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Today's Hot Stories - March 16, 2011

10 Headlines for Today

(1) Centre invites Jats for talks on quota
(2) Air India pilots defer strike plan
(3) Japan abandons stricken nuke plant over radiation
(4) Garment manufacturers' nationwide strike enters second day
(5) Maruti attains yet another feat, rolls-out 10-millionth car
(6) Japan shares surge; central bank adds further $43B
(7) Djokovic, Ivanovic win at Indian Wells
(8) South Africa thrashes Ireland, storms into the quarterfinals
(9) Nilmar double sinks Leverkusen
(10) Japan's neighbours foresee no immediate nuclear effect

5 Stories for Today

(1) Hundreds of Adivasis march into Mumbai
(2) Radiation spreading from crippled reactors
(3) Software majors ask staff to come back
(4) Crude oil futures extend losses, down 1.39 per cent
(5) Global production may take a hit

(1) Hundreds of Adivasis march into Mumbai

Seventy-five-year-old Tukaram Vithal Gholap has walked for over three days from his village in Murbad (Thane district) to demand land rights. “I have fines from the Forest Department since 1969, which means I used to cultivate that land since then,” he said. Yet the Forest Department, which measured his land, confirmed only 29 gunthas (less than one acre), whereas he staked claim for about six acres.

A tired Tukaram marched with hundreds of other Adivasis to Mumbai on Tuesday to demand the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of rights) Act 2006. Since March 1, hundreds of Adivasis have been walking under the banner of the Karmaveer Dadasaheb Gaikwad Jungle Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti to protest the non-implementation of the Act. About 20 organisations are part of this Samiti.. People from Nandurbar in the north of the State to Jalgaon, Dhule, Thane and Raigad came together to stage a protest on Azad Maidan in Mumbai to tell the government that the implementation of the Act, which was supposed to end historical injustice faced by Adivasis, was shoddy. They want community rights to forests to be recognised, including the right to forest protection and management.

Tukaram has all his documents in neatly laminated plastic, including his school leaving certificate. He keeps visiting the Forest Department offices in Murbad to no avail.

Like him, Sujaram Wadvi has come all the way from Umaj, Nandurbar. He, like others, migrates for work every year. “We still have to get rights to the land which we have been cultivating for many years,” he said. Janguna Chima from Mokhada taluka in Thane district said: “We hope the government will hear us now.” Her family has been cultivating five acres of land, but has received no title till now.

The main contention is that only 32 per cent of the total claims have been approved in Maharashtra, while a large number have been rejected.

Ulka Mahajan from the Samiti said that after a delegation of representatives met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Tuesday, he assured them that all rejected claims would be reviewed and scrutinised by the District Collectors. Cases where less land was allotted against the claim would also be reviewed.

Land would be surveyed by the taluka inspector of land records and weightage would be given to land under possession and not cultivation, Ms. Mahajan said.

Last year, the then Chief Secretary, J.P. Dange, did away with the need to measure land before allotting it, leading to chaos.

Adivasis will have representation on the State monitoring committee. The Chief Minister said that he would review the situation every three months.

It was also decided to conduct training on granting community forest rights. As a result, the State was lagging behind in granting community forest rights claims.

(2) Radiation spreading from crippled reactors

Japan's nuclear crisis verged toward catastrophe on Tuesday after an explosion damaged a vessel containing the nuclear core at one reactor and a fire at another spewed large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to the statements of Japanese government and industry officials.

(An AFP report said a magnitude 6.0 quake rattled Tokyo late on Tuesday. The epicentre was located in Shizuoka prefecture, about 120 km southwest of the capital.)

In a brief address to the nation at 11 a.m. Tokyo time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for calm, but warned that radiation had spread from the crippled reactors and there was “a very high risk” of further leakage. Fortunately, the prevailing winds were sweeping most of the plume of radioactivity out into the Pacific Ocean, rather than over populated areas.

The sudden turn of events, after an explosion on Monday at one reactor and an early-morning explosion on Tuesday at yet another, the third in four days, at the plant already made the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor disaster a quarter-century ago.

It diminished hopes earlier in the day that engineers at the plant, working at tremendous personal risk, might yet succeed in cooling down the most damaged of the reactors, No. 2, by pumping in sea water. According to government statements, most of the 800 workers at the plant had been withdrawn, leaving 50 or so workers in a desperate effort to keep the cores of three stricken reactors cooled with seawater pumped by firefighting equipment, while the same crews battled to put out the fire at the No. 4 reactor, which they claimed to have done just after noon.

That fourth reactor had been turned off and was under refurbishment for months before the earthquake and tsunami hit the plant on Friday. But the plant contains spent fuel rods that were removed from the reactor, and experts guessed that the pool containing those rods had run dry, allowing the rods to overheat and catch fire. That is almost as dangerous as the fuel in working reactors melting down, because the spent fuel can also spew radioactivity into the atmosphere.

