Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Indian actor Shiney Ahuja jailed in rape case

Award-winning Bollywood actor Shiney Ahuja has been sentenced to seven years in prison for raping his maid.

The actor was found guilty by a special fast-track court in the Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay). He has maintained his innocence throughout the trial.

His lawyer said he would appeal against the sentence.

Ahuja was arrested in June 2009 and charged with rape, criminal intimidation and wrongful confinement. He was granted bail in October.

But the court ordered the actor to stay away from Mumbai while on bail.

Judge PM Chouhan pronounced Ahuja guilty on Wednesday despite the 20-year-old victim withdrawing her allegation of rape last year.

She said she was told to complain to police by another woman who had got her the job with the actor.

Ahuja is seen as an up-and-coming actor who has made an impression in Bollywood's independent cinema scene.

He has acted in films such as Life in a Metro and Gangster, and worked with a number of leading directors.

He won several awards for his 2003 debut in the critically acclaimed film Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi.

Team takes flight to Mumbai ASAP

COLOMBO: Kumar Sangakkara decided to waste absolutely no time and took the next immediate flight available for Mumbai with his team on Wednesday morning to be in the right atmosphere where Sri Lanka will play their third World Cup final and the second successive one.

The team arrived at Colombo's S Bandarnayake international aiport merely five hours after they finished with the semifinal here, beating New Zealand. The streets of Colombo witnessed stunning sights of celebrations throughout the night as the team packed their bags to leave on the big assignment. The much-fancied Galle Face Road in Colombo, home to the city's best five star hotels, business centres and of course the president's house, is where the locals and foreigners poured in for a night full of music and alcohol.

"For us to be in this position, to host a World Cup and for Sri Lanka to get into a final bodes well for the future of our country. Cricket has always been the panacea that healed all wounds in Sri Lanka. Whenever cricket is played, it seems as if life is back to normal," Sangakkara said after the victory.

For Sri Lanka, it became an emotional moment to be playing such a big match in front of their home crowd. Further, the fact that Muttiah Muralitharan was playing his last international home game, made the evening more eventful.

"It was a bit emotional because it was the last game we were playing in front of our home crowd. The next match is not going to be here. It was a very special moment for us and even more so because it is the last time Murali will ever play an ODI. When the magnitude of that occasion hits you, it kind of overwhelms you," the Lankan skipper said, also praising Murali for his great contribution to Sri Lankan cricket.

"Murali has no ego and he is a great team man. These kind of fairytale endings keep happening to him (also referring to 800th wicket in last Test) because he is a great human being. He has a great heart, is an honest hardworking guy and has no pretenses about him. When he is such a nice guy, good things happen to him."

Sri Lanka are certainly in the right mood and a very good frame of mind coming into the final. Sangakkara had nothing scheduled for his team on Wednesday because the team just wanted to relax and enjoy the India-Pakistan semifinal played at Mohali.

Nifty nears 5800; DLF, M&M, Dr Reddy’s, HDFC gain

MUMBAI: Indian markets extended gains for seventh straight session taking cues from positive global peers. All the sectoral indices were in the green with realty, healthcare and metals stocks leading the upmove.

"The start today will be good, spurred by encouraging global cues. India Inc. may suffer a bit in terms of productivity but there is unlikely to be any material impact on market volumes. What could have a bearing is the last minute year-end rebalancing and F&O related gyrations.

The undertone has turned around in the past few sessions. The key indices have surpassed the crucial 200-DMA levels, propelled by renewed pick-up in FII inflows. After being pessimistic on India in the first two months, they have resumed their bets in March. One has to see whether the trend persists in April or not," said IIFL report.

At 10:10 am; National Stock Exchange's Nifty was at 5,794.85, up 58.50 points or 1.02 per cent. The broader index touched a high of 5799.15 and low of 5753.90 in early trade.

Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensex was at 19327.04, up 206.24 points or 1.08 per cent. The 30-share index touched a high of 19329.56 and low of 19178.77 in trade so far.

BSE Midcap Index was up 1.22 per cent and BSE Smallcap Index moved 1.84 per cent higher.

Amongst the sectoral indices, BSE Realty Index was up 2.11 per cent, BSE Healthcare Index gained 1.44 per cent and BSE Metal Index moved 1.38 per cent higher.

