Won’t tolerate crimes against women: CM

first_imgPANAJI: Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar directed the State Police on Wednesday to crack down on drugs and late night parties where drugs are sold. He said crimes against women would not be tolerated. To a question about the case of rape and murder of an Irish woman last week in Goa, Mr. Parrikar said he has instructed the investigating officers to ensure nobody is spared. On Tuesday, the remand to police custody given to Vikat Bhagat, the prime accused, was extended by seven days.last_img

Root out Cong. from Gujarat: Amit Shah

first_imgBJP president Amit Shah has exhorted the party leaders in Gujarat to root out Congress from every booth in the State and ensure victory in 150 seatsin assembly polls scheduled for November this year.While addressing the state BJP executive at Somnath, Mr. Shah reportedly urged the leaders to start preparations for the polls. “Victory with less than 150 seats will not be acceptable. We want to break the record of 149 seats the Congress had won in 1985,” Mr Shah said in his address on the concluding day of the two day state executive.“We have solid organisational strength and we are no longer confined to urban areas. We have spread across the geography and today the party has 11 crore members,” Mr Shah said, adding the party has won the trust of all sections of society.On Friday, the party executive body also passed a resolution to win the assembly polls with 150 seats in the state with 182 assembly constituencies.Before and after addressing the party leaders, Mr. Shah held several meetings with leaders, including Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, deputy CM Nitin Patel. He also met BJP general secretary Bhupendra Yadav, who was recently made in charge of the party’s Gujarat unit.The State leaders also acknowledged contribution of Dinesh Sharma, deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, who was in charge of the State till recently.last_img read more

Meet R.N. Ravi, who is mediating peace with the Nagas

first_imgOn August 3, it will be two years since R.N. Ravi signed a framework agreement on behalf of the Union government with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) to end the decades-old Naga insurgency, details of which are still a well-kept secret. A joint intelligence chief (JIC) with the Government of India, he is the chief interlocutor for the Naga peace talks.What is his northeast link?A 1976 batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the Kerala cadre, Mr. Ravi retired as Special Director in the Intelligence Bureau in 2012. He was appointed as JIC, which works under the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) in September 2014, months after the NDA came to power. Though the Union Home Ministry recommended an extension for Ajit Lal, the then Naga interlocutor, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) overruled it.Mr. Ravi has closely worked with National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval during the latter’s stint as Intelligence Bureau Director and is learnt to have his confidence. Mr. Ravi was in charge of the northeast desk during his stint with IB.How did he get them to talk?The government waited for Mr. Lal’s tenure to expire in July 2014 before appointing Mr. Ravi to the post. He was given an office in the Vigyan Bhavan annexe, and he opened doors for all Naga groups to come and record their suggestions. Mr. Ravi came under criticism for holding a dialogue only with the NSCN-IM and not other groups. When asked, he said the NSCN-IM was the largest group representing the Nagas and the others did not come for the meetings. The framework agreement that Mr. Ravi managed to clinch was a culmination of over 80 rounds of negotiations that spanned 16 years with the first breakthrough in 1997 when a ceasefire agreement was sealed. During this time, former Governor Swaraj Kaushal, former Union Minister Oscar Fernandes and former Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah had mediated with Naga leaders. The NSCN-IM has been fighting for ‘Greater Nagaland’ or Nagalim — it wants to extend Nagaland’s borders by including Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh to unite 1.2 million Nagas, a move the three States oppose.What about the agreement?Opposition parties have on several occasions asked the government to release the details of the framework agreement. Two years after it was signed with much fanfare at the residence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there does not seem to be much headway in reaching a final solution.There has been little progress in talks, particularly after the death of Isak Swu, one of the two leaders of the NSCN-IM. Swu, 86, passed away on June 28 last year in a Delhi hospital because of multiple organ failure. Mr. Ravi ensured that Mr. Doval attended Swu’s condolence meeting at Nagaland House in Delhi.At the meeting, an emotionally charged Mr. Ravi drew a parallel between Swu and Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. While Gandhi had led a non-violent movement for India’s freedom, till 1997 when NSCN-IM signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre, it was involved in a bloody insurgency in Nagaland for almost two decades since its formation in 1980.What are the hurdles?Mr. Ravi said last year that when he was appointed as the peace interlocutor he got clear directions from the Prime Minister that “Nagas should win” and the negotiations with the Naga group was “not a zero sum game.” On August 12 last year, the Home Ministry issued a joint communiqué on behalf of Mr. Ravi and NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, saying they were “closer than ever before to the final settlement and hope to conclude it sooner than later.”On February 23 this year, during the economic blockade in Manipur, Mr. Ravi was fielded by the government to allay Manipur’s fears that the agreement would compromise its territorial integrity. The blockade continued for more than 100 days at the behest of United Naga Council, a conglomerate of Naga bodies, against the Manipur government’s decision to carve out seven new districts in the hill areas of the State dominated by the Nagas and other tribes. The UNC operates under the patronage of the NSCN-IM and it put a question mark on Mr. Ravi’s efforts.Vijaita Singhlast_img read more

Provide concrete reasons on immersion curbs: HC

first_imgQuestioning the West Bengal government’s curbs on Durga idol immersion, the Calcutta High Court on Wednesday said the State cannot hinder a citizen’s right to practise religion on the basis of a mere assumption of law and order disruption and must provide sound reasons for doing so.“Let them (Hindus and Muslims) live in harmony, do not create a line between them,” Acting Chief Justice Rakesh Tiwary said, asking the government to provide a “concrete ground” for its decision to stop the immersion of Durga idols after 10 pm on September 30 (Vijaya Dashami day) and on October 1 on account of Muharram.Hearing three PILs challenging the restrictions on immersion of idols at the end of the five-day Durga Puja festival, a Bench, also comprising Justice Harish Tandon, said a mere assumption that a law-and-order situation might arise, owing to Vijaya Dashami and Muharram falling one after the other, could not be the basis of imposing curbs on immersion timings.CM’s remarkObserving that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had herself told a public meeting that Hindus and Muslims lived together in harmony in the State, the Bench said, “Listen to what the head of the State says and not a police officer.”“People have the right to practise their religious activities, whichever community they may be of, and the State cannot put restrictions, unless it has a concrete ground to believe that two communities cannot live together,” the acting Chief Justice said.last_img read more

