Kerala: Court orders probe against CM Oommen Chandy, Minister Aryadan Mohammad

A Vigilance Court in Thrissur on Thursday ordered registering of an FIR and initiating a probe against Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleague Aryadan Mohammad on the bribery allegations raised against them by Saritha S Nair, main accused in the "solar scam".

Kerala solar scam: FIR ordered against CM; protestors lathicharged
A Vigilance Court here today ordered registering of a first information report (FIR) and initiating a probe against Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleague, Electricity and Transport Minister Aryadan Mohammad, on the bribery allegations raised against them by Saritha S Nair, main accused in the "solar scam".
Saritha and her associate Biju Radhakrishnan are accused of having cheated several businessmen and non-resident Indians (NRIs) of large sums of money promising them partnership in a company floated by them, Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions Pvt Limited, which offered solar energy solutions to institutions and households. 
They had also boasted of close connections with Mr Chandy and other ministers and even produced letters on official letterheads to support their claims. The scam came into light when an NRI, Sajad, filed a police complaint accusing them of having defrauded him of Rs 40 lakh. Subsequently, 33 cases were registered against them on various complaints.
Saritha, while deposing before the Justice Sivarajan Commission in Kochi yesterday, had alleged that she had paid a bribe totalling Rs 1.90 crore to an aide of the Chief Minister and Rs 40 lakh to Mr Mohammad. Both have denied the charges.
However, Inquiry Commissioner and Special Judge S S Vasan, taking cognisance of a private complaint, asked the Vigilance Director to file an FIR and complete the probe as early as possible. The court rejected the contention of the government counsel seeking a quick probe into the allegations before initiating proceedings against the Chief Minister. Justice should be equal for all, for the common man as well as Chief Minister, the court observed.
The judge said he was not looking into the merits of the complaint against the Chief Minister which is to be considered by the investigating officer. The report is to be submitted to the court on April 14. The court also rejected the submission of the state counsel regarding jurisdiction of the court since the alleged bribery took place in Thiruvananthapuram. However, the court upheld the contention of the complainant P D Joseph, a social activist, that it had also occurred in Kochi, which fell within the purview of the court.
Reacting to the court order, Mr Chandy told reporters in Kozhikode that he was prepared to face any inquiry and rejected the opposition demand for his resignation. “My conscience is clear and both of us have done nothing wrong,” he said, speaking on behalf of his ministerial colleague, too.
In a related development the Kerala High Court stayed the Thrissur Vigilance Court order of registering an FIR against Mr K Babu, who had resigned his post as Minister following the court order. 
Passing the order, High Court Judge P Ubaid observed that the vigilance court had acted in unnecessary haste without waiting for the order of the division bench of the High Court. The stay will be applicable for two months. In the meantime, the court directed the Vigilance Director to conduct a quick probe and submit a report within ten days.
Earlier, on January 25, Mr Chandy had deposed before the judicial commission. The deposition, that went on into the night, was completed only in the early hours the next day. He reportedly told the commission that he had met Saritha only three times and came to know about the financial dealings only after her arrest. He had acknowledged receipt of a contribution of Rs 2 lakh to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund in a letter drafted by his office under his letterhead. The letterhead was later found to be misused. He also denied that he had met Saritha in his office along with Sreedharan Nair, a quarry owner and one of the complainants in the scam, as stated by Intelligence ADGP A Hemachandran.
The Chief Minister later told reporters that he had refused to undergo a lie-detector test as he had not lied or acted against his conscience. Neither has the state exchequer incurred any loss nor the accused obtained any monetary advantage, he added. 

Kerala: Four female rowers attempt suicide in SAI hostel; one dead, three hospitalised

A 15-year-old rower died and three female athletes were hospitalised in a serious condition after they consumed poisonous fruit on Wednesday in an alleged suicide attempt at their hostel at the Sports Authority of India's Water Sports Centre at Alappuzha in Kerala.

Kerala suicide attempt: DG SAI says priority to save lives of girls
A 15-year-old rower died and three female athletes were hospitalised in a serious condition after they consumed poisonous fruit yesterday in an alleged suicide attempt at their hostel at the Sports Authority of India's (SAI) Water Sports Centre at Alappuzha in Kerala.
The decased was identified as Aparna Ramachandran, a resident of Avalookunnu in Alappuzha district, official sources said. The three others are also from Kerala, they said.
The four athletes allegedly consumed the fruit of cerbera odollam (Othalanga in Malayalam) sometime during the afternoon yesterday and were rushed to the Alappuzha Medical College Hospital, about 150 km from here, in the evening after they started showing symptoms of food poisoning.
While Aparna failed to respond to treatment and breathed her last around 4 am today, the other three girls were said to be in a serious condition.
The reason for the extreme step taken by the rowers could not be ascertained immediately, but parents and relatives of the girls said they were subjected to mental and physical harassment at the hostel in recent times.
The hostel authorities, however, denied these allegations and said there were no complaints of any harassment. Media reports quoted them as saying that the girls had recently been caught consuming beer and were questioned about it, and they must have resorted to the extreme step fearing further action.
The State Government as well as the Sports Authority of India have ordered inquiries into the incident.
Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chenithala told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram that he had asked Inspector General of Police (Kochi Range) M R Ajithkumar to conduct an inquiry into th incident and the officer would reach Alappuzha later today.
In Delhi, SAI Director General Injeti Srinivas said SAI had taken an extremely serious view of the incident and he had submitted an initial report to Union Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. He said SAI would conduct a probe into all aspects of the incident.
Mr  Sonowal said in a statement later that he had asked the Director General of SAI to rush to the spot and give a factual report on the incident.
“I am deeply aggrieved by the incident that has happened in Kerala. The young girl who has died was a very promising sportsperson. It is a big loss to the country in general and Sports Authority of India and sports fraternity in particular. I convey my condolences to the bereaved family. We will give all possible help to the bereaved family," he said.
"Three girls are still undergoing treatment. I pray for their speedy recovery. To provide them the best possible treatment is our top priority," he said.
"Local police is investigating the matter. I have also directed the Director General of SAI to rush to the spot and give me a factual report. I have specifically directed him to ensure that the best possible treatment is made available to the three girls who are undergoing treatment. 
"While law will take its own course, at this stage I would only like to say that if anyone from Sports Authority of India is found guilty in connection with this tragic incident, strictest possible action will be taken against him or her," he added.
Mr Srinivas told newspersons in Delhi that it was the most shocking and tragic incident in the three-decade-old history of SAI, which is tasked with nurturing sports talent in the country.
He said he had been informed of the incident around midnight last night and has been in touch with Kerala government and local SAI officials since then.
"Our immediate priority is to deal with the medical emergency, to save the lives of the three trainees" he said. He said he had been told that there was no real antidote for the poisonous fruit and that, since the entire matter came to light only after some hours after they had consumed the fruit, the poison appeared to have entered their bloodstream and complicated matters.
Mr Srinivas said the four girls had reportedly left a suicide note jointly signed by them. One of the three girls in hospital, who is conscious and is able to speak, has deposed before the sub-divisional magistrate, he said. "All these matters will be investigated," he added.

