Rosaiah’s Sankranti gift: VAT goes up

When everybody in the state is happily celebrating Sankranti festival, the Rosaiah government completely spoiled their festival mood on Wednesday night.

The government silently issued an order increasing the value added tax on most of the goods from 12.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent. This is expected to fetch nearly Rs 400 crore to the state exchequer.

The government had already increased APSRTC bus fares to a large extent and is now working out increase in power tariff. Similarly, it is planning to hike the excise duty on liquor. So, far more tough days are ahead for the people of the state. Be prepared for the worst!

Jr NTR-Kavitha deal for 1.5 cr?

Rumours are agog in the political circles that Jr NTR has struck a deal with Telangana Jagriti president Kavitha to ensure smooth running of the film Adhurs, which was released in all parts of the state, including Telangana, on Wednesday.

Grapevine has it that Jr NTR had offered an amount of Rs 1.5 crore to Kavitha to withdraw her call given to the Telangana activists to stall the movie in Hyderabad and nine other districts. Though Kavitha reportedly demanded Rs 4 crore for the same, Jr NTR managed to convince her to settle with Rs 1.5 crore, since the producers were not aware of the profit the film could make. For Jr NTR, the film is a prestigious one as it was released after a long gap of nearly one year.

However, Kavitha told Jr NTR that the boycott call would be in force for a day or two, since the sudden withdrawal of the call would get her a bad image. “The boycott call would also bring a lot of publicity to the film and would be in the news. That way, it would offset the loss caused in the first two or three days,” she is learnt to have told him.

No harm to Andhra settlers: T-JAC

The Joint Action Committee of Telangana political leaders on Wednesday gave a firm assurance to the settlers from Andhra and Rayalaseema that there would be no harm to the properties and lives of Andhra settlers in Hyderabad and rest of Telangana.

The steering committee of the JAC which met here made this statement in the wake of the strong reaction from some parties over TRS party’s call to stall the screening of Telugu film “Adhurs” starring Junior NTR. Apparently, the TRS leaders came under pressure from the other political parties not to resort to such steps that evoked wild protests from all sections of the people.

The JAC discussed the issue that there were still 22 MLAs who had not submitted their resignations to their assembly seats in Telangana. “We will meet all of them, including those from the MIM and request their cooperation to the movement by resigning from their seats,” JAC convenor M Kodandaram said.

Facebook teams with McAfee to tighten security

SAN FRANCISCO- Facebook has announced an alliance with Internet security specialty firm McAfee to get members of the world’s leading online social network to better defend their computers.

Facebook users whose accounts are breached by malicious software or other cyberattacks will need to have their computers cleansed by McAfee before returning to life in the online community.

Facebook members are also being offered free six-month subscriptions to McAfee security software and then discounted prices for continued service.

“If we get people’s machines this protection, it is better for them, for Facebook, and the Internet as a whole,” Facebook director of communications and public policy Barry Schnitt said Tuesday.

Previously, Facebook simply reset passwords of members whose accounts were vexed by hacking, phishing, or other cyber-mischief and advised members to have “malware” purged from their computers.

“We found that they wouldn’t fix the problems and got infected again,” Schnitt said.

“Now, we’ve integrated a solution where they actually have to get machines scanned and cleaned.”

McAfee and Facebook have collaborated on a free tool for cleaning up infected computers and Facebook said it will not share in any revenue that McAfee makes from security software or services.

“The common goal is to help protect users of the Internet globally,” said McAfee vice president of marketing Brent Remai. “We are pretty excited about this partnership.”

Facebook selected McAfee after a competitive review process.

McAfee Internet Security Suite software is available to Facebook users in Australia, Britain, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. It will be spread to more countries in coming months.

Facebook and McAfee cited research indicating that 78 percent of computer users do not have updated virus and spyware protections on machines.

“By partnering with the market leader McAfee, we are taking an unprecedented step towards making the entire Internet more secure and reducing the possibility of threats being brought onto our service by unsuspecting users,” said Facebook vice president of global communications Elliot Schrage.

“Keeping the Internet secure requires that users, security vendors and Internet companies all work together.”

