India set to become water scarce by 2025: report

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3.The hills are alive ...

An issue that was swept under the carpet has become the talk of the town overnight, thanks to a YouTube video. Kodaikanal Won’t , a groovy rap video released by the NGO, is the latest social media anthem that highlights the popular outcry against the mercury contamination in Kodaikanal by Hindustan Unilever’s thermometer factory. The video, released last Friday, takes on the corporate giant and demands that the company’s CEO Paul Polman “make amends now”. The video is part of a campaign launched by the workers of the now-closed factory and urges viewers to sign an online petition.

“It is a struggle that has been going on for the past 14 years. None of us knew about it. I wanted to do my bit using the medium I knew,” says filmmaker R. Rathindran Prasad, who directed the video

4.Ban only on sites promoting child porn, says Centre

ovt. to partially lift the curbs on pornography sites

Following massive uproar over its move to ban 857 pornography sites, the Union government on Tuesday said the ban would be lifted. However, sites that promoted child porn would continue to be prohibited.

The government on Friday asked Internet service providers to restrict “open and free” access to 857 porn websites to protect Indian cultural fabric. On Monday, The Hindu had reported that the ban was ‘temporary’.

“The government has decided that the ban will be partially lifted. The Supreme Court petition pertained to child pornography, so sites promoting it will continue to be under the ban. A communication will soon be sent out to Internet services providers. Other considerations will be looked into after court hearing,” a source in the Telecom Ministry said.

The decision was taken at a high-level meeting called by Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and attended by IT Secretary R.S. Sharma and Additional Solicitor-General Pinky Anand.

“The action taken by the government was basically to comply with the observation of the Supreme Court when it asked the department to take action on the list of alleged porn sites provided by the petitioner,” Mr. Prasad said.

Serious issue’

“The issue is definitely serious and some steps need to be taken,” Chief Justice H.L. Dattu had remarked while hearing a public interest litigation petition by advocate Kamlesh Vashwani to block porn websites. “The Centre is expected to take a stand … let us see what stand the Centre will take.”

He had directed the government to reply in four weeks. The next hearing in the Supreme Court on this matter is scheduled for August 10.

The Telecom Department is working on a long-term policy, which could include the setting up a regulatory body or an ombudsman to regulate such sites, a top Ministry source had told The Hindu . “The government must stay away from the whole process [dealing with obscene/explicit content online] … One of the ideas is to set up a regulatory body or let there be an ombudsman to take a call or such issues.”

5. Citizenship issue can affect relations with neighbours

The cut-off date proposed for victims of religious persecution from Pakistan and Bangladesh who can apply for citizenship is December 31, 2014. Citizenship by registration (a minimum stay of seven years) and naturalisation (a minimum of 12 years) will be the two routes.

The External Affairs Ministry has cautioned the Home Ministry that the move could hurt India’s relations with its neighbours. Nevertheless, the political call has been taken.

The Citizenship Act, 1955, would have to be amended to reflect the exemption from the status of illegal migrant. “Section 2, sub-section 1’s clause (b) will have a proviso which will reflect this exemption,” a source said.

The amendment to the Passports Act, 1920, and Passport Rules, 1950, will have to be notified and tabled in Parliament for two months to allow for objections, if any, before being deemed clear. The amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1950, will be cleared as a Bill after being debated in Parliament.

On Monday, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said in Silchar: “No person who came from Bangladesh because of persecution or harassment will have to leave Assam or India. The NDA government will soon bring in necessary amendments to the Citizenship Act.”

“At his first public rally in Assam during the 2014 election campaign, Narendra Modi had said Hindu Bangladeshis would be removed from camps and given citizenship,” a senior BJP leader said.

6. Nine U.S. satellites to be flown from Sriharikota

In a small but significant progress in the chequered Indo-U.S. space equations, Indian satellite launchers will for the first time put a few U.S.-made satellites into space from Indian soil.

ISRO’s commercial venture Antrix Corporation recently signed contracts to launch nine micro and nano spacecraft separately as small co-passengers on the PSLV light-lifter during this year and next, according to information from ISRO officials.

“As on date, Antrix Corporation Ltd. has signed agreement to launch about nine nano / micro [U.S.] satellites during the 2015-2016 timeframe from the Sriharikota launch pad,” an ISRO spokesman confirmed to The Hindu without elaborating. He clarified that they were not for U.S. space agency NASA; and they would go piggyback with other satellites.

A micro satellite weighs in the band of 10-100 kg and a nano satellite in the range of one to 10 kg.

ISRO did not share the agency or agencies that have signed the launch contract; or whether they were for Earth observation, university-built spacecraft or those carrying scientific experiments of research institutions.

On Monday, ISRO Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar was reported to have mentioned in Chennai that ISRO would launch its first ever U.S. spacecraft.

The U.S. contracts are seen as the first fruit of the Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA) that the Department of Space signed with the U.S. in July 2009. The TSA leaves the door open for ISRO to launch small non-commercial or experimental spacecraft that are made in the US — or even those of other countries which contain U.S. components.

