Friday, March 28, 2014

CBI to Probe Cases against Salimraj, Salimraj returns to haunt Oommen Chandy

Ordering a CBI probe into alleged land grabbing by chief minister Oommen Chandy's former gunman and aide Salim Raj, the Kerala high court on Friday didn't mince words in holding Chandy accountable for criminal activities of some of his erstwhile personal staff, saying, "the chief minister is answerable to the state".
Noting that members of the chief minister's personal staff are involved in multiple criminal cases, including land grabbing and in cheating scores of people in the Solar Scam, Justice Harun ul-Rashid in his judgment said: "The chief minister's office should be a model institution serving the people of the state.
The above incidents have raised serious questions on the functioning of the chief minister's office." The court was considering petitions filed by A K Shareefa of Kalamassery and Premchand R Nair of Kadakampally alleging that property worth over Rs 275 crore was seized by Salim Raj and his relatives in connivance with revenue officials.
Justifying the need for a CBI probe, HC held: "Prima facie evidence of the presence of unscrupulous elements among the personal staff in the chief minister's office and the associated criminal activities in these cases call for a thorough and independent investigation into the crime and the associated activities involving personal staff in the chief minister's office."
The court also criticised the chief minister , he is responsible for what happens in his office. “The Chief Minster should explain to the people what happens in his office. He is responsible for appointing dishonest persons as his staff members,” the court said.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Drug overdose may have killed Sunanda Pushkar: Autopsy

The autopsy of Sunanda Pushkar indicates that she died of drug overdose, most likely a lethal combination of sedatives, some other strong medicines and perhaps alcohol. While the team of AIIMS doctors conducting the post-mortem examination used a bland phrase - "sudden unnatural death" - as the cause of death, Delhi police officers probing the death were more forthcoming in private conversations to state that it was possibly a case of suicide. However, it is still not known whether the drug overdose was caused by inadvertent recklessness or by a premeditated desire to end life. What's now more of less certain is that Sunanda Pushkar was deeply distressed by her husband, Union minister Shashi Tharoor's friendship with Pakistan journalist Mehr Tarar and had demanded six months ago that he snap all communication with her. Whether this demand was met is uncertain because tweets between Tharoor and Tarar surfaced in public two days before her death.
It's learnt that Tharoor and Sunanda have been fighting in public and there were several witnesses to it. In her interactions with journalists on Wednesday and Thursday, Sunanda appeared stressed and often less than charitable towards her husband. She said several things to TOI but later called to retract her statements, indicating yet again the disturbed state of her mind. Journalist Nalini Singh, who had spoken to Sunanda the night before her death, confirmed to TOI that Tharoor's friendship with
Tarar was causing her deep distress. "She was distraught," said Singh. "The Tarar thing had overpowered her. She was planning something - 'I won't take this lying down,' she said." Singh added there was something more she knew which she wouldn't share with the media. "I have written to the Police Commissioner and the DCP asking them that they can record her statement if they want," she said.
On the India Today website Singh is quoted as saying that Sunanda's illness was also disturbing her. "She was under the impression that she was very ill. She told me that she had been diagnosed with stomach TB. It was late at night and maybe she said it would be cancer now...She was under the impression that she was not well at all. That would definitely play on her mind," Singh is quoted as saying. On Saturday, Sunanda's post-mortem was conducted by a team of experienced doctors headed by Dr Sudhir Gupta. Dr Gupta told TOI: "Preliminary investigations are suggestive of drug overdose." Samples of the viscera - internal organs of the body, for example, heart, liver and intestines - have been taken to check toxicity caused by drug overdose. "We will conclude our opinion within a couple of days, subject to the outcome of toxicology reports."
Dr Gupta said there were physical injuries on certain parts of Sunanda's body, although these were unlikely to have caused her death. Sources said the police have found strips of medicines including sedatives (Alprax) from Pushkar's hotel room, giving credence to the theory of death due to drug overdose. "Alprax is a sedative prescribed mainly to patients suffering from anxiety problem, sleep disorder or depression. However, if taken in extremely high dosage it can affect the functioning of the heart leading to even death," said a drug expert, who did not want to be identified. He said that consuming such high dosage cannot be accidental. "It is mostly suicidal," he said. Initial examination of Sunanda's body - examination of the body condition, rigor mortis - has revealed death took place around 4-7 pm. "The body arrived at the institute at around 2 am ," said Dr Amit Gupta, the AIIMS spokesperson. He said that since it was a medico-legal case being overseen by a judicial magistrate, doctors had to wait for the inquest orders before conducting the autopsy.
"After inquest orders were received, institute director Dr M C Misra formed a medical board to conduct the procedure. Consent was given by Pushkar's husband Shashi Tharoor and her son Shiv Menon," Gupta said. The post-mortem was filmed and all injuries marks were photographed to ensure that every single detail is preserved. "The samples will be examined at the hospital lab and parts of it will be sent to the Forensic Sciences Laboratory for detailed examination. The report should be out by Monday," said an AIIMS official.
"You should rest assure that there will be no partiality. We will share the laboratory results as and when we get it," said Dr Gupta, the head of the forensic sciences department. The body of Pushkar was handed over to Tharoor, who was present while the post-mortem was being conducted despite his illness, at around 2 pm. After that the body was taken by Tharoor for the last rites.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pinarayi Vijayan exempted from SNC Lavalin case

