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Saturday, 25 December 2010

EMOTIONS: HANDLE WITH CARE

There are times when I curse emotions we humans have love/attachment being on top of the list. Because we get attached to people, we are hurt. Relations are formed on the basis of love & trust. Seeing a relation crumble is a major setback. We get in & out of relations all our life but only some become indispensable. Relations with our friends & family are such.



All my life I have seen & heard people going different ways after years of togetherness & always wondered how can it be possible for two people to let go of each other after having shared their lives for so long. I have had friends in school & college who were close to my heart but they are not with me today because things didn’t turn out right. Only after a few months of togetherness it was an uphill task to let go of them, I dread to imagine what a person goes through when he/she has to say goodbye after years of togetherness.


The even tough part is when you see two of your loved ones fighting, when you see them standing on the verge of breaking away from each other & no matter how badly you want them to stop but you just can’t help the situation. In a situation like this you can cry your heart out to make yourself feel temporarily better hoping that your tears will wash away the bitterness amongst the two you equally love. While these two will choose their individual paths, you will just stand & watch with grief pressing upon an already heavy heart. Once they have gone their ways & you think it can’t get any worse, the time comes to side with either one of the two. No matter how heart wrenching it is for you, but you will be forced to do it. This is when once again tears blur your vision but make it clear to you that there is no way that you can let go of anyone of the two. It’s like being pulled by two evenly powerful forces in opposite directions & preparing yourself to be torn apart in two pieces.


Trust is the cementing factor in a relationship. Here trust is dead. Actual events are apparent misunderstandings & wrong readings. Here mistrust has grown into an ugly & unshakeable monster which will sooner or later eat out the very roots of this relation.


Relations don’t come with a price tag, albeit it is also true that we realise their value only when we lose them. They are gifts given by God to make our lives easy & happy, but I wonder how a gift given by God himself can backfire. I wish they came with a guarantee of eternal life.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

EXCLUSIVE COACH FOR WOMEN IN METRO IS A HIT

A little over a month ago, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation decided to reserve the first coach of every Metro exclusively for women on an experimental basis & the result is there for everyone to see. Though like every new idea even this one had its share of teething problems, but gradually things fell in place. In the initial days some men would stray into the women-only coach because some were not aware of any such coach, some wouldn’t travel in a coach different from that of their female partners or some other excuse.



The women folk were obviously the happiest when this announcement was made in September end. Even today the enthusiasm about the special coach hasn’t diminished among the women, a ride in the first coach of the Metro can tell you how comfortable they are. Women can be over heard talking to each other about the how they love it when there are no men ogling unnecessarily, pushing & groping at them.


Gradually even the Metro authorities became stricter in order to ensure that first coach is men-free. There are guards on duty to prevent any man from entering this coach & random checks are made & if any man is found in the first coach he has to part with Rs. 200 as a penalty & is asked to move to any of the other three coaches.


This move on part of the DMRC has put the women at ease by taking the unnecessary hassle of using public transport out of their lives. Let’s hope it is here to stay.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

INDIA BREATHES EASY

The Commonwealth Games began on a splendid note with the successful Opening Ceremony laying to rest all fears of India putting up an embarrassing show in front of the rest of the world. No doubt everyone from an average Indian to Mr. Suresh Kalmadi had the pre-event jitters but they vanished into thin air by the end of the Opening Ceremony. Many who had given up the hope of the success of CWG are now pleasantly surprised.



Even days before the Opening Ceremony the not so encouraging stories about the Games were trickling in & reinforcing the fears of the Games going awry. However, the post Opening Ceremony mood was positive, proud & happy. The web was inundated with expressions of love & pride for the country.


The Ceremony was no less than a festival. Certain moments like the entry of the Indian team into the stadium receiving a standing ovation, performance by artists presenting the six folk dances of India & the ‘Journey of India’ put together by the Indian Railways really struck a chord with the masses.


