Amidst the buzz of early elections in Gujarat, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah, during his two-day visit to the State next week, will address booth workers of the party and hold a series of crucial meetings with the top leaders, including Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.On March 29, Mr. Shah will address a convention of the party’s booth workers at Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad. Mr. Shah is also likely to attend the Assembly proceedings on March 30 as a BJP MLA.Dr. Harshad Patel, Gujarat BJP media cell convener, said, “Around one lakh booth workers from across the State are expected to be present in the convention.”This will be Mr. Shah’s first visit to his home State after the BJP’s landslide victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand Assembly elections.According to sources in the government, Mr. Shah is expected to have a long meeting with Mr. Rupani and other Ministers, and, subsequently, a large scale bureaucratic reshuffle is likely to be effected in order to gear up the State administration for the Assembly polls.A senior government official said, “There will likely be transfers of district collectors, district development officers (DDOs) and district superintendent of police (SP) in the beginning of April, besides a few changes in the senior bureaucracy as there are many vacancies to be filled in.”Meanwhile, the main Opposition party, the Congress, has launched State-wide preparations assuming that the election will be held in May or June.The party has appointed observers to prepare a panel for each of the 182 Assembly segments in the State.On March 20, the Congress had organised a meeting of ticket aspirants, in which more than 1,500 party leaders showed their inclination to contest the polls.
Brijesh Kumar earned over ₹20,000 per month four years ago at Maruti’s Manesar plant. These days, the 30-year-old works as a cashier. Earning just a few thousand rupees per month, he struggles to make ends meet. His life was never the same after he was arrested along with 147 workers in July 2012 in the Maruti violence case. Acquitted by a trial court along with 116 other accused earlier this month, Brijesh, who belongs to Dausa in Rajasthan, doesn’t know who to blame for his misery. “I was working at the plant about 500 m from the spot where violence broke out, but I was still arrested on charges of murder. I was forced to spend 28 months behind bars. Now that the court has acquitted me, who should I blame for my hardships? I sweated blood for the company for seven years and even got four to five certificates from the management appreciating my dedication. But I lost all in one stroke,” he said. He tried to get a job in Jaipur after being granted bail, but his past always managed to catch up. Brijesh is not alone. Most of those acquitted by the court have similar stories to tell — of stigma and financial hardships.Having failed to find a job, Anil now rears buffaloes for a living. Acquitted by the court, he developed asthma during his stay in jail. However, the court refused bail on medical grounds. Meagre earningAnil now ends up spending a huge chunk of his meagre earnings on medicines. “While my former colleagues are earning handsome wages, I’m struggling to arrange two square meals for my family. Sometimes I end up borrowing money to pay my children’s school fee,” said Anil, who belongs to Sonipat in Haryana.Sumit Nain opened a cloth shop at Garhi Harsaru in Gurugram after he failed to find a job following his release on bail after a four-year jail stint.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti on Tuesday asked the security forces to “avoid collateral damage” during anti-militancy operations in J&K. She also urged the security forces to hold special counselling sessions for the youth in the State to “allay their apprehensions and misgivings about the system.”Chairing a meeting of Unified Headquarters, a body represented by all security wings active in the State, in Srinagar’s SKICC, Ms. Mufti called for “improving the public-security force interface”. Bettering tiesMs. Mufti’s thrust to improve public-security forces’ relations come in the wake of viral videos showing security personnel involved in rights violations against students and civilians in Kashmir, especially during the bypolls in Srinagar.She said counselling sessions “will help in allaying apprehensions and misgivings about the system among youth… It would also give the security agencies a chance to reach out to people through community policing,” she added.Back in Srinagar after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Monday, the Chief Minister also directed the security agencies “to exercise restraint while dealing with provocative situations and avoid as well as minimize all collateral damage while conducting operations” against militants.“Wherever restraint was exercised, it helped in maintaining peace and order. The youth unfortunately is caught in the cycle of misinformation. They ought to be won over with a healing touch,” said Ms. Mufti.She said that parents of youth be taken into confidence in case of any complaint. On the spate of cow vigilantism in Jammu, Ms. Mufti asked the security agencies to ensure that inter-community harmony among various sections of society.“Culprits be brought to justice if found spreading hatred against a section of society,” she said.The J&K government on Tuesday decided to suspend the classes work at Government Girls Higher Secondary School (HSS), Kothi Bagh and Sri Pratap Higher Secondary School, near here, on April 26.
In volatile districts of Kashmir, there is a new buzz word besides ‘growing militancy’ these days: Twenty20 cricket.In its mega effort to reach out to the young population in Kashmir, the State Cricket Academy (SCA) has roped in 3,300 players in 10 districts of the Valley, including militancy-dominated south Kashmir.Engaging the youthAcross the Valley, the SCA, which was set up at the cost of ₹1 crore in May this year under the ‘Khelo India’ programme, has started a major push to engage the youth in cricket in the past two months.“It’s the most popular game here. In the past, there were events organised by the police and the Army but not on this scale. This event is just aimed at institutionalising the game and take it to a new level. We have deliberately kept politics away from it. It’s a reach out also,” Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra Waheed Para, secretary of the Sports Council, told The Hindu.In all 10 districts of the Valley, 22 teams with 15 players each are competing at the district level, and commentary of the matches are broadcast live on social media.“From 22 teams in a particular district, we will identify players who will finally represent these districts. The skill of talented players will further be honed by SCA,” said Mr. Para.The Academy takes pride in roping in “youth form the volatile districts of Kulgam, Shopian, Pulwama and Anantnag equally”, where around 200 local militants are still active and making it difficult for the mainstream parties to make any inroads into the youth, who constitutie 60% of the population.“Sports may be a normalising factor. But this attempt is at institutionalising the game to open the way for talented cricketers to play at the much higher professional level,” said Mr. Parra.‘A massive success’Mubashir Hassan, director the SCA, said the Twenty20 tournament has “emerged as a massive success”. “We roped in BCCI-qualified umpires and former Ranji players as coaches. We see cricket talent shifting to a new plane in the next few years,” said Mr. Hassan.For the players, the tournament is a platform to display their talent for the first time in a professional way. “I think sports should be conflict-neutral. For sportsmen, their game is like second religion. One plays a game irrespective of ideology. This is a meeting ground and a space to keep youth saner at times,” said a player in Pulwama.