The case involved an alleged corruption of about Rs 374 crore for the maintenance and modernisation of Panniyar, Chengulam and Pallivasal hydroelectric projects in Kerala Allowing a petition filed by Pinarayi Vijayan, secretary of the state unit of the CPI (M) and former power minister, a CBI special court today exempted him from the list of offenders in the controversial SNC Lavalin corruption case. The special court also exempted six senior former government and Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) officials from the list. Rejecting the charge sheet filed by the CBI, the special court judge, R Raju, said the CBI had failed to establish a criminal conspiracy case against Vijayan and others in the case. The court found the allegations levelled against Vijayan and others in the charge sheet filed by the CBI as baseless. As per the order of the court, the case is likely to be closed as the others accused in the case, SNC Lavalin Company and its senior vice president Claus Trendel, have not yet been questioned by the CBI. The case involved an alleged corruption of about Rs 374 crore for the maintenance and modernisation of Panniyar, Chengulam and Pallivasal hydroelectric projects in Kerala. The agreement between the company and the Kerala government was cleared while Vijayan was the state's minister for power.
In his petition, Vijayan claimed it was nowhere mentioned in the charge sheet that he made financial gains from the scam and added it was registered only for political gain. However, the CBI accused Vijayan of according the status of a distributor to SNC Lavalin after he became the power minister in 1997. Prior to this, the company was only a consultant. The CBI alleged, before vetting the agreement, the minister had made a trip to Canada to clinch a deal with the company unaccompanied by technical experts, who could advice him. Further, the minister had made his decision without the approval from the KSEB or the Cabinet. He also chose to keep away important details of the deal from the state Cabinet and did not take interest to ensure the grant (Rs 90 crore),promised by SNC Lavalin to the Malabar Cancer Centre was realised on time. He also nominated his personal staff member, Sasidharan Nair, as special officer of the Cancer Centre to safeguard his interests, the CBI alleged. The CBI, however, did not allege Vijayan had made any personal gain through the deal. HISTORY OF SNC LAVALIN SCANDAL In 1992, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) of India rejected a proposal of Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) to renovate the three hydro-electric power projects at Pallivasal, Sengulam and Panniar instead the CEA recommended a capacity upgradation of the generators in these three power projects, after they found that these projects are in good condition.[3] KSEB disregarded this recommendation and went forward with the decision to renovate these projects. Initial negotiations.
The initial negotiations with the Canadian company SNC-Lavalin - a company which had been present in the state's power sector for several decades - began during the tenure of United Democratic Front government,[7] under the leadership of the then power minister C.V. Padmarajan[9] and later, the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with SNC-Lavalin on 10 August 1995, when G. Karthikeyan of the Congress Party was the power minister, after the resignation of C.V. Padmarajan. Under the provisions of the MoU, the funds for the renovation were to be arranged by SNC Lavalin from the Export Development Canada (EDC), Canada, and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Later, it was also found out in a probe by CBI, that G. Karthikeyan also wanted a quid-pro-quo assistance from the Canadian government for the setting up a hospital for granting a project for refurbishment of Pallivasal, Shengulam and Panniyar Hydro electric stations in Kerala, after the revelation of a letter by G Karthikeyan to the then vice-president of Lavalin business operations, Klaus Triendl, who is also an accused in the Lavalin scandal.[4] It was only in September 1995, that the KSEB undertook a feasibility study on the proposal, by a retired Chief Engineer of the KSEB, who later became a consultant to SNC-Lavalin.[1] Consultant's report. Based on the consultant's report and further discussions, the KSEB under the leadership of G. Karthikeyan, signed the contracts
with SNC-Lavalin to provide technical services for management, engineering, procurement and construction supervision on 24 February 1996, to ensure completion of the projects within three years. The consultancy agreement did actually include the rates for various equipments to be purchased as part of the project. Consultancy agreements were converted into fixed price contracts for the supply of machinery and technical services as part of the renovation at a cost of 67.94 million Canadian dollars (Rs 169.03 crores). The final follow-up agreement with SNC-Lavalin regarding the renovation of PSP project was signed by Pinarayi Vijayan of Left Democratic Front - after they took office winning the majority in legislative assembly in 1996 - in February 1997.[9] Technically, the Left Democratic Front (Kerala) led government could not retreat from the agreements, even if they wanted to,[9] according to the provisions of the MoU which was already signed by their predecessors,
that is the ministers of United Democratic Front government. Contract signed. After the final contract was signed, the KSEB entrusted the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited (NHEPCL) a study to justify the prices quoted by Lavalin, and they concluded in that study that in view of the grant to the proposed Malabar Cancer Centre (MCC), the purchase of Canadian equipment and accessories could be considered favorably.[3] CAG FINDINGS The CAG found that Lavalin was only a consultant intermediary and not the original equipment manufacturer and that the supply of goods and services was made by other firms at a much higher cost leading to excess expenditure. According to the CAG, the absence of due professional care in negotiating the foreign loan proved to be detrimental to the financial interests of the Board. The Board also could not ensure the quality of renovation work in the absence of technology transfer and training of its engineers. Owing to various technical defects in the equipment, the generation of power could not be maintained even at the pre-renovation level and the Board had to spend on repairs. According to the CAG, failure to exclude the fee for technical consultancy from fixed price contracts resulted in an avoidable payment of Rs 20.31 crores, and failure to negotiate and exclude the exposure fee from the loan agreement resulted in avoidable payment of Rs 9.48 crores and future liability of Rs 2.21 crores. In the opinion of the CAG, there was also an avoidable payment of Rs 1.20 crores as commitment fee despite there being committed but unavailed advance. The CAG found that the Government did not receive Rs 89.32 crores out of the grant of Rs 98.30 crores that was promised for the Malabar Cancer Centre as the MoU was not renewed in time during the tenure of United Democratic Front when Kadavoor Sivadasan was the minister in charge of powe

