Monthly Archives: November 2009

India: N-scare after 55-workers at Kaiga Plant fall sick

In a mishap that the authorities are labeling as “an insider’s mischief”, about 55 workers of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Uttara Kannada, Karnataka, India, were exposed to an excessive radiation dosage when they drank water that had been mixed with tritium, a highly radioactive substance. All the workers had to be rushed to hospital for a preventive check-up.

Bloomberg reported, based on an e-mailed statement from Shreyans Kumar Jain, Chairman and Managing Director of Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), which operates the plant, that no worker was hospitalized. Jain in his statement also said that an initial probe didn’t reveal any violation of operating procedures or “radioactivity releases” or security breach. He said that, the systems of all the units are healthy and there is no release of radioactivity to the environment within or outside the plant site. A probe has been launched in the matter. Officials of Intelligence Department as well as state depatment have been informed.

The incident occured on November 25, when the first unit (220 MWe) of the plant was under shutdown for annual maintenance. The officials alleged that “an insider had mixed tritium in drinking water in a cooler kept in the operating island of the first unit” at Kaiga. Unit 1 at Kaiga continues to be under annual maintenance shut down since October 20. Unit 2 and 3 are operating normally. Unit 4 is under construction.

The Union Minister of State for Science and Technology, Prithviraj Chavan, labelled the act “malevolent” and assured that the incident is not an accident but a sabbotage which is being taken “very seriously”.

Tritium is the radioactive form of Hydrogen. If inhaled or consumed via food or water, tritium can lead to cell damage. It also increases chances of cancer. The state-of-the-art indigenously designed 220 MWe pressurised heavy water reactor (PHWR) of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station attained criticality at Kaiga on September 24, 1999. The site has been selected for having six Reactor Units of pressurised heavy water reactors each of 220 MWe.

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Canada and India break 34 years of nuclear jinx

Indo-Canadian

Indo-Canadian Cooperation

Canada, world’s largest producer of uranium, has now become the eighth country which has reached a civil nuclear agreement with India, since the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) lifted a 34-year-old ban on India to join global nuclear trade in September 2008. The group members who have already signed the civil nuclear deal with India are the US, France, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Namibia.

 

The deal was announced after the Canadian PM Stephen Harper and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Port of Spain. The bilateral relations had turned sour between the two nations when Canada had severed the nuclear trade accusing India of misappropriating Canadian reactor designs after India in 1974 had conducted nuclear tests.

The two nations were close to clinch the deal when PM Harper was in India earlier this month but some lingering differences over the nature of safeguards delayed the negotiation. The Canadian PM added that it will take “a little time to complete the normal legal text and the ratification process.” While stressing that the two nations have a lot of opportunity for trade and a labelled this as a tremendous step forward.

Canada is a supplier, obviously an integrated supplier in the nuclear energy field and India is an expanding economy that has great energy needs,” Harper said.

The agreement is likely to be signed in June next year, when the Indian PM will be in Canada to attend the G20 summit. The official text of the deal has not been released. The Canadian side said it would only be released when the legislation goes to the Parliament for discussion. The current Canadian government is a minority government and will require the support of members from opposition in order to pass the agreement.

The agreement will now allow Canadian firms to export and import controlled nuclear materials, equipments and technology to and from India. The two nations have also reiterated their resolve to triple their bilateral trade from around $5 billion to $15 billion in the next five years.

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France: Pakistan not to get India-like civil nuclear pact

Pakistan-map

Pakistan

A statement by a French official has put Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in an embarrasing situation. Qureshi, in May this year had gone on record saying that France is ready for a transfer of civilian nuclear energy technology to Pakistan. The office of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, had then said that they are offered to help Pakistan improve its “nuclear safety” capability. The French authorities had then not reacted to Qureshi’s statement saying that such a move would need IAEA’s nod.

Now, the French authorities have made it official. President Sarkozy’s intitiative for a “strategic relationship” with Pakistan does not include a civil nuclear cooperation pact. A leading Indian newspaper, Times of India reported that dismissing all such claims made earlier by Qureshi, a top official of the French government told that any report to the contrary “emanating from Pakistan was mere kite-flying“.

‘‘I can say that nothing like it is on the table. We would like to ensure safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal but there is no question of getting into an India-like civil nuclear pact with them,’’ said the official in Paris.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, earlier in the day, handed over the charge of nuclear arsenal to PM Yousuf Raza Gilani after as many as 27 ordinances passed by ex-President Parvez Musharraf were re-promulgated.

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Pakistan: President Zardari hands over nukes control to PM Gilani

 

Zardari leads Pakistan; 45 people killed in Taliban-plagued north-west frontier

Pakistan

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari transferred control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He also revealed his intentions to strip the office of President of more powers by year-end. Zardari also gave up the powers of the Chairman of the National Command Authority which controls the country’s nukes and transferred them to the Prime Minister late Friday night.

While the presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar described the move as a “giant leap forward to empower the elected Parliament and the Prime Minister” the fact that the amnesty granted to Zardari came to an end on Saturday, may be a crucial fact to have triggered the move. Several corruption and criminal cases pending against President Asif Ali Zardari are likely to be reopened after a controversial amnesty agreement expired on Nov. 28.

