The plea filed by Barrister Javed Iqbal Jaffry made Pakistan's claim over the 105-carat gem on the basis that it hailed from the territory that became Pakistan in 1947.

A Pakistani court has accepted a petition seeking direction to the government to bring back Koh-i-Noor from British Queen Elizabeth-II, overruling the objection to the plea for the famed diamond, which India has been trying to get from the UK for years. Lahore High Court Justice Khalid Mahmood Khan on Monday overruled the objection by the court’s registrar office to the petition which has named Queen Elizabeth II and British High Commission in Pakistan respondents in the case.

The plea filed by Barrister Javed Iqbal Jaffry made Pakistan’s claim over the 105-carat gem on the basis that it hailed from the territory that became Pakistan in 1947. The court directed the office to fix the petition before any appropriate bench for hearing. In December last year, the registrar office’s had dismissed the plea terming it as non-maintainable and said that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case against the British Queen.

The petitioner filed a fresh application in the high court pleading that in Britain the Queen is respondent in every case. “Why not she can be made respondent in a case in Pakistan,” he argued in the court. In the petition, Jaffry argued that Britain “forcibly and under duress” stole the diamond from Daleep Singh, grandson of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, and took it to Britain.

“The diamond became part of the crown of incumbent Queen Elizabeth-II at the time of her crowing in 1953. Queen Elizabeth has no right on the Koh-i-Noor diamond,” he said. The London-trained lawyer said that he has written 786 letters to the Queen and to Pakistani officials before filing the lawsuit.

“Koh-i-Noor was not legitimately acquired. Grabbing and snatching it was a private, illegal act which is justified by no law or ethics. A wrong is a wrong. It does not become righteous or right by passage of time or even acquiescence,” he said in the petition. Claiming that the diamond was cultural heritage of Punjab province and its citizens owned it in fact, he sought direction to the government to bring the diamond back to Pakistan from the UK.

The Koh-i-Noor is one of the Crown Jewels and is now on display in the Tower of London. India has made regular requests for the jewel’s return, saying the diamond is an integral part of the country’s history and culture. India says that Koh-i-Noor was illegally acquired and demands that it should be returned along with other treasures looted during colonial rule.

The Koh-i-Noor was mined in medieval times in the Kollur mine in Andhra Pradesh’s Guntur district. The diamond was originally owned by the Kakatiya Dynasty, which had installed it in a temple of a Hindu goddess as her eye. Reportedly, in 1849, after the conquest of the Punjab by the British forces, the properties of the Sikh Empire were confiscated.

The Koh-i-Noor was transferred to the treasury of the British East India Company in Lahore. The properties of the Sikh Empire were taken as war compensations. It passed through the hands of various invaders and was finally appropriated by the British in 1850 during the Raj.

India has been long demanding the return of Koh-i-Noor which was owned by several Mughal emperors and Maharajas before being seized by the British. When Queen Elizabeth II made a state visit to India marking the 50th anniversary of independence in 1997, many
Indians in India and Britain demanded the return of the diamond. British Indian MP Keith Vaz had called for the return of ‘Koh-i-Noor’ diamond to India ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the UK in November last year.

Britain has, however, consistently rejected India’s claims on the gem and during a visit to India in 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron had said in an interview on Indian television: “What tends to happen with these questions is that if you say yes to one, then you would suddenly find the British Museum empty.”

Courtesy - Indian Express


Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad passed away at the Army's Research and Referral hospital in New Delhi

Three days after he was rescued after being buried in ice and snow for six days in Siachen Glacier, Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad died at the Army Research and Referral (RR) Hospital in Delhi on Thursday.

An Army statement said he died at 11.45 am. He had multiple organ failure. His family members were at the hospital at the time, sources said. His remains were flown to Hubli in Karnataka. The last rites will take place on Friday.

Courtesy - Indian Express

Much of the health benefits associated with mindfulness meditation training is due to the changes that this form of meditation causes in the brain, suggests new research.

In mindfulness meditation people make a conscious, focused practice of attending to their current state and sensations.

“We have now seen that mindfulness meditation training can reduce inflammatory biomarkers in several initial studies, and this new work sheds light into what mindfulness training is doing to the brain to produce these inflammatory health benefits,” said lead author David Creswell, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US.

Published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, the new study showed that mindfulness meditation training, compared to relaxation training, reduces Interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, in high-stress, unemployed community adults.

For the randomised controlled trial, 35 job-seeking, stressed adults were exposed to either an intensive three-day mindfulness meditation retreat programme or a well-matched relaxation retreat programme that did not have a mindfulness component.

