News and Gossip!

Friday, October 24, 2003

'India should have 35 million more women'

By Gargi Parsai

New Delhi Oct. 21. With a deficit of 35 million women reported in the 2001 census compared to the three million in 1901, India cannot afford to wait till the next census in 2011 to determine whether the growing practice of female foeticide had waned and the girl-child mortality rate had gone up. On an average, there should have been 35 million more women in the country had the standard sex ratio of 945 women to 1,000 men been maintained over the years.

To strengthen the monitoring of female foeticide and girl-child survival, the Registrar-General of India (RGI), J.K. Banthia, has asked all the Chief Registrars of Births and Deaths to closely monitor the sex ratio at birth every month. As an example, 10-crore birth certificates would be issued across the country on November 14, Children's Day.

The sex ratio in the age group of 0 to 6 has decreased at a much faster pace than the overall sex ratio of the country after 1981. From 945 in 1991, the child sex ratio has declined to 927 in 2001. Sex ratio is defined as the number of females per 1,000 males in the population. It is an indicator of the decline in the number of girls as compared to boys. The child sex ratio is an indicator of the status of the girl-child in the society.

According to Mr. Banthia, who has formulated a brochure `Missing' on Mapping the Adverse Child Sex Ratio in India: "The imbalance that has set in at an early age group is difficult to be removed and would remain to haunt the population for a long time to come".

Analysis of the census data shows that those parts of the country where technology for sex selection is slow in reaching have a much better child sex ratio than the areas which are affluent and technologically advanced.

The top 10 districts with healthy child sex ratios are South in Sikkim (1,036 girls to 1,000 boys), Upper Siang in Arunachal Pradesh (1,018), Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir (1,017), Bastarand Dantewada in Chhattisgarh (1,014), East Kameng in Arunachal Pradesh (1,011), Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir (1,010), Senapati in Manipur (1,007), Mokukchung in Nagaland (1,004) and Badgam in Jammu and Kashmir (1,003).

On the lowest rung of the child sex ratio are the Fatehagarh Sahib (754), Patiala (770), Gurdaspur (775), Kapurthala (775), Bhatinda (779), Mansa (779) and Amritsar (783) districts in Punjab. The other districts reporting low ratios are Kurukshetra (770), Sonipat (783) and Ambala (784) in Haryana. Ahmedabad reports a ratio of 814 and South-West Delhi of 845. While the national average has improved to 927 in the latest survey, the State average of child sex ratio is 878 in Gujarat, 865 in Delhi, 909 in Rajasthan, 917 in Maharashtra, 939 in Tamil Nadu and 897 in Himachal Pradesh.

Microsoft unveils Office 2003

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI OCT. 21. In conjunction with the worldwide launch, Microsoft India today unveiled its latest offering Microsoft Office System whose core is the Office 2003. The Microsoft Office System includes programs, servers, solutions and services. As part of the launch of Office System, Microsoft introduced three new products — InfoPath, OneNote and Office Live Communication Server, in addition to Microsoft Office 2003 and new versions of several existing offerings.

"This launch signals the transformation of Microsoft's flagship Office brand, from a productivity applications suite to a productivity system,'' said officials. Four partners including Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, IntelSys, Prodapt, and Tata Consultancy Services demonstrated their solutions at the launch event. ICICI Bank, Mahindra & Mahindra, TVS Industries and Ashok Leyland are some of the early adopters of the Office System in India.

The company has identified four different needs which Office System will help address. These include; integration with business processes, utilisation of information, more effective and streamlined collaboration within and outside an organisation, and transformation of individual productivity improve- ments into specific benefits to the organisation.

Commenting on the expected customer uptake of the product Microsoft India Managing Director, Rajiv Kaul, said, "We are confident of the success of this offering in India. In the first phase, we expect traction to come from the burgeoning BFSI, IT Services, and IT enabled services and manufacturing verticals. At the centre of the Office System lies Office 2003, the next version of Microsoft's flagship productivity applications suite.

