First community toilet for transgenders inaugurated in Bhopal

first_imgMadhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Monday inaugurated a toilet in the Mangalwara area for the exclusive use of transgenders. Mr. Chouhan announced awareness of government schemes would be created among them. He said he would convene a ‘third gender panchayat’ at his residence to redress their problems and that the state government would provide an additional assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh to members of the community for constructing houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.“The third gender is yet to get the respect it deserves. My government will ensure equal rights to them. The administration will also be directed to take stringent action against anti-social elements that defame the community,” he said. Bhopal Mayor Alok Sharma claimed the toilet, constructed by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC), was the first of its kind in the country. A senior BMC official said the toilet, built at a cost of Rs 35 lakh, also has a “change room/make-up room.”Different signs for men, women, handicapped and transgender people are emblazoned on the doors of the toilet. Transgender people live in large numbers in the Mangalwara locality.last_img read more

Tejashwi Yadav accuses BJP of harassing his father Lalu Prasad

first_imgLeader of the Opposition in the Bihar Assembly and jailed Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav said in Patna on Tuesday that Had his father joined hands with the BJP, he would have been Raja Harishchandra. He also alleged that the BJP was constantly “conspiring against and harassing” his father and family.His comments came two days after Prasad was convicted in a fodder scam case.“If my father had been a palturam [betrayer] like Nitish Kumar, all this chara [fodder] would have been bhaichara [brotherhood] for the BJP, said the younger son of Prasad. He also hit out at his political opponents for commenting that after the RJD chief’s incarceration, there would be bhagdar [confusion] in the party.‘People are outraged’“Those who think that the RJD will be finished are hugely mistaken…people of Bihar are outraged and they will give a strong reply to this,” he said. “Jisko janata ne mandate diya woh jail mein hain, jisko nakar diya woh sarkar mein hai  [to whom people have given their mandate is in jail, but those voted out are in power], Mr. Yadav said.Asked about his next step, he said the family would move the Ranchi High Court against the special CBI court’s verdict. “It’s a conspiracy against Laluji and our family…we will move the High Court and are confident of getting justice there,” he said.“Earlier too, the CBI sent Lalu Prasad to jail in a disproportionate assets case but we got justice from the higher court…the same will happen in this case too,” he said.Mr. Yadav also held a meeting with senior party leaders Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, State party chief Ram Chandra Purve, Alok Mehta, Jagdanand Singh and others at his 10 Circular Road residence on Tuesday afternoon.Later, speaking to journalists, Mr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said: “All party leaders, legislators and MPs will be meeting on January 6 to chalk out the party’s future strategy…we will throw out this government in 2018 itself.” “Party workers and leaders are geared for the next battle and will not wait for the 2019 or 2020 elections,” he added.No change in jail normsMeanwhile, sources told The Hindu that the Jharkhand government had rejected the request of RJD leaders to relax the jail manual norms to enable Lalu Prasad to meet “as many people as and when he wished” inside the Birsa Munda Central jail where he is lodged. Some RJD leaders had requested Chief Minister Raghuvar Das to make some concessions on the ground that the RJD chief “was a mass leader and also not keeping well.”last_img read more

Did U.P. hospital perform cataract surgery in torch light? probe ordered

first_imgA probe has been ordered into reports claiming that 32 cataract patients were operated upon in torch light for want of steady electricity supply at a State-run facility in Unnao.According to the reports, the operations were done at the community health centre (CHC) in Nawabganj on Monday in torch light as there was no electricity or power back-up there.Chief Medical Officer Rajendra Prasad said the acting district magistrate has ordered a probe into the matter and the organisation entrusted with the task could be blacklisted if found guilty.Some relatives of the patients complained that they were not provided with any beds after the procedure, and that they were made to lie on floors despite extreme cold weather conditions.last_img read more

Proposal to recognise Marathi as classical language being pursued, says Maharashtra CM

first_imgMaharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has assured that his government is pursuing the demand that Marathi be granted the status of `classical language’ with the Union government.Mr. Fadnavis inaugurated the annual Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan (All India Marathi literary conference) here on Friday night. “The proposal that Marathi be recognised as a classical language is before the Centre,” he said.The proposal was placed before a committee of linguistic experts, which approved it, and now it is under the consideration of the Union Ministry of Culture, the Maharashtra CM informed.He recalled the contribution of late Sayajirao Gaekwad III, ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Baroda (now Vadodara), in the country’s freedom movement. Gaekwad was a visionary, reformist ruler who made primary education compulsory, allowed remarriage of widows, established the world-famous M S University of Baroda, founded Bank of Baroda, and started railway services in his State, Fadnavis said. Gaekwad was also instrumental in organising the Marathi Sahitya Sammelan in Vadodara in 1909, 1921 and 1934, Fadnavis noted.Speaking on the occasion, Maharashtra Education Minister Vinod Tawde offered to host the next year’s conference at Bhilar village in Satara district of western Maharashtra.The president of this year’s conference is Marathi writer Sripad Joshi. Gujarati writer and Jnanpith award winner Raghuveer Chaudhary and chancellor of M S University Shubhangini Raje Gaekwad were among those present.last_img

IAF chopper crashes near Kedarnath, all onboard safe

first_imgSix persons on board an IAF helicopter escaped unhurt on Tuesday as it crashed near the Himalayan shrine of Kedarnath. A MI-17 chopper of the IAF crashed while landing at the helipad in Kedarnath, Rudraprayag District Magistrate Mangesh Ghildiyal said. All six people on board ejected safely as the crash took place shortly before touching down at the helipad, he said. The chopper was carrying heavy mechanical equipment from Guptkashi to Kedarnath for ongoing reconstruction work there, the DM said. The crash occurred at 8.20 AM, he said. A court of inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident, official sources said in Delhi.last_img read more

