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India’s Tendulkar in final Test appearance

Nov 152013

India's Tendulkar in final Test appearanceSachin Tendulkar, the Indian cricket legend, has taken to the pitch for his 200th and final Test, bidding farewell to his adoring public and basking in tributes from fellow players, politicians and fans.

The 40-year-old is ending an international career spanning nearly a quarter of a century during which he became the all-time leading Test and one-day batsman and the only man to score 100 international centuries.

The end of the Little Master, who has almost God-like status in his cricket-mad country, has been met with nationwide nostalgia for his sporting feats since his international debut in 1989.

Tendulkar, who led the team out onto the field in his home city of Mumbai on Thursday, said the last 20 years had been “marked by some of the most challenging, exhilarating, poignant and memorable moments of my life”.

“The game has seen so much change over the last two decades – from advances in technology, new formats, yet the basic spirit and passion surrounding the game remains the same,” he wrote in a front-page Hindustan Times article.

“Sachin mania” in the run-up to the game against the West Indies has been building since he announced his intention to retire last month, with highlights of his innings and interviews looping on news channels.

Empty stadium seats

Many followers have expressed disappointment that only 5,000 out of 32,000 seats were for the general public, with the rest reserved for VIPs such as sponsors and cricket club members.

About half were empty after the match began.

Such was the demand for the publicly available tickets that the main website selling them crashed within minutes of sales opening on Monday.

Before the match started, the Mumbai Cricket Association presented Tendulkar with a enlarged photograph of a postage stamp released by the government in his honour.

Footage broadcast on Indian television showed the toss taking place with a specially minted coin bearing his image on one side.

“We will be very fortunate if we get another Sachin,” Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Indian captain, said at the toss.

“So it is important that we learn from the great man.”

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Despite Tendulkar’s glowing reputation, his cricketing powers have waned in recent years and some suggested that he should have retired earlier. The latest of his 51 Test centuries was back in January 2011 against South Africa.

Since 16-year-old Tendulkar made his debut in Karachi in 1989, he has racked up an astonishing 15,847 runs in 199 Tests, helping India win the 2011 World Cup and reach the top of the world rankings.

On the eve of his final match, he thanked his fans on Twitter “from the bottom of my heart for 24 years of support”.

Along with Tendulkar murals, banners and billboards that have sprung up in the countdown to the match, Mumbai’s tattoo parlours have reportedly seen a surge in requests for designs of the sporting icon.

On a beach in the eastern state of Odisha, an artist created a huge sand sculpture of 200 cricket bats and Tendulkar’s face.

The star’s wheelchair-bound mother Rajni is due to watch her son bat for the first time, after a special ramp was built for her at the south Mumbai stadium, despite her previous fears that her presence at matches could bring him bad luck.

India’s Gurgaon set to unveil metro

Nov 132013

India's Gurgaon set to unveil metroThe suburb of Gurgaon near the Indian capital, Delhi, is set to launch a long-awaited metro rail service.

The 5.1km (3.16-mile) stretch of elevated track has six stations and is the first one in India built by a public-private partnership.

The journey through Gurgaon’s congested business district will take 13 minutes – residents hope it will ease traffic congestion in the area.

Gurgaon is home to a number of multinational companies.

The metro was planned in 2009 and work began on it in 2010.

The first section of the metro is part of a proposed 12km (7.45-mile) network with an equal number of stations which is due to be completed by 2015.

Gurgaon is already connected to the capital, Delhi, by the capital’s metro service.

Described as India’s “millennium city”, Gurgaon has been transformed from farming fields to a bustling technology hub, thanks to the call centre and outsourcing industries.

However, its success has come with little support from government and the city lacks adequate public transport and sanitation facilities.

Officials say more than 200,000 vehicles enter and exit Gurgaon every day crowding the existing connecting roads and an expressway linking the suburb with Delhi.

They say about a third of the existing traffic will shift to the metro resulting in the decongestion of the city’s roads, reduction in travel time and road accidents.

Indian Mars mission snag ‘resolved’

Nov 122013

Indian Mars mission snag 'resolved' India’s mission to Mars has overcome a technical problem and appears to be back on track, the country’s space research agency says.

