Thursday, 24 December 2015

CBI raids Bengal ponzi firm’s premises

“Searches are being conducted at 18 places in West Bengal in connection with investigation of case against Ramel Group. Searches are being conducted at the official and residential premises of the group and its managing directors and directors,” a Central Bureau of Investigation official said.
The Ramel group was one of the several non Saradha Group companies against which the CBI registered cases for illegally raising public money.
Having found guilty of operating Collective Investment Schemes (CIS) without obtaining its approval, market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) in July 2014 asked Ramel Industries to immediately wind down its scheme that raised over Rs 97 crore from investors.
Ordering refund of the collected money, the SEBI also barred Ramel Industries as well as its promoters and directors from dealing in capital markets till the refund was complete.

Azad’s suspension reflects Modi’s style of functioning: Congress

The suspension of Kirti Azad from the Bharatiya Janata Party is nothing but a manifestation of the corruptionphilia that grips the party, Congress leader Randip Surjewala said in a statement on Wednesday.
It is yet another statement on Modi’s and BJP president ‘s style of functioning that is nothing but ‘my way or highway’, Surjewala said.
He also said that BJP leaders facing allegations were sheltered by Modi’s “immunity” and complainants against corruption were suspended.
“Is this what probity and accountability in public life is all about,” the Congress leader said.
The BJP on Wednesday suspended Kirti Azad, who has alleged large-scale corruption in Delhi’s cricket body when it was headed by now Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

Modi arrives in Russia, meets Putin

Putin hosted Modi for a private dinner ahead of Thursday’s hectic schedule of engagements between the two countries.
“Building Druzhba-Dosti over dinner. President Putin @KremlinRussia_E hosts a private tete-a-tete for PM @narendramodi,” external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup tweeted.
Earlier, after alighting from the aircraft, Modi was welcomed with a ceremonial guard of honour at the airport.
“Cold and rain no obstacles for a red carpet welcome for PM,” Swarup said in another tweet.
This is Modi’s first bilateral visit to Russia. The two leaders last had a formal interaction at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in Ufa city of Russia, in July.
During this visit, a raft of agreements spanning a broad spectrum of sectors are expected to be signed following summit-level talks on Thursday between the two countries with trade being a major focus area.
Modi and Putin are scheduled to meet a delegation of Indian and Russian CEOs in the Kremlin.
Modi will address a gathering of Friends of India and also meet members of the Indian community in Russia.
The prime minister’s itinerary includes a visit to Russia’s National Crisis Management Centre (NCMC) in Moscow on Thursday.
The NCMC is a multi-level coordination centre designed to provide inter-agency coordination and alert the people about the threat of emergency situations. The capabilities of the NCMC include state-of-art real time monitoring, data collection, analysis and modelling.
In a pre-departure statement, Modi said he was very optimistic about his visit.
“History is witness to the close ties India and Russia have had over the decades. Russia remains one of India’s most valued friends in the world,” he stated.
“My visit will deepen the cooperation between India and Russia in the economic, energy and security spheres. We also want to increase cooperation in science and technology, mining among other sectors. Trade ties between India and Russia can increase even further, to benefit not only our two nations but also the world,” he added, ahead of departing for Russia.
He also stated there would be extensive deliberations with President Putin.
“There will be an interaction with Russian businesspersons to invite them to invest in India. I will also attend a ‘Friends of India’ programme. I am certain that this visit will substantially take forward the already strong people to people ties between our nations,” Modi added.