Eight MLAs in Meghalaya, including five of the ruling Congress, resigned from the Assembly on Friday to join the NDA constituent, National People’s Party. Those who put in their papers are former Deputy Chief Minister Rowell Lyngdoh, Sniawbhalang Dhar, Comingone Ymbon, Prestone Tynsong, and Ngaitlang Dhar of the Congress, Remington Pyngrope of the United Democratic Party and Independents Stephanson Mukhim and Hopeful Bamon, Assembly Principal Secretary Andrew Simons said. With these resignations, the strength of the Congress which comes days after another MLA, PN Syiem, quit the Congress, the number of party MLAs in the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly has come down to 24 from 30. However, there is no immediate threat to the Congress government as it is backed by nine Independents, which takes its tally to 33. The term of the current House expires on March 6. The five Congress legislators had earlier rebelled against Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and the party leadership. Four of the five Congress MLAs were part of the State Cabinet and were sacked by the CM for “incompetence.”Mr. Rowell, a veteran Congress leader, later announced that all the eight MLAs, would join the NPP, also an alliance partner of the BJP in the Manipur government, at a rally next week. The NPP, led by Conrad K. Sangma, son of former LS Speaker P.A. Sangma, has two MLAs in Meghalaya at present. With these resignations, the strength of the Congress which comes days after another MLA, PN Syiem, quit the Congress, the number of party MLAs in the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly has come down to 24 from 30. However, there is no immediate threat to the Congress government as it has support of nine Independents which takes its tally to 33. The term of the current House expires on March 6.Elections in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura are due early next year. An elated Conrad Sangma said the decision of the five Congress MLAs to resign and join the NPP next week was a big boost for the party.“It is a big boost for the NPP ahead of the elections in the state … We will felicitate their joining the party next week. We welcome their decision and we are confident to form the next government in Meghalaya,” Conrad Sangma told PTI. He said their leaving the Congress and joining the NPP indicates that the party was the only alternative available to the people in the state. The NPP chief said: “More than 10 per cent of the Congress MLAs have resigned. This implies that the leadership under Chief Minister Mukul Sangma has failed.”
Maratha activists vandalised the five-star Hyatt hotel in Pune’s Kalyani Nagar area and allegedly assaulted some guests attending a business meet. Incensed that the hotel had allegedly refused to down its shutters during the agitation, a group of 15 to 20 protestors ravaged the conference room on the ground floor and abused guests who were in the midst of lunch after a business meet, Yerwada police said. “We are in the process of registering a complaint,” said police inspector Rajkumar Wagchaure of the Yerwada Police Station. “A group shouting slogans started beating me. They snatched my mobile phone and destroyed it. Initially, the hotel management refused to take my complaint. It was only later when the police arrived to take stock of the situation that the staff acted on my complaint,” said R.K. Mohapatra, a chartered accountant based in Navi Mumbai. “The mob overturned tables where food items were kept and smashed cutlery,” said Arvind Jati, a sales manager with a Belapur-based company, who was present during the incident.Another guest, requesting anonymity, blamed the hotel management and security staff for not taking adequate precautions during the agitation. Hotel authorities, however, said that there was no delay in action on their part, pointing out that the police were immediately notified and that complaints had been promptly acted upon.
Efforts to repatriate displaced Brus from camps in Tripura received a boost on Wednesday with 11 families returning home in Mizoram after 21 years.Officials in the two States said more families are expected to accept the rehabilitation package by September 30, the date fixed by the Ministry of Home Affairs.“Our efforts to convince the refugees bore fruit with 11 families, comprising 67 people, leaving the Khakchangpara relief camp at 1 p.m. The Mizoram government provided four buses and a truck to take them back to Mamit district,” said R. Darlong, the magistrate of Panisagar subdivision in North Tripura district.Khakchangpara is one of three camps in Panisagar after ethnic violence forced more than 40,000 Brus – also called Reangs – out of Mizoram. Half the refugees were accommodated in three more camps in North Tripura’s Kanchanpur subdivision.“We are expecting more families to come forward,” Ms. Darlong said.Now the total number of families that have returned to Mizoram is 42. But families supporting the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Coordination Committee have refused to go unless New Delhi improves the rehabilitation package. Their demands include five hectares of land to each refugee family, settlement in a cluster comprising 500 families, ₹4 lakh compensation to each family before repatriation, revision of electoral rolls and identification of 1,000 refugee families allegedly not counted by the State governments involved.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar on Monday claimed that his statement on destruction of terror camps in Pak Occupied Kashmir using air strike was misconstrued by the media. He also denied having said this.“I did not advise in the all-party meeting, instead all party leaders, including me, had supported the Centre’s position on this issue,” Mr. Pawar said in a statement issued on Monday. As per reports in several Marathi newspapers, Mr. Pawar had said that it was his advise to conduct air strike in Pakistan after Pulwama terror attacks. He said this, according to the reports, while addressing an election campaign rally in Chakan on Sunday. “The central government had called an all-party meeting after the Pulwama terror attack. The meeting unanimously passed a resolution supporting Indian armed forces. I was a part of it,” Mr. Pawar said. The NCP chief added that the entire world knows the strength of Indian armed forces. “Our power was visible for all to see in Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971 and later in the Kargil war. Therefore I am not in favor of discussing how many terrorists were killed in the air strike on terror camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir,” he said, adding that he feels politics should not be played over defence-related issues.“Neither the Prime Minister nor the Defence Minister was present at the meeting. We got to know that the PM was in Maharashtra and campaigning for his party’s candidates,” Mr. Pawar said in Chakan.He said, “On the one hand, Mr. Modi boasts he is the chowkidar (guardian), the country’s security is safe in his hands, and that he has a 56-inch chest. Then, what was he doing in Yavatmal, issuing these statements in the aftermath of the terror strike?”