Mukul Roy’s induction unsettles BJP

first_imgWithin days of former Trinamool Congress founder-leader Mukul Roy joining the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), differences have surfaced within the party. While a section of the party is publicly defending the decision to induct the political heavyweight, others have termed the move “nothing less than suicidal” ahead of a series of elections. State president of the BJP, Dilip Ghosh, who is backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has been categorical that Mr Roy’s induction will not be a game changer for the party. “We do not think Roy is a heavyweight leader. BJP got 11 crore votes in the last Lok Sabha election and TMC got two crore. Mukul Roy was the leader of that regional party that bagged two crore votes,” Mr. Ghosh is reported to have said. Targeted by leadersIronically, the BJP had consistently targeted Mr Roy from as early as 2014 Lok Sabha elections. In several campaign rallies, senior national leaders had said if Mr. Roy was removed, given the several allegations of corruption against him, party chief Mamata Banerjee could be exposed. Many in the party still believe Mr. Roy has enough critical evidence against the TMC to nail the party’s top leaders before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. However, those opposing Mr Roy’s induction say such evidence is unlikely to swing voters away from the TMC. Among those unhappy with the decision that was largely pushed by Kailash Vijayvargiya — BJP observer in West Bengal — a senior State BJP leader said, “It is one decision that will remove the sting in the attack of the State BJP against the TMC.” “For last three years we were consistently saying that the entire top brass of the TMC is neck deep in financial fraud and cash-on-camera types scam and Mukul Roy is the kingpin of this racket. Now, all of a sudden, we find him in our party sitting with top leaders in the Delhi headquarters, where most of us cannot reach. This is atrocious,” said the leader, affiliated to the RSS. The party now faces the challenge of accommodating Mr Roy and his supporters in the party, creating the right space for him.Role in party“Many of the senior leaders, who were severely snubbed by [BJP national president] Amit Shah for under-performance during his last visit in Kolkata in September, may now feel threatened as Roy is more informed about State politics then the BJP leadership,” said another senior party leader.A product of Congress politics, Mr. Roy’s integration into the hierarchical structure of the BJP is unlikely to be smooth.last_img read more

All of Kashmir belongs to India, insists BJP

first_imgThe State unit of the BJP on Sunday said the whole of Jammu and Kashmir belonged to India, and Pakistan must vacate illegally occupied areas of the State.“Indian Parliament has made it clear that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir belongs to India and Pakistan has to vacate illegally occupied areas,” State BJP president Sat Sharma said here.Abdullah remarksMr. Sharma was reacting to a statement by National Conference president and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah, which said PoK belongs to Pakistan and “that won’t change” even if India and Pakistan kept fighting wars.Mr. Abdullah’s statement on Saturday came days after Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi rejected the idea of an “independent Kashmir”, saying it was not based on “reality”.Togadia’s challengeIn an apparent response to Mr. Abdullah’s statement, Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Pravin Togadia said those talking about “independent Kashmir” should go to Pakistan.“Kashmir is an integral part of India. People talking about independent Kashmir should go to Pakistan or else our security forces are ready with AK-47s at the border to deal with them,” the VHP working international president said on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai on Sunday.On the controversy surrounding Bollywood film Padmavati , Mr. Togadia said the Censor Board should take a stand on the issue and stop its release.last_img read more

NIA arrests self-styled ‘Brigadier’ in Nagaland

first_imgThe National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested a self-styled ‘Brigadier’ from Nagaland for his alleged involvement in supplying government arms and ammunition to NSCN-U and NSCN-K cadres. NSCN-K was banned by the Centre in 2015. Aheto Chopey, a resident of Dimapur’s Unity village, was arrested in a joint operation by the NIA with Assam Rifles, the agency said in a statement. Non-bailable warrant He was intercepted near Zubza area in Kohima. A non-bailable arrest warrant was issued against him by an NIA court in Nagaland’s Dimapur.The officials recovered one AK-56 rifle, two 9mm pistols along with magazines, assorted ammunition and ₹1,32,000 in cash from his possession, it said. He was produced before an NIA Court in Dimapur on Thursday from where he was sent to judicial custody, since the NIA had already submitted a chargesheet against him in April last year, the statement said.The case, registered in 2013, relates to the supply of government arms and ammunition to Naga underground factions the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Unification (NSCN- U) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland Khaplang (NSCN-K), the statement added.last_img read more

Injured protesters fill J&K hospitals

first_img12 militants killed in multiple operations in south Kashmir  With eyes under thick cloth, an injured protester yelled, “It’s dark. I can’t see. I was hit by pellets as I joined the protests in Shopian.”“I performed 28 eye surgeries on Sunday. All cases were bad with perforations due to pellets. Many are at the risk of losing their sight,” Dr. Ejaz Akbar, Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, SMHS, told The Hindu. Over 50 youths, mostly with eye injuries, sustained in pellet shots fired by security forces on protesters were admitted to Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) Hospital on Sunday.Also Read Children unwitting victims of Kashmir conflictcenter_img  The youths in blindfolds were brought in ambulances from as far away as Shopian (60 km) and Kulgam (70 km).“We admitted 42 injured till Sunday afternoon. Forty cases were of pellet injuries, mainly in eyes. In one case, the civilian was hit by bullets and another was hit by a tearsmoke shell,” SMHS medical superintendent Dr. Saleem Tak told The Hindu.Also Read  Security forces used tearsmoke shells, bullets and shotguns to control protesters in parts of Shopian and Kulgam district, which saw three major encounters on Sunday, leaving 11 militants and two civilians dead.The government’s medical facilities and district hospitals in Shopian and Kulgam treated over 50 injured protesters, said an official.Over 50 were admitted to SMHS and Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), in Srinagar.SKIMS Medical Superintendent Dr. Farooq Ahmad Jan said his hospital received eight persons injured by pellet shots. “Three were operated on,” said Dr. Jan.last_img read more