It includes capabilities to restrict unauthorised access and use of documents and e-mails. Improvements have been made to the e-mail client Outlook including changes to its interface and integrated instant messaging. In addition, Microsoft has introduced software which allows users to access Microsoft's research repositories over the Internet to create documents and reports.

The product also includes support for XML, the industry standard for information exchange, making Office fully compatible with any other offering supporting XML.

'Male-female ratio in the country alarming'

By Our Special Correspondent

New Delhi Oct. 20. " `I am yours. Don't kill me,' is the silent plea of a girl-child for survival. If a woman going in for female foeticide could hear this cry of an unborn girl, she would change her mind. This message should be put up in the form of posters at sex-determination sonography clinics in every State that reports female foeticide," the Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Sushma Swaraj, said here today.

Her second suggestion was a message to men saying, "Kuware reh jaoge (You will remain unmarried)" if girl-foetuses are continued to be destroyed in the womb.

Ms. Swaraj was releasing a brochure "Missing" on Mapping the Adverse Child Sex Ratio in India. The brochure is a joint effort of the Registrar-General of India, the Department of Family Welfare and the United Nations Population Fund. "The soul-stirring cover showing a little innocent girl with just one word: `Missing' is the strongest message I have seen on a small brochure. When girls go missing in a society it shows that compassion is missing," she remarked.

The Minister announced the appointment of teenager Sanya Mirza who had won the Junior Wimbledon championship, as the brand Ambassador for the Government's `Save the Girl Child' campaign. Every year, a girl achiever would be the brand Ambassador for the campaign.

India has reported a child sex ratio of 927 girls to 1000 boys in the 2001 census, against a world average of 1045 women to 1000 men. In some States including Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, some districts of Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and recently Karnataka, the sex ratio has declined to about 900 girls per 1000 boys in the 0-6 age group. In some districts, the ratio has plummeted to less than about 850 to 1000 boys.

Sharing her concern and alarm at the missing girls, Ms. Swaraj said the desire for a son is the biggest impediment in the stabilisation of population. Law and monitoring alone could not have the desired impact unless the problem was tackled on many fronts and in a vigorous manner. The need is to stir the souls — through religious leaders, poets and artistes — of all those who are a party to this. She regretted that States such as Punjab and Haryana that deify little girls as goddesses and worship them on the eighth day (ashtami) of Navratri, were willing to kill them the following day on account of gender discrimination.

Earlier, making a power-point presentation of the state of the missing girls, the RGI, J.K. Banthia, said even the 1991 census had brought out that there was something wrong in the society as there was a deficit in women. "The 2001 census showed that this is spreading like cancer. A stage may soon come when it would be extremely difficult to make up for the missing girls,'' he said.

The UNFPA Representative in India, Francois Farah, said eliminating females just because they are females before or after birth was the ultimate manifestation of gender violence and discrimination, abuse of human rights and infringement on values of equity, equality, justice, dignity and quality of life for all.

Worms in chocolates: ban on sale of two batches

Tuesday October 21 2003 00:00 ISTPTI

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In the wake of complaints of worm-infested chocolates on sale in the state, Kerala health department on Monday banned the sale of two batches each of Cadbury and nestle chocolates after worms were detected in them.

Searches conducted by food inspectors in shops in Parassala, near here, and Pattom in the city found that chocolate bars of batch 'Inroras W-6' of Nestle and '245313' of Cadbury's, both manufactured in June 2003, were infested with worms, State Health Director Dr V K Rajan told PTI.

Food inspectors across the state had been instructed to search and seize chocolates of these two batches and intensify the examination of other batches of products of the confectionery majors, he said.

Instructions had also been issued that chocolates and confectionaries be kept in proper hygienic conditions to prevent their contamination posing health hazard to consumers.

Complaints of live worms crawling in bars of chocolates were reported from Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi last week.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Reliance tie-up makes India testing ground for next-generation Internet TV

By Anand Parthasarathy

Bangalore Oct. 12. New technology to provide multiple-channel television content over the Internet that Microsoft will unveil on Monday may have its first airing in India.