DLF (2.73%), M&M (2.67%), Dr Reddy's Laboratories (2.47%), Sesa Goa (2.44%) and HDFC (2%) were the top Nifty gainers.

HCL Tech (-0.65%), Bharti Airtel (-0.65%), BPCL (-0.10%) and Axis Bank (-0.06%) were the only losers.

Meanwhile the Asian markets were witnessing buying activity. Nikkei was up 1.97 per cent, Hang Seng was gained 1.71 per cent and Taiwan Weighted moved 0.73 per cent higher.

Nifty firm near 5800; realty, auto, banks up

MUMBAI: Indian markets continued to gain momentum as investors bought stocks across the board ahead of March series F&O expiry. Rate sensitive sectors led the rally while FMCG space was marginally in the red.

At 2:10 pm; National Stock Exchange's Nifty was at 5780.55, up 44.20 points or 0.77 per cent. The broader index touched a high of 5803.15 and low of 5753.90 intraday.

Bombay Stock Exchange's Sensex was at 19271.75, up 150.95 points or 0.79 per cent. The 30-share index touched a high of 19357.10 and low of 19178.77 in trade so far.

BSE Midcap Index was up 1.07 per cent and BSE Smallcap Index moved 1.94 per cent higher.

Amongst the sectoral indices, BSE Realty Index was up 1.52 per cent, BSE Bankex gained 1.23 per cent and BSE Auto Index moved 1.16 per cent higher.

Ambuja Cement (6.78%), M&M (3.39%), SBI (2.62%), Punjab National Bank (2.46%) and Jaiprakash Associates (2.43%) were the top Nifty gainers.

Cairn India (-1.31%), HCL Tech (-1.25%), Hindalco (-1.25%), Bharti Airtel (-0.93%) and ONGC (-0.48%) were the top losers.

Market breadth was positive on the NSE with 2064 gainers against 705 losers.

Meanwhile, the European markets also moved higher in line with peers. FTSE 100 was up 0.49 per cent, CAC 40 gained 0.60 per cent and DAX moved 1.08 per cent

Deciphering Hidden Code Reveals Brain Activity

Geoffrey K. Aguirre, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, says "the same math that could break into your car can be used to crack the brain's codes." It's called a de Bruijn sequence, which is a set or "alphabet" of things (letters, pictures, sounds) in a cyclic order such that every possible "word" or combination of things occurs only once. De Bruijn sequences are what mathematicians call "pseudo-random" because they appear to be a confused jumble but actually contain an underlying structure. To break into a car protected by an electronic lock with a five-digit numerical keycode, for example, a thief could try every possible combination. However, such a brute-force technique is time-consuming because it involves a great deal of repetition. But a de Bruijn sequence uses "every possible combination squeezed together," explains Aguirre. The overlapping combinations encode a pattern scientists can observe in brain activity using fMRI, revealing how nerve cells work to represent the world.

Breaking Codes in Brain Studies

This approach measures how the order of things changes brain responses. Do you see a photo of your brother differently when it follows a picture of your sister? Aguirre says, "Many neuroscience experiments use the context and order of sights, sounds, words, and feelings to reveal how the nervous system is organized"

Previous experiments have presented information to study participants in more or less completely random order. This can be inefficient and inaccurate, making it difficult to discern important patterns and correlations between stimuli and neural responses. "We use the de Bruijn sequence to design the experiment," Aguirre says. "It tells us how to present things to the subject. By presenting a series of faces in different combinations and orders, as dictated by the de Bruijn sequence, it's possible to measure the brain response to each face individually."

Beating the Blood Flow Problem

Aguirre's new algorithm for creating de Bruijn sequences also helps correct an important limitation of fMRI, which works by measuring changes in brain blood flow. "It takes a little while for the blood flow changes to catch up with the brain response," Aguirre says. "By creating these sequences in a special way that accounts for the slower blood flow response, experiments are many times more powerful than before."

"The amazing thing is the person in the experiment just sees random pictures," Aguirre notes. "But in fact, we're hiding in this seemingly random sequence a signal that's invisible to the person but can be decoded by the MRI scanner. We can measure the nerve cells' response to that hidden pattern and then use that to understand how the brain is representing information."

Aguirre's unique marriage of advanced mathematics with the latest neuroimaging techniques promises to both open up new areas of research and improve current experimental designs in the study of the brain. The next step is to apply the new algorithm to actual fMRI studies in one of Aguirre's special research areas, visual perception and representation in the brain.

