Friday, November 30, 2007

Puranas are historical records

Published in Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age
By Syed Akbar
The Puranas, the ancient Hindu religious texts, are not mythological records but books of genuine historical evidence. A comprehensive research study carried out in the state by a Vedic research organisation shows that the Puranas reflect the development of social and moral ideas of the ancient Indian society, besides being chroniclers of the kings and the dynasties of those times. The Puranas are also prophetic in nature with several forecasts which later became historical truths.
"Puranas are not imaginary but have historical value. In numerous cases what the Puranas formulate, the Jatakas (ancient Buddhist texts) seem to illustrate. The striking agreement between the two accounts proves that they are not works of fiction but based on events," says Vedic researcher and Sanskrit scholar Dr Dhulipala Ramakrishna.
Dr Ramakrishna, who is a lecturer in Sanskrit in Maris Stella College, Vijayawada, argues that the Puranas cannot be trivialised by calling them mythological, or sectarian or religious. "Their theme is the presentation of the history of kings up to the end of the fifth century AD. There is no doubt that the Puranas embody the earliest traditional history," he observes.
The research is carried out under the auspices of Serve, a scientific research organisation on Vedas, and is based on historical and archaeological evidence obtained from various parts of the country including the Nagarjunakonda abutting the Nagarjunasagar lake.
According to Dr Ramakrishna, the Vishnu Purana had forecast the Mauryan dynasty while there is reference of the Guptas in the Vayu Purana. Both of them are prophecies which later turned out to be true. Kings of several dynasties have been listed in many of the Maha Puranas, some of which date back to 2,000 years before the Kaurava-Pandava war of the Mahabharata.
After the Mahabharata war, detailed lists of only three royal families — the Aiksvkus, the Pauravas, and the Magadh rulers — are mentioned in the Puranas down to the time of Adhisimakrsna, who was sixth in descent from Arjun, the hero of Mahabharata.
Dr Ramakrishna said the custom of recording dynastic history ceased with the Guptas, after whom no important dynasty or monarch has been mentioned in the Puranas.
Only intensive and comparative study of the Puranas can help us reconstructing the political history of pre-Buddhist India, Dr Ramakrishna pointed out.
According to the research study, the Puranas also offer a workable hypothesis for a system of ancient Indian chronology. The interval between the death of Parikshit and the coronation of Nanda is 1015 and 1050 years respectively, according to two versions.
The interval between the coronation of Nanda and of the Andhra dynasty is said to of 836 years. Thus the date of the access of Nanda would be 401 BC. Apart from the point of view of political history, the Puranas, "give us a picture of religious, social and economic conditions of India from ancient times up to the Muslim rule in India. They give us great insight."
The study pointed out that with regard to the political institutions in the past, there are valuable chapters in several Puranas, specially in the Matsya Purana. The elective and hereditary character of monarchy, king’s rights and duties and qualifications of councillors and ministers are described in detail. They also inform on construction of forts, rules of warfare, weapons and diplomacy, Dr Ramakrishna said.

Marlakunta dinner: What's the meat on the menu?

