February 20, 2009

Buddha ready to lend a hand and land to Pachauri

Kolkata, Feb 20, 2009: West Bengal is all set to get a research centre dealing with climate-related issues under the guidance of Nobel laureate R K Pachauri. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) will be starting its Kolkata chapter as soon as the state government allots land for the project.

“We will be setting up an institute to look into the prospects of bio fuel, renewable energy and create more energy-efficient buildings in the state,” Dr Pachauri said. He said about five acres of land will be required for the institute.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said: “West Bengal has been working closely with Dr Pachauri for a long time now. We will be happy to give them land at Baruipur to set up their institute.” The chief minister and Dr Pachauri were speaking on the sidelines of an environment summit at a city hotel on Thursday.

TERI is already working on a project on the Sunderbans delta, a fragile ecosystem now threatened by rising sea-levels. “West Bengal has a delta as well as snow capped mountains and thus, the effects of climate change here, will also be equally diverse,” said Dr Pachauri.

The study, which is partly sponsored by the West Bengal government, will take another year for completion. “We are already working in the Sunderban region and would like to extend our study to the entire state,” he added.

According to Dr Pachauri, one of the major environmental challenges in the state is that 94 per cent of Bengal’s power comes from thermal sources. “We need to form a strategy and develop alternative sources of energy for the state,” he said.

Bhattacharjee also stressed on the fact that auto emissions, drinking water, medical wastes and depletion of greenery and water bodies were the major challenges facing the state. “We need to move away from petrol and diesel — towards bio fuel and electricity-run vehicles,” he said.

Earlier, Dr Pachauri had launched a scheme for green-rating of environment-friendly buildings in the city. This rating, being introduced for residential as well as corporate buildings, would be given by the TERI in partnership with the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and Green Power Corporation, the corporate entity of the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency, which is headed by S.P. Gonchaudhuri.

Jyoti Basu attends CPI(M) meeting after six months

Kolkata, Feb 20: Former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu, 94, surprised everyone at the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) headquarters at West Bengal, when he turned up to attend their weekly party meeting Friday after a gap of six months. Basu had last attended the CPI-M state secretariat meeting at the party headquarters in Alimuddin Street in 25th August, 2008. He had a fall at his Salt Lake residence early September(4th) and a blood clot was detected in his brain.

After the accident, he had stopped visiting the party headquarters due to ill-health. Also, for the first time since the CPI(M) led Left Front came to power in West Bengal in 1977, he could not attend the Brigade Parade Rally on Feb 8.

“Basu was anxious to attend the party meetings. Hence, he could not stop himself from coming to the weekly meeting,” CPI(M) Central Committee member Shyamal Chakraborty told mediapersons here. Basu told the meeting: “I can’t live without the party and if I don’t attend the meetings, won’t be able to know what’s happening here. That’s why, I decided to come to Alimuddin Street (party headquarters).”

Top CPI(M) leaders, including Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and state secretary Biman Basu, said they were only too happy to have Basu at the meeting and discussed with him not only his health but party activities. Basu was chief minister from June 1977 to November, 2000.

Emami Biotech Limited Signs MoU With Calcutta Tramways Corporation

KOLKATA, February 19, 2009: Emami Biotech Limited has signed up Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC) as their first prestigious client for the supply of 250 Kilo Litre of bio diesel per month to CTC. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Emami and CTC,at Emami Towers.The MoU signing ceremony was attended by Mr Aditya V Agarwal and Mr. Manish Goenka, Director, Emami Group Of Companies, Mr Rajdeo Gowala, Chairman, CTC, Mr P K Chattopadhyay, Managing Director, CTC, Mr. S K Mondal, Director, Emami Biotech Limited and other dignitaries. CTC has already started procuring bio-diesel from Emami Biotech from February 1, 2009.

“It is indeed a red-letter day for Emami Biotech as, finally, we feel that our dreams of meeting the energy and environment needs of India and West Bengal in particular are yielding positive results. The agreement with CTC marks the formalisation of the supply of bio-diesel by Emami Biotech to the state government undertaking. It also reflects the government’s willingness to try and provide a pollution free environment to its citizens.” said Mr. Aditya V Agarwal, Director Emami Group Of Companies.

Buoyed by the certification from Singapore based SGS Group for acknowledging their bio-diesel sample as among the best in the world Emami Biotech has aggressive plans to promote this eco friendly fuel.