Like Products, Plants Wait for Optimal Configuration Before Market Success

Just as a company creates new, better versions of a product to increase market share and pad its bottom line, an international team of researchers led by Brown University has found that plants tinker with their design and performance before flooding the environment with new, improved versions of themselves.

The issue: When does a grouping of plants with the same ancestor, called a clade, begin to spin off new species? Biologists have long assumed that rapid speciation occurred when a clade first developed a new physical trait or mechanism and had begun its own genetic branch. But the team, led by Brown postdoctoral research associate Stephen Smith, discovered that major lineages of flowering plants did not begin the rapid spawning of new species until they had reached a point of development at which speciation success and rate would be maximized. The results are published in the American Journal of Botany.

"Evolution is not what we previously thought," said Smith, who works in the laboratory of Brown biologist Casey Dunn. "It's not as if you get a flower, and speciation (rapidly) occurs. There is a lag. Something else is happening. There is a phase of product development, so to speak."

To tease out the latent speciation rate, Smith and colleagues from Yale University and the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies in Germany compiled the largest plant phylogeny to date, involving 55,473 species of angiosperms (flowering plants), the genealogical line that represents roughly 90 percent of all plants worldwide. The group looked at the genetic profiles for six major angiosperm clades, including grasses (Poaceae), orchids (Orchidaceae), sunflowers (Asteraceae), beans (Fabaceae), eudicots (Eudicotyledoneae), and monocots (Monocottyledoneae). Together, these branches make up 99 percent of flowering plants on Earth.

The common ancestor for the branches is Mesangiospermae, a clade that emerged more than 125 millions years ago. Yet with Mesangiospermae and the clades that spun off it, the researchers were surprised to learn that the boom in speciation did not occur around the ancestral root; instead, the diversification happened some time later, although a precise time remains elusive.

"During the early evolution of these groups," Smith said, "there is the development of features that we often recognize to identify these groups visually, but they don't begin to speciate rapidly until after the development of the features."

"These findings are consistent with the view that radiations tend to be lit by a long 'fuse,' and also with the idea that an initial innovation enables subsequent experimentation and, eventually, the evolution of a combination of characteristics that drives a major radiation," the authors write.

Smith believes some triggers for the speciation explosion could have been internal, such as building a better flower or learning how to grow faster and thus outcompete other plants. The winning edge could also have come from the arrival of pollinating insects or changes in climate. The team plans to investigate these questions.

To compile the phylogenetic tree, the group combined data gathered from an exhaustive survey of the peer-reviewed literature with a gene-wide classification of species thanks to data gathered by GenBank, a genetic sequence database run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"This is a nice example of how computer science and cyberinfrastructure initiatives can help to extend the limits of biological explorations," said Alexandros Stamatakis, group leader of the scientific computing group at the Heidelberg Institute.

Contributing authors include Jeremy Beaulieu and Michael Donoghue from Yale and Stamatakis. The U.S. National Science Foundation and the German Science Foundation funded the research. The computations to assemble the phylogeny were performed at Yale's High Performance Computing Center and at the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

“I don’t know about Vijay’s plans,” says SAC

SA Chandrasekar, while addressing the media persons yesterday, said that he will campaign vigorously for AIADMK’s victory. The director said that he and his son plan to remain in the entertainment business for now and the support for the AIADMK is to bring in a change so that people could live peacefully.

When reporters questioned about Vijay’s campaign plan, the director said that there are just a few days to the election and Vijay’s mode of campaign will be announced by the actor himself.

Ko release date confirmed!

Yes, we just heard it from the horse's mouth! Director KV Anand has announced that the release date of his much awaited Ko is set for the 15th of April. This is one movie that has been garnering the attention of the media and the audience ever since its launch. STR was to play the lead but he was later replaced by Jiiva and yesteryear heroine Radha's daughter Karthika Nair makes her Tamil debut with this film. Ajmal and Piaa Bajpai play important roles in this film which will apparently be two times better than Ayan.

The movie is rumored to be about a photo journalist (Jiiva) who helps his friend (Ajmal) to enter politics by offering him the several political contacts he knows. Ajmal wins an election and what happens after that forms the rest of the story. Songs have been tuned by Harris Jayaraj and is topping the charts. Everyone is eagerly awaiting for the movie and we hope Ko will be a bigger hit than Ayan was!