Published in The Indian Express on Sunday, November 15, 1998
By Syed Akbar
Come Sunday and loudspeakers blare in scores of villages straddling
forests and wildlife sanctuaries in Andhra Pradesh. Right from 6.00 am,
they call out for buyers of adavi mamsam (wildlife meat), which is sold at
several points in the villages.
The meat of wild mammals and birds, even the highly endangered ones, is
openly on sale, from the forest-side villages in Khammam, East and West
Godavari, Warangal and Adilabad to Prakasam, Karimnagar, Krishna, Nellore,
Chittoor and Cuddapah districts. According to an estimate, on any given
Sunday, wildlife meat weighing about two tonnes is sold in these areas.
And it is in these very parts that Andhra Pradesh Major Irrigation
Minister Tummala Nageswara Rao is said to have hosted his now famous
dinner where meat of endangered animals was reportedly served.
The list of animals which end up on the table includes nilgai, cheetal
(spotted deer), gaur (Indian bison), sambar, muntjac (barking deer),
blackbuck, langoor, wild boars, chowsingha (four-hornedantelope), chital
and mouse deer and birds like jungle fowl, peafowl, ducks, teals,
cormorant, spoonbills, storks, flamingoes, partridges, quails, seagulls,
snipes, spot bills, pelicans, doves, white ibis and terns. Such is the
demand for bird meat that the common sparrow has almost disappeared from
most areas in the Krishna district.
In seaside villages, one can occasionally find the meat of sea turtles and
dugongs (sea cows). There are other animals which are hunted for
commercial purposes like panthers, sloth bear, marsh crocodiles, pythons
and wild monkeys. ``Give me your address, we will bring the meat,''
hunters proudly tell visitors to these villages.
The price varies from animal to animal. The meat of the wild boar is the
cheapest of all. Sold at Rs 70 a kg, it is most widely available. The meat
of blackbuck, deer, sambar and gaur is available at a higher price,
ranging between Rs 150 and Rs 300 a kg. But the price can come down if the
catch is large. Bison meat is sold at Marudumilli and otherareas in West
Godavari district. Even the wild oxen is not spared.
Since peafowls (peacocks and peahens) are difficult to trace, each bird
commands a price between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000. At some places, the bird
is sold at even Rs 5,000. Sparrows, quails and cranes are sold even in
Vijayawada by small-time poachers.
The animals hunted during the week are dressed and kept in deep freezers
for sale on Sundays. ``If the Forest Department conducts a surprise check
on shops and houses having deep freezers in Khammam district, it will come
out with hundreds of kilos of meat of wild animals,'' a villager in
Polwoncha says, adding that not one major dinner hosted by an influential
person here goes without adavi mamsam being served.
The animals are mainly hunted with the help of electrocution, large-size
nets, guns and arrows. The electrocution method can prove dangerous to
humans too. Earlier this year, three persons were electrocuted after they
accidentally came in contact with a live electric wirespread around in
Kothagudem forests to kill wild animals.
At Gangineni in Krishna district, once an animal is hunted, it is brought
to the village centre and auctioned. The bid can go up to Rs 3,000 for a
langoor and Rs 5,000 for a sambar. The bidder then sells the meat in
retail. The hunters, usually local youths, take away the head and viscera
before the auction. This correspondent saw a heap of wild boar meat being
readied for sale in a village in Khammam district last Wednesday.
Even gangs have come up for organised poaching in Khammam, Adilabad and
Karimnagar districts, though hunting is still generally carried on by
local villagers. Besides, during every major festival, influential persons
from Tiruvuru, Nuzvidu, Vissannapet and surrounding areas in Krishna
district are known to head for the forests in tractors. Animals are hunted
down and cooked on the spot. Because of unchecked poaching, Khammam, the
only Andhra district with 51 per cent forest cover, has almost no deer
left. With the herbivorousanimals disappearing, predators, particularly of
the cat family, have been affected. The cheetah was last spotted in Andhra
Pradesh in 1955, and the panthers and tigers are disappearing. Migratory
birds have also stopped coming to Kolleru lake because of the ecological
devastation it's facing.
Poaching has made the Great Indian Bustard, too, a rare species. There are
now only a handful of these birds in the Rollapadu sanctuary in Kurnool
district. Only half-a-dozen Jerdon's Courser are alive in Sri
Lankamalleswara sanctuary in Cuddapah. The bird was spotted by Salim Ali,
the great ornithologist, over a decade ago.
Not surprisingly, officials are involved in the large-scale poaching. A
few months ago, a deer kept unauthorisedly by an IAS man at his official
residence in a coastal district, died. The superintendent of police of a
district in Telangana is known to have issued a severe warning to his
officers and constables who were using official weapons to poach wild
boars, sambars and blackbucks.
TheForest Department seems powerless to do anything about this. The state,
which has a forest cover of 63,814 sq km, has barely 5,000 men on the
field, including rangers, deputy rangers, foresters and forest guards.
Those actually looking after the wildlife section are even fewer. A senior
official regrets that the only animal left untouched in the Andhra jungles
is the hyena. ``Except hyena and vultures, all animals are killed, whether
it is for their meat, skin or horns,'' he says.
Even Forest Minister K.E. Prabhakar recently admitted that due to a
shortage of staff, a forest guard had to cover a radius of at least 40 km
a day, which was quite impossible. He announced that the Government
proposed to recruit 600 beat officers to strengthen the force.
The Kolleru and Krishna sanctuaries, which spread over an area of about
900 sq km, have only three foresters, two guards and six watchers. As a
result, many endangered animals, including dugongs, fishing cats, otters
and estuarine crocodiles are regularlykilled.
One of the reasons why incidents of poaching increase by the day is that
poachers are seldom nabbed. On the few occasions they are, they are not
convicted. The Eluru Wildlife Management Division and the Krishna wildlife
sanctuary have collected around Rs 50,000 as fines in 15 cases of
violation of the Wildlife Act in the past one year alone. The cases
include poaching of rare bird species and selling of teal and deer meat at
Ramasingavaram in Pedavegi mandal of West Godavari. However, no arrests
have been made in this connection in either the Krishna or West Godavari
districts in the past two years. When Eluru Divisional Forest Officer
(Wildlife) was asked about this, he said: ``We did not arrest the poachers
as we imposed heavy fines.''
Environmentalists criticise this approach, saying that unless the poachers
are jailed, it's difficult to check the killing of wild animals. The
Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, provides for both imprisonment and
fines.In fact, if the regulatory system waseffective, the famous Khammam
dinner would never have taken place. Since the beginning of this month
alone, in Khammam, five persons have been arrested and two vehicles seized
for transporting meat of wild animals. In all, the poachers were carrying
about 100 kg of wild boar meat and 70 kg of horns of herbivores like deer,
blackbuck and sambar. But clearly, they knew they could get away with
their ill-gotten booty.