The problem occurred on Monday when a planned engine burn failed to raise the spacecraft’s orbit around Earth by the intended amount.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has now pushed the spacecraft to a higher orbit as planned.

Isro officials said its final orbit “will be known in a few hours”.

The problem occurred during a manoeuvre designed to boost the craft’s maximum distance from 71,623km to 100,000km.

A problem with the liquid fuel thruster caused the 1,350kg vehicle to fall short of the mark.

As a solution, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – known informally as Mangalyaan, or Mars-craft – executed an additional thruster firing to make up for the shortfall early on Tuesday.

Speaking to Pallava Bagla, science editor at Indian broadcasting network NDTV, Isro’s chairman K Radhakrishnan said: “All is well and operations completed as planned. The final orbit of the spacecraft will be known in a few hours.”

Mr Bagla told BBC News that the “spacecraft has been put on required velocity and seems to be on track”.

Instead of flying directly to Mars, the $72m (£45m) probe is scheduled to orbit Earth until the end of the month, building up the necessary velocity to break free from our planet’s gravitational pull.

Indian media praise ‘historic’ Mars mission

Nov 062013

Indian media praise 'historic' Mars missionMedia feel India has made “a historic leap” into a new space age with the successful launch of its first Mars probe mission.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, known as Mangalyaan (Mars craft in Hindi), took off at 09:08 GMT from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the country’s east coast on Tuesday, sparking a wave of celebrations in the media.

The Deccan Herald says India could not afford to be left behind in intra-planetary exploration as it “may turn out to be as important in history as the western powers’ maritime conquests centuries ago”.

“Mangalyaan marks another important step in the country’s ambition to reach out to worlds outside the earth after the success of the Chandrayaan mission which took it to the moon in 2008,” the paper adds.

For The Hindu, the mission has the capability of inspiring an entire generation of Indians.

“The most important of such benefits could well be to fire the imagination of young minds in this country, getting them to dream about possibilities for tomorrow,” the daily says.

Some papers are also praising the project’s comparative low budget which stands at $72m (£45m).

“There’s no denying the Mangalyaan launch exemplifies a creative blend of Indian scientific ingenuity and frugal engineering,” says The Times of India.

However, some media outlets are also highlighting the challenges that lie ahead for the Mangalyaan.

“The successful launch of the country’s Mars mission is only part of the country’s first inter-planetary venture story. The space odyssey is long and complex,” says a report in The Indian Express.

The First Post website says “there has been a fairly strong amount of criticism regarding the technology put in use to create the Mangalyaan hailed as the most inexpensive Mars mission till date”.

Some papers say the Indian Space Research Organisation will have to execute its plan with precision because “at least 40 Mars missions and programmes have been launched around the world since 1960 and more than half of which have failed”.

MPs arrested

Meanwhile, in domestic news, an MP of the regional Bahujan Samaj Party has been arrested along with his wife in connection with the death of a female domestic worker at their home in Delhi, The Times of India reports.

Police said the worker’s body had several injury marks when it was recovered from MP Dhananjay Singh’s home on Tuesday evening after he called up the police.

The MP and his wife have denied any role in the death.

Another MP, Bogha Solanki of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, was also arrested in the western state of Gujarat on Tuesday over the 2010 killing of an anti-mining activist, the paper adds.

In foreign news, India and China have begun a 10-day military drill on counter-terrorism for the first time in five years, reports The Hindu.

Nearly 300 soldiers are taking part in the exercises which began near Chengdu in China’s south-western province of Sichuan on Tuesday, it adds.

In good news for motorbike lovers, Harley Davidson will start manufacturing two of its models in India from early next year, reports The Indian Express.

The company will build the bikes at its existing assembly plant in the northern state of Haryana and also export the motorcycles to Europe and Southeast Asia, the company president Matthew Levatich says.

Toy train in ‘danger’

Meanwhile, the government is worried that the famous “toy train” in Darjeeling may lose its Unesco world heritage site status if its damaged railway tracks are not repaired, The Hindu reports.

