song ever again," Mr Marak said.


"But we will not be intimidated and will play the song again on 30th September 2008, no matter what happens. As long as we are supported by the people, we will not be afraid of anyone."

The use of music in a state like Meghalaya is bound to be powerful tool of protest.

It is renowned for its love of rock and roll, reggae, blues, country and rock.

Observers believe the state got its love of melody because of its strong Christian missionary movement and consequent natural affinity to western cultural mores.

Now they have embraced another Western popular tradition - protest singing - and the trend seems to be catching on.

See Video:

168 killed in stampede at Hindu temple in India

Sep 30, 6:37 AM (ET)

(AP) Volunteers carry a stampede victim in Jodhpur, India, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008. At least 80 people...
Full Image

JODHPUR, India (AP) - At least 168 people were killed and 100 injured when thousands of pilgrims stampeded Tuesday at a Hindu temple in the historic town of Jodhpur in western India, officials said.

Severe overcrowding apparently caused the crush as more than 12,000 people gathered at the temple to celebrate a Hindu festival, Jodhpur Police Superintendent Malini Agarwal said.

At least 168 people were killed in the stampede, said Naresh Pal Gangwar, the district collector.

The stampede apparently began as false rumors of a bomb spread among the crowd, said Ramesh Vyas, a pilgrim who was standing in line. India has been hit by a spate of recent bomb attacks, the latest on Monday night in the western city of Malegaon.

(AP) People attend to stampede victims at a temple in Jodhpur, India, Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008. At least...
Full Image
Television footage from Jodhpur showed dozens of bodies lying on the sidewalk, while nearby frantic people tried to revive unconscious devotees, slapping their faces and pressing on their chests.

Others dragged people by their arms and legs, running down a ramp that leads to the temple inside the massive 15th century Mehrangarh fort that overlooks the town.

One child sat on the ground next to the body of a woman, rubbing her forehead and crying "mother, mother."

"Several people fell down as the floor became slippery with thousands of devotees breaking coconuts for offering at the temple," said Ramesh Vyas, a witness.

The injured have been admitted to half a dozen hospitals in Jodhpur.

Thousands had gathered at the temple at dawn Tuesday to mark the first day of Navratra, a nine-day Hindu festival to honor the Mother Goddess.

Jodhpur is some 180 miles (290 kilometers) southwest of the Rajasthan state capital of Jaipur.

The Mehrangarh fort is one of the town's biggest tourist attractions with its huge walls, ornate interiors and views overlooking Jodhpur's "blue city."

Deadly stampedes are a relatively common occurrence at temples in India, where large crowds - sometimes hundreds of thousands of people - congregate in small areas lacking facilities to control big gatherings.

In August, 145 people were killed when rumors of an avalanche sparked a stampede at a hilltop temple in northern India.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sri Lanka troops 'near victory'

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Colombo

Sri Lankan soldier
Civilians have fled as government troops have attacked the Tamil Tigers

Sri Lanka's powerful Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said the government is on the verge of victory in the war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

"In all fronts we are very superior, on the ground, the sea and air," said Mr Rajapaksa in an interview with the BBC.

"Our numbers are very much greater than theirs, our firepower is much greater. We are very confident we can win and we want to finish this very soon."

About 70,000 people have been killed in one of South Asia's longest wars.

After a ceasefire fighting resumed in earnest in mid-2006 and Sri Lanka's military ejected the Tigers from the East.

Attention then turned to territory controlled in the north by the rebels, who want a separate state for the ethnic Tamil minority.


In recent months troops have advanced rapidly, and Mr Rajapaksa, who is the brother of Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said they are now 4.5km (2.8 miles) from the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi.

The Tigers administer areas under their control from the town.

The government bars most journalists from areas where the fighting is taking place and the military's accounts cannot be independently verified.

Civilians have fled their homes ahead of the military's advance, moving further into the diminishing area still held by the Tigers.

Aid agencies estimate 200,000-230,000 displaced people are in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.

'Indirect fire'

Earlier this month humanitarian workers from the United Nations and other aid agencies left Kilinochchi.

The government ordered them out saying their safety could not be guaranteed.

"Now we are very close to Kilinochchi and we don't want these organisations to get unnecessarily involved in the crossfire, to get hurt with indirect fire," the defence secretary said.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa  (left) and his brother President Rajapaksa
The Rajapaksa brothers think the war is going their way

Mr Rajapaksa also defended tight security in Colombo saying it was intended to curb bombings which have been blamed on the Tigers.

Tamils have complained of harassment, frequent searches and arbitrary detention.