The software giant's Chief Executive, Bill Gates, is scheduled to demonstrate a prototype of this next-generation TV solution when he gives a keynote address to the ITU Telecom World 2003 conference of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva. The `IPTV' solution uses the Internet Protocol (IP) to deliver live television programming as well as a variety of video content over broadband cable networks.

Microsoft claims to have developed an advanced technology to compress the TV signals so that they occupy one third of the bandwidth currently used in Cable-based TV delivery systems.

Microsoft will be joined by two partners in giving practical shape to this technology: Bell, the major telecom provider in Canada, and Reliance Infocomm in India. Reliance will "jointly create, test and deliver" television services, here using Microsoft's IPTV solution over the 60,000 km of fibreoptic cabling that the company has installed in India.

A technical note at Microsoft's web resource on its TV initiatives states that the IPTV system will allow live TV channels as well as video-on-demand and other value added services to be delivered over networks at an average rate of around 1 megabit per second.

The service provider can use Internet Protocol-based Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexers (DSLAM) to route the rich video content through a special DSL modem to a subscriber's TV set via a set top box. (see diagram). DSL or its latest "asynchronous" avatar ADSL, is technology that allows TV, telephone and Internet traffic to coexist on the same cable. Reliance's early teaming up with Microsoft will give it an edge in leveraging all those coloured fibre optic cables lining the roads in major cities and motivate Cable TV operators to make the switch to this broader-band alternative.

The company is building up its own development muscle, centred round the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City in Navi Mumbai and this will come in handy to customise the Microsoft IPTV technology for `desi' application.

For the Indian consumer, the good news is that this country is now at the global cutting edge of Internet-based infotainment solutions: the huge entertainment market year — the world's largest — makes this an ideal testing ground for developers like Microsoft, of new delivery technologies.

The not-so-good news is that IPTV will join the growing list of options dangled before harassed customers: first there was the half-baked Conditional Access Systems (CAS). Then came Direct to Home (DTH) — the satellite-to-TV set solution.

Soon apparently, we will be encouraged to dive into cyberspace to get our daily quota of TV soaps. Astute citizens might just sit back and do nothing, saying: "Let the shakeout begin. We'll go for the technology that is finally left standing."

Chemistry, Economics Nobel

Stockholm Oct. 8. Two Americans today won the 2003 Nobel Chemistry Prize for showing how water flows across cellular membranes and how cells communicate, achievements that provide glittering insights into the molecular pathways of disease.

``Peter Agre and Roderick MacKinnon have contributed to fundamental chemical knowledge on how cells function. They have opened our eyes to a fantastic family of molecular machines,'' the Nobel jury said.

Robert F. Engle of the United States and Briton, Clive W.J. Granger, won the 2003 Nobel Economics Prize for their work in analysing economic time series, the Nobel jury said.

Physics Nobel for three

Stockholm Oct. 7. Alexei A. Abrikosov, Vitaly L. Ginzburg and Anthony J. Leggett have won the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physics, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said today.

The trio was awarded the prize for their work in quantum physics concerning superconductivity and superfluidity. Superconducting material is used, as an example, in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the academy said in the citation. Abrikosov (75), and Ginzburg (87), hail from Russia. Leggett (65) is a British national.

Two share Medicine Nobel

STOCKHOLM (Sweden) OCT 6. American Paul C. Lauterbur and Briton Sir Peter Mansfield won the 2003 Nobel Prize for medicine on Monday for discoveries leading to a technique that reveals images of the body's inner organs.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, has become a routine method for medical diagnosis and treatment. It is used to examine almost all organs without need for surgery, but is especially valuable for detailed examination of the brain and spinal cord.

Mr. Lauterbur (74), discovered the possibility of creating a two-dimensional picture by producing variations in a magnetic field. He is at the Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

Mr. Mansfield (70), showed how the signals the body emits in response to the magnetic field could be mathematically analysed, which made it possible to develop a useful imaging technique. Mr. Mansfield also showed how extremely fast imaging could be achievable. This became technically possible within medicine a decade later. Mr. Mansfield is at the University of Nottingham in Britain.