Junior Railways Minister Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has urged the West Bengal state to begin renovation work immediately, failing which the service could be declared “endangered” by the UN and that would be “humiliating” for the country, the paper adds.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railways was declared a world heritage site in 1999.

And finally, athletics star Usain Bolt is going to be glued to his television set to watch legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar play his second-last Test match in the eastern city of Calcutta from Wednesday, reports The Indian Express.

“I hope Sachin scores 100 and West Indies win the series,” Bolt said.

Tendulkar will play his final and 200th Test match in his home city of Mumbai from 14 November.

India readies Mars probe for launch

Nov 052013

India readies Mars probe for launchIndia is preparing to launch a robotic spacecraft towards the Red Planet – a first for the South Asian country.

The head of India’s space agency told the BBC the mission would demonstrate the technological capability to reach Mars orbit and carry out experiments.

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) will lift off at 0908 GMT on Tuesday atop an Indian-built rocket from Sriharikota.

If launch goes well, the spacecraft is set to travel for 300 days and should reach Mars orbit in September 2014.

Officials from the country’s space agency began a 56-hour countdown to the launch on Sunday.

Some observers are viewing the launch of the MOM, also known by the informal name of Mangalyaan (Mars-craft), as the latest salvo in a burgeoning space race between the Asian powers of India, China, Japan, South Korea and others.

Prof Andrew Coates, from the UK’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, told BBC News: “I think this mission really brings India to the table of international space exploration. Interplanetary exploration is certainly not trivial to do, and [India] has found some interesting scientific niches to make some measurements in.”

Those niche areas include searching for the signature of methane (CH4) in the Martian atmosphere, which has previously been detected from Martian orbit and telescopes on Earth. However, Nasa’s Curiosity rover recently failed to find the gas in its measurements of atmospheric gases.

CH4 has a short lifetime in the Martian atmosphere, meaning that some source on the Red Planet must replenish it. Intriguingly, some 95% of atmospheric methane on Earth is produced by microbes, which has led some to propose the possibility of a biosphere deep beneath the Martian surface. But the gas can be produced by geological processes too, most notably by volcanism.

Definitive conclusions are likely to be elusive, but the spacecraft’s Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) instrument will aim to make measurements and map any potential sources of methane “plumes”.

The spacecraft will also examine the rate of loss of atmospheric gases to outer space. This could provide insights into the planet’s history; billions of years ago, the envelope of gases around Mars is thought to have been more substantial.

India approved the project in 2012, so mission scientists have worked around the clock to ready the craft in order to take advantage of a favourable alignment of the two planets that would allow the MOM to save on fuel during its journey to Mars.

The orbiter will be lofted on an evolved version of the Indian-developed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, taking it into an elliptical orbit around Earth. It will then begin a series of six small engine burns to lift it to a higher orbit.

A final burn will send the craft off on an interplanetary trajectory, to begin its 300-day, 780-million km journey to the Red Planet. In order for the MOM to embark on the right trajectory, the mission must launch by 19 November and carry out its final orbital burn by 30 November.

The difficulty of visiting the Red Planet will not be lost on Indian officials; fewer than half the missions launched towards Mars have succeeded. But Prof Coates said that the planned mechanics for getting to Mars were on a sound footing, and that the probe stood a good chance as long as its engines fired correctly.

Some commentators have wondered whether India should be spending £60m on a scientific mission when the country has one of the highest rankings for childhood malnutrition in the world.

But those who defend such projects say the MOM is comparatively cheap and that the technological development required to mount this mission could indirectly benefit the country’s other activities.

Nisha Agrawal, chief executive of Oxfam in India, told the BBC: “India is home to poor people but it’s also an emerging economy, it’s a middle-income country, it’s a member of the G20. What is hard for people to get their head around is that we are home to poverty but also a global power.

“We are not really one country but two in one. And we need to do both things: contribute to global knowledge as well as take care of poor people at home.”

K Radhakrishnan, chair of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), told the BBC’s India Business Report: “Why India has to be in the space programme is a question that has been asked over the last 50 years. The answer then, now and in the future will be: ‘It is for finding solutions to the problems of man and society.’