The Election Commission of India has decided to deploy Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) in all the polling booths during the remaining three phases of elections in West Bengal.In the fifth phase of polls, which is scheduled on May 6, the Commission has decided to deploy highest — 578 company — of central forces for only seven Lok Sabha constituencies in the State. The seven Lok Sabha seats going to polls are Bongaon, Barrackpore, Howrah, Uluberia, Hooghly, Arambagh and Sreerampore.Special police observer for West Bengal Vivek Dubey said that along with bringing 100 % percent polling booths under the cover of CAPF, the commission has limited the role of State police areas outside the polling booths.From putting central forces in 50 % polling booths in the first phase to 100% in the fifth phase, the deployed of CAPF in the polls in West Bengal is a story in itself. Officials involved in the holding elections in the State, said that the only state that can match such a high deployment of central forces is Jammu and Kashmir. The number of polling booths where central forces were deployed increased from 50 % in the first phase to 76 % in the second phase and 92 % in the third phase. In the fourth phases of polls which were held in south Bengal deployment was increased to 98%. In the fifth phase the cover of central forces will be increased to 100 %. Despite the high deployment of forces, stray incidents of violence have been reported in all of the first four phases. There has been no major incident of violence so far, except one in phase three where one person voter died on April 23. Another strategy which was adopted by the Commission was deploy central forces in remote areas while state police was deployed in cities and towns. Not only the political parties in the Opposition, but a section of polling personnel have also demanded that central forces should be deployed in the polling booths of the State. The leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have met officials of ECI both in Kolkata and in Delhi several times demanding central forces in all the polling booths.The Trinamool Congress leadership, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been alleging that central forces have been trying to influence voters. “They are asking people to votes for BJP,” she said in the earlier phases.
Baal Sabhas of government schools, which are being organised regularly at public places in the villages across Rajasthan, have turned out to be a successful experiment for raising academic standards and reducing dropout rate of students. The parents’ participation has especially made these events interactive.The latest round of Baal Sabhas was held in the State on Thursday. At the Baal Sabha in Government Higher Secondary School at Sanganer, near Jaipur, Chief Secretary D.B. Gupta said the society at large should play a meaningful role in ensuring qualitative improvement of school education.Mr. Gupta pointed out that the choice of public places for holding Baal Sabhas was aimed at bringing transparency to the drive for improving standard of education and connecting the students with extra-curricular activities. The textbooks should be used for motivating young students to explore more about their subjects, he said.While pointing out that about 86.70 lakh students were studying in 65,000 schools in the State, Mr. Gupta said the Baal Sabhas were giving them opportunities for public speaking and enhancing their confidence level. “The schools should pay attention to retention of students in addition to the increase in enrolments,” he said.Rajasthan School Education Council’s Commissioner Pradeek Kumar Borad said the Baal Sabhas had not only led to an effective participation of local communities in the management of schools, but had also helped improve creativity of students.The results of annual examinations of VI, VII, IX and XI classes were announced at the end of Baal Sabhas across the State and information about the Rajiv Gandhi career portal, launched recently, was provided on the occasion. The health check-up and immunisation camps for students were also organised at several places.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, revealed earlier this month that it will be phasing out its colony of calorie-restricted rodents. Although most researchers who study aging won’t be affected by the decision, some scientists will have to pay substantially more for experimental mice, and some may be priced out of the field.In the 1930s, researchers first noticed that a very low-cal diet prolongs the life of some animals. This regimen, known as calorie restriction (CR), also delays age-related maladies such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. For nearly 20 years, NIA has sponsored a colony of calorie-restricted rodents, which are available only to its grantees. The price was right: Until this year, researchers paid $6 per month of the animal’s age plus shipping. And because of a rule change that went into effect in January 2014, the rodents are now free.Despite the low prices, there isn’t much appetite for the CR mice. Just eight to 10 researchers request animals from the colony each year, says NIA’s Nancy Nadon, chief of the Biological Resources Branch. On 11 June, NIA announced it would not renew the contract with the company that houses the rodents, Charles River Laboratories in Wilmington, Massachusetts. “The way the usage has changed over the last few years,” Nadon says, “it wasn’t the best way to go about using NIA funds.” (She had no estimate of what maintaining the colony costs.)Sign up for our daily newsletterGet more great content like this delivered right to you!Country *AfghanistanAland IslandsAlbaniaAlgeriaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBolivia, Plurinational State ofBonaire, Sint Eustatius and SabaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of theCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’IvoireCroatiaCubaCuraçaoCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuatemalaGuernseyGuineaGuinea-BissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsle of ManIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJerseyJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontenegroMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorwayOmanPakistanPalestinianPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRWANDASaint Barthélemy Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da CunhaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Martin (French part)Saint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and the GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbiaSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSint Maarten (Dutch part)SlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSouth SudanSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwanTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-LesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuela, Bolivarian Republic ofVietnamVirgin Islands, BritishWallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabweI also wish to receive emails from AAAS/Science and Science advertisers, including information on products, services and special offers which may include but are not limited to news, careers information & upcoming events.Required fields are included by an asterisk(*)The decision won’t immediately foreclose researchers’ access to CR mice. New rodents will enter the colony until 2018, so older mice should be available into 2020. And NIA will continue to maintain a separate colony of aged rodents. If NIA-funded researchers desperately need CR animals, Nadon says it might be possible to shift some of those mice to a reduced diet.Few researchers are likely to miss the colony. Most scientists who rely on CR rodents raise them at their own institutions, so “for the majority of researchers, this shutdown will not have any effect,” writes gerontological researcher Valter Longo of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. In addition, the colony didn’t produce enough strong science, says Roger McDonald, a physiologist and cell biologist who is about to retire from the University of California, Davis.Still, some researchers will be sad to see the colony go, although they understand NIA’s financial constraints. “I think it’s a valuable and unique resource, and I hate to see it lost,” says physiologist Arlan Richardson of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.Hardest hit will be researchers who can’t raise their own CR animals, or “who are early in their careers or are just starting out in CR research,” says Richard Weindruch, a gerontologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.Vascular physiologist Anthony Donato of the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City agrees. “They are closing down the ability of some young investigators to pursue calorie restriction research,” he says. In large part, that’s because of the often higher cost of raising CR mice yourself. He notes that the NIA animals, which were about 30 months old, cost him about $120 to $130 apiece. But raising them at his university, which Donato now plans to do, will run about $1 per day—and the mice will have to stay on the severe diet for more than 2 years. He can afford the higher cost, but other researchers can’t.Another user of the NIA’s CR colony, nutritional immunologist Elizabeth Gardner of Michigan State University in East Lansing, is also rethinking plans and budgets. She has received the NIA mice since the late 1990s, using them for three or four projects, including for a 2011 paper that showed calorie restriction reduced the animals’ ability to recover from flu shots. Now, Gardner says, she intends to obtain mice from NIA’s aged animal colony and calorically restrict them herself, “but it will be more expensive.”Gerontologist Richard Miller of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, worries that the CR colony shutdown presages shortages at NIA’s colony of aged rodents, which more scientists depend on. Because NIA can no longer charge for the animals, it can’t recoup any of the cost of providing them. “I don’t see how they [NIA] can afford to give away mice that they used to sell,” he says. He’s concerned that NIA will also eventually have to slash the number of aged animals it furnishes.
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In a world that measures a country’s prowess on its gross domestic product (GDP), you have to marvel at a nation with the spunk and spirit to rate itself on its GNH – Gross National Happiness. Monks perform a black hat dance, a dance of ground purification, during the Tsechu festival at Punakha Dzong in the Punkha districtThat’s Bhutan for you, a small Shangri-La of just 634,000 citizens and some 40,000 expatriates.Landlocked between India and China, surrounded by rugged mountains, Bhutan has prospered in isolation, retaining its culture, its Buddhist faith, its pristine environment and its essential nature.In 1907, after several centuries of divided rule by various influential families, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck unified Bhutan under the name of Druk Yul – Land of the Thunder Dragon.It’s hard to believe, but as recently as 1960 there were no roads in Bhutan and all travel had to be done on foot or by horseback! This abode of the Gods with its many stupas and prayer flags is only a three hour flight from New Delhi yet few really know the fairy tale kingdom.Americans got a rare glimpse of contemporary Bhutan at an exhibition of Indian photojournalist Serena Chopra’s black and white images at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery in Manhattan. Tiger’s Nest Monastery“I first visited Bhutan on a trekking expedition,” says Chopra, who lives in New Delhi. “The Bhutanese people’s struggle to retain their culture and identity made a significant impression on me and I was drawn to return here again and again.”These are evocative images where time seems to have stood still, of silent valleys, of ancient stupas, and a smiling, unspoilt people who live close to the heartbeat of the land: Yak Cham performers with their striking masks, tribesmen, nuns, village families, and monks preparing a thousand butter lamps. Yet the images also show a country in transition: you see huge new hotels being built, a youth culture becoming more aware of western music and discos, of modernity creeping into this ancient civilization.Indeed, the challenge of moving into the new world of the 21st century while retaining its past is at the core of contemporary Bhutan. Writes Chopra about the current King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s efforts in her book, Bhutan: A Certain Modernity: “Over the past 30 years he has opened the doors to his kingdom in slow, barely perceptible, motion. The visionary monarch has chosen not to engage with the hurly burly of modern mediocrity; instead he strides joyfully towards creating a new genre of modern society – a society that matures gently because it remains rooted in its faith, identity and culture. The last independent Himalayan Buddhist kingdom, Bhutan has inadvertently given itself an enormous responsibility: to prove to the world that its citizens’ emotional well-being is the cornerstone of a prosperous society.” Children laugh while telling stories on the floor of their family’s kitchen in ThimpuWhile almost every country is well represented in the immigrant mix in the U.S., Bhutan has virtually no presence in America, and its inhabitants aren’t a part of the teeming, swirling immigrant mass in New York or California, where citizens of every nation seem to be trying to find a toehold. Indeed, there are no Bhutanese businesses or restaurants in New York. A Tibetan restaurant “Tibetan Kitchen” in Manhattan where some dishes are close to Bhutanese cuisine, is the closest you can come to capturing a whiff of the country.Bhutan does not have an embassy or consulate in the United States. It’s highest official representative Ambassador Daw Penjo, permanent representative of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the United Nations, says: “We do not have a large Bhutanese community living in the U.S. Apart from the mission staff and others working for various international organizations including the United Nations, the Bhutanese in the U.S. are mostly students studying in various educational institutions.”As there are no major universities in Bhutan, many students who can afford it come to America to study, but then head back home. One them is Yangchen Wangchuk, who