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10 dead, 50 hurt as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails near Hosur

At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed on Friday morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.

10 dead, 50 injured as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails
At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed this morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.
The mishap occurred at around 7.45 am between Anekal Road and Hosur stations on the Bangalore-Salem section of South-Western Railway, they said.
Prima facie, the derailment occurred after the train hit a boulder that had rolled down onto the tracks in the ghat section, the sources said.
The train had left Bangalore at 6.15 am for Ernakulam in Kerala. Nine coaches and the engine of the train went off the rails, and one coach in particular, D8, a second class chair car, was badly affected, they said.
The derailed coaches included two air-conditioned chair cars and six second class chair cars, but they did not suffer much damage.
A pantry car and four second class chair cars were not affected by the derailment, the sources said.
South-Western Railway spokesperson Chandrasekhar Gupta told NetIndian over the telephone that ten bodies had been extricated from the mangled coaches.
He said 18 of the injured passengers had suffered severe injuries and were undergoing treatment in the Narayan Hridalaya, Sparsh and Anekal General hospitals nearby.
Police and emergency personnel, including railway officials and staff, from nearby areas in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka rushed to the spot with ambulances and medical equipment. The Railways rushed medical vans and accident relief vans to the spot.
Efforts were being made to restore rail traffic on the section at the earliest, the sources said.
In Delhi, Minister for Railways Suresh Prabhu said he was rushing to the scene of the accident and that he had directed the Chairman of the Railway Board, the General Manager of South-Western Railway and other senior officials to reach the spot.
He said all possible help would be rendered to the affected passengers and families. He also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 200,000 for the next-of-kin of each of those killed in the accident, Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with minor injuries.
Union Minister D V Sadananda Gowda, a former Minister for Railways and former Karnataka Chief Minister, was among those who reached the scene of the accident. 
"I am personally monitoring it and in touch with State and local administration. All Sr rail officials are directed by me to be on job," Mr Prabhu said.
"Condolences to all the  unfortunate members of the families who lost lives. Directed to provide best possible medical care to the injured," he said.
"Ordered enquiry to fix responsibility and for corrective action to prevent such unfortunate accidents. Monitoring action regularly," he added.
The Railways have set up the following helplines to provide information and assistance to victims and their relatives: 0948090599,  08022371166, 09731666751.
Besides, the Railways have set up the following helpline numbers in Kerala:
Trivandrum: 0471-2321205, 2321237, 09746769960
Ernakulam Jn.: 0484-2100317, 0813699773
Ernakulam Town: 0484-2398200
Trichur: 04877-2424148, 2430060
Aluva: 0484-2624143

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Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns, may return to Delhi politics

Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit said on Tuesday she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.

Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns
Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit today said she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.
Ms Dikshit, 76, who was Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years over three consecutive terms, had taken over for a five-year term as the 22nd Governor of Kerala only on March 11 this year after she and her Congress party suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 4, 2013 elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
She had lost in her own constituency of Gole Market by a huge margin to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, who went on to serve as Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days before he resigned. The Congress had managed to win only eight seats in the 70-member house.
Ms Dikshit was among the Governors appointed by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre who had refused to heed clear signals from the new Modi government, which assumed office on May 26, that they should hand in their papers.
There were also reports in the media suggesting that she might be shifted to a North-Eastern state if she refused to quit.
Ms Dikshit met President Mukherjee and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh here yesterday. 
"I have only one thing to say. The news flashing on television channels is correct. I have submitted my resignation yesterday," she told newspersons.
"This is what I wanted to say, and I wanted to say it myself."
"I don't have anything more to say right now. After my resignation is accepted, I'll say whatever I have to say," she said.
To repeated queries about her views on the way the Modi government had handled Governors and about her future plans, Ms Dikshit said that she would not like to say anything further.
"Let my resignation be accepted, after that I promise you that I will talk to you," she added.
Asked if she had been under pressure from the Modi government to resign, Ms Dikshit said, "I have nothing to do with all that. I did what my heart told me to do."
She is now expected to plunge back into active politics in Delhi, where Assembly elections may be held in the next few months if it is not possible to form a viable government within the present Assembly in which no party has a clear majoirty.
With this, eight of the Governors appointed by the previous government have resigned so far, while two were sacked.
Soon after the new government started nudging them, five Governors -- B L Joshi in Uttar Pradesh, M K Narayanan in West Bengal, Ashwani Kumar of Nagaland, Shekhar Dutt of Chhattisgarh and Bharat Vir Wanchoo of Goa, all of whom are former police officers -- resigned.
Mr Vakkom Purushothaman, a senior Congress leader from Kerala, who was shifted from Mizoram to Nagaland after then Gujarat Governor Kamala Beniwal was moved to Mizoram, resigned in protest against the manner in which he was transferred without consulting him.
Ms Beniwal, who had a few run-ins with then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is now the Prime Minister, was sacked on August 6. Earlier, on July 11, Mr Virendra Kataria had been removed as Lt Governor of Puducherry.
On Sunday, another senior Congress leader from Kerala, Mr K Sankaranarayanan, resigned after he was transferred as the Governor of Mizoram from Maharashtra.
The Governor of Uttarakhand, Mr Aziz Qureshi, has meanwhile filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that he had received calls from the Union Home Secretary suggesting that he resign. He contended that only the President could remove him.

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Illusion of freedom of speech among ways to stifle dissent: Tharoor

The creation of an illusion of freedom of speech is among the more insidious ways to stifle dissent in society, according to former Union Minister, Shashi Tharoor who was part of a discussion at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) here yesterday.
“There are many ways dissent can be stifled. The old fashioned school of locking people up and sending them to concentration camps but the other way is getting employers to hound them for instance.
"The more insidious and sophisticated ways are more dangerous because they preserve the illusion of freedom of speech,”  the MP from Thiruvanananthapuram said.
He was part of a discussion, "Dissent and Discourse” organised by the BM Anand Foundation as a collateral of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The discussion aimed to explore the notion of dissent and its significance in public discourse, creativity and progress. 
Dr Tharoor was joined on the panel by KMB co-founder Riyas Komu, BJP leader Shazia Ilmi and art curator Alka Pande The discussion was moderated by biographer and writer Aditi Anand.
Given the context of the Biennale, the conversation focused on the art and the role of BM Anand, specifically the subaltern, within society and the civic and social power of art as a voice of dissent and a tool for advancing social justice.
Speaking from an artist’s perspective, Komu said dissent could be viewed in a multilayered manner and the Kochi Muziris Biennale has succeeded in creating “a site where many discourses can happen".
“For us as a foundation the focus is to celebrate the diversity and cosmopolitanism of the historic Muziris region. I think Kochi is sort of doing a cultural acupuncture which can benefit the nation culturally in the long run,” Komu said.
Referring to an anecdotal conversation with eminent historian K. N. Pannikar and  KCHR Chairman P. J. Cherian , who led the field team in Muziris excavations, Komu said, “Just like they used the metaphor that with every 1 metre of digging, they crossed the history of over 1000 years, we  as a biennale get energy to present voices of multiplicity and plurality".
Tharoor referred to Gandhi’s sense of justice where he was ready to accept the punishment meted out to dissenters but “today people want to dissent without the punishment.”
“Within any framework of freedom, dissent and dialogue are an essential part of society. I think like Leonardo da Vinci says nothing strengthens authority like silence so the need to speak out is important. Freedom and dissent are two sides of the same coin,” Ilmi said. 
Pande, who curated the first exhibition of BM Anand in New Delhi earlier this year, said the artist was “absolutely fearless in his language of art and never played to the market and was absolutely honest to his craft.”
The BM Foundation’s co-founders, Neeraj Gulati and Kriti Anand, who is the daughter of BM Anand, were also present at the function.
The selection of works being displayed as a collateral at the KMB features evocative, often apocalyptic pieces in diverse mediums. There are, in all, 10 scratchboards, 10 scratchboard sketches, three sets of 13 drawings, one ink and watercolour on paper and a single oil on canvas.
Curated by young researcher and writer Shruthi Issac, the exhibition is a sampling of the estimated 1,500 surviving works by BM Anand – from scratchboards, landscapes, watercolours and sketches to commercial illustrations for books, posters, newspapers and magazines.