Parliament adjourned sine die, Ram temple issue rocks RajyaSabha

RajyaSabha Chairman Hamid Ansari asked members to “introspect” over the state of affairs in the house. LokSabha Speaker SumitraMahajan hoped the parliamentarians would “take a conscious decision to ensure less disruptions”.
The upper house, however, on Wednesday passed the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Bill, the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill and Atomic Energy (Amendment) Bill without discussion.
The RajyaSabha’s proceedings were briefly disrupted twice in the pre-lunch session over the issues of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and the ongoing Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) row before taking up the three bills for passing.
Soon after the upper house met for the day, Janata Dal-United member K.C. Tyagi raised the issue of stones being transported and carved for constructing the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
“A similar situation (to what prevailed earlier) is being created in Ayodhya once again. Tension is being incited,” Tyagi said.
Members of the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress too supported him.
BSP leader Mayawati accused the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of trying to derive political mileage by again raking up the Ram temple issue.
“There should not be anything that is in contempt of the Supreme Court. It’s the responsibility of the Uttar Pradesh government to maintain law and order,” she said.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi replied, saying stones are being polished since 1990, and “the site is around one-and-a-half km from the disputed site. Second, both the government and the BJP firmly believe the court’s decision should be respected and we will respect it”.
“There is no restriction on carving of stones; it does not mean the Ram temple is being constructed,” he said.
However, members of the Congress and SP trooped near the chairman’s podium and raised anti-government slogans.
Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien adjourned the house for 10 minutes.
As the house reassembled at 11.34 a.m., Congress members again trooped near the chairman’s podium to demand Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s resignation over the DDCA issue.
Chairman Hamid Ansari then adjourned the house till 1 p.m.
Before adjourning the house sine die, Ansari in his valedictory address, asked members to “desist from approaches and practices that demean the stature of the RajyaSabha, and also urged them to “make the fullest possible use of the instrumentalities of accountability and discussion available to them under the Rules of Procedure”.
In the LokSabha, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan hoped that parliamentarians will “take a conscious decision to ensure less disruptions” as she adjourned the house sine die at the end of the winter session of parliament that began on November 26.
“I hope that in the new year we will take a conscious decision to ensure less disruptions and more debates in the house while using all available parliamentary instruments to forcefully register our dissent and disagreement, if any,” she said.
Earlier in the day, the Speaker assured Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge that she will expunge two words from her remarks made on Tuesday about members raising slogans near the Speaker’s podium.
Kharge said the remarks which “do not have any national interest, they have only vested interest” were about the Congress party and had caused hurt.
The Speaker said the protesting members should also think others can also feel hurt. Mahajan, however, said she did not name any party. “The way the house was being disturbed, it should be reflected upon.”
The LokSabha lost a total of 8 hours and 37 minutes due to interruptions followed by forced adjournments. The house later sat for 17 hours and 10 minutes to compensate for the time lost.
Congress members continued to raise slogans against the government during the question hour. They later staged a walk out.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the Congress members had not allowed question hour to run properly for the past many days.
Naidu said the Speaker was like the mother of the house. ” Today is the last day. I request the Speaker not to take what they said to person because you are like our mother.”
He accused the Congress of being intolerant towards the mandate of the people and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “the most powerful leader in the world now”.
Mahajan adjourned the house sine die.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Fitch retains India’s rating at lowest investment grade

fitch-ratings LAmerican rating agency Fitch on Monday retained India’s sovereign rating at the lowest investment grade of “BBB-/stable”, saying the country will continue to post good growth despite subdued prospect for the Asia Pacific region in a situation of “dollar strength in the context of an expected rise in US (Federal Reserve) rates and lower commodity prices.
“India and Vietnam have favourable macroeconomic prospects, partly reflecting lower exposure to some of the negative pressures affecting the region; however, weaknesses in their public finances have deterred us from taking positive ratings action,” Fitch said in a report titled “Emerging Asia Sovereign Outlook 2016″.
“Dollar strength in the context of an expected rise in US rates, still-sluggish global trade growth and lower commodity prices pose a challenging set of circumstances for Emerging Asia in 2016 – which partly explains why the high growth rates of the mid-2000s look out of reach,” it said.
The report said the US Federal Reserve is largely expected to make its first rate hike in almost a decade during its upcoming two-day meeting beginning on Tuesday, which would act as headwinds for emerging Asian economies.
Emerging Asia’s growth in 2016 is expected to slow to 6.3 percent, from 6.5 percent, mostly due to the projected slowdown in China.
Fitch said that excluding China and India, the region is projected to expand 5.2 percent in 2016, from 5 percent, which it said would be the fastest for any emerging region.
Moreover, emerging Asian external balance sheets are generally stronger than in 1996, the year before the onset of the Asian financial crisis.
“Sovereigns are generally much less reliant on foreign currency financing, and many countries now have more flexible exchange-rate regimes in place of the more prevalent use of explicit pegs before 1997,” the report said.
Fitch said in a report last week that India’s economy will grow by 7.5 percent in the current fiscal that will stand out globally, but warned that its business environment would remain weak despite improvements.
The agency said a “BBB-” rating, the lowest in the investment grade, along with a stable outlook and a strong medium-term growth prospect and favourable external finances, will balance out with high government debt, weak structurals and a difficult, but improving, business environment.
It said while India’s sovereign ratings continued to be constrained by the limited fiscal space of the government, the 23.6-percent salary hike recommended by the 7th Pay Commission has raised doubts about the feasibility of the medium-term consolidation path.
On inflation, it said, India’s 7.9-percent average in annual price rise over the past five years was much higher than the 3.3-percent level among the peers with the same rating. But the changes in the retail inflation profile strengthened India’s sovereign credit profile.
Meanwhile, India’s annual retail and wholesale inflation rates rose considerably in November to 5.41 percent and (-)1.9 percent respectively, due largely to an increase in the prices of food items like pulses, official data showed on Monday.