Vikram’s get-up in Deiva Thirumagan

Vikram, who plays the lead star in Deiva Thirumagan, will appear as an 18-year-old boy. The actor has undergone rigorous exercise to tone down his body so that he could fit in the role. Sources in Kollywood say that the scene in which he appears as young lad has come out well and his efforts have not gone waste.

It may be mentioned here that Suriya has appeared as a school-going kid in Aadhavan and this created a lot of hype for that film prior to its release.

Deiva Thirumagan is directed by Madarasapattinam fame Vijay and has Anushka and Amala Paul playing the female leads.

Mappillai release confirmed

It is official now! The Dhanush starrer Mappillai will hit the silver screens on April 8th. The film was recently awarded with a U certificate. Sun Pictures is distributing this film and therefore the expectations are high. Further, Mappillai is the remake of the yesteryear smash hit of the same name in which Rajinikanth had starred.

With his son-in-law Dhanush donning the greasepaint for the role he essayed, the fans are eager to find out how he has fared. The film is directed by Suraj and stars Hansika Motwani as Dhanush’s lead pair. Bollywood star Manisha Koirala plays a very powerful role in this film.

Stigma Attached to Being Fat Is Going Global

A cross-cultural study of attitudes toward obesity has found that stigma against overweight people is becoming a cultural norm around the world, even in places where larger bodies have traditionally been valued.

Researchers from Arizona State University surveyed people in nine diverse locations around the world and found negative attitudes toward fat bodies in every one.

The results suggest a rapid "globalization of fat stigma" in which overweight people are increasingly viewed as ugly, undesirable, lazy, or lacking in self control, the researchers said.

"Previously, a wide range of ethnographic studies have shown that many human societies preferred larger, plumper bodies," said Alexandra Brewis, a biological anthropologist and one of the study's authors.

"Plump bodies represented success, generosity, fertility, wealth, and beauty."

But those fat-positive values are quickly giving way to a more negative Western way of looking at obesity, such as symbolizing personal failing.

The researchers surveyed people in Mexico, Argentina, Paraguay, the U.S., and the U.K. Also included were American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Tanzania-cultures that have traditionally been thought of as fat-positive. People were asked if they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements about body size. Some statements were fat-negative ("Fat people are lazy"), others were fat-positive ("A big woman is a beautiful woman").

The responses across these diverse cultures were largely congruent with Western attitudes, the researchers found. What's more, the highest fat stigma scores were not in the U.S. or the U.K., "but rather Mexico, Paraguay, and-perhaps most surprisingly-in American Samoa," the researchers said.

The study will be published in the April issue of Current Anthropology.

A Person is Happiest at 80 Years of Age

Elderly and not youngsters are the most happiest with a new study revealing that happiness in a human being peaks when he is 80 years of age.

The recent study, led by Professor Lewis Wolpert at University College London, found that those under 30 years of age were “averagely happy” but the level of happiness declined as they entered their middle ages and they became embroiled in supporting their family. Nearly 350,000 people were surveyed by the researchers as part of the study.

However with all the responsibilities over by mid forties, the cheerfulness returns with the researchers saying that the happiness would be at its maximum in their seventies and eighties.

“From the mid-forties, people tend to become ever more cheerful and optimistic, perhaps reaching a maximum in their late seventies or eighties”, Wolpert wrote in his study, which has been published by the American National Academy of Sciences.

Microsoft ships Windows 8 test version to PC makers

Microsoft has begun to ship the first test version of its Windows 8 operating system to PC manufacturers – at least that is what posts on online forums are buzzing about, which means a 2012 release that is late into that year isn’t going to be derailed anytime soon. Microsoft certainly places a lot of importance on Windows 8 simply because it will come with special features for tablets. 

Apart from that, Windows 8 will also boast the virtue of being the first version of the full Windows desktop OS that is able to run on low-powered ARM processors which are seen in most tablet devices, not to mention a design that clearly favors touchscreen displays. Apparently, the test version of Windows 8 is being touted to go through Microsoft Connect, a program for privileged beta testers. Do you think Microsoft will be able to make an impact on tablets with Windows 8, or will the iPad 3 have conquered the entire tablet market by then?

LG Optimus Big Leaked ?

