Mukherjee says tragic to see universities caught in vortex of violence, disquiet

Declaring that there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian, President Pranab Mukherjee said on Thursday that the country's premier institutions of higher education must resound with creativity and free thinking.

President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ at Kochi in Kerala on March 2, 2017.
President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ at Kochi in Kerala on March 2, 2017.
Declaring that there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian, President Pranab Mukherjee today said the country's premier institutions of higher education must resound with creativity and free thinking.
"Those in Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet," he said while delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ in Kochi.
"India was a world leader in the field of education when our Universities like Nalanda and Takshshila were at the height of their glory. Nalanda and Takshshila are not mere geographical expressions but representations of the idea for free thought which flourished in these great Universities of the past.  Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society.  These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking," he said.
"There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian.  India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression.  Our society has always been characterized by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion.   Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee began by speaking about Kerala, which has been the gateway to India for traders and religious missionaries from different parts of the globe. He said the people of Kerala were known for their progressive thinking and the State's impressive achievements in the field of literacy, education, health, gender equality, tourism and culture had brought it global acclaim.
Turning to the topic of the lecture, India@70, he said that for 50 years before independence in 1947 the economic growth rate of India was 0% to 1%. "In the fifties, our growth rate rose to 1 – 2%, the sixties 3 – 4% and in the 90s, with economic reforms, to 6 to 7%.  In the last decade, our growth rate has averaged around 8%, making us the fastest growing large economy of the world," he said.
"India’s population in 1950 was 360 million. Today, we are a 1.3 billion strong nation.  Our annual per capita income has gone up from Rs. 7,500 at the time of independence to over Rs. 77,000. GDP growth rate has risen from 2.3 percent to 7.9 percent in 2015-16.  Poverty ratio has declined from over 60 percent to less than 25 percent.  Average life expectancy has gone up from 31.4 to 68.4 years. Literacy rate has gone up from 18 to 74 percent. Food grains production has gone up from 45 million to an estimated 272 million tonnes in 2016-17," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee spoke about the progress achieved by the country in the field of food and industrial production, as well as in areas such as space, information technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. He said that, in the last 70 years, India had transformed itself from a poor, under-developed nation into the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.
He said equally important was India's success in consolidating the unity of its nation and democracy in the midst of extraordinary challenges and tremendous diversity.  
"We have firmly established within our country the rule of law, an independent judiciary and vibrant media as well as civil society.  We have also created strong institutions like the Election Commission and the CAG who stand as pillars of our political system.  Every known religion in the world, over hundred different languages used in everyday life, 1600 dialects and multiple cultures are united under one flag and one Constitution. Around 553 million people voted in the 2014 General Elections, an exercise matched in scale and scope by none else in the world," he said.
The President said the most important legacy bequeathed to the nation by its founding fathers was its Constitution.
"A Constitution is a charter for the governance of a nation. The notion of what is good governance must be defined by the need of the times and enriched by the experience of the decades. Yet, the Constitution enshrines certain timeless values that should never be compromised. It is against the touchstone of these values that we must constantly measure our performance," he said.
"The Preamble records the resolve of the people of India to secure to all citizens justice - social, economic and political as well as liberty, equality and fraternity.  It also establishes the principle of secularism. Justice - social, economic and political - is in the life of any nation a journey more than a destination. To achieve social justice requires not mere governance but a recasting of mindsets and the transformation of social ethos.  That is the job not just of the legislature, the executive or the courts, but of each one of us.
"The ultimate goal of any democracy is the empowerment of the individual, irrespective of his economic, religious or social standing. This may appear to be a utopian dream for many, but the strength of a system lies in its capacity to ceaselessly work for its accomplishment.  The goal of political justice requires the continuous empowerment of marginalised sections of our society. We owe ourselves to create a system in which access to politics is not limited to a privileged few but an average Indian also feels empowered enough to contribute," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee said economic development was vital to good governance but stressed that this must be imbued with the principle of equality on which there could be no compromise.
"An egalitarian society can only be created when growth is inclusive. It is important to ensure that there is justice and equality of opportunity and the state does not create conditions in which the privileged few gain at the cost of the multitudes who suffer endemic poverty. A sustainable society can only be based on the principles of equity and justice," he said.
He said democracy required constant nurturing and at no cost should the exploitation of fault lines be allowed. In this context, he underlined the importance of protection and safety of women and children.
Mr. Mukherjee said the country's leaders and political activists must listen to the people, engage with them, learn from them and respond to their needs and concerns. "Our law makers must never take the people for granted. They must focus on the fundamental task of law making and raising of issues of concern to the people as well as finding solutions to their problems," he said.
"Legislation is the first and foremost responsibility of a Parliamentarian. It is most unfortunate that time devoted towards legislation has been gradually declining in our Parliament," he said, citing figures for time lost due to interruptions and adjournments.
"No one who holds any elected office has been invited by the voters to occupy that office.  Each one has gone to the voters and pleaded for their votes and support.  The trust placed by the people in the political system and those elected should not be betrayed. Our Legislatures and Parliament must not turn into arenas for combat.  Floor tests are not meant to be muscle tests.  The opportunity to represent the people is not a right or entitlement but a moral obligation and duty.  Our elected representatives owe it to the people of our country to act as models of exemplary conduct," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee said Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies were central pillars on which the edifice of democracy   rested. 
"They are the supreme institutions comprising of members directly elected by our people.  It is through them that governments are held accountable by the people.  If they become dysfunctional, it results in not just paralysis of those institutions but creates an adverse impact across the system.  The debate and discussions which ought to take place in the open in the House of Parliament and Assemblies cannot be replicated elsewhere.  When they cease to function effectively, issues spill out onto the streets.  The very basis of our democracy gets undermined," he said.
The President said the time had come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national purpose and patriotism that alone can lift the nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity.
"The nation and the people must always come first.  Let us strive to arrest the moral decline in our society and ensure that our core civilisational values find firm root.  Let us exert ourselves to strengthen India’s pluralism and diversity.  Let us be uncompromising in rooting out violence, prejudice and hatred.  
"Let us strive for rapid progress but even as we do so, ensure that the benefits of economic progress percolate down to the poorest of the poor and those living in the furthest corners of our country.  Let us make the poorest in our land part of the story of a rising India.  Let us embrace education, skill development and innovation which will enable us catapult India into the future and build a knowledge economy, riding the technological wave of the 21st century.
"I see a very bright future for India. Our Constitutional values, young population and entrepreneurial abilities as well as capacity for hard work provide us the fundamentals required for rapid progress as well as the building of a caring and compassionate society. India has changed dramatically in the last 70 years.  I am confident that in the next ten years, we will see even greater progress as we steer our nation, focused on further strengthening our open, democratic and inclusive society," he added.