Don’t resort to violence: HC tells Marathas

first_imgThe Bombay High Court on Tuesday requested Maratha agitators to desist from resorting to violence and ending their life till the time the issue of reservation is decided as it is sub judice. It also directed the State government to decide on the matter expeditiously.Senior counsel Ravi Kadam, appearing for the State, informed a Division Bench of Justices Ranjit More and Anuja Prabhudessai that the Maharashtra State Commission for Backward Classes had completed the collection of data related to the community’s socio-economic status from government agencies, village panchayats and educational institutes. The commission had constituted a three-member panel to analyse the data. The panel is likely to submit its report by September 5, Mr. Kadam said. Thereafter the commission would require three months to submit its recommendations to the State, he added.“Due process is being followed by the commission and the State and members of the community must remember this,” the court said.In November 2017, the State government had appointed retired Justice M.G. Gaikwad as chairman of the commission. On November 29, 2017, it was decided to conduct a sample survey under the supervision of its members about the social and educational backwardness of the community. This was done with the assistance of gramsevaks, talathies, sarpanchs, village kotwals and teachers.The commission had also called for information from universities across the State, relating to college students at all levels. The commission also collected information from Maharashtra Public Service Commission about candidates from the community who had been selected for different posts in the last three years.On February 9, the commission had conducted a survey by appointing five agencies and organising public hearings. Meanwhile, the Bench directed the State to file a progress report and adjourned the matter to September 10.(With inputs from PTI)last_img read more

4 J&K policemen dismissed as rifles go missing

first_imgFour policemen were dismissed from service on Monday in Kashmir, a day after four service rifles went missing from the residence of a senior Congress leader in Srinagar.A police spokesman said the policemen, posted as Special Police Officers (SPOs) at the Srinagar residence of senior Congress leader and MLC Mohammad Muzaffar Parray, were dismissed for their “dereliction of duty and unauthorised absence.”Three policemen were from the security wing and one from the Sopore district police. The move also coincided with the attachment of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Security Kashmir, Maqsood-ul-Zaman, with Security Headquarters in Srinagar. “Sajad Hussain, SSP Commandant JKAP-3rd Bn, in addition to his own duties, shall look after the work of SSP, Security Kashmir, till further orders,” said an official order.The four service rifles were found missing on Sunday from the guard room in the high-security zone of Jawahar Nagar after one of the four SPOs reported it to the police.The police, which launched an investigation, were not ruling out the weapons landing with the militant outfits.On September 31, six rifles and one pistol were stolen from the residence of former People Democratic Party MLA Ajaz Mir from Jawahar Nagar. Later, an SPO, Adil Bashir Sheikh, 24, from Shopian surfaced in pictures posted by militants online.last_img read more

Noisy scenes in Punjab Assembly

first_imgNoisy scenes were witnessed on the first day of the budget session of the Punjab Assembly on Tuesday as the Opposition parties — the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP — protested against the Congress government on the issue of agrarian distress and farmers’ suicides in the State.Soon after Governor V.P. Singh Badnore started his address to the House, the SAD-BJP members shouted slogans against the government, accusing it of being responsible for the plight of farmers. Akali Dal-BLP MLAs then staged a walkout from the House. LIP protestThe MLAs of the Lok Insaaf Party also staged a walkout protesting against the Governor’s address being delivered in English and not in Punjabi.Later, the Akali Dal leaders along with family members of the farmers who had committed suicide sat on a protest near the Vidhan Sabha. Former CM Parkash Singh Badal said that Chief Minister Amarinder Singh should “honour his commitment on complete loan waiver to farmers or quit”.SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal said the party will take the farmers’ issue to the Governor and if needed launch a State-wide agitation to ensure the promises made to them by the Congress government are honoured. The Chief Minister, however, dubbed the Akali Dal protest as a petty political stunt with an eye on the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.‘Cheap tactics’ “The Akalis had failed to do anything for the farmers for 10 years and are now resorting to all kinds of cheap tactics in a desperate bid to mislead them on the issue of debt waiver,” said Capt. Amarinder talking to journalists after the Governor’s address.He said that the Opposition’s walkout was a clear case of rudeness against the Head of the State. “The problem with the Opposition is that it had no issue to raise in the House and it was trying to divert public attention by making a noise on non-issues,” he said.Meanwhile, the Governor in his address spoke about the State government’s commitment to pursue and take to their logical conclusion the investigations into the sacrilege cases and the false cases registered during the previous regime, while maintaining its policy of zero political vendetta or intolerance against anyone, irrespective of political affiliations or ideologies.The main Opposition, AAP, termed the Governor’s speech lacklustre and bereft of substance. Leader of the Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema accused the government of misleading the Governor on the public-centric issues and concerns. “The government is making a fool of the people on loan waiver to farmers. The government had played a cruel joke on the farming community by backtracking on the promise of complete farm loan waiver,” said Mr. Cheema in a statement.last_img read more

Neurological Institute Finds Worrisome Drop in Basic Research

first_imgFor years, some biomedical researchers have worried that a push for more bench-to-bedside studies has meant less support for basic research. Now, the chief of one of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) largest institutes has added her voice—and hard data—to the discussion. Story Landis describes what she calls a “sharp decrease” in basic research at her institute, a trend she finds worrisome.In a blog post last week, Landis, director of the $1.6 billion National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), says her staff started out asking why, in the mid-2000s, NINDS funding declined for R01s, the investigator-initiated grants that are the mainstay of most labs. After examining the aims and abstracts of grants funded between 1997 and 2012, her staff found that the portion of NINDS competing grant funding that went to basic research has declined (from 87% to 71%) while applied research rose (from 13% to 29%).To dig deeper, the staffers divided the grants into four categories—basic/basic; basic/disease-focused; applied/translational; and applied/clinical. Here, the decline in basic/basic research was “striking”: It fell from 52% to 27% of new and competing grants, while basic/disease-focused has been rising (see graph). The same trend emerged when the analysts looked only at investigator-initiated grants, which are proposals based on a researcher’s own ideas, not a solicitation by NINDS for proposals in a specific area.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 shift could reflect changes in science and “a natural progression of the field,” Landis writes. Or it could mean researchers “falsely believe” that NINDS is not interested in basic studies and they have a better shot at being funded if they propose disease-focused or applied studies. The tight NIH budget and new programs focused on translational research could be fostering this belief, she writes. When her staff compared applications submitted in 2008 and 2011, they found support for a shift to disease-focused proposals: There was a “striking” 21% decrease in the amount of funding requested for basic studies, even though those grants had a better chance of being funded.“My concern is that the decrease in the number of basic/basic applications reflects the perception that NINDS is only interested in disease-oriented research,” Landis writes. In response, she adds, since 2012 NINDS has been funding more basic proposals that fall below the score cutoff for funding. But her staff is continuing to explore the reasons behind the decline, she writes: “Fundamental basic research is the engine of discovery” and supporting these studies “is a critical piece of the NIH and NINDS mission.”last_img read more

Australia’s new innovation agenda leaves little room for science

first_imgSYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Australia’s scientific leaders are cautiously hopeful that the government’s new innovation policy marks a more positive stance on research. “Science is the center of industry policy under the Abbott government,” Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane—who has responsibility for science—told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio after the release Tuesday of its Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.The 132-page report sets out four goals to foster innovation, including a better business environment, a more skilled labor force, and improved infrastructure. But science is mentioned in only two of the six initiatives to be implemented over the next 18 months. Macfarlane says the Industry Growth Centres Initiative will see the government invest AU$188.5 million over 4 years to establish “corporate entities” in five areas where Australia has what he calls a “natural advantage.” Three reflect the country’s traditional strengths in mining, energy resources, and agribusiness, while advanced manufacturing and medical technology represent areas in which the government hopes to stimulate growth.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 government also plans to spend an additional AU$12 million in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. As part of this initiative, the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, which is 17 years old, will be replaced with a Commonwealth Science Council (CSC) chaired by the prime minister.Australia’s Chief Scientist Ian Chubb “welcomed” the additional STEM funding, an area that he highlighted in his 2 September strategy document Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future. Chubb also backs the move to identify areas of comparative advantage and sees the new council as an opportunity for Australia to develop a “strategic, whole-of-government” approach to science policy.Chubb’s comments reflect the careful response from community leaders. They quietly express hope that the agenda is a move away from the government’s previous hard stance on science, including the failure to appoint a dedicated science minister, closure of the independent Climate Commission, and an AU$420 million cut to the nation’s lead research agencies, among them the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Les Field, the Australian Academy of Science’s secretary of science policy, says he “welcomes” the focus on STEM skills and establishment of the CSC. “Anything which aligns science more closely with industry has got to be a big plus, especially when this is an area where Australia traditionally struggles,” he said.Similarly, Catriona Jackson, CEO of industry body Science & Technology Australia, says “we hope” the agenda is the first of further announcements supporting a “prosperous, knowledge-based economy.” Still, Jackson notes the tight science budget in recent years. “We know thousands of practicing scientists are out of work.” Some science and innovation experts say the initiative reflects the government’s failure to address the country’s long-term needs. While he notes that as a result of a report by the Business Council of Australia the government recognized the lack of a science and innovation strategy, Roy Green of the University of Technology, Sydney, says the agenda is a “dismal” series of “ad hoc” announcements, none of which is adequately funded.last_img read more

Arctic faces an ice-pocalypse

first_imgLONGYEARBYEN, NORWAY—Thick sheets of ice coating roads, homes, and pastures. Dead reindeer, no radio transmissions, and flights canceled for days. When ice came to this Arctic mining outpost on the Svalbard archipelago two winters ago, it crippled the community for weeks and devastated wildlife for months. Now, scientists are saying such weather extremes in the Arctic—known as rain-on-snow events—may become more frequent in the future.“It’s hard to study extreme weather events, which by definition are rare,” says ecologist Brage Hansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. “So we took the opportunity in 2012.”Brage and his co-authors focused on the rainy warm spell that brought record-high temperatures and prolonged rain to Svalbard over 2 weeks in January and February 2012. Temperatures during that period were routinely 20°C higher than normal, and on one day, the study notes, a Svalbard weather station recorded a daily average temperature of 4°C, which was “higher than at any weather station in mainland Norway on that day.” Another Svalbard station recorded 272 mm of rain during the 2 weeks; that station’s average for the whole year is 385 mm.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 water created thick pools of slush and melted snow, kept cold by the frozen ground, known as permafrost. Then temperatures dropped and everything froze, leaving Svalbard’s fjords and towns coated in thick ice, terrorizing its roughly 2000 inhabitants and decimating the most abundant animals on the archipelago—wild reindeer. Scientists measured ground ice between 10 and 20 cm thick in 200 test sites, and more than half of the ground area they monitored was still covered in the ice 5 months later.The ice forced road closures in Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s largest settlement, and caused a so-called slush avalanche—consisting of snow, ice, and slush—that destroyed a pedestrian bridge. The town’s central antenna was disabled, halting radio transmissions, and an icy runway meant that flights to and from the archipelago were canceled for days. “Furthermore, snow-mobile driving, dog-sledding and hiking were nearly impossible during the weather event” and for months after, notes the paper, published today in Environmental Research Letters.The impact on Svalbard’s reindeer was severe, as ice prevented the animals from digging through the snow to eat plants. In the summer of 2012, scientists found high numbers of carcasses in all seven of Svalbard’s monitored populations, and a record number in one of them.This is “a huge difference from the historical norm,” Hansen says. “It’s important because this is the type of event we can assume will be more frequent in the future.” That’s a big problem, because the indigenous people of the Arctic depend on snowy tundra ecosystems and their wildlife. Plus, ice storms could wreak havoc on shipping, mining, and fossil fuel industries as they develop in the high latitudes.A series of climate models the scientists used to predict local warming in the high Arctic estimated that warming temperatures will continue for years. Hansen says if those predictions bear out, some winters by 2050 could have periods with a mean temperature above freezing. More ice would then follow, which could mean “a completely different” climate on Svalbard, Hansen says, with the 2012 event an icy preview.Geologist Jaakko Putkonen of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks applauds the paper’s analysis of the 2012 Svalbard incident, “the best documented” of known rain-on-snow events. Reindeer and their cousins, muskoxen, “are facing an unsolvable dilemma,” he says. “As the environment in their current ranges is becoming less suitable for them … they have no land area to retreat to farther north. They will be pushed into the Arctic Ocean, metaphorically speaking.”But winter rain in the Arctic may alter marine ecosystems as well as terrestrial ones, says Cecilia Bitz, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington, Seattle. The sea ice is where ringed seals live. Rain on snow “can collapse their snow caves where they raise their young,” she says. Along with the declining amount of floating ice, she adds, rain on snow is a reason the animals have been listed as threatened.One question the study leaves unanswered is how icy spells may affect local vegetation in the tundra. So on a windy, sunny day in July, Hansen and an assistant visited experimental plots they had established in a high Arctic valley on the Advent fjord outside Longyearbyen. During the dead-of-winter months before, the scientists poured gallons of water onto the snow on several half-meter-wide squares denoted by green markers. Now, to measure how the ice might have an impact, they’re comparing plant growth in the plots with growth in other plots that remained snowy, not icy. “There might be a delayed effect on growth, or an effect on flowering—we don’t know,” Hansen said, examining one of the plants. The scientists are now analyzing their samples from this experiment, and Longyearbyen is girding for what it hopes will be a snowy, not icy, future.last_img read more