“We have the capacity to produce 300 tonnes of bio diesel per day at our Haldia plant. We intend to build a green economy, meet the country’s energy needs by providing an alternative fuel and at the same time protect the earth’s environment and its citizens. We are hoping that the Union Government will come up with some firm policies in terms of pricing and distribution post which can market our product to the best of our abilities. ”, said Mr. Manish Goenka, Director, Emami Group Of Companies.

The Emami Group is spearheading the process of developing Haldia in West Bengal as India’s bio-diesel hub through Emami Biotech. Emami Biotech has come up with a state-of-the-art bio-diesel production facility at Haldia, set up at a cost of Rs 150 crore. The bulk of the production equipment has been supplied by Desmat Belstra, an Italian Belgian joint venture company. An additional amount of Rs 100 crore has been invested at the same facility for producing edible oil. The production residue of edible oil will be used for preparing bio-diesel.

However, Mr Agarwal stressed the fact that Emami Biotech is presently selling bio-diesel at a lower price compared to normal diesel. This is contrary to international practice where consumers buy bio-diesel at a premium to use it in their vehicles. He said unless the government modifies its price mechanism on selling bio-diesel, its production will become unviable. Emami Biotech has also appealed to state run organisations like WBSTC, KMC, and Kolkata Police among others to procure bio-diesel from the company for running their respective fleet.

“Since CTC has started purchasing bio-diesel from us after a trial run, we feel that the other government organisations should now feel confident in using our product and play a pro-active role to ensure a pollution free environment. Besides, we also urge the bus and taxi associations to take similar initiative. Moreover, since pollution is the main issue for scrapping the 15 year old vehicles, use of bio-diesel will undoubtedly, minimise air pollution level”, said Mr Goenka.

The most significant aspect of Emami’s bio-diesel sample is its hugely low sulphur content, far out-performing the industry standards. Against the BIS Limit of 50mg/kg and the EN (European Union standard) Limit of 10mg/kg, Emami’s product has recorded a sulphur count of 0.83mg/kg. Besides the sulphur index, Emami’s product has also out-performed the industry benchmarks in ash content, moisture content, total contaminations and carbon residue indicators.

About bio diesel

Bio diesel is a diesel-equivalent, processed fuel derived from biological sources (such as vegetable oils), which can be used in unmodified diesel-engined vehicles. Diesel engines require no modification to have a 20% bio-diesel blend with normal diesel just like water blends with water. Air pollutants primarily include nitrogen oxides, particles, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons, having a damaging impact on human health, vegetation and even on animals. Vehicles are the worst polluters, especially the old ones.
They tend to emit more pollution during the first few miles of the journey when the engine warms up. Use of bio-diesel can off-set these problems, bringing a significant change in the SPM (suspended particulate matter) and RPM (respirable particulate matter) or sulphur dioxide in the air and make it fresh. The use of bio-diesel also helps lower health hazards like asthma, bronchial diseases, eye irritation, skin diseases and even cancer.

The low emissions of bio-diesel make it an ideal fuel for heavily polluted cities. Moreover, as an alternative fuel, it also fulfils the environmental and energy security needs. A significant amount of air and environmental pollution can be reduced by using 100% bio-diesel in gen-sets, which are a major air polluter. Besides, use of bio-diesel in construction equipment, earth-moving equipment, power-equipment and heavy engineering equipment will minimise the air pollution levels to a significant extent.

Emami’s bio-diesel plant will also help in boosting the agricultural economy since the company plans to produce the product from jatropha cultivation as well as out of edible oil manufacturing residues that includes soya and palm oil.


KOLKATA, 19 February, 2009: The city's Light Rail Transit (LRT) system will cover a 40-km stretch from Joka to Barrackpore in two phases and have 31 stations. It will be ready in five years. The country's first LRT was launched by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Wednesday.
A memorandum of understanding was signed between Srei Infrastructure Finance Ltd and the government of West Bengal during the inauguration. The Rs 6,000-crore project will be implemented by a consortium led by Srei. Czech-based Amex International will be the technology partner and West Bengal Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (WBTIDC) will be one of the consortium partners.
"Work on the project will start from 2010. The coaches will move at 40 km per hour and a journey between Joka and Barrackpore will take 90 minutes. There will be four coaches per rake to accommodate 1,250 passengers. Initially, the system will cater to 1.2 lakh passengers a day. Later, the figure will go up to 4.8 lakh. The East-West Metro will terminate at Howrah Maidan. The E-W Metro and LRT will meet at Sealdah where passengers can make a changeover if they so want. Other Asian countries have already changed over to this mode of mass rapid transport. In Kolkata, the LRT can gradually replace buses and trams. People will have to realise that this is inevitable," Bhattacharjee said.
State transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury said that the tendering process had started in Aug-Sep 2004. After the Centre refused to provide funds for the project from the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission, it was decided to launch a special purpose vehicle for the Kolkata LRT. "Srei will be the senior partner and it has entered into a joint venture with WBTIDC. The detailed project report (DPR) should be finalised by September 30, 2009. Hopefully, both the LRT and East-West Metro will be completed by 2013-14," Chowdhury said.