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. 

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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Give a book instead of bouquet as greeting, says Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said people should give a book instead of a bouquet as greeting as the reading habit could make a great difference.
Speaking at the launch of P N Panicker Reading Day – Reading Month Celebration, Mr Modi said from the time of the Upanishads persons with knowledge have been respected through the ages. “We are now in the information age. Even today, knowledge is the best guiding light,” he added.
Saying that Kerala has been a torch-bearer and inspiration to the whole nation in the field of literacy, the Prime Minister noted that the first 100% literate city and the first 100% literate district have been this state.
Kerala was also the first state to attain 100% primary education. Some of the oldest colleges, schools and libraries of the country are also situated here.
“This could not have been achieved by the Government alone. Citizens and social organizations have played an active role in this remarkable achievement. Kerala has set an example in people’s participation in this regard. I admire the work of people like the late P N Panicker and his foundation. He was also the driving spirit behind the library network in Kerala. He did this through Kerala Granthasala Sangham set up by him in 1945 with 47 rural libraries,” Mr Modi said.
“I am told that as a pilot project of Digital Libraries, Panicker Foundation is working with 18 public libraries in the state in collaboration with Indian Public Library Movement, New Delhi,” he added.
“I would like to see such a reading and library movement in the entire country. The movement should not be limited to make people literate. It should try to achieve the real goal of bringing social and economic change. The foundation of good knowledge should be followed by a super-structure of a better society,” the Prime Minister said.
“Reading and knowledge should not be limited only to work-related aspects. It should help develop habits of social responsibility, service to the nation and service to humanity. It should cure the evils in society and nation. It should spread the idea of peace along with respect for unity and integrity of the nation,” Mr Modi said.
He said he had learnt that the P N Panicker Foundation together with a number of Government agencies, private sector entities and civil society organisations, was leading an initiative of reading with a target to reach 300 million under-privileged people by 2022. The main objective of this mission is to promote reading as a means to grow and prosper.
“Reading can help broaden one’s thinking. A well-read population will help India excel globally. With the same spirit, I had started a similar movement by name of Vanche Gujarat when I was Chief Minister of the State. It means Gujarat Reads. I had visited a public library to motivate people to read. The movement targeted the young generation, in particular. I also requested citizens to think about building a ‘Granth-Mandir’ - a temple of books - in their village. This could be started with 50 or 100 books,” Mr Modi said.
He said he was also happy to note that the State Government has announced June 19 as the reading day. Obviously, a lot of effort will converge to make this a popular activity, he added.

Modi inaugurates Kochi Metro, calls for paradigm shift in urban planning

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday that there was need to bring about a paradigm shift in urban planning in the country, by adopting a people-centric approach and integrating land-use and transport.

Modi flags off Kochi Metro, takes brief ride
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said there was need to bring about a paradigm shift in urban planning in the country, by adopting a people-centric approach and integrating land-use and transport.
"Towards this end, the Government of India issued a National Transit Oriented Development Policy in April 2017. This policy seeks to transform cities, from being transit dependent to being transit oriented. It aims to create compact walkable communities and bring public transport closer to transit," he said in an addresss at a function at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium here to dedicate Kochi Metro to the nation.
Earlier, Mr. Modi inaugurated the Kochi Metro at Palarivattom junction, and travelled briefly on the new metro line, accompanied by Kerala Governor P. Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Union Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, Urban Development Secretary Rajiv Gouba, Kerala Chief Secretary Nalini Netto, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Principal Adviser E. Sreedharan and Kochi Metro Rail Limited Managing Director Elias George.
Mr. Modi said that, over the last three years, his Government had placed special focus on overall infrastructure development of the nation. 
"Railways, roads, power have been our priority areas. In PRAGATI meetings, I have personally reviewed nearly 175 projects worth more than eight lakh crore rupees. We have resolved bottlenecks and significantly improved the average rate of implementation in these sectors. Now, we are also focusing on next generation infrastructure, which includes logistics, digital and gas," he said.
He said a number of initiatives had been taken by the Government to enhance public transport particularly in the cities. Foreign investment has been invited in this sector. Fifty cities in India are ready to implement metro rail projects, he said.
Mr. Modi said the economic and social benefits of metro rail systems are well-known. 
"We have speeded up policy formulation in this sector. Recently, the Government of India has standardized the specifications for rolling stock and signalling systems of metro rail. This will encourage manufacturers to set-up manufacturing facilities in India with a long-term perspective. In line with the 'Make in India' vision, efforts are being made to promote domestic manufacture of metro rolling stock," he said.
Congratulating the people of Kochi on the occasion, he said the city, the queen of the Arabian Sea, was an important spice trading centre. "Today it is known as the commercial capital of Kerala. Kochi ranks first in the total number of international and domestic tourist arrivals in Kerala. Hence it is fitting that Kochi should have a Metro rail facility," he said.
Mr. Modi noted that the city's population had been rising steadily, and was expected to reach 23 lakh by 2021. Therefore, a mass rapid transport system is essential to address the increasing pressure on urban infrastructure, he said, adding that it would also contribute to Kochi’s economic growth. 
He said KMRL is a 50:50 joint venture of the Government of India and the Government of Kerala. The Union Government has so far released over Rs. 2000 crore for Kochi Metro. The phase inaugurated today will operate from Aluva to Palarivattom. It will cover 13.26 kilometres and eleven stations. 
Mr. Modi also noted that the metro project has several significant features. It is the first metro project to be commissioned with a modern signalling system called the “Communication Based Train Control Signalling system”. The coaches reflect the “Make in India” vision. They have been built by Alstom of France, at their factory near Chennai, and have an Indian component of around 70 percent. 
He said the Kochi metro integrates the city’s entire public transportation network into a single system. This system will have a common time-table, common ticketing and centralised `command and control’. It also focuses on improving last mile connectivity and non-motorised transportation systems in the inner city. 
The Kochi Metro has also pioneered an innovative PPP model for ticketing. Indian banks and financial institutions are being invited through a bid process to invest in an Automated Fare Collection system. The selected bank will co-brand the Kochi Metro Fare Card and App with the bank’s name. 
"I am informed that this Kochi-1 Card is a multi-purpose pre-paid contact-less RuPay card which can be used to travel in the metro and also like a normal debit card. Kochi will be one of the few cities in the world and the first in India to have a modern open-loop Smart Card, which can be used with other modes of transport like buses, taxies and autos as well. 
"I am also informed that the Kochi-1 Mobile app has been developed with a long term vision. The mobile App has an Electronic-wallet integrated to it, which is linked to the Kochi-1 Card. Initially, it will enable citizens of Kochi to avail of metro services. In future, it will fulfil all their travel related requirements, regular payment needs and provide city and tourist information. Thus, it is a good example of an e-Governance digital platform. 
"Another noteworthy aspect of this project is that nearly one thousand women and twenty-three transgenders are being selected to work in the Kochi Metro Rail System. 
"The project is also an example of environment friendly development. It plans to meet nearly twenty five percent of the entire energy requirements from renewable sources, particularly solar energy. The long-term plan is to become a zero-carbon emitting urban transit system. Every sixth pillar of the metro system will have a covered vertical garden, which will substantially use urban solid waste.
"It is heartening to note that all stations as well as the Operation Control Centre of Kochi Metro have achieved platinum rating which is the highest certification level given by the Indian Green Building Council," he said.
Mr. Modi complimented the Union Ministry of Urban Development led by for having formulated a Value Capture Finance Policy Framework. This provides a mechanism to capture the increased land value. 
"Let me conclude by congratulating the citizens of Kochi, the Kochi Metro Rail Corporation and the Chief Minister of Kerala for achieving this important milestone. Kochi was selected as a Smart City in Round One of the challenge process in January 2016. I hope it will do even better in the days to come," he added.
Kochi Metro will start revenue operations on June 19, from 6 am onwards. The trains will start from Aluva and Palarivattom from 6 am simultaneously and will finish the day's ride at 10 pm at Aluva.
The headway will be 8.20 minutes and there will be 219 trips between 6 am and 10 pm from June 19 onwards.