All participants completed a five-minute resting state brain scan before and after the three-day programme.

They also provided blood samples right before the intervention began and at a four-month follow-up.

The brain scans showed that mindfulness meditation training increased the functional connectivity of the participants’ resting default mode network in areas important to attention and executive control, namely the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Participants who received the relaxation training did not show these brain changes.

The participants who completed the mindfulness meditation program also had reduced IL-6 levels, and the changes in brain functional connectivity coupling accounted for the lower inflammation levels.

“We think that these brain changes provide a neurobiological marker for improved executive control and stress resilience, such that mindfulness meditation training improves your brain’s ability to help you manage stress, and these changes improve a broad range of stress-related health outcomes, such as your inflammatory health,” Creswell said.


Courtesy - Indian Express

The Budget Session of Parliament will begin with the Presidential Address on February 23. This being a leap year, the Union Budget will be presented on February 29.

The Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs (CCPA), which met Thursday with Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the chair, decided that the Railway Budget will be presented on February 25 and the Economic Survey will be tabled the next day. “The first part of the session will end on March 16 and the second part will be convened from April 25 to May 13,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu told reporters after the meeting. He said the Budget Session will have 31 sittings spread over 81 days.

The CCPA meeting was preceded by an “informal consultation” between the government and select leaders from opposition parties. The government wanted to gauge their mood with regard to the schedule in the context of upcoming assembly polls in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry.


Courtesy - Indian Express

According to the health ministry guidelines document, “Zika virus disease has the potential for further international spread given the wide geographical distribution of the mosquito vector.” Though India has thus far not reported any case, given the large number of people suffering from dengue, Indians have to take extra care to protect themselves. Symptoms of the Zika virus disease include mild fever, headache, skin rash, muscle and joint pain, malaise, conjunctivitis; and may last for two to seven days.

Also, the mosquito behind the Zika virus seems to operate like a heat-driven missile of disease. Scientists say the hotter it gets, the better the mosquito that carries Zika virus is at transmitting a variety of dangerous illnesses. And, with the temperature rising across India, it becomes more important to take precautions and not let the Aedes Aegypti mosquito breed.

Though caution is advised, Indians need not panic. “Zika is not life-threatening like dengue and chikungunya, and it is a self-remitting disease, so — at this point — there is nothing to panic about,” says Dr Shelly Singh, senior consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Primus Hospital, Delhi.

Dr Singh admits that going by the number of dengue cases in India, there is cause for concern, because one of the problems with figuring out whether the disease exists in India is that the symptoms in a person infected by Zika are the same as those generated by dengue. “But since the virus is not indigenous to India, being careful of the vector and taking the same precautions as you would against dengue should help keep the disease at bay,” says Dr Singh. For those who travel extensively and are worried, she advises getting a basic blood test done, with special focus on IgM antibodies. An increased number of IgM antibodies may be indicative of the presence of the Zika virus.

The most important point is to avoid travelling to affected areas such as Latin American countries like Brazil, and the Caribbean, especially pregnant women and women who are planning a child. Dr Brian Levine, a New York City fertility doctor, “spent the majority of the last week counselling patients about (the) Zika virus. I’ve had to have discussions about cancelling babymoons, cancelling trips before starting in vitro fertilisation and even having husbands provide a frozen semen sample because they plan on travelling to a Zika-affected region for work.”

Also, there is a sexual means of transmitting the virus too as it lives in the semen for a long time, so it’s important to know if your partner has been to any Zika-affected region in the recent past, advises Dr Singh. As reports confirm the Texas, US, case to be transferred sexually, it becomes all the more crucial to make sure sexual partners who have visited those regions get themselves checked.

Thus far, there is no vaccine for the virus. But since it is a self-remitting disease, a person can be hopeful of being cured within a week or two, and the treatment is usually symptomatic. With respect to the concern about microcephaly — a condition in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and brain — that has been linked to the Zika virus in Brazil (this is because there has been a 20-fold increase in microcephaly in newborns in Brazil possibly pointing to a causal relationship with the Zika virus), Dr Singh says that the tricky period is the the one between first and second trimesters for the virus to affect the unborn child and lead to microcephaly. “It’s also important to know that being infected with the Zika virus does not mean the newborn WILL have microcephaly, and neither does once having the Zika virus disease mean that future pregnancies would be affected.”