Photos of a new LG device , codenamed LG Optimus Big, have been leaked online.

The LG Optimus Big is thought  to feature a huge 4.3 inch touch-screen which will no run at a high resolution for superb multi-media playback and web-browsing.The screen is expect to be a Super AMOLED.

Strangely, the leak suggests the new device will feature a single-core 1 GHz processor, but we wouldn't be surprised if this proved inaccurate. Other reported features are few and far between with the only other detail being support for T-DMB, which is only supported in Korea.

The photos above have come from Korean site Xportsnews and show a  device slightly larger than an iPhone 4 , but very similar in design apart from the wide casing.

Once we hear more about the LG Optimus Big we'll let you know.

Firefox 4 for Android Smartphones and Tablets

Firefox 4 for Android has been released for Android based smartphones and tablets. It is also available for Nokia Maemo devices.

Some of the main updates are that Firefox 4 hides your browser controls when not needed which gives a larger viewing area.  With Firefox Sync you can install add-ons right from your phone or tablet to customize your browser exactly the way you like.

Type less with the Awesome Screen, which gives you one-tap access to your bookmarks, history and custom list of search engines. Tabbed browsing allows for easy navigation and fast switching between Web sites with just one swipe of your finger.

Firefox say that the new Firefox 4 for Android is 3 times quicker than the basic Android mobile browser. It can be downloaded free from Android Market.

Streamlined Interface

    *      Focus on Web content: Features like tabs, one-touch bookmarking and browser controls that stow away when not in use help users focus on the websites they visit

Browse More, Type Less

    *      Awesome Screen: Type less with easy access to history, bookmarks and open tabs
    *      Save to PDF: Capture important websites, like directions or a boarding pass, to view offline
    *      Share Page: Share websites via apps like email, Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader and more
    *      Add Search Engine: Customize your search engine list

Private and Secure Synchronization

    *      Firefox Sync: Access Awesome Bar history, bookmarks, open tabs, passwords and form data across multiple computers and mobile devices with secure end-to-end encryption

Most Customizable:

    *      Firefox offers thousands of ways for users to customize the features, functionality and look of their mobile Web browser with Firefox Add-ons

Radioactive Material from Japanese Nuclear Plant Spreads Across Globe

Authorities across Asia and the United States are reporting small amounts of radiation from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, but they all say it poses no threat to public health.

China's Environmental Protection Ministry issued a statement Tuesday saying low levels of radioactive iodine-131 have been detected along the country's southeastern region, including Guangxi, Guangdong and Shanghai.  The same radioactive material was detected a few days ago in northeastern Heilongjiang province. 

South Korea's state-run Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety says it has detected radioactive iodine in Seoul and several other areas across the nation.  The Agriculture Ministry says it is testing fish caught in its waters for possible radiation contamination. 

The Philippines' nuclear research agency says "very tiny amounts" of radioactive isotopes have been detected over the Pacific island nation.

In the United States, state and federal environmental officials says small traces of radioactive iodine-131 released by the Fukushima plant have been detected in several states and territories, including Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as several Atlantic coastal states.

Radioactive iodine-131 is a by-product of nuclear fission, and people exposed to high levels of the material are at risk of developing thyroid cancer and other thyroid-related diseases.  Thousands of Americans were put at risk of exposure to radioactive iodine-131 during nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and '60s. 

Lake Barrett, a nuclear engineer and former staffer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the risk of exposure from the Fukushima plant is very small, "much less than that we encounter in everyday life."

Workers At Japanese Nuclear Plant Face Grim Conditions

When workers at the damaged nuclear plant in Japan are not toiling to avert a catastrophic nuclear meltdown, they are enduring the most basic living conditions.

An official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Kazuma Yokota, spent several days at the plant recently and on Tuesday gave reporters their first glimpse into the workers' routine.

Yokota said the workers at the Fukushima plant sleep anywhere they can find floor space, including conference rooms and corridors, in a building on the grounds of the plant.  The building is designed to withstand radiation, but officials say radiation levels inside the building are still higher than normal.

Yokota says the workers eat only two meals a day - crackers and vegetable juice for breakfast, and for dinner instant rice and canned foods.  There are no showers and often no change of clothes for the workers, who spend 12 hours at a time on the job.

