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Thiruvananthapuram

Kerala: NCRMI commissions new portable coir fibre extractor

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A new portable coir fibre extractor with built-in crusher, developed by the National Coir Research Management Institute (NCRMI), was commissioned by Kerala Minister for Revenue and Coir Adoor Prakash today.
 
“Technology interventions are the only way to help traditional industries such as coir survive the crisis of labour and raw materials shortage,” he said.
 
“As an R&D institute, NCRMI is doing a tremendous job helping this mechanization process with machines such as the fibre extractor," he said.
 
Mr Prakash demonstrated the ease-of-use of the new FEE 6.0C2 Fibre Extraction Machine by feeding green and dry coconut husk into the machine which processes these into high quality fibres, with a separate collection tray for the pith.
 
The FEE 6.0C2 is an improvement on the mini de-fibering unit that the NCRMI had developed and patented earlier. The newer, sturdier version comes with a built-in crusher that processes full green and dry husk, completely eliminating the labour-intensive step of manually breaking down the husk into smaller pieces. It also reduces breakage, yielding longer fibres.
 
The Minister said the Coir Department hopes to distribute the new machine to coir cooperatives to help them produce raw fibres. He said discussions are also on with the Coconut Development Board for distributing the fibre extractors directly to coconut producers with a buy-back arrangement for the fibre and pith produced.
 
“Kerala produces 600 crore coconuts annually; if we can convert even half of the husk from these to fibre we will easily be able to solve the raw material scarcity and reduce reliance on neighbouring states,” he said.
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The new machine is capable of processing 550-600 husks per hour yielding 44-48 kg of raw fibre, NCRMI Director Anil K R said.  
 
The extractor, which occupies a space of just 1.5 metres by 1.1 metres, weighs around 480 kgs and is fitted with a 10 HP motor that consumes significantly less amount of electricity per unit of production than large bulk processing machines.
 
Mr Anil said the machine can easily be operated by a single person. “The FEE 6.0C2 comes with built-in safety features and we have designed it to minimize physical stress on the user. It is primarily built for women who constitute more than 80% of the coir industry workforce in Kerala.”
 
NCRMI, a state-supported R&D centre, hopes to commercialize the machine after getting inputs from the cooperatives which will get the machines under the pilot scheme.
 
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CBI arrests absconding Malayalee on deportation from UAE in bank fraud case

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The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) today arrested Joby Mathew, a resident of Etthumanoor in Kottayam district of Kerala who was absconding since 2007 in a case for allegedly cheating the State Bank of India (SBI) to the tune of Rs 2.95 crore.
 
Mathew, a private financier, was accused of cheating several people by obtaining their signatures on loan documents on the pretext that they were signing as guarantors for his loan from the bank's branch at Allappuzha.
 
He took the loan amount from the bank without the knowledge of the loanee, a CBI press release alleged.
 
A chargesheet was filed under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act, it said.
 
According to the release, the accused absconded immediately after the registration of the case. In 2013, a Red Corner Notice was issued against him. Based on the notice, he was traced by Interpol from Abu Dhabi in the UAE  and deported to India.
 
He was taken into custody from the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, the release said.
 
The accused was produced before the Special Court for CBI Cases, Thiruvananthapuram and was remanded to judicial custody till February 12, the release added.
 
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Chandy writes to Kejriwal on Kumar Vishwas' remarks on Malayalee nurses

Oommen Chandy
Oommen Chandy
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy today wrote to his Delhi counterpart Arvind Kejriwal demanding that his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) colleague Kumar Vishwas withdraw his derogatory remarks against Malayalee nurses and seek their forgiveness.
 
In his letter, Mr Chandy said that it was most unfortunate that AAP was tight-lipped regarding the remarks made by Mr Vishwas.
 
"Malayalee nurses are a pride for Keralites. Their service is praised world over. Making such derogatory remarks about them is most unfortunate and not fit for the developed society," he said.
 
Mr Vishwas' remarks, heard in a video clip posted on YouTube, were reportedly made by him at a function way back in 2008.
 
The AAP leader, who is planning to contest against Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi from Amethi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, has attracted criticism in recent times for similar remarks about other groups.
 
In the latest case, he has been roundly criticised by the nursing community as well as social activists.
 
The newly-opened office of AAP in Kochi was vandalized by a group of protesters yesterday.
 
"Kumar Vishwas should immediately tender an apology and the national leadership of AAP should intervene and come with a clarification on the issue. They should also state whether they support Kumar's remarks or not," activist Sara Joseph, who joined AAP recently, was quoted as saying in media reports.
 
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Kerala Tourism to webcast Nishagandhi festival live

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Kerala Tourism will webcast the Nishagandhi festival live for the first time in the history of the prestigious event that will feature seven days of dance and music.
 
The festival will be held at Nishagandhi open air auditorium here from January 20 to 26.
 
The three-hour long programmes to be held every day will be webcast in HD format on Kerala Tourism’s website.
 
Among other things, the festival will have daily performances by eminent Kathakali masters.
 
The programme will also feature Bharatanatyam performances by Kavya Madhavan and Navya Nair, both well-known Malayalam film actresses, Odissi recital by Rina Jana and group, vocal recital by P Unnikrishnan, and an evening of fusion music by santoor artiste Rahul Sharma, along with Avinash Chandrachud on the keyboard, Kenneth Rebello on bass guitar, Mukundraj Deo on the tabla and Vinayak Pol on drums.
 
Also on the cards are a Kuchipudi performance by S Divyasena, Bharatanatyam by Rajashree Warrier and Hindustani music by Suchi Das.
 
There will also be performances by well-known singers Jaswinder Singh and M Jayachandran, among others.
 
Added to all this will be a food festival, focusing on traditional Kerala cuisine and a handicrafts fair highlighting the state's crafts, including sculptures, jewellery and wood and metal crafts.
 
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PPPAC recommends projects worth Rs 7595.19 crores

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The Public-Private Partnership Appraisal Committee (PPPAC), at its 62nd meeting held here yesterday, has recommended public-private partnership (PPP) projects of the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways worth Rs 7595.19 crores.
 
An official press release said today that the Empowered Committee (EC) had, at its 19th meeting, also held yesterday, approved Viability Gap Fund (VGF) of Rs 1280.65 crores for PPP projects.
 
Both meetings were chaired by Mr Arvind Mayaram, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance.
 
Since its constitution in January 2006, the PPPAC has approved 272 Central Sector Projects worth of Rs. 296579.60 crore. These include national highways (223 proposals), ports (32 proposals), airports (2 proposals), tourism infrastructure (1 proposal), housing (8 proposals) and sports stadia (5 proposals).
 
In this year, till date, a total of 19 projects with total cost of Rs. 43903.30 crore have been approved by the PPPAC.
 
The EC accorded in-principle approval to four projects, including two from the Government of Maharashtra and two from the Government of Uttar Pradesh for VGF of Rs 695.20 crore and final approval to two projects from Uttar Pradesh for VGF of Rs 585.45 crore.
 