‘Facebook fugitive’ recaptured by British police

LONDON- A criminal who taunted police via Facebook while on the run from prison in Britain has been recaptured, four months after his break-out, police said Wednesday.

Craig “Lazie” Lynch, 28, became a cult figure thanks to his defiant status updates on the Internet social networking site.

Dubbed the “Facebook fugitive” by media, Lynch — whose profile picture showed him raising his middle finger to the camera — notched up tens of thousands of “friends” from around the world.

There was also a separate Facebook page, “Where is Craig ‘Lazie’ Lynch?”, calling for information which could lead to his capture.

Lynch was serving a seven-year term for aggravated burglary when he escaped prison in Suffolk, eastern England, in September.

But he could now have his spell behind bars extended after being charged with escaping from lawful custody.

Lynch, who was recaptured in Kent, southeast of London, on Tuesday night, is due to appear in court later Wednesday.

A spokesman for London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed Lynch had been recaptured but could not say whether information posted on Facebook had helped officers locate him.

UN Haiti peacekeeper chief believed dead in quake

PARIS – The Tunisian head of UN peacekeepers in Haiti and “all those around him” are believed dead after their headquarters collapsed in the huge earthquake there, France’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

“The building of the UN peace mission… collapsed and it would appear that all those who were in the building, including my friend Hedi Annabi and that all those who were with
him and around him are dead,” Bernard Kouchner said.

Annabi is the head of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

Lives of the Flight 1549 passengers, crew altered, for the better, following Miracle on the Hudson

Passengers Andrew Gray and Stephanie King reunite after the Miracle on the Hudson landing.

Macleod for News

Passengers Andrew Gray and Stephanie King reunite after the Miracle on the Hudson landing.

Passengers exit downed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009.
Passengers exit downed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009.
Some found God. Two found love. Most found a second family.

In the year since they walked off Flight 1549 with a new lease on life, most of the 151 people aboard have concluded the traumatic ordeal was actually a blessing.

“I believe that 1549 was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” said Brad Wentzell of Charlotte, N.C., who helped a mother and baby off the plane and dragged a drowning man from the frigid Hudson.

“I don’t worry about stuff anymore. There were a lot of things that I used to beat myself up about, things that I couldn’t get out of my brain. After what happened, I was able to forgive myself and move on. I actually sleep better now.

“Sometimes a nice plane crash is exactly what the doctor ordered,” Wentzell said.

The passengers and crew about the US Airways jet spent two minutes certain they were going to die as their plane, disabled by a flock of geese, lost altitude as it tried to take off over New York City Jan 15, 2009.

Instead, cucumber-cool pilot Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger glided them down to a textbook splashdown onto the icy river.

Mark Hood, a medical equipment salesman from Charlotte, said staring down death – and having death blink – has been “a rebirth.”

“I view the world differently now. When I came out of the door of that plane and took that first breath of cold, clear air, it was a new beginning. The touch of my wife, hugging my kids – all new,” he said.

Hood, already a man of strong faith, has become more openly religious – and more open in general, he said.

“I’ve always been a very closed person emotionally,” said Hood, 49, a Marine veteran of Operation Desert Storm who now regularly speaks to church groups about what happened. “The nice part of the experience is I was able to open up.”

Two groups of passengers collaborated on books, though no one is getting rich. The real payoff, they say, is the strong bonds that have formed among the travelers who took a five-minute flight from LaGuardia to the river.

Denise Lockie, the exec who was in seat 2C next to Hood, has become a friend: She spent Thanksgiving with his family.

Gifts every day

And in what may be one of the all time best “meet cute” stories, software developer Ben Bostic, 39, and department store manager Laura Zych, 31 – who didn’t meet the day of the crash – fell in love six months later when they were introduced at a reunion in Charlotte.

“Life gives you gifts every single day if you look for them,” Bostic said he learned.

Wentzell, 32, now calls his 63-year-old crash buddy and fellow Boston transplant Carl Bazarian “Uncle Carl.” They saved people together and flew home to Charlotte together hours after the mishap. Since then, they’ve done joint TV interviews, shared dinners, become authors and gotten a private tour of Fenway Park, courtesy of the Red Sox.

