Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More ruckus in Kerala assembly over Suryanelli

The infamous Suryanelli sex case was the matter of much contention and heated debate in the Kerala assembly Wednesday, with the government and the Left opposition sticking to their respective stances, and refusing to budge.

Leader of opposition V.S. Achuthanandan made a submission, saying that in the wake of the latest ordinance signed by the president last week, holding that the victim's statement must get utmost importance, the Suryanelli victim too must be heeded: the woman had claimed that among those who exploited her was P.J. Kurien, currently deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha.

Achuthanandan said that in the wake of the repeated assertions from the victim in this regard, the state government should order a fresh probe into the crime.

"You recently reopened investigations in two cases that were closed in the past (Anchery Baby murder case and K.T. Jayakrishnan murder case). Similarly, in the wake of the latest change of testimony by a few people who then had spoken for Kurien, and also considering that the victim has stood by her earlier statement, a fresh probe should be ordered," Achuthanandan said.

State Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan said the state government has sought legal advice in this matter. Once that advice is known, the government would consider what course of action to take, he said.

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy reiterated that all teams probing the case had cleared Kurien.

"We can only go as per the laws. It is cruel to haunt a person who has been cleared by the courts," Chandy said.

Meanwhile, the case has become the talking point in the state, and there are people rallying to the support of the victim.

A group of women activists of the Janadhiyapathiya Mahila Association, led by top CPI-M women leaders, staged a protest outside the assembly demanding Kurien's arrest.

Some protestors tried to barge into the assembly, but were stopped by police, and some of them got roughed up in the melee.

"Our activists were roughed up and dragged onto the streets, then taken into custody by the police. This was brutal treatment of peaceful protestors, and we will now stay put at this spot in front of the assembly building until our fellow-activists are released," former minister and central committee member of the CPI-M P.K. Sreemathi said.

The women activists detained by police were released later after a case was registered.

Kerala State Human Rights Commission chairman J.B. Koshy, who has served as chief justice of Bihar, said: "This is a case that has already been cleared by the courts, we have no rules to follow in a case like this. And I have not been reading the news on this issue; there is nothing but politics in it."
The case relates to the confinement and rape of a 16-year-old girl for a period of 45 days by 42 men in 1996. In 2005, the Kerala High Court acquitted 35 accused, and convicted one man for crimes related to sex trade. Last month, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial of the case in the Kerala High Court.

Amid Metro fervour, KSRTC demands its share of cash pie

Kerala government’s reluctance to bail out financially troubled Kerala State Transport Corporation (KSRTC) contrasts sharply with the government’s enthusiasm to support Kochi Metro Rail project, which raises the possibility of government building up substantial liabilities in the future.
The state government, which hesitated to approve a spending of Rs. 28 crore over two months for meeting KSRTC’s additional diesel bills, will initially dish out more than Rs. 2,000 crore for the Kochi Metro Rail project, which is estimated to cost a total of Rs. 5,100 crore.
KSRTC has a monthly liability of about Rs. 90 crore currently and an outstanding debt of Rs. 1,200 crore, payable to Kerala Transport Development Financial Corporation.
These figures pale in comparison with the State government’s projected financial liability in running the metro rail although property development along the Metro route and advertisement revenue will meet about 15 per cent of the operational expenses.
KSRTC Employees’ Association (CITU) general secretary Jose Jacob has attributed government’s apathy to KSRTC as presaging the slow death of the corporation and gradual domination of the road transport sector by private bus operators.
The government’s willingness to spend money on the metro system too does not rhyme with the number of people benefitted by the service.
For example, the proposed 25-km Kochi Metro Rail system between Aluva and Pettah near Thripunithura is projected to carry 4.68 lakh people daily in 2015. In contrast, the state road transport corporation, plying its buses in more than 5,000 schedules on an average of 15 lakh km a day, carries about 40 lakh people daily.
Consumer welfare activist Dejo Kappen of Centre for Consumer Education says that the government may be trying to go one up on the neighbouring states by showing that Kochi too has a metro. It may not solve the traffic problems in Kochi, he said as he felt that government should have shown the keenness in grabbing the Shabari rail project and in saving the transport corporation.
He warned if KSRTC shuts down totally, it will pave the way for the domination of the road transport sector by private players, who would dictate terms.
The spread of the metro rail system does not compare with KSRTC services network though it poses the possibility of rapid mass movement of people through savings in transit time. The metro system, according to studies, can carry as much as what is carried by five-lane traffic in a city. Reduced noise pollution and reducing travel time between 50 and 75 per cent are great advantages. The metro system can also take care of the travel demand in a city like Kochi for about 25 years, studies have pointed out.
Though the cost of travel may show a big gap between the metro system and KSRTC, the minimum fares compare well. Travelling a km by the metro system will cost Rs.10 for a distance up to two km whereas the cost of travelling in a KSRTC bus ranges between Rs. 0.60 and 0.68 a km depending upon the type of bus one travels in. The minimum fares for a bus travel now is Rs. 6 whereas in the metro system it will be at least Rs. 10.