The ranks of the workers has risen from an initial 50 when the crisis began to several hundred.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yukio Edano, acknowledged Tuesday that more should have been done for the workers. Edano, however, said the priority had to be on bringing the situation at the plant under control and averting a disaster.

Last week, two workers at the plant were taken to a hospital after stepping in radioactive water.

Radiation Spike Detected in Ocean Near Japanese Nuclear Plant

Japan's nuclear safety agency says radioactive iodine has been detected at more than 3,000 times the allowable level in the ocean near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Officials said Wednesday that the water sample, with the highest levels yet recorded, was collected about 300 meters from the Fukushima plant, which has been leaking radiation since its cooling systems were knocked out by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan received a phone call Wednesday from U.S. President Barack Obama offering any help in dealing with the nuclear crisis and the natural disasters, which have now left more than 27,500 people dead or missing. A naval task force with more than 18,000 personnel is already assisting in relief efforts.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due in Tokyo Thursday to offer support. French nuclear experts are also assisting in the effort to halt radiation leaks and repair cooling systems for the plant's six nuclear reactors.

Japanese nuclear officials said they are working urgently to determine the exact cause of the spike in radioactive iodine in the seawater sample collected Tuesday, which registered 3,355 times the legal limit. They said the finding was a cause for concern but not an immediate threat to human health.

The nuclear plant's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, announced Wednesday that company president Masataka Shimizu has been hospitalized with high blood pressure and that Chairman Tsunehiso Katsumata will take charge of the crisis.

Kan told parliament Tuesday that TEPCO had failed to make adequate preparations for the tsunami that knocked out vital cooling systems at the plant. The tidal wave is estimated to have been 12 meters high, more than twice the height the plant's seawall was designed to withstand.

Nuclear experts believe the plant suffered partial meltdowns of the nuclear fuel rods in the cores of three of the six reactors after the earthquake and tsunami disabled the primary and back-up cooling systems that keep the rods from overheating.

There are also fears that the containment chambers used to prevent radiation from escaping from the cores may have been damaged in at least two of the reactors. The latest evidence of that came Tuesday when technicians discovered low levels of plutonium matching that used in the number-three unit's fuel rods in soil samples outside the plant.

Plant workers meanwhile are laboring under primitive conditions and with inadequate food and sleep to remove water from the basements and adjoining service tunnels at three of the reactors. The water, which is at 1,000 times the normal radiation level at the Number 2 unit, was at one point threatening to spill into the nearby ocean but it was reported Wednesday to be coming down in the basement of one of the buildings.

Workers need to keep pumping water into the reactors to prevent the fuel rods from overheating, even as they need to remove the contaminated water so they can replace and repair pumps needed for normal cooling. In a worst-case scenario, the fuel rods could catch fire, spewing radiation, or melt through the floor of the reactors allowing their radiation to be widely distributed through the ground water system.

Radiation from the plant has already been detected in milk and vegetables from farms in the surrounding prefecture and at low levels in tap water in Tokyo and other cities. Very low levels have been detected in countries across Asia, Europe and North America. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from homes within 20 kilometers of the stricken plant.

Chandy not in Rahul's good books: Balakrishnan

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan on Wednesday said things would be tough for opposition Congress leader Oommen Chandy as it was obvious that he was not in the good books of party general secretary Rahul Gandhi. "Our party has no problems about who the leader is, instead all the confusion and problems are there in the Congress party. (Rahul) Gandhi does not favour Chandy, instead Ramesh Chennithala has got his blessings," Balakrishnan told reporters here.

"This is evident from the number of candidates owing allegiance to Chennithala who have been given Congress tickets to contest the forthcoming assembly polls," said Balakrishnan said. He went on to add that in the recent history of the Congress in Kerala, never have the state party chief and the leader of opposition together contested the assembly polls.

Balakrishnan said KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala, who had the 'backing' of Rahul Gandhi, would outsmart Oommen Chandy after the elections. "The fielding of Chennithala in assembly polls clearly shows that the performance of Chandy as the leader of opposition has not been up to the desired mark. And now with Gandhi fully supporting Chennithala, it is amply clear that the going for Chandy is going to get tougher," added Balakrishnan.

Balakrishnan said things are favourable for the Left government. "We might have not done well in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and last year's local bodies polls. That is a thing of the past because the Congress-led UPA government has been drowned in several scandals and that is going to work in our favour," he said.