Monday, November 4, 2013

India's historic Mission Mars to begin today: Can it overtake China?

India will take its next major step forward in the space programme, after the successful launch of Chandrayaan-1 in 2008, when scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) launch their maiden mission to Mars on Tuesday, at 2:38pm from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.PSLV-C25, the 25th mission of PSLV and fifth in the XL configuration, will carry the 1,337 kg Mars Orbiter Satellite into a 250 km X 23,500 km elliptical orbit. The cost of the mission is Rs. 450 crore. The formal countdown for India's maiden mission to Mars began at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh at 6:08 am today. With the launch of Mangalyaan set at 2:38 pm on November 5 by the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO, the countdown will last for nearly 56 hours. During the countdown, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) - a giant 45-metre rocket - will be fuelled and its health checked. The PSLV carrying Mangalyaan will blast off from Sriharikota, which is about 80 kilometres from Chennai.
The launch of Mangalyaan, which was scheduled for October 28 initially, was postponed due to bad weather in the Pacific Ocean. Two Indian ships, SCI Yamuna and Nalanda, which will monitor the health of the rocket and satellite as it sails over the ocean after being launched from India, had been delayed due to bad weather. In case the weather does not permit launch on November 5, the launch window is open till Novemmber 19. It is of critical importance that the Mangalyaan begins its over 200 million kilometre journey on its trans-Martian orbit latest by November 30 - any further delay could prove disastrous for the mission. This will be the first ever launch that ISRO will conduct in November at India's space port, which is usually dogged by recurring cyclones at this time of the year. The Mangalyaan mission will cost Rs. 450 crores and will study the Martian atmosphere.
The coasting phase between the third stage (PS3) burn-out and the fourth-stage (PS4) ignition is longer for this mission. The total flight duration before the Orbiter is injected is nearly 40 minutes. This is longer than the average time of 20 minutes for earlier spacecrafts. “There are several technological and scientific challenges in this mission. This is India’s first interplanetary mission. We had to calibrate our hardware to withstand a territory not experienced before,” Isro chairman Dr K Radhakrishnan said.
The spacecraft will move from the Earth’s sphere of influence and go to the heliocentric (sun-centric) orbit on December 1, 2013 at 12:42pm. It will remain in the trans-Martian orbit for nearly 300 days before finally entering the Mars orbit on September 24, 2014. It will then have to be re-oriented and slowed down to enter the Martian orbit or else it will vanish.
The Orbiter has five indigenously-designed payloads to carry different scientific experiments once it reaches the Martian atmosphere. The Methane Sensor is specifically designed to measure methane and map its sources on Mars.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Achuthanandan turns 90; says will continue his struggles