All those who had arrived in the city and surrounding towns in the last five years from the five war torn northern districts, overwhelmingly Tamils, were ordered to register with the police last weekend.

"There is a threat. We have to take precautions to safeguard the innocent people of this country," Mr Rajapaksa said.

"We know all Tamil people are not terrorists, that is true, but almost all terrorists are Tamil, 98 percent of the terrorists are Tamil.

"When you do operations of course, the Tamil community will get targeted. But this is not because the government and the security forces want to harass Tamils. It is because of the Tamil Tigers that this is happening."

US bans key Indian drug imports

Chief executive officer of Ranbaxy Malvinder Mohan Singh
Ranbaxy's boss recently sold a chunk of the company to a Japanese rival

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it has banned the import of more than 30 generic drugs made by Indian drug firm Ranbaxy.

The FDA said the decision was made after it found manufacturing quality problems at two of Ranbaxy's factories in India.

The import ban affects some popular generic versions of antibiotics and cholesterol medicines.

Ranbaxy says it is "disappointed" with the decision of US drug authorities.

The FDA said the move would not create any shortages of drugs in the United States, which could be obtained from other sources.

In July, US prosecutors had alleged that Ranbaxy, India's largest pharmaceutical company, deliberately lied about the quality of its low-cost drugs, including those for HIV.

The US Department of Justice wanted the firm to hand over key documents relating to drug testing procedures.


Ranbaxy said it was "very disappointed" with the FDA action.

"The company has responded to each concern FDA has raised during the past two years and had thought progress was being made," the firm said in a statement issued on Wednesday.

The firm was paid millions of dollars by the US government to provide low-cost HIV drugs for President Bush's emergency plan for AIDS relief, which was set up to help AIDS patients in 120 countries around the globe.

Defending the reliability of its drugs, Ranbaxy had said the US Food and Drugs Administration had tested over 200 random samples of its products and found them "complying with all the specifications".

In June the Japanese pharmaceutical company Daiichi Sankyo agreed to pay more than $4bn (£2bn) for a controlling stake in the firm.

The US government has been investigating Ranbaxy since February 2006 when the FDA issued a warning letter over what it said were manufacturing violations found at a Ranbaxy factory in India.

Since then Ranbaxy has been trying to resolve the issue with US regulators.

Last year, US officials seized documents from Ranbaxy's US headquarters in New Jersey.

In July, Justice Department prosecutors alleged that the company had systematically lied about the makeup of its generic drugs, which include a cheaper version of US drug maker Merck's cholesterol pill Zocor.

Ranbaxy has denied any wrongdoing, saying the allegations were baseless.

The FDA will only approve cheaper generic drugs if they can be shown to be equivalent to the original drug.

US investigators had also alleged that Ranbaxy has used unapproved ingredients in its drugs.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

India police arrest 'militants'

Mumbai police with three of the arrested 'militants'
Police say all the arrested men are in their 30s

Indian police say they have arrested the leader of an Islamic militant group which has claimed responsibility for recent bomb blasts in two cities.

Mohammed Arif Sheikh, described as the founder of the Indian Mujahideen (IM), was arrested along with four others, police in Mumbai (Bombay) said.

Explosives, ammunition and detonators were also seized. Police said the group was planning attacks in Mumbai.

Nearly 70 people died in bombings in Ahmedabad in July and Delhi this month.


"A threat mail received at the time of the Delhi blasts had a warning about Mumbai," city police chief Hassan Gafoor told a press conference on Wednesday.

"The arrests and the seizure of explosive substances prove that a conspiracy to terrorise Mumbai was being hatched," he said.

13 September: Five bomb blasts kill 18 in Delhi
26 July: At least 22 small bombs kill 49 in Ahmedabad
25 July: Seven bombs go off in Bangalore killing two people
13 May: Seven bomb hit markets and crowded streets in Jaipur killing 63

Besides Sheikh, Mr Gafoor identified the arrested men as Afzal Usmani, Mohammed Sadiq Sheikh, Mohammed Afzal Sheikh and Sheikh Mohammed Ansar.

All five men are in their 30s and they have "received training in a hostile country", Mr Gafoor said in an obvious reference to Pakistan.

Several Indian cities, including Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Bangalore, have been hit by a spate of bombings this year.

At least 20 people died in Delhi when five bombs exploded in the city's busy shopping areas on 13 September.

Nearly 50 people were killed in blasts in Ahmedabad in July.

Last week, India announced plans to upgrade its intelligence gathering ability.

The government has been accused of failing to track down shadowy groups that set off bombs in Indian cities.

Since late 2005, more than 400 people have died in bombings in Indian cities.