Haiti Earthquake Image Gallery – Haiti Earthquake images – Haiti Earthquake pics

Haiti struck by quake as capital is leveled

Scene of chaos and devastation in the densely-populated Port-au-Prince area of Haiti after a huge quake rocked the region.

A devastating quake left Haiti’s capital in ruins, knocking down hospitals, high-rises, and churches Tuesday – and leveling the presidential palace.

“There must be thousands of people dead,” Catholic Relief Services representative Karel Zelenka told colleagues by phone, just before service went out.

“People were screaming ‘Jesus, Jesus’ and running in all directions,” said Reuters reporter Joseph Guyler Delva from the capital Port-au-Prince. “It’s total chaos.”

“The whole city is in darkness, you have thousands of people sitting in the streets, with nowhere to go,” said Rachmani Domersant of the relief group Food for the Poor.

He and others have reported many downtown buildings collapsed in the city of 2 million, including the parliament, UN headquarters and other other official buildings.

Photographs showed the famed domed presidential palace almost completely destroyed.

President Rene Preval was not hurt, said Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S.

“It’s going to be a major catastrophe when we start to count the dead,” said Joseph.

The extent of the horror was only beginning to emerge. Near-complete power failures left Haiti, an impoverished island nation of 8million, largely cut off from the world.

Efforts to rescue the injured and trapped were described as desperate. People were clawing at the debris with their bare hands, trying to save loved ones, witnesses said.

In the hilly neighborhood of Petionville, where a hospital fell on top of screaming patients, a visiting U.S. federal official said he saw a number of homes collapsed into a ravine.

“The sky is just gray with dust,” Henry Bahn said. “I just hear a tremendous amount of noise and shouting and screaming in the distance.”

Haitian immigrants in New York City and elsewhere were frantically trying to contact relatives back home – and having no luck getting through.

The magnitude-7.0 quake hitright near Port-au-Prince at 4:53 p.m. and is believed to be the strongest quake in Haiti in more than 200 years. Two powerful aftershocks measuring 5.9 and 5.5 soon followed, further damaging structures weakened by the initial quake.

The quake struck just as Haiti was starting to show the first signs of recovery from the relentless battering of Hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike in 2008, which killed hundreds and left 800,000 people homeless.

Famed Haitian musician Wyclef Jean, who has worked to improve conditions in his homeland, said he feared what will follow this “human disaster” – including looting.

“Idle hands will only make this tragedy worse,” he warned.

Images of Haiti quake horror fired off on Twitter

SAN FRANCISCO- Heart-rending pictures from quake-ravaged Haiti and rallying cries for aid spread swiftly on Twitter as the microblogging service was once again a key communication tool during disaster.

“The destruction was massive,” a Twitter user wrote in Spanish in an exchange beneath one of a set of TwitPic photos reportedly taken by local journalist Carel Pedre with a mobile phone camera in Haiti.

TwitPic is a service that lets people post pictures using the wildly popular microblogging service that allows users to fire off text messages of no more than 140 characters in widespread shotgun-blast style.

A set of pictures posted by LisandroSuero included before and after shots of a presidential palace damaged in the deadly 7.0 magnitude temblor that struck the Caribbean island nation Tuesday.

The quake toppled buildings and triggered fears that hundreds had been killed.
Another Lisandro Suero picture showed a woman covered in dust and buried up to her knees in rubble.

“Wow, that’s so sad,” a Twitter user said in a chat forum below a picture posted by TwitPic user ‘marvinady’ of people rushing from a mound of debris that was once a home.

TwitPic was peppered with requests from news agencies seeking permission to publish pictures from the disaster or speak with those who took them.

“Help Haiti” was among the top trending topics at Twitter on Tuesday, with “tweets” urging people to support relief efforts.

Meanwhile, photos of quake damage evidently taken from TwitPic were also being compiled at a “Haiti Needs US and We Need Haiti” group at social-networking service Facebook.