BlackBerry eyes future beyond smartphones: CEO

TORONTO: Barely a week after the launch of an all-new, make-or-break smartphone,BlackBerry is already looking at a future in which it is a leader in "mobile computing," Chief Executive Thorsten Heins says. 

He says BlackBerry's aim is to reclaim its spot as an innovator in world where smartphones will have the processing power to replace tablets and laptops. 

The company, which changed its name fromResearch In Motion when it launched the BlackBerry 10 smartphone last week, pioneered on-the-go email before losing ground to nimbler competitors. It's now out to explore new territory. 

"This isn't just about smartphones and tablets," Heins, who took over as CEO just over a year ago, said in an interview at the time of the BlackBerry 10 launch. 

"The architecture we have built is true mobile computing architecture. It's not a downgraded PC operating system. It is a whole new innovation built from scratch. It's built for mobile." 

Despite a number of glowing reviews for the BB10 and reports of strong initial sales, some analysts and technology pundits are skeptical about BlackBerry's chances of mounting a comeback, doubting its ability to sell either enough smartphones or manage to transform the way people work. 

"The Street cares about how many units of these (devices) they're going to sell and that is the balancing act," said John Jackson, an industry analyst at consulting firm IDC. 

Jackson said he can see a future in which the BB10's new operating system will allow users to control a vast array of devices, but added: "They need to sell devices to keep the lights on while they transform themselves into a next-generation computing platform." 

BlackBerry's marketing head, Frank Boulben, said the company is moving quickly enough to do just that. 

"The vision is going to start to materialize this year," he said. "You will be able to plug the (Z10) device into a docking station at the office and then all you need is a keyboard, a mouse and a screen - combined with cloud services this would mean you don't need a laptop or a desktop." 

BlackBerry last week unveiled two versions of the BB10 smartphone, a touchscreen model dubbedZ10 and one with a physical keyboard called the Q10, betting they will help it win back some of the market share it has bled to the likes of Apple and Samsung Electronics. 

It's about the platform
Heins spent the first 20 minutes of the BB10 launch event talking about BlackBerry's new platform rather than about the new smartphone models themselves. 

"Over the short term, yes, we have to be successful with the devices, we have got to win back the enterprises, we've got win back consumers," he said. "But in the longer term, we have to understand where this company is going." 

Initial checks from analysts point to strong sales for the Z10 in its early launch countries of Canada and Britain. The Q10 device will not be on sale until April. 

"We spoke to a range of UK vendors over the weekend who indicated BlackBerry's Z10 sales were strong," Barclays analyst Jeff Kvaal said in a note. "Some store locations were completely sold out of the Z10 device, while others had limited stock." 

Two of Canada's largest wireless carriers, Rogers and Bell, say demand for the new devices is strong. Rogers said pre-orders for the Z10 device are already in the thousands, while Bell said customer pre-registration numbers for the new smartphone are unprecedented for a new BlackBerry device. 

Analyst upgrades, coupled with the Z10 sales reports, have sparked a surge in BlackBerry's shares this week. The stock is up more than 24 per cent from Friday's close of $13.03 on the Nasdaq. 

The stock, which remains some 90 per cent below its 2008 peak, fell more than 20 per cent in the two days following the BlackBerry launch, partly on disappointment that the new devices will not hit the crucial $ market until next month. 