Odisha Cong. MLA to embrace Buddhism

first_imgUpset over atrocities against Dalits, Congress’ Koraput MLA Krushna Chandra Sagaria has decided to embrace Buddhism.Mr. Sagaria, his entire family, including three brothers, will formally convert to Buddhism at a special function to be held at Burja village under Laxmipur block of Koraput district on Saturday.The Congress MLA has filed an affidavit in this regard before Executive Magistrate, Koraput. “The kind of discrimination being faced by people belonging to lower castes across the country has pained me a lot. People worship non-living objects while they show no regard for fellow human beings who are alive,” Mr. Sagaria told The Hindu over phone.He said it was for the same reason that Bhimrao Ambedkar had also embraced Buddhism. ‘Return to Buddhism’ “I don’t consider embracing Buddhism as conversion. It will rather be my return to Buddhism. Remnants of Buddhist culture can be found across Koraput. I am a firm believer that my ancestors were followers of Buddhism,” he said.Approximately 3,000 people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from Balangir, Koraput and Kalahandi districts will attend the function being organised by Mr. Sagaria.last_img read more

Haryana to start 31 government colleges for girls

first_imgHaryana government has decided to start 31 government colleges for girls from July, said Education Minister Ram Bilas Sharma. The minister said this at an event here on Thursday, adding that all the 31 colleges, till the time their construction is complete, would function from “vacant buildings of government schools or other organisations” starting July 2018.“Till the construction of college buildings gets completed, these colleges would run in vacant buildings of government schools or other organisations so that girls would not have to travel far places for education,” Mr. Sharma said. Mr. Sharma further said that the government has been making concerted effort to promote education for girls in the state.last_img read more

NGT junks plea to retain wall on elephant corridor in Assam

first_imgThe National Green Tribunal has dismissed a review petition by a refinery in Assam for retaining a concrete boundary wall with barbed wire on a part of a reserve forest, stating that elephant corridors need to be protected.Dismissing a review petition filed by Numaligarh Refinery Limited, a Bench headed by NGT chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel said, “The counsel for the review petitioner submits that the entire wall need not be demolished as the same is not a part of the Deopahar Reserve Forest. We are of the view that in view of categorical finding already recorded by the tribunal, that the area where the wall came up and the area where proposed township is to come up is a part of the Deopahar Reserve Forest, rehearing on merits is not permissible.”The NGT gave its order after hearing a plea filed by Assam-based green activist Rohit Choudhury, who had sought directions to demolish the 2.2 km wall constructed by the refinery near the reserve as it was obstructing the movement of elephants.Based on an earlier petition by Mr. Choudhury, the NGT had in August 2016 asked NRL to demolish the wall around an extended part of its township acquired for residential complexes. The green panel had also imposed an environmental compensation of ₹25 lakh on the refinery for constructing a boundary wall for a golf course, that had led to the flattening of a hill measuring 5 hectares and destruction of forest.Close to National Park The refinery, close to Kaziranga National Park and about 260 km east of Guwahati, was expected to demolish the wall within a month. It wasn’t until March this year the Golaghat district administration and forest department demolished about 220 metres of the wall.But the refinery filed the review petition saying that the tribunal had not taken into account the clearance of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority for the project.Noting the death of 12 elephants due to the “barbed-wire and razor’s edge fencing” atop the boundary wall, the tribunal said it was clear that the NRL constructed the barrier in 2011 in the way of an elephant corridor and encroaching upon Deopahar as well as a no-development zone the Ministry of Environment and Forest had notified around Kaziranga National Park in 1996.Apart from the high-rise wall, the NGT noted that the refinery had flattened a tree-rich hill covering about 5 hectares to make a golf course without approval of the Centre or compensatory afforestation, “thereby leading to environmental degradation”. The NRL had in 1996 acquired 750 bighas (107.14 hectares) of land for its old township and secured it with a boundary wall. It acquired another 67 bighas (9.57 ha) of tea estate land in 2008 for expansion of the township.last_img read more

Starvation deaths: notice to Centre, Delhi govt.

first_imgThe Delhi High Court has sought response from the Centre and the Delhi government on a plea seeking directions to them to address issues related to starvation deaths, especially of children, in the capital.A Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice V.K. Rao sought the stand of Ministry of Home Affairs and the Delhi government on the issue raised in the petition which claims malnutrition and deaths due to starvation were more prevalent among slum dwellers as many of them do not have ration cards to access subsidised foodgrain.The Bench also directed that the Delhi government’s departments of Health and Family Welfare, Social Welfare as well as Women and Child Development be also made parties to the case.It has listed the case for further hearing on February 15, 2019.Address proofThe order came on the petition claiming that often the poor families living in slums do not have ration cards due to lack of address proof. It contended that it should not be a ground for denial of subsidised food to them.“Making food security conditional (to be given only to a ration card holder) is a violation of the fundamental right to life under the Constitution,” the petition said.The plea was initially moved in the Supreme Court, which on September 7 asked the petitioner to first approach the Delhi High Court.last_img read more