Mangroves: A safety belt under siege

Published in The Indian Express on October 25, 1998
By Syed Akbar
A totally rusted notice board outside the village of Nagayalanka, which
lies 80 km from Vijayawada, says it all. ``Welcome to Krishna Wildlife
Sanctuary, the habitat of lovely mangrove forests,'' it says.
The decrepit signboard typifies all that is wrong with this wildlife
sanctuary perched picturesquely on the estuary of the Krishna river. The
sanctuary harbours unique mangrove vegetation besides salt water
crocodiles, fishing cats and otters, besides endangered animal species
like dolphins and dugongs (sea cows).
But now most of this mangrove sanctuary is degraded, with vast stretches
of forest land having been converted into fish or prawn ponds. Cattle can
be spotted all over, freely grazing in the area and denuding the sanctuary
further. Hardly 10 per cent of the 200 sq km sanctuary now has any
greenery worth the name. The rest has been rendered into barren, sandy
Rues a senior forest official, ``The mangrove vegetation was so thick a
couple of decades ago that we used to auction the woodevery alternate
year. But today we do not even find enough seedlings to take up the
regeneration programme.''
Besides, though it is a notified wildlife sanctuary, it has no security
worth the name and poaching is known to be quite rampant in the area. The
Andhra Pradesh Government and the local people are both to blame for the
slow death of these unique forests.
The degradation started soon after a major portion of the vegetation was
washed away in the tidal wave that swept the south Andhra coast in
November 1977. What certainly added to the problem was the unchecked
poaching that went on. All the hue and cry by environmentalists to save
mangroves from extinction fell on deaf ears. One can still find people
carrying away logs of wood for firewood after having felled the mangrove
By the time the Government did start listening to ecologists, much of the
damage had been done. Finally, in 1992, the entire estuary of Krishna was
declared a wildlife sanctuary to protect the mangroves. Six years
later,the notification doesn't seem to have made a difference. Even the
nursery set up by the Government in Nali hamlet to take up artificial
afforestation of mangroves failed this year.
However, even as the sanctuary continues to suffer for want of protection,
plans are afoot to denotify as much as three hectares of the mangrove
forest in Machilipatnam to set up a fishing harbour. The Central
Government had earlier denotified thousands of hectares of mangrove-rich
reserve forest lands near Machilipatnam and Nizampatnam.
If these mangroves go, so will the thousands of life forms which thrive in
these forests known to have high salinity fluctuations. The wildlife here
include insects, molluscs, fish, some mammals, amphibians, reptiles and
even microscopic plankton. Birds like pond herons, reef herons, sand
pipers, flamingoes, sea gulls, little egrets, pied kingfisher and about a
hundred other species as well nest in these mangroves. They also contain
about two dozen families and 70 species of plants. Felling themangroves
will deprive the birds and animals that have lived here over the centuries
of their habitation and might even lead to their extinction.
Environment activists have suggested that as most of the villagers who
violate the Wildlife Act are from the poorer sections of society, the
Government should introduce welfare measures to reduce the dependence of
people living in and around the mangrove sanctuaries on the forests.
Activists also believe that the setting up of education centres to teach
environmental issues and to create awareness among the local people about
the fragile ecosystem they inhabit and the need to conserve it, would go a
long way in checking poaching. They have also called for
village-protection forces to look after the mangroves, suggesting that the
volunteers employed in such initiatives should be paid by the Government.
Environmental education can go a long way because if mangrove trees are
felled recklessly, it is the people living along the seacoast who will
suffer the most.The mangroves protect the coastline from erosion and help
reclaim land from the sea. They also act as shelter belts and protect
inland coastal villages from tidal waves, besides acting as a guard
against cyclones.
The mangroves also cycle their own vegetation and transport nutrients from
land to sea, which is very important for the survival of economically
important fish like shrimps and prawns. They provide timber for boat
building, bark for tanning and seedlings for food. They also accumulate
and stabilise sediments and build up and extend coastal soils.
What's more, with their unique flora and fauna spread out against the
backdrop of a vast expanse of azure blue seawater, the mangroves are a
nature lover's paradise. Such forests survive only in marshy soils found
mostly in the mouth of rivers, sheltered shores, tidal creeks, backwaters,
lagoons and mud flats. Since these are scattered, poachers encroach upon
them regularly.
In Andhra Pradesh, mangroves occur in the estuaries of the Krishna
andGodavari rivers and cover an area of about 580 sq km, or an estimated
nine per cent of the local forest area. Besides the Krishna sanctuary,
mangroves are available at the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary in East Godavari
The Chandrababu Naidu Government, given its dwindling mangrove forest
reserves, must now shake itself from slumber to save this important
resource. Otherwise it may just be too late.