“The brothers and sisters out there suffering,” the group leader said in a message on the opening page. “Yeah we can pray… But, prayer without action means nothing. If you believe that; lets get together and do what we can!”

Sri Lanka beat India to lift tri-nation trophy

Mirpur: Indian top guns came a cropper when it mattered most as Sri Lanka spanked them by four wickets in a low-scoring final to lift the cricket tri-series here tonight.

The summit clash demanded a special performance by the Indians who aspire to be the number one ODI team in the world but all they managed was 245 before folding in 48.2 overs, denying their bowling colleagues enough runs to defend.

Things could have been embarrassing for them but for the 106-run stand between Suresh Raina (106) and Ravindra Jadeja (38) and a characteristically brisk 27-ball 42 by Virender Sehwag upfront.

Chasing the target, Sri Lanka fumbled occasionally before eventually cruising to 249 for six in 48.3 overs. For them, Tillakaratne Dilshan (49) and Kumar Sangakkara (55) set the tone and Mahela Jayawardene (71 not out) completed the job. Not that the Sri Lankan chase was a hiccup-free affair.

Ashish Nehra had the scoreless Upul Tharanga caught in the slip by Virat Kohli off his third delivery and Sri Lanka were yet to open their account at that stage.

Sangakkara is not new to such situation and the Lankan captain, in Dilshan’s company, added 92 runs to put the chase back on track at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium. Dhoni pressed in service Yuvraj Singh and then collaborated with him to remove the dangerous Dilshan off the left-arm spinner’s first delivery.

Earlier, Sri Lankan pacers wrecked the Indian batting before Suresh Raina’s fighting century saw the visitors finish at 245.

Nuwan Kulasekara (4-48) and Chanaka Welegedara (3-53) reduced India to a precarious 60 for five before Raina (106) and Ravindra Jadeja (38) added 106 runs to bail them out at the Shere Bangla Stadium in Mirpur.

After Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara won the toss and elected to field, the new-ball bowlers Kulasekara and Welegedara gave his team the perfect start by destroying India’s top order.

Kulasekara removed Gautam Gambhir for a second-ball duck in his first over with a delivery that pitched just outside the leg stump and hit the stumps.

Welegedara then removed Virat Kohli (2) and Yuvraj Singh in successive overs, both falling to poor shot selection. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (14) did not last long and India were soon in a deep trouble.

Sehwag (42) was the lone batsman to offer some resistance, hitting Kulasekara for three fours in four deliveries early in his innings. He was dismissed while attempting to guide a rising delivery from Kulasekara to third man, that went straight to Sangakkara.

Raina and Jadeja then started to rebuilt the innings, taking runs through singles and twos and cutting down on extravagant strokes. The pair was removed when Tillakaratne Dilshan trapped Jadeja in front.

Raina scored his third ODI century, smashing 10 fours and one six in his 115-ball stay. Kulasekara and Welegedara joined forces in the slog overs to trigger another collapse.

100 UN staff among ‘hundreds’ killed in Haiti quake

New York, Jan 13 (DPA) UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday ‘hundreds’ of people may have been killed by a strong earthquake and its aftershocks that hit Haiti a day earlier, while more than 100 UN staff in the poor Caribbean remained unaccounted for.

Senior UN officials said the unaccounted staff members were in the UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince and fewer than five staffers had been confirmed dead. Other UN staff were living in hotels, which collapsed, he said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday in Paris that the head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission to Haiti, Tunisian Hedi Annabi, was among those killed in the powerful earthquake. However, Ban could not confirm that Annabi, was among the dead though he and his second in command remained unaccounted for.

Ban presented ‘heartfelt sympathies’ to the government and people of Haiti and urged the international community to rush assistance to the impoverished nation in the Caribbean, where 90 per cent of the population live on less than 1 dollar a day.

He said the earthquakes would trigger a major humanitarian crisis in addition to cutting off communication lines with the outside world. Ban said it had become ‘very, very difficult’ to get in touch with UN personnel in Port-au-Prince.

Edmond Mullet, a UN undersecretary general, was being sent to Haiti as soon as possible for a first-hand look at the situation, Ban said. There are some 3,000 UN peacekeepers in the Haitian capital of the total of more than 7,000 troops and 2,000 police operating in the country.

YSR Death: CBI to probe sabotage angle

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah has requested the CBI and the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to include the “sabotage angle” in their terms of reference in the ongoing inquiries into the death of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in a helicopter crash on September 2.

He made the request in the wake of a report telecast by a Telugu television channel on Thursday alleging a conspiracy behind the death, sparking off attacks by Congress on Reliance outlets.

The Chief Minister reviewed the situation arising out of the last night’s violence with Home Minister P. Sabitha Indra Reddy and Director General of Police R.R. Girish Kumar. He telephoned Union Home Ministers P. Chidambaram and Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel to broaden the scope of the inquiry.

Ms. Sabitha Indra Reddy told reporters later that Congress workers and YSR admirers suspected sabotage from the beginning. So, the Chief Minister wanted the CBI and DGCA to find out if any person was connected with it directly or indirectly.

The committee headed by M.R. Reddy which was also probing the crash, too would go into this aspect. The government sought submission of reports of the three inquiries at the earliest. “Let no one think that the government is relaxing”.

She said there was nothing new in the television report as the government came across it in the website of ‘The Exiled’, a few days after the copter crash. She did not clearly indicate if the government would pay compensation to Reliance against the properties damaged. The Minister denied that adequate steps were not taken to pre-empt violence over the report.  Wherever trouble was expected, police were deployed.

Does ‘Avatar’ has a racist message?

Near the end of the film Avatar, the villain snarls at the hero, “How does it feel to betray your own race?” Both men are white — although the hero is portrayed as a blue-skinned, 9-foot tall, long-tailed alien.

Strange as it may seem for a film that pits greedy, immoral humans against noble denizens of a faraway moon, Avatar is being criticised by a small but vocal group of people who allege it contains racist themes — of a white hero once again saving primitive natives.

Since the film opened to widespread critical acclaim three weeks ago, hundreds of blog posts, newspaper articles, tweets and YouTube videos have made claims such as that the film is “a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people” and reinforces “the white Messiah fable.”

The film’s writer and director, James Cameron, says the real theme is about respecting others’ differences.

In the film (Warning: spoilers ahead) a white, paralysed Marine, Jake Sully, is mentally linked to an alien’s body and set loose on the planet Pandora. His mission: persuade the mystic, nature-loving Na’vis to make way for humans to mine their land for unobtanium — a mineral worth $20 million per kilo back home.

Like Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves and Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai or as far back as Jimmy Stewart in the 1950 Western Broken Arrow, the hero (Sully) switches sides. He falls in love with the Na’vi princess and leads the bird-riding, bow-and-arrow-shooting aliens to victory over the white men’s spaceships and mega-robots.

Adding to the racial dynamic is that the main Na’vi characters are played by actors of color, led by a Dominican, Zoe Saldana, as the princess. The film also is an obvious metaphor for how European settlers in America wiped out the Indians.

Robinne Lee, an actress in such recent films as Seven Pounds and Hotel for Dogs, said that Avatar was “beautiful” and that she understood the economic logic of casting a white lead if most of the audience is white.

But she said the film, which remained No. 1 at the box office domestically for the fourth straight weekend with $48.5 million and is second among all-time top-grossing films worldwide, still reminded her of Hollywood’s “Pocahontas” story — “the Indian woman leads the white man into the wilderness, and he learns the way of the people and becomes the savior.”

“It’s really upsetting in many ways,” said Lee, who is black with Jamaican and Chinese ancestry. “It would be nice if we could save ourselves.”

Annalee Newitz, editor-in-chief of the sci-fi Website, likened Avatar to the recent film District 9, in which a white man accidentally becomes an alien and then helps save the aliens, and Dune (1984) in which a white man becomes an alien Messiah.

“Main white characters realise that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, aka people of color … (then) go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed,” wrote Newitz, who is white. “When will whites stop making these movies and start thinking about race in a new way?”

Black film professor and author Donald Bogle said he can understand why people would be troubled by Avatar although he praised it as a “stunning” work.