Malayalam actors Dileep, Kavya Madhavan get married in Kochi

Malayalam actors Dileep, Kavya Madhavan get married
Well-known actors Dileep and Kavya Madhavan, one of the most popular screen pairs in Malayalam cinema, got married at a ceremony at a hotel in the city this morning.
Dileep, 48, born as Gopalakishnan Pillai, had married another popular actress Manju Warrier on October 20, 1998 but they got divorced on January 31, 2015. They have a daughter, Meenakshi.
Kavya, 32, was earlier married to non-resident Indian businessman Nishal Chandra on February 9, 2009. She moved to Kuwait with him, but returned a few months later and did not return. The couple agreed for a mutual divorce, which was granted by a court on May 30, 2011.
Only close friends and relatives of the couple were present at the wedding ceremony, which took place at a hotel here.
Among those present on the occasion were Malayalam superstar Mammootty, actors Jayaram and Janardanan, and actresses Meera Jasmine, Menaka, Chippi, Jomol, Kaviyoor Ponamma and K P A C Lalitha.
The couple was due to leave for Dubai later today, sources said.
Dileep and Kavya were often linked together in the media in the past few years, mainly because of their excellent on-screen chemistry. The two have appeared together in about 20 movies, most of them big hits.
Dileep told newspersons today that Kavya had nothing to do with the breakdown of his previous marriage. "The only crime we have committed is that we have acted together in some 20 movies," he said.
He also said that he had decided at some stage that, if he ever got married again, it would be to Kavya in view of the pain she had suffered because of all the unfounded rumours about them. He had also made it clear several times in the past that his marriage plans would depend entirely on his daughter.
Meenakshi, who was present at the wedding, told reporters that it was she who persuaded her father to marry Kavya.
Dileep, who started out as a mimicry artiste, is also a singer, film producer and entrepreneur. He has acted in more than 130 Malayalam films.
Kavya had made her debut as a child artiste in Pookkalam Varavayi (1991) and is now one of the top actresses in Malayalam cinema. She has won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actress twice. She also writes poetry and is a singer and a trained dancer.

French funding agency AFD to provide 175 m euro loan for Phase II of Kochi Metro

Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD), the French funding agency, has agreed to provide a loan of around 175 million euros for Kochi Metro Rail’s extension from the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to Infopark via Kakkanad.
A press release from Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) said that, as a very special case, AFD had also agreed to give the loan for a longer tenure of 25 years, at an interest rate of 1.35% (linked to EURIBOR).  
The normal tenure for such loans for urban infrastructure is presently 20 years, the release said.
“ It is a matter of pride for Kochi Metro Rail Limited that AFD has agreed to this offer. This is an indication of the funding agency’s faith in KMRL’s capabilities and its objectives,” said Mr. Elias George, Managing Director, KMRL.
The loan also includes a component of 22 million euros for non-motorised transportation works at 20 stations; pedestrianisation of M.G. Road; and junction improvement in Alwaye, Edapally and Vyttila, the release said.
The 7th Annual Negotiation Meeting between the Ministry of Finance, Government of India and AFD took place in Paris, France on November 9-10.
The meeting was attended by Mr. Elias George and Mr. S. Selvakumar, Joint Secretary (ABC), Ministry of Finance.  The meeting included a review of the present status of the Kochi Metro Rail project, which is funded by AFD, as well as the proposed extension from JLN Stadium to Infopark via Kakkanad, over a distance of 11.2 kms, at a cost of Rs. 2024 crore.
The Urban Transport Expert of AFD’s Head Office stated at the meeting that, in AFD’s assessment, the Kochi Metro Rail project is, as of now, the lowest cost metro rail project worldwide, while at the same time adhering to global quality standards.
It was also decided in the meeting that, even though the Kakkanad extension proposal is yet to be formally approved by the Government of India, AFD would, as a very special case, to procure all their formal Board approvals even before the extension proposal is administratively sanctioned by the Government of India, so that no time is lost in launching the implementation of the project.  
It is expected that AFD’s Board will clear the proposal in December 2016, the release added.

First LNG fuelled bus launched in Kerala

For the first time in the country, a liquefied natural gas (LNG)-fuelled bus was launched by Union Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan in the presence of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan here today. 
The project was jointly undertaken by Petronet LNG Limited (PLL), Indian Oil Corporation Ltd and Tata Motors Ltd. 
The LNG-fuelled bus is being launched as part of a plan of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to use LNG directly for mass transportation and to reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously generating savings. 
The launch also coincided with the fourth meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) holding Transport portfolios.
The bus was brought to PLL Kochi LNG Terminal for LNG filling. The fuel tank was provided by Chart Industries, USA. As it is a pilot project, the LNG-driven bus will run on trial basis before it can be certified for commercial application, an official press release said.

Kerala only state from India listed in Nat Geo's Around the World in 24 Hours

Kakkathuruthu, a tiny spectacular island in Kerala’s tangled backwaters, finds a place among select stunning destinations across the world that hold appeal to the adventurous traveller. 
Nestled along the Kerala coast, the emerald-fringed "Island of Crows" has been listed in National Geographic's 'Around the World in 24 Hours', a photographic tour of travel-worthy spots across the world. 
"Kerala is known for its rustic beauty and an incredibly picturesque landscape, verdant hills and quiet backwaters, which attract tourists from across the world. It is a matter of pride for us to be listed by Nat Geo, which is among the leading magazines in the world," said Kerala Tourism Minister A C Moideen. 
The charm of the small island with sea green waters, lush coconut groves and absence of tarred roads, located in Alappuzha, has been captured by the magazine's photographers during the time of dusk when "the shadows lengthen and the sky shifts from pale blue to sapphire."
In a graphic description, the magazine says the sunset in Kerala is greeted by a series of rituals — sari-clad women head home in skiffs, fishermen light lamps and cast nets into the lagoon and bats swoop across the horizon snapping up moths.
"If dawn is awakening and daytime illumination, then twilight is transcendence, a final burst of vitality before darkness falls," said NatGeo Expeditions. 
Beginning with hunting the aurora borealis in the northern lights zone in Norway at 12 midnight, the list includes photos of Hawaii at 5 am, Paris at 6 am, San Francisco at 7 am, Abu Dhabi at 8 am, Melbourne at 9 am, New York at 8 pm, Budapest (Hungary) at 10 pm and Kerala at 6 pm, among others, offering a peek into how different places in the world look like.
"The recognition is rewarding and will add to our efforts to introduce and showcase different destinations in the nature-endowed state," said Principal Secretary (Tourism) Dr Venu V.
Situated not far from the ancient port city of Kochi, the island of Kakkathuruthu is connected to mainland only through traditional boats. The quiet island, surrounded by the Vembanad Lake, offers a haven for birdwatchers. 
Kerala Tourism Director U V Jose said, "It is absolutely exhilarating to see the small island included in the travel recommendations. It is not only a reaffirmation of Kerala’s natural endowments but also a huge recommendation to international tourists for a tryst with the coastal state.”