is from the royal family and spent five years at the University of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. She is all set to leave for home, with a degree in systems engineering. Education is the biggest draw for Bhutanese who venture out of their country and interestingly enough, crown prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck graduated from the Cushing Academy and the Wheaton College. He went on to complete his masters at Magdalen College, Oxford University. The current king is abdicating in favor of his son, the crown prince, who will be introducing parliamentary democracy and elections, gingerly taking Bhutan into the modern world.Chopra writes, “My impression of Thimpu in the year 2006 is of a city besieged by construction. Shopping centers, hotels, restaurants, discotheques and now even a movie hall. Every street and corner has at least one building under construction. Traffic in the busy market area has increased manifold and the solitary policeman dances constantly, flinging his arms about to control the ever increasing volume of cars on the road. This is the only capital in the world that does not use traffic lights.” Yak Chem performers in Merak villageBhutan remains veiled from the outer world and it’s not easy to secure permission to travel to the country. It is one of ten bio-diversity hotspots in the world and harbors over 770 species of birds, 50 species of rhododendrons along with rare medical plants and orchids. There are such wonderful species of animal life as blue sheep, golden langurs and snow leopards. To safeguard these treasures tourism is conducted in a controlled setting with tourists only allowed on group tours or customized visits. In 2004 Bhutan allowed only 9,000 tourists into the country; in 2006 the number doubled to 18,000. Slowly, the door is opening to a country where the past is very much a part of the present.In our harried world, who wouldn’t like to take a time out in Bhutan? The official Bhutan website notes, “For the traveler in quest for peace, tranquility, inspiration and enchantment Bhutan is the perfect answer. Here amidst monasteries, fluttering prayer flags, friendly people, pristine scenery, running streams, green valleys, lakes and awe inspiring architecture the traveler wakes up to a deep and pleasant realization that his inward journey has been as much valuable as his outward trip.”But perhaps far tellingly at a time when global warming and environmental chaos are an inconvenient truth, the website goes on to note: “The Bhutanese traditional reverence for nature has delivered the country into the third millennium with its environment – both natural and popular – still richly intact.” A view of ThimpuSays Chopra, “Bhutan is certainly quite accessible for tourists, but perhaps cannot be described as affordable back-packer country. A minimum charge of $200 or more per day applies to tourists, though not for Indians. This makes travel to Bhutan more special and exclusive. Also the pristine environment is better maintained.”Bhutan is one place where the Indian passport enjoys an advantage over American or other nationalities.“Between Bhutan and India there is free movement of people between our two countries,” says Penjo. “We have large number of Indian tourists visiting Bhutan throughout the year. The favorite time of the year is during the summer months when it is much cooler in the mountains.” Indian nationals do not pay the normal $200 daily tourist tariff.2007 marks a century of monarchy in Bhutan, but since it is considered an inauspicious year under the Bhutanese calendar, Bhutan is holding off celebrations until 2008. The crown prince will become the fifth dragon king in 2008. Sonam Wangdi (standing) and members of his family in Sakteng ValleyThe year will be open house in Bhutan, with visitors to Bhutan given an opportunity to experience the real Bhutan through the centenary program of “Meet the Bhutanese.” They will be able to experience places generally closed to tourists and see the people and the policy of “Gross National Happiness” up close.“This ancient land has made a quiet decision to enter the modern age. It has emerged from its chrysalis to spread its wings in new dimensions, to give itself a new kind of freedom,” says Chopra.Will Bhutan retain its balance between ancient and modern and achieve the maximum GNH? Only time will tell.BHUTAN’S CHOICE“As an Indian I have been brought up amid diverse religions. Rites, rituals, ceremonies and ancient traditions thrive in spite of burgeoning modernity. But the colonization of India has undoubtedly impacted her culture; it has guided her priorities and the direction of development. Bhutan, however, was never colonized. In comparison with India, Bhutan is still a wild flower with its roots deeply embedded in its spiritual soul.”Serena Chopra,Bhutan: A Certain Modernity.VISITING THE LAND OF THE THUNDER DRAGONTravel and visa details can be found at www.tourism.gov.bt and information on foreign direct investment from the government website at www.mti.gov.bt as well as from the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry www.bcci.org.bt.Bhutan is accessed through internationals airports in Bangkok, Thailand, Delhi and Kolkata in India and Kathmandu, NepalFACT FILEIt’s All About GNHCurrency: Ngultrum National Language: Dzongkha Capital: Thimphu Population: 634,982333,595 males,301,387 females. Related Items
India’s state-owned carrier Air India, facing almost $800 million in loses this year, is seeking to trim its workforce by half. The company says it is encouraging 15,000 workers to go on unpaid leave varying from three to five years. Air India, which has fleet of 145 aircrafts and 33,000 employees, has one of the highest staff-to-aircraft ratios of any airline in the world. Related Items
UK.-based Ocado, the world’s largest online grocery firm (or e-grocer), recently posted its first ever full-year profit. Ocado, which started operations in the year 2000, reported a pre-tax profit of £7.3 million ($11 million) on revenues of £948 million ($1.4 billion) for the 52 weeks ended November 30, 2014. In 2013, it reported a loss of £12.5 million. It has taken the company 15 years to deliver on its promiseIn India, BigBasket, the country’s largest e-grocer which began operations in 2011, expects to break even in the next 36 months. It is already operationally profitable in its home market, Bangalore. “Labor and logistics costs are much cheaper in India than in western markets, so e-grocers here can make money faster,” says Hari Menon, BigBasket’s cofounder and CEO.BigBasket currently has a kitty of over 10,000 products across 1,000 brands and over 450,000 active customers across five cities. It expects to close financial year 2014-2015 with revenues of around Rs. 250 crore (US$40 million). By December this year, the company plans to expand its presence to around five more cities. And over the next two years, it expects to grow to Rs. 1,800 crore (US$288 million).India is the sixth largest grocery market in the world and one of the fastest growing markets for online groceries. According to industry estimates, of the $500 billion-plus retail market in the country, food and groceries account for the biggest chunk with around 70% market share. Of this, organized food and