Earth’s tectonic plates skitter about

first_imgBack when dinosaurs were just starting to skulk, Earth had just one giant land mass, a supercontinent that scientists call Pangea. It broke up about 200 million years ago, and since then its fragments—riding on chunks of crust called tectonic plates—have been gliding, merging, and splitting their way into their present—temporary—positions. Now, geoscientists have unveiled a computer model that maps the details of that tectonic dance in 1-million-year increments—practically a frame-by-frame recap of geologic time. It shows that the plates speed up, slow down, and move around in unexpectedly short bursts of activity. It also suggests that researchers may have to rethink what drives much of that incessant motion.“It’s a major achievement, and it’s very impressive that they can now do this analysis at this resolution,” says Thorsten Becker, a geodynamicist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.The reconstruction is the work of scientists at the EarthByte program at the University of Sydney in Australia, one of the world’s foremost research groups for plate tectonics and geodynamics, who described it in a paper published online on 12 March in Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Previous work had mapped out tectonic movement in 20-million-year increments, which were then used to analyze plate velocities. But a closer look using the latest plate reconstructions created by the EarthByte group revealed that a lot more can change in 20 million years than scientists had thought.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(*)“It turns out that plates can change their motion (speed and direction) over geologically short periods of time, about 1 million years,” says the new study’s lead author, Sabin Zahirovic, a tectonics researcher and geodynamicist at the University of Sydney. “Which means that if you have a snapshot over 20 million years, you can easily miss an important regional or global plate reorganization.”The researchers achieved the improved time resolution by their modeling techniques and software, performing more detailed analysis of the data used previously, and incorporating more sources of data as well. The new model shows that although plates usually creep along at an average speed of about 4 centimeters per year, some can reach much faster speeds in short sprints. For example, India, which broke off the east coast of Africa about 120 million years and is now plowing into Asia, reached speeds as high as 20 centimeters per year for a relatively brief 10 million years. A rising plume of molten rock in Earth’s mantle probably caused the speedup by “lubricating” the underside of the continent and allowing it to slide smoothly over the mantle, Zahirovic says.The model also suggests that a major engine of continental drift—the “pull” of nearby subduction zones, where one plate plunges under another and dives into the mantle—may be less important for setting plate speeds than researchers had thought. Instead, the researchers say, the drag created by the underside of massive continents jutting out under the plate like the keel of a ship may play a bigger role by slowing plates down.Becker says it’s notable that the model confirmed that continents have a strong anchoring effect on the plates. But he was more cautious about the group’s finding that “slab pull” from subduction isn’t as important a factor. Subduction zones bordering the plates are much harder to locate and keep track of than continents over a 200-million-year period, he says. Zahirovic acknowledges the challenge but says his team used multiple, independent sources of geologic information to “resurrect and estimate” ancient plate boundaries.Next, Zahirovic says, he and his colleagues plan to apply what they’ve learned to try to reconstruct how plates moved before the breakup of Pangea, deep in the geologic past.(Video credit: EarthByte)*Correction, 23 March, 2 p.m.: This story has been corrected to reflect that EarthByte’s 2012 model was the first plate reconstruction to use 1-million-year increments. The team’s current paper is the first analysis of plate velocities and other measurements using those models.last_img read more