"Well it's, I suppose, every scientist's hope (that) one day that they maybe singled out for such an honour but I must say that in my case I did think about it a few years ago, but then dismissed it," he told Swedish radio. MRI images "have an enormous impact on health care in the developed part of the world today," said Dr. Hans Ringertz, a Swedish specialist in diagnostic radiology.

Worldwide, more than 60 million investigations with MRI are performed each year, the Nobel Assembly said.

MRI represents "a breakthrough in medical diagnostics and research," the Assembly said. Essentially, MRI turns hydrogen atoms in the body's tissues into tiny radio transmitters. Hydrogen atoms are plentiful because they're found in water molecules, which are very widespread in the body.

By tracking where those atoms are, an MRI machine can build up a picture of internal organs.

The award for medicine opens a week of Nobel Prizes that culminates on Friday with the prestigious peace prize, the only one revealed in Oslo, Norway.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Path-breaking initiative in science education

By J. Ajeth Kumar

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 29. In what is considered a path-breaking initiative in science education, the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) is launching an ambitious scheme in the State on October 2, Gandhi Jayanthi day.

The project, `Sastraposhini', seeks to further strengthen the base of science education in the schools in Kerala, informed K. R. S. Krishnan, the Director of KSCSTE.

The objectives of the scheme are to stimulate interest in science at the school level by enabling students to perform experiments in Physics, Chemistry and Biology, to provide hands-on experiments to students for observation, inference, interaction and self-designing of tests and to organise training programmes for teachers for demonstrating scientific experiments. To evolve low-cost laboratory kits based on readily available materials for conducting a range of experiments is another objective of the scheme.

It is to be implemented by setting up model laboratories for conducting science experiments in one school each in the 36 educational districts in the State. Already 10 schools have been selected to introduce the scheme in the first phase, said R. Prakashkumar, Principal Scientific Officer, KSCSTE, who is also the Nodal Officer for the Sastraposhini scheme.

During the pilot programme of two years, one model laboratory each in Physics, Chemistry and Biology will be set up in such schools. Teachers will be encouraged to carry out innovative projects in science education for children, Students from different schools will be able to come together and engage in problem solving experiments and critical discussions. Such an approach is expected to provide considerable excitement, enthusiasm and even fun to the students in learning science.

Training for teachers is an important component of this scheme. Eminent scholars will train science teachers in different disciplines at different stages of the programme. The first phase of the training programme was conducted for 60 teachers for three days at the Cochin University of Science and Technology. Around 20 resource persons handled both the theoretical and practical aspects of science education and evolved methodologies to make teaching interesting as well as interactive, Dr.Prakashkumar informed. The second phases is to be conducted at Thiruvananthapuram soon, he added.

Under the scheme, all the schools in the State will have well equipped laboratories in Physics, Chemistry and Biology within the next two academic years. A State level Apex Resource Group consisting of experts, nominees of the Council and the Department of Education will evaluate the project once in three months. There will also be district level committees comprising the school authorities and representatives of teachers and parents in the form of a review forum which will meet as often as is necessary. The inputs from the district level committees and site visits will form the basis for the assessment of the scheme by the apex group.

It is hoped that the scheme would open up a new path in science education in Kerala. The ultimate goal is to develop a genuine interest in learning science by imparting high quality science education to students, so as to provide a career orientation to back up the recent boom in careers in the areas of Information Technology and Biotechnology.

Doctors ask MCI to deregister Togadia

By Gargi Parsai

New Delhi Sept. 27. Several doctors have written to the Medical Council of India (MCI) here to deregister and take action against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, Pravin Togadia, for violation of the code of ethics set by the Council. Dr. Togadia is an oncologist and used to run a nursing home in Gujarat.

The MCI has forwarded the complaint signed by over 100 doctors and social activists and spearheaded by the Pune-headquartered Medico Friend Circle to the Maharashtra Medical Council.

"It makes no sense. The MCI has typically passed the buck. There is no logic in sending the complaint to Maharashtra. If at all, the Gujarat Medical Council, where Togadia is registered, should have been asked to investigate,'' Sanjay Nagral, one of the signatories told The Hindu from Mumbai.