Kochi Metro to get Rs. 15.2 crore per annum from semi-naming rights of five stations

Oppo Electronics (Kerala) Private Limited has won the tender for semi-naming rights of Edappally and M. G. Road stations of Kochi Metro to have the right to carry its brand name at selected locations in these stations. 
The stations will be displayed as Edappilly Oppo station and M.G.Road Oppo station, respectively, a press release from Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) said.
Similarly, Muthoot Fincorp succeeded in bidding for the semi-naming rights for the Aluva, Kalamasserry and Kaloor stations of Kochi Metro project.
For providing the semi-naming rights for five stations on the Aluva-Maharajas stretch of the project, KMRL will earn Rs. 15.2 crore per year. The contract is for three years, the release said.
Apart from displaying their names on the entry-exit structures, these two brands will also get an average of 2500 square feet space inside and outside of each station for their branding.
Only five out of 16 stations were available for providing semi-naming rights. KMRL got the highest quoted amount for Edappally station and lowest for Kalamassery, the release added.

GAIL awards pipeline laying work contracts for another 131 km in Kerala

The public sector GAIL (India) Limited has awarded contracts for pipeline laying works for another 131 km section from Areacode (Malappuram) to Kurumathoor (Kannur) of the Kochi – Koottanad – Mangaluru Pipeline at a cost of approximately Rs 200 crore. 
A press release from the company said contracts for the remaining 111 km stretch in Malappuram, Kannur and Kasargod districts will be awarded by July 2017.
Construction works from both the ends of the pipeline project -- that is in the 91 km Kochi – Koottanad section as well as in the 105 km Perole (Kasargod) – Mangaluru section are already in full swing.
With the latest award of contracts, over 75% of the Kochi – Koottanad – Mangaluru Pipeline will be in the construction phase, the release said.
"GAIL has been able to make substantial progress in acquisition of Right of User due to the continued support of the State Government, Administration, Police and the public at large. The Kochi – Koottanad – Mangaluru Pipeline is likely to give a major economic boost to the state of Kerala by way of environmentally benign industrial development," the release said.
GAIL is targeting to complete the entire Kochi – Koottanad – Mangaluru Pipeline by December 2018, the release added.

Kochi Metro Rail Ltd enables formation of company by autorickshaw unions

As part of efforts to create a seamless integrated public transport system in the city, the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) has succeeded in enabling all autorickshaw unions of the GCDA and Goshree area to arrive at a consensus to form a company or society.
The company will bring all the autorickshaw unions under one roof, with 15,000 autorickshaws of the city joining the scheme and working as a single professional operating unit, a press release from KMRL said.
The company will be managed by the District Autorickshaw Union Co-ordination Committee, comprising major unions forming a governing body, which will be responsible for the rules, regulations, bye-laws and also the smooth functioning of the system. 
The unions have decided to hold meetings with the local units to pass on the basic vision behind this initiative and present the various perspectives to their fellow owners before May 10, the release said.
“Kochi has more byroads and service roads than the main roads. The best way to bring people to public transport through these roads is to use autorickshaws. Connecting autos to our public transport system would bring a revolutionary change in the city traffic,” Mr. Elias George, Managing Director, KMRL, said.
Once the company is formed, the new system will be capable of enabling GPS Tracking, Mobile Journey Planner and Smart Card Ticketing, all of which would make the journey hi-tech, safe and easy for commuters.  To proceed further in the matter, the unions will hold meetings with KMRL and the technical partners on May 2, the release said.
Another task taken up by the Co-ordination Committee is to deliberate on the list of feeder routes to be finalized for Kochi Metro, Water Metro and Feeder buses with the help of their local units and the technical help of the students of SCMS College.
The Auto rickshaw Co-ordination Committee will hold further discussions to decide as to whether to create a society or register as a company before May 30, it said.
The Auto rickshaw Co-ordination Committee will also conduct competitions among autorickshaw drivers for creating a name and logo for the company, the design of the auto and the uniform for the drivers.
"Auto Integration will help commuters to avail three types of services: ‘Hire Auto’, which is the normal service taking people from A to B, ‘Smart Auto’, the auto that comes to the doorstep and can be booked through an app, and finally ‘Feeder Auto’, which will pick people from feeder routes," the release said.
It is also a social inclusion project which will provide a working environment as an "employee & owner”, under a professional operating unit (a society), the release added.