Kerala's iconic Marxist and former Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan turned 90 on Sunday. A leader whose life has been a relentless struggle not only against injustices and indignities of a class and caste riven society, but also "revisionist" trends in his own movement, his 90th birthday was devoid of any colourful celebrations. But this time round, under gentle persuasion from and close aides and well wishers, the Communist Party of India-Marxist stalwart agreed to cut a birthday cake before joining lunch with his wife Vasumathi and other family members at his official residence Cantonment House in Thiruvananthapuram. "As in the past, I will continue my struggle against corruption and anti-people policies...", Achuthanandan said in a brief birthday message and went on to blast the United Democratic Front government headed by Ommen Chandy over the solar scam. A founder leader of CPI-M after the split in undivided CPI in 1964, he is no stranger to controversies. He was in the news even on the eve of his 90th birthday for critical comments against the party's state leadership controlled by his bete noire Pinarayi Vijayan. The central party has openly voiced its displeasure at the damning comments he made against the state leadership. Velikkakath Sankaran Achuthanandan was born on October 20, 1923 in a working class family at Punnapra in Alappuzha district.
Compelled to end formal education at the primary stage, he was soon attracted to the fledgling trade union movement in Alapuzha, a bustling commercial town in the early decades of last century. His life since then has been inseparably linked with the history of the Communist movement in the state through all its vital moments like the Punnapra-Vayalar uprising, nationwide ban on the party following the 'Calcutta thesis", split in the movement, arrest of CPI-M leaders during the India-China war and the internal emergency and faction feuds in the party. An astute campaigner and shrewd strategist, Achuthanandan has played a vital role along with late E M S Namboodiripad, A K Gopalan and E K Nayanar in building the CPI-M as the biggest Communist group in the state after the 1964 split. He became a CPI-M politbureau member in 1996 but was dropped from the top organisational body a few years back for speaking against the party's official line on a corruption case involving Pinarayi Vijayan. Achuthanandan headed the LDF ministry in 2006-11, defeating designs by his rivals in the party to sideline him. Though he has lost much of his hold in the organisation, he continues to be the most popular Left leader in the state, acceptable to even large sections who are not directly part of the CPI-M. Instead of narrowly confining to party politics, in recent times he has taken up larger human concerns like threat to the environment and women's rights. Dubbed by critics as a doctrinaire Marxist in the past, Achuthanandan has also in the last several years tapped the potential of legal processes in his fight against corruption.
A stickler to strict routine in personal life, he is free from any physical or mental debilities associated with advanced years and the loud and clear message he gave out at 90 is he will be around as a political warrior. © Copyright 2013 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent. Related News: Velikkakath Sankaran Achuthanandan, CPI-M, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Pinarayi Vijayan, LDF

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

High Court forms five-member panel to study feasibility of bench in Thiruvananthapuram