All options open
At the launch, BlackBerry did not address its so far unsuccessful foray into the tablet market, but Heins said the company remains committed to this segment. 

"I'm not getting out of the tablet business, I've asked my teams to build another one, but I need to make money from it. If the hardware doesn't provide the margins I need, then it makes no sense in doing it," he said. 

BlackBerry's PlayBook tablets debuted in 2011, but never gained traction against Apple's iPad and other devices. The company was forced to write down the value of the devices and it has since sold them at sharply reduced prices. 

Heins said BlackBerry will remain focused on expanding its business in mobile computing over the next two to four years. 

BlackBerry's QNX operating system, which forms the basis of its new BlackBerry 10 OS, already powers cars, nuclear reactors and manufacturing plants, and Heins said this opens new vistas for the company, although he gave no clear description of what they are. 

"What we need to decide is where do we play? It could be a software play, a licensing play, an end-to-end horizontal play, we'll figure that out," he said. "In five years, yes we might still be in hardware, but we may not be in hardware ... I'm not ruling anything out." 

"Mobile computing is not going to be decided in the next quarter ... We have got to figure out as an industry how we get there. All I know is that I want us to be a leader there."

Kerala plans 25,000-rooftop solar units programme

Unlike the 10,000-rooftop programme, which is to be formally launched on February 11, the 25,000 plants project will be grid-connected.Unlike the 10,000-rooftop programme, which is to be formally launched on February 11, the 25,000 plants project will be grid-connected.

Even as it is getting ready to formally launch its ‘10,000 rooftop’ programme, Kerala is working on the next step—another programme to facilitate an additional 25,000 rooftop solar plants in the State.
But unlike the 10,000-rooftop programme, which is to be formally launched on February 11, the next one will be grid-connected.
This was disclosed by the Director of the Agency For Non-conventional Energy and Rural Technology (ANERT), M. Jayaraju. ANERT is Kerala’s nodal body for driving renewable energy.
The regulations for the grid-tie 25,000 rooftop programme are being evolved by the Kerala State Electricity Board and will have to be approved by the state electricity regulatory commission. Jayaraju expressed confidence that the programme would be brought in before 2014.
The State Government is also working on the subsidy to those who put up rooftop solar plants. In the current ’10,000 rooftop’ programme, the State gives a subsidy of Rs 39,000 for a one kW system, over and above the subsidy given by the Ministry of New and Renewable Sources, Government of India. (Incidentally, this programme is for 1 kW per household—no subsidy will be given for any capacity beyond 1 kW.)
For the current programme, ANERT has empanelled 15 companies. Any person who is interested in putting up a solar plant on his roof could get it done by any of these companies and be eligible for the state government subsidy.
With the subsidies from both the central and state government, the cost for the 1 kW system works out to be around Rs 80,000. ANERT is also talking to banks for facilitating funding for even this amount, Jayaraju told Business Line on Tuesday.
Big deficit
Kerala is suffering from a big power deficit, Jayaraju said. Since no power plant has come up after NTPC’s Kayamkulam plant in 1998, the peak power deficit in the State is as much as 1,600 MW.
A uniqueness of the state is that about 80 per cent of the demand is from the 90 lakh-odd domestic consumers. However, most consumers are affluent and would not mind putting up solar plants on their roofs for the sake of energy security, he said.
ANERT on its part is putting up a 2 MW ground-mounted solar power plant near Palakkad, Jayaraju said.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Power producers gain on coal price pooling reports

Reuters Market Eye - Shares of private sector power producers gain on media reports the cabinet has given preliminary approval to price coal by averaging prices of domestic and imported coal.
The measures are intended to bring down coal prices, but details still need to be fleshed out, according to reports, including from The Economic Times.
Nomura says price pooling for coal would only impact projects eligible to secure supplies from Coal India Ltd (COAL.NS) under their respective fuel supply agreements, and hence would only benefit independent power producers such as Lanco Infratech Ltd (LAIN.NS) and Adani Power Ltd (ADAN.NS). The investment bank adds pooling would be neutral to positive for NTPC Ltd (NTPC.NS) and revenue neutral for Coal India Ltd
Lanco Infratech shares gain 4.8 percent while Adani Power is up 1.9 percent. NTPC shares are down 1.6 percent, while Coal India shares are up 0.4 percent.