Anita Dube named curator of Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018

Anita Dube
Anita Dube
Well-known contemporary artist Anita Dube was today named as the curator for the fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) -- India's only biennale and the largest celebration of contemporary art in South Asia -- that will begin here in December 2018. 
The selection is in keeping with the Biennale’s long-standing tradition of being an artist-led exhibition, a press release from the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF), the organisers of the event, said.
The announcement, made by Kerala Culture Minister A. K. Balan during the closing ceremony of KMB at Durbar Hall here yesterday evening, followed the unanimous decision made by a high-powered panel of renowned artists and prominent personalities to bring Dube’s unique artistic insights and sensibilities to the Biennale, it said.
“Through three editions, the KMB has gained a reputation for being one of the most important exhibitions of its kind around the world. It is an honour and a very big challenge to be declared curator of this wonderful platform. I am delighted that the jurors thought I can deliver. I accept the responsibility with excitement and humility. It is early days yet and my thoughts will no doubt undergo several changes going forward, but I view this as an opportunity to do something special,” said Dube, who was present at the function.
Dube takes over from Sudarshan Shetty, whose vision for the third edition of India’s only Biennale saw 97 artists from 31 countries showcase their production – across a variety of forms, styles and disciplines – over a 108-day period starting December 12, 2016. Spread out across 12 venues, KMB 2016 received more than six lakh visitors.
Based out of the National Capital Region, Dube is renowned for her conceptually rich, politically charged works. An art historian and critic by training and a visual artist in practice, she has been widely exhibited across the Americas, Europe and Asia, including at the first edition of the KMB in 2012. Dube’s practice uses found objects and industrial materials, photography and ‘word architecture’ to critique contemporary socio-political realities.
Her aesthetic idiom, in many ways, reflects her background as a member of the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association – a short-lived but hugely influential collection of artists and art students who rebelled against what they perceived to be the commodification of art in India.
In fact, Dube’s selection comes nearly three decades after she wrote the manifesto of the group’s seminal exhibition ‘Questions and Dialogue’ held in 1987 in the western state of Gujarat – that called for an explicitly radical, socially and politically conscious approach to art making. The group focused on inexpensive materials and found objects to produce works that resisted commercialisation and connected with working-class audiences.
Describing Dube as a ‘thinking artist’, KMB co-founder Bose Krishnamachari said, “Anita’s sensitivity towards materials, incorporating everyday objects derived from informal, craft and industrial sources and spaces, is profound. As is her wordplay and use of mediums, gestures and imageries – all of which will make for varied experiences and resonances in a space as adaptive and accommodating as the Biennale. Her oeuvre features both knowledgeable consideration and skillful melding of the sensibilities and styles of abstractions with real, contemporary concerns. This will doubtless be reflected in her curatorial vision.”
Krishnamachari, who is also President of the KBF, was part of the ‘Artistic Advisory Committee’ that selected Dube as curator. The other panelists were KBF Secretary Riyas Komu, Velu Vishwanadhan, Sarat Maharaj, Ravi Agarwal, Dayanita Singh, Sadanand Menon, Kavita Singh and V. Sunil.
“Anita’s selection not only reinforces our commitment to having artists at the helm, but also our mission to address contemporary social-political-cultural concerns. Anita is a strong proponent of making art accessible to the public through effective political and social engagement. This is precisely what the Biennale tries to do,” Komu said.
Dube is also a board member at Khoj, an international artists’ association she co-founded in 1997 in New Delhi. Over two decades, the initiative that began as a modest annual workshop has become one of the most important platforms shining a global spotlight on South Asian art, organising and hosting international ‘itinerant’ workshops, residencies and exhibitions.
Besides KMB 2012, she has been represented in various national and international biennales and festivals such as ‘Biennale Jogja XI’ (Indonesia, 2011), ‘Against Exclusion’ 3rd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2009), ‘iCon: India Contemporary’, Venice Biennale (Collateral event, 2005), ‘Yokohama Triennale’ (Japan, 2001) and the ‘7th Havana Biennial’ (Cuba, 2000).
Dube was also a participant in the groundbreaking 2009 exhibition, ‘Indian Highway’, an itinerant collective show curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Julia Peyton-Jones and Gunnar B. Kvaran, which represented the growing importance of the sub-continent’s creative panorama – especially the vibrancy of its contemporary art scene – and the economic, social and cultural developments in the region over the past 20 years.