Hasina seeks Basu's blessings to realise Sonar Bangla dream

Kolkata, Wednesday, February 18, 2009: Newly elected Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina has sought nonagenarian Marxist and former West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu's blessings for a successful tenure at the helm in Bangladesh.

In an emotional letter written to Basu in Bengali, (a copy of which is available with us), Hasina writes, "Bless me so that we can fulfil the duties set upon us, honour the verdict of the people and truly work for developing my country as the Shonar Bangla (Golden Bengal)."

Hasina also expressed concern over the failing health of Basu, 94. "I am quite worried to know that you are ill. I wish you quick recovery and am looking forward to meet you in future," Hasina wrote to the longest-serving chief minister of West Bengal.

She also expressed confidence that the friendship between India and Bangladesh would be strengthened in the coming days.Basu had openly congratulated Hasina immediately after the Awami League's landslide victory some time ago.

In a congratulatory speech, Basu recalled the role of Hasina's father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and described him as the architect of Bangladesh. He also recalled his association with Hasina during her earlier tenure as prime minister of Bangladesh.

The two leaders had last met in 2006, when Hasina, then opposition leader in Bangladesh, visited Basu's house in Kolkata. They met for around 40 minutes, where Hasina thanked Basu for his role in signing the Indo-Bangladesh Ganges water sharing accord.

WB govt to list temporary employees

KOLKATA: In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, The West Bengal government on Wednesday initiated a process of listing the temporary employees who have been working in several departments for more than 10 years. It is believed that the move has been initiated to offer these temporary employees permanent jobs.
State irrigation minister Subhas Naskar had raised the issue of offering permanent jobs to temporary employees of his department during the cabinet meeting held on Wednesday. After Naskar raised the issue, many other ministers also informed chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who presided over the state cabinet meeting to consider the plight of those permanent employees working at their department for more than ten years.
It is learnt that Mr Bhattacharjee eventually asked the ministers to prepare a list of those temporary employees who have been working for more than 10 years and submit it to state finance minister Asim Dasgupta. It is learnt that more than 5,000 temporary employees are working in various state government departments.
The state cabinet has also decided to extend the East-West Metro project up to Howrah maidan instead of Howrah station. It was earlier decided that Rs 4500 crore would be required to complete the East-West Metro upto Howrah station. But now another Rs 198 crore would be required to extend the project up to Howrah maidan.

Bengal snake charmers stage a protest

KOLKATA, 17th February: More than a thousands snake charmers from all over West Bengal took to the streets of Calcutta protesting against a law that has made snake charming illegal under the banner of Bedia federation of India.

Laws came to force in India in 1991 banning shows featuring cobras and other snakes but the snake charmers say that the laws have deprived them of their livelihood. However, despite the laws, many snake charmers continue to perform. Head of the snake charmers organisation, Raktim Das has told mediapersons: "We are being consistently harassed by the police for keeping snakes, which are snatched away without paying us compensation."

Animal rights groups say that the laws should be kept in force to prevent snakes from being abused. Generally, snake charmers rip out the snakes’ fangs and feed them milk which means when they are returned to their natural habitat they are unable to catch prey and die. Snake performers usually release the snakes after six months of performance.

Charm offensive: Why India’s snake men (and their serpents) are taking to the streets

A 1,000-year-old tradition is at risk as police start to take the law seriously and animal welfare activists want the music to stop. Andrew Buncombe reports from Delhi
Thursday, 19 February 2009, The Independent

For many people who close their eyes and dream romantic thoughts of India, amid the imagined scenes of desert palaces and colourful chaos is that of the snake charmer – a man playing his flute while a dancing cobra rises and twists from its wicker basket.

In truth, there are fewer charmers than one might imagine. Government legislation dating back almost 35 years gives police the right to apprehend (or more likely, in many cases, take a bribe from) anyone using a wild animal for such entertainment purposes. The charmers that do operate in tourist centres and large cities, live a largely furtive existence, bothering a few coins out of passers-by whom they confront with their anguine companions.