Here’s a list of the guidelines issued by the health ministry and doctors that you should keep with you:

1. Prevent mosquito breeding around houses.
2. Use mosquito repellents to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
3. Non-essential travel to the affected countries in the Latin American region and the Caribbean should be deferred/cancelled.
4. Pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant should defer/cancel their travel to the affected areas.
5. All travellers to the affected countries/areas should strictly follow individual protective measures, especially during the day, to prevent mosquito bites (use of mosquito repellant cream, electronic mosquito repellants, use of bed nets, and dress that appropriately covers most of the body parts).
6. Persons with co-morbid conditions (diabetes, hypertension, chronic respiratory illness, immunity disorders, etc.) should seek advice from the nearest health facility, prior to travel to an affected country.
7. Travellers who complain of fever within two weeks of return from an affected country should report to the nearest health facility.
8. Pregnant women who have travelled to areas with Zika virus transmission should mention about their travel during ante-natal visits in order to be assessed and monitored appropriately.

With inputs from AP and PTI


Courtesy - Indian Express

Monday, 08 February 2016 12:32

The invisible drought

Written by

India has transformed spectacularly in innumerable ways in the last two decades. One of the least noted changes is in the way the country — governments, the press and people — respond to drought and food scarcities.

Back in the late-1980s, many states across India were reeling under back-to-back droughts for three consecutive years, not much different from the circumstances of India in 2015-16. I was district collector in districts of MP and Chhattisgarh during those years. At that time, for Central and state governments, as for the media and public opinion, there was little that was weightier than responding, or being seen to respond, to the ongoing drought. Collectors had extraordinary rights to draw on the state exchequer without prior sanctions. Our mandate was paramount and unambiguous — to do all we could to save lives, and mitigate food, fodder, drinking-water and migration distress. We organised feeding centres for the destitute, fodder stalls for cattle, and transported drinking water over long distances. At the peak, we were creating one lakh person days of work in relief works every day in my district.

During the long, dusty, hot summers, officers like me would be out in our Jeeps from 5am until late at night, inspecting relief works, and ensuring that people and livestock had food and water to survive those hard months. Administrations did slip and falter: Runaway corruption in particular was not uncommon. But there was no doubt what the preeminent duty of the state was when its people were assaulted by drought. To do all it takes to ensure food, water and work for all. To save lives.

It is a lesson completely forgotten in the India of today. Farmers and landless workers in 11 states are crushed by drought, often for three years in a row, but if you scan newspapers or television screens, debates in Parliament and meetings in state secretariats, it would appear that this is a figment of some imaginations. This, indeed, is what some senior journalists and officials said to me, or implied — that we are inventing the story of drought hunger. I decided to travel to the rural backwaters of Bundelkhand in UP to see for myself.

In villages that I visited in district Banda, followed by a public hearing attended by 500 people, I encountered desperate people eating just one meal a day, and that too coarse ground grain mixed with wild leaves. I bit into one such roti, and found it bitter and foul. Villagers said it was difficult to persuade children to eat this but they had no option as there was nothing else for them to eat. They explained the virtue of these wild leaves: Once you eat them, you don’t feel hungry for a full day. A rapid survey by some activists and lawyers found that already 86 per cent of families reported cutting down their dal intake, 79 per cent were eating roti and rice with salt or chutney, and 84 per cent had cut down milk for their children. In an estimated seven out of 10 households, not just men but often entire families had migrated to places as far as Punjab, Hyderabad, Surat and Delhi. Schools, therefore, were rapidly emptying out.

I found evidence of widespread intense food and drinking-water distress — and this when the summer months are not even upon us yet. There were also alarming reports of farmer suicides. The current drought was preceded, ironically, by a hailstorm that destroyed all standing crops. Many farmers, unable to pay off mounting crop debts, killed themselves after these recurring crop losses. But unlike in many other regions of endemic farmer suicides, we heard of landless labourers and marginal farmers also ending their lives. Their debts were not to banks but to usurious moneylenders who loaned at compound interest rates of 5 per cent per month. Shakuntala of Oran village, for instance, owns just two bighas of land. After sowing, her husband went to Punjab to find wage work but came back empty-handed even from there. He found that hail had destroyed their crops. Interest on loans by moneylenders of Rs 50,000 was mounting relentlessly. He needed to get his 18-year-old daughter married. Crushed, one day he hanged himself.

The response of the state administration to looming drought is disgracefully dismal and listless, lacking entirely in both urgency and compassion. People showed us empty job cards; public works under the MGNREGA, the most effective instrument to prevent distress migration, were nowhere to be found. Wages from earlier work had not been paid for over a year. Even more gravely, neither the Central nor the state government is serious about rolling out the National Food Security Act that should lawfully have commenced a year and a quarter ago. It would have ensured the availability of half of each household’s monthly cereal requirements almost for free for more than 80 per cent of households.