The decades-long demand for setting up a High Court Bench in Thiruvananthapuram is once again in focus with the HC constituting a committee comprising five senior-most judges to conduct a feasibility study for the same. As per the order issued by Kerala High Court Chief Justice Manjula Chellur, a committee headed by Justice K M Joseph and comprising Justice Thottathil B Radhakrishnan, Justice K T Sankaran, Justice S Siri Jagan and Justice T R Ramchandran Nair will consider the request to set up a High Court Bench in Thiruvananthapuram. According to highly-placed sources, the panel will examine all aspects relating to the matter and hear the pleas of the Advocates' associations. Welcoming the decision, Union Minister Shashi Tharoor said it was unusual for a state capital not to have a High Court Bench. Given the large number of cases in which the state is a litigant, the government spends close to `3 crore a year in TA/DA for sending officials to depose in Kochi, leaving their work in Thiruvananthapuram unattended. "In other words, it leads to waste and inefficiency. A Bench in the capital would prove beneficial for the people of the southern districts of the state," Tharoor told 'Express'. Tharoor said he had taken several steps since 2009, including speaking to three successive Chief Justices of Kerala and four successive Union Law Ministers. He had also introduced a Private Member's Bill to push the issue before Parliament. "But nothing can be done without the state judiciary coming on board," he noted. "The Central Government has been sympathetic but feels that a final decision requires the concurrence of the Chief Justice of Kerala. When Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and I met Union Minister Kapil Sibal on October 4, he promised to press the Chief Justice for a decision that has been long delayed," he said.
When asked what are the difficulties in implementing the proposal he said, "there seem to be several issues, since the problem is as old as I am! But I would prefer not to ascribe motives to those who have so far opposed this proposal." Thiruvananthapuram Bar Association president and High Court Bench Action Council chairman K P Jayachandran also appreciated the HC decision. "Thiruvananthapuram had been the seat of the erstwhile Travancore High Court, but after the re-organisation of the states, it was shifted to Ernakulam. So we are demanding reconstitution of the Bench," Jayachandran said. However, Kerala High Court Advocates' Association president Babu Paul said they will strongly object any move regarding the constitution of an HC bench. "We will submit our grievances before the committee when we there is an opportunity. A bench in the state capital will not serve any purpose," Paul said.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Cyclone Phailin set to hit Odisha, A P at a wind speed of 205 kmph today