"We are demanding a second term because in the last five years, people have hugely benefitted here and never ever has a Left government ruled for a decade at one stretch. Give us a term more and analyse us in 2016," said Balakrishnan.

The CPM politburo member also said there is no anti-incumbency factor working against the ruling Left Democratic Front in Kerala ahead of the April 13 assembly elections. He said people would cast their votes against the 'anti-people' policies of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre, which was responsible for unprecedented price rise in the country.

While the UPA government was steeped in corruption, top UDF leaders in Kerala were facing several corruption charges, Balakrishnan said. "The internal strife in the Congress, which came to the fore with the announcement of its candidates' list, would intensify in the coming days," he said.

He said former Minister and senior Congress leader K K Ramachandran had already charged that many in his party got seats after paying money. The IUML also had candidates who got accommodated in such 'payment seats," he alleged. "The Election Commission which has a system to check paid news, will now have to look into charges of payment seats also," Balakrishnan said.

Denying reports that there was secret alliance between CPM and BJP, he said the Congress should explain why it did not put up a candidate in Nemom in the capital where senior BJP leader O Rajagopal was contesting. The UDF had left the

seat to its partner Socialist Janata-Democratic, he said.

To a question on the attack on a television channel scribe by CPM workers at Kannur on Monday, he said the incident was isolated and would be examined. "Our party is of the view that journalists should be allowed to work freely," he said. The party had decided that its leaders would not be sent to talk shows being held by mediapersons who were not able to handle the show properly, he added.

AERB to reassess safety measures at Indian N-plants

Atomic Energy Regulatory Board today said it would carry out a comprehensive reassessment of safety and emergency mitigation measures at all the Indian nuclear power plants, in the light of the crisis in Japan.

Emergency-preparedness plans exist for all nuclear power plants in India, and they are periodically “rehearsed”, AERB said here.

“However, in the light of the unprecedented event in Japan, AERB will be carrying out a comprehensive reassessment of safety and emergency mitigation measures of all the Indian nuclear power plants,” AERB Secretary R. Bhattacharya said here in a statement.

AERB is constantly monitoring the situation at Japan’s crisis-hit Fukushima nuclear plan, he said.

“A detailed review will be taken up by us as full information (on situation in Japan) becomes available,” Mr. Bhattacharya said.

Out of the 20 reactors (19 are in operation) in India, only Tarapur Atomic Power Station’s units one and two are Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs), similar to ones at Fukushima.

PM promises independent nuclear regulator

Stressing, in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, that the government was committed to ensuring the safety of Indian nuclear power plants, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday said steps would be taken to make the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) “truly autonomous and independent.”

“We will strengthen the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and make it a truly autonomous and independent regulatory authority. We will ensure that it is of the highest and the best international standards,” he said here at a function honouring nuclear scientists.

Though the AERB is tasked with ensuring the safe use [of] nuclear energy, its lack of independence from the Department of Atomic Energy has led critics to question its effectiveness as a regulatory authority on safety issues.

Making an oblique reference to complaints that decision-making on nuclear related issues was shrouded in secrecy, Dr. Singh emphasised that there was need for “greater openness and transparency.”

“The people of India have to be convinced about the safety and security of our nuclear power plants. We should bring greater openness and transparency in the decision making processes relating to our nuclear energy programme and improve our capacity to respond to the public desire to be kept informed about decisions and issues that are of concern to them.”
Technical review

Incidentally, the Prime Minister is also the Minister in charge of Atomic Energy and heads the “decision making processes” involved. Noting that the government had already directed a technical review of all safety systems of the nuclear power plants using the best available expertise, he pointed out that all reactors that would be built in India would have to be certified by the regulatory authority and meet its safety standards. “This will apply equally to reactors and technologies that are imported from abroad,” he added. He noted that the tragedy at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant in Japan had raised world-wide concerns about the safety of nuclear energy as a source of power and stressed that it was “vitally important” to address the concerns. “I would like to see accountability and transparency in the functioning of our nuclear power plants.”
For energy independence

Rejecting demands for doing away with nuclear power as an energy option in toto, he said that for a large and fast growing economy like India, it was imperative that all sources of energy were tapped and the energy mix was diversified. “Nuclear energy has the potential of playing an increasingly important role in giving our country energy independence from traditional and polluting sources of energy.”

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