Tricks of the flesh trade

Published in The Indian Express December 22, 1998
By Syed Akbar
Prostitution. The very mention of this word always conjured up in my mind
the picture of obnoxious women, luring men for filthy lucre and spreading
a myriad diseases. It does not do so any more. Not after my tour of the
red-light areas in East and West Godavari and Guntur districts earlier
this month.
During my interaction with the so-called sex workers in the notorious
areas of the coastal Andhra belt, I found that, behind every "fallen
woman", there was a tearful tale, which words alone cannot tell. I heard
tales of broken marriages and love affairs, of unkept promises, and of
cruel economic or domestic compulsions that made prostitution inescapable.
I am not ashamed to confess that there were tears in my eyes when I heard
the story of Manga (all names changed to protect identity), hardly 12
years old. But she is already two years into the profession. Fair and
slender, she was forced into prostitution by her mother. She is the victim
of the system that runs from generation to generation in hercommunity, one
of the two traditional groups in Andhra Pradesh that thrive on the sex
Lata, however, is the creation of her lover. A native of Gannavaram on the
outskirts of Vijayawada, she fell in love with a boy. Blinded by his
promises, she yielded to his physical desires. Fearing her parents' wrath,
a pregnant Lata left the house and landed in red-light Peddapuram.
Another woman I came across, Mastanamma, left the `profession' last year.
But her two daughters, aged 24 and 19, are in the flesh trade. Things were
all right when her husband was alive. She used to work in a local factory
and her husband used to run an autorickshaw. But his sudden death pushed
her into an economic quagmire and prostitution.
An interesting trade practice I found was the regular transfer of girls
from one brothel to another. This is done to ensure `fresh stocks' at all
times. Girls from Nellore, Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam are
brought to East Godavari and vice versa. Some of them go to Mumbai
and Bangalore on `contracts'.
While circumstances have forced many into prostitution, others have
entered it to make a fast buck, as one sex worker confides. This,
according to her, has led to the birth of organised gangs, or `contacts'
in the flesh trade jargon. The affected sex workers are taken away to
Mumbai where the demand for girls from Andhra Pradesh is reportedly high.
These gangs, which serve as a bridge between sex workers and
brothel-owners, hire sex workers on contracts ranging between one month
and one year on payment of anything from Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000. After the
end of the contract, the sex workers are handed back to their relatives.
The contract system is so foolproof that violators will not go unpunished.
In a particular community, whose members are mostly involved in flesh
trade, even panchayats are held to fine or punish the guilty in other
The multi-million sex industