Slumdog stars return

February 27, 2009 at 4:11 am (news) (, , , , )

A frenzy of sorts was unleashed at the Sahar International Airport here on Thursday as the child actors of the Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire returned from their lucky streak at the Academy Awards. It was a reception befitting megastars and demigods. A row of two BMWs and a Mercedes-Benz were lined up at the airport and a multitude of paparazzi lurched about along with a sea of curious onlookers. The moment the child stars emerged, they were chased and mobbed for photographs and interviews. Jubilant family members lifted the befuddled and clueless little ones as shutterbugs went into a tizzy. A tired, sleepy Mohammed Azharuddin Ismail, 10, who played the role of youngest Salim, got hauled up on top of a car; so was his father Mohammed Ismail, who could not tell how he got up there. Clad in a bright red T-shirt, the tiny frame of Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, 8, who played the youngest Jamal, was raised above the crowd. He waved and smiled before being put in the car. The family of Tanay Chheda, 13, the middle Jamal, came with a banner welcoming him. Family and friends of Azhar and Rubiana Ali, 8, who starred as youngest Latika, came with a basket of flowers and garlands. Azhar and Rubiana reside in Mumbai’s Garib Nagar slum. A vehicle decorated with flowers was reportedly arranged for them by the families. However, they too were, like the rest of the children and their families, whisked away in the cars. In high spirits At Garib Nagar in Bandra, heightened drama unfolded as Azhar retuned to his shanty. Loudspeakers blared ‘Ringa Ringa’ and ‘Jai Ho.’ Crowds sprawled onto the roads causing nasty traffic jams. Outside Azhar’s makeshift shelter, his uncle Ramzan Sahabuddin Sheikh was shooing away children with a stick in his hand. “We are going to celebrate Azhar’s return. We have got garlands and in the evening we will put up lights and cut a cake.” The Garib Nagar children wore their dream of becoming actors on their sleeves. “If you write about us, will we get roles in movies,” some asked. They looked forward to the party in the evening. At a small building nearby, a jetlagged Azhar looked prepared to take on the barrage of media queries. “Ten people are asking me questions at once. I really wish only one person spoke at a time,” he began. Azharuddin Ismail is cheered by his neighbours. “It was like a dream. I went to Disneyland and clicked pictures with Mickey Mouse. I saw big actors, but I do not know their names. I was very happy there; had a blast. On the plane, everyone asked me for autographs and I told them I will give you, but they kept fighting for being the first to take my autograph,” the little actor twittered. Azhar spoke of his dream of becoming a top actor and said he would be bigger than Amitabh Bachchan. His favourite star is Salman Khan. Egged on by the media, he took off his shirt and bared his ten-year-old torso, for the cameras, in a bid to imitate Salman Khan. He said he would like to work with Katrina Kaif, much to the cheer of the audience. Education first Education will be the priority for the time being, he said. When asked to define Oscar awards, he said, “I know what the Oscars are. These are awards which are given to the very best of films.” Outside the building where Azhar was fielding media queries, eager onlookers and residents, jostled to get in. Near his shanty, his mother, who accompanied him to the U.S., sat with local women. “Allah has finally heard our prayers. We have gone through a lot. I really wish everyone’s life gets better,” she said, noting the gaping difference between the poverty she sees and the world of riches and glamour she has just retuned from. As for what she saw at Los Angeles, she said, “I saw a big bear.” Until late afternoon, Rubiana and her family had not returned home. “A gift for every Indian” PTI reports: “This award is a gift for every Indian,” said Oscar-winning sound engineer Resul Pookutty, as he arrived in Mumbai on Thursday to a rousing welcome along with Slumdog Millionaire actor Irrfan Khan. Pookutty and Khan were garlanded by enthusiastic fans amidst the beating of drums. Overwhelmed by the euphoric scenes outside the international airport, Kerala-born Pookutty, who won the coveted award for sound mixing, said, “I never expected such a grand welcome.” Khan said, “I am lucky to be appreciated for my work.”

