Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pollution fears over Delhi smog

By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Delhi

Smog in Delhi, 13 November 2008
People in Delhi can barely see the sun through the smog

For days the Indian capital, Delhi, has been shrouded in a blanket of smog that has put the city's dreaded pollution problems back in the news.

"Smoggy days are here again," read a front page headline in one paper. "Smog is back with a vengeance," said the Times of India.

Look out over the capital and you see trees and tower blocks starting to disappear into the lingering grey mist or haze.

It is as if Delhiites have been living through a perpetual fog, which the sun only penetrates in a weak and wintry way.

By the end of the day you can almost taste the pollution in the air. And all over the city people are snuffling and coughing, and blaming it on the smog.

There's a widespread sense that the city is losing ground in its anti-pollution battle.


Dr Sanjeev Bagai of Rockland Hospital said that there had been a 30% increase in the number of complaints from people with respiratory difficulties.

Chepuri Shri Krishna
Delhi resident Chepuri Shri Krishna says people are suffering

"It's too much, it's just getting unbearable," said Chepuri Shri Krishna, as he went about his business on KG Marg, one of city's major avenues.

"And you can see the consequences. A lot of people are suffering from asthma and breathing problems."

Much of the blame for the smog is laid on the ever growing torrent of traffic that streams through the city.

As India boomed economically in recent years hundreds of new cars were being registered in Delhi every day.

The government has made huge efforts to tackle the pollution problem.

Eight years ago all buses, taxis and rickshaws were switched over to ecologically friendly fuel - compressed natural gas.

And the government's Pollution Control Board claims to have made substantial progress. It says that carbon monoxide levels are down by 50%, and that the amount of sulphur monoxide in the air has been cut by nearly three-quarters.


The independent environmental watchdog, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), agrees that these figures are correct on average across the year.

But a CSE spokesman said that under certain climatic conditions in the winter months there can be a build-up of pollutants.

And he said that while overall levels of gasses like carbon monoxide had fallen, the amount of dust, petrol and diesel matter in the air had been on the rise for the past three years.

On windless, winter days this "particulate matter" can combine to cause serious problems.

The spokesman said that the authorities had to work to continually think of new ways to combat the pollution menace.

He said that improvements to public transport were very much needed.

And he also called for better methods of alerting people to air quality problems, enabling those with respiratory difficulties to steer clear of the worst affected parts of the city.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Indian probe touches down on Moon
Earth (ISRO)
Chandrayaan 1 sent back images of Earth earlier this month

India's first unmanned lunar spacecraft, Chandrayaan 1, has placed a probe on the surface of the Moon.

The probe, painted with the Indian flag, touched down at 2034 (1504 GMT), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said.

It will perform various experiments, including measuring the composition of the Moon's atmosphere.

The mission is regarded as a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace with other space-faring nations in Asia.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Delhi says the success of the mission has been hailed in India where many see it as another sign of the country's emergence as a global power.

Video journey

Earlier this week Chandrayaan 1 began orbiting the Moon some three weeks after it was launched from a space centre in southern India.

Infographic (BBC)
1 - Chandrayaan Energetic Neutral Analyzer (CENA)
2 - Moon Impact Probe (MIP)
3 - Radiation Dose Monitor (RADOM)
4 - Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC)
5 - Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3)
6 - Chandrayaan 1 X-ray Spectrometer (C1XS)
7 - Solar Panel

India sets its sights on the Moon
In Pictures: India Moon mission

The dropping of the Moon Impact Probe (MIP), weighing about 30kg, concludes the first phase of the mission.

"During its descent from Chandrayaan 1, an onboard video camera transmitted lunar pictures to the ISRO command centre," spokesman S Satish said, AFP news agency reports.

In the days to come, the probe will measure the composition of the Moon's ultra-tenuous atmosphere, or exosphere.

For the next two years, Chandrayaan 1 will map a three-dimensional atlas of the Moon and also check for the presence of water-ice with the help of instruments built by India and other countries including the US, Britain and Germany.

The chairman of India's space programme, Madhavan Nair, has described the mission as 95% successful so far and has announced a second lunar mission to be launched by 2012.

"We have now successfully put our national flag on the lunar surface," he told a news conference.

Mr Nair has also said India is considering sending a satellite to Mars.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Britain lifts India nuclear ban
India's Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, located 30km from Mumbai (Bombay)
India wants access to international civilian nuclear technology

The UK Government has announced the lifting of a ban on exporting sensitive nuclear technology to India.

Firms had up until last month been banned from supplying equipment and material on the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) "trigger list" to India.

But the government says that items intended for civilian nuclear projects can now be exported.

The NSG agreed in September to lift a ban that had denied India access to the international nuclear market.

Last month the US and India signed a civilian nuclear co-operation accord to end 34 years of US sanctions.

Shortly before that, France - the world's second largest producer of nuclear energy after the US - signed an agreement with India which paved the way for the sale of French nuclear reactors to Delhi.

Russia has also been lobbying the Indian government hard on behalf of its firms.

'Explosive activities'

The change in the British government's position follows the NSG statement in September.

Site of 1974 crater in the Thar desert area, southwest of Delhi
India has 14 reactors in commercial operation and nine under construction
Nuclear power supplies about 3% of India's electricity
By 2050, nuclear power is expected to provide 25% of the country's electricity
India has limited coal and uranium reserves
Its huge thorium reserves - about 25% of the world's total - are expected to fuel its nuclear power programme long-term
Source: Uranium Information Center

A win-win situation for India
Indian firms eye nuclear business

Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell told parliament in a written statement: "Since March 2002 UK policy has been to refuse all licence applications for Trigger List items to India.

"That policy has now changed and we will now consider on a case by case basis licence applications for peaceful use of all items... destined for International Atomic Energy Agency safeguarded civil nuclear facilities in India."

He said that the ban would remain in force on items destined for "unsafeguarded nuclear fuel cycle or nuclear explosive activities" or where there is an "unacceptable risk" the material might be diverted to those activities.

"We will continue to encourage contacts between UK nuclear scientists, academics and those working in or with the UK nuclear industry with their Indian counterparts, except where we consider that such contacts might be of assistance to the weapons-related aspects of its nuclear programme," Mr Rammell said.

"Where such contacts involve the transfer of technology which require export licences we will continue to consider applications for such licences on a cases-by-case basis, in accordance with the provisions of UK export control legislation."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Indian satellite orbiting Moon

Moon paths
Lunar capture (LC) has been achieved; now for a closer orbit

India is celebrating the arrival of its Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft at the Moon.

An 817-second burn from the probe's engine on Saturday slowed Chandrayaan sufficiently for it to be captured by the lunar body's gravity.

The craft is now in an 11-hour polar ellipse that goes out to 7,502km from the Moon and comes as close as 504km.

Further brakings will bring the Indian satellite down to a near-circular, 100km orbit from where it can begin its two-year mapping mission.

Launched on 22 October, Chandrayaan is India's first satellite to break away from the Earth's gravitational field and reach the lunar body.

Infographic (BBC)
1 - Chandrayaan Energetic Neutral Analyzer (CENA)
2 - Moon Impact Probe (MIP)
3 - Radiation Dose Monitor (RADOM)
4 - Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC)
5 - Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3)
6 - Chandrayaan 1 X-ray Spectrometer (C1XS)
7 - Solar Panel

The mission will compile a 3D atlas of the lunar surface and map the distribution of elements and minerals.

Powered by a single solar panel generating about 700 Watts, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) probe carries five Indian-built instruments and six constructed in other countries, including the US, Britain and Germany.

The Indian experiments include a 30kg probe that will be released from the mothership to slam into the lunar surface.

The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) will record video footage on the way down and measure the composition of the Moon's tenuous atmosphere.

It will also drop the Indian flag on the surface of the Moon.

Ana Pana & Vipassana - Quicktime Movie

Film Clip Describing What Vipassana Is in Context of a 10-day Course

India Marxists 'guilty of murder'
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Tapasi Mallick
Tapasi Mallick's body was found in a paddy field

A court in the Indian state of West Bengal has found two Communist leaders guilty of murdering a woman who opposed a Tata car plant near Calcutta.

Suhrid Dutta and Debu Mallick of the state's governing party were convicted of murdering Tapasi Mallick in 2006.

The two men were also found guilty of tampering with evidence. Sentencing is due on Wednesday and their lawyers say they will appeal against the verdict.

Months of protests over the factory led to Tata moving production elsewhere.

Land row

Eighteen-year-old Tapasi Mallick's charred body was recovered from a paddy field in Singur on 18 December 2006.

She was in the forefront of peasant protests against the acquisition of farmland to be used for the Tata Motors car factory at Singur.

Mallick's murder case was handed over to India's federal police, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), after an outcry.

Suhrid Dutta, chief of the state's ruling CPI(M) party at Singur, was arrested along with another party leader Debu Mallick, in July last year.

Lawyers say Dutta and Mallick could face the death sentence or at least life imprisonment for their crimes.

Tata, one of India's leading industrial groups, had planned to make what it said would be the world's cheapest car, the Nano, at the Singur factory.

After weeks of sustained and sometimes violent protests, Tata scrapped the venture last month and announced that it would shift production of the Nano to the western state of Gujarat.

The Communists have ruled West Bengal for 30 years and are desperately trying to attract investment to shore up the state's ailing economy.

But many projects face opposition from farmers who are unwilling to part with their farmland for industries.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Outsourcing the law to India

By Chris Morris
BBC News, Delhi

Lawyers working outdoors in India
Traditional legal work may no longer be attracting the brightest and the best

When you think of out-sourcing to India, you tend to think of call centres and credit card help-lines and rows and rows of young people at computer terminals, carrying out the back office work of banks and financial institutions.

But the outsourcing industry is changing. It's becoming more sophisticated and is attracting more people with the very best educational qualifications, including those in the legal profession.