Until the TSA was signed, even that leeway was not available for ISRO which aspires to take baby bites in the big global launch service business. Most satellites made around the world use some or other U.S. components.

ISRO and the U.S. have been working at a bigger accord, the CSLA (Commercial Satellite Launch Agreement) which, when sealed, will bring in the business of launching bigger commercial Earth observation or other satellites.

ISRO’s PSLV launcher, which has done 30 flights with just one failure since 1993, has a good record and is considered low-priced and reliable for small satellites. To date, it has put into orbit 45 small and mid-sized foreign satellites of 19 nations for a fee.

Radar satellite

Another positive outcome with the U.S. is the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR), signed about two years ago, to co-develop a radar imaging satellite and launch it from India around 2019-20. It will be the first synthetic aperture radar satellite in dual frequency.

ISRO bags first ever bunch of U.S. launch orders

7. S. China Sea tensions flare at ASEAN talks

Southeast Asian diplomats said on Tuesday that China’s controversial island-building drive is raising regional tensions, with the Philippines slamming its “unilateral and aggressive activities”.

The U.S. and some Southeast Asian states have watched with growing alarm as Beijing expands tiny reefs in the South China Sea, topping some with military posts to reinforce its disputed claims over the strategic waters and fanning fears of future conflict.

The flashpoint issue has taken centre-stage at the annual security forum hosted by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that began on Tuesday. But China has insisted it will not discuss the dispute during the meetings.

That prompted a sharp rebuke from the Philippines, which, along with Vietnam, has been involved in the most direct territorial confrontations with China.

Hitting out

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told fellow ASEAN foreign ministers at an afternoon meeting that “massive reclamation activities” and construction by Beijing in the disputed sea had “undermined peace, security and stability”. Beijing claims control over nearly all of the sea, a key shipping route thought to hold rich oil and gas reserves. — AFP

8. Russia bids at U.N. for vast Arctic territories

Russia has submitted its bid for vast territories in the Arctic to the United Nations, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The ministry said in a statement that Russia is claiming 1.2 million square km of Artic sea shelf extending more than 650 km from the shore.

Russia, the U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway have all been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, which is believed to hold up to a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas. Rivalry for Arctic resources has intensified as shrinking polar ice is opening up new opportunities for exploration.

Russia was the first to submit its claim in 2002, but the U.N. sent it back for lack of evidence.

The ministry said that the resubmitted bid contains new arguments. “Ample scientific data collected in years of Arctic research are used to back the Russian claim,” it said.

Russia expects the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to start looking at its bid in the fall, the ministry said.

In 2007, Moscow staked a symbolic claim to the Arctic seabed by dropping a canister containing the Russian flag on the ocean floor from a small submarine at the North Pole. Amid tensions with the West over Ukraine, the Kremlin also has moved to beef up Russian military forces in the Arctic. — AP

9. Amalendu Krishna of TIFR wins Ramanujan Prize

Dr. Krishna has been honoured for his contributions in the area of algebraic K-theory, algebraic cycles and theory of motives.

The Ramanujan Prize for 2015 has been won by mathematician Amalendu Krishna of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. The prize is awarded jointly by the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Italy, the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and the International Mathematical Union (IMU) to a person under 45 working in a developing country.

Dr. Krishna has been recognised for outstanding contributions in the area of algebraic K-theory, algebraic cycles and the theory of motives. “I feel happy that this prize will motivate more young Indians to pursue science and do well in that. It means a lot … to see my family feeling proud of my work,” he said.

M.S. Raghunathan, a member of the selection committee and Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, said Dr. Krishna was among the top mathematicians under 45 in the country. “His work in algebraic geometry (more specifically about cycles and motives) has attracted considerable attention. He has been attacking some hard problems and has come up with some very original ideas that constitute significant progress on them,” he said.

The website of the Ramanujan Prize says the selection committee will, in particular, favour those candidates who have overcome adversity. Can the word “adversity” apply to working in places like India or China? Professor Raghunathan said: “People have raised the issue … eventually the IMU and the ICTP decided that while there are institutions in these countries where the conditions are good, a large majority of researchers still work in difficult conditions compared with their Western counterparts. This is an issue over which the Abel Foundation [which funded the prize originally] withdrew its support for the prize, and the Department of Science and Technology stepped in with the necessary funding.”

Dr. Krishna is from Bihar and did his schooling and early college education there. “[Born into a middle class family and] growing in the conditions of disadvantage, it was very difficult to motivate oneself to take up science as a profession. There was not much happening around to help students orient themselves. I was then lucky to join the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata … I worked hard and eventually survived,” he said.

The pure and challenging nature of maths keeps him hooked. “This subject is often so complex that most of the problems I try to solve, I land up not able to solve. That keeps me always grounded,” he said.

Instituted in 2005, the Ramanujan Prize carries a citation and a cash of $15,000. The winner is invited to give a talk at the ICTP.

This is the second time it is being awarded to an Indian, with Sujatha Ramadorai having won it in 2006.

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