But now the snake-charmers are fighting back. A newly created union for the men and their snakes has been established to demand that the legislation banning them from their “birth right” be overturned and that alternative employment for the snake charmers be provided.

In a sign of strength, around 5,000 snake charmers from the Indian state of West Bengal this week took to the streets of Calcutta demanding action and claiming that their generations-old profession is on the brink of death. Many were carrying their snakes with them as they marched.

“It’s our birth right to charm snakes. No can deprive us of that,” said 35-year-old Langra Bede, one of the charmers. “Our forefathers charmed snakes. We grew up with this. It’s basically all we know.”

Snake charmers have been part of India’s landscape for many hundreds of years. Traditionally the charmers were called on by villagers to help gather and remove poisonous snakes that represented a danger to them. Because snakes are considered sacred in Hinduism, people would not kill snakes but would rather call on these men and their special skills – traditionally handed down from father to son – to remove them.

The charmers would then keep the reptiles and “train them” for performances. (While snakes are deaf, it is believed that their “dancing” movement is a self-defence response to vibrations they perceive as threatening.) In more recent years tourists have been charged a small fee to be photographed with the exotic creatures.

But the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act made it an offence to use wild animals for such commercial purposes or to keep them as pets. Activists pointed out that in order to remove the threat from the snakes, which have the potential to be fatal to humans, the charmers usually rip out the creatures’ fangs rather than regularly draining them of the poison. They then feed the snakes milk. But within a year most charmers release their animals, which, without fangs, are unable to feed themselves. Since the late 1990s, the authorities have markedly increased efforts to enforce the law. Yet campaigners for the estimated 800,000 snake charmers say they are being persecuted.

The majority of India’s snake charmers belong to the nomadic “Bedia” tribe or clan, which speaks Bengali. Many of them live in West Bengal. Raktim Das, a founder of the Bedia Federation of India and an organiser of this week’s march, said the Bedia people, whose tradition dates back more than 1,000 years, had long been persecuted by the authorities and the police. He said that more than 100,000 Bedia families were suffering intense economic hardship as a result of the increased enforcement of the 1972 act.

If the government is unwilling to overturn the legislation, he said, it should establish official snake farms specialising in venom and snake skins which could provide employment to the Bedia people. “This has happened in other countries such as China and Vietnam,” said Mr Das. “This would not harm the snake population and it would provide a sustainable source of income.”

Mr Das claimed that a snake venom “mafia” operated in India and was behind government efforts to clamp down on the Bedia. He said that in a single strike a snake can release about 12g of venom, and that venom could fetch £130. A venomous snake could live up to eight years, which would be highly profitable, and private companies still pay snake charmers for any venom they can collect. The companies sell on venom to drug companies, harvesting significant profit margins.

He added: “In addition, we don’t think that snakes are really wild animals. They only exist where there are rats and rats live in places close to human civilisation. Also, if there are no snakes in an area it will increase the number of rats.”

Yet animal rights activists are adamant that the law is vital to protect all wildlife – not just snakes but bears and other animals – from exploitation. “Even now there are still snake charmers … The problem has been to find alternative livelihoods,” said Shakti Banerjee, director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India. “The dancing bears have largely been gotten rid of but not the charmers.”

GJM agitation hits Darjeeling tourism

KOLKATA:The ongoing agitation in the hills by the Gorkhaland Janmukti Morcha (GJM) for a separate state has hit the North Bengal hospitality and tourism industry hard and is estimated to cause revenue losses of more than Rs 12 crore.

Although according to the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) hotel bookings are down by atleast 10 per cent in the last two months in Darjeeling with the average occupancy hovering around 40 per cent, Business Standard spoke to a few of the leading hotels in the region, and found that almost all the premium and three star or the heritage properties were running on 50-60 per cent losses for the last three months.

Rupam Das of Fortune Resort Central said, “Although the political situation is better now, the damage is done, with maximum business loss in the month of June-July, the peak season. The occupancy at Fortune Resort slipped to as low as 10 per cent in the month of January compared to 35-40 percent witnessed in the year ago period at the premium four star property in Darjeeling.”

Although this was a slack season, the average occupancy in December to January period hovered around 39 per cent at practically all the premium properties with sometimes no guest for more than two weeks at a stretch, said Das who is also a member of the local Hotel Owners Association.

"In terms of revenue loss, it could be to the tune of Rs 35-40 lakhs for a premium property if the present occupancy situation continues," he said. Navin Suchanti, managing director and CEO of Sinclairs Hotels Limited, which runs three properties across North Bengal said, "We have been badly affected because of the political turmoil, as its business is down because of the recessionary trends.” However, he refused to give any figures about the hotel occupancies across Sinclair's properties.

“Domestic tourist inflow, which accounts for the bulk of the business, had been badly affected. Last month occupancy was less than 50 per cent compared to 70-80 per cent in the same period last fiscal, in terms of quantitative loss in business, it will run into some lakhs, ” informed a spokesperson from Windamere hotel, a heritage property located at the heart of the Darjeeling mall.

Many small budget hotels which cater to the mid-segment were also forced to shut down because of low tourist inflow and heavy business losses. Recession had affected the foreign tourist inflow, but in Darjeeling compared to Goa and Kerala, foreign tourist arrivals contribute only 18-25 per cent of the total tourism revenue, bulk of the comes from domestic tourists, which were affected after June last year.

According to Zahid Rafique, regional manager of makemytrip.com, one of the largest domestic online travel portal, domestic bookings for Darjeeling have been low compared to last year and in the last two months physical bookings for Darjeeling had been practically nil. Bookings started dropping since July last year, but in the last few months, starting December onwards physical bookings were completely nil, in online booking segment, more than two lakh revenue is estimated to have been been hit , said Rafique.

Rafique pointed out that compared to last year December-February period when makemytrip.com managed 280 odd transactions or travel bookings from all across India this year same period the travel portal could only manage 200 transactions or bookings, causing huge loss to domestic business and revenue collection. Due to government's leave travel concession, almost 90 per cent of the place is occupied during the peak season and thereafter by domestic travellers, but this year this too failed to churn good business.

When contacted, Manabendra Mukherjee, state minister of tourism admitted that North Bengal tourism industry had been badly hit by the ongoing turmoil but he failed to provide any concrete measures to be taken by the ministry. "We have been hit by this disturbance going on in the hills. We expect a negative growth this fiscal, however coming out with any specific detail about the quantum of loss and is difficult, that will be possible only after the end of this quarter. We are trying to help the authorities of those districts to bring back normalcy,” he said.

TVN Rao, managing director of West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation(WBTDC) claimed that the occupancy rate and revenue have been hit by 30 per cent in the 24 tourist lodges run by WBTDC in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong, which is WBTDC's main source of revenue of WBTDC To counter the fall in occupancy rate WBTDC is spending close to Rs 6 crore towards advertisements and promotional activity also, he informed.

Rhino population in West Bengal forest goes up

Kolkata: The rhino population in a national park at the Himalayan foothills has gone up. Elated officials of the West Bengal forest department are now getting ready to carry out a census in another reserve forest.

During a census last November in the Gorumara National Park, located in the Himalayan foothills area of West Bengal called the Dooars, the officials found the number of the one-horned giants had increased to 35 from 27, the state's Forest Minister Ananta Roy told mediapersons. Now the officials are getting ready to carry out a rhino census in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, also in the Dooars. The census will start later this month.

"We'll begin the rhino census in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in the last week of February. The census will also collect specific information about the male-female ratio," Roy said. According to forest department officials, the census will also point out all information about each rhinoceros that will be required to identify it in case of emergency.

"The number of rhinos in Gorumara rose to 35 from 27 recorded in 2006," the minister said. The officials say the main reason for the increase in rhino population in Gorumara is that forest guards as well as local residents are "extremely vigilant" against poachers.

Most of the one-horned rhinos, found only in India, are in the Kaziranga National Park in Assam, where about 1,700 are estimated to be grazing in the vast marshy grasslands on the banks of the Brahmaputra river.

"We're trying to emphasise on increasing rhino habitat in both the Jaldapara and Gorumara forests. We're working in tandem with the state forest department towards achieving this goal. But it's a great sign the rhino population there is increasing through a natural process," said Animesh Bose of the Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (HNAF) - a Siliguri-based wildlife welfare organisation.

Bose agreed: "The forest management has been very good in protecting the lives and livelihood for this animal (rhino). We have also given a few suggestions to the state forest department to click photographs of all the rhinos in the forest and give them specific identification marks on the basis of their physical differences."

Rhinos face the danger of poaching due to the mistaken belief that their horns yield a "medicine" that acts as an aphrodisiac. In the illegal international market, a kilogram of rhino horn fetched $60,000 in 1994.