groceries is estimated to be around $12 billion and growing at a compound annual growth rate of around 30%. Research firm IGD predicts that by 2016, the Indian grocery market would have overtaken Japan to become the third largest. Meanwhile, India’s online grocery market, which is estimated to be less than $100 million at present, is expected to be worth billions in the coming years. “We anticipate it to cross $20 billion by 2020,” says Menon.A 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report notes that “the growth in India’s online retailing for food and groceries is a function of the rise in total Internet users from 120 million to 213 million in the past year as well as a fall in mobile handset prices and a rise in smartphone penetration.” Nitish Asthana, general manager at electronic payment firm First Data, adds that as consumers get more comfortable shopping online, they move to newer categories. “Consumers with busy lifestyles are opting for online grocers. We believe that the key point is the quality and range of products being offered at an attractive price and without the customer having to step out the door.”Packed with ActionThe potential is attracting a flurry of attention and action. Even as pure-play domestic e-grocers like BigBasket, ZopNow and LocalBanya are expanding their operations, horizontal e-tail biggies like Flipkart and Snapdeal have added gourmet and specialty food to their offering. Importantly, so has the global e-tail giant Amazon, which created waves last year when CEO Jeff Bezos announced a $2 billion investment for India.“We launched the gourmet and specialty food store in October last year on Amazon.in. This is a reiteration of our commitment to relentlessly focus on building a place where customers can find, discover and buy virtually anything they want to buy online,” says Samir Kumar, director – category management at Amazon India. Pointing out that online grocery shopping in India is currently nascent, he adds: “We see potential in it, particularly for niche products like gourmet, organic food and specialty products which are not easily available. Customers should expect us to continue investing in expanding selection in this category.”Amazon has been moving fast. In March this year, it launched Kirana Now, an express delivery platform in partnership with neighborhood stores. According to Amit Agarwal, vice president and country head of Amazon India, this is an “India specific innovation built particularly for the local market.” In a conversation with daily newspaper Times of India, Agarwal said: “These corner stores, which would be listed as sellers, will upload their catalogues online on our platform and we would help with the backend and technology.”Amazon’s entry is expected to step-up action in the segment. “With Amazon’s deep pockets and experience with Amazon Fresh, it will [pose] a big challenge for BigBasket and other local firms,” says Kartik Hosanagar, an operations and information management professor at Wharton. Pragya Singh, associate vice president of retail at New Delhi-based research and consultancy firm Technopak Advisors, adds: “. However, food and grocery is relatively more complex than other categories. It will be interesting to see how competition in this space unfolds as more players enter it.”It’s not just e-commerce players who want a piece of this pie. Leading brick-and-mortar Indian retailers like Reliance, Future, Godrej and the Aditya Birla groups are also making their moves.For instance, in January this year, Godrej’s gourmet food chain Godrej Nature’s Basket which went online two years ago, tied up with Snapdeal and has listed over 700 products on it. In a press statement Mohit Khattar, managing director of Godrej Nature’s Basket, said: “We are thrilled to partner with Snapdeal.com. This is a huge opportunity for the brand to connect with all discerning customers who are currently not serviced by our offline and online formats.” Godrej Nature’s Basket, which was started in 2005 as a single store and has grown to 33 stores across multiple cities, has recently also acquired Mumbai-based e-grocer EkStop.Venture capitalists, too, are upbeat on this space with BigBasket being the most favored one. The company has so far received around $60 million from various investors including Bessemer Venture Partners, Ascent Capital, Helion Ventures, Zodius Fund and LionRock Capital. According to Venture Intelligence, a research services firm focused on private equity and M&A deals, ZopNow’s investors include Accel India and Qualcomm Ventures while EkStop has received funding from Jungle Ventures and Unilazer Ventures. LocalBanya, which has raised $20 million so far in three rounds from Springboard Fund, realtor Karmvir Avant Group and others, is now reported to be looking to raise another $15 million.A Different RecipeTechnopak’s Singh says that with nearly two-thirds of the retail market being food and grocery, it won’t be surprising if even more players eye this space. However, she adds a note of caution: Online grocery needs to be approached with a different level of preparedness. “The approach to online grocery needs to be more localized and hence their sellers and processes need to be aligned to local fulfilment. This is a different ball game than what is done in other categories.” Singh also believes that while the “traction in larger cities has been encouraging so far, for smaller cities the case still needs to be built.”Snapdeal’s cofounder Kunal Bahl points out that supply chain, specifically temperature controlled storage, transport and delivery systems play a “pivotal role” in making the gourmet e-commerce ecosystem viable. “India has just begun to work in this direction and it will take time to move beyond the metro cities and reach the vast segment which has high purchasing power but lives in tier 2 and tier 3 cities,” he says.According to Wharton’s Hosanagar, a key challenge is that grocery is a low-margin business. Specialty foods, he says, is better from a margin standpoint, but it still does not have the economics of, say, the apparel industry. “On top of it, there are logistics challenges, and the business needs a lot of capital investment. For it to be economically viable, one needs cart sizes that are big enough. This means that the product offering has to be broad. A [further] challenge in India is that since kirana [neighborhood] stores drop off groceries at home for no fee, grocery shopping isn’t as inconvenient as in the U.S. So the value proposition is a little weaker in India.”K. Ganesh, serial entrepreneur and co-promoter of BigBasket, disagrees. Physical grocery retail in India, he says, is “broken and dysfunctional because of problems of high rentals, high shrinkage and high inventory costs.” And while Ganesh concedes that neighborhood stores do offer the advantage of quick home delivery, he points out that because of their very nature, these stores have limited offerings. “Most consumers have to do a fair bit of their grocery shopping at department stores. Heavy traffic on the roads and lack of adequate parking make this a very stressful experience. Put all this together, and there is a compelling case for e-grocery in India.”Adds Menon of BigBasket: “If you look at the grocery buying pattern in the country, a