Manju Warrier weaves magic with Kuchipudi recital

Actress-dancer Manju Warrier during a Kuchipudi recital at the Soorya Dance and Music Festival 2016 in Thiruvananthapuram on October 9, 2016.
Actress-dancer Manju Warrier during a Kuchipudi recital at the Soorya Dance and Music Festival 2016 in Thiruvananthapuram on October 9, 2016.
Devotion in both its rapturous and sublime forms, agony that seals separation in love and jubilance that only an impending festival can bring: these were some of the moods that well-known actress-dancer Manju Warrier created on stage during her Kuchipudi recital at the Soorya Dance and Music Festival 2016 at the Tagore Theatre here yesterday.
Manju began her recital with Ananda Natanam Adum Vinayaka, a Ganesha Stuthi that depicted the rapturous dance of bliss by Lord Ganapathi, the beloved Elephant God who is also the bestower of smooth transitions and successful endings.  The composition was penned by Madhurai R Muralidharan and was set to ragam Gowla and Adithalam.
The audiences witnessed an episode in Lord Krishna's life through Ati Nirupama Sundarangara where she depicted Satyabhama and Rukmini, their consort Lord Krishna and Sage Narada who came to inspect how the Lord is managing wives' quarrels. The composition on sublime devotion was penned by the 18th century poet Oothukadu Venkatasubbaiar and was set to ragam Panthuvarali and Adithala. 
The audience shared Radha’s pangs of separation as Manju brought the divine lover on the stage via Bhakta-kavi Jayadeva’s Astapadi. The composition was set to raga Darbari Kanada and adithalam.
The mood of torment and pathos soon changed with a depiction of Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance, Anandanadam Aduvar Thille. The keerthanam was composed by Neelakanda Sivan and was set to ragam poorvikalyani and thalam Roopakam.
The recital was brought to a grand and elaborate finale with a thillana wherein a village readied itself to celebrate Lord Muruga’s birthday on Thrikarthika. The composition by Lalgudi S Jayaram was set to ragam Kamas and Adithalam.  
Geetha Padmakumar who was on the Nattuvangam choreographed the recital. Bijeesh Krishna brought the music to life through his soulful voice with accompanying artistes Kalamandalam Charudutt on Mridangam, Suresh Namboodiri on violin, Vivek Shenoy on flute and Murali Krishna on Veena.
Manju Warrier is one of the most popular actors in Malayalam cinema. She has acted in 27 Malayalam movies, most of which became superhits. She won a special jury mention by the National Award jury in 1999 for her role in Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu. She is a celebrated danseuse and is known for her Kuchipudi performances. Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi has awarded her Kalashree title for her contributions to Kuchipudi.
She has also forayed into the theatre by enacting Shakuntala in the Sanskrit play Abhijnana Shakutalam written by Mahakavi Kalidasa and directed by the late Kavalam Narayana Panikkar. 

Renowned Kerala-born painter Yusuf Arakkal passes away

Yusuf Arakkal
Yusuf Arakkal
Renowned figurative artist Yusuf Arakkal, whose paintings showed a rare sensitivity to his social environment and the loss of human dignity, passed away here this morning after a brief illness.
He was 71. He is survived by his wife Sara Arakkal and son Shibu Arakkal.
Born at Chavakkad in Kerala in 1945, Arakkal lost both his parents as a child. His early life had every conceivable comfort, except for parental love.
He always wanted to be an artist, and enrolled in the Karnakata Chitrakala Parishat in Bangalore to get a formal education and he ended up making the city his home. 
"There is an anguished being, disturbed and in distress somewhere deep inside me. A human being who yearns for a meaningful existence. It is the human presence that arouses my attention and stirs my creative inner space. I have been committed through my work, seeking a definition of human situations," he once said of himself and his work.
Starting out with abstracts, he moved to figuration and also dabbled in sculpture and poetry. 
Arakkal was also known for his philanthropy and the encouragement he provided to young artists through the Sara Arakkal Gallery he set up here in his wife's name. He was a prominent figure on the cultural scene in the city.
Apart from taking a diploma in painting in 1973 from the Chitrakala Parishat College of Art, he studied graphic print making at the National Academy Community Studios, Garhi in Delhi.
A figurative oil on canvas by Yusuf Arakkal
A figurative oil on canvas by Yusuf Arakkal
He did scores of solo shows and several group shows in India, including in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Calicut, Cochin, Trichur, Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi and several group. He also held shows abroad in France, Nepal Singapore, United States, England, Hong Kong, United Arab Emrates, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Korea, Canada and Russia.
Over the years, he won several awards, including a National Award in 1983. He won the Karnataka Lalit Kala Academy Award, the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award and the Florence International Biennale Gold Medal.
His works are in many private and institutional collections all over the world, including the British Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Kerala govt. working to ensure minimal disruption to tourism: Vijayan

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan today said that, while it was not feasible to avoid hartals in the state outright, his government would do its utmost to ensure there was only minimal disruption to tourism activities.
Inaugurating the ninth edition of Kerala Travel Mart (KTM), the Chief Minister was responding to a request for tourism-friendly policies with regards to hartals and excise regulations made by KTM Society President Abraham George during his welcome address at the Le Meridien Convention Centre.
Noting that it was important that visitors leave with the best impression of the state, Mr. Vijayan also said mechanisms to stop open defecation were being implemented with a stated deadline of November 1 – the official start of the tourist season.
“By November 1, it is expected that the policy would be fully implemented in districts across the state,” he said, voicing the benefits of destination-friendly initiatives like waste management to the state’s tourism enterprises – known for professionalism and high quality of service delivery.
To preserve Kerala’s reputation as the Ayurveda capital, the Chief Minister said, “Only trained professionals should be permitted to work in such an important sector. The government is mooting proposals to bring out an Ayurveda training centre under its purview.”
Terming KTM a shining example of a public-private partnership, Mr. Vijayan said it was a matter of pride that an initiative started in Kerala by the government is counted among the best of its type. 
He made a special mention the state’s award-winning ‘Responsible Tourism’ initiatives and the Muziris and Spice Route projects – two important sectors for Kerala’s tourism industry and the themes for KTM 2016.
Stating that Kerala had followed a special path in tourism, Mr. Vijayan said, “Our industry is dominated by small business owners who have successfully presented the different products and experiences of Kerala before the world and KTM brings under one roof almost all tourism stakeholders in the state.”
“The main aim of KTM is to help the tourism sector raise earnings by about Rs 5,000 crore in the coming five years. In this respect, it is encouraging to hear that the Mart is expected to witness around 25,000 business meetings between buyers and sellers. I hope that this Mart will enable buyers to make new relationships and partnerships, create new packages and bring more visitors to Kerala,” the Chief Minister said.
The ceremony was presided over by State Minister for Tourism and Co-operation A.C. Moideen who said the Mart was important to distribute the benefits of tourism across the state – a stated goal of the government.
“Tourism can become a major catalyst for social change by providing opportunities for employment, preserving traditional ways of life and engaging with local communities,” he said, expressing hope that KTM would open new avenues for success for both the state and its people. 
Citing the importance of tourism to the state – accounting for 10 per cent of the state’s GDP and providing employment to three million people, Principal Secretary (Tourism) Dr Venu V. said, “The Mart is seen as the spearhead for inclusive, accessible growth for tourism in the state as well as a showcase for the vibrancy of Kerala as a tourist destination.”   