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The projects approved by the PPPAC include two laning with paved shoulder/ four laning of the section on National Highway (NH)-209 from Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border to Bangalore on toll basis.
 
The committee also cleared the four-laning of Kazhakkuttam-Mukkola section in Kerala.
 
The other projects include two-laning with paved shoulder of the Jabalpur-Mandala-Chilpi section of NH-12A in Madhya Pradesh, four-laning of the  Ambala - Kaithal section of NH-65in Haryana and the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (NH No. NE-II).
 
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Kerala Tourism to conduct global art contest for children in memory of prodigy

A painting by Edmund Thomas Clint.
A painting by Edmund Thomas Clint.
Kerala Tourism has announced an online painting competition for children worldwide in memory of Edmund Thomas Clint, a prodigy who created more than 25,000 works of art before he died one month short of his seventh birthday.
 
Clint’s prolific output consisted of paintings and drawings – created mostly on used paper with charcoal, pencil, ball-point pens, crayons and watercolours – that depicted Kerala’s rich cultural heritage, especially its religious festivals and temple art forms.
 
Clint, the son of Mr M T Joseph and Mrs Chinnamma Joseph, died on April 15, 1983 of kidney failure, but his masterful works continue to astonish art lovers and critics for their vibrancy, depth and maturity.
 
The Clint Memorial International Children’s Painting Competition was formally launched by Kerala’s Minister for Tourism A P Anil Kumar here yesterday at a function attended by Clint’s parents and Tourism Secretary Suman Billa.
 
“We hope this competition will become a lasting memorial to Clint, the magical talent who was with us for such a short time. It is a tribute to an artist whose drawings are as awe-inspiring today as they were when he first drew them,” the Minister said. “We also intend to showcase Kerala’s culture and its uniqueness as a destination.”
 
The competition, coordinated by Kerala Tourism’s IT solutions provider Invis Multimedia, is open to all children between the ages of 4-15 years.
 
The paintings can be on any theme related to the state of Kerala and the each participant can submit up to five entries online through the Kerala Tourism website http://www.keralatourism.org/clint. 
 
There is no entry fee for the competition which will be open from January 15 to May 31, 2014.
 
Mr Billa said the the idea of the competition is to let the world see ‘God’s Own Country’ through the eyes of a child. “Kerala is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and it was even more beautifully rendered on canvas by Clint. We want the world to be inspired by Clint and by Kerala.”
 
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Mr Joseph thanked the Kerala government for reviving his son’s memory and honouring his prodigious talent thirty years after his death. He and his wife said while they have preserved tens of thousands of Clint’s works on paper, the prolific child had also used every inch of space on the walls and the floor of their home as canvas. “We hope the world will know Clint better through this competition,” he said.
 
Children living anywhere in the world can register online for the painting competition. Upon registration they will be sent two e-books – one containing a portfolio of 30 works by Clint and the other with 100 photographs on Kerala to help them learn more about the region and its culture.
 
Additionally there are more than 3000 video clips on the award-winning Kerala Tourism website for the children to browse through.
 
The painting should be on paper and created manually. The participants can scan the painting and submit the image to Kerala Tourism website using the log-in id they receive at registration.
 
There are 125 prizes on offer. The top five winners (and their parent/ guardian) will each get a tour package to explore Kerala along with an economy class ticket to travel to the state.
 
Kerala Tourism is only the second organisation after the United Nations Environment Programme to conduct a global painting competition on this scale, a press release from the department added.
 
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Veteran Malayalam playback singer K P Udayabhanu passes away

K P Udayabhanu
K P Udayabhanu
Eminent Malayalam playback singer K P Udayabhanu passed away at his residence here tonight after a prolonged illness.
 
He was 77. He is survived by his son Rajeev. His wife Vijayalekshmi, who was also a gifted singer, predeceased him in 2007.
 
Family sources said he was ailing for more than a year and that he breathed his last around 8.45 pm today.
 
Udayabanu, who was one of the seniormost singers in the Malayalam film industry, was born on June 6, 1936, at Tharur in Palakad district of Kerala to N S Varma and Ammu Nethyaramma. He was a nephew of founder-chief editor of Mathrubhoomi newspaper, K P Kesava Menon.
 
He spent his childhood in Singapore, where his faher was a businessman. After losing his mother at the age of seven, he returned to India in 1944 along with his siblings, where they were looked after by their maternal uncle.
 
Udayabhanu learnt music at the Thyagaraja Sangeetha Vidyalaya in Kalpathy, where he was taught by such well-known musicians as Flute Krishna Iyer, Palakkad Mani Iyer and M D Ramanathan. Though he was trained in the classical traditons, he ended up making a career in light music and playback singing
 
He began his career as an announcer at the Kozhikode station of All India Radio in 1955, which brought him into contact with several well-known writers and musicians. This helped him enter the film industry and he went on to sing several unforgettable songs and compose music for some films.
 
Udayabhanu made his debut as a playback singer in 1958 in the film Nayaru Pidicha Pulivaalu, in which sang a solo and a duet with P Leela under the baton of composer K Raghavan.
 
He went on to sing several hits including classics such as Kaanana Chayayil (with P Leela in Ramanan), Anuraga Nadakathin (Ninamaninja Kalppadukal) and Thaamarathumbee Vaavaa ( with Leela in Puthiya Aakasham Puthiya Bhoomi ). 
 
He composed the music for a few films, including Samasya and Mayilpeeli. Kili Chilachu (Samasya), penned by O N V Kurup and sung by K J Yesudas, is one of his most memorable songs as a composer.
 
In 1984, he launched a group called "Old is Gold" for the revival of the golden era of Malayalam film music.
 
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During a chequered career, he was the chief conductor of Drums of India music programme at the Republic Day celebrations in 1985 which was appreciated by then President R Venkataraman and then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
 
He worked for some time as a teacher of Indian music in Lawrence School, Lovedale at Ooty in Tamil Nadu and also served as a public relations officer for then Kerala Chief Minister K Karunakaran.
 
Udayabhanu conducted choral groups in all Indian languages from Delhi Central Production Unit and Delhi Doordarshan.
 
He travelled with his music group to the United States, Canada, Europe, Singapore and all the Gulf countries. 
 
Udayabhanu was honoured by the Union Government with the Padma Shri in 2009. He had won the Central Sangeet Nataka Akademi Award for creative music 2002 and the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Fellowship 2004.
 
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PM launches Kerala e-literacy campaign, says will help realise potential of ICT in governance

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, on his arrival at Thiruvananthapuram airport, in on January 3, 2014.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being received by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, on his arrival at Thiruvananthapuram airport, in on January 3, 2014.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today launced the e-literacy campaign in Kerala and said such initiatives needed to be taken across the length and breadth of the country to help it realize the full potential of ICT in decentralized governance, in better delivery of services, particularly education, in financial inclusion and in e-commerce. 
 