typical urban Indian household does the bulk of its grocery shopping on a monthly basis. This is done primarily at department stores which offer variety and discounts. The shopping at neighborhood stores is mainly for top-ups.What we are targeting at present is the shopping done in the larger stores. Over time, we hope to offer express delivery — within an hour or two — and get a share of the neighborhood stores also.” According to Menon, customers at BigBasket purchase at an average of 2.6 times a month. Through the use of analytics, Menon wants to push this up to four times a month. “It’s ambitious and requires a huge change of habit in our customers. But we believe that we will definitely get to three visits in six to eight months from now,” he says.Margins GameGanesh and Menon also counter the argument about low margins in this business. According to them, margins can be as high as 22%. But this, they say, requires strong domain expertise in order to source and grade the products, as well as going deep into the supply chain and building strong relationships with farmers and mill owners and FMCG companies. “Building one’s own brand is also critical,” says Ganesh. He adds that unlike a horizontal play, where you can ship from a central location to the whole country, food and groceries is an extremely localized business. “One needs to understand the local nuances. It’s all about building local relationships, local buying, local logistics and building the business city by city.”Do large brick-and-mortar grocery chains have an advantage in their online avatars? Not necessarily, says Singh of Technopak. “Their DNA is completely different. Just because you have inventory doesn’t mean you will succeed online. This business requires very different capabilities like expertise in analytics, digital marketing and so on. It also requires tremendous process discipline and lots of investment in technology.” Talking to daily newspaper The Economic Times, Amit Bhartiya, advisor at LocalBanya, noted that “offline players going online cannot make a mark if they do not offer competitive pricing and value.”The jury is still out on what is the best model for this category in India. “A marketplace model that brings together a variety of sellers offering an assortment of products is most suited for this segment,” says Snapdeal’s Bahl. “The established offline stores can expand their reach through the e-commerce channel without actually having to build it. They have the expertise in handling such products, and marketplaces like ours have expertise in connecting them with customers outside their natural geographic markets.”LocalBanya’s cofounder and CEO Karan Mehrotra points out that his model doesn’t require much infrastructure. In an interview with daily newspaper Business Standard, he says: “We connect with existing retailers and grocery stores. We do not compete with them. We work with them, adding the online channel to the existing vertical.” Ganesh thinks this category needs an inventory-led model. “Some of the players buy from large stores and supply to their customers, but this is not scalable,” he says, adding that since the ticket sizes are small, scale is critical to be successful in this business. BigBasket itself holds a 10-day inventory for all its products, except for fruits and vegetables. For these, it holds an inventory of less than two days.What no one disputes however is the headroom for growth in the sector. “The more the number of players who enter this segment, the faster will be the growth,” says Bahl. He is also not worried about a player like Amazon with deep pockets and global expertise. Echoing the sentiments of others in the industry, Bahl says: “India is a very diverse country and a complex market. The effectiveness and efficiency in adapting to the Indian markets will define how any company will fare here.” Adds Karan Maheshwari, one of the early angel investors in EkStop: “Right now, it’s a growing market and there is a place for everyone. But in time we will see a shakeout and mergers and acquisitions.”Some of that has already started. Related Items
Only 10 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people know English. Yet most of the country’s e-commerce services have been offered only in English, closing off online shopping to the vast majority of people here.Now Amazon is aiming to break through that language barrier. The e-commerce giant Tuesday offered a hearty “namaste” to this country’s half a billion Hindi speakers by making its local website and apps available in India’s most popular language. Users of the India site or app will be able to choose Hindi as their preferred language, much as American users can choose Spanish.Amazon’s expansion into Hindi — its first foray into an Indian language, even as other companies have tried that strategy and pulled back — is vital to the company’s ambition of making India its next big market.Amazon is already the No. 2 player in India’s $33 billion e-commerce market and says it has about 150 million registered users here. But as it seeks to reach the country’s farthest regions and appeal to less-educated customers in the world’s fastest-growing pool of internet users, it has found that English is not enough.“The next 100 million customers will have to be in the vernacular language,” said Kishore Thota, director of customer experience and marketing for Amazon India.Thota said the company’s research found that eight out of 10 Indian customers would prefer to shop in a language other than English. “The level of trust increases when they see something in their own language,” he said in an interview at Amazon’s India headquarters in Bangalore.Prominently serving Hindi-speaking customers also could help Amazon deflect the political pressure coming from New Delhi, where policymakers are considering ways to curb the power of foreign internet companies.If the Hindi versions of its site and apps are successful, Amazon plans to quickly add options to shop in other major Indian languages, such as Bengali, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu, which are dominant in regions outside the Hindi belt in the north.Amazon’s Hindi site is the most ambitious attempt so far to serve Indian shoppers who do not speak English. Another e-commerce site, Snapdeal, tried local-language versions about three years ago, then abandoned them because few customers used them.Amazon is betting that the market is more ready now, especially as cheap mobile data means that Indian-language speakers are coming online at a brisk clip.Paytm, a digital payments company that operates the No. 3 online retailer, Paytm Mall, began allowing customers to make purchases in 10 Indian languages in October. About 15 percent of the site’s customers do that, said Amit Sinha, who heads the digital marketplace.But most of Paytm’s listings are in English. Converting them to other languages requires Paytm to build new automated translation tools as well as to persuade sellers and brands to translate their own content. “It’s a multidimensional problem,” Sinha said.For Amazon, creating a Hindi-language site and app was difficult from the start. When the company began building its Hindi app and site about two years ago, it first tried to run the English version through a translation