Lok Sabha passes bill to ease setting up of new nuclear projects

The Atomic Energy (Amendment) Bill, 2015, which will enable the Nuclear Power Corp to enter into joint ventures with other public sector undertakings (PSUs) to fast track nuclear power projects in the country, was introduced in the house on December 7 by Minister of State for Atomic Energy Jitendra Singh.
Replying to a debate on the bill, he said: “India’s nuclear programme is on ascension.”
He said wherever Prime Minister Narendra Modi went during the past 18 months of his government, he signed “some agreement” or got into “some understanding” related to nuclear power with that country.
“Prime minister, wherever he visits, gets something on nuclear energy,” he said.
The minister said that in the years to come, India would start using nuclear energy in generating power.
Singh also cleared all doubts and concerns of the members about safety and security of the country’s nuclear power plants.
“All our nuclear plants are safe as they have been designed after taking every minute thing into consideration,” he said, adding that most of the deaths in India’s nuclear plants have been natural as there have been no death due to exposure to radiation.
“Disposal of spent (nuclear) fuel is done very scientifically and there is nothing to worry about it,” he said.
The Congress members were missing from the house when the bill was taken up for vote as they staged a walkout on the issue of Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy being excluded from a function to be attended by Prime Minister Modi.

Bangladesh lifts ban on social media

Bangladeshi State Minister for Post and Telecommunications Tarana Halim confirmed the government’s decision to Xinhua news agency.
The decision to lift ban on all social media platforms came hours after the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission’s (BTRC) new instruction to block three more online voice and messaging services — Twitter, Skype, imo.
The BTRC on Sunday night asked all of the country’s cell phone operators and telecom service providers to suspend the three popular services — Twitter, Skype, imo — immediately.
“All social media have been opened. They are now available across Bangladesh,” Halim said.
“Directives have already been sent to the relevant authorities for taking necessary steps to unblock all social media platforms including Skype, Twitter, WhatsApp and Viber,” he said.
BTRC on November 18 blocked Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber for security reasons shortly after the country’s apex court delivered verdicts upholding the death penalties of two influential opposition leaders — criminals Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed — for war crimes.
For the first time in its history, the Bangladeshi government reportedly on that day also temporarily shut down the internet in the country for over an hour.
The shutdown affected businesses and services heavily dependent on the digital networks.
Ban on the social media have been imposed on security grounds, Halim said, adding, “We’ve decided to open all social media platforms as there are no more security concerns now.”
Halim earlier said Facebook and other social networking platforms will be opened after directives come from the home affairs ministry once ensuring the security concerns of the country and its people.
Earlier on Monday, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said there are no existing threats to Bangladesh.

Building TAPI pipeline realises an old dream: Pakistani daily

An editorial “TAPI gas” in the Dawn said that after years of hearing only talk about the pipeline, “we finally have a concrete step towards making it a reality”.
“The groundbreaking ceremony for the pipeline that is to carry 90 million cubic metres of natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India is the first move towards realising an old dream,” it said.
The daily said that the volume of gas to be made available to Pakistan is “enough to plug just under a quarter of our total present-day natural gas deficit”.
It added that “even though the ceremony has raised hopes for a partial solution to this country’s energy woes, it is still a good idea to keep in mind that the project has substantial question marks hanging over it since the route passes through Afghanistan, where the outlook on the security situation is fluid”.
The editorial observed that it is important to note that the part of Afghanistan through which the pipeline travels is less affected by security considerations than many other areas of that country.
“And the pipeline itself can play a big role in aligning the perspectives of major stakeholders on Afghanistan’s internal situation, since it will tie the future energy security of three South Asian countries together, making them partners in each other’s stability,” it said.
“Greater economic cooperation amongst the countries participating in the project is an essential foundation for future peace.”
It went on to say that geopolitics should not be allowed to dictate priorities to economics.
“Pakistan has a lot to gain from closer ties with its neighbours, east and west, and nothing should be allowed to prevent these ties from materialising,” the daily added

Mount Bromo volcano erupts in Indonesia

Powerful bursts of hot ash and gravel erupted from the rumbling volcano at 6.00 a.m. (local time), heading as far as 2.5 km from the crater, Xinhua quoted Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman of the national disaster management agency, as saying.
Tourist and visitors were banned from entering the slope by up to 2.5 km from the crater, Sutopo said.
“Residences are warned to keep vigilant over continuation of the eruption and possible greater eruption,” he said.
The agency and local community have prepared for any emergency to counter possible risks of greater eruption, according to Sutopo.
The 3,829 metre high Mount Bromo last erupted in January 2011, forcing airlines to ground their planes.
Mount Bromo is one of Indonesia’s 129 active volcanoes.