Though I couldn’t catch the Opening Ceremony in the stadium, but while I was watching the frenzy unfold on the television set, a message I had received a few days back on my cell phone came to my mind. The message was about the conversation between a foreign tourist who had returned from a trip to India & his friend. The friend asks his India returned friend, “How is India & the Indians?” The India returned friend replies, “India is beautiful but I didn’t meet any Indian there. All the individuals I met were either Punjabi, Marathi, Gujarati or something similar.” When I first read this message, unfortunately I was in partial agreement but the Ceremony left a proud smile on my lips & made me realise that the message was anything but credible.


Moving on, the Games are now open & India so far has done well for itself. On the first day of the Games though India couldn’t get any gold medals but it did get two silver & two bronze medals. Having pocketed 11 medals in all on the second day of the Games with five of them gold, four silver & two bronze, the players seem to be in great forms. The shooters & wrestlers shined bright. India’s Anisa Sayyed & Rani Sarnobat won gold for women’s 25 metre pistol & Abhinav Bindra & Gagan Narang won gold medals for men’s 10 metre air rifle shooting. All in all the medals tally of India after adding the medals from the third day stands at a handsome 19.


I am very sure that in the coming days of the Games our players will earn more glory & will be able to provide their respective sports with the due attention which should have come their way long back. (Though I am not anti-cricket but in any way I am glad that cricket is not one of the sports being played in the CWG & the other sports can gain their share of loyalists.)


*Cheers to India* :D

Friday, 6 August 2010

INDIAN NIGHTMARE: XIX COMMONWEALTH GAMES

The fact that India will be hosting the nineteenth Commonwealth Games in the month of October is nothing new. This is something that the entire country is proud of & has been since the very day this announcement was made. However to sustain this pride, India was expected to work & work hard. Various ambitious plans were laid down on paper, lavish budgets sanctioned for each & promises made to bring the infrastructure in Delhi at par with the international standards. There is no denying the fact that like most of my fellow citizens, I had all the faith in the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the Organising Committee (OC) & the Delhi Government. Yet another fact that can’t be denied is that the same faith is NOW dwindling.

 


Of late hardly any good news has poured in regarding the Games. Allegations & counter-allegations are flying around & they don’t seem to be ceasing anytime soon. The deadlines for completion of various projects have been extended time & again & the latest is 31st August. In order to paint a tranquil picture of the Games preparations, venues which aren’t ready yet have been inaugurated. A case in point is that of the recent inauguration of the weightlifting auditorium of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium complex. This auditorium was made at a whopping cost of Rs. 80 cr. & had leakage at the very time of the inauguration. Despite there being no lack of funds some of the ‘world class’ venues have already started falling apart. In the month of July, roofs of two under construction stadia gave away during rains.


In order to provide the much needed impetus to the snail paced Games work, Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit deviced a plan which is anything but fool-proof. She announced that the contractors who will not be able to finish their share of work by 31st august will be blacklisted. But I wonder how far this will be successful. No doubt people will work faster but this poses a great threat to the durability of the work. We already have the structures falling apart & with the threat of being blacklisted looming large on the heads of the contractors, compromises will be made with regard to the quality & attention to detail factors.


As if the super slow pace of work was not enough to shoot people’s blood pressure, next came the corruption charges against the Organising Committee. It has been alleged that OC made improper payments to AM Cars & Vans- a UK based company. However OC’s Chairman Suresh Kalmadi claims that no payments were made & the firm was recommended by Indian High Commission in London. Now the truth remains to be unearthed. Another issue that brings to light the misuse of taxpayers’ money is that training equipment & various other things have been rented & brought at insanely high prices. Can you imagine a treadmill being rented for an exorbitant Rs. 10 lakhs or a towel being brought for Rs. 4,000? It seems as if the government has vowed to use up every single penny of the budget, even if that means wasting money.


Indeed these things need to be looked into but ‘right now’ may not be such a good time. I feel that the BJP has made noise about something worthwhile in a long time. However it’s timing could have been better. What the political parties need to understand is that when people from various parts of the world will come for the Games, they won’t differentiate between the BJP led Opposition & the Congress led UPA. For them it will be India & Indians who could not get their act together while there was still time. Likewise if the Games are a success then the visitors will praise the efforts made by India & not Sheila Dikshit/Sonia Gandhi or Vijay Kumar Malhotra/Nitin Gadkari.