"The issue is not just about medical ethics but his behaviour in society. Many doctors have felt that medical doctors taking part in hate campaigns are just not on and we must protest it. Asking the MCI to look at the behaviour of doctors is the basis of our complaint,'' he said. (All efforts by The Hindu to talk to the acting president of the MCI, Kesavankutty Nair, proved futile.)

The complaint alleged that Dr. Togadia violated the code of ethics and of misconduct as defined under the Section 1.1.1 (a physician shall uphold the dignity and honour of the profession), 1.1.2 (the prime objective of the medical profession is to render service to humanity... conducting himself with propriety in his profession and in all the actions of his life), 5.1 (physicians as citizens shall play their part in enforcing the laws of the community and in sustaining the institutions that advance the interests of humanity) and 6.6 (the physician shall not aid or abet torture nor shall be party to either infliction of any mental or physical trauma or concealment of torture inflicted by some other person or agency in clear violation of human rights) of the MCI (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) deserves to be acted against and punished.

"Dr. Togadia has been one of the chief spokesperson of the VHP and the international president of the outfit. At no time has the VHP or Dr. Togadia condemned the violence against Muslims during the VHP call for a Gujarat bandh on February 28 and is thus liable for not only his personal actions but that also of the VHP.''

It quoted news reports to say that on February 28, 2002, at Naroda behind the State Transport workshop in Ahmedabad, Dr. Togadia was seen "instigating" a mob gathered at the main chowk on front of the Natraj hotel wearing saffron scarves and khaki shorts.

The complaint said that Justice A.P. Ravani, a retired High Court Judge from Gujarat, testified before the Citizens Tribunal about doctors being threatened against treating Muslim patients by the VHP. He knew of one doctor in Shahibag area who attended to 17-20 deliveries of Muslim women staying in relief camps.

This doctor and some others were said to have been threatened by Dr. Togadia himself "of facing the consequences.''

This is in stark opposition to the MCI Declaration signed by a doctor at the time of registration which says that even under threat a doctor would not use medical knowledge contrary to laws of humanity and that he/she would not permit the consideration of religion, nationality, race, party politics or social standing to intervene between his/her duty and the patient.

According to N.B. Sarojini of Sama, an NGO, that several social organisations, including the Jan Swasthaya Abhiyan, CEHAT, MASUM, CHC, the Forum for Women's Health, Saheli and the Voluntary Health Association of India have also written to the MCI to have the complaint lodged by the doctors against Dr. Togadia investigated by a national independent authority of doctors and eminent citizens.

AMD unveils Athlon 64 processors

By Our Staff Reporter

NEW DELHI SEPT. 26. Promising unmatched computing experience, the microprocessor manufacturing company — Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) — today unveiled AMD Athlon 64 processors for desktop and notebook computers in India that would change the future of the computing industry.

Claiming that the next generation processors would give users exciting experience of "cinematic computing,'' the company's director (marketing) for Asia Pacific, Samuel Rogan, said it would enhance performance of gaming applications and digital content creation.

The company's new offerings include — "world's first and only Windows-compatible 64-bit PC processor'' — AMD Athlon 64 FX processor, and the Athlon 64 processor for high performance computing on desktop and notebook. The company has already tied up with leading PC manufacturers who will be using these processors. The companies include HCL Infosystems, Wipro Infotech and Zenith.

Stating that video-editing companies, advertising professionals and film professionals would be the target users of the AMD 64 FX based systems, Mr. Rogan said they were also targeting "extreme PC enthusiasts and gamers''to use these processors that were at least 16 per cent better than other similar products available in the market.

Sushma announces medical aid for HIV-infected children

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Sushma Swaraj on Sunday announced a special medical treatment aid to Bensy and Benson, the HIV-infected children in the State, for the next five years.

She said the Hindustan Latex Ltd would meet the expenses as per her proposal.

Her meeting with Bensy and Benson took place at the Press Club here following her request to meet the children in person.