“A segment of the audience is carrying in the back of its head some sense of movie history,” said Bogle, author of Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films.

CJI’s office comes within RTI: High Court

In a landmark verdict against the Supreme Court, the Delhi High Court on Tuesday held that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes within the ambit of the Right to Information (RTI) law, saying judicial independence is not a judge’s privilege but a responsibility cast upon him.

The 88-page judgement is being seen as a personal setback to CJI K. G. Balakrishnan, who has been opposed to disclosure of information relating to judges under the RTI Act.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice A. P. Shah and Justices Vikramjeet Sen and S. Muralidhar dismissed a plea of the Supreme Court which contended that bringing the CJI’s office within the RTI Act would “hamper” judicial independence.

“The judicial independence is not a privilege to a judge but a responsibility,” the High Court said, adding that the CJI cannot be said to have fiduciary relationship (between a trustee and a beneficiary) with other judges.

Taking a step further to bring transparency in the judiciary, the bench while pronouncing the verdict in a packed courtroom, said its judges will be making their assets public within a week.

The CJI has consistently been maintaining that his office does not come within the ambit of the RTI Act and the information including the declaration of assets of its judges cannot be made public under it.

The High Court had in its September 2 verdict on the controversial issue held that the CJI was a public authority and his office came within the purview of the RTI Act.

Challenging the order, the Supreme Court registry had contended that the single judge had erred in holding that the CJI’s office comes within the ambit of the transparency law and had interpreted its provisions too broadly which were “unnecessary” and “illogical“.

The apex court also contended that judges cannot be put under public scrutiny as it would hamper their functioning and independence.

“We cannot expose our judges to public scrutiny or inquiry because it would hamper their functioning and independence,” Attorney General Goolam E. Vahanvati, appearing for the Supreme Court registry, had contended.

The AG had argued that other agencies should not be allowed to interfere in the judiciary.

“Judges cannot be judged by public perception. The judiciary cannot be exposed to a third party. There is no problem in having better transparency and accountability in the system but it should come from within the system,” AG had submitted.

As public opinion mounted on the assets issue, the CJI and other judges of the Supreme Court on November two voluntarily declared their assets by putting the details on the official website.

In its appeal, the Supreme Court maintained that the independence of judiciary is paramount.

In its judgement, the High Court said that the unanimous resolution of Supreme Court judges passed in 1997 on declaration of assets cannot be questioned now. The Judges had then decided to put details of their assets in public domain.

It also observed that the judges of the higher judiciary are not less accountable than the judicial magistrates who are legally bound to declare their assets.

During the arguments, the AG had said, “Non-declaration of assets does not mean demeaning and lowering of judicial values. Judges also need protection. They are most vulnerable in the society.”

If the CJI’s office is declared as a public authority under the RTI Act, then people would also seek information over the appointment and promotion of judges, he had said.

The apex court had pleaded that the resolution passed by its judges for declaring their assets is not binding on them as it was part of the self-regulatory mechanism for the judiciary.

“If we accept your arguments (that resolution is not binding on judges), then it would have serious implication on self-regulation. It is binding and its non-observance has certain consequences,” the High Court had observed.

Indian team cant be No1 for long time.

They may be numero uno for now but former Australian captain Ian Chappell says India do not have the bowling strength to stay at the top of International Cricket Council’s Test rankings on a long-term basis.

“I don’t think great teams are built on opening batting partnerships. But to me, there is a far more important thing, and this is one reason why I don’t rate India as a long-term No.1, ” Chappell told ‘Cricinfo’.

“I think you have got to have two champion bowlers in your line-up to be a long-term successful cricket team. That is where India is falling down at the moment,” he pointed out.

Chappell said Indians do not even have one champion bowler in their line-up.

“When I look at the averages and the strike-rates for India in the last 12 months, I don’t see two champion bowlers.

Ignore superstitions, watch solar eclipse with proper gear

New Delhi: As the world looks forward to the millennium’s longest annular solar eclipse Friday, there are superstitions galore in India. But science experts have urged people to shed “false beliefs” and watch the celestial spectacle the right way.