30 bloggers from 29 countries begin two-week road trip in 'God's Own Country'

Thirty influential online travel writers from around the world today began a fifteen day long exploration of Kerala, known as ‘God’s Own Country’.
State Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran flagged off the fourth edition of Kerala Blog Express from Bolgatty Palace here as part of a campaign to present the state to a wider international audience. 
“The Blog Express is an innovation that we have pioneered and we will continue to raise the bar for tourism marketing in the future,” the Minister said. 
"The initiative has definitely augmented the destination pull of Kerala and given an impetus to building and sustaining the tempo of tourism growth, a sector which is so crucial for Kerala’s economy," he said.
“I hope as participants you enjoy this trip and share the wonderful stories and culture of our land with international audience,” he added. 
The 30 bloggers this year represent 29 countries and all the continents, and were selected through a voting system with over 38,000 votes garnered online. They will traverse hills, beaches, backwaters and experience life in villages and cities, as part of the award-winning promotional campaign of Kerala Tourism. 
Besides the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain, travel writers from Europe this year include from regions such as Moldova and Gibraltar. The only Indian in the group is Dipanshu Goyal from New Delhi and the most experienced blogger is Carla Mota from Portugal who has travelled around 82 countries over the years. Most of the bloggers are visiting India for the first time. 
"With participants from around the globe, Blog Express 4 has already grabbed the attention of various social media platforms and online travel and tour forums," a press release from Kerala Tourism said.
KBE was piloted in 2014 as a social media campaign, familiarisation trip, bloggers meet and road trip rolled into one, with the aim of creating a pool of global brand ambassadors who have experienced Kerala at close quarters and have the ability to reach out to aspiring international travellers. 
Over the past three editions the KBE has shaped 87 such ambassadors, who have documented their journey, experiences and memories across conventional, digital and social media platforms in several different languages, taking the Kerala Tourism brand to ever wider audiences. 
KBE, which promises ‘the trip of a lifetime!’ in its tagline, selects participants through an online voting process. It has received more than 5,300 entries over the last four years and continues to grow in popularity. 
The campaign itself has set new benchmarks in destination marketing. The third edition of Kerala Blog Express 3 last year won the Bronze for Social Media (Outreach) at the prestigious Abby Awards 2016. 
It generated more than 9,000 tweets, over 300,000 website visits, over 2,000 Instagram pictures and more than 100 blog articles. Kerala, as a travel destination, was covered on the Czech National radio, Polish radio, Bulgarian radio and TV show and local newspapers in New Zealand and Italy. 
A crew from Envoyéspéciall'été, the entertainment channel of France, flew down to Kerala to document French bloggers Arnaud Caillou and Céline Simon, who were part of KBE 3. They spent four days with the whole KBE 3 team and featured a documentary film on their channel, focusing on Kerala and its cultural richness. 
Kerala Blog Express 4 will travel through Alleppey, Kumarakom, Thekkady, Munnar, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kannur and Kasaragod before completing its journey on April 3 in the capital city Thirvananthapuram, where the guests will be given a grand farewell by the Tourism department. 
Mr. P G Shivan, Joint Director, Kerala Tourism and Mr.  V S Anil, Deputy Director, Kerala Tourism, also attended the function.

Aspinwall House to become permanent venue of Kochi Biennale: Kerala Minister

Kerala Finance Minister T.M.Thomas Isaac viewing Yuko Mohri's installation 'Calls' at KMB 2016 in Aspinwall House,Fort Kochi on March 19, 2017
Kerala Finance Minister T.M.Thomas Isaac viewing Yuko Mohri's installation 'Calls' at KMB 2016 in Aspinwall House,Fort Kochi on March 19, 2017
In line with his budgetary allocation of a permanent venue for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), Kerala Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac said here today that the state government had decided to make Aspinwall House here the home of India’s only Biennale.   
“As an initial step, the government has cancelled the lease on a portion of Aspinwall House. Negotiations are ongoing to acquire the rest of the property in a time-bound manner by paying a reasonable amount,” Dr Isaac said, following a guided tour of KMB 2016’s primary venue.
“The Biennale will be maintained as a permanent art and culture asset for Kochi, which has become a fixture on the art map of the world. The city will join other big metropolises in housing an iconic international event. We can even utilise this space to conduct various art and cultural activities during non-Biennale years,” he added.
The Minister undertook a day-long tour of KMB 2016 venues in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, taking in the works on display and interacting with the Sunday crowds at Pepper House, Anand Warehouse and TKM Warehouse.
“When I first funded the Biennale six years ago as the Finance Minister of the previous LDF government, there was controversy about spending so much money on an art event rather than on art training schools. Today, there is near unanimity on the importance of the Biennale. It exposes Keralites to the best in contemporary art from around the world and it is good for Kerala’s artists as well. In its third edition, no opposing voices are being heard,” Dr Isaac said.
Noting that the Biennale had established itself as an important landmark in the socio-cultural map of Kerala, the Minister said, “Giving the public the opportunity to enjoy, firsthand, the artworks of internationally acclaimed artists and engage with them facilitates the creation of a cultural gathering of thinkers, writers, sculptors and artists. Art schools will benefit from this event, which strives to have greater linkages with art education in Kerala.”
“The government has allotted around Rs 60 crore for the promotional and marketing purpose of tourism in Kerala. Allotting Rs 2 crore for the Biennale in its off-year is likewise an investment for the upkeep of an established and important international event,” he added.
Dr Isaac, who also holds the Coir portfolio, expressed appreciation for KMB 2016 participating artist Praneet Soi’s work using the traditional fabric in his Cut-Out Archive – Sculptures in Coir. He tried his hand at Turkish artist Ahmet Ö?üt’s installation Workers Taking Over The Factory – Version 2 and found Hungarian artist István Csákány’s Ghost Keeping “aesthetically pleasing”.
The Minister also praised the photography series Vanishing Life-Worlds on the ancient port town of Ponnani by artist K.R. Sunil.
“He has really captured Ponnani’s environment and atmosphere. I spent a few days walking through the living ruins of the once famous port. The decline and seeding of the place and yet still, the culture that still thrives there. In the last Budget, I have allocated funds to develop infrastructure in Ponnani for the conservation of the old town,” Dr Isaac said.
He noted the similarity in the setting of the Biennale. “It is very important we conserve the historical environment and inclusive spirit. While the Biennale is named after Kochi, it also refers to the cosmopolitan history of Muziris. The Biennale has spin-offs into the larger development process of Kerala,” Dr Isaac added.