In addition, I found no plans underway for feeding the destitute, especially old persons left behind when families migrate, the disabled, and single woman-headed households. ICDS centres were in a shambles, otherwise they could have been upgraded to also supply emergency feeding to the destitute during the drought. Schools only occasionally supplied khichdi to a small number of children. There were no arrangements for augmenting drinking-water supply, including ensuring that Dalit and Muslim hamlets had functioning tubewells, or for transporting water where necessary. I found no attempt to create fodder banks and cattle camps.

All of these are fundamental elements of sound district administration, for which every young civil servant of earlier generations was trained and held strongly accountable. But no longer. Even British colonialists developed elaborate protocols for such times codified in famine codes. In Ash in the Belly: India’s Unfinished Battle against Hunger, I reviewed these colonial codes and demonstrated how they did attempt to save lives but at minimal cost to the exchequer, disrespectful of human dignity and the equal worth of subjects. However, in contemporary neo-liberal times, attempts to avoid “burdens” of high public spending on people coping with acute drought and hunger have revived. There seems even less preoccupation with saving lives of dispensable, invisible rural poor populations. In today’s times of rapid economic growth and overflowing grain warehouses, what can be more culpable?


Written by Harsh Mander - Human rights worker and writer

Courtesy - Indian Express

Pregnant women should avoid travelling to countries at risk of mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission, which is strongly suspected of causing microcephaly, said the Indian Medical Association (IMA) on Thursday.

Microcephaly, which literally means small head, is a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development. In hard-hit Brazil there is a possible link between the virus and a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome, it said.

“Women who have made such trips and develop Zika symptoms — fever, rash, muscle aches and conjunctivitis — during or within two weeks of their travel should be tested for the virus.

“Clinicians should report positive tests to the appropriate local or state health department. In addition, they should schedule regular ultrasounds to monitor fetal growth in Zika-positive pregnant women,” said Dr K K Aggarwal, Secretary General, IMA.


Courtesy - Deccan Herald - New Delhi


India ranks 76th in global corruption index, Denmark is least corrupt country: Report

North Korea is among the most corrupt countries in the world, the report says


Public-sector corruption is still a major problem around the world but more countries are improving than worsening and the United States and United Kingdom have reached their best rankings ever, an anti-corruption watchdog said on Wednesday.

Denmark remained at the top of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, a closely watched global barometer, for the second consecutive year as the country perceived as least corrupt. It scored 91 points out of a possible 100 while North Korea and Somalia remained at the bottom with unchanged scores of 8.

The index is based on expert opinions of public sector corruption, looking at a range of factors like whether governmental leaders are held to account or go unpunished for corruption, the perceived prevalence of bribery, and whether public institutions respond to citizens’ needs.

The US rose one spot this year to 16th place with a score of 76, tying with Austria. The UK rose three spots to place 10th, with a score of 81 that tied it with Germany and Luxembourg. The other top spots, from second to ninth, were occupied by Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada.

Despite so many countries in the top 10, Transparency said there was still a lot of room for improvement in Europe and Central Asia, which it grouped as one region, saying “in low-scorers Hungary, Poland and Turkey, politicians and their cronies are increasingly hijacking state institutions to shore up power.”

“It’s even grimmer further down the index,” the organization continued. “In Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and others, governments are restricting, if not totally stifling, civil society and free media.”

Russia sat in 119th place, tied with Azerbaijan, Guyana and Sierra Leone, although its score improved from 27 in 2014 to 29 in 2015, bringing its ranking on the list up from 136th place.

Brazil, in the midst of a massive corruption scandal at the state-owned oil company Petrobras, posted the biggest decline, falling 5 points to a score of 38 and dropping 7 positions to 76th place.

Transparency noted that in places like Guatemala, Sri Lanka and Ghana, citizen activists have “worked hard to drive out the corrupt.”

“The 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index clearly shows that corruption remains a blight around the world,” said Transparency head Jose Ugaz. “But 2015 was also a year when people again took to the streets to protest corruption — people across the globe sent a strong signal to those in power: it is time to tackle grand corruption.”

Overall, two-thirds of the 168 countries studied scored below 50 and the global average was 43.

Still, Transparency said it was a good sign that 64 countries improved their score while only 53 declined. The rest were unchanged.


Courtesy - Indian Express

Friday, 29 January 2016 08:07

India's 70 percent Of urban sewage is untreated

Written by

There are four years left for the government target of ensuring all Indians use toilets, but in urban India alone, no more than 30 percent of sewage generated by 377 million people flows through treatment plants.

The rest is randomly dumped in rivers, seas, lakes and wells, polluting three-fourths of the country's water bodies, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of various data sources.
An estimated 62,000 million litres per day (MLD) of sewage is generated in urban areas, while the treatment capacity across India is only 23,277 MLD, or 37 percent of sewage generated, according to data released by the government in December 2015.

Further parsing of this data reveals that of 816 municipal sewage treatment plants (STPs) listed across India, 522 work. So, of 62,000 MLD, the listed capacity is 23,277 MLD but no more than 18,883 MLD of sewage is actually treated.

That means 70 percent of sewage generated in urban India is not treated.
While 79 STPs don't work, 145 are under construction and 70 are proposed, according to the Central Pollution Control Board's Inventorization Of Sewage Treatment Plants  report.
No improvement over the years; towns, cities pollute their own water
India's towns and cities contaminate their own water, with no improvement over the years.

Sewage generation in India from class-I cities (with a population more than 100,000) and class-II towns (population 50,000-100,000) is estimated at 38,255 MLD, of which only 11,787 MLD (30 percent) is treated, according to the Faecal Sludge Management (FSM) report by Water Aid, a safe-water and sanitation advocacy, quoting a 2009 CPCB report.

The untreated sewage is dumped directly into water bodies, polluting three-fourth of India's surface water resources, the FSM report said. Up to 80 percent of water bodies could be polluted, the report said.

Operation and maintenance of existing treatment capacity is below par, with 39 percent plants not conforming to environmental rules for discharge into streams, the CPCB report said.

An estimated 75 percent to 80 percent of water pollution is from domestic sewage, discharged untreated into local water bodies.

A general, growing shortage of (working) sewage-treatment plants
Of the 522 working STPs across India, the maximum are in the northern state of Punjab, which has 86. But no more than 38 work.

Uttar Pradesh has the most working STPs, 62, followed by Maharashtra (60) and Karnataka (44).

About 85 million in urban India lack adequate sanitation - more than Germany's populationAbout 17 million urban households lack adequate sanitation facilities in India, with 14.7 million households without toilets, the FSM report said.

If you consider five people per family, that means about 85 million people - or more than the population of Germany - are without adequate sanitation in urban India.

In terms of rural households, only 48.4 percent (87.9 million) have toilet facilities as on December 7, 2015, according to a reply in the Lok Sabha.

Around five million (7.1%) urban households having pit latrines that have no slabs or are open pits, and about 900,000 toilets dispose off faeces directly into drains.

Only 32.7 percent of urban households that have sanitation facilities use toilets connected to an underground sewage network.

As many as 30 million urban households (38.2 percent), of the 79 million households with septic tanks, have no clear method for sewage disposal.

Open defecation remains a major challenge

About 12.6 percent of urban households defecate in the open. This number is higher for slums, with 18.9 perceent of households defecating in the open.

Around 1.7 percent of households across India defecate in the open despite having toilets, the government informed the Lok Sabha in a reply last month, based on a 2012 National Sample Survey report.

In Madhya Pradesh, around 22.5 percent urban households defecate in open spaces, followed by Tamil Nadu (16.2 percent), Uttar Pradesh (14.8 percent), Gujarat (8.7 percent), Maharashtra (7.7 percent) and Delhi (3 percent).

A staggering 55 percent of rural households defecate in the open, according to data tabled in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2015. Odisha tops list, with 86.6 percent of rural households defecating in the open. In Kerala, no more than 3.9 percent of households defecate in the open.

The global story: Open defecation has fallen by half over 25 years The proportion of people practising open defecation globally has fallen almost by half, from 24 percent in 1990 to 13 percent in 2015.

About 68 percent of the world's population had access to improved sanitation facilities, including flush toilets and covered latrines, in 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, nearly 2.4 billion people across the world lack basic sanitation facilities, such as toilets or latrines. Of these, 946 million defecate in the open, according to the WHO.

Will building toilets address the issue? The jury is out The Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission, launched by the National Democratic Alliance government on October 2, 2014, aims to make India open-defecation-free by October 2, 2019.

The government plans to construct 2.5 million individual household toilets in urban areas by 2015-16, of which 882,905 were constructed upto December, 2015, according to latest data available.

As many as 32,014 out of 100,000 community and public toilets have been built under the Swachh Bharat Mission. The rural sanitation program, in its first year, saw the construction of 8.8 million toilets, against the target of 6 million.


Courtesy - Deccan Herald









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