He added: “A great revolution has taken place over these last 50 years in the country by a meagre expenditure that has been put into the space programme.”

Mr Radhakrishnan played down talk of a race between China and India in space, commenting: “We are not in a race with anybody, but I would say we are in a race with ourselves. We need to excel, we need to improve, and we need to bring new services.”

But a successful launch would allow India to surge ahead of regional rival China, at least in the exploration of Mars. China’s Yinghuo-1 spacecraft was to have reached Martian orbit in late 2012. But it was piggybacked on the Russian Phobos Grunt spacecraft, which became stranded in low-Earth orbit shortly after launch in November 2011.

The MOM was to have been launched as early as 28 October, but rough weather in the Pacific forced officials to delay the launch.

Is India becoming an inflation nation?

Nov 012013

Is India becoming an inflation nationMilton Friedman famously said inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. More recently Paul Krugman stood the legendary University of Chicago economist on his head saying high inflation is nowhere “merely” a monetary phenomenon and it is “always associated with severe political and social disruption”.

It’s difficult to say whether India’s continuing scourge of high inflation has to do anything with any such disruption, despite what many say is a weak ruling government beset by allegations of corruption and policy slowdown, rising religious violence in parts of the country, and a breakdown of bipartisanship leading to parliamentary deadlock from time to time.

For nearly four years now, inflation has hounded India relentlessly, pushing up prices, corroding savings, hurting the poor most and making life difficult for its large middle class.

Between December 2009 and August 2013, wholesale price inflation – which measures inflation at the “factory gate” – averaged over 8%. Consumer inflation – which reflects shop and market prices – has hovered between 7.65% and 10.91% since January 2012.

Though fuel and mineral prices have also risen, India’s seemingly interminable bout of inflation is mainly driven by galloping food prices, say economists.

Economist Sthanu R Nair, who has written an illuminating paper on India’s “persistently high” inflation, says food inflation has been at “unacceptably high levels” for the last six years or so. This is when, he says, prices of food globally have been low.

More specifically, between December 2009 and August 2013, the increase in prices of eggs, meat and fish, fruits, vegetables and milk moved well beyond double digits – meat and fish prices actually recorded a whopping 17% increase.

“Such a trend has serious adverse welfare effects, given the high levels of malnutrition, poverty and household spending on food in India,” says Dr Nair.

Much of this hike in food prices is being attributed to rise in rural incomes – wages have grown by 20% annually over the last five years – which is prompting villagers to expand and move towards protein-rich diets.

There is evidence to show that people are spending more on milk, pulses, egg, fish and meat both in the cities and villages.

There are other reasons behind India’s “sticky” inflation.

A lot of food rots in India because of insufficient and low quality storage facilities, leading to shortages in off-peak season.

A recent report by the UK-based Institution of Mechanical Engineers said 40% of fruits and vegetables in India was lost every year between the farm and the consumer due to lack of adequate cold storage.

Also, food has become increasingly more expensive to grow, thanks to rising prices of fodder, electricity, diesel and fertilisers. Low productivity and small land holdings don’t help matters. “Given these trends,” says Dr Nair, “one can hardly ignore the contribution of the cost factor in firming up food prices in recent years.”

High inflation is bad news for Asia’s third largest economy.

It has hurt growth: India limped at 4.4% in the last quarter, its lowest rate in three years. A harried central bank raised interest rates for the second consecutive month this week to fight inflation.

Though the government says it is hopeful that growth, helped by higher farm output and exports spurred by a depreciated rupee, will pick up by the end of the year, many economists don’t share the optimism.

They believe that India will remain stuck in an unenviable position of high inflation and low growth for some time to come.

Others like World Bank chief economist Kaushik Basu believe India can tolerate high inflation if it has equitably distributed high growth – he favours a “10% inflation and 11% growth” scenario. He cites the case of South Korea, which endured annual inflation rates of 20% when its economy took off during the 1970s.