Games & politics should not be mixed as it will only create more hurdles. The Central Vigilance Commission must conduct a meticulous probe into all the irregularities once the Games are over & in the meantime it’s the ‘common’ good that should be aimed for & not ‘personal’ good.


P.S. - Here’s hoping that we put up a great show in October & are not even remotely embarrassed.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

THE NOT SO HONOURABLE HONOUR KILLINGS

Honour killings are an issue that all of us are familiar with. However in the recent past this social evil has crossed the borders of the so-called orthodox villages & has entered the hearts of various metro cities inhabited by the ‘educated’. This issue was never so prominent but today is a major challenge staring us in our faces.



One of the many cases of honour killings which brought this evil in light was the murder of a cab driver by the family of the girl he was involved with. The girl’s family was opposed to the relationship as they had issues with the boy’s caste. The boy who was the sole bread-winner of the family left behind a grieving & shocked family. Next came the Ashok Vihar (Northwest Delhi) triple murder case. In this case a couple, Monica & Kuldeep who hailed from Wazirpur had eloped & married. After the acceptance of their marriage with certain reservations, the village elderly advised them to shift out of the village as they would have been bad influence on the village youngsters. This couple was murdered by the girl’s brother Ankit with help from one of his friends’ Mandeep. Ankit is said to have been provoked by Mandeep who considered Monica responsible for negatively influencing his (Mandeep’s) sister Shobha. Shoba had eloped with a man out of her community & had later returned home. After murdering Monica & Kuldeep, Shobha was also murdered.


Several other cases of such killings have been pouring in regularly. In Gujarat a brother beat his sister to death as he didn’t approve of her relationship with her partner, in South Delhi a father murdered his daughter & her partner who, the father alleges was already married.


In all these cases what comes as a major shock is the fact that the perpetrators don’t show any traces of regret or remorse despite having murdered someone who they shared a blood relationship with.


Whenever the honour killings are mentioned the khap (caste based) panchayats automatically come into discussion. These panchayats put caste above everything else. Any member of the community who marries out of community or dares to challenge them in any way is seen as a blot on the community’s honour that has to be ‘done away with’. This is the only possible way of restoring honour. These khap panchayats are not recognised by our Constitution but unfortunately they are a parallel government of sorts in various parts of the country. Even in the Ashok Vihar triple murder case the panchayat of the village termed the death of all the three victims as ‘inevitable fate’ for their actions. It is such statements & mindsets that are providing the much dreaded impetus to this crime.

Awareness amongst the masses against this heinous crime, stringent law to crack down specifically on khap panchayats & honour killings are the need of the hour. Killing someone for any reason, be it settling personal scores or soothing a bloated sense of honour is a murder & cannot be justified on any grounds. Because two people want to be together & a third one doesn’t approve of it is one extremely lame reason to end their lives. It is time the ‘wise elders’ & other people stopped poking their noses into the lives of others & started respecting the choices made by individuals for their own lives.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

BIOPIRACY

“Novel” is a term that is used to refer to something which is new, never seen or heard of before. Unfortunately, the interpretation of this term does not seem to be universal. The developed world’s interpretation of this term is highly dependent on the convenience factor. The convenience being referred to here is certainly that of the developed world. This convenience on part of the developed countries comes into play when they grant patents to a native person or corporation for some knowledge, concept or commodity which is already a part of some developing country’s traditional knowledge. Biopiracy is the term for such acts.

In simpler words, Biopiracy describes the acts of ‘legal piracy’ often committed by the developed world to claim patent and take unfair advantage of traditional knowledge of developing countries associated with biological resources. Biological diversity comprises of all plant, animal and micro-organism species occurring naturally on the earth. Traditional knowledge associated with such biological resources is of crucial importance. This knowledge is an intangible source that can be used for developing useful products & processes and consequently result in commercial gains. Biopiracy is a problem mainly plaguing the developing countries as these are the countries which are rich in bio-diversity.

When actually these bio-diversity rich countries should be enjoying commercial success courtesy their bio-diversity reserves, unfortunately often the multi-national corporations from the developed world play a spoilsport. These corporations claim and secure patents for knowledge long known to the developing countries in the name of novelty. What makes the situation even worse for the developing countries is that prior to using their knowledge, their consent is not sought and neither are they offered any share of profit that shall flow in once the ‘their’ knowledge is put to use.

On the issue of bio-piracy, the world has two major divisions, namely, the global north and the global south. The global north comprises of the developed nations and the global south comprises of the developing nations which are rich in bio-diversity. India being a part of the global south & one of the twelve mega biodiversity countries of the world has had its share of bio-piracy cases. Here’s taking a look at some of them:

THE NEEM TREE PATENT

In 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a pharmaceutical research firm secured a patent on a technique to extract an anti-fungal agent from the neem tree. A legal opposition was filed by India over the grant of this patent. Neem tree is indigenous to India and has been used for over 2000 years. The patent was eventually overturned in 2005. The pharmaceutical company involved in the dispute had argued that as traditional Indian knowledge the properties of the neem tree had never been published in an academic journal, hence it did not amount to prior knowledge.

There are approximately 14 million neem trees (Azadirachta indica) in India. The tree is seen as a curer of all ailments and has been referred to as the ‘blessed tree’ in India. The leaves and bark of the tree are used to treat diseases such as leprosy, ulcers, & diabetes as well as skin ailments. In India, access to neem products is very easy.

The USA says that whatever they are doing will only help India. India on the other hand had made it clear that it is not against sharing its knowledge about the neem tree, rather it is against the countries and corporations which intend to put an end to its use in India.

THE BASMATI RICE PATENT

In September, 1997, a Texas company called Rice Tec got a patent on Basmati rice lines and grains and the ways of selecting that rice for breeding. However, the patent rights allow Rice Tec to not only call its aromatic rice Basmati in U.S. but also label it as the same for exports. This patent was considered a violation as the long grain aromatic rice grown only in Punjab, Haryana and U.P. is referred to as Basmati.

The dispute over the patent was not just over the name, but also regarding the adverse economic repercussions it would have for India. With this patent India stood lose out on its exports to US which form the 10 percent share of the total basmati export. Also India’s position in crucial markets like U.K., Middle East and West Asia could be affected.

THE TURMERIC PATENT

Turmeric is a tropical herb grown in the eastern part of India and has several popular uses. It is a powdered commodity which is used as a dye, a cooking ingredient and is also used for medicinal purposes. In the 1995, turmeric was at the centre of a patent dispute. University of Mississippi Medical Center was granted the patent for the wound healing properties of turmeric with the exclusive right to sell and distribute the turmeric.

India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research challenged this patent stating that turmeric’s medicinal uses were known to India since thousands of years. The US patent office looked into the matter and the patent was finally revoked in 1997.

A clause in the US patent laws states that any information published or written in any part of the world will be deemed as ‘common knowledge’. This clause helped India’s case and India presented published evidence pertaining to the wound healing properties of turmeric. This evidence proved that wound healing properties of turmeric were not novel and hence the patent was revoked.

THE WHEAT PATENT

In this case the European patent office granted a patent to a Corporation called Monsanto for a wheat variety named Galahad 7. The dispute is that this variety of wheat was bred using a traditional Indian wheat variety called Nap Hal.

Nap Hal has been used in India since the early eighties. This variety of wheat has low gluten levels thereby making its dough less elastic and hence suitable for preparing crisp biscuits and crackers. It has been long used in the food processing industry.

Just like it happened in other patent cases, in this case also nor the claimant die not seek any prior consent and neither a profit sharing agreement was signed with the Indian farming community.

KARELY, JAMUN AND BRINJAL PATENT

In this case, Cormark Research Inc. of the United States has secured the patent for the use of bitter gourd (Karela), blackberry (jamun), gumar and brinjal for anti-diabetic properties. But actually these vegetables have been used for curing diabetes in India for years.

THERE’S MORE TO IT

These aforementioned cases are just a few examples which elucidate the extent of the problem of bio-piracy. Around 2000 patents related to Indian system of medicine are granted every year by the patent offices of the foreign countries. Grant of patents to corporations which do not seek prior permission from the country whose traditional knowledge they are using and do not enter a benefit sharing agreement with the country concerned is not only immoral but also a gross violation of the international agreements like the convention on bio-diversity (CBD) and the International Treaty on plant Genetic Resources (ITPGR) which uphold the rights of the farming community over the genetic wealth used in agriculture.

The main reason which is preventing the biopiracy issue from dying down is the definition of ‘novelty’. There are major differences in the definition of ‘novelty’ in the national laws of various countries. For instance there is a striking contrast between the patent laws of USA & India. The public use or sale in a foreign country of a concept, knowledge or process does not count as ‘prior art’ as per the US law. As per the Indian Patents Act:
'new invention’ means any invention or technology which has not been anticipated by any publication in any document or used in the country or elsewhere in the world before the date of filing the patent application with complete specification.'

BIOPIRACY ISSUE AT THE WTO

India along with other developing countries facing the predicament of biopiracy like Venzuela, Thailan, Cuba, Pakistan etc has been fighting against this issue in the WTO. The United States of America has come forward as the strongest non-supporter of the proposal put forward by some members of the south to incorporate amendments in the TRIPS agreement regarding the information to be provided by an applicant seeking a patent.

As per this group of countries an applicant shall provide the following information as a pre-requisite to securing the patent:
· disclosure of the source of the traditional knowledge used in the process or product;
· prior informed consent from concerned authorities; &
· proof of agreement on access to benefit sharing with the country of origin of the ‘prior art’.

The argument put forward by U.S is that these amendments will only add to the administrative burden & will lead to extra costs. It also feels that these amendments will only add to the uncertainty in the context of the current patent laws. India with its allies has countered these arguments made by U.S saying that the reasonable amendments like disclosures must be included.

Further it is argued that as biopiracy is a global phenomenon so the steps taken at the national level by the various countries shall not suffice & hence there is a pressing need for WTO to make it obligatory for all its member countries to include the clause of disclosure in their respective national patent laws.

It is high time that the world unanimously agreed on an international treaty which will be a legal binding on all the members alike & will facilitate the proper exchange of biodiversity amongst the various countries. Fighting in the patent offices of the developed countries is not possible every time as it consumes a lot of time & effort & is certainly not a solution. The Nagoya protocol to be signed in Japan in October this year at the tenth Conference of parties to the Convention on Biodiversity brings some hope with it to end this long battle for protecting one’s own resources.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

MISMANAGED…

India has been facing volatile prices of food grains for sometime now. With every passing day the prices have only jumped higher. When the very first signs of scarcity of grains and consequently high prices came to the forefront the government started looking for the triggering factors and very conveniently zeroed in on the drought last year. The rabi crop is expected to be good and this only corroborates the fact that the government’s troubles aren’t yet over. Hasty assessment of the scenario now has the government wondering where to store the coming stock.


The wheat output of the current year is expected to be around 80.28 million tonnes. In comparison to the previous year’s output which was 80.68 million tonnes, it is only marginally low. The current year’s output combined with the available reserves would have been sufficient to take care of the consumer demand. But the government simply wouldn’t budge from its stand of not releasing some part of the reserve stocks. This rigid stand on part of the government left the consumer with no other option than to bear the brunt of price rise and pay through his nose for essential commodities like wheat flour.

The government didn’t bother to look at the buffer stocks. As on October 2009, wheat reserves available with the government were about 30 million tonnes, which is way above the buffer norms of 11 million tonnes. The paddy reserves were also on the good side and were around 15 million tonnes. Agronomist Mr. Ashok Gulati says, “Experts had recommended that 5 to 10 million tonnes of wheat be released from government stocks in October 09 to help cool the prices.” Unfortunately, it is still to be implemented. When the Union Agriculture and Food minister Mr. Sharad Pawar was questioned about the reason behind this long delay he said, “Till a clearer picture on the rabi crop was not available, no such step could be contemplated.”