Dusshera On East River

first_imgThe incredible 4th of July firecrackers light up the skies over East River scattering joy in the air. The festive atmosphere – so many faces, so many people mirroring my joy, in a space away from home with a feel of home – is reminiscent of the crowds on a crisp October evening as we are transfixed by Ravana’s effigy, stuffed with firecrackers and held aloft by tall scaffoldings, ready to explode any minute.But these are the 4th of July firecrackers brightening up the sky at sun down. The colors, the crackle, the sounds narrate stories of Dussheras from my childhood, of firecrackers lighting up other skies, another time, another place, another life. The demonic figures from an epic tale going up in flames as we stare in amazement. The same excitement mirrored in my daughter Manu’s eyes as yesterday became today.I stand there as always, transcending geography, connecting dots of then and now, combining familiar and unfamiliar in response to new, untangling events and images, sifting and sorting through archives of long term memory, weaving with forgotten threads the new nuances of a familiar melody.I wonder sometimes if in a few years when I am in India I’d miss America, the people I met here, the friends I made, the teachers I found and learned from, the houses I converted into home, the “familiar essentials” I surrounded myself with, the rites of passage from driver’s license to traffic violation tickets, subway maps to Trip Tiks, culling coupons to letting my fingers do the shopping, learning to use ATM’s (I’ll probably miss its lack of attitude when the cashier at the State Bank is having a bad day) and choosing between the hardsell of AT&T, MCI or Sprint (I know I will long for them on out-of-order  phone days during the monsoons).I will probably look back fondly at the journeys with my daughters from pampers to prom dresses, crayon drawings from elementary school stuck on the hrefrigerator to Alanis Morissette and Smashing Pumpkins (go figure!) posters on their bedroom walls – a heartache of another kind.I can relate to Manu when she suggests building a highway between New York and New Delhi so we could drive down to Nani’s house everyday.I hover on the periphery of two parallel worlds and wonder if time is arbitrary, if continuity is also a place with its own maps, its own territory, its own seasons and celebrations in child time where life and memory merge, existing simultaneously.A loud electric crackle in the sky forms a sweeping arc that stops short of becoming a full circle leaving me room to step out of that space and reenter raw unedited reality, of half moons falling off the skies before completing their cycles, of unfinished stories and short changed lives. Life with all its promise of timelessness, endlessness, changelessness is caught in time and change mapped on a confused calendar.I see this confused acceptance in the eyes of the hot dog vendor from Bangladesh driving his cart across lower East side. I see it on the face of the physicist from Pakistan driving a yellow cab on 125th and Broadway, in the trembling hands of the aging Sardarji selling Daily News at the toll booth as we enter FDR Drive. Shadow lives living in a parallel reality, sharing images of our common humanity, hard work, stubborn hope, mutual forbearance, building new lives here block by each tiny Lego block.It seems as if life stepped on a never ending escalator, traveling through the winding, curving, merging, converging, overlapping pathways of a complex maze that you can step onto, but cannot exit, and all you can do is maintain your balance, letting others pass you by and learning something new each step of the way. It reminds me of Manu’s model trains that back up from the yard, ease into the oval tracks and then keep chugging around in circles, going nowhere in particular, yet ever on the move.Momentarily if you do manage to gain some distance from the constant departures and arrivals and step back onto the transition lounge you discover so much has changed over time. You have changed, grown, matured.The cousins, aunts and uncles you grew up with are much older and different men and women who have come through their lives tested and tempered by their journeys, their struggles, shaped by their experience, some similar, some very different from your own.Your isolation, their intermeshing provide different focuses, different frames of hreference, different stories. Their silences, their words, their choices, their prisons punctuate their lives. Together we sort through our memories, recall fragments and pieces of remembered conversations, revisit those places where we halted for a pause before moving on.I feel as if I am in a sacred stone temple with sounds of ceremonial chants all around me, some remembered human voices rekindling memories, echoing the songs my heart has yearned to hear, but only now learned to listen to.The music complements the shooting stars in the sky, the left over smoke a residue of the brightness that was – life and memory existing simultaneously. Between the loud bang announcing its arrival and its smoky departure the firecracker has a limited lifespan. It has a shifting tenure – tenure as a child, a girl, a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, young, middle aged, old. Life unfolding in all its possibilities – birth, growth, maturity, decline and death; then starting the cycle all over again to form new galaxies, new stars, new universes, new people recycled from old.I think what I miss most about India are the signs of life as it is happening, an aliveness, an absence of illusions about the transitions, an acknowledgment that life happens. Back home birth, marriage, death, celebrations, funerals all take place out in the open for all to see, share and experience. On a particular day you might have your entire life laid out before you in all the shades and hues of the varied transitions. A child can see what is in store for him, an older person gets to relive his experiences.I sometimes miss the richness, the fullness of lives back home, the group of women sitting together in the winter sun sharing recipes of the afternoon meal or of life, the clothes and grains spread out to dry, the jars of pickles soaking in the sun, the kids laughing about nothing in particular, just experiencing the joy from the pores of their skin, a sense of ease and well being, of being home, of belonging.I wonder if the hot dog vendor from my subcontinent with his faint, hesitant smile also traveled back in time to a similar image as he acknowledged me in my saree and kumkum, like an echo of something remembered, a moment shared with a stranger/ kin, just as I share the 4th of July celebrations with other strangers/kin.   Originally published in Little India, July 1996  Related Itemslast_img read more