VR stories provide immersive 360° experiences to KMB 2016 visitors

Urgent, yet ignored, stories from India’s hinterland are presented in a newly installed 360° virtual reality experience courtesy award-winning filmmaker Anand Gandhi at the ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) in the city.
As many as four short documentary films by independent filmmakers are being shown in the immersive experience set-up by Gandhi’s ElseVR initiative at the architectural pavilion in Aspinwall House. 
ElseVR is a platform by Memesys Culture Lab – founded by the Ship of Theseus director – that combines virtual reality, non-fiction filmmaking and journalism.
The documentaries, 6-10 minutes each, cover a range of pressing issues. They include India’s first VR film, Right to Pray, which deals with the ban on women’s entry at Trimbakeswar temple; Caste is not a Rumour, which highlights the story of Dalits and Muslims being beaten up by so-called Gaurakshaks; When Land is lost, do we eat Coal? which narrates the story of 24 million Adivasis who were displaced due to coal mining activities in Chattisgarh; and Submerged, which moves through the devastated landscape and vulnerable villagers in Bihar after last year’s torrential floods. 
“The ability and the desire to transmit knowhow, intention, and insight to others around us have co-evolved with humanity itself. Mixed reality is a huge milestone in that human project of record keeping, perspective sharing, empathising, and merging with the ‘other’, a project that began with the first cave painting, or even earlier,” Gandhi said.
To facilitate this immersion, the ElseVR booth has a pair of virtual reality headsets attached to cell phones that screen the films via an app. The experience allows viewers to not only watch but empathise with the characters in the stories through the 360° storytelling method that will redefine the relationship between story and audience.
“What virtual reality does is it really allows the viewer to enter into the story. You associate with the issues more empathetically than the news. You connect to the people and issues far deeper in VR than in two dimensions,” said Abhishek Lamba, an ElseVR team member.
“We don’t just have stand-alone films. The stories are supported with news articles as well. All the films have full length articles written by filmmakers, journalists, artists, among others. We have also associated with some organisations, including Amnesty International,” Lamba said.
The ElseVR experience will run up till the conclusion of KMB 2016 on March 29.

Malayalam film director Diphan passes away

Diphan Sivakumar
Diphan Sivakumar
Well-known Malayalam film director Diphan Sivakumar, who made a string of hits during a 14-year career as an independent filmmaker, passed away here at a private hospital here where he was undergoing treatment for cirrhosis of the liver and kidney-related issues, sources said.
He was 47. He is survived by his wife and two children. His body will be cremated in Thiruvananthapuram tomorrow, they said.
Diphan, who was also known as Deepan, was admitted to the hospital on February 26 undergoing treatment at the hospital since February 26 for cirrhosis of the liver and kidney-related issues, they said.
Diphan directed seven movies, including Leader, D Company, SIM and Dolphin Bar as well as Puthiyamukham and Hero, which featured popular actor Prithivraj Sukumaran.
His last film, Sathya, starring Jayaram and Roma in the lead roles, is in the post-production stage, the sources said.
"Will miss you Diphan chetan! Thank you for giving me one of the most important films in my career. Rest in peace in peace!" Prithviraj said on his Facebook page.

Novel initiative will see school notebooks sport KMB 2016 artwork

With colours as rich and layered as its mythology, the epic mural artwork titled ‘Parayi Peta Pantheerukulam’ by artist P.K. Sadanandan has turned heads and prompted questions over the ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB).
It will now inspire the same from students of Aided Mappila Upper Primary School (AMUPS) in Malappuram District. An image of a section of the wall art – illustrating the story of ‘Naranth Pranthan’ – will adorn the cover of a notebook to be distributed to 2,000 students at the school.
The diary, designed by Art by Children (ABC) – the unique art education initiative by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, was released on Saturday at the Pavilion in Cabral Yard, Fort Kochi. The function saw Sadanandan hand the first copy to an AMUPS student.
“Promoting art education, at a number of levels, has become one of the Foundation’s primary concerns. Launching a specially designed notebook cover is an engaging way to attract students and make them aware about art practices,” said KBF Secretary Riyas Komu at the function.
While some schools already bring out similar books, the pictures are limited to annual day gatherings or committee meetings, said Manu Jose, who heads the ABC programme.
“Every student today goes through a minimum of seven notebooks. If we print different artworks and introduce different artists through such books, that is a considerable art education effort. We can even introduce artists according to age groups,” Jose said.
Inside the book’s front jacket is a short biography about Sadanandan while the rear cover has an image of the wall art’s evolution over KMB 2016. The artist said that the initiative is a novel way to get children to engage with both the practice of mural painting and traditional stories.
“During my childhood, we would hear moralistic stories from our grandmothers or learn them in school. The narrations ignited the visual sense in us. Such practices have vanished, but the stories like Parayi Peta Pantheerukulam and their characters are significant even now. It is said that these 12 creeds encompass the whole of humankind and show how harmoniously they lived. Such stories should be taught to children to bring social integrity,” Sadanandan said.
“There is a reason for choosing the Naranath Pranthan story for the cover image as he crossed set boundaries and borders without caring about what people thought of him. Moreover, he was a philosopher. Children should know of him and learn about him,” he added.
The initiative reflects the continuing relationship between AMUPS and the ABC project, which conducted the first of its innovative art engagement workshops at the school in November.
Noting that the notebooks would be circulated to students from classes 1-7, AMUPS Headmaster T. Gopalakrishnan said, “This specially designed book will be a diary for the students, in which year-long activities and holidays will be listed. This will prompt the students to refer to the book for at least one year if not longer.”

Kochi Muziris Biennale has rejuvenated Kerala's contribution to visual arts, culture: Mukherjee