The amnesty was granted as part of the National Reconciliation Ordinance introduced in December 2007 as part of a deal between then-President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and President Zardari’s, wife, ex-PM, Benazir Bhutto who was later slain by a suicide bomber. The ordinance allowed Mrs. Bhutto and Mr. Zardari to return to Pakistan and not face charges that had been pending against the duo. The amnesty also allowed to some key ministers in the current government who faced corruption and other charges of their own.

The ex-President, Pervez Musharraf was responsible for creating the National Command Authority and passing the 17th Constitutional Amendment to give himself sweeping powers. The ammendment allowed the President to dismiss the PM and dissolve Parliament at his will. The ammendment is also expected to be done away with in December.

The move also comes after a ruling by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in July of this year which required the government to get several ordinances issued by Musharraf endorsed by Parliament by November 28. After the government failed to do so due to pressure from political parties, Zardari re-promulgated 27 ordinances in total.

Now that the amnesty cover is out of place, several key ministers including President Zardari may face the heat. PM Gilani has already hinted that he may sack the ministers facing charges. Mr. Zardari was the minister for investment in his wife’s government during 1993-96. He has already spent almost eight years in prison facing trial on several corruption and three murder charges before being freed in 2004 by a court on bail. He also faced trial on a money-laundering charge by a Swiss court that was withdrawn at the request of the Pakistani government days before his election as the country’s president.

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UK to oppose Sri Lankan bid to host Commonwealth summit

[Youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/v/GPLVM16rSx8″%5DBritish Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has finally made it official. The British PM has raisedreal concerns about Sri Lanka’s bid” to host 2011 Commonwealth summit. The 60th Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, being held in Port of Spain starts on Friday where one of the key issues will be the choice of the 2011 venue.

Sources close to PM’s office voiced the concerns about the way the Sri Lankan government handled the recent war and the impact on civilians.

We simply cannot be in a position where Sri Lanka – whose actions earlier this year had a huge impact on civilians, leading to thousands of displaced people without proper humanitarian access – is seen to be rewarded for its actions.

As per the United Nations estimates, the conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE) has left at least 7,000 civilians dead, while about 150,000 people are still displaced and living in heavily guarded camps.

Mr Brown said in June: “Sri Lanka stands on the brink. We have called repeatedly for the violence to cease. The humanitarian agencies must be granted access to civilians caught in the crossfire of a dreadful conflict. Sri Lanka must understand that there will be consequences for its actions.”

Among other issues, Climate change will be high on the agenda at the meet of 53 nations. This is also the last major gathering of international leaders before the global summit at Copenhagen starting on 7 December. Leaders including the UN chief Ban Ki-moon, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Danish PM Lars Rasmussen are also attending the summit. This is hoped to lend weight to any statement on the issue. These nations represent about one-third of human population and one-fifth of  global trade. About half of the Commonwealth members are island nations, many of them threatened by rising sea levels.

The group will also be discussing the proposed re-entry of Zimbabwe to the organization, suspended from the Commonwealth in 2002. Some of the member states are supporting Zimbabwe’s entry. The summit will also back the deadline set by the Southern African Development Community for the two parts of the government to start resolving their differences.

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Afghanistan: U.S. seeks additional 10,000 troops from allies

 

'Let come what may' : Obama will send 34,000 troops

US Forces in Afghanistan

The United States of America is trying to persuade its NATO partners to commit 10,000 additional troops for Afghanistan as part of President Obama’s strategy for the region. President Obama previously indicated a quick close to the Afghanistan war. A formal strategy on Afghanistan is expected to emerge by next week. Sources also reported possible addition U.S. troop deployment to the tune of 35,000 in 2010. U.S. has currently about 71,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.

While U.S. is trying to get allies commitment on 10,000 troops reports suggest that the allies are willing to provide fewer than half that number. NATO allies are not ready to commit more resources due to the growing unpopularity of the Afghanistan war in their nations as well as concerns around charges of corruption on President Karzai’s government.

U.S administration is hoping to get NATO allies to commit forces to supplement the planned 40,000 troop deployment target. This would help reduce the criticism that the Obama administration is facing on troop deployment as well as ease the pressure on already stretched military forces.

Among NATO allies, Britain is already facing internal criticism and seems reluctant to add forces. The British government is facing a opinion poll that suggests that 70% people favor early withdrawal as the nation has already lost 97 soldiers in Afghanistan this year.

Germany and France are also shying away from any further commitments to the war. The support for war is now so low in the two European nations that they can reportedly, barely maintain current troop levels. Among other prominent partners, the Netherlands and Canada have already begun chalking out exit plans.

The only nations who seem committed to add forces are Poland, Italy and Georgia. Georgia is a NATO entry aspirant and is planning to add one company of troops in 2010. While the talks are on some military analysts seem skeptical about the idea of supplementing U.S. forces with small contingents from other nations. They suggest that this sort of an arrangement with mixed forces may not yield the results that a single force may be able to achieve. They believe that the forces of other nations are not as well matched as their U.S. counterparts in skills and ammunitions.