"In my final year of law school I made up my mind," says Divya Kohli, manager of legal support services at CPA India, one of the biggest legal out-sourcing companies in the country.

"I wanted to go into a new industry which had a lot of opportunities for a young lawyer."

'Recession benefits'

Tens of thousands of lawyers graduate in India every year and an increasing number are now taking on work from around the world, as companies look to cut costs wherever they can.

"Yes, we expect to benefit from the recession," says Matthew Banks who works in Mumbai for Integreon, a company engaged by the British legal firm Clifford Chance to help set up facilities in India.

Inder Dugal, CPA
Companies abroad are looking at (out-sourcing) as an extension of their organisation
CPA Vice President of Operations Inder Dugal

Mr Banks says more and more legal work will be pushed in India's direction as bad economic news in Europe and the United States begins to bite. Legal work can be done here for a fraction of the cost.

"But," he adds, "no matter how much money (companies) may be saving, even if they're going to save 50%, it's going to be a false economy if the work isn't up to scratch."

So quality is critical and the interest of global companies and legal firms suggests that - most of the time - the quality is first class.

That's partly because out-sourcing companies offer young Indian law graduates more money than they could earn working for a traditional law firm.

Even so, at the law campus of Delhi University students are split on whether it's a good career move.

"They pay you well," says one, "but the work is quite monotonous."

"I think it's going to take off very well in India," says another. "We're pretty good at providing services."

'Moving fast'

The head of the law faculty, Professor SN Singh, points out that the Indian legal system has plenty in common with the English and American systems, and that is another built-in advantage for India.

Is this a growth area in the future?

Law students at delhi University
Students say outsourcing may be boring, but it's lucrative

"Definitely," he says. "It's moving fast."

Across the Yamuna river from Delhi, in one of the satellite cities growing up around the Indian capital, the offices of CPA India can be found in a half-built commercial neighbourhood of glass and concrete.

It's a long way from the chaotic scenes often found at municipal court complexes, where lawyers sit under awnings hawking for business.

This is where a new generation of young lawyers are integrating with the global economy - working on intellectual property, contracts and even litigation cases.

And all the work they do is carefully costed in advance, with huge savings for companies in more expensive markets.

"Those kinds of efficiencies we have down to a science," says Inder Dugal, the Vice President of Operations at CPA.

"They (companies abroad) are looking at it as an extension of their organisation," he says. "It's a partnership and a long term strategy, not a short term 'help me reduce my costs right now' strategy."

And all this is happening in a country where tens of millions of legal cases are pending before the courts. India's creaking legal system probably needs all the lawyers it can get.

But outsourcing is attracting growing numbers to tackle legal issues from way beyond these shores.

During his presidential election campaign in the United States, Barack Obama warned of the dangers of out-sourcing jobs to countries like India.

So the former law professor may not be too pleased to find out that the legal community is far from immune to the outsourcing phenomenon.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

JERUSALEM — Israeli police rushed into one of Christianity's holiest churches Sunday and arrested two clergymen after an argument between monks erupted into a brawl next to the site of Jesus' tomb.

The clash broke out between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

It began as Armenian clergymen marched in an annual procession commemorating the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus. It ended with the arrival of dozens of riot policemen who separated the sides, seizing a bearded Armenian monk in a red-and-pink robe and a black-clad Greek Orthodox monk with a bloody gash on his forehead. Both men were taken away in handcuffs.

Six Christian sects divide control of the ancient church. They regularly fight over turf and influence, and Israeli police are occasionally forced to intervene.

The feud revolves around a demand by the Greek Orthodox to post a monk inside the Edicule — the ancient structure built on what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus — during the Armenian procession. The Armenians refused, and when they tried to march the Greek Orthodox monks blocked their way.

"We were keeping resistance so that the procession could not pass through ... and establish a right that they don't have," said a young Greek Orthodox monk with a cut next to his left eye. The monk, who gave his name as Serafim, said he sustained the wound when an Armenian punched him from behind and broke his glasses.

Father Pakrat of the Armenian Patriarchate said the Greek demand was "against the status quo arrangement and against the internal arrangement of the Holy Sepulcher." He said the Greeks attacked first.

Archbishop Aristarchos, the chief secretary of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, said his monks had not initiated the violence. "I'm sorry that these events happened in front of the Holy Sepulcher, which is the most holy religious monument of Christianity," he said.

After the brawl, the church was crowded with Israeli police holding assault rifles and equipped with riot gear, standing beside Golgotha, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, and the long smooth stone marking the place where tradition holds his body was laid out.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were forced to intervene after fighting was reported. They arrested two monks, one from each side, he said.

The feud is only one of a bewildering array of rivalries among churchmen in the Holy Sepulcher.

The Israeli government has long wanted to build a fire exit in the church, which regularly fills with thousands of pilgrims and has only one main door, but the plan is on hold because the sects cannot agree where the exit will be built. In another example, a ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down. More recently, a spat between Ethiopian and Coptic Christians is delaying badly needed renovations to a rooftop monastery that engineers say could collapse.