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India tops World hunger chart

February 27, 2009 at 4:07 am (news) (, , , )

India is failing its rural poor with 230 million people being undernourished — the highest for any country in the world. Malnutrition accounts for nearly 50% of child deaths in India as every third adult (aged 15-49 years) is reported to be thin (BMI less than 18.5). According to the latest report on the state of food insecurity in rural India, more than 1.5 million children are at risk of becoming malnourished because of rising global food prices. The report said that while general inflation declined from a 13-year high exceeding 12% in July 2008 to less than 5% by the end of January 2009, the inflation for food articles doubled from 5% to over 11% during the same period. Foodgrain harvest during 2008-09 is estimated to be a record 228 million tonnes. However, the requirement for the national population would exceed 250 million tonnes by 2015. India ranks 94th in the Global Hunger Index of 119 countries, the report said. Brought out by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the report points to some staggering figures. More than 27% of the world’s undernourished population lives in India while 43% of children (under 5 years) in the country are underweight. The figure is among the highest in the world and is much higher than the global average of 25% and also higher than sub-Saharan Africa’s figure of 28%. More than 70% of children (under-5) suffer from anaemia and 80% of them don’t get vitamin supplements. According to the report, the proportion of anaemic children has actually increased by 6% in the past six years with 11 out of 19 states having more than 80% of its children suffering from anaemia. Percentage of women with chronic energy deficiency is stagnant at 40% over six years with the proportion in fact increasing in Assam, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana during the same period. The report said that the ambitious Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) was failing. “Apart from failing to serve the intended goal of reduction of food subsidies, the TPDS also led to greater food insecurity for large sections of the poor and the near-poor. These targeting errors arise due to imperfect information, inexact measurement of household characteristics, corruption and inefficiency,” the report said. It added, “Another problem of the TPDS was the issue of quantity of grain that a household would be entitled to. The TPDS initially restricted the allotments to BPL households to 10 kg per month. For a family of five, this amounts to 2 kg per capita. Using the ICMR recommended norm of 330 grams per day, the requirement per person per month would be 11 kg and that for a family of five would be 55 kg.” The Union Budget of 2001 increased the allotment to 20 kg per month and raised it further to 35 kg in April 2002. The report also questioned the government’s definitions of hunger and poverty. “The fact that calorie deprivation is increasing during a period when the proportion of rural population below the poverty line is claimed to be declining rapidly, highlights the increasing disconnect between official poverty estimates and calorie deprivation,” it said. “Nutrition security involving physical, economic and social access to balanced diet, clean drinking water, sanitation and primary healthcare for every child, woman and man is fundamental to providing all our citizens an opportunity for a healthy and productive life,” said Prof M S Swaminathan. Almost 80% of rural households do not have access to toilets within their premises. The figure exceeds 90% in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and MP. The proportion of stunted children (under-5) at 48% is again among the highest in the world. Every second child in the country is stunted, according to the health ministry’s figures. Around 30% of babies in India are born underweight.

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Service tax exercise duty reduced

February 25, 2009 at 4:21 am (news) (, , , )

he government on Tuesday announced a reduction of 2 percentage points in the rates of excise duty and service tax, bringing relief to industry and aam aadmi in an atmosphere of economic slowdown. The Central excise duty stands reduced from 10 to 8 per cent while the service tax has been brought down from 12 to 10 per cent from midnight on Tuesday night. The rate of excise duty on goods attracting ad valorem rates of 8 and 4 per cent will remain unchanged.These announcements were made by the External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who holds charge of Finance, during his reply to the discussion on the interim budget 2009-2010. He said the general reduction in excise duty rates by 4 percentage points, from December 7, 2008 would extend beyond March 31, 2009.The rate of excise duty on bulk cement has also been reduced from 10 per cent or Rs. 290 per tonne to 8 per cent or Rs. 230, whichever is higher.
To provide relief to the power sector, naphtha imported for power generation has been fully exempted from basic customs duty. This exemption, already available up to March 31, 2009, is now being extended.
“The government is keen on restoring business confidence in the services sector. It is also our objective that the dispersal between CENVAT rate and the service tax rate is reduced with a view to moving towards the Uniform Goods and Service Tax,” the Minister said.The Lok Sabha later approved the Interim Budget, including the Finance Bill, 2009 and related Appropriation Bills, by voice vote, amidst a walkout by the Opposition National Democratic Alliance and the Left parties. The fiscal sops given to provide stimulus to the slowing down economy will be effective from midnight and will have revenue implications of over Rs. 29,000 crore.