"The e-literacy programme will also help the common man of Kerala to participate in the exchange of ideas and information that social media enables," he said here after launching the E-Literacy Project to be implemented by Panicker Vigyan Vikas Kendra.
 
"It will help the youth to be better equipped for making use of productive employment opportunities. It will also help in building social capital by enabling success stories of community efforts to be shared easily," he said.
 
He noted that the P N Panicker Foundation, the mother organization of P N Panicker Vigyan Vikas Kendra, was the first organization in the country to popularise e-reading among the rural masses. He expressed happiness that the Vigyan Vikas Kendra was taking this work forward.
 
"Many social historians consider the library movement to be the corner stone of the so- called Kerala model of development. I wish that similarly the E-Literacy Project of the Panicker Vigyan Vikas Kendra will contribute substantially to quickening the pace of Kerala’s social and economic development and to political empowerment of its people," he said.
 
Dr Singh said Kerala is the leading state in the country in terms of indices of human development.
 
"Literacy is one of these indices and the fact that Kerala took an early lead in literacy has in turn helped it do well in the other dimensions of human development. The success of the literacy movement in Kerala owes much to a great son of the State, Shri P. N. Panicker. I join all of you in paying tribute to him as we launch this E-Literacy Project to be implemented by the P. N. Panicker Vigyan Vikas Kendra. I also compliment the Kendra for this initiative," he said.
 
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Dr Singh said that, in today's world of instant communication and the Internet, it was not easy to imagine and appreciate the difficulties which a frail man must have faced as he lit the spark of literacy in a small village in North Kerala in the first half of the last century and then spread his message to the whole of the State. 
 
Later, Mr Panicker’s initiative, the Grandhasala Sangam, ignited a popular cultural movement in Kerala at the end of which the State acquired total literacy in the 1990s, he said.
 
The Grandhasala Sangam began humbly with 47 libraries in 1945 and grew into a network of more than 6,000 libraries spreading across the towns and villages of Kerala, he said.
 
Mr Panicker also established the Kerala Association for Non Formal Education and Development (KANFED). The activities of these two organizations working together made a profound impact on the education, culture and development of Kerala, he said.
 
Dr Singh said Mr Panicker also worked to foster social amity and harmony devoting his last years to the Friendship Village Movement. He continued travelling and working vigorously, sustained by his simple Gandhian life style and an indomitable will, till he passed away on 19th June, 1995. 
 
"I am happy that the Government of Kerala observes 19th June annually as Vayanadinam or the Day of Reading with a week-long series of activities at schools and public institutions," he said.
 
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The Prime Minister said Mr Panicker left an indelible mark at the national level also. The National Literacy Mission has been inspired largely by his work, he said. 
 
Commending the Government of Kerala for setting up an institution to perpetuate the memory of Mr Panicker, he said he was very happy that the Vigyan Vikas Kendra was taking the lead to make Kerala the first e-literate state of the country, in collaboration with the Central and State Governments and Civil Society Organizations. 
 
"The Total E-literacy Campaign to be implemented using the tools of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) will help in reducing the digital divide. This will contribute to improvements in the living standards of the underprivileged population of the State," he said.
 
Later, Dr Singh also laid the foundation stone of the Global Learning Centre of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) here.
 
"The Centre will contribute toward an objective that is one of our national priorities - that of imparting skills training to our young men and women on a very large scale," he said.
 
He said that the Government recognized that it was only by doing this that it could generate opportunities for productive employment for youth in adequate numbers, while at the same time meeting the demands of the expanding economy for a skilled work-force. 
 
"Therefore, our Government has set very ambitious targets for itself in the area of skill development and is working hard to achieve them. We have taken several initiatives in this area and some of them have involved partnership with the private sector," he said.
 
Dr Singh noted that the proposed Global Learning Centre of TCS would be the largest facility for Information Technology training in Thiruvananthapuram.
 
When fully functional, it will be able to train about 50,000 associates annually. It will also conduct holistic professional and personal development programs for TCS professionals.
 
"I am confident that the Centre, which proposes to integrate elegant design, ecological thinking and modern technology, will set global benchmarks for corporate learning institutions," he said.
 
He noted that TCS was also setting up a software development Special Economic Zone (SEZ) here. 
 
"The Global Learning Centre will further enhance the presence of TCS in the State of Kerala and Thiruvananthapuram in particular. I hope to see even more initiatives by TCS and other IT companies in Kerala especially in view of the high quality of human resource in the State," he said.
 
Dr Singh said TCS was a shining example of the success of Indian private enterprises in the last 20 years or so.
 
PM stresses on need for skill development, training
"It has carved a niche for itself in the global market for IT and IT-enabled services and has set benchmarks of excellence in the area of software development. Today, TCS ranks among the top ten IT services companies globally. It is not only the highest valued company in India but also the second most valuable company in the world in the technology services industry," he said.
 
Dr Singh said he was happy that, apart from being a global leader in the area of IT and IT enabled services, TCS had also been alive to the need for helping society.
 
"It has taken up several projects in the areas of education, health and environment. The company has made a significant contribution to education through its Adult Literacy Programme which has covered nearly 2 lakh beneficiaries so far. Its BPO employability programme has trained over 22,000 graduates belonging to the weaker sections, many of whom have also been provided gainful employment in the company. TCS has also partnered with the National Skill Development Corporation under Project Udaan to upgrade the skill sets of Kashmiri youth and enable their mainstreaming with corporate India. In the area of health, the company has used its expertise in IT to develop an integrated Hospital Management System which is being used by several hospitals and social organizations," he said.
 
Dr Singh said the IT sector in India had witnessed phenomenal growth over the past several years, particularly in the area of software development. 
 
"The Government stands committed to providing an enabling environment which encourages the sector to grow even further. Pursuant to recommendations of the Rangachary Report, several taxation issues confronting the IT sector have been addressed. We are also engaged in the resolution of issues pertaining to immigration and visas. We are trying to improve the hardware ecosystem in the country and are exploring the establishment of two semiconductor wafer fabrication manufacturing facilities," he said.
 
Dr Singh is on a three-day visit to Kerala. He arrived here last night and was received at the airport by Governor Nikhil Kumar, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Cabinet Ministers and others.
 
Apart from Thiruvananthapuram, he will go to Kochi, where he will inaugurate the Rs 4200 crore Petronet LNG Terminal (PLL) at Puthu Vypeen.
 
On Sunday, he will participate in the 90th anniversary celebrations of Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhoomi and also attend the 90th birthday celebrations of veteran Congress leader and former Meghalaya Governor M M Jacob, before returning to Delhi.
 
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Kerala: Ramesh Chennithala joins Oommen Chandy cabinet as Home Minister

KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala being sworn in as a Minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet by Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar in Thiruvananthapuram on January 1, 2014.
KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala being sworn in as a Minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet by Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar in Thiruvananthapuram on January 1, 2014.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala was sworn in as a Minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet today in a limited expansion exercise.
 