“People have various false beliefs regarding solar eclipse. Some think that during eclipse ‘bad rays’ come to earth and they lock themselves up in their homes to avoid it. This is really rubbish and people should shed such superstitions,” Nehru Planetarium director N. Rathnashree told news agency.

The solar eclipse this time falls on the second holy bathing day of the Maha Kumbh in Hardwar and a large number of people are expected to throng the holy city with a belief to cleanse themselves after the eclipse.

Some people avoid cooking and eating during the eclipse. There are others who believe that pregnant women should refrain from sewing during the eclipse as it can lead to deformities in the foetus.

“We don’t eat or cook during an eclipse and the food cooked earlier is discarded as the number of germs increases during the eclipse,” said Rachna Singh, a homemaker.

Rathnashree stressed that there is no cause for fear during an eclipse but people should take precautions while viewing the phenomenon.

“The annular solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a very interesting activity. It should be watched under the supervision of experts with proper gadgets. I am flooded with calls and e-mails from people who want to know the impact of solar eclipse on them,” she said.

But in the past few years, many people have overcome their fears and come out in large number to watch such celestial events.

“Believe me people are so excited about the eclipse that they are ready to travel several kilometres from here to have a better view of the eclipse and we are taking people to different locations,” Sachin Bhamba, astronomer with the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE), told news agency.

SPACE, a Delhi-based organisation working to make science and astronomy popular among youngsters, is taking people to Varkala in Kerala and country’s first eclipse cruise to Maldives to get a clear view of the eclipse.

In India, the eclipse will start around 11 a.m. and end around 3.15 p.m. The eclipse will first be seen in the south of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and then move to Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi. It will also pass through Mizoram in the northeast.

Delhi will see a partial solar eclipse.

“It is very important to emphasise that viewing the eclipse with the naked eye would be very dangerous. Viewing the sun through a telescope or a binoculars without a proper filter is many times more dangerous – it could destroy your eyesight,” Rathnashree warned.

According to her, the safest way of viewing a total solar eclipse is through the method of projection.

A pair of binoculars can be used along with a long hardboard box to obtain good projected views of the sun for safe solar viewing, she said.

“By projection method, a pinhole or small opening is used to cast the image of the sun on a screen placed a half-metre or more beyond the opening,” she added.

If you don’t have access to a telescope or binoculars, Rathnashree explained an easy method of using a kitchen sieve with small perforations.

Hold the sieve just above the ground, tilting its face towards the sun. Moving the sieve a little away from the ground, one can see an image of the sun forming, which will show the eclipse when it occurs.

People should also avoid watching solar eclipse using sunglasses, smoked glass, colour film, black-and-white film that contains no silver, or photographic negatives with images on them.

Nehru Planetarium, in collaboration with the Amateur Astronomers Association, Delhi, will be conducting a public sky-watch for the eclipse at the planetarium.

“Our experts will be available to guide people in watching the beautiful event,” Rathnasree said.

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the sun and the moon are exactly in line, but the apparent size of the moon’s shadow is smaller than the visible disc of the sun. The covered sun, therefore, appears as a ‘Ring of Fire’, with its rays appearing spread out from the outline of the moon.

The last time India saw this Ring of Fire was Nov 22, 1965, and it will not be witnessed again before June 21, 2020. The maximum duration of the eclipse will be 11 minutes, 8 seconds over the Indian Ocean, thus making it the longest annular eclipse of the millennium.

Kasab continues to deny role in Mumbai terror attacks

Mumbai: Pakistani terror accused Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab continued denying his role in the Nov 26, 2008, Mumbai terror attacks as the recording of his statement was taken up in the new year here Tuesday.

So far, Kasab has been posed 891 questions pertaining to his role in the terror attacks based on the evidence on record and testimonies of witnesses presented by the prosecution, as required under Sec. 313 of Criminal Procedure Code.

He has replied mostly in the negative to a majority of questions besides making up different stories during the course of his denials, Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam told mediapersons.