Orthopaedic soft goods market to grow at 15% to 18%: Rajiv Mistry

first_imgRajiv Mistry, founder and managing director, Ascent Meditech Limited, a leading player in Orthopaedics Soft Goods, mobility, wound-care and healthcare products, said on Thursday that the Orthopaedics Soft Goods (OSGs) market will grow at the rate of 15% to 18% in the country. Mr. Mistry was speaking at the launch of the company’s e-commerce portal at Kamala Mills. “We will initially focus on 110 products out of the total portfolio of over 320 products. The product range is segregated into various categories and will cater to the requirements of the consumers,” he said.He said India could learn from global players on how quality must be kept at a par with the changing trends. He said, “Changing trends in fabrics, materials, design, lifestyle trends, should be taken into account. Our research and development team takes inputs from doctors, analyses them and studies their feasibility.” He said the industry was at a nascent stage and that awareness could help change the situation. He said, “Earlier, OSG was prescribed to critical patients by the doctors. Now, people can buy OSGs for pain management at home. There are now products for the knee, ankle, wrist, elbow, neck, and back too. An OSG can be used in injuries caused by fractures, muscle pain, and other orthopedic issues.”last_img read more

‘Stop felling trees for making chariots for Puri Rath Yatra’

first_imgConsidering the huge destruction of trees due to Fani cyclone, the Vedic Science Research Centre (VSRC), Odisha, wants Puri’s Sri Jagannath temple administration and the Odisha government to stop the cutting of a large number of trees in future for the construction of new chariots for the annual Rath Yatra.An organisation of ethno-biologists, VSRC studies biological and environmental consciousness in ancient India and its scriptures. “While lakhs of mature trees have fallen due to the cyclone in Puri, as in the past, timber of large trees is being used for construction of three new chariots for the upcoming Rath Yatra in July. This is giving a wrong message to the masses that trees can be felled indiscriminately,” said its senior ethno-biologist Sachidananda Padhi.Though it is claimed that every year saplings are being planted to be used as timber for future chariots, the real loss to environment because of their cutting can never be recovered, said Santosh Dash of the VSRC. Its members feel Fani has given a chance to people and leaders of Odisha to rethink about the tradition of cutting down trees every year to construct new chariots for the Rath Yatra.Consider this. Every year around a whopping 15,000 cubic feet of timber is used to construct three new chariots in Puri, say researchers. This tradition demeans the value of trees in the minds of common mass, who fail to understand that trees take years to grow and mature and they are saviours of life on earth, feels the VSRC.last_img read more

Trio of big black holes spotted in galaxy smashup

first_imgAstronomers staring across the universe have spotted a startling scene: three supermassive black holes orbiting close to one another, two of them just a few hundred light-years apart. The trio, housed in a pair of colliding galaxies, may help scientists hunting for ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves.Most giant galaxies harbor at their centers a supermassive black hole millions or billions of times as massive as the sun. If gas falls into the object, it can heat up and glow, turning the region just outside the black hole into a quasar—a brilliant galactic nucleus that can outshine the entire Milky Way.Astronomer Roger Deane of the University of Cape Town and his colleagues have been watching a particular quasar, known as SDSS J1502+1115, in the constellation Boötes. Other astronomers had found that the object, located 4.3 billion light-years from Earth, possessed two supermassive black holes, each the center of a large galaxy smashing into another. The black holes are at least 24,000 light-years apart.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(*)Deane wanted to confirm their existence, so he used an intercontinental array of radio dishes that yields even sharper views than the Hubble Space Telescope. Lo and behold, one of the black holes turned out to be two. “We were incredibly surprised,” says Deane, whose team reports its findings online today in Nature.If the two black holes composing the newfound pair are equally distant from Earth, they’re just 450 light-years apart and orbit each other every 4 million years. Triple black holes are rare, and the others discovered so far all feature black holes that are much farther apart. The new pair is the second “tightest” binary black hole known; a decade ago, other astronomers found two supermassive black holes separated by about 24 light-years.”It’s very good to see another object,” says Greg Taylor of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, an astronomer who helped discover the first tight pair of black holes. With only one tight pair known, he says, it was difficult to assess how common even tighter black hole pairs are, which are crucial in the hunt for gravitational waves—a subtle type of radiation predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Two supermassive black holes orbiting just a fraction of a light-year apart should emit such waves and then give off a burst of them when the black holes merge.No known binary black hole is tight enough to emit detectable gravitational radiation. But all orbiting black holes slowly spiral together, because they lose energy as their gravity kicks away stars. Deane says it’s encouraging that his team discovered the new pair after searching just six galaxies. “Either we got really, really lucky, or these are a lot more common than previously found,” he says. So the hunt is on for tighter systems that emit gravitational waves.In time, the nearby Andromeda galaxy will hit the Milky Way, and the supermassive black holes at each galaxy’s center will form a duo that future observers can scrutinize. If you can wait a few billion years, says Harvard University astronomer Abraham Loeb, “there will be a binary [black hole] system right next door.”last_img read more

White lies keep society intact

first_imgMost of us tell minor lies on a daily basis—saying your partner looks great when, really, they’re having a bad hair day, or nodding in feigned agreement at your colleague’s latest political rant. Such white lies, though, don’t just help avoid scuffles or hurt feelings; they’re also an integral part of shaping how communities form, according to a new study. A group of computational scientists developed a mathematical model of how groups of people grow and change over time, and then added in a new variable: the occurrence of lies. Big antisocial lies—like lying about theft or injuring someone—led to the complete disintegration of communities, with each person in the model eventually looking out only for themselves. But smaller white lies—even at a high rate of occurrence—had a different effect on the model. People formed small, tight cliques with occasional links between groups. And these connections, it turned out, were facilitated by people who told the most white lies, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The mathematical model, the authors admit, is a simplified version of reality; it assumes a constant rate of lies throughout time and among all the relationships a person has. But the takeaway is clear, they say: Lies can be good for society.last_img read more