He was later assigned the key portfolio of Home along with Vigilance, Fire and Rescue and Prisons.
 
Mr Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, who was handling Home so far, was given the portfolios of Forests, Wild Life Protection, Sports, Cinema, Road Transport and Environment.
 
Governor Nikhil Kumar administered the oath of office and secrecy to Mr Chennithala, 57, at a brief ceremony at Raj Bhavan here this morning.
 
Chief Minister Chandy, his cabinet colleagues, senior leaders of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), and deputy leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Kodiyeri Balakrishnan were present on the occasion.
 
Mr Chandy had told newspersons yesterday that the decision to induct Mr Chennithala into the Cabinet was taken by the Congress High Command recently. 
 
To a question, he said a decision regarding the induction of Mr K B Ganesh Kumar, who had resigned in April 2013, would be taken after the Lok Sabha elections. 
 
Regarding the new KPCC president, Mr Chandy said that the High Command would take a decision at the earliest. He said the entry of Mr Chennithala in the Cabinet would strengthen the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and its government.
 
The induction of Mr Chennithala is being seen as a move by the UDF to strengthen the coalition and boost its prospects ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections by balancing the equations between various groups and enhancing its appeal to the majority community, especially the Nair community to which he belongs.
 
Mr Chennithala had earlier served as Rural Development Minister in the K Karunakaran government in 1986, when he was just 30.
 
He went on to become the national president of the Indian Youth Congress and was elected to the Lok Sabha four times.
 
He returned to Kerala to head the KPCC nine years ago and played an important role in guiding the UDF to victory.
 
Born on May 25, 1956 at Chennithala, Mavelikkara in Kerala, has a B.A. and an LL.B. degree.
 
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Kerala to launch lottery to provide marriage assistance to girls from poor families

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Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said here today that the state government would launch a weekly lottery, named Mangalya, to mobilize funds for providing marriage assistance to girls from poor families.
 
Briefing newspersons after a meeting of his Cabinet, he said an existing lottery would be renamed as Mangalya and the profits from it would be remitted to the Mangalya Nidhi (fund).
 
He said persons belonging to the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category and those from Above Poverty Line (APL) families with income of less than Rs 1 lakh would be eligible for Rs 30,000 of assistance from the scheme.
 
Mr Chandy said the government had decided to start a lottery because the cess collected was not enough to run the scheme, which was announced in the last budget itself.
 
He said the financial assistance from Mangalya Nidhi would be given to the deserving persons after approval from a committee constituted in each district with the district collector as its chairman. 
 
The Social Justice Department would be the nodal agency for implementing the project, he added.
 
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Kerala: Ramesh Chennithala sworn in as Minister in Oommen Chandy cabinet

KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala being sworn in as a Minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet by Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar in Thiruvananthapuram on January 1, 2014.
KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala being sworn in as a Minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet by Kerala Governor Nikhil Kumar in Thiruvananthapuram on January 1, 2014.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala was sworn in as a Minister in the Oommen Chandy cabinet today in a limited expansion exercise.
 
Governor Nikhil Kumar administered the oath of office and secrecy to Mr Chennithala at a brief ceremony at Raj Bhavan here this morning.
 
Chief Minister Chandy, his cabinet colleagues, senior leaders of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), and deputy leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Kodiyeri Balakrishnan were present on the occasion.
 
Mr Chennithala, 57, is expected to be assigned the Home Ministry, which was held so far by Mr Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan.
 
Mr Chandy had told newspersons yesterday that the decision to induct Mr Chennithala into the Cabinet was taken by the Congress High Command recently. 
 
To a question, he said a decision regarding the induction of Mr Ganesh Kumar would be taken after the Lok Sabha elections. He said Mr Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, the present Home Minister, would continue in the Cabinet and so would the rest of the ministers.
 
Regarding the new KPCC president, Mr Chandy said that the High Command would take a decision at the earliest. He said the entry of Mr Chennithala in the Cabinet would strengthen the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and its government.
 
The induction of Mr Chennithala is being seen as a move by the UDF to strengthen the coalition and boost its prospects ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections by balancing the equations between various groups and enhancing its appeal to the majority community, especially the Nair community to which he belongs.
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Mr Chennithala had earlier served as Rural Development Minister in the K Karunakaran government in 1986, when he was just 30.
 
He went on to become the national president of the Indian Youth Congress and was elected to the Lok Sabha four times.
 
He returned to Kerala to head the KPCC nine years ago and played an important role in guiding the UDF to victory.
 
Born on May 25, 1956 at Chennithala, Mavelikkara in Kerala, has a B.A. and an LL.B. degrees. 
 
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KPCC chief Ramesh Chennithala to join Kerala Ministry on Wednesday

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Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Ramesh Chennithala will be sworn in as a Minister in the Oommen Chandy government tomorrow and he is expected to be assigned the Home portfolio.

Talking to newspersons here, Mr Chandy said the swearing-in ceremony would be held at 1120 hours at Raj Bhavan here.

He said the decision to induct Mr Chennithala into the Cabinet was taken by the Congress High Command recently. He said the portfolio of Mr Chennithala would be announced later.

To a question, he said a decision regarding the induction of Mr Ganesh Kumar would be taken after the Lok Sabha elections. He said Mr Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan, the present Home Minister, would continue in the Cabinet and so would the rest of the ministers.

Regarding the new KPCC president, Mr Chandy said that the High Command would take a decision at the earliest. He said the entry of Mr Chennithala in the Cabinet would strengthen the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and its government.

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M S Valiathan presented Kerala Sasthra Puraskaram 2013

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy presenting the Kerala Sasthra Puraskaram 2013 to eminent cardiologist M S Valiathan at Thiruvananthapuram on December 30, 2013.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy presenting the Kerala Sasthra Puraskaram 2013 to eminent cardiologist M S Valiathan at Thiruvananthapuram on December 30, 2013.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy today said the state government was willing to hand over more science and technology institutions managed by it to the Centre if it is interested in taking them over.
 
He was speaking after presenting the prestigious Kerala Sasthra Puraskaram 2013 to Dr. M.S. Valiathan, National Research Professor, eminent cardiologist and founder director of the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST).
 
The award is given by the state government to honour outstanding Keralite scientists.
 
Dr Valiathan was presented with the award, which consists of a citation, a sculpture by Kanayi Kunhiraman, and a cash award of Rs 1 lakh, at a function organised by the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE) at the University of Kerala Senate Hall here.
 
Mr Chandy said Kerala was happy to see its efforts in promoting science and technology recognized at the national level. 
 
The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) was the first state science institution taken over by the central government and it is today one of the foremost R&D centres in the country.
 
The Union Cabinet recently decided to take over Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS) and has expressed interest in the Palode-based Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI). A final decision on JNTBGRI is expected soon, said the Chief Minister.
 