NO2 emission rising in India, new NASA air quality maps show

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a yellow-brown gas that is a common emission from cars, power plants and industrial activity.
The US and Europe are among the largest emitters of nitrogen dioxide but both regions also showed the most dramatic reductions between 2005 and 2014, the maps showed.
“The main story in South Asia is increasing NO2 levels from 2005 to 2014 associated with booming economies and ambitious infrastructure development, such as new coal-burning power plants in the Chhattisgarh region of India,” NASA said in a statement.
“One of the largest increases occurred over Jamnagar (India), the site of the largest petrochemical complex in the world,” it added.
“Dhaka (Bangladesh) had the largest increase (79 percent) of any world city,” the statement noted.
Using new, high-resolution global satellite maps of air quality indicators, NASA scientists tracked air pollution trends over the last decade in various regions and 195 cities around the globe.
“These changes in air quality patterns are not random,” said lead researcher Bryan Duncan, atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“When governments step in and say we are going to build something here or we are going to regulate this pollutant, you see the impact in the data,” Duncan noted.
Duncan and his team examined observations made from 2005 to 2014 by the Dutch-Finnish ozone monitoring instrument aboard NASA’s Aura satellite.
One of the atmospheric gases the instrument detects is nitrogen dioxide.
Nitrogen dioxide can quickly transform into ground-level ozone, a major respiratory pollutant in urban smog. NO2 hotspots, used as an indicator of general air quality, occur over most major cities in developed and developing nations.
The science team analyzed year-to-year trends in nitrogen dioxide levels around the world.
They found that China, the world’s growing manufacturing hub, saw an increase of 20 to 50 percent in nitrogen dioxide, much of it occurring over the North China Plain.
Three major Chinese metropolitan areas — Beijing, Shanghai, and the Pearl River Delta — saw nitrogen dioxide reductions of as much as 40 percent.
The findings were presented on Monday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, US and published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

Earth’s tilt affects climate change

Earth1In a first, researchers have discovered a connection between the Earth’s tilt, called obliquity, that shifts every 41,000 years, and the movement of a low pressure band of clouds that is the Earth’s largest source of heat and moisture – the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or ITCZ.
This finding showed that the Earth’s tilt plays a much larger part in ITCZ migration than previously thought, which, the study said, would enable climate scientists to better predict extreme weather events.
For the study, the researchers analysed data from the past 282,000 years.
“I took the data and put it through a mathematical prism so I could look at the patterns and that is where we see the obliquity cycle, that 41,000-year cycle,” said Kristine DeLong, associate professor at Louisiana State University in the US.
Historically, the collapse of the Mayan civilization and several Chinese dynasties have been linked to persistent droughts associated with the ITCZ.
This new information is critical to understanding global climate and sustainable human socioeconomic development, the researchers said.
With research collaborators at the University of Science and Technology of China and National Taiwan University, DeLong looked at sediment cores from off the coast of Papua New Guinea and stalactite samples from ancient caves in China.
DeLong’s data analysis revealed obliquity in both the paleontological record and computer model data.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Computer mouse can reveal if you are angry

Mouse1Most people can tell if you are angry by looking at your face or behaviour but what if how you move a computer mouse can predict your anger or frustration?
According to professor Jeffrey Jenkins from Brigham Young University, people experiencing anger and other negative emotions like frustration, confusion and sadness become less precise in their mouse movements and move the cursor at different speeds.
“Using this technology, websites will no longer be dumb. Websites can go beyond just presenting information, but they can sense you. They can understand not just what you’re providing, but what you’re feeling,” Jenkins explained.
According to his research, when users are upset or confused, the mouse no longer follows a straight or gently curving path.
Instead, movements become jagged and sudden. Additionally, someone exhibiting negative emotions moves a mouse slower.
“It’s counter-intuitive. People might think, ‘When I’m frustrated, I start moving the mouse faster,” Jenkins said. “Well, no, you actually start moving slower.”
The greatest application of his research is that web developers will be able to adapt or fix sore points in websites that bring out negative emotions.
In other words, now the people running the online ticket website that drives you bonkers will know exactly when you throw up your hands and scream.
“Being able to sense a negative emotional response, we can adjust the website experience to eliminate stress or to offer help,” Jenkins added.
The cursor-tracking concept can also be applied to mobile devices, where swipes and taps replace mouse movement.
The research appeared in the journal MIS Quarterly.