U.S. government set to announce surge of help for Ebola epidemic

first_imgA week after sharp criticism met the U.S. military’s announcement that it planned to help Liberia combat its Ebola epidemic with a “deployable hospital” that has a mere 25 beds, U.S. President Barack Obama tomorrow plans to unveil dramatic new efforts to assist the West African countries besieged by the disease. (Update: The White House on Tuesday morning released a fact sheet outlining its planned response. It will be coordinated by a U.S. Army general stationed at a new command center in Monrovia with an estimated 3000 troops. The Department of Defense has asked to “reprogram” $500 million toward the effort.)Obama will be visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to discuss the U.S. response, At about the same time, a U.S. Senate hearing on Ebola will also take place with testimony from key public officials and Ebola survivor Ken Brantly.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(*)Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke with ScienceInsider on Friday and said she expected there would be “a substantial surge” in the U.S. government’s assistance. She particularly wants to see more attention paid to providing infected people with good care. “There’s a very, very wide variability in what’s being delivered as clinical care,” says Lurie, noting that case fatality rates differ dramatically  in different locations. “We know that simple interventions are likely to save the most lives.”Lurie stresses that in the absence of proper, basic care it becomes exceedingly difficult to determine whether any biomedical interventions actually work. ZMapp, an experimental cocktail of Ebola antibodies, has been given to seven people (two of whom died) and received enormous attention despite a complete absence of clinical data that suggests the treatment helped. A researcher familiar with blood tests from two of the five surviving ZMapp recipients who spoke with ScienceInsider, but asked not to be identified, said the drops in their levels of Ebola virus mirrored what was seen in monkey experiments with the antibody cocktail. But without being able to compare the clinical care they received—leaving aside the fact that there was no untreated control group—the data have little meaning.Michael Callahan, a clinician at Massachusetts General Hospital in in Boston who consults with HHS about Ebola and has responded to past outbreaks, said that “many” people die from Ebola even though their natural immune responses are driving down levels of the virus. Callahan notes that they do not die from Ebolavirus itself, but succumb to what he refers to as “secondary events,” such as low levels of potassium, wasting from vomiting and diarrhea, and bacterial infections. And many clinics in West Africa do not have the simple devices that exist and can safely monitor blood electrolytes, organ dysfunction, and acid-base balances. “The point is critically important for the current outbreak,” says Callahan, who believes proper care will drive reported case fatality rates of as high as 75% “down into the low 40% range.”What Lurie says will be a “substantial surge” in the U.S. government’s response likely will also include sending staff to train more people how to safely care for Ebola patients. One idea being considered is to teach people who survived an Ebola infection to help with caregiving as they presumably will be immune to a second infection. “It’s a very important question and something we’ve had lots of discussion about,” says Lurie, who said she spoke with a Liberian public health worker who is putting together a registry of survivors. “It’s very challenging for them to go back to their communities,” Lurie says. “I’m very intrigued by the idea of putting together a training program with people who are otherwise having a hard time.” She notes that jobs are also difficult to find in Liberia, and this could give otherwise underemployed people additional skills.In a widely discussed op-ed The New York Times ran on 11 September, epidemiologist Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, argued that on top of more support, the global response to the Ebola epidemic required far better coordination. “Many countries are pledging medical resources, but donations will not result in an effective treatment system if no single group is responsible for coordinating them,” wrote Osterholm, who formerly was a bioterrorism adviser to HHS.Osterholm suggested in the op-ed that the United Nations coordinate the response, but he told ScienceInsider he was just floating one idea and hoped the global community would find a leader who understood not just the medical issues, but supply chain, and tactical and logistical movement. “I don’t want the world’s best treatment doctor for Ebola,” Osterholm says. “You need to have someone in charge who can make command decisions and be the spokesperson to really say what’s needed and not needed.”Osterholm says that at the moment, the U.S. government and every other well-meaning country or nongovernmental organization trying to help operates without a master battle plan. “We don’t need 50 sergeants in the room trying to run D-Day,” Osterholm says. “Right now, everything moves with the speed of water in a Minnesota winter. That’s exactly what we can’t do. We need to be able to move quickly and at the same time pace ourselves. This is a fast marathon. That’s been missing completely.”*The Ebola Files: Given the current Ebola outbreak, unprecedented in terms of number of people killed and rapid geographic spread, Science and Science Translational Medicine have made a collection of research and news articles on the viral disease freely available to researchers and the general public.*Update, 16 September, 11:45 a.m.: This item was updated to provide a link to the White House fact sheet.last_img read more