Among the things he has denied so far is his involvement in the attacks, his arrest by the police from Girgaum Chowpatty, of having opened fire inside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, and killing three top police officers — Hemant Karkare, Ashok Kamte and Vijay Salaskar.

Claiming that he was a cook in Pakistan who had come to make a career in Bollywood, Kasab said that he had been falsely implicated in the entire case and that he was arrested from Juhu Chowpatty 20 days before the terror attacks.

Kasab further claimed that he was being made a scapegoat since he was a Pakistani national and looked similar to one of the terrorists whose photographs was published in the media.

The Special Court, presided over by Special Judge M.L. Tahaliyani is likely to grill Kasab with another 800 questions including the technical evidences submitted by the prosecution.

The next hearing in the matter has been kept for Friday.

11 pilgrims killed as truck overturns in Kerala

Erumely (Kerala), Jan 12 (IANS) Eleven pilgrims headed to Kerala’s famed Sabarimala temple from Andhra Pradesh were killed when the truck they were travelling in fell into a gorge in Pathanamthitta district late Tuesday, officials said.

According to witnesses, the accident occurred around 7 p.m. when the truck overturned and hurtled down a 30-feet deep gorge en-route to the temple at Sabarimala, which is dedicated to Lord Ayyappa.

The injured have been administered first aid at Kanjirapally hospital and are being transported to the Kottayam Medical College.

K. Sivadasan Nair, the local legislator, told IANS there were more than 40 people onboard the truck and that many plastic bags filled with sand had been placed in the vehicle to make the journey more comfortable.

“This is really sad…how can people and that too so many of them travel on a lorry? How can this happen? There should be a clear guideline on transportation. And authorities have to take care of the movement of pilgrims,” said Nair.

“Local people engaged in the rescue operations said all those involved in the accident have been rescued. The locals rose to the occasion. I am told that the sand bags fell on the people and around 10 people are serious,” he added.

State Devasom Minister Kadanapally Ramachandran said he was on his way to the accident site.

“I have spoken to the district administration and have been told that the toll is high and there are several people who have been injured also,” Ramachandran told reporters.

From 2011, educational degrees a click away for students

New Delhi, Jan 13 (IANS) Starting 2011, students across India will be able to get their educational certificates at the click of a mouse, a radical move that will help curb forgery of certificates.

Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal Tuesday announced that students of schools, technical colleges and universities will be able to get their certificates through a centralized online pool — for a fee.

All school boards, technical colleges and universities will deposit their educational degrees in a centralised online “depository”, he told a news conference here.

“From the depository, students can get their certificates online by paying a nominal fee. They can get a printout of their degrees from home. This will help students, who otherwise have to run around for it,” Sibal said.

If an employer wants to see whether documents furnished by a candidate are genuine or not, it can contact the depository and verify it by paying a nominal fee, Sibal added.

He said this would also eliminate the need for people to approach educational institutions for verification of such degrees. It will also reduce the need for institutions to preserve records related to academic performance of students over a long time.

“The system will also reduce the scourge of fake certificates. The system would ensure authenticity, fidelity and enabling online verification,” Sibal added.

The minister said he had set up a task force comprising IIT-Kanpur director Sanjay Dhande, IIT-Kozhikode director Debashis Chatterjee, All-India Council for Technical Education chairman S.S. Mantha, UGC vice-chairman Ved Prakash, Central Board of Secondary Education chairman Veneet Joshi, a joint secretary of department of financial services, and some senior officials from the HRD ministry.

The task force will submit a road map by March 31 this year. “We will bring a legislation to implement it compulsorily,” Sibal added.

The system would be put in place by next year.

“Holding of academic qualification in an electronic depository provides immense benefits to educational institutions, students, alumni and employers by enabling online access of academic qualifications,” he said.

“The system will be user friendly. Students, educational institutions and employers all will get safety against forgery.”

The minister said the two depositories – National Security Depository Ltd (NSDL) and Central Depository Services (India) Ltd (CDSL) – are registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India. A final decision on with whom the agreement will be signed will be taken soon.

“It will be deposited like your share certificates. You can access it from home, office and there will be no tension of losing or displacing the certificates,” the minister added.