First call of a car carrier ship at Cochin Port

The first call of a car carrier ship, M. V. Dresden, took place at Cochin Port today.
The ship, registered in Cyprus, has obtained license for coastal run between ports in India. Operating on the Ennore-Cochin-Kandla-Cochin-Ennore route, the ship connects the automobile production hubs in Tamil Nadu in the East coast and Gujarat and Haryana in the West of India.
The ship has 13 decks with the capacity to carry 4,300 cars. It will be landing 500 cars at Cochin.
The operator of the car carrier is SICAL Logistics based in Chennai, which is a leading player in bulk operations in many ports and operates a coal terminal at Ennore.
The car carriers, which are roll on-roll off (Ro-Ro) ships, are highly productive with automobiles being driven in and out of the ship.
The operator will be carrying the vehicles of Renault, Ford, Hyundai and Toyota from Tamil Nadu and Honda and Ford from Gujarat. The operator is also targeting Maruti. The steamer agent of the car carrier at Cochin is Neo Logistics.
Car handling requires clean surroundings and storage area of high quality. Cochin Port has identified the Q7 berth at Ernakulam Wharf for handling the ship, and a clean yard of 4,000 sq m area at Q7 is allotted for storage of cars until delivery to the dealers, which is normally expected in a week’s time.
Car handling is highly prestigious, and at adequate volumes could be a steady source of income of about Rs.3 to 6 crore per annum to the port in addition to the significant contribution in environmental safety by eliminating thousands of trucks from the road and the resultant emission savings.
Kerala is a major consumption centre of cars with annual sales of about 1,50,000 to 1,80,000 units, which is highly significant in determining logistic patterns.
The present mode of movement of automobiles for internal consumption in India is dominated by huge car carrier trucks plying on congested roads, and Kerala is no exception.
Therefore, the potential coastal transport market segment could be strong; 50 ship calls a year with 1,000 cars per call will be required if 30% of the Kerala market shifts to the coastal transport mode.
The prospect of Cochin Port attracting coastal movement of cars, with major automobile manufacturers moving cars to dealers in Kerala from factories in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Haryana, assumes significance in this regard.
The new business is the culmination of sustained efforts by Cochin Port. The port has offered rebates in port charges in advance towards attracting the business; concessional wharfage of Rs.500 per car and Rs. 900 per truck, and 50% rebate in the notified vessel related charges, an official press release said.

SiGNS short film and documentary festival to begin in Kochi on September 28

The 10th edition of the SiGNS short film and documentary festival, oganised by the Federation of Film Societies of India (FFSI), Kerala in association with the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF, will begin here on September 28.
The five-day event will screen 200 short films and documentaries at the Ernakulam Town Hall, a press release from the organisers said.
Meanwhile, as part of effort to promote the festival, two-day touring talkies have started at college campus and other venues in and around Kochi.
Touring talkies were held at Union Christian College Aluva,  Amritha College, Edappally, Ernakulam Public Library, and Changampuzha Park, Edappally on Thursday. Screening will be held at St.Alberts college, Government Law College, Maharajas College, Sacred Heart College, Thevara and Vasco de Gama Square,Fort Kochi on Friday.
The guest of honour during the screening at UC College was Shanavas K Bavakkutty, director of  the movie Kismath.
The 10th edition of SiGNS festival will feature a retrospective on the works of Rakesh Sharma and Pramod Pati, a homage section to Iranian film-maker Abbas Kiarostami , litterateur Mahasweta Devi and film-maker Bala Kailasam, a lengthy documentary series named ‘Director’s Pick’ , a package of documentary films from Africa named ‘Artists Cinema ’, a short fiction package curated by  Premendra Majumdar and ‘Best of Insights’, a collection of award winning short films from Haiku film Festival.
Short films and documentaries from 25 Indian languages will be screened under the Competition and Focus sections. Seminars and open forums with filmmakers from around the country will also take place on the sidelines, the release added.

Railways sign JV agreement with Kerala government

The Ministry of Railways signed a joint venture agreement with the Kerala government for developing railway infrastructure in the State.
Apart from Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu, Railway Board Chairman Ashok Kumar Mital, Member Engineering Aditya Kumar Mittal,  other Board Members and senior officials were also present on the occasion.
The agreement was signed by Mr S.C. Jain, Executive Director (Works) on behalf of the Railways and by Mr K. R. Jyothilal, Secretary, Department of Transport & Revenue (Devaswom) on behalf of the Kerala government.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Prabhu said the signing of JV agreements with the State Governments was a farsighted step of the Ministry by which the Railways wanted to work with the State Governments for the development of railway infrastructure in the States.
He said Kerala had been neglected for too long. Now, concerted efforts were needed to develop its railway infrastructure. The Railway Ministry has given maximum allocation to Kerala during 2014-15 to 2016-17, he said.
The Railways were also working on the redevelopment of Kochi and Ernakulam stations, he added.
The present railway network density in Kerala is 2.70 km per 100 square km which is above the national average 2.01 km per 100 square km. However, it is an established fact that the railway network density in the country as a whole needs to be improved and the States coming forward in this regard is a welcome step, he said.
The average outlay to Kerala in Railway Budget was Rs. 821  crore during 2014-15 to 2016-17 which is an increase of 121% over the average outlay of Rs. 371.9 crore during 2009-10 to 2013-14.