Very clearly, the panic button was pressed too early, without even once evaluating the backup options available. This led to brouhaha in the domestic market with traders buying huge amounts of commodities which left the market empty. Then these products were sold at unreasonable prices to the consumer, burning a hole in his pocket. Agriculture experts also agree that more responsible behaviour on part of the agriculture ministry would have been beneficial in tackling the price rise. Rather than making statements which led to confusions in the market, Mr. Sharad Pawar could have utilised that time to for considering some relevant issues.

The crop coming in April has the hopes of the entire country pinned to it. “So far, the wheat crop looks good with low average temperatures through December and much of January resulting in excellent tillering. We have seen more numbers of tillers (stems) being produced this time,” said Dr. S.S Singh, head of Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR) at Karnal, Haryana. The coming few days will be crucial as the kernel will gain most of its dry weight. The temperature must not shoot up abruptly or else early maturing of the crop will lead to a yield loss of about half-a-tonne per hectare. In the year of 2005-06, abrupt temperature changes in March made India’s wheat output take a nose dive. Last three years saw no peculiar mercury movements. This year December was fine, but what March has in store remains to be seen. However the rain showers in the month of February so far have been helpful in keeping a tab on the temperatures. The favourable weather conditions, early sowing and no disease in any region are understood to have prompted the good crop.

The coming crop will help check the ever-increasing prices. But this won’t end the country’s woes. Because of the long delay in the release of the reserve stocks, the government is now staring at a storage problem. Adi Narayan Gupta, Chairman, Wheat Products Promotion Society said, “The government must speed up the sale of wheat stock under the Open Market Sale Scheme (OMSS) from its reserve stock as Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state procuring agencies would face huge problem in storing the new crop which will start arriving in the markets soon.” Wheat planted in October accounts for 70% of the India’s winter sown grains.

Since the open market prices are unlikely to offer any incentives over the government’s minimum support price (MSP) of Rs. 1100/ quintal, the FCI will end up buying most of the crop. This will only aggravate the storage problem. Also with the government planning to release some of the surplus crop and new crop coming in about a month, a glut scenario is likely.

The consumers can gradually relax, but the government has a long way to go in a short span of time. The only end in sight so far is that the government may end up subsidizing exports as has been often done before. Some timely decisions and planning based on sound evaluation of expert opinions and support options available would have been instrumental in avoiding this self-imposed crisis.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

THE IPL SNUB


The IPL (Indian Premier League) is back. Like the past years, a lot of noise can be heard about it, but the only difference is that this year the notes are strained. The auction where players from several countries were up for bidding by various IPL team owners is where all the noise started from. Out of the total number of players who were made available for the auction, 11 were Pakistani players. Amazingly, no IPL franchisee bid for any player from Pakistan.

Quite obviously this hurt the Pakistan players who believe they have been unnecessarily humiliated. Even top players like Shahid Afridi couldn’t secure any bids. This ignore hasn’t gone down well with the Pakistan Government and its people. As a mark of protest against the behaviour put up by the IPL, Lalit Modi’s (IPL Commissioner) effigies were burnt at some places in Pakistan. This snub is sure to affect the Indo-Pak peace initiatives.

As the IPL is not a government body, Indian Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram, tried to pacify the hurt neighbours by saying that such behaviour is unfortunate and the Government had no say in it.

Indeed such behaviour on part of the IPL is just not acceptable. Such treatment of the Pakistani players is sure to slow down the cooperation initiatives between India and Pakistan to an awfully slow pace. However the IPL franchisees have very conveniently cited availability issues as the reason for not picking these players. A very crucial question that arises from this statement: If the IPL was not sure about the availability of these players then why were these players put up for auction at all?

Sports, especially cricket has been seen as a way of telling the anti Indo-Pak cooperation forces that India and Pakistan can be good neighbours to each other. But what happened during the auction of players for IPL has given such anti-peace groups a reason to smile. One question that has been plaguing almost every mind ever since this controversy came to the front is: Does no franchisee bidding for any Pakistani player mean that it was planned in advance to give these players a cold shoulder?

Recently (what seemed to be a ray of hope in this crisis) it was claimed by Pakistan that an IPL team- Deccan Chargers had approached Pakistani player Abdul Razzak to play for them. But Lalit Modi soon lambasted it as a baseless rumour and things are back to square one.