Congress, Trinamool members walk out from Lok Sabha

The Bharatiya Janata Party members protested when Speaker Sumitra Mahajan asked Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia to speak after the question hour.
Referring to Congress members trooping near the speaker’s podium during the question hour and raising slogans against the Punjab government, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said an attempt was being made to defame an elected government.
He said the Congress members first abuse an elected government by coming near the speaker’s podium and then seek to raise the issue in the house.
“Everyday, it is becoming a practice. Please understand the sentiments of the house,” he said.
As Congress members raised slogans to demand the dismissal of Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government in Punjab over the Abohar crime, Naidu said going by the same logic even the Uttar Pradesh government needed to be dismissed over the Dadri lynching incident.
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said matters pertaining to the states should not be raised in the house and asked Scindia not to do so.
Scindia said there were several incidents of atrocities against Dalits and women during the past 18 months since the Modi government came to power. “This is a national issue,” he said.
As soon as Scindia referred to the crushing of a school student by a bus allegedly belonging to a company owned by an Akali leader and sought to blame the ruling party leadership in Punjab, members from the treasury benches were up on their feet.
The speaker asked Scindia to sit down, as Congress members gradually gathered near the podium.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Pratap Rudy urged Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to allow his cabinet colleague Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a Shiromani Akali Dal MP from Bathinda, to speak.
Congress and Trinamool Congress members walked out of the house soon after Harsimrat Kaur began to speak.
Harsimrat Kaur, the minister for food processing industries, said the Congress had been protesting in the Lok Sabha after a court order in the National Herald case and accused it of playing politics on issues concerning the Dalits.
She accused the Congress of trying to stall the country’s progress by stalling the Goods and Services Tax Bill.
She said Dalits formed a sizeable section of the Punjab population and the state had the lowest rate of crime against the weaker sections.
Harsimrat Kaur said an arrest has been made in the case and maintained that it was a result of a clash between two gangs.
Limbs of two men were chopped off on Saturday at a farmhouse owned by an Akali Dal leader in Punjab, as per media reports.
One of the men, Bheem Tank, died on way to hospital after both his hands and legs were chopped off. Gurjant Singh, who lost one hand, was admitted to a hospital in Amritsar in a serious condition.

IIM-L to offer Harvard’s course on competitiveness

Two IIM-L professors, Sanjay K. Singh and Ashutosh K. Sinha, had recently attended a workshop at HBS’ Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness (ISC) in the US to prepare for the course, the PR officer of the IIM said here on Tuesday.
She said the partnership would allow IIM-Lucknow to be able to access the continuously updated teaching material developed by ISC.
The IIM would also be able to use the Harvard expertise in cluster development at the local government level.
“The course focuses on the sources of national or regional productivity, which are rooted in the strategies and operating practices of locally based firms, the vitality of clusters, and the quality of the business environment in which competition takes place,” said ISC.
HBS is the reputed graduate business school of Harvard University in Boston, United States.

Woman rides across India for female foeticide awareness

Rishika Sahoo rode alone over 17,000 km, to reach out to as many authorities, hospitals, schools, colleges and people she could meet on the streets to spread the message of the Art of Living’s ‘Save the Girl Child’ initiative, a statement said on Tuesday.
Sahoo said during her journey, there were many days when she had to go without food, water and shelter, but she overcame all to achieve what she’d set out for.
“People are not what they seem like. They were all very cooperative and supportive. Yet what goes wrong with these very people when they kill and burn their girl child… We have to find out what is wrong with the thinking of people. Where does it go wrong,” Sahoo said here.
“We are not bringing up the boys right in the country. They are not taught to respect women. More than anything, the way an Indian woman thinks can bring the greatest change in the condition of her own kind,” she added.
A big-time yoga enthusiast, Sahoo started her countrywide journey from Odisha’s Angul on September 14. She ended her journey on Tuesday at India Gate in the national capital.

No more photo auto-sync feature on Facebook

Starting January 10, Facebook will replace its “Synced from Phone” photo album with a notification explaining the change and a link to download Moments.
Facebook says that as people increasingly share photos on social platforms through mobile, the photo syncing feature for its mobile app has become irrelevant.
“The feature was launched in 2012 when people took photos on their phones, but still posted primarily from computers,” Facebook said in a statement.
“People that use photo syncing will have the option to move the photos they have previously synced to our new app Moments, where they will be able to view, download, or delete them,” the statement read.
In that sense, Facebook sees Moments as a logical extension of how we snap and share pictures today: not by selectively uploading them to another destination and sharing later, but through intelligent algorithms that do the work for us entirely on our smartphones.
Moments was launched as a way to capitalise on Facebook’s face-recognition technology to automatically create photo albums of you and your friends.
The app also uses location and date information to group the photos.
Users who do not want to download Moments can download a zip file of their photos from the album before the feature is removed, Facebook said.

Evidence of recent clay formation on Mars found

Most of that alteration is thought to have happened during the earliest part of Martian history more than 3.7 billion years ago.
But the new study shows that later alteration — within the last two billion years or so — may be more common than many scientists had thought.
The assumption is particularly true of clay deposits found in crater central peaks.
Central peaks are formed when, in the aftermath of an impact, rocks from within the crust rebound upward, bringing layers to the surface that had been buried many kilometers deep.
“Because central peaks contain rocks uplifted from depth, some previous studies have assumed the clays found within central peak regions are uplifted too,” said geologist Ralph Milliken from Brown University.
Recent orbital and rover missions to Mars have turned up ample evidence of clay and other hydrated minerals formed when rocks are altered by the presence of water.
The lion’s share of the clay deposits found on Mars have turned up in terrains that date back to the earliest Martian epoch, known as the Noachian period.
Milliken and colleagues performed a survey of 633 crater central peaks distributed across the Martian surface.
Of those 633 peaks, Milliken and co-author Vivian Sun found 265 that have evidence of hydrated minerals, the majority of which were consistent with clays.
They found that in about 65 percent of cases the clay minerals were indeed associated with uplifted bedrock.
“That is a majority but it still leaves a substantial number of craters — 35 percent — where these minerals are present and not clearly associated with uplift,” Milliken noted.
Within those 35 percent, Milliken and co-author Vivian Sun found examples where clays exist in dunes, unconsolidated soil or other formations not associated with bedrock.
“You do apparently have a lot of local environments in these crater settings where you can still form clays, and it may have occurred more often than many people had thought,” the authors pointed out.
So far, much of the surface exploration by rovers has focused on ancient terrains and whether or not the environments they record were habitable.
“But if we wanted to look at an environment that was more recent, we’ve identified craters that might be possible candidates,” said Sun.
The research is forthcoming in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

India’s responsibility not limited to its boundaries: Modi

The prime minister was onboard warship INS Vikramaditya, addressing the three service chiefs, and top commanders of the armed forces at the Combined Commanders’ Conference.
“In a world of rapid changes, India faces familiar threats and new ones. Our challenges cover land, sea and air at the same time. It includes the full range, from terrorism to conventional threat to a nuclear environment,” Modi said.
“Our responsibilities are no longer confined to our borders and coastlines. They extend to our interests and citizens, spread across a world of widespread and unpredictable risks,” he said.
The prime minister also outlined how India was establishing diplomatic relations across the globe, and trying to have friendly relations in neighbourhood, which he described as “difficult”.
“As the world seeks to deal with the rising threat of terrorism and radicalism, countries across all regions, including in the Islamic world, have reached out to seek cooperation with India.
“Above all, it is our neighbourhood that is most critical for our future and for our place in the world. But ours is a difficult neighbourhood with the full spectrum of security challenges,” he said.
Modi also expressed concern over the instability in West Asia.
The prime minister said “our region” was marked by uncertain political transitions, weak institutions and internal conflicts and “major powers” have increased their engagement in India’s land and maritime neighbourhood.
On Pakistan, Modi highlighted the beginning of new dialogue process, and added: “But, we will never drop our guard on security and we will continue to judge progress on their commitments on terrorism.”
“We are engaging Pakistan to try and turn the course of history, bring an end to terrorism, build peaceful relations, advance cooperation and promote stability and prosperity in our region,” he said.
Modi also mentioned China and said India was pursuing “closer relations” to harness the full potential of economic partnership.
Stating that India’s transformation was closely linked with international partnership, Modi mentioned both Russia and the US as important partners.
“Russia has always been a source of strength for us. It remains important for our future, too. With the United States, we have advanced our partnership in a comprehensive manner, including in defence. Our strategic partnerships in Europe have deepened,” he said.
Modi also talked about the changing nature of wars, and the emergence of new “theatres” like cyberspace.
The prime minister said as the world gets transformed, the nature of conflicts and the objectives of war will also change.
“We know that old rivalries can play out in new theatres such as space and cyber… So, we in India must be ready for the present and prepare for the future.”
He said India was confident that its defence forces were “prepared to deter and defeat any misadventure”.
This was the first time the Combined Commanders Conference was held onboard an aircraft carrier.
Modi inspected a Tri-services Guard of Honour in the morning at INS Garuda in Kochi, before arriving onboard INS Vikramaditya, where he was received by the three service chiefs.
“This aircraft carrier is the instrument of our maritime power and a symbol of our maritime responsibility,” the prime minister said about the ship.