Mr Chandy said the state government faced several constraints in the upkeep of these R&D institutions, but with the Centre’s assistance they have an opportunity to flourish and become highly productive centres benefiting both the state and the country.
 
He said the state government was doing all it could, including instituting scholarships and awards to young scientists, to nurture science and technology in Kerala.
 
Dr Valiathan, who founded and headed the SCTIMST for 20 years, is a deserving recipient of the Kerala Sasthrapuraskaram, the Chief Minister said.
 
In his acceptance speech, Dr Valiathan said every institution is established with a specific purpose and that objective must not be forgotten. He pointed out that the majority of individuals who graduated out of institutions of higher learning in Kerala during the British Raj and the princely rule chose to become teachers, unlike their peers in other states who went on to do research.
 
The lack of research institutions in Kerala was addressed to some extent by the setting up of the Science and Technology Council and the centres under it by the Achutha Menon government.
 
Besides his numerous contributions to the fields of cardiac diseases and cardiac surgery, Prof. Valiathan is also respected for his visionary role in twinning the sectors of medicine and technology.  As head of SCTIMST, Dr Valiathan organised a multi-disciplinary group of scientists, engineers and surgeons for a research programme that emphasised the development of cost-effective medical devices.
 
In less than 10 years, his group developed a series of high-tech devices such as heart-valves, oxygenators and blood bags, and successfully transferred them to the industry, thus paving the way for a modern medical devices industry in the country.
 
More recently, Dr Valiathan conceptualized and organised scientific studies on Ayurveda, especially the effect of ‘rasayanas’ on DNA repair and genomic basis of 'doshaprakrithi'. As a Homi Bhaba Fellow, he carried out a study of the Charaka Samhitha, Susrutha and Vaghbata.
 
Prof. Valiathan received the Padma Vibhushan in 2005 A former President of the Indian National Science Academy, he is a Fellow of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World; Royal College of Physicians of London and the American College of Cardiology.
 
After he graduated in medicine from the University of Kerala, Dr Valiathan took his master's degree in Surgery from the University of Liverpool, U.K. and specialised in cardiac surgery at the John Hopkins and Georgetown University Hospitals, USA. He then went on to become a Fellow of the Canadian Royal College in Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery.
 
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Three-week cultural festival "Utsavam" opens in Kerala

"Utsavam", a three-week cultural festival during which events will be staged at 60 venues in all 14 districts of Kerala, began here yesterday, coinciding with the peak tourism season in the state when there is a flood of domestic and foreign tourists.
 
Utsavam (which means festival in Malayalam), which was launched as an annual event in 2007 to promote traditional performing art forms of the state, will run up to January 19.
 
“’Utsavam’ is an event on a grand scale aimed to sustain and popularize the traditional art forms of Kerala, some of which are on the verge of decline,” said Kerala Tourism Minister A P Anilkumar.
 
“The festival is for the people of Kerala and our guests from outside the state and country,” he said after inaugurating the event on December 26 at the picturesque Bekal Fort in Kasargode. 
 
The inaugural day of ‘Utsavam’ saw the performance of  ‘Rhythm of Kerala’, a dance medley based on tribal, classical and folk arts by seasoned artistes.
 
The first edition of ‘Utsavam’, held from December 2007 to March 2008, drew enthusiastic response from domestic and international travelers, marking a phenomenal debut. ‘Utsavam’ 2007 fetched Kerala Tourism the prestigious Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Gold Award in the heritage and culture category in 2008.
 
“This carefully planned event is also about taking the destination of Kerala to a higher level, so as to give an aesthetic experience to the visitors, appealing to their intellectual sensibilities,” said Kerala Tourism Secretary Suman Billa.
 
“It is yet another occasion for the local people, travelers and art lovers to be part of an exciting cultural treat of this magnitude,” said Kerala Tourism Director S Harikishore.
 
The programmes of ‘Utsavam’ are staged in different venues spread across all the 14 districts of the state to include the entire population of Kerala. More than 80 art forms will be staged and there will be 280 performances across the districts on all Saturdays and Sundays at 6 pm.
 
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UST Global procures award-winning Kerala snake boat Champakulam Chundan

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Information technology services provider UST Global today said it had procured Champakulam Chundan, one of the most celebrated snake boats ever, to install it at its upcoming campus here. 
 
Snake boat race is a famous traditional form of canoe racing conducted in Kerala during the season of Onam. 
 
At a special function held in Alleppey, Union Minister Kodikunnel Suresh and the local authorities formally handed over the 128-feet long boat to UST Global's President Joe Nalkara. 
 
"As a winner of a number of several snake boat races in Kerala, Champakulam Chundan, which is now ready to retire, is a strong symbol of team spirit, integration and harmony. It reverberates with UST Global's ethos and winning attitude," Mr Nalkara said.
 
"Champakulam Chundan will also add to the ethnic aura to our upcoming campus in Trivandrum, which is a fitting tribute to the heritage and culture of Kerala. We are a global company and every flavor of victory is attractive to us," he said.
 
Champakulam Chundan is an eight time winner of the famed Nehru Trophy Boat Race and holds the distinction of being the only snake boat with two "hat-tricks" in history. 
 
"It is a fantastic addition to the prized Virgin Racing team's Formula 1 car body that is installed at our Technopark campus in Trivandrum, which to us is a fantastic reminder of the team work and excellence that Formula 1 racing represents," Mr Nalkara added.
 
Apart from Thiruvananthapuram, UST Global has presence in other Indian cities such as Kochi, Bangalore, Chennai and Gurgaon.
 
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Kerala start-up partners government to revive state's ailing handloom sector

Hornbill, a clothing line aimed at rebranding Kerala handloom globally and supporting the state’s struggling weaver craftsmen community, was launched here yesterday as part of a joint initiative by the state government and social entrepreneurship startup The People’s Company.
 
The first limited edition of Hornbill, consisting of 20 designs by leading designers and a collection of 60 garments, was launched by Mr. P.H. Kurien, Principal Secretary, Industries and IT, at the Czarina boutique here.
 
The People’s Company, which has been set up by six young people who graduated from the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram (CET) this year, has partnered the Government of Kerala for a project called "Operation Phoenix" to help revive the state’s ailing handloom sector where more than 50,000 traditional weavers are struggling to survive.
 
“The response from the industry to the project so far has been very positive,” said Mr Kurien. “The youth who are behind this are setting an example with their spirit of entrepreneurship and their social commitment. I’m sure Hornbill will go on to become an international brand.”
 
“We have got tremendous encouragement and support for this venture from the state government,” said Mr Raqib Rasheed, Chairman of The People’s Company. He said the driving force of Hornbill and Operation Phoenix are a group of youth who chose a social cause over well-paid corporate jobs.
 
The first edition of the Hornbill line consists of ethnic women’s wear designed with intricate hand embroideries, block prints and glistening bead works.
 