Odisha and Andhra Pradesh on Friday braced for the "very severe" cyclone that is expected to hit the east coast with winds gusting up to 220 kmph on Saturday evening, as lakhs of people were being evacuated to safer places and the military kept on standby. Cyclone Phailin – the biggest cyclone in years to hit Odisha – is expected to make landfall near Gopalpur in Ganjam district in the eastern state after crossing an area between Paradip in Odisha and Kalingapatnam in AP. Five districts were in the eye of the storm with IMD Chief Dr L S Rathore identifying Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts in Odisha and Srikakalum in AP as those that is likely to be worst hit. Rathore said the cyclone storm over east central Bay of Bengal currently lay 450 km southeast of Gopalpur and warned that it will be accompanied by a storm surge of up to three metres in the districts that will bear the brunt. "Cyclone Phailin is a very severe cyclone," Rathore said in Delhi. Rathore said the storm, which will hit the coast at 6 pm, is unlikely to develop into a super cyclone. Phailin was named by Thailand and it means sapphire in Thai.
"The US Navy has also forecast that the wind speed will be above 240 kmph. Therefore, the cyclone is not less than any super cyclone for us," Special Relief Commissioner P K Mohapatra told reporters in Bhubaneshwar. Mohapatra said the IMD had declared the 1999 calamity as a super cyclone as the wind speed had crossed 220 kmph. An estimated 9,885 persons were killed in the super cyclone that pummelled Odisha. "This time around, the wind speed is not much different than the previous super cyclone," he said. Squalls with a wind speed of 45-55 kmph to 65 kmph have already started along Odisha coast since morning under the impact of Phailin. About 25 cm of rain has been predicted in 24 hours in the affected districts due to the cyclone. The Odisha health department cancelled holidays and leave of all doctors in view of the impending situation even as the state government set a target of "zero casualty" and ordered speedy evacuation of people in seven coastal districts.
East Coast Railway planned to regulate and cancel about 24 passenger trains between Visakhapatnam and Bhadrak on the Howrah-Chennai Main Line route on Saturday. Authorities began evacuating 64,000 people from the low-lying areas of three vulnerable districts in Andhra Pradesh, state Revenue Minister N. Raghuveera Reddy said. Emergency food supplies and shelters for people expected to flee the heavy winds and rains were also being readied in the vulnerable districts. Disaster management teams were also kept in readiness. Odisha government set a target of "zero casualty" and ordered speedy evacuation of people in low-lying areas in seven coastal districts which is home to lakhs of people.
Defence Minister A K Antony ordered the Armed Forces to be ready to move in to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Two IAF IL-76 aircraft have already airlifted NDRF teams and equipment to Bhubaneshwar. IAF assets have been kept on standby at various bases including at Raipur, Nagpur, Jagdalpur, Barrackpore, Ranchi and Gwalior. It has also kept two C130J aircraft, 18 helicopters, 2 AN-32s aircraft on a standby to move at a short notice besides asking its Eastern Air Command to coordinate relief operation with the task force positioned at Barrackpore. The Navy, Airforce, NDRF, ODRF were ready for relief and rescue operation as soon as the cyclone hits the coast, Mohapatra said in Bhubaneswar. An anxious Odisha government held meetings and evaluated the developing situation. "At least 28 teams of the National Disaster Response Forces are at the disposal of the Odisha government for evacuation and relief operations," a senior official said after one such meeting.
So far eight teams of NDRF, reaching having 20 personnel, have been deployed in Puri district, the official said. Revenue and Disaster Management Minister S N Patro said district collectors have been told to complete evacuation of people by Friday evening. "We do not want to take any chance," Patro said adding that shelters were ready. "The Collectors of all seven districts like Ganjam, Gajapati, Puri, Jagatsingpur, Kendrapara, Nayagarh and Khurda have been directed to start evacuation and ensure 100 per cent evacuation of people to cyclone and flood shelters and other safe places by today evening," said Patro. The Collectors of Bhadrak and Balasore districts have also been alerted, the minister said. Appealing to the people not to panic, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asked them to cooperate with the government in relief and rescue operations.
The IMD forecast a storm surge of 2.5 to 3 metres in Ganjam, Khurda, Puri, Jagatsinghpur and Srikakulam districts. A storm surge is a rise of the sea as a result of atmospheric pressure changes and winds associated with a storm. Gales with a speed of 205-215 kmph are expected when the cyclone crosses the coast, according to A P Revenue Minister N Raghuveera Reddy "Sometimes the gale speed may even touch 235 kmph while heavy to very heavy rainfall of up to 25 cm is also likely under the impact," he told reporters in Hyderabad.
The Minister said he spoke to Collectors of coastal districts and put them on high alert. Army, Navy and National Disaster Response Force personnel have already been positioned in vulnerable coastal districts while IGP (north-coastal zone) Ch Dwaraka Tirumala Rao has been asked to coordinate with other departments to ensure effective communications in case of emergency. "In 1996, we had a super cyclone and Phailin is expected to be of the same intensity," Reddy said.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Onam is the state festival of Kerala. Celebrated in the first month ‘chingam’ according to the Malayalee Calender, it is also the annual harvest festival of the state. The festival falls in the month of August to September according to the Gregorian calendar. The celebrations of Onam go ten days long up to Tiruvonam and in some cases to twelve days long until chatayam (twelfth day). The celebrations of Onam include elaborate rituals, music, dances, sports, boat races and of course scrumptious foods. There are several legends and stories attached with the festival. Read on to explore more about the festival of Onam i.e. its history, its origin and its significance. Onam has been a part of Malayalee culture for centuries. The earliest record of the festival that has been found belongs to the reign of Kulasekhara Perumals around i.e. around 800 AD. However, there are great possibilities that the festival was celebrated before this period also. Any ways, due to lack of physical evidences, it has been assumed that the festival started somewhere around 800 A.D. as the harvest festival of the state. However, there are so many legends and stories attached with the day that it seems that the festival has been a part of the region ever since its origin.
Onam Celebrations has two most important significances in context of the Malayalee culture. First of all, it is celebrated as the harvest festival of the state. It reminds one of the golden age of prosperity when the entire month of Chingam (the month of Malayalee calendar that corresponds to the August- September time of Gregorian calendar) was celebrated as the Onam month. It was the time when the farms of the state produced excess of food grains and brought prosperity and riches to the state. Arriving after the rain-drenched month of Karkidakam (July-August), Chingam was welcomed with much enthusiasm by the people of Kerala.
The story of King Mahabali is found in the Bhagavata Purana (also known as Srimad Bhagavatam), the most sacred Hindu text. According to it, long long ago there lived King Mahabali, a powerful demon who ruled the nether world(underworld) Read more at Bali, or rather King Mahabali, was very strong and extremely pious. Powered by a boon granted to him by Lord Brahma, Bali was invincible and even gods failed to defeat him in battles. He had conquered the whole earth and became its master. Soon Mahabali became a threat to the Gods by his position and huge popularity among his subjects. Once he went to war with Lord Indra, the king of demigods. A fierce battle followed whereupon Mahabali, the King of Asuras, defeated Indra and proceeded to occupy Indra's territory.
Having defeated the Indra and the other gods, Bali became the King of Heaven. Thus, he rose to be the undisputed ruler of all the three worlds. Violence was inflicted upon the Devas(demigods). To save themselves, the demigods collectively approached Lord Vishnu and asked for his help. Aditi, the mother of Lord Indra, was very much upset over her son's defeat at the hand of the demon king. On the advice of Kashyapa, her husband, Aditi prayed to Lord Narayana and observed a special ritual (Payovrata) with utmost sincerity. Pleased with Aditi's devotion, Lord Vishnu appeared before her and informed her that he would himself place a child in her womb and help Indra. Later, on the 12th day of the bright half of the month of Bhadrapada, Aditi gave birth to a son of uncommon effulgence. That child, known as Vamana, was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Even when Vamana was a child, he demonstrated his divine powers by doing marvellous deeds.
Now, there was another side to Bali's character. Though a demon by birth, he rejoiced in doing good deeds and giving alms to the poor. No person coming to his door ever left empty-handed. Once, while performing the sacrificial rite of Viswajith Yagna or Aswamedha Yagna on the banks of Narmada River, Bali declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this Yagna. Vamana, a young man by this time, was waiting just for this opportunity.
He went to the place where Mahabali was observing the ritual. Once he reached there, he was warmly welcomed by Mahabali who received him with all traditional honours and gave him an eminent seat befitting the status of a holy person. Bali was already warned by his spiritual master that the boy was actually Lord Vishnu and that he would not promise the lad anything. But Bali was a king and a man of honour. He was not a one to go back on his word. Inspite of his master's warning, Bali promised to Vamana to fulfill whatever he desired.
The small-statured brahmin demanded three paces of ground measured by his own foot. Bali boasted that he would surely deliver it. He asked Vamana to measure the three feet of land as desired by him. At once, the little Vamana statred to grow in size. He grew and grew until he towered above the heavens. With one foot, he measured all of the earth. With the other, he claimed all of the heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Bali owed him. There was no place for his third step. Bali surrendered his head and asked him to step on it so that the Lord could have
some place to put his foot and he too could save his respect. Vishnu was pleased at the devotion of Mahabali. So he granted him rule over nether land. But Bali had a great affinity for his earthly kingdom. So he requested Lord Vishnu to allow him to visit his kingdom to see his people once a year. The Lord fulfilled this wish of Mahabali. He granted Mahabali the permission to visit his subjects once a year.
Mahabali's rule was considered as the golden era of Kerala. It is said that the demon king had brought great peace and prosperity to the land. The people believe that Onam is the time when Mahabali comes to Kerala annually to see his subjects. Till today, the Keralites celebrate Onam festival to commemorate the memory of the great King Mahabali who gave everyting to keep his promise. True to his name "Mahabali" (meaning Great Sacrifice), Bali fulfilled his name as the one who gave a great sacrifice for the sake of "Satya" (Truth).
This, in brief, is the history of the Onam festival. According to an alternate legend however, Onam is believed by many Malayalees to be the occassion when Parasurama visits Kerala. It is held to be the time when Parasurama recovered Kerala from the sea.