Does More Trouble Lie Ahead for Indian Startups

first_imgWhen Jabong, the Indian fashion etailer backed by German Internet conglomerate Rocket Internet, was acquired in July, it was an expected move. Founded in 2012, Jabong was on the block for over a year. Wooed by suitors like Snapdeal, Aditya Birla Group and Future Group, it was finally snapped up by Myntra, the country’s leading fashion etailer and a subsidiary of Flipkart, India’s biggest etailer.What did make news, however, was the price at which Jabong was acquired. At $70 million it was way below the expected figure of $250 million to $300 million. At its peak a couple of years ago, when it was negotiating with Amazon, Jabong had a price tag of $1.2 billion. Industry experts say that a weak business model, inefficient execution, senior level churn, loss of market share and most importantly, investors’ refusal to pour in more money, all led to a once-bright star losing its sheen.Jabong’s trajectory is pretty much indicative of the turmoil gathering pace amongst Indian startups. Devaluations, shutdowns, mergers & acquisitions, layoffs and funding crunches have been rampant in recent months. “Many venture funds pushed companies to become unicorns ($1 billion valuation) just because they wanted bragging rights. In some sectors valuation went ahead of value creation. Now there is a catch up happening,” says T. V. Mohandas Pai, chairman of venture capital fund Aarin Capital Partners.K. Ganesh, serial entrepreneur, partner at entrepreneurship platform Growthstory.in and chairman of Portea Medical, points out that in 2014 and 2015, for the first time several new investors like global hedge funds and late-stage private equity (PE) funds started playing in the Indian venture capital (VC) ecosystem. Not only did a lot more money come in, these investors were also valuation insensitive. As a result, startups could raise more money at higher valuations than normal and the subsequent funding rounds were being done much faster and quicker.“This was a temporary aberration and now normalcy has been restored,” says Ganesh. “Investors have started stressing more on profitability, path to profitability, unit economics and basic business model defensibility as against growth, GMV (gross merchandise value), market share, etc. In the current environment, the bar to raise money has changed; a lot more questions have to be answered and a lot more proof of concept needs to be demonstrated.”Take Flipkart itself. Founded in 2007, Flipkart has raised around $3.2 billion till now from investors such as Tiger Global, DST Global, T. Rowe Price and others. When it last raised funds in 2015 the company was valued at $15.2 billion. Since then its valuation has seen a downswing and is currently at around $10 billion. In May 2016, HSBC’s brokerage arm HSBC Securities and Capital Markets slashed food delivery and discovery startup Zomato’s valuation by half to $500 million. Etailer Snapdeal, which was earlier valued at $6.5 billion, is also reported to be struggling to raise fresh funds at this level. The market buzz is that Flipkart, Snapdeal and Zomato along with some others are prime candidates for acquisitions by global majors wanting to make their mark in India.Venture Intelligence, a leading provider of data on private company financials, transactions and valuations, notes while from April 2014 to March 2016 there were around 29 acquisitions in the Indian tech startup space, from April this year to mid-August the number has shot up to around 40. Venture Intelligence also notes that in 2015, 16 VC-funded startups shut shop during the course of the year. In 2016, from January to July itself an equal number of startups have already folded up. These include Fashionara, PepperTap, Zippon and Murmur. Post July, shutdowns include Exclusively, a fashion portal which was acquired by Snapdeal last year, TaxiForSure which was acquired by cab-hailing app Ola last year, and online market place and classified portal Askme.com.“Many startups in India are facing multiple challenges at present. These include both early-stage as well as mid-stage startups and are companies that have either reached the ceiling of their current business model or are unable to raise funds,” says Sreedhar Prasad, partner – business consulting at KPMG India. He points out that these are “classic cases” of companies with “weak business models that are dependent only on funds” to grow. “They all seem to be reaching a stage where acquisition is the only option,” he adds.Anjan M.K., engagement lead at Zinnov Management Consulting, notes: “Running a startup is like performing a Produnova (a complicated gymnastic move). This downturn is probably the first somersault of the act and we might have another one in a few years’ time. Some could break their necks while others might just land safe. Few would go on to win.”Anjan suggests that while there will be a cash crunch for startups in certain sectors, “those with sustainable business models and deep tech at their core” should continue to do well. He adds: “While the past few years were all about growth and customer acquisition, we believe that the next few years will be about profitability — especially in sectors where a lot of capital has been invested.”Losing the SparkleSenior level churn has also been making news. Mukesh Bansal, cofounder of Myntra and head of commerce at Flipkart (after it acquired Myntra in 2014) quit in February this year. He was followed by Flipkart’s chief business officer Ankit Nagori, chief product officer Punit Soni and legal head Rajinder Sharma. At Myntra, the exits include head of commerce Prasad Kompalli, head of fashion brands Abhishek Verma, chief creative officer Gautam Kotamraju and finance head Prabhakar Sunder. At Snapdeal, chief product officer Anand Chandrasekaran, senior vice president of marketing Srinivas Murthy, and head of strategy Ranjan Kant. At Zomato, chief product officers Tanmay Saksena and Namita Gupta. At InMobi, senior vice president Samuel John, finance head Manish Dugar, vice president of engineering Naresh Agarwal, head of strategy Khushboo Gupta and vice president-finance Ravikiran Vadapally. The list goes on.Many of these executives came from established Indian firms and multinationals to partake in the Indian startup story. While some have moved to other startups, others have simply moved out suggesting a lack of confidence in the startup ecosystem.This has also been the period of freeze in pay hikes and jumps in pink slips. In August, Ola, which counts Japan’s SoftBank Group as a major investor, shut down TaxiForSure, which it had acquired last year for $200 million, and showed 700 employees the door. Flipkart recently laid off around 1,000 people as part of its cost cutting exercise. Others who have let go of people over the past few months include Snapdeal, Zomato, food ordering service Food Panda, local services marketplace LocalOye and online house rental startup Grabhouse.Kris Lakshmikanth, founder, CEO and managing director of executive search firm HeadHunters India, notes that earlier, thanks to free flow of funds and a massive rush to show growth, startups were over hiring at inflated salaries. People shifted easily from one startup to another at an average of 60% increase in their salary package. Top performers could wangle a 150% jump. For professionals from the Silicon Valley, Indian startups were willing to pay whatever it took. “It was a mad gold rush,” says Lakshmikanth.In the current situation of minimal or zero pay hikes, the job situation he feels is “very much like the dot-com bust and the Lehman debacle.” Many people now prefer the safety of the old economy. “They are willing to take as much as 50% cut in their salary package,” says Lakshmikanth, adding: “I expect that the excesses will get wiped out and normal salary increases and normal hiring in startups will start by end of 2017 and early 2018.”Meanwhile, some startups have raised the hackles of educational institutions, including prestigious ones like the Indian Institutes of Management and Indian Institutes of Technology, by deferring joining dates of campus recruits, reducing compensation terms, altering job profiles and changing placement locations. Some startups have even revoked their offers. The educational institutions in turn are now blacklisting startups that reneged on offers made to graduating students and are issuing warnings to firms that altered joining terms.Funding CrunchThe biggest problem startups are facing at present is a funding crunch. While different reports give different figures for PE and VC investments based on different parameters — for instance, some agencies include data only from those firms which are structured as PE/VC firms and exclude family offices and individuals, etc. — all of them point to a downswing. According to Venture Intelligence, from January to June 2015, India saw PE investment of $7.31 billion across 373 deals and VC investment of $970 million across 242 deals. During the same period in 2016, PE dropped to $7.16 billion across 314 deals and VC dipped to $646 million across 211 deals. VCCEdge, a research platform for the Indian investment ecosystem, has put out the following figures: From January to June 2015, PE investment was $11.9 billion across 776 deals, while VC investments were around $2.85 billion across 278 deals. From January to June 2016, PE dropped to $6.2 billion across 667 deals while VC was at $1 billion across 183 deals.