Study of big bang’s afterglow sheds light on evolution of universe

first_imgThe leading scientific theory of how the universe evolved has again proved accurate—for some, frustratingly so. The latest study of the afterglow of the big bang—the so-called cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation—confirms even more precisely the standard model of cosmology, researchers with Europe’s Planck spacecraft reported today at a press conference in Ferrara, Italy. That’s a victory for the theory, but it leaves researchers with no discrepancies that might point to a deeper understanding.”I was hoping to find an anomaly,” says Nazzareno Mandolesi, a cosmologist with Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics in Bologna who described the new results at the press conference.The CMB is radiation that has streamed through the universe since the first atoms formed about 380,000 years after the big bang. Thanks to the expansion of the universe, that radiation has cooled and stretched to microwave wavelengths. The temperature of the microwaves varies very slightly across the sky, as does their polarization. By studying those tiny variations, the distribution of galaxies, and other factors, cosmologists have pieced together a recipe for the universe: 5% ordinary matter, the material that forms stars and planets; 27% dark matter, the mysterious stuff whose gravity holds the galaxies together; and 68% bizarre space-stretching dark energy.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(*)Launched in 2009, Planck scrutinized the CMB until October 2013. In March 2013, Planck researchers presented the analysis of their first year’s worth of temperature data, which exquisitely confirmed the predictions of the standard theory of cosmology. Still, there were uncertainties in the measurements and slight tensions with the results from Planck’s less precise predecessor, NASA’s Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), a spacecraft that collected data from 2001 to 2010. Now, the Planck team has analyzed its full data set, and the uncertainties have come down and the tensions with the WMAP results have eased, Mandolesi says.For example, WMAP and Planck had disagreed by about 1% to 1.5% on their absolute temperature measurements, Mandolesi explains. A recalibration reduces the mismatch to less than 0.3%, within the statistical uncertainties, he says. Regarding the parameters of the cosmological theory, Planck researchers derived a slightly longer age and a slightly smaller current expansion rate for the universe than WMAP showed, Mandolesi says. But with more data, the numbers have shifted slightly and now agree to within the experimental uncertainties, he says.The findings aren’t all more of the same, says David Spergel, a cosmologist at Princeton University who does not work on Planck. The new results include maps of the CMB’s polarization (as seen in the image above), and that polarization data put limits on some explanations of what dark matter might be, Spergel notes. In particular, Planck rules out certain models in which dark matter particles might annihilate one another at particularly high rates. Such models were invented to explain an excess of high positrons seen by detectors such as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer aboard the International Space Station.The results do not touch on the most controversial claim in cosmology in decades. In March, researchers working with BICEP2, a specialized telescope at the South Pole, reported that they had detected faint, pinwheel-like swirls in the polarization of the CMB when mapped across a small patch of sky. Such swirls, or B modes, could be a sign of gravitational waves rippling through the universe a split second after the big bang and proof that it underwent a bizarre exponential growth spurt known as inflation. However, in September Planck researchers released a sky map that showed that much of the BICEP signal likely comes from dust within our galaxy.Many people are eager to know whether the BICEP team’s claim of spotting B modes will survive the joint analysis with the Planck team. “We’ve advanced a lot with the work, and we’re writing up the paper,” says Jan Tauber, a Planck project scientist with the European Space Agency in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. Tauber declined to say when the results of that analysis would be announced publicly. “What you can say with certainty is that [the strength] of their measurement is going to go down,” he says.To determine how much of the BICEP signal is due to dust, researchers have to compare or “cross-correlate” BICEP’s map of the patch of the sky with Planck’s map of the polarized emissions from dust. Some researchers outside the two teams have already tried to do that and have shown that the two maps are largely the same, says Uroš Seljak, a cosmologist at the University of California, Berkeley. That suggests the purported signal is mostly from dust. Planck by itself likely does not have the sensitivity to detect gravitational waves, Seljak says.Some cosmologists suspect that the BICEP signal will disappear altogether and that the joint Planck-BICEP analysis will set only an upper limit on the strength of the B-mode signal. Such a limit could rule out certain simple theoretical models of what drove inflation, Spergel says: “That’s not as much fun as discovering gravitational waves, but it’s progress.”*Correction, 1 December, 8:18 p.m.: The percentages for dark matter and dark energy were switched; this has been corrected.last_img read more

Galaxy’s central black hole generates x-ray surprises

first_imgSEATTLE, WASHINGTON—When you’re waiting for a bus, it always seems as if nothing comes along for ages, then three arrive all at once. Something similar happened last year to x-ray astronomers waiting for cosmic fireworks when a cloud of gas and dust passed close to the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The fireworks never erupted but the researchers, using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, serendipitously caught three other rare events: two bright x-ray flares and emissions from a rare, highly magnetized star, they reported here on 5 January at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.The gas cloud, known as G2, was calculated to come close to the central black hole—known as Sagittarius A*, or Sgr A*—in spring 2014. Astronomers were expecting a huge increase in emissions from the region at many different wavelengths as G2 ploughed through the disk of material orbiting the black hole, or perhaps was even swallowed by it. But for reasons that astronomers are still arguing vociferously over, nothing happened. “We really expected to see a bow shock [when G2 hit], but we really didn’t see it,” says astronomer Daryl Haggard of Amherst College in Massachusetts, who presented the team’s results yesterday.But Haggard and her team, who like many others had booked copious amounts of observing time to witness the event, didn’t come away empty-handed. First, somewhat to their annoyance, a magnetar—a type of neutron star with a very strong magnetic field–exploded into view very close to Sgr A* with a burst of x-rays. For a time it was brighter than Sgr A* and the researchers were concerned it might spoil their view of G2’s arrival. But in the end, Haggard says, it was an interesting event in itself: There are only about 30 known magnetars and this was the first anywhere near Sgr A*. If it remains bright, she says, they may be able to see it move around the black hole and use it “to probe this very busy neighborhood.”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(*)Then, in early 2014, a bright x-ray flare erupted from close to Sgr A*. Such flares can be common but this one was the brightest ever recorded. “It was really exciting,” Haggard says. It couldn’t have been caused by G2, she adds, because its short duration was characteristic of something much closer in to Sgr A* than G2.But what caused it? Using models of the area around Sgr A*, the researchers were able to suggest two possibilities: that it could have been caused by an asteroid that strayed too close to the black hole and was torn apart, its remains being heated to enormous temperature before slipping below Sgr A*’s event horizon; or it could be caused by field lines of the black hole’s powerful magnetic field snapping apart and reconnecting, a process—common on the sun—which releases strong bursts of energy. “It’s an unsolved mystery,” Haggard says.That flare was followed by another one in October 2014, this time half as bright and also unexplained. “Such rare and extreme events give us a unique chance to use a mere trickle of infalling matter to understand the physics of one of the most bizarre objects in our galaxy,” said Gabriele Ponti of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, a co-author on the study, in a statement.Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says such observations are valuable because supermassive black holes are common throughout the universe. “Our theories about what happens at the center of a quasar are all about things falling into a supermassive black hole,” he says. “This is the first time we can see such things close up, although on a smaller scale. It’s a fair bet that this is happening at a larger scale elsewhere in the universe.”last_img read more