While the allies deliberate, U.S. will unveil its Afghanistan strategy on Tuesday. NATO foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels on the next Thursday and Friday to discuss Afghanistan though troop commitments are not likely to be discussed in detail before the upcoming so-called Force-generation Conference on Dec. 7, in Brussels.

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How Livable is Hyderabad?

How Livable is Hyderabad? The city which packs a rich tradition and is an icon of the developing India, faces some of the same problems that any other cities face. As the city develops, the pressure on resources grow and need more support. The importance of the perspective of the citizens towards the state of affairs grows.

An article discussing the state of the city of pearls, titled “Can Hyderabad be made livable” written by Karuna Gopal, which was invited by The Times of India – published in the edition dated: Nov. 23′ 2009. Karuna Gopal is the President of the Hyderabad based Urban Planning and Advisory organization, Foundation for Futuristic Cities. She is a distinguished authority in this field and has worked with national and international organizations in the areas of City Development, Visioning, Planning and E-governance among others. The article presents the view from a citizen’s perspective coupled the expertise of a urban planning expert.

If livable cities give all citizens equal opportunity to lead healthy, comfortable and safe lives, how livable is our metropolis? Here’s a citizen activist’s perspective.

Doctors prescribe half-an-hour walk everyday, among other things to stay healthy. For those who cannot afford the luxury of a gym, walking to offices is an option. How pedestrian-friendly are our Hyderabad streets? Fast food is fast becoming a pass time for children. How many outdoor choices can we show them in parks, municipal swimming pools and skating rinks? For teenagers who started relying on the Facebook for facing life’s challenges, what are the city avenues for adventure learning and sport facilities?

The footpath to road ratio is poor in Hyderabad and the walkability index is a mere 0.68, making it one of the worst cities in India for pedestrian friendliness. With 30 lakh vehicles plying, Hyderabad has the highest density of traffic in India. Vehicle to road length ratio is bad, respirable particulate matter (RPM) several notches above the acceptable levels, 50% of the road accident victims are pedestrians and billions of working hours are lost with people stuck in traffic. Captive walkers may not be walking by choice; they have no access to public transport!

My 65-year-old neighbour became healthy after a neighbourhood park appeared. He walks daily, made friends, does yoga and laughs his way to health. Studies on SROI (Social Return on Investment) show that parks also serve as instruments to forge communal, community bonding, resolve family conflicts, encourage informal official meetings reducing pollution.

KBR Park that has been put in the league of Central Park of New York and Hyde Park of London is accessible only to Jubilee Hills residents. The rest of the city has not been so lucky. With just 600 parks developed in an inequitable fashion for eight million, citizens are desperately waiting to see parks in the 2,200 open spaces meant for that purpose. Currently, most colonies house fenced open spaces with faded boards declaring GHMC’s ownership!

My maid who lives in a slum, fed up with contaminated water, disease burden and mounting medical bills asked me how much we pay for water. After quick calculations announced that she is willing to pay at the same rate! She just educated me about opportunity cost and her coping costs, technical term for lack of services and coping mechanisms used by the poor! In fact, all WTP (willingness to pay) studies prove that slums want basic services like water and sanitation and they are willing to pay for those. It is the government that is unwilling to charge!

With 1,485 slums and more being created, our city has to act fast or Hyderabad while legitimising the illegitimate may well morph into a mammoth slum! Is it just insipid institutions, defunct departments and procedural pains that are responsible for this state of affairs?

With a build-now, regularize-later culture, jurisdictional schizophrenia making a municipal ward nobody’s baby, multiplicity of agencies, conflicting executive and political interests, lake encroachments, lopsided development, rusted water pipes, gushing sewers, our greater city has to deal with systemic problems to get anywhere near livable status. Those, who expressed concern when Hyderabad became “greater” that it will have greater challenges of integration, providing equitable services and staying accountable to a larger population stand vindicated today! Why, the much hyped up Hi-Tech City has a maze of optic fibre lines, but sadly no sewerage lines!

Governance framework is partly responsible for this state of affairs. Hyderabad, though a metropolis now is still a state’s baby. Despite the 74th constitutional amendment Act, it is not the city but the state that decides the urban infrastructure projects, levies and collects taxes. The state also interferes with the local governments property tax by deciding the tax base, rates and modes of assessment leaving the city government disempowered and financially weak. Though JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission) aims to rectify that, shuttle negotiations with the state have been leading to delays and sub-optimal development of Hyderabad.

The City Development Plan of Hyderabad (CDP) that accessed the JNNURM funds for the city was sent without the mandatory stakeholder consultations. There is also a community participation law for urban projects just as there is a JNNURM framework for citizen participation. Citizens do not question enough. The government does not share enough. Town hall meetings that are the purest form of democratic governing are missing in our city. Citizens have to participate actively in city development. We must realize that managing cities is not just government business alone. It is ours too.

We can make Hyderabad a livable city if citizens wear a reformer hat to cleanse institutions, an activist hat to question investment decisions and a partner hat to accelerate equitable development!

SYDC2NUNQAN2

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