India’s need for rapid growth, say Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze in their new book An Uncertain Glory, is “far from over”. Despite two decades of rapid growth, India, they write, is “still one of the poorest countries in the world” with real incomes per head still lower than that of most countries outside sub-Saharan Africa. But, clearly, inflations needs to be reined in before India embarks on faster growth.

India’s Narendra Modi lays foundation stone for ‘world’s tallest statue’

Oct 312013

world tallest statueWork has begun in India on what is billed as the “world’s tallest statue” after Chief Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone in the western state of Gujarat.

The statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, one of India’s independence heroes, is being erected on a river island.

At 182m (597ft), it would be twice as high as New York’s Statue of Liberty.

But critics say the statue’s 20.63bn-rupee ($336m; £210m) price tag is much too expensive.

The memorial would be called the “Statue of Unity”. Officials say the statue is expected to be ready in 42 months. Thursday is Patel’s 138th birth anniversary.

Sardar Patel, generally called the “Iron Man of India”, played a major role in the country’s fight for independence from British rule.

He was a close friend and ally of Mahatma Gandhi and became the first home minister of independent India.

Correspondents say the statue is viewed as a direct challenge by Mr Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India’s main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to appropriate the mantle of Patel, who was associated with the governing Congress party.

Earlier this week, Mr Modi said that Patel would have been a much better choice than Jawaharlal Nehru as India’s first prime minister.

The comment was seen as a dig at the country’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, led by Congress party chief Sonia and her son Rahul, who are descended through Nehru.

The family has ruled for most of India’s post-independence history.

Narendra Modi is a controversial figure who has been credited for bringing prosperity and development to the state of Gujarat but who has also been accused of complicity in some of the worst religious riots in recent Indian history. Mr Modi has always denied any wrongdoing.

Dozens killed in India bus-crash blaze

Oct 302013

Dozens killed in India bus-crash blaze A fierce blaze on board a bus sparked by an exploding fuel tank has killed at least 44 passengers in southern India, local police say.

The fire broke out early on Wednesday morning after the bus crashed into a central reservation on a highway between the cities of Bangalore and Hyderabad around 5am, Venkateshwarlu, a police spokesman, said.

“The number of dead, which includes children, is 44,” Venkateshwarlu told AFP news agency.

Pradeep, a police officer in Mehabubnagar in Andhra Pradesh state, said the driver and five other people escaped.

Mehabubnagar is more than 1,200km from New Delhi.

The driver had apparently been trying to pass another vehicle when the bus hit the roadside barrier.

India has the highest annual road death toll in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 110,000 people are killed every year in road accidents across India, according to police.

Most crashes are blamed on reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and ageing vehicles.

Angry relatives gathered at both the Bangalore and Hyderabad offices of Jabbar Travels, forcing police to send officers to keep order.

Police were also searching for the company’s owners in Bangalore, the main city in the neighboring southern state of Karnataka.

India has the highest annual road death toll in the world, according to the World Health Organisation. More than 110,000 people are killed every year in road accidents across the country, according to police.

Most crashes are blamed on reckless driving, poorly maintained roads and aging vehicles.

Kashmir: India says soldier killed in Pakistan firing

Oct 292013

Kashmir: India says soldier killed in Pakistan firingThe Indian army says one of its soldiers has been killed by Pakistani firing in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The killing took place in the Uri sector on the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan is yet to comment on the latest incident.

In recent months, India and Pakistan have regularly accused each other of unprovoked firing along the border in disputed Kashmir, which both claim.

Monday’s killing came hours before the military authorities from the two countries were due to meet to end tensions along the LoC, the BBC’s Riyaz Masroor in Srinagar says.

India says there have been nearly 200 violations of the decade-long ceasefire agreement since the beginning of this year.

Reports say hundreds of villagers have fled their homes in border areas in recent days due to repeated firing from Pakistan.

The increased volatility along the border comes 10 years after a ceasefire was agreed along the LoC.

In September, the prime ministers of the two countries met in New York and agreed to maintain peace on the border, but correspondents say their pledge seems to have made little difference on the ground.

Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to go the “extra mile” to make peace with India, saying while on a trip to the US that the two countries can resolve all issues, including Kashmir, through dialogue.