“In the 2013 to 2015 period there was a funding euphoria. A lot of people put in lot of money and very quickly. Investors were willing to invest in aggressive growth models. Today, investors are taking conscious and clear investment decisions. The deal cycle has become longer and this is putting a lot of pressure on early-stage startups which need money quickly,” says KPMG’s Prasad.What Lies AheadCash is air for startups. And this raises important questions. Will the funding winter choke them? What lies ahead for Indian startups?“The phase of irrational exuberance is over. Of course, there will be flavors of the season, but overall I expect to see more diversified and sensible investments,” says Rishikesha Krishnan, professor of corporate strategy and policy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and currently director of the Indian Institute of Management Indore. Harminder Sahni, founder and managing director of management consultancy firm Wazir Advisors, adds: “I suspect now on there will be more scrutiny and due diligence of not only business ideas but also of the entrepreneurs themselves.”Wharton’s Kartik Hosanagar, professor of operations, information and decisions, believes this is “a natural curve” but adds that “the next 12 to 24 months will be a bit like the period after the dot-com bust.” He notes: “Funding will be extremely difficult to obtain in the next few months especially around ecommerce. As a new investor, it’s a risky gamble. This is because the quantum of funds needed will be high and it’s unclear how Flipkart vs. Amazon vs. Snapdeal will ultimately shakeout. Current investors will need to decide whether they want to continue investing or just sell the business.”Arun Natarajan, founder of Venture Intelligence, however, is more optimistic. He points out that several seed capital funds and India-dedicated VC firms including Sequoia Capital India, Kalaari Capital, Nexus Ventures and IDG Ventures India have raised new funds in the last 12 months. Also, several family offices, like that of industrialist Ratan Tata and the founders and executives of Infosys, have turned active startup investors. “So, there is sufficient ‘dry powder’ available within India to support new startups as well as existing portfolio companies (provided they are) able to demonstrate traction.”Natarajan adds that given India’s growth potential, Indian startups “should also be able to attract sufficient long-term focused foreign investors as indicated by the increasing investments here by VC and strategic investors from Japan, South East Asia and China.” A recent example is the $175 million investment in August from Tencent, the founder of WeChat, China’s bestselling instant messaging app, and Foxconn Technology Group from Taiwan, in Hike, the Indian messaging app founded by Kavin Mittal. This is one of the largest investments in Indian startups in 2016 and values Hike at $1.4 billion.Ganesh expects the current funding slowdown to separate the men from the boys. “Models built for earlier momentum play without basic core economics will fold up. And ‘opportunistic entrepreneurs’ — those who saw entrepreneurship as easy extension of corporate employment — will fall away. All this is good for the ecosystem.” He outlines a winning recipe for Indian startups: Be a full stack company that can solve the full problem of the consumer and not just parts. Create your own brand. Solve a big pain point. Have a clear monetization model and viable unit economics. Differentiate yourselves. Don’t be a me-too player. Raise the bar consistently in terms of delivery, design, scale and funding to create moats for your business. Get the core model right; no amount of funding can make a broken business model work.“I think the winners will be savvy about data,” says Hosanagar. “They will use data to figure out who are the best kinds of customers to acquire and who to avoid. They will use data to figure how to retain users longer and how to upsell products and increase customer lifetime value. Besides data, the other important piece will be how they manage logistics to get higher efficiency and service quality.” Hosanagar believes that startups that can navigate through the next 24 months will do very well.For Sahni, the winners will be “those who will have original ideas and are able to scale in a sustainable manner. The real money will flow into startups that try new products, like Paper Boat (ethnic drinks) and launch new brands, like Yepme.” Says IIM’s Krishnan: “The ability to identify and solve real problems for their customers and add real value to people in their daily lives and businesses will be a winning differentiator.”In the coming months, B2C etail, food-tech and hyperlocal delivery startups are expected to see a massive shakeout while fin-tech, ed-tech, IoT and B2B startups are likely to be on the upswing.Competing with the Global GiantsEven as Indian startups work at getting their act together, global giants are upping their game here. In July 2015, Uber announced a $1 billion investment in India. At that time CEO Travis Kalanick had said that India had the potential to be a bigger market for Uber than the U.S. and China. Now, with Uber recently bowing out of China by selling its business there to market leader Didi Chuxing, it is expected to push in India with renewed vigor. The Uber-Didi merger shows the way ahead for Indian startups, T. C. Meenakshisundaram, cofounder and managing director of IDG Ventures India, said in a media interview. “Everyone cannot create billion dollar companies, and sometimes investors don’t see the value in a company when there are too many players in the sector. Exit is better than shutting down.”Amazon, which entered the India market in June 2013, is already pushing the pedal hard. Like Uber, Amazon too has been squeezed out of China and is betting big on India. In 2014 it had announced an investment of $2 billion. In June this year, it announced an additional investment of $3 billion. India is Amazon’s fastest growing market and has apparently even surpassed the company’s “most ambitious milestones.”Earlier this year, Amazon became India’s second largest online marketplace by shipments and GMV overtaking Snapdeal. It was also the only major player to increase its market share from March 2015 to March 2016 as per industry estimates. While Flipkart’s market share dropped from 43% to 37% and Snapdeal’s from 19% to 15%, Amazon’s grew from 14% to 21%. In July, Amazon launched its popular subscription-based program Amazon Prime in India to drive customer loyalty. This could well be a game changer in a market that has so far been attracting customers through steep discounts.In a media interview, Satish Meena, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, said: “If Flipkart is not able to get its act together in the next six to 12 months, Amazon can overtake Flipkart also.” Wharton’s Hosanagar adds: “Amazon has done incredibly well so far. This is partly because they are willing to spend so much and can leverage a lot of the technology they have built and honed in the U.S. Their India team appears to be very good.” Agrees IIM’s Krishnan: “I see Amazon surging ahead. It has shown the willingness to understand the Indian market and tweak its models to suit this market. Combine this sensitivity with its experience and resources, and you have a winner.”Meanwhile, Alibaba, which so far has been a strategic investor in India (with investments in Snapdeal and Paytm) is also expected to enter the Indian ecommerce market directly by early next year. According to the industry grapevine, the Chinese etailer has started putting together its India team and is also in discussions to acquire online marketplace ShopClues which is valued at around $1 billion.Prasad of KPMG is bullish. He believes that “even though global players like Amazon, Uber and Alibaba are a competitive threat for Indian startups, they will also grow the market and force Indian startups to innovate faster.” Pai adds a note of caution: “The only way forward for Indian entrepreneurs is to start becoming efficient, stop losing money and focus on execution excellence.”Pai offers another perspective: “India is sadly becoming a battleground for American and Chinese companies and Indian capital is losing out.” Pointing out that in China, 65% of VC funds is Chinese money while in India, only 5% comes from domestic capital, Pai says: “The Indian capitalists want assured returns with no risks. This mindset has to change. They should allocate at least 20% to 25% of their funds for venture capital.”Until that happens, foreign money will continue to play an important role in the Indian startup ecosystem. Nikesh Arora, ex-president and COO of Soft Bank, who backed many Indian startups like Snapdeal, Ola, online grocery retailer Grofers, budget hotel aggregator Oyo and realty portal Housing, said in a recent media interview: “Indian startups are going through a phase of consolidation both of their sectors as well as their positions. It will be a long road from here to great large businesses.” Related Itemslast_img read more