Ansari voices concern over decline in state funding in key social sector programmes

Vice-President Mohammed Hamid Ansari yesterday expressed concern over the decline in State funding in the key social sector programmes, including education.
Inaugurating the 4th phase of the ‘Vidyadhanam’ project here, Mr Ansari said that, in addition to increasing the government investments in education, it was also essential to maintain the funding levels of other social welfare schemes, especially those operating in the rural sector.
This would ensure that that falling incomes of parents do not impact the educational prospects of school children, he said.
The Vice-President said the Vidyadhanam, piloted by Prof. KV Thomas, MP, is a unique project, as it not only provides financial incentive and scholarship to bright students from Government and aided schools, but also encourages cultivation of life skills, such as thrift and financial inclusion.
He said Prof. Thomas, throughout his public life and in his various capacities, has championed the cause of the socially and economically disadvantaged sections, particularly by enhancing equitable access to education.
“I am informed that in addition to the present Vidyadhanam project, Prof. Thomas has also spearheaded several other projects aimed at improving the quality and accessibility of education in the district of Ernakulam. One of these includes setting up of a digital library to make available online journals and books to the needy students of the district,” he added.
“I am informed that in the fourth phase of the project, some 2,000 school children who pass their higher secondary school examinations with a grade of A+, will be provided with a corpus amount of Rs. 2,500 each, which would be deposited in an account in their name with the State Bank of India.
"The students are then encouraged to save and augment this seed amount, which in turn, becomes available to them when they seek to pursue higher education,” he added.
Mr Ansari noted that the spread of education in Kerala has led to enhancement of individual freedom, created a better climate for gender equity and led to much faster reduction in income poverty than in many other States.
The remarkable performance of Kerala on the various socio-economic indicators, which approximate more those of the developed countries than developing ones, is a testimony to the transformative power of mass education, he added.
Kerala Governor Justice (Retd.) P. Sathasivam and Minister for Forests, Animal Husbandry and Zoos K. Raju were among those present at the ceremony.

Kerala: Ansari unveils educationist M. Sreenivasan’s statue at Kollam

Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari yesterday said noted educationist M. Sreenivasan, would be remembered for his services in the field in Kerala.
Addressing a meeting after unveiling the statue of Dr. Sreenivasan at Sree Narayana College campus here, Mr Ansari said the education personified, in his dedication to the betterment of others through education, the teachings and the spirit of Kerala’s great saint and social reformer, the mystic poet Sree Narayan Guru, after whom this college is named.
It is befitting, therefore, that Dr. Sreenivasan’s statue be placed here in his beloved college, he added.
The Vice-President said generations of students who had passed out from this college, under Dr. Sreenivasan’s tutelage, remember him with great affection and continue to spread his message of social reform through education throughout India and beyond.
Dr Sreenivasan studied at the Travancore University and completed his doctorate from Aligarh Muslim University. As an academic and an administrator of educational institutions, his contributions were well recognized and he went on to serve on Boards of several universities, including the universities of Calicut, Madras, Karnataka, Mysore and the Kerala Art University, Mr Ansari said.
He was widely published, including in well-known journals like the Modern Review. His work on the social and economic conditions of the poor workers of Quilon town was path-breaking. Dr Sreenivasan was also recognised as an expert in developing worthwhile systems for evaluating student learning and served as a member, board of examination at the Union Public Service Commission from 1966 to 1991, the Vice-President added.
He commended the work done by the Dr. M. Sreenivasan Foundation as well as for their initiative in having the statue erected here in memory of a great educationist and humanitarian.

Railways cancel more trains, divert others following Kerala derailment

The Southern Railway today cancelled some train and diverted others following yesterday's derailment of 12 coaches of the 16347 Thiruvananthapuram - Mangaluru Express near Karukutty station, near Aluva, in Kerala.
No injuries or casualties were reported in the mishap and all passengers are safe.
According to a press release from Southern Railway, the following are the changes made in the pattern of train services today:
Trains fully cancelled :
1.      Train No.56370Ernakulam-Guruvayur Passenger scheduled to leave Ernakulam at 06.00 Hrs on 29.08.16.
2.      Train No.16305 Ernakulam–Kannur Express scheduled to leave Ernakulam at 06.45Hrs on 29.08.16.
3.      Train No.56362 Ernakulam-Nilambur Passenger scheduled to leave Ernakulam at 07.20Hrs on 29.08.16.
4.      Train No.16341Guruvayur – Trivandrum Express scheduled to leave Guruvayur at 03.15Hrs on 29.08.16.
5.      Train No.16342Trivandrum -GuruvayurExpress scheduled to leave Trivandrum at 17.30Hrs on 29.08.16
6.      Train No.56361Shoranur- Ernakulam Passenger scheduled to leave Shoranur at 04.20 Hrs on 29.08.16.
7.      Train No.56365Guruvayur – PunalurPassenger scheduled to leave Guruvayur at 06.00Hrs on 29.08.16.
8.      Train No.56371Guruvayur – ErnakulamPassenger scheduled to leave Guruvayur at 06.45Hrs on 29.08.16.
9.      Train No.66611Palghat – ErnakulamPassenger scheduled to leave Palghat at 08.15Hrs on 29.08.16.
Trains partially cancelled:
1.      Train No.16308 Kannur - Alleppey Express scheduled to leave Kannur at 05.00Hrs on 29.08.16 is partially cancelled between Shoranur – Alleppey and will return back as Train No.16307 from Shoranur.
2.      Train No.16307Allepey-Kannur Express scheduled to leave Allepey at 14.50Hrs on 29.08.16 is partially cancelled between Alleppey and Shoranur.
Rescheduling of Train Services:
1.      Train No.12977 Ernakulam – Ajmer Marusagar Express  originally rescheduled to leave Ernakulam at 10.00 Hrs on 29.08.16 is  further rescheduled to leave  Ernakulam at 20.00 Hrs on 29.08.16 due to late running of pairing train..
2.      Train No.22648 Trivandrum Central –Korba Express originally rescheduled to leave Trivandrum Central at 16.30 Hrs on 29.08.16 is further  rescheduled to leave Trivandrum Central at 21.00 Hrs on 29.08.16 due to late running of pairing train..
3.  Train No.  12625 Trivandrum Central – New Delhi Kerala Express  scheduled to leave Trivandrum Central at 11.15 Hrs on 29.08.16 is  rescheduled to leave Trivandrum Central at 23.00 Hrs on 29.08.16 due to late running of pairing train..
4.   Train No.12617 Ernakulam – Nizamuddin, Mangala Express scheduled to leave Ernakulam at 10.45 Hrs on 29.08.16 is  rescheduled to leave  Ernakulam at 22.30 Hrs on 29.08.16 due to late running of pairing train..