Affordable Housing in India

first_imgWhen real estate developer Xrbia recently launched a 170-acre housing project in Hinjwadi, a suburb on the outskirts of Pune in Maharashtra, all the 3,400 apartment units were sold within a week. The biggest unit in this apartment complex was 550 square feet and the smallest was close to 250 square feet. The units were priced at Rs. 22 lakh (around $40,000) and Rs. 9 lakh ($16,000) respectively.Pointing to the quick sale of these homes, Rajesh Krishnan, managing director and CEO of Brick Eagle, a Mumbai-based land banking firm that acquires land and promotes affordable housing in partnership with developers, says: “In a way, this shows the demand-supply gap (in the affordable housing segment in India). People physically queue up under the sun to apply for allotment of these houses.” He considers affordable housing in India to be homes that cost less than $40,000.There are other definitions, too. The ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation (MHUPA) defines affordable housing for the middle-income group and below as one where the equated monthly installment (EMI) or rent does not exceed 30%-40% of a resident’s gross monthly household income. Government officials have also created guidelines for the minimum size of the units. According to the Bangalore-based Value and Budget Housing Corporation (VBHC), which is headed by ex-Citibank employees Jaithirth (Jerry) Rao and P.S. Jayakumar, affordable housing costs within three-and-a-half times a resident’s annual household income. “We do have some homes in the Rs. 20 lakh price point, but by and large, most of our homes are within Rs. 6 lakh and Rs. 15 lakh,” says Jayakumar. “But the way it is defined generally, even homes between Rs. 25 lakh to Rs. 40 lakh are termed ‘affordable’.”Vikram Jain who heads the low-income housing practice at the Monitor Group, a global management consulting and merchant banking firm, notes that typically, when large builders talk of affordable housing in India, the homes are in the Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 25 lakh price range. “Our definition of low-income houses is those priced between Rs. 5 lakh and Rs. 10 lakh. We think people with a monthly household income of Rs. 12,500 and Rs. 25,000 can afford homes at this price point,” says Jain.Unmet DemandWhatever the definition of affordable housing, no one disputes that there is a huge shortage in this segment. A report by global property management firm Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) points out that according to MHUPA, the shortage of urban housing in India at the end of the 10th Five-Year Plan (2002-2007) was around 27.1 million dwellings to serve 66.3 million households. Eighty-eight percent of this shortage was estimated to be in the economically weaker section — households with monthly per capita expenditure of up to Rs. 3,300. The income group with monthly per capita expenditure of Rs. 3,301 to Rs. 7,300 accounted for 11% of the shortage. “During the 11th Five-Year Plan, (MHUPA) estimated that the total housing requirement in Indian cities (including backlog) by end-2012 will be to the tune of 26.53 million dwelling units (to serve) 75.01 million households,” the report notes. “If the current increase in backlog of housing is maintained, a minimum of 30 million additional houses will be required by 2020.”However, a recent report by the technical group on urban housing shortage (2012-2017) by MHUPA estimates that the when the 12th Plan (2012-2017) began this year, the housing shortage was down to 18.78 million. Industry analysts find this drop surprising. They point out that as mentioned in the new report, some of the parameters used to measure the housing shortage for 2012-2017 are in fact different from those used for the earlier projections. For instance, more recent census data has been used for the new report.“While I am glad that (MHUPA) has taken steps to revise the projections based on more recent data, I don’t think there is a genuine drop,” says Hariharan Ganesan, assistant vice president for research and real estate intelligence service (REIS) at JLL India. “The drop is only because of the methodology they have used. Just because MHUPA’s number (with respect to the housing shortage) has fallen, it does not mean that a good amount of supply has come up in affordable housing. We still have a long way to go.”So why is this demand not being met? Amitabh Kundu, professor at the school of social sciences at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, suggests that one reason is that the “concept of affordable housing has become highly politicized.” Kundu, who was a member of the High Level Task Force on Affordable Housing for All constituted by MHUPA, points out that, in the name of affordable housing, “everyone is being included, including the middle and the upper class. People are using the vehicle of affordable housing to open the housing market. But just by facilitating the housing market you are not going to help the poor. We need to have strong enabling policies and very clear targeting.”According to Kundu, the public-private partnership is a good model to cater to the housing needs at the bottom of the pyramid but “not the way it is happening at present.” He notes that currently, any builder can approach the government for subsidies in the name of constructing homes for the poor, and while there are stipulations, these are only on paper. “The private sector has to be engaged in a manner that results in proper targeting of the housing stock. You can’t have subsidies and then sell in a non-transparent manner.”A New ApproachTraditionally, the big developers in India have focused on the high-end and upper-middle segments of the housing market as these fetch high margins. During the slowdown of 2008-2009, the market for high-priced homes contracted, and many companies saw an opportunity in lower-income segments. That’s when the interest around mass “affordable housing” started gaining traction. Leading developers like DLF, Unitech, Tata Housing, Purvankara, Omaxe and others announced new projects in the Rs. 20 lakh per unit category. New players like Rao and Jayakumar also entered the fray. A recent entrant is Mahindra Lifespace, the real estate and infrastructure arm of auto-to-IT conglomerate the Mahindra Group. In addition, there are a host of smaller and regional players, including Foliage in Surat, Kanchan Ganga in Nagpur and Janaadhar in Bangalore.Ashutosh Limaye, head of research and real estate intelligence services at JLL India, says that this segment is too fragmented to arrive at a reasonable estimate of the total number of players. But he expects it to only grow. “There is huge unmet demand and I don’t see that contracting for the next 20 years. This is a sunrise sector and I expect it to increase multiple times.”But is some of the sheen wearing off? Take DLF, the country’s largest developer. In 2009, DLF announced that it would build 100,000 flats in the under Rs. 20 lakh per unit category across the major cities. However, in a recent interview with the business daily Economic Times, Rajeev Talwar, executive director at DLF, notes that “such projects are not viable anymore. In 2009 there was a downturn in the global economy … but now prices have gone up and it does not make much business sense to launch such projects.”Monitor group’s Jain does not agree. He feels that it is a mind-set issue, pointing out that under the traditional model, developers buy a huge piece of land in the city and begin constructing at the periphery of this property. They then wait for the price of rest of the land to appreciate before constructing further. “They treat land as an asset; construction is incidental. A developer buys land for say Rs. 100 a square foot, holds on to it for a few years and then sells it for as high as Rs, 10,000 a square foot. That’s the kinds of margins possible in this game.”The business model for affordable homes needs to be very different, some experts suggest. Developers need to buy land on the outskirts of the cities because it is cheaper there. More importantly, they need to treat this land as inventory. Cycle times must be short and all the units must be sold and constructed at one go. Further, the units need to be small in size and well designed for efficient use of space.In this model, the land