Monday, August 19, 2013

GSLV-D5 rocket launch postponed, countdown clock stopped due to leak

India's 200 crore space mission has run into trouble with the lift-off of India's heavy rocket geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle-D5 (GSLV-D5), carrying communication satellite GSAT-14, delayed due to a leak. The countdown began on Sunday at 11.50 am at Sriharikota rocket port in Andhra Pradesh, for the launch scheduled at 4.50 pm today. It was halted one hour and 14 minutes ahead of lift-off, after some 'leakage' was detected. Officials say they are not sure when the countdown can be resumed. The mission was called off at a fairly advanced stage of the 29-hour countdown, and with only a little over an hour left for the lift-off that was scheduled for 4.50 p.m., at the second launch pad of the Sriharikota spaceport near here.
This was the eighth flight of the GSLV, the fourth developmental flight and only the second time in three years that the indigenously-developed cryogenic upper stage was flight-tested. The Rs. 205-crore expendable rocket’s mission was to inject the cuboid-shaped and 1982-kg weighing GSAT-14 in orbit to signal India’s entry into an ivy league of nations with frontier capabilities of launching 2,000-2,500 kg class of advanced communication satellites in outer space. The GSAT-14, the 23rd geostationary communication satellite built by ISRO, would have joined a line-up of nine Indian satellites to help provide a host of satellite-based communication services, including tele-education and tele-medicine. The satellite’s mission was also to augment the in-orbit capacity of the extended C and Ku-band transponders in the INSAT-GSAT ecosystem to set the stage for new and exciting experiments driven by satellite-based communication. The rocket port is located about 80 km from Chennai. "The rocket cost is around Rs. 160 crore and the cost of the satellite is around Rs. 45 crore," an official of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) told IANS, preferring anonymity. The key significance of this Rs. 205 crore launch is that the rocket's cryogenic engine is indigenously developed by ISRO.
This was the first mission of GSLV in the last three years, after two such rockets failed in 2010. One of the GSLV rockets flew with an Indian cryogenic engine, and the other one with a Russian engine. The GSLV is a three stage/engine rocket. The first stage is fired with solid fuel, the second with liquid fuel and the third is the cryogenic engine. The successful flight of this rocket is crucial for India as it will be the first step towards building rockets that can carry heavier payloads of up to four tonnes. An ISRO official, preferring anonymity, told IANS that several design changes had been incorporated in Monday's rocket after studying the past GSLV rockets and the issues faced in them. Design changes were made in the lower shroud/cover that protects the cryogenic engine during the atmospheric flight, wire tunnel of the cryogenic stage to withstand larger forces during the flight, and the revised aerodynamic characterisation of the entire rocket.
"We have reverted to 3.4 metre heat shield to protect the satellite. The last GSLV rocket that failed had a four-metre heat shThe leak was reportedly observed in the second stage of the 49-metre tall GSLV-D5. The rocket adopts a three-stage fuel cycle — the core solid stage, liquid and a cryogenic upper stage. At about 4 p.m., ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan, accompanied by a team of glum-looking scientists, met the media to formally declare that the GSLV-D5 mission had been called off. “The countdown was progressing well. However, a few minutes ago, we observed a leak in the fuel systems of the second stage. Because of this, we are calling off the launch,” Dr. Radhakrishnan said. The immediate task for ISRO teams in the fuel leak situation was to quickly drain out the liquid propellants that had been loaded into the second stage, the four L40 strap-ons and the cryogenic stage, the ISRO chief said.
“We need to make an assessment of the cause of the leak and the actions that need to be taken before further preparations for the next launch,” Dr. Radhakrishnan said. The GSLV-D5 is also being hauled back to the Vehicle Assembly building, he said.ield. One of the earlier GSLV rockets had problems in its aerodynamics," the official said. Other changes included video imaging of lower shroud movement during various flight phases, fuel booster in cryogenic engine, and ignition sequence of the cryogenic engine, he said. ISRO said indigenisation of many critical systems including liquid hydrogen propellant acquisition system (to prevent possibility of outside contamination) was achieved. ISRO officials told IANS that though the rocket's rated carrying capacity is around 2.2 tonnes, it was decided to carry a sub-two tonne satellite with minimum number of transponders (receivers and transmitters of communication signals), to be on the safe side. ISRO's earlier attempts to fly a GSLV rocket carrying slightly over two tonne satellites have ended in partial/total failures. Meanwhile, it is going to be tense 17 minutes for the ISRO scientists on Monday after the 49.13 metre tall rocket weighing 414.75 tonnes blasts off at 4.50 pm, till the GSLV rocket safely delivers GSAT-14 to augment the Indian transponder capacity.
ISRO is planning to launch an upgraded version of GSLV Mark III rocket next year with a dummy payload. The design payload capacity of GSLV Mark III is four tonnes. During the countdown to the rocket launch, fuelling of the three stage/engine GSLV rocket's four strap-on motors and the second stage with liquid fuel will be completed by August 19 morning, while the first-stage core engine is powered by solid fuel. The process of fuelling the cryogenic engine will begin around 10 hours prior to the launch.