Artist P K Sadanandan explaining his mural 'Parayi Petta Panthiru Kulam' to President Pranab Mukkherjee at Aspinwall House at the ongoing Kochi Muziris Biennale in Kochi, on March 2, 2017.
Artist P K Sadanandan explaining his mural 'Parayi Petta Panthiru Kulam' to President Pranab Mukkherjee at Aspinwall House at the ongoing Kochi Muziris Biennale in Kochi, on March 2, 2017.
President Pranab Mukherjee today said the Kochi-Muziris Biennale had rejuvenated Kerala’s long standing contribution to visual arts and culture and cemented Kochi’s status as a cosmopolitan city brimming with potential and ideas.
“The Biennale, which is today known as the People’s Biennale, has become an integral part of the cultural calendar of our country,” he said at the inauguration of the Kochi Muziris Biennale Seminar on ‘Importance of sustainable cultural building’.
“Contemporary art is one of the most significant ways of expressing thoughts, emotions, concerns and ideas that are current, that are relevant to us in the time we live in,” he pointed out.
“The fact that Kerala, this land of history and tradition, now hosts the largest show of contemporary art in the region, and that too a show that was seeded by government, speaks to the unique ways of this state and its people,” Mr Mukherjee noteed.
Kerala has always been known for its secular approach towards art and culture. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is a proud symbol of this approach and the sense of oneness and inclusivity that exists here, the President said.
The Kochi Biennale Foundation has made a wonderful innovation in attempting to use art to link the historic legacy of present-day Kochi with the rich cultural influences of its predecessor Muziris, a financial and trade centre that was believed to have been vanished in floods in 1314 A.D., he said.
The event's resounding success can be gauged from the fact that it has so far attracted more than a million visitors, he added.
The collaborative nature of the partnership between the government and the Kochi Biennale Foundation, and the very successful result of that partnership, is proof of what can be achieved when a government invests in culture. Public funding for the arts provides support, offers certainty and the opportunity to touch the lives of vast numbers of people, Mr Mukherjee said.
“Public funds have the power to act as seed funding, giving others the confidence to invest in the creation and innovation of cultural organizations like the Kochi Biennale Foundation which, along with the Kerala government, is providing cultural stewardship and playing host to global artistic ideas on our own ground.
“When you partner that with innovative ideas and a unique point of view, the results can be staggering and beautiful,” he added.
“We need the Arts. All over the world cultural activities are easy targets for spending cuts. But if the state is to act as the catalyst then what must be its role? What institutions must be built up, and what confidence measures should be taken?
“The Kochi Biennale Foundation is a good case study of what is possible when differing agencies come together to pursue profound goals: to value culture, and the achievements of the human spirit, to celebrate the human imagination, and to make those achievements key markers of development,”Mr Mukherjee said.
“But most important, this model should be replicated in different parts of the country. I hope the panelists can discuss and consider all these questions. I wish you all the very best and a meaningful discourse,” he concluded.
During his visit, Mr. Mukherjee took in the diverse array of artistic production on offer at the third edition of India’s only Biennale. 
He was accompanied by Kerala Governor Justice P. Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Kochi Mayor Soumini Jain and State Minister for Tourism Kadakampally Surendran.
The President first visited the epic mural ‘12 stories (of the 12 Progeny)’ being worked on by participating artist P.K. Sadanandan. Taking an interest in the 15 m long and three m wide wall painting, he listened attentively as the master muralist explained the back story behind each panel of the artwork as well as his exclusive use of natural colours.
After looking over the space for theatre practitioner Anamika Haksar’s stage production ‘Composition on water’ and visiting artist Gauri Gill’s photo exhibition ‘Traces’, the President  listened in silence as KMB 2016 curator Sudarshan Shetty explained the intent behind Chilean poet-revolutionary Raúl Zurita’s installation ‘Sea of Pain’.
The group, together with KMB co-founders Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, concluded the tour with a visit to American artist Camille Norment’s sound art installation ‘Prime’.

Week after attack, actress returns to work, will attend identification parade of accused

As the popular Malayalam actress who was abducted and harassed on the night of February 17 prepared to return to work in Kochi on Saturday, top actor and her co-star Prithviraj Sukumaran urged the media not to "ambush" her when she reaches the sets.

Pulsar Suni
Pulsar Suni
As the popular Malayalam actress who was abducted and harassed on the night of February 17 prepared to return to work today, top actor and her co-star Prithviraj Sukumaran urged the media not to "ambush" her when she reaches the sets.
Meanwhile, the actress is due to attend an identification parade later today at the Kakkanad sub-jail here, where the accused in the case, including main accused Pulsar Suni, are being held.
Prithviraj said the first day of shooting for the film, Adam, in which he is co-starring with the 30-year-old actress, was a special occasion for various reasons.
He also said that a media appearance planned by the actress today had been put off. "If and when she is ready to make a statement to the media, she will do that," he said.
"Today, for my sake, for the sake of my colleague, for the sake of this film, for everyone's good, I request you not to create a 'media ambush' with 40 cameras when she arrives. I am confident you will respect this appeal. For this, I will be forever grateful to you," Prithviraj added.
", as my dear friend walks in to the sets to kick start the shooting of her new film 'Adam', I once again bear witness to an extraordinary moment of courage from an extraordinary woman in my life!" the actor said on his Facebook page earlier this morning.
"Today..she makes a statement..a statement that will echo through time, space and gender..that no one or no incident has control over your life but YOU! A statement that will now be part of counselling sessions and pep talks around the world. A statement that you my friend..are making in a million unheard voices!
"And to those voices I apologise..for at an age and time when I wasn't wise enough..I have been part of films that celebrated misogyny..I have mouthed lines that vilified regard for your self respect and I have taken a bow to the claps that ensued. NEVER AGAIN..never again will I let disrespect for women be celebrated in my movies! 
"Yes..I'm an actor and this is my craft! I will whole heartedly trudge the grey and black with characters that possess unhinged moral compasses...but I will never let these men be glorified or their actions justified on screen.
"Once again..ladies and gentlemen..stand up and applaud for her! Behind the gutsy spunk, there is a vulnerable celebrity who knew well enough what this decision of hers would mean to a life under constant scrutiny. But she also knew..that she had to see it through...for that would set an example..light a torch that will show a path for many to follow!Today she makes a statement..
"A statement of extraordinary courage! Fanboy for life...dear friend..fanboy for life!" Prithviraj added.
Pulsar Suni, the prime accused in the sensational case which has sent shock waves through the film industry in Kerala and elsewhere, was arrested by the police in dramatic circumstances from the premises of the additional chief judicial magistrate (ACJM) here on Thursday.
Suni and his alleged accomplice Vijeesh were arrrested when they managed to evade the policemen posted around the complex and sneak into the court to surrender before a magistrate. They reached there around 1 pm, during lunch hour, when the magistrate was not in the court, and the police swooped on them and dragged them to waiting vehicles and drove away, in full media glare as scores of onlookers watched.
The duo were taken to the Police Club at Aluva near here, where they were questioned before they were produced in court the next day.
The 30-year-old actress was waylaid late in the evening of February 17 by three persons while she was on her way from her home in Thrissur to the house of another well-known actress.
She was travelling alone with the driver in a car sent by the production unit of a film she is working on when the car was intercepted by a van carrying the three men near Athani in Angamaly near here.
The three men then forced their way into her car and drove around for some time, during which they harassed her and also took photographs and a video of her, sources said. They finally stopped at at Padamugal, near Kakkanad, and fled in another car, sources said.
According to them, the actress then managed to reach the residence of a well-known film director in Kakkanad, on whose film she had been working. The director informed the police, who reached his residence soon and recorded the actress' statement.
The actress is understood to have told the police that one of the men was her former driver, known as Pulsar Suni because of a Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle he owned.
Apart from the driver who was driving the car she was travelling in on that night, police had arrested Manikandan, the third man in the group, some days ago from Palakkad.
In the last two days, the police have tried to retrace the route that the abductors took on the night of February 17 and also to find the mobile phone with which they took pictures of her. The accused claimed they had thrown the phone into a drain on the way, but the police have not been able to find it so far.

Pulsar Suni, main accused in actress attack case, arrested from Kochi court premises

Pulsar Suni, the prime accused in the sensational abduction and harassment of a popular Malayalam actress last Friday night, was arrested by the police in dramatic circumstances from the premises of the additional chief judicial magistrate in Kochi, Kerala on Thursday.

Pulsar Suni
Pulsar Suni
Pulsar Suni, the prime accused in the sensational abduction and harassment of a popular Malayalam actress last Friday night, was arrested by the police in dramatic circumstances from the premises of the additional chief judicial magistrate (ACJM) here today.
Suni and his alleged accomplice Vijeesh were arrrested when they managed to evade the policemen posted around the complex and sneak into the court to surrender before a magistrate.
They reached there around 1 pm, during lunch hour, when the magistrate was not in the court, and the police swooped on them and dragged them to waiting vehicles and drove away, in full media glare as scores of onlookers watched.
The duo were taken to the Police Club at Aluva near here, where they will be questioned in detail, sources said.
The 30-year-old actress was waylaid late in the night of February 17 by three persons while she was on her way from her home in Thrissur to Kochi for the dubbing of a movie she is doing.
She was travelling alone with the driver in a car sent by the production unit when the car was intercepted by a van carrying the three men near Athani in Angamaly near here.
The three men then forced their way into her car and drove around for some time, during which they harassed her and also took photographs and a video of her, sources said. They finally stopped at at Padamugal, near Kakkanad, and fled in another car, sources said.
According to them, the actress then managed to reach the residence of a well-known film director in Kakkanad, for whose film she had been shooting.
The director informed the police, who reached his residence soon and recorded the actress' statement.
The actress is understood to have told the police that one of the men was her former driver, known as Pulsar Suni becasue of a Bajaj Pulsar motorcycle he owned.
Apart from the driver who was driving the car she was travelling in on that night, police had arrested Manikandan, the third man in the group, some days ago from Palakkad.

‘Kochi Biennale artworks play with truth, perception’: Sanjana Kapoor

Actress Sanjana Kapoor viewing Orijit Sen's installation 'Go Playces' at Aspinwall House,Fort Kochi in the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, in Kochi on February 20, 2017.
Actress Sanjana Kapoor viewing Orijit Sen's installation 'Go Playces' at Aspinwall House,Fort Kochi in the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, in Kochi on February 20, 2017.
Observing a playful quality in the artworks on display at the ongoing third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), noted theatre practitioner and actress Sanjana Kapoor described India’s only biennale as a “beautiful” experience.
“There is a kind of playfulness to the works this time. It feels like the artists are playing with the ideas of what visitors can see, what they can perceive and what the truth is. There are so much more immersive and experiential exhibits this time,” said Kapoor, formerly the head of the famed Prithvi theatre in Mumbai.
A repeat visitor to the Biennale, Kapoor felt “at least three days are needed to experience this spectacle” in its entirety. Kapoor, who made her acting debut in the classic film 36 Chowringhee Lane – produced by her father Shashi Kapoor and starring her mother Jennifer Kendal, was disappointed to have missed out on the performances of the stage productions that are part of KMB 2016, but lauded the inclusion of theatre in the biennale space.
Of the performances she did manage to partake in during her visit to primary venue Aspinwall House today, Kapoor said Lundahl and Seitl’s ‘blindfold tour’ installation ‘Symphony of a Missing Room: An Imagines Museum’ stood out.
“The idea, the implementation and the way I was guided and instructed about what to hear and what not to see. The most fascinating part of that work is the trust that it demands. I had to put faith in the person who guided me, to trust the whole concept of the artist. For me, it is an important work at a time when people are cynical and sceptical about everything,” she said.
Kapoor, who was accompanied by Keli festival director K. Ramachandran on her visit, said, “Having the tour end at the ‘Sea of Pain’ was a mind-blowing experience. Raúl Zurita’s poetry installation is the most powerful work in the Biennale.”

Popular Malayalam film actress waylaid, harassed in Kochi

A popular Malayalam actress was waylaid by a group of about three unidentified persons while she was on her way home in Kochi late last night and harassed for some time before they fled, sources said.
The actress was travelling alone with her driver, on her way back from a film shoot in Thrissur around 10.30 pm yesterday, when her car was intercepted by a van carrying the three men near Athani in Angamaly near here, they said.
The three men then forced their way into her car and forced the driver to drive around for some time during which they harassed her and also took photographers and a video of her.
They finally stopped at at Padamugal, near Kakkanad, and fled in another car, sources said.
According to them, the actress then managed to reach the residence of a well-known film director in Kakkanad, for whose film she had been shooting,.
The director informed the police, who reached his residence soon and recorded the actress' statement.
The sources said the police are looking at the possible role of one of her former drivers in the incident. 
The police have also questioned the driver who was driving her car at the time of the incident to find out more details about what had happened.

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.

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.”

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.
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