cost is recovered through down payments and construction is financed by the construction-linked payments made by the customers. Jain says that this is a “risk-free” model. “One can get decent margins of around 20% while the IRR (internal rate of return) can be as high as 40%,” he notes. Pointing out that a car company does not wait for the cost of steel to increase so that it can inflate the price of automobiles, Jain suggests that developers need to bring in a manufacturing mindset if they want to be successful in the affordable and low-income housing segment. “Essentially it’s a volume game and not a margin game,” adds JLL’s Limaye. “Developers who don’t understand the nuances of this market find the going tough.”Multiple RoadblocksBut there are other issues, too. Take land itself, for instance. It is not easily available and the records are not properly maintained. This makes acquiring land a time consuming, cumbersome and expensive process. The JLL report points out that “With high population density, which is growing due to rapid urbanization, there is a huge demand for land in urban India. The real shortage has been further exacerbated artificially by poorly conceived central, state and municipal regulations. As a result, land prices in India are much higher than intrinsic levels that can support mass real estate developments.”Then there is the protracted process of obtaining a host of government approvals from multiple agencies before construction can begin. Sometimes this can take as long as 18 to 24 months. “This inordinate delay adds to the cost and can make the project unviable,” says Jayakumar, VBHC’s managing director. Speaking to the Times of India recently, VBHC chairman Rao pushed for a single-window clearance for the affordable housing segment. “The laws of the land are really drafted to encourage the construction of Rs. 1 crore villas or Rs. 80 lakh apartments,” Rao said. “They positively discourage homes that cost Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 15 lakh.” Noting that the government already has a single window clearance process for township projects that are spread over 100-plus acres, Limaye adds: “They need to do it for smaller projects, too.”Inadequate infrastructure is another challenge. As mentioned earlier, to keep costs down, developers typically must buy land in peri-urban locations. But roads and the public transportation system in these areas are often not adequately developed, which make the developments unattractive to lower-income citizens who depend largely on public transportation to get around. In some cases, the developer also needs to provide the last mile connectivity for basic amenities like power and water, adding additional costs.“Land should also come with physical infrastructure, such as access to public transport, sewage treatment lines, and water and power supplies. Without these, no project would be saleable,” says Brotin Banerjee, managing director and CEO of Tata Housing. “Right now, we don’t have enough serviced land around our cities for affordable housing to pick up,” notes Limaye. The increase in cost of construction also impacts this segment the most. According to industry estimates, construction costs account for more than 50% of the total price of affordable units, while in the case of luxury projects it is only around 20%.At the customer end, obtaining financing is a key constraint. One main reason for this is that this customer segment is employed largely in the unorganized sector and typically lacks documents that show proof of address, salary and other information that is mandatory to avail of loans from the frontline banks. “We find that 75% of our target consumers have regular income but don’t have the required documents,” notes Monitor’s Jain. “Housing finance organizations need to take a fundamentally different approach. They need to assess the customers through field verifications … and not the documents.”The Way AheadIndustry analysts and developers believe that if the government takes the initiative to remove the roadblocks, the segment could move to the fast track. They say that if infrastructure is developed outside the city limits, then the market forces will ensure steady supply. And within the city limits, granting of additional floor space index (FSI – the ratio between the built-up area and the plot area) can spur the sector. “The principal issue is that government polices come in the way of affordable housing. If land is available easily and the approvals process is speeded up, the rest of the issues can be managed,” says Jayakumar of VBHC.VBHC currently has two ongoing projects, one each in Bangalore and Chennai. Between the two, it has sold 1,400 units that are 350 square feet to 720 square feet in size at the average price of Rs. 2,200 per square foot. Of these, 400 have been handed over to the buyers. Going forward, the vision is to create a million homes across the country in 10 years. “We believe that it is possible to have a profitable proposition in affordable housing,” Jayakumar notes. “But the project and cost management needs to be very strong.” He adds that VHBC has invested substantially in technology that helps speed up construction. The company’s investors include housing finance company HDFC, Monitor Group and private equity firm Carlyle.Tata Housing, which earlier focused only on premium homes, launched a subsidiary called Smart Value Homes (SVH) in 2009 to address the middle and low-income segments. SVH has two brands — Shubh Griha, comprising apartments priced between Rs. 4 lakh and Rs. 10 lakh, and New Haven in the Rs. 12 lakh to Rs. 35 lakh price range. Currently, SVH is developing three townships in Gujarat. “We plan to take both the brands pan-India in the next two to three years,” says Brotin.According to Brotin, economies of scale and developing a standard product have helped his team to keep the costs low. “(We use) a lot of construction (related) technological innovations and specific design strategies, including adequate lighting and ventilation and optimal use of materials. (This has) helped us attain economies of scale (and) keep costs under control. We have also tied up with long-term supply contractors for steel, cement, tiles and other materials used in the business.”Affordable housing projects provide for low-risk, reasonable-return opportunities, notes Shailesh Ghorpade, CEO of Azure Capital Advisors. “Due to huge latent demand, saleability is not an issue for such projects. While margins are lower in affordable housing than in luxury projects, investment returns in terms of IRR are attractive due to faster sales velocity. This is a segment which balances the risk-return profile of any fund’s portfolio.” For Azure, affordability is based on income levels of the residents in the catchment area. The firm has invested in a residential development project in Dahej in Gujarat. The units in the project are priced at around Rs. 8 lakh.But Ghorpade does not expect a rush of private equity players to enter this space in the near future. “Structurally speaking, there are normally three entities in any development — the land owner, the developer and the PE fund. The project should be able to create value for all three players. With the present land costs, lack of government support and a limit on sales realization, there is not enough value created for the PE fund. The second issue is scale. Affordable projects are viable if the scale is large. For example, 800 to 1,000 units make a critical mass. However, scale also means increased complexity in execution, which can erode the already thin margins.” Pointing out that affordable housing is more susceptible to cost overruns, which in turn can make the projects unviable, Ghorpade adds: “PE players need to proactively participate in monitoring the development of such projects ensuring cost control and project timelines. If done so, this segment provides attractive investment opportunities especially considering the risk return spectrum.”So what is the way ahead for affordable housing in India? “Affordable housing is a financially viable proposition,” says Limaye of JLL. “There is so much demand that as long as the pricing is good, you are bound to sell at a healthy absorption rate. But for this to happen, all stakeholders need to have a common vision and work toward it.” Related Itemslast_img read more