Hornbill brings the fabrics woven from the highest quality silk and cotton from the looms of Mayyil in Kannur and Balaramapuram in Thiruvananthapuram. The Hornbill collection also features cotton silk, a fabric developed on a market scale for the first time by Kerala Handlooms.
 
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A number of student groups across the state have assisted the project, including the Hornbill branding, logo design and its promotion. WebopX, a start-up from CET, created the graphic designs while the artwork and structure for Hornbill’s visual merchandising came from fourth year architecture students of CET.
 
As part of the Operation Phoenix, The People’s Company will integrate all weavers’ societies into a single production system and create linkage between new generation fashion designers passing out of national institutes, and traditional weavers, with the larger goal of breathing fresh life into the industry.
 
The young entrepreneurs had focused their attention towards the rejuvenation of the weavers under the mentorship of then Additional Chief Secretary (Industries and Commerce) Mr. V Somasundaran, and Mr. Kurien.
 
According to the plan, all products will be commissioned as per approved designs and market viability. Besides redoing and renovating the showrooms, the programme will also try to expand the market for handloom products. A key element of the project is to create a platform to connect the existing infrastructure and industry with the vast number of new generation fashion designing and arts graduates who are also looking for jobs.
 
Czarina boutique owner Sheila James also spoke at the launch ceremony.
 
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Govt. to take over Centre for Earth Science Studies in Kerala

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The Union Cabinet today approved a proposal for taking over of the Centre for Earth Science Studies (CESS), a research and development centre of the Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment (KSCSTE), Government of Kerala by the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES).
 
The main objective of the proposal is to conduct and promote basic and applied advanced research in the frontier areas of earth sciences with particular emphasis on solid earth, an official press release said.
 
It said that the taking over of CESS would considerably augment the MoES` research programmes in the field of earth system sciences. 
 
CESS will carry out multidisciplinary research in frontier areas of solid earth science and will provide services on a nationwide scale by applying this knowledge for sustainable development of natural resources and management of natural hazards. 
 
The proposed thrust areas of research will be crustal evolution and geodynamics, sedimentology and depositional processes, coastal dynamics and cloud microphysics. 
 
The release said that the takeover was expected to significantly strengthen CESS’s capability to undertake research in frontier areas of earth sciences, and provide a solid basis for future investment in its research programmes and infrastructure. This will also help for more collaborative research programmes with national and international institutes. In addition, the taking over helps in better utilisation and sharing of resources and tools available within the various R & D centres of the MoES and other ministries, it said.
 
The total estimated budget requirements of CESS will be Rs.128.67 crore for the remaining period of the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17).
 
"Research & Development activities of CESS would benefit millions of people across the country by way of increased knowledge of earth processes, better predictive systems for natural hazards, development of natural resources management plans, increased access to thematic maps, etc. Research activities of CESS will cover the whole country with particular focus on south India," the release said.
 
At present the various units/centres under the MoES are focused on R & D on the ocean and atmosphere components of the earth system, and there is no unit that is actively pursuing research with specific aspects of solid earth. The takeover complements the Ministry`s plan to expand its research activities in the field of earth system science. 
 
Recognizing the growth potential of CESS and realizing the resource constraints of the State Government, the Government of Kerala came up with a proposal for taking over of the institute by the Central Government some time ago.
 
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Kerala's She Taxi for women travellers to introduce car pooling system

She Taxis
She Taxis
Encouraged by the response to its She Taxi project for women travellers, the Gender Park in Kerala is planning to integrate a car pooling system into the service which is set to expand from a fleet of five cars to 25 by January 1.
 
She Taxi is the first off-campus project by the Gender Park which is an institution newly established under the Department of Social Justice, Government of Kerala, to work towards gender equity.
 
Since its launch last month, the service has seen tremendous response from the public, especially travelling women and women entrepreneurs wanting to operate their own taxis, said Gender Park CEO P T M Sunish.
 
Within the first 15 days the She Taxis carried around 100 passengers. The taxis were also employed full time during the recently concluded week-long 18th International Film Festival of Kerala to transport delegates and guests.
 
“We have facilitated 10 more vehicle bookings and are processing more applications received from women entrepreneurs. By the start of the new year we expect to have at least 20 more taxis in addition to the five that are currently fully equipped and operational,” he added.
 
The Gender Park now plans to roll out taxi pooling system through She Taxi for women commuters, especially those travelling long distances. The new service targets professionals and students who travel to the city everyday from the suburbs and outskirts.
 
“Car pooling, as we know, is a very cost effective and eco-friendly mode of travel and we want to encourage women commuters coming from the same area to use She Taxis for the purpose,” Mr Sunish said. “A taxi pool will cost less than the autorickshaw fare for the same distance and they can travel in safety and the comfort of an air-conditioned sedan.”
 
Registrations for taxi pooling can be done through the call centre at 85900 00543. The routes and timings will be introduced depending on the registrations.
 
She Taxi is a 24X7 service available for booking via mobile phones and online. Women travelling alone or with families can dial the customer care centre which will provide them with a Unique Identification Code and the vehicle number on their mobile phones.
 
All cabs are metered and have an electronic payment system allowing the user to pay using credit or debit cards or cash.
 
The She Taxis come with multiple security systems for the safety of the drivers as well as the passengers. A control room tracks the taxis in real-time using GPS; there are personal emergency alert switches for drivers and passengers inside the car; and a similar safety alert app is installed on the mobile phones of the women drivers.
 
The cabs have a map of all emergency response systems in the city and public safety officers will be available for their assistance. The drivers will also be given training in self-defence as well as good driving practices.
 
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Travancore royal family head Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma passes away

Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma
Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma
Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the head of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, passed away at a hospital here early this morning.
 
He was 91. He is survived by his son Anantha Padmanabhan and daughter Parvathi. His wife Radha Devi had predeceased him in 1993.
 
His funeral wil be held here this afternon at the Kowdiar Palace grounds, sources said.
 
According to them, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma had been admitted to the Shri Uthradom Thirunal Hospital here on December 6 for treatment of various ailments. He breathed his last around 0220 hours today.
 
Born on March 22, 1922, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma was the younger brother of the last ruling monarch of the Travancore kingdom, Maharaja Chitra Thirunal Rama Varma.
 
He became the head of the family when his elder brother Chithra Thirunal Balarama Varma passed away in 1991.
 
A graduate in Economics, History and Sanskrit, Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma was admired for his modesty and simplicity, among other things. He used to be a photography enthusiast.
 
He was the custodian of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple here and, as long as his health permitted it, he used to visit it early in the morning every day.
 
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Kerala government plans new law to deal with real estate cheats

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Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has said that the State Law Department had been entrusted with the task of preparing the Kerala Real Estate (Development and Regulation) Bill with necessary changes in view of the anticipated Central law. 
 
He said the Housing Department had drawn up a draft law to set up the Kerala Apartment Regulatory Authority to end the exploitation of investors, especially non-resident Indians (NRIs), by real estate companies.
 