Tsunami off Solomon Islands damages homes, kills 5

Hawaii: A powerful earthquake off the Solomon Islands generated a tsunami of up to 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) that damaged dozens of homes and likely killed several people in the South Pacific island chain on Wednesday.

The strong 8.0 earthquake was followed by many aftershocks and two 1.5-meter (4 foot, 11-inch) waves that hit the western side of Santa Cruz Island prompting the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to issue a tsunami warning for many countries including Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji, but it was cancelled later.

The Tsunami watch issued for countries like New Zealand, Australia and eastern Indonesia was also withdrawn later on.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake struck 81 kilometers (50 miles) west of Lata, at a depth of 5.8 kilometers (3.6 miles).

Solomon Islands Police Commissioner John Lansley said local police patrols had reported that several people were presumed dead, though the reports were still being verified.

The CNN reported that at least five deaths were confirmed in Solomon Islands, said local hospital officials.

Four villages on Santa Cruz were impacted by the waves, with two facing severe damage, Lansley said. Other areas of the Solomons did not appear to have been seriously affected.

The tsunami formed after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck near Lata on Santa Cruz in Temotu province, the easternmost province of the Solomons, about a 3-hour flight from the capital, Honiara. The region has a population of around 30,000 people.

The Solomons comprise more than 200 islands with a population of about 552,000 people. They lie on the "Ring of Fire" — an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones that stretches around the Pacific Rim and where about 90 percent of the world's quakes occur.

More than 50 people were killed and thousands lost their homes in April 2007 when a magnitude 8.1 quake hit the western Solomon Islands, sending waves crashing into coastal villages.

Bikaner baby girl succumbs to father’s bite injuries

Jaipur: An infant baby girl, who was bitten off by her own father, succumbed to the injuries at a government hospital here on Wednesday morning.

The battered baby girl was admitted in Sawai Man Singh Government Hospital, where she underwent a plastic surgery for her face on Feb 1.

But her condition deteriorated yesterday night after which she was put on ventillator support today early morning.

"The condition of the baby deteriorated last night after she was breastfed by her mother.The milk entered into her lungs following which some complications developed and she was put on ventilator support but she died," Spokesperson of the Sawai Man Singh Government Hospital here said.

The 5-month old girl named Radha became a victim of her drunk father’s rage when a 36-year old Bahadur Singh bit off parts of her nose, lip and cheek last week after a tiff with his wife.

The incident took place last Thursday at Bahadur Singh’s house in Siyana village near Bikaner. In the heat of the moment, he beat up his 3-year old daughter Bhanwari and then bit his younger daughter Radha’s upper lip, nose and cheek in a fit of anger, said Anil Kumar Bishnoi, SHO of Kolayat police station.

Police said that the accused father will be charged with murder. He was arrested on Friday and is currently under judicial custody, police said adding he has been booked under sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt through dangerous weapons or means) and 341 (wrongful restraint) of IPC.

Victim's friend cross-examined at Delhi gang rape trial

Defence lawyers began cross-examining Wednesday the male companion of a student who was gang raped on a bus in New Delhi at the trial of five adults accused of her murder, the man's father said.

"The cross-examination has begun," said the father of the 28-year-old IT specialist,

who cannot be named for legal reasons.

"Three defence lawyers will cross-examine and question him based on the statement that he gave to the police and the court," he added.

The cross-examination comes after the companion, who is the chief prosecution witness, had on Tuesday identified the bus on which the fatal attack took place on December 16. The bus had been brought to the court compound.

The five adult defendants have all denied murder, rape and robbery charges for which they are being tried at a special fast-track court in the Saket district of the Indian capital.

A sixth defendant is being tried separately as a juvenile.

The 23-year-old medical student died in a Singapore hospital on December 29 from massive internal injuries she sustained during the savage bus assault a fortnight earlier, which caused outrage across India.

She and her companion had spent the evening at the cinema and were lured onto the off-duty bus after failing to flag down an autorickshaw to take them home.

As well as taking turns to rape the woman and violating her with a rusty iron bar, the group attacked her companion so badly that he is still unable to walk properly. He again appeared at the court on Wednesday in a wheelchair.