Kerala train derailment: Several trains cancelled, diverted, delayed

The Southern Railway today cancelled, diverted and short-terminated several trains following the derailment of 12 coaches of the 16347 Thiruvananthapuram - Mangaluru Express near Karukutty, near Aluva, in Kerala early this morning.
According to a press release from Southern Railway, the following are the detailments of the cancellations and diversions:
1.      Train No.56352 Ernakulam-Shoranur Passenger on 28/8/16
2.      Train No.56361 Shoranur-Ernakulam Passenger on 28/8/16
3.      Train No.56379 Ernakulam-Alapuzha Passenger on 28/8/16
4.      Train No.56384 Alapuzha-Ernakulam Passenger on 28/8/16
5.      Train No.56376 Ernakulam-Guruvayoor Passenger on 28/8/16
6.      Train No.56603 Thrissur-Kozhikode Passenger on 28/8/16
7.      Train No.56370 Ernakulam-Guruvayoor Passenger on 28/8/16
8.      Train No.56371 Guruvayoor- Ernakulam Passenger on 28/8/16
9.      Train No.56365 Punalur-Guruvayoor Passenger on 28/8/16
10.  Train No.56366 Guruvayoor- Punalur Passenger on 28/8/16
11.  Train No.56373 Guruvayoor- Thrissur Passenger on 28/8/16
12.  Train No.56374 Thrissur- Guruvayoor Passenger on 28/8/16
13.  Train No.56375 Guruvayoor- Ernakulam Passenger on 28/8/16
14.  Train No.56043 Guruvayoor- Thrissur Passenger on 28/8/16
15.  Train No.56044 Thrissur- Guruvayoor Passenger on 28/8/16
16.  Train No.16305 Ernakulam-Kannur Inter City Express on 28/8/16
17.  Train No.16308 Kannur-Alapuzha Inter City Express on 29/8/16
18.  Train No.16307 Alapuzha- Kannur Inter City Express on 29/8/16
19.  Train No.16306 Kannur-Ernakulam Inter City Express on 30/8/16
20.  Train No.16341 Guruvayoor-Thiruvananthapuram Express on 28/8/16
21.  Train No.16342 Thiruvananthapuram- Guruvayoor Express on 28/8/16
1.      Train No.16343 / 16349 Thiruvananthapuram-Palakkad Town / Nilambur Amritha/Rajyarani Link express will terminate its service at Ernakulam Town on 28/8/16
2.      Train No.16127 Chennai Egmore-Guruvayoor Express will terminate its service at Ernakulam Jn on 28/8/16
3.      Train No.16606 Nagercoil-Mangaluru Eranad Express will terminate its service at Ernakulam Jn on 28/8/16
4.      Train No.12076 Thiruvananthapuram-Kozhikode Janshatabdi Express will terminate its service at Ernakulam Jn on 28/8/16
5.      Train No.16302 Thiruvananthapuram-Shoranur Venad Express will terminate its service at Ernakulam Jn on 28/8/16
6.      Train No.16650 Nagercoil-Mangaluru Parasuram Express will terminate its service at Ernakulam Town on 28/8/16
1.      The service of Train No.16343 / 16349 Thiruvananthapuram-Palakkad Town / Nilambur Amritha/Rajyarani Link express will be partially cancelled between Ernakulam Town and Palakkad Jn(Pollachi Jn)/Nilambur Road on 28/8/16
2.      The service of Train No.16605 Mangaluru-Nagercoil Eranad express will be partially cancelled between Ernakulam Jn and Mangaluru Central on 28/8/16
3.      The service of Train No.12075 Kozhikode-Thiruvananthapuram Janshatabdi express will be partially cancelled between Kozhikode and Ernakulam Jn on 28/8/16
4.      The service of Train No.16301 Shoranur-Thiruvananthapuram Venad express will be partially cancelled between Shoranur and Ernakulam Jn on 28/8/16
5.      The service of Train No.16649 Mangaluru- Nagercoil Parasuram Express will be partially cancelled between Mangaluru Central and  Ernakulam Town on 28/8/16
1.      Train No.12512 Thiruvananthapuram-Gorakhpur Rapthisagar Tri-weekly express will be diverted via Tirunelveli on 28/8/16
2.      Train No.17229 Thiruvananthapuram-Hyderabad Sabari express will be diverted via Tirunelveli on 28/8/16
3.      Train No.16382 Kanyakumari-Mumbai CST express will be diverted via Tirunelveli on 28/8/16
4.      Train No.16525 Kanyakumari-Bengaluru express will be diverted via Tirunelveli on 28/8/16
5.      Train No.13352 Alapuzha-Dhanbad Tatanagar express will be diverted via Tirunelveli on 28/8/16
1.      Train No.16346 Thiruvananthapuram-Lokmanya Tilak Netravathi Express will leave Thiruvananthapuram Central on delayed timings on 28/8/16
2.      Train No.12625 Thiruvananthapuram-New Delhi Kerala Express will leave Thiruvananthapuram Central on delayed timings on 28/8/16
3.      Train No.12515 Thiruvananthapuram-Guwahati Express will leave Thiruvananthapuram Central on delayed timings on 28/8/16
4.      Train No.12202 Kochuveli-Lokmanya Tilak Garibrath bi-weekly Express will leave Thiruvananthapuram Central on delayed timings on 28/8/16
5.      Train No.19261 Kochuveli-Porbandar Express will leave Thiruvananthapuram Central on delayed timings on 28/8/16

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Thiruvananthapuram-Mangaluru Express derails in Kerala, no casualties

As many as 12 coaches of the 16347 Thiruvananthapuram - Mangaluru Express derailed near Karukutty station, near Aluva, in Kerala early this morning.
No injuries or casualties have been reported and all passengers are safe, the Southern Railway said in a press release.
The train had left Thiruvananthapuram at 2040 hours last night and the derailment occurred near Karukutty station, after it had passed Aluva, at 0255 hours today, it said.
Since both tracks have been affected by the derailment, all train services passing through Ernakulam and Alwaye are likely to be delayed until the rescue operations are completed, the release said.
Mr. P.K.Mishra, Additional General Manager, Southern Railway, Mr. Prakash Butani, Divisional Railway Manager, Trivandrum and other senior officials have rushed to the spot to oversee the relief and rescue operations.
Buses have been arranged to transport passengers from Karukutty to Chalakudy from where they will be taken to their destination by special trains. 
The Southern Railway has set up helpline numbers 9746769960, 9746761072 and 0471-2320012. 
The cause of the mishap could not be immediately ascertained.
Tickets will be refunded, the release added.

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CCEA okays waiver of penal interest on GoI loans availed by Cochin Port

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) yesterday approved the waiver of penal interest on Government of India (GOI) loans availed by Cochin Port Trust to the tune of Rs. 897.23 crore. 
The CCEA also gave its approval for freezing the liability on account of GOI loans, interest thereon and penal interest @ 0.25% as on 31.3.2016 amounting to Rs.557.16 crore (Rs.258.14 crore + Rs.281.45 crore + Rs.17.57 crore), an official press release said.
The CCEA, further approved the rescheduling of repayment of the amount frozen in 10 years commencing from 2018-19, it said. 
The Cochin Port Trust availed loans for various developmental activities from Government of India amounting to Rs.168.15 crore between1936-37 and 1994-95. Non-repayment of these loans has attracted penal interest to the tune of Rs. 914.80 crore. 
The port could not repay the loans since the projected revenue from the capital investment done was not sufficient to cover the interest component.
The release said the decision has come in the backdrop of a series of remedial steps taken by Cochin Port to improve its financial conditions.
The Government had also ordered it to take some measures such as ban on recruitments, stoppage of vehicle purchases and the like.
The measures adopted by the port include steps unprecedented in other Major Ports, like freezing of Variable DA for all employees and Dearness Relief for pensioners, stoppage of HBA, conveyance advance, and LTC, stoppage of overtime posting for non-operating areas, reduction of uniform allowance to single set basis, and deferment of Leave Encashment. 
With these recent initiatives taken by the Cochin Port, several income streams, long awaited by the port, are now beginning to bear fruit and this would improve the financial status of the port in future and its ability to repay the loans in future, the release added.

Kerala Congress (Mani) severs three-decade-old ties with UDF

Kerala Congress (Mani) leader K. M. Mani today announced his decision to sever his party's links of more than three decades with the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) in the state, blaming a section of the Congress leaders for the soured ties.
Talking to newspersons, Mr. Mani, 83, also declared that his party would never return to the UDF or join the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) or the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. 
He said his party's six MLAs would sit as a separate block in the state legislative assembly.
The decision was announced at the end of the two-day meeting of the Kerala Congress (M) at Charalkunnu in Pathanamthitta district.
Mr. Mani said his party would extend issue-based support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) at the Centre. He also said that his party w ould continue its relationship with the UDF in the local self-government bodies and cooperatives in Kerala.
Mr. Mani, who was Finance Minister in the Oommen Chandy-led UDF Government and had resigned from the Cabinet last November, months before the Assembly elections, in the wake of mounting pressure on him to quit following adverse remarks made against him by the Kerala High Court in relation to the bar bribery case, said he had taken the decision to quit the UDF with a heavy heart.
He said his party had played an important role in the growth of the UDF in Kerala. He said some Congress leaders were treating his party as "enemy number one" and there was a limit to his and his colleagues' tolerance. He said his feelings were akin to those of a son leaving his house.
He accused some Congress leaders, without naming anyone, of conspiring to defeat his party's candidates in elections. He said special funds were allocated for this purpose and workers were recruited specially for the purpose.
 "We should have taken this decision earlier. We have now taken this decision to uphold our pride," he said.
"However, we bear no grudge against anyone, and wish the UDF well," he added.
Congress leaders Ramesh Chennithala and V M Sudheeran criticised the decision, saying the Kerala Congress (M) had already made up its mind to leave the UDF and was only looking for an excuse.
Mr. Chandy said he was pained by the decision and said that every effort had been made to solve the various probems between the two parties at various stages.

Kerala Tourism hitches ride on Dubai cabs

A Kerala-branded taxi in Dubai as part of the Kerala Tourism's campaign in the Middle East.
A Kerala-branded taxi in Dubai as part of the Kerala Tourism's campaign in the Middle East.
With the onset of the outbound tourism season in the Gulf and the Middle East, Kerala Tourism has rolled out a high-octane promotional campaign in Dubai targeting Arab travellers and showcasing the state’s spectacular features via colourful visuals draped on a bevy of taxis moving through the bustling metropolis.
As many as 200 Kerala-branded taxis will ferry the message of ‘A Faraway Land Four Hours Away’– with eye-catching visuals featuring hill stations, backwaters, waterfalls as also Ayurvedic therapies – through the streets of Dubai, the throbbing heart of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The campaign will see the cabs take to the streets sporting wrappings designed to promote the state’s monsoon getaways, offering respite from the sizzle of the Arabian summer.
“Apart from the favourable climate, the relative proximity and excellent air connectivity between Kerala and the cities of the Middle East make it easier to attract holiday makers to the state,” said Dr Venu V, Principal Secretary (Tourism), Kerala Government.
“Dubai, being the hub for air travel in the region, was the logical choice of location for the marketing campaign. The exposure and footfalls gained by Kerala will bear this out," he said.
The campaign, inspired by the previous highly successful branding efforts on London taxi cabs and the Mumbai metro, will run until August 15. Besides serving to augment Kerala’s destination pull, it is an acknowledgment of the growing importance of the Middle East outbound tourist market – the world’s fastest-growing segment with a nine per cent rise in outbound trips in 2015.
Arab tourists are also the biggest spenders. Kerala received more than one lakh visitors from the region in 2015, with some 20,506 tourists from the UAE alone. The majority came from Saudi Arabia with 51,149 Saudi nationals visiting last year, while Oman accounted for 18,763 footfalls.
“As the holiday season in the Middle East coincides with the monsoon season here, Kerala is well-positioned to benefit from the influx of travellers looking to trade in the sizzle and dust for cooler climes and greener pastures,” said Mr. U.V. Jose, Director, Kerala Tourism.

AFD commits to financing Phase 2 of Kochi Metro, releated project

Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the French development agency, has announced its commitment to financing Phase 2 of the Kochi Metro and other city improvement initiatives proposed by Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL), including junction improvements and place making. 
The AFD team also expressed its satisfaction on the progress of the project, a press release from KMRL said.
AFD is a financial institution and the main implementing agency for France’s official development assistance to developing countries and overseas territories.
The AFD team consisting Ms. Priscille De Coninck, Urban Transport Expert, AFD Head Office, Mr. Nicolas Fornage, Director, AFD Regional Office, Delhi; Ms. Marine Karcher, Geographical Coordinator of Asia Department and Ms. Juliette Le Pannerer, Project Coordinator, AFD Regional Office, Delhi were in Kochi yesterday and today as a part of an official supervision of the progress of Kochi Metro Phase I.
"We were here as a part of a review of the progress on Kochi Metro Phase I. Since our last visit in April this year there has been a great deal of progress with regard to the construction work and we were even able to carry out a trial run of the coaches on potential routes. We are confident that the commercial operational deadline will be met. We are committed to fulfilling KMRL's request to fund the second phase of the Kochi Metro and the improvements of major junctions like Edappally and Kalamassery. KMRL's city improvement projects will receive our whole-hearted support and we plan on drawing up and approving a formal agreement for funding the same by the first half of 2017." said Mr. Fornage.
“The Kochi Metro phase 1 and 2, the Water Metro and the Smart City project will bring in a total investment of around Rs.11,000 crore to the city, of which Rs.9000 crore will be set aside for mobility related projects alone. Once complete these infrastructural developments will transform Kochi into a smart, efficient and sustainable city,“ said KMRL Managing Director Elias George.
The release said AFD and KMRL held discussions on revamping of the Vyttila Mobility Hub and additional support for city improvements and place-making projects.
"AFD's 'Kochi Project' is much more than facilitating the creation of a metro line, but the implementation of a vision to transform Kochi into a smart and efficient city, with the metro and its related infrastructural developments functioning as a backbone to the city," said Mr. Fornage. The Rs. 100 crore project for city improvement and junction development was approved in last meeting of the Board of Directors of KMRL.

CCEA approves construction of new dry dock at Cochin Shipyard

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) yesterday gave its approval for the construction of a new dry dock within the existing premises of Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) at Kochi in Kerala at an estimated cost of Rs. 1799 crore.
An official press release said the project is expected to augment the shipbuilding and ship repair capacity essentially required to tap the market potential of building specialized and technologically advanced large vessels such as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) vessels, Indigenous Aircraft Carriers of higher capacity, Jack up Rigs, Drill ships, large Dredgers and repairing of offshore platforms and larger vessels. 
This big sized dry dock is a critical requirement of CSL to promote ship building and is a step in the direction of "Make in India" initiative of the Government, it said.
The release said there would be no financial outgo from the Government on account of the construction of the new dry dock as it will be funded through internal and extra budgetary resources (IEBR) of CSL and the funding requirements were fully tied up. 
Apart from direct employment of 300 personnel, about 2000 personnel would be indirectly employed when the project becomes fully operational, it added.
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