He said the draft was discussed by the Cabinet on June 6 last year and again on March 12 this year.
 
Briefing newspersons here after a meeting of the State Cabinet yesterday, Mr Chandy said it was felt that a regulatory authority needed to be formed, for which the Department of Local Self-Government (LSG) had to prepare a Bill at the state level in tune with the Bill prepared by the Central Government.
 
The bill thus prepared by the LSG department had been sent to the Law department, he said.
 
Mr Chandy said that, as there were many complaints regarding exploitation and cheating of consumers by builders and other fly-by-night operators, the State Government could not wait for the Central regulation.
 
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Kerala Cabinet sanctions Rs 132 crore financial action plan for Kannur airport

 
The Kerala Cabinet today sanctioned a financial action plan for the Kannnur Airport in the state for the next few years.
 
Briefing newspersons after the Cabinet meeting, Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said the runway tender had been finalised and the construction works were ready to begin.
 
He said the airport was expected to start functioning by 2014.
 
The amount sanctioned today was to fill the viability gap, if necessary, he added.
 
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Kerala hotels to become tobacco smoke free

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Representatives of hotels and restaurants associations in Kerala have come together and decided to make these places completely tobacco smoke-free and to protect their employers and customers from the risks associated with second-hand smoke by taking the necessary measures soon.
 
The decision was taken at a recent meeting of key office-bearers and senior representatives of the Kerala Hotels and Restaurants Association (KHRA); South India Hotels and Restaurants Association (SIHRA) and South Kerala Hoteliers Forum (SKHF).
 
Among other things, they agreed to put up mandated signages and in preventing customers and employees from smoking in their premises, the associations said in a press release.
 
“The well-being of our patrons including ladies and children, and employees is paramount to the hotel industry," Mr G Sudhiesh Kumar, State President of the 20,000-member-strong KHRA, said.
 
"Tobacco smoke with over 250 harmful chemicals has been proven to cause lung cancers, heart attacks and stroke besides severe asthma and other respiratory illnesses in children. We will take immediate measures to make our restaurants and hotels smoke free and I urge our members to implement the provisions laid out by the law," he said.
 
Under the country’s tobacco control legislation -- COTPA -- enacted in 2003, hotels, restaurants, coffee bars, pubs and bars fall under the ambit of public places.  Hotel and restaurant owners, proprietors, managers and supervisors have to display signboards stating, “No Smoking Area – Smoking Here is an Offence”, in English or regional language of the specified size.
 
The law mandates that such boards have to be placed at all entrances and other conspicuous places inside the building. If there is more than one floor, the signboards have to be set up on each floor, including on the staircase and at the entrance to the lift at each floor. Owners are also required to ensure no ashtrays, matches, lighters or other things designed to facilitate smoking are provided.
 
“As a state, we take pride in our coming together to bring about a larger good. The hotel industry, which has taken a lead in many aspects of social welfare, will also demonstrate our commitment to public health by ensuring tobacco smoke free member institutions,” said Mr D Chandrasenan Nair, a veteran leader of the hotel industry. 
 
Mr T C Paul, President, SKHF added, “Making hotels and restaurants smoke free will be our contribution to make Kerala a healthier state. We will make use of our forums to fight the public health menace of tobacco use and second-hand smoke. ”
 
Mr Suresh M Pillai, Vice President, SIHRA (Kerala) said, “We are very much aware of the dangers of second-hand smoke and will make all efforts to see that our hotels and restaurants are kept free of the harmful chemicals emanated from tobacco smoke. I will take up the matter of making smoke-free hotels and restaurants a compulsory parameter for star classification in the next meeting.”
 
Designated smoking areas or spaces that meet specified architectural guidelines are permitted in hotels with 30 rooms or more and in restaurants, coffee houses, pubs, and bars with seating capacity of 30 or more persons. However, the World Health Organisation has stated that there is “no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke” and creating 100 per cent smoke-free environments is the only way to protect people from the harmful effects of second-hand tobacco smoke.
 
As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2009 of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the highest -- 9.2 per cent -- of adults above 15 years, were exposed to second-hand smoking in restaurants.
 
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‘Partner Kerala’ meet in Kochi on Dec 19-20 to help raise funds for urban infrastructure

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The Kerala government's Department of Urban Affairs (DUA) is organising an investors’ meet in Kochi next month with the objective of developing basic infrastructure in major cities through public-private partnership (PPP).
 
The two-day ‘Partner Kerala’ Urban Development Meet, to be held at the Le Meridien Convention Centre in Kochi on December 19-20, is an attempt at mobilising resources for cash-strapped corporations that are unable to keep pace with the rising demand for amenities in rapidly expanding cities, a press release from the department said.
 
State Chief Minister Oommen Chandy released the logo of the event at a function here yesterday in the presence of Minister for Urban Affairs  Manjalamkuzhi Ali.
 
Mr Ali said hundreds of potential investors from around the country and overseas, and within Kerala, are expected to take part in the meet which will showcase investment opportunities across a number of areas.
 
These include necessities such as waste management, sewerage, flyovers, bridges and parking lots, bus terminals, comfort stations and markets; amenities like shopping complexes, convention centres and multiplex cinema halls and amusement parks, besides parks, town beautification, street lights and hoardings. 
 
Projects best suited for the layout, density and geography of each city will be presented at the event.
 
Mr Ali said Kerala had already set an example for other states in resource allocation and strengthening local self-governments through decentralised planning. However, the biggest challenge facing local governing bodies today is the lack of funds to upgrade and modernise infrastructure, he said.
 
He said city corporations are forced to rely on financial support from the government for their day-to-day operations. Nearly half of them depend on state funding to pay salaries and pensions to employees, which means they struggle to invest in infrastructure and other development activities. This has been holding back the growth and modernisation of schools, hospitals and other critical or essential services managed by local bodies.
 
The crisis has prompted the corporations to explore the PPP model as a means to mobilise resources and raise the capital required to execute city development projects. 
 
The Department of Urban Affairs (DUA) is hoping that the meet, organised along the lines of the ‘Emerging Kerala’ event, will attract investments into projects intended at developing basic infrastructure from socially-committed investors.
 
Each of the city corporations in the state has, for the past three months, been working to develop project proposals for presentation at the meet. The DUA has published a list of experts to assist the corporations in the exercise. The city governing bodies will be responsible for ensuring that the projects they implement have public acceptability.
 
"A successful Partner Kerala meet will breathe new life into ailing corporations and allow them to push ahead with the badly needed city development and infrastructure projects," the Minister added.      
 
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Kerala launches taxi service for women travellers, operated by women

The first She Taxis on the road in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on November 20, 2013.
The first She Taxis on the road in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala on November 20, 2013.
"She Taxi", a taxi service for women travellers operated by women entrepreneurs, was launched here today as the first initiative of the Gender Park – and institution newly established under the state government’s Department of Social Justice to work towards gender equity.
 