Smooth countdown for ISRO’s launch of six Singaporean satellites

“The countdown is progressing smoothly without any hitch. The rocket is slated to blast off at 6 p.m. today (Wednesday) with six Singaporean satellites,” a senior official of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) told IANS. Sriharikota is around 80 km from here.
Apart from launching the six foreign satellites, ISRO will also be testing the rocket’s fourth stage/engine’s ability to restart after it is cut-off around 17 minutes into the flight.
Technically speaking, India will be testing a multiple burn fuel stage/rocket engine for the first time.
“The restart and shut off of the fourth stage engine is done as a first step towards launching multiple satellites but in different orbits,” a senior ISRO official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told IANS.
Launching of multiple satellites with a single rocket is nothing new for ISRO and it has been doing that for several years. The challenge is however to launch several satellites at different orbits with one rocket.
This is what ISRO will be testing after PSLV ejects out six Singaporean satellites on Wednesday.
The PSLV rocket is a four stage/engine rocket powered by solid and liquid fuel alternatively.
“Restarting a rocket engine soon after it is shut off is a critical technology that has to be mastered. Once a rocket engine is activated, then the heat generated is very high. The trick is to cool it down in the space and to restart it at a short gap,” an industry expert told IANS.
“This is entirely different from switching on and off the communication satellite’s engines in the space. The interval between two restarts of a communication satellite engine will be in days. But in the case of restarting a rocket engine, the time gap will be in hours,” the expert added.
“By that time the rocket’s engine has to be cooled down. This part of the experiment is very critical,” he explained.
The PSLV’s fourth stage/engine will be restarted just over 67 minutes into the flight or 50 minutes after the engine was cut-off.
At the time of restart the fourth stage will be in a lower altitude of 523.9 km while the satellites were ejected at 550 km altitude.
The engine will be operated for four seconds and is planned to go up to an altitude of 524 km before the stage will be cut-off again.
On December 16, ISRO will be flying the ‘core alone’ variant of the PSLV rocket. The rocket will not have the strap on boosters, its standard feature.
The successful launch of the six Singaporean satellites will take ISRO’s total flights of foreign satellites to 57.
Out of the six satellites, the 400 kg earth observation satellite called TeLEOS-1 is the main passenger for the PSLV rocket and hence the mission is called TeLEOS mission by ISRO.
TeLEOS-1 is Singapore’s first commercial earth observation satellite designed and developed by ST Electronics.
The other five co-passenger satellites are VELOX-C1 (123 kg), VELOX-II (13 kg), Kent Ridge-1 (78 kg), Galassia (3.4 kg) and Athenoxat-1.
The December 16 mission will be the last rocket launch mission for ISRO in 2015.
So far in 2015, ISRO has launched 14 satellites (three Indian and 11 foreign) from its rocket port in Sriharikota. Thirteen satellites were launched with PSLV rocket and one communication satellite – GSAT-6-with geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV).
Last month India also launched its communication satellite GSAT-15 using the Ariane rocket of the European space agency which takes the total number of satellite launches in 2015 to 21 (17 foreign, four Indian).

SC directs testing of Maggi sample by Mysuru lab

An apex court bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Prafulla C. Pant said that the local commissioner shall collect samples of Maggi noodles from the companies’ Lucknow-based godown and send them to the lab. The court said the report of the testing would be submitted before it.
The court order came on Nestle’s appeal challenging the NCDRC December 9/10 order directing the testing of Maggi noodles sample by Chennai lab.
The court said the NCDRC would not proceed with the hearing of the class action suite filed by the union of India claiming Rs.640 crore from Nestle for marketing noodles with suspect quality.

Even passive smoking linked to infertility, early menopause

High levels of tobacco exposure is associated with the arrival of menopause one to two years earlier in active and passive smokers than among lifetime non-smokers who had not been exposed to passive smoking, the findings showed.
“This is one of the first studies of this size and statistical power to investigate and quantify active and passive smoking and women’s health issues. It strengthens the current evidence that all women need to be protected from active and passive tobacco smoke,” said Danielle Smith from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York, and colleagues.
The toxins found in tobacco smoke are known to have various deleterious effects on many aspects of reproduction and to disrupt hormone production and activity, the study explained.
The researchers based their findings on information obtained on lifetime smoking habits, fertility problems, and age at natural menopause provided by more than 93,000 women taking part in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study (WHI OS).
All the women had gone through the menopause, and were aged between 50 and 79 when they were recruited to the study between 1993 and 1998.
Analysis of the data showed that tobacco exposure was associated with an increased risk of infertility and earlier menopause.
Compared with never smokers, current or former smoking was associated with 14 percent greater risk of infertility and a 26 percent heightened risk of menopause before the age of 50.
For the highest levels of tobacco use, the menopause arrived almost 22 months earlier for those who said they had started smoking before their 15th birthday and 18 months earlier among those who smoked at least 25 cigarettes a day.
The highest level of passive smoke exposure was associated with the arrival of menopause 13 months earlier than the lowest (zero) level.
The study was published online in the journal Tobacco Control.

Customs strike delays flights at Sri Lanka’s airport

Sri Lanka’s national airline carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines, said its flights to London, Beijing, Singapore and Lahore were delayed, Xinhua report.
The delays occurred because customs officials went on a wild cat strike to protest their bags being subjected to checks upon their arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport.
The strike, however, was called off by Wednesday afternoon and officials said flights will operate as scheduled.

Suspected Al Qaeda terrorist arrested in Odisha

The arrest of Rehman, 37, followed a joint operation by Odisha and Delhi Police, Police Commissioner R.P. Sharma told the media.
Rehman was suspected to be a member of the Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and had links with contacts in other countries such as Pakistan and Britain, he said.
The arrest took place at his house in Paschima Kachha village on Tuesday night.
Sharma said Delhi Police had come to know about Rehman’s links with the AQIS after tracking his telephone call records.
A PhD on Islam from Deoband in Uttar Pradesh, Rehman ran a seminary in Cuttack district. Most of his students hail from Jharkhand.
According to Delhi Police, Rehman was engaged in recruiting members for Al Qaeda.
However, there was no indication that he was involved in or planning any terrorist activities in Odisha, Sharma said.
Sharma said the suspect’s elder brother, Tahir Ali, was earlier arrested in 2001 terror attack on the American consulate in Kolkata.
Rehman would be produced in a Cuttack court and then taken to Delhi for further investigation.