Indian American Former CEO Indicted for Bribing City Official

first_imgA former chief executive officer of a Detroit-based information technology company was indicted on Feb. 2 for his suspected involvement in putting together a scheme to bribe a city official.Parimal D. Mehta, 54, of Michigan, has been charged in an 11-count indictment filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. He has been charged with five counts of honest services mail and wire fraud, one count of federal program bribery, and five counts of unlawfully using interstate facilities to commit bribery under Michigan law.“From 2009 through August 2016, Mehta made multiple cash payments to Charles L. Dodd, the former Director of Detroit’s Office of Departmental Technology Services, including two cash bribes hand-delivered by Mehta to Dodd in the restrooms of Detroit-area restaurants in 2016,” said the Department of Justice in a statement.Mehta is also alleged to have employed Dodd’s family members at FutureNet and its subsidiaries. The former director had previously pleaded guilty to bribery on Sept. 27, 2016.Mehta was said to have paid these bribes to Dodd in return for favored treatment for his company, FutureNet. The company received around $7.5 million from Detroit in 2015 and 2016, according to the indictment, which adds that Mehta and FutureNet made major gains from the influence that Dodd had over the contracts of the city’s administration, expenditures under those contracts, as well as in the procedure of selecting and hiring the contract personnel.The indictment also says that Mehta obtained confidential information about Detroit’s internal budgets for specific technology projects.This is not the first incident this year where an Indian American has been accused of being involved in a case of bribery. In January, Harendra Singh, the owner of Water’s Edge restaurant in Long Island City, secretly pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, according to court records. Singh was a major campaign donor for de Blasio when he was running for the mayoral position.Also, in August 2017, Anuj Sud, 39, who was a former commissioner of Maryland liquor board, was indicted on charges of soliciting bribes while on duty as a state government employee. Federal authorities arrested Sud of Hyattsville, Maryland, as part of the larger investigation about corrupt practices in Prince George’s County liquor board. Related ItemsDetroitIndian AmericanUnited Stateslast_img read more