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Dollar dreams turned down

February 19, 2009 at 2:38 am (news) (, )

In a state like ours, where every family could boast of at least one member studying in the US, UK or Australia, recession has changed everything. The situation is grim for many city students who are pursuing their MS, MBA or PHD abroad and are finding it difficult to find work there. Their dollar dreams have turned sour with many even unable to bag odd jobs to pay off their tuition fees. Moreover, with no promise of a job back home in India, these students are feeling stranded. Lured by the “one-year work permit,” many students started applying for overseas education. But for most who haven’t found a job, even with that one year coming to an end, the future looks bleak. K. Phaninder, a student studying his MS Biotechnology at New Mexico State University, says, “There are no jobs here. If we don’t manage to get placed within a year after graduation, we will be forced to come back to India. After spending a fortune and taking a loan to support my course fees, it hurts to come back. Even if I do get a job in India, it’ll take forever for me to repay the loan.” Hyderabadi students in the UK too have the same sorry tale to tell with a new rule being introduced. Unlike before, where students could stay back for a year to find a job, students are now being asked to go back to their homeland, apply for a work visa from there. Only if they do manage to get a job, they are allowed to come back. This rule has made it all the more difficult for Indian students, who have to wait for months before they even hear a word from prospective employers. “There is a shortage of jobs in the UK and most of my seniors are still unemployed,” exclaims Abhilash David, a student from the city pursuing his Masters in Cardiff University, UK. “Some are even forced to take up door to door marketing. Most students who have completed their MBA this year still don’t have permanent, professional jobs. They are surviving with jobs in restaurants or departmental stores,” he adds. Australia, which emerged as the hottest educational destination, has gotten stricter than ever. With locals themselves struggling for jobs, the government has made it mandatory for overseas students to return to their home countries and apply for jobs. “It has been six months since I finished my course and I am still looking for a job. Students who will pass out this year will have to go back to India. Fortunately, the old rule applies for my batch,” says Sreelekha P., who finished her masters from NSWU, Sydney. Consultancies in the city too have a word of caution for students who want to study abroad. Kaval Preet Singh, executive director of Vings Consultancy says, “We explain the situation in US and UK to the students clearly before they apply. We tell them not to have too many expectations in the current situation. Only after we have given them the necessary statutory warning and brief them about new rules, we continue with the application processes.” Many consultancies are trying to stem down the tide of rising panic. “We tell students that this grim situation will not remain the same for long. As there aren’t many jobs here in India too, it makes sense for them to earn a masters degree which will make them more employable and come back,” says V. Balakrishna from Ace Consultancy

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LTTE suicide bomber kills 23 in Sri Lanka

February 10, 2009 at 4:24 am (news) (, , )

At least 23 people were killed when a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber Monday exploded herself among civilians fleeing Sri Lanka’s war zone, the authorities said.

The Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) said the woman bomber detonated herself amid frightened civilians entering the areas held by the army in the northern district of Mullaitivu.

Military officials said the bomber belonged to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whose guerrillas are now holed up in an area measuring less than 200 sq km by the Sri Lankan military.

The MCNS statement said the suicide bomber ‘blew herself at an IDP (Internally Displaced People) rescue centre’ north of Vishwamadhu around 11.30 a.m.

It said 15 soldiers and eight civilians were killed in the devastating blast. At least 24 soldiers and 40 civilians were also injured.

Most of the civilian dead were women and children. Three of the soldiers who died were women.

Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said women soldiers were screening female civilians when the suicide bomber exploded herself.

The horrific bombing drew condemnation from both the United Nations and the US.

‘The UN reiterates that civilians must be distinguished from combatants and protected from the fighting,’ it said in a statement. ‘It calls again on the LTTE to separate its forces from civilians under its control.’

A statement from the US embassy described the bombing as an ‘apparent effort by the LTTE to discourage Tamils from leaving the conflict area’.

It urged the LTTE to allow all civilians freedom of movement.

A former military nerve centre of the LTTE, Mullaitivu town, located some 350 km northeast of Colombo, was captured by the military last month after months of fierce fighting.

Vishwamadhu and the adjoining Suthanthirapuram areas are on the east of the A-35 road that links Paranthan and Mullaitivu towns.

Nanayakkara said the wounded civilians were rushed to army medical centres before being transferred to hospitals in Vavuniya and Anuradhapura towns.

The air force brought at least 35 injured people to Anuradhapura. Fifteen of the injured were children.

‘This is yet another desperate attempt by the LTTE to prevent thousands of displaced civilians from fleeing the areas controlled by them and enter the government-held areas,’ Nanayakkara said.

The suicide attack came at a time when pro-LTTE websites allege that scores of civilians were killed in the rapidly shrinking LTTE areas due to shelling and aerial attacks.

The military says the Tamil Tigers are holding thousands of civilians as human shield in a desperate bid to prevent a final assault on their jungle hideouts.

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