The Minister's gesture came in the background of the meeting of the children's grandparent, Geevarghese Johny, with President A.P.J.Abdul Kalam along with the children in Kochi on Friday.

He had apprised the President about the social ostracism faced by the children and the family.

Speaking to newspersons after spending some time with the children, Sushma Swaraj said that the case of Bency and Benson was not an isolated one.

"There are many such children in different parts of the country. The government would conduct a survey to find out the details of those children. In the second phase of the National Aids Control Programme, the government would give anti-viral drugs to these children through the national healthcare system," she said.

The government would take steps to provide the anti-viral drug to the HIV-infected mothers too on a regular basis. Since the drug was not given to the mothers after giving them a single doze of the drug during pregnancy, they succumbed to the disease leaving the siblings to fend for themselves, she said.

The Minister said the State Health and Education secretaries, whom she met on Sunday, had assured her that all efforts would be made to see that the children would be able to undergo regular schooling in an year.

Now, the children are being given coaching at a separate rented building adjacent to a government school following resistance from parents of other children.

Sushma Swaraj, who took photographs with the children, said, ``my picture along with them would be a good campaign material to create awareness among the people that AIDS would not spread by touching or hugging.''
She urged the corporate bodies to come forward to adopt such children.

The grandfather of the children, who brought them to the Press Club, said that people of the locality never mingled with them. ``Nobody comes to our house or invite us to any function. The children also get no companions to play,'' he said.

Referring to the treatment expenses, he said at least Rs 5,000 was needed in a month for their medicines alone.

Bid to block anti-India website affects users

By Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI SEPT. 23. The Government's first attempt to block the website of an allegedly anti-India group has inconvenienced lakhs of Internet users who are questioning the utility, process and procedure relating to blocking.

While all Indian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have agreed to comply with the Government's first-ever blocking directive taken under the Information Technology Act, the U.S.-based host of this website — Yahoo — has refused. As the ISPs lack the technical finesse to block one sub-group, they have blocked all Yahoo groups or URLs inconveniencing the users. This website, belonging to a militant group espousing the cause of Meghalaya's Khasi tribe, can still be accessed by ISPs outside India or those who have not yet complied with the directive.

Official sources today said that orders were issued by the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) under the Department of Information Technology as the website "contained material against the Government of India and the State Government of Meghalaya". The absence of any explicit provision in the IT Act for blocking of websites was because this action was seen by civil society as amounting to censorship, they explained. In this case, the blocking was to ensure "balanced flow of information" and not censorship, they added.

The process of blocking is surrounded by several legal controversies, since the power to block itself does not exist under the IT Act. Through a notification in February this year, the Government designated CERT-In as the authority for blocking of websites. Another notification five months later listed the officials who can order blocking and the grounds under which this can be done. "The inherent sovereign power of the Government to block can hardly ever be denied. However, when the Government embarks upon the process of blocking, it is absolutely imperative that it must follow those procedures and norms that cause least discomfort or harm to the entire netizen community. This appears to be the first case where blocking of a particular website or sub-group has had the ramification of causing inconvenience to the netizens in the sense of depriving them of access to legal groups, other than the blocked URL," observes cyberlaw expert, Pawan Duggal.

"It is hoped that with the passage of time the Government does come up with appropriate norms and procedures that can create a smart balance between the requirements of the sovereign powers to block and the relative inconvenience, harm and anxiety caused to the netizen in terms of blocking of legitimate websites."

Mr. Duggal says that legally speaking; there are a couple of grey areas. The February notification setting up CERT-In has been issued under Section 67 and Section 88. Neither Section empowers the Government to create such an authority. Therefore, the constitution of CERT-In is of no legal significance and may not be upheld in a court of law. "I am not saying that the Government does not have the power at all to block or create CERT-In. However, surely the power does not lie in these provisions."

The Government may succeed in blocking some websites in some cases but "the problem is that this provision may be misused by political powers in the regime to silence political dissent, criticism and debate. The phenomenon of mirror sites and emerging technologies along with intelligent minds of netizens are likely to rensure that India's blocking adventure starts its march on a losing note."