Yemeni court jails US national for links with Al Qaeda

“The security court sentenced US citizen Sharif Mobley to 10 years in prison after he was convicted to have ink links with Al Qaeda, and to pay blood money for killing a security guard,” said the source.
The source said Mobley trial was held in high-level security measures, Xinhua reported.
In 2010, Mobley traveled along with his wife and a baby daughter to Sanaa to study Arabic language, but later was arrested by Yemeni security forces for alleged suspicion of having links to Al Qaeda.
In May 2010, Mobley was brought from the intelligence prison to a hospital for treatment, where he attempted to escape by shooting his way out of the hospital, killing one guard.
Mobley was also charged with injuring another guard when he snatched a weapon from one of the guards and opened fire at them to flee.
Yemen, an impoverished Arab country, has been gripped by one of the most active regional Al Qaeda insurgencies in the Middle East and the affiliate of the Islamic State.

Gogoi ready to be Assam CM for fourth time

He also said the defection of former health and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to the BJP will help the Congress win next year’s assembly elections.
“Yes, I am ready to be chief minister for a fourth time,” he asserted at a media briefing here.
His statement comes after he dismissed speculation that his son and LokSabha member Gaurav Gogoi would be projected as the Congress’s chief ministerial candidate saying the latter did not have the experience for the post.
He said his one time blue-eyed boy Sarma’s defection to the BJP would help the Congress win the elections to the 126-member assembly expected to be held in March-April next year.
After having resigned as state education and health minister in July last year, Sarma quit the Congress and joined the BJP in August this year.
“Himanta is a home-breaker. He tried to break our (Congress’s) home and now he will break BJP’s home,” Gogoi said.
According to him, Sarma was, at one point of time, willing to be deputy chief minister under him.
“Later, he started saying he should be made chief minister instead of me,” he said.
Asked if the Congress would have a pre-poll alliance in the state, he the party planned to fight the elections alone.
On speculation about discussions between the Congress and regional party Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), he conceded that talks were going on.
“But it is for them (AGP) to decide. I have neither said yes nor no,” he said.
Gogoi, who on Wednesday submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a series of demands, including release of funds due from the Centre and continuation of special category status for Assam, said he also complained about Governor P.B. Acharya.
“I told the prime minister that the governor is interfering in the state’s affairs,” he said.
Acharya, who is the Nagaland governor, has been given additional charge of Assam till the appointment of a full-time governor.
“It has been one year and no governor has been appointed yet,” Gogoi said.
The Assam chief minister also commented on the controversy created by Arunachal Pradesh Governor J.P. Rajkhowa by calling an assembly session earlier than scheduled without consulting Chief Minister Nabam Tuki or the council of ministers.
“They (the BJP) are using governors as political agents. They failed in Assam and now they are trying this in Arunachal Pradesh,” he said.

Congress leads in Jharkhand by-poll

After eight out of a total 20 rounds, Congress candidate Sukhdeo Bhagat secured 27,824 votes and BJP-backed All Jharkhand Students Union’s (AJSU) candidate Niru Bhagat got 19,672 votes.
Sixty seven percent of 2.20 lakh electorate voted on December 14 in the Lohardaga assembly by-election to fill up a seat that fell vacant after AJSU legislator Kamla Kishore Bhagat was convicted and handed over a seven-year jail term in July in an extortion case.
There were nine candidates.
The three main candidates were Niru Bhagat, wife of the jailed legislator, Sukhdeo Bhagat and Bandhu Tirkey of Jharkhand Vikas Morcha-Prajatantrik (JVM-P).
The seat is reserved for tribals.

India better placed than peers over US rate hike: Fitch

“India is not immune to potential general emerging market jitters related to the Fed lift-off, but it is better placed than many of its peers for a number of reasons,” Thomas Rookmaaker, director, Sovereign Ratings, Fitch Ratings was quoted as saying in a statement.
According to him, firstly India’s external balances have significantly improved since mid-2013, with foreign exchange reserves rising by some $65 billion to $353 billion as of November 2015 and the current account deficit narrowing.
Secondly, India is less dependent than several of its peers on commodity exports, and has thus not been negatively affected by the global rout in commodity prices, he added.
“Only a small part of India’s sovereign debt is held by foreigners or is denominated in foreign currency. Fourth, India’s favourable economic growth outlook makes India relatively attractive for foreign investors,” he added.