algorithm. The result “was completely illegible,” Thota said.So the team went back to the drawing board, tapping people to translate key listings and steps in the purchase process into colloquial Hindi. They then showed samples to actual and potential customers, refined them, and used the final versions to train the algorithms to do mass translation.Not everything has been translated yet, and Amazon is working with leading brands to convert their pages. People are also reviewing pages to make sure they look right, since there is often more than one way to translate an English phrase into Hindi.One challenge is that spoken Hindi mixes in a lot of English. Amazon decided that some words and phrases, like “free,” “jeans” and “cash on delivery” should be kept in English but written using Hindi’s Devanagari script.Language is just one barrier to increasing the number of online shoppers in India, which is adding 40 million internet users a year, according to a recent study by Bain, Google and the Omidyar Network, an investment firm.Most of the 390 million Indians with internet access use it to chat with friends and family, watch videos, listen to music, look for religious content and read the news, the study found. Just 40 percent transact online, and about one-third of those stop after one purchase.Roopa Kudva, who heads Omidyar’s operations in India, said that buying something online is the last step in the journey of a new internet user.“Indians are very comfortable experimenting on the internet,” she said. “But the moment it comes to making payments online, people think it’s a very sophisticated thing that requires expert knowledge, and they shy away from it.”While being able to shop in a familiar language is important, she said, many of the global conventions of online shopping, such as the shopping cart, are unfamiliar to Indians, who are more used to going to a store and asking a shopkeeper to pull items from a shelf.Amazon said it realized that the Hindi version of its site will not suddenly solve those problems.“It will make people feel a lot more comfortable that we understand them,” said Amit Agarwal, the head of Amazon India. “But we are focused on all the barriers that will ultimately transform how India buys and sells.”For example, Amazon offers customer support in half a dozen Indian languages, and today, more than half the queries are in languages other than English.The company has also signed up about 14,000 retail locations across India for its Amazon Easy program, in which a local shopkeeper helps customers place Amazon orders and receive packages, and then delivers them. “They provide basic customer service in a language the customer understands,” Thota said.It is not clear how quickly other companies might follow. Flipkart, India’s largest online retailer, has not begun offering its services in local languages. Walmart recently bought a majority stake in the company for $16 billion, and it is unclear what plans the American retailer has in that area.Google is also considering a move into e-commerce in India. It recently invested in the Chinese online retailer JD.com, and announced plans last week to turn its multilingual Indian payments app, Google Pay, into more of a portal through which offline and online merchants could handle transactions.By 2021, 73 percent of India’s internet users will prefer to use languages other than English, compared with 57 percent in 2016, according to a study last year by KPMG and Google.Given those trends, every e-commerce site in India has to figure out a way to address the local-language problem.“Anybody who is serious about this country will have to do it,” Sinha said.© New York Times 2018 Related Items
The Delhi High Court Thursday granted a permanent injunction against publishing or distributing the contents of a CD allegedly depicting Congress spokesperson and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi in a compromising position.The court’s direction came after Mukesh Kumar Lal, Singhvi’s former driver who allegedly prepared the CD, informed the court in a written statement that the matter was amicably settled between him and Singhvi.Justice Reva Khetrapal taking on record the written submission filed by Lal passed the order restricting media houses from disseminating the contents of the CD.Counsel appearing for media houses Aaj Tak, Headlines Today and The India Today Group informed the court that they would return the CD to the person they got it from and would not telecast it.Singhvi’s lawyer also told the court that the complaint filed at Gulmohar Park police station in south Delhi March 23 against Lal would be withdrawn as the matter had been amicably settled.In the written statement filed by Lal, he said that he got four “distorted CDs” made from a shopkeeper in Darbhanga (Bihar) and circulated to two journalists.He claimed that he had done so because he wanted to take a revenge from the Singhvi family because “one day Singhvis’ dog had bitten my wife and I felt that because of that my child was born physically challenged”.He said he was unhappy with his pay package. “In particular, I was unhappy that the Singhvi family paid me so less compared to their high income,” he said.“Plaintiffs have assured me that the dispute between me and the plaintiffs now stands settled amicably and that they shall not take any legal action including seeking any damages in any police station or any court of law in present or in future against me and withdraw the compliant/FIR (first information report) no 102/12 against me made by the plaintiffs,” said the written statement filed by Lal.Singhvi with his former junior had moved the court seeking a permanent injunction restraining Lal, Aaj Tak, Headlines Today and the India Today Group from publishing, broadcasting or disseminating the purported CD.According to the plea filed by Singhvi, his driver for several years Lal left the job March 17 without any prior notice and later March 23 and 24 sent SMSes and called Singhvi to threaten and blackmail him about the CD.Singhvi’s petition claimed that the SMSes referred to a CD, which Lal said he would distribute to all media houses, severely embarrassing and defaming the name and reputation of Singhvi.The petition said: “Lal said that he needs a very large amount of money or else he will start spreading false rumours and allegations against Singhvi, including false statement regarding his moral character and will go to the media and distribute a CD which allegedly depicts alleged sexual acts made allegedly by Abishek Manu Singhvi and will not hesitate from making other false claim.”According to the petition, March 24 the petitioner received calls from several senior political leaders about the possession of the CD with journalists.Singhvi claimed that such a CD either did not exist or if it did, it was clearly and obviously morphed, fabricated and forged.(Although the video has not yet been broadcast in India, it has been posted repeatedly on Youtube and other social media sites, where it has been frequently taken down following complaints and protests, reportedly at Singhvi’s behest. The video is presently available on Twitvid, where it had garnered 26,755 views in just one day. Several recent versions of it remain available on youtube, such as this one.) Related Items