Well-known film actress Manju Warrier, who has been designated as the Goodwill Ambassador of She Taxi, flagged off the service at a ceremony at Kanakakkunnu Palace here in the presence of state Minister for Panchayats and Social Justice M K Muneer and other dignitaries.
 
 “What makes She Taxi such a wonderful project that it is a means of livelihood for one set of women and a safe and secure mode of transport for another,” she said.
 
She also urged more female entrepreneurs to come forward to operate the taxis, saying it is a much-needed service for the ever growing number of women employees in sectors such as IT, media, travel and hospitality who have to work and travel at odd hours.
 
Dr Muneer said She Taxi is the first of many projects for women’s safety and empowerment that the Gender Park plans to implement in the future. 
 
He said the first of the Gender Parks will be set up in Kozhikode with work on the new building, set in a sprawling 24-acre campus, slated to begin next year.
 
Congress MLA K Muraleedharan inaugurated the call centre (accessible on 85900 00543) set up for She Taxi operations, and Transport Commissioner  Rishi Raj Singh launched the official She Taxi website and logo.
 
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The first women drivers of the fleet of cabs – Annie Surendran, Jaicy Ramesh, Rasiya Begum Noushad, Heera P and Asha Kumari – received the keys from Ms  Manju Warrier.
 
Associates of the She Taxi project are Maruti Suzuki Ltd, which is supplying the taxis and providing training to the women drivers; the Kerala State Women’s Development Corporation (KSWDC) which will provide financing support for the entrepreneurs and Technopark-based Rain Concert Technologies.
 
The Gender Park has developed a business model for She Taxi which projects a steady monthly income for the women entrepreneurs besides additional revenues through ads on the sides of the cars, in-car LCD systems for streaming ads and others.
 
Muthoot FinCorp has already expressed willingness to advertise on the sides of the first five She Taxis as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility initiative.
 
Team Bimblotica, a student band from the Government College for Women, Vazhuthacaud, performed at the ceremony.
 
Following the flag-off the first five She Taxis carried some of the invited guests, including Dr Muneer and his family, Ms Warrier and Ms Sabriye Tenberken as their first passengers.
 
 ‘She Taxi’ is a 24X7 service available for booking via mobile phones and online. Women travelling alone or with families can dial the customer care centre which will provide them with a Unique Identification Code and the vehicle number on their mobile phones.
 
All cabs are metered and have an electronic payment system allowing the user to pay using credit or debit cards or cash.
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The She Taxis come with multiple security systems for the safety of the drivers as well as the passengers. A control room tracks the taxis in real-time using GPS; there are personal emergency alert switches for drivers and passengers inside the car; and a similar safety alert app is installed on the mobile phones of the women drivers.
 
The cabs have a map of all emergency response systems in the city and public safety officers will be available for their assistance. The drivers will also be given training in self-defence as well as good driving practices.
 
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Chandy disburses Rs 3.5 crore in aid at mass contact event in Malappuram

Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy listening to the grievance of an applicant during his Mass Contact Programme at Malappuram on November 4, 2013.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy listening to the grievance of an applicant during his Mass Contact Programme at Malappuram on November 4, 2013.
More than Rs 3.5 crore of financial assistance was disbursed yesterday as part of Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy's Mass Contact Programme in Malappuram district yesterday.
 
The Malappuram event was the third one in the second phase of the hugely popuar programme, called Jana Samparka Paripadi (JSP) in Malayalam, after successful programmes at Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam.
 
Official sources said as many as 17283 applications were received from people for the JSP in Malappura, including 7112 applications received by Mr Chandy in person yesterday. Earlier, people had submitted 10,171 applications online on the JSP website.
 
The sources said 4217 complaints were solved at the district level and 3345 were sent for follow-up action. 
 
Mr Chandy sanctioned Rs 23.75 lakh as medical treatment assistance for 57 applicants who approached him yesteday with their grievances.
 
Financial assistance of around Rs 4 lakh was sanctioned to those who are suffering from various ailments in Parapur, Oorakam and Othukungal panchayats, they said.
 
Nishad, a resident of Othukungal panchayat, who has been paralysed after falling from a tree, was sanctioned Rs 50,000 as financial assistance and his mother has been granted pension. His ration card has also been converted to below poverty line (BPL) category.
 
Similarly, the son of Manjicheeri Kunhalikutty has been given Rs 1 lakh to carry out his heart surgery.
 
Three mentally challenged daughters of P Kunjumuhammad, a resident of Oorakam, was sanctioned Rs 90,000.
 
 
There were several others, including disabled persons, who got assistance for treatment of heart, kidney and other ailments.
 
There was tight security in and around the SSP Ground, the venue of the programme, in view of the October 27 incident at Kannur in which Mr Chandy suffered minor injuries when a group of suspected CPI-M-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) activists pelted stones at his car in Kannur during their protest against the alleged solar scam.
 
Nearly 2000 policemen, including armed personnel of the Thunderbolt team, set up to deal with Maoist threat, were deployed at and around the ground.
 
Left Front activists tried to stage a protest near the venue of today's programme, too, but they were stopped by the police. The LDF has said that it would hold such protests at all venues of the JSP to demand Mr Chandy's resignation over the solar scam issue.
 
Answering criticism from the LDF that the JSP was aimed at only distributing financial assistance from the Chief Minister's Relief Fund, Mr Chandy said the programme was meant to ensure that the people got what was rightfully due to them without bureaucratic delays and overcoming legal hindrances.
 
"Due to certain restrictions in law, many things cannot be implemented.The Jana Samparka Paripadi will help bring such matters to the attention of officials and these can be resolved," he said.
 
He said that about 45 government orders were issued in the first phase of JSP, after his government assumed office in May 2011, to amend rules on the basis of petitions received during the programme. If necessary, new orders will be issued to resolve the problems of the people, he said.
 
Mr Chandy has said that he intended to visit all districts of the state as part of JSP 2013 so that he could meet people directly to hear their grievances and redress them.
 
 
People can file petitions through the JSP web portal at least 30 days before the programme in their district with supporting documents.
 
At yesterday's event, as in all other such programmes earlier, Mr Chandy started meeting people around 8.45 am and continued to do so till late in the night, without a break. Thousands of people waited patiently for their turn. Some bed-ridden people came in ambulances, and Mr Chandy went up to meet them.
 
The Chief Minister spared a few moments for each person who came to meet him and repeatedly assured the crowds that he would leave only after meeting the last person waiting.
 
Among other things, Mr Chandy sanctioned BPL ration cards to 2467 families at the programme.
 
About 1000 officials from various departments were on hand to help dispose of the applications.
 
Several of Mr Chandy's Cabinet colleages, including Mr P K Kunhalikutty, Mr Aryadan Muhammad,  Mr A P Anilkumar, Mr V S Sivakumar, Mr P K Abdurabb, Mr Manjalamjkuzhi Ali, and many MLAs were also present.
 
 
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