The two critical questions over the next day or so are how much radioactive material is spewed into the atmosphere, and where the winds carry it. Readings reported on Tuesday showed a spike of radioactivity around the plant that made the leakage categorically worse than it had been, with radiation levels measured at one point as high as 400 millisieverts an hour. Even seven minutes of exposure at that level will reach the maximum annual dose that a worker at a U.S. nuclear plant is allowed. And exposure for 75 minutes would likely lead to acute radiation sickness.

In Tokyo, 170 miles south of the plant, the metropolitan government said on Tuesday that it had detected radiation levels 20 times above normal over the city. In Ibaraki prefecture, just south of Fukushima prefecture where the plant is located, the amount of radiation reached 100 times the usual levels.

(3) Software majors ask staff to come back

Indian IT companies, which have only a small presence in Japan, are closely monitoring the situation in Japan, which was devastated by an earthquake and a tsunami last Friday. The leading IT companies have all initiated measures to evacuate those employees who wish to return, although recent reports indicate that employees have been finding it more difficult to get airline bookings immediately. Industry sources confirmed that worries about radiation leaking from the stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima have prompted Indian employees to head back home.

Speaking to this correspondent, S. Gopalakrishnan, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Infosys Technologies, said “We have advised employees to send back their families to India. Some employees have already come back and more are likely to return.” “All Infosys employees in Japan are safe,” Mr. Gopalakrishnan said.

Infosys, which started operations in Japan in 1998, is located basically in the port city of Nagoya, which is also a leading aerospace and automobile manufacturing hub. The company employs about 500 persons, of which about 300 are Indians. Mr. Gopalakrishnan pointed out that Infosys was unlikely to be financially impacted because its Japanese operations contribute “less than one per cent” of the company's global revenues.

Mr. Gopalakrishnan said that Infosys' progress in Japan had been slow. “I would not say it is a difficult market, but it is certainly a challenging one,” he said. “But we have always had a long term focus on Japan,” he added.

Saurabh Govil, Senior Vice-President, Human Resources, Wipro Technologies, said, “We are continuously monitoring the developments in Japan. All of our employees are safe and continue to work with our clients.” Wipro is also “giving an option to families of employees to return to India,” he said in a statement issued on Tuesday. Wipro employs about 400 persons in Japan. Mr. Gopalakrishnan said that Infosys would continue to support its clients “locally and from offshore locations till the situation stabilises.” He emphasised that the company sees the situation arising from the tragedy as a “temporary” one. “We are committed to our clients and operations in Japan,” he added.

(4) Crude oil futures extend losses, down 1.39 per cent

Crude oil prices fell by 1.39 per cent to Rs. 4,403 per barrel in futures trade today, extending its slide, despite partial recovery in Asian trade.

At the Multi Commodity Exchange, crude oil for delivery in March shed Rs. 62, or 1.39 per cent, to Rs. 4,403 per barrel, with a business turnover of 7,713 lots.

Likewise, the oil for delivery in April also fell by Rs. 62, or 1.37 per cent, to Rs. 4,470 per barrel, with a business volume of 1,225 lots.

Analysts attributed the fall in crude oil futures prices to off-loading of positions by speculators. However, partial recovery in Asian trade capped the losses.

Meanwhile, crude oil for delivery in April rose by 86 cents to $ 98.04 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, on bargain-hunting, following the previous day’s massive sell-off.

(5) Global production may take a hit

The economic aftershocks from the massive earthquake off the coast of Japan, the resulting tsunami and a feared nuclear meltdown could hit global production of everything from aircraft to iPads.

Panic selling sent Tokyo shares down 10.55 per cent on worries that the nuclear crisis would become a catastrophe on Tuesday, after radiation levels near a quake-stricken nuclear plant surged, following explosions and a fire.

The Nikkei index closed off 1015.34 points at 8605.15.

With ports, airports, highways and manufacturing plants across Japan shut down, the government has predicted “considerable impact on a wide range of our country's economic activities.''

Singapore bank DBS estimated that the quake and tsunami would cost Japan's economy $100 billion, equivalent to about 2 per cent of its gross domestic product.

The crisis has led to a huge stock sell-off, with Japanese giants such as Sony and Toyota hit after they were forced to halt production in the country.

Sony dived 6.27 per cent, while Toyota lost 4.83 per cent and Nissan was off 3.6 per cent.

Reactor-maker Toshiba, which fell by its 16 per cent daily limit on Monday, was ask-only. And the ripples are just beginning to register in the global economy.

Japan manufactures more than 40 per cent of the world's electronic components, according to brokerage firm CLSA.

“Japan remains critical to the global tech food chain,'' Bhavtosh Vajpayee, CLSA's head of technology research, said in a report.

“Japan still dominates many parts of the tech supply chain, while contributing meaningfully elsewhere.'' Much of the NAND flash memory, for instance, for Apple's new iPad 2 comes from Toshiba, the tech website Engadget said on Monday.

“Already, we're seeing reports predicting shortages of components that could ultimately create delays and/or increase the prices of our favourite gadgets,'' Engadget wrote. But a Toshiba spokeswoman told that only one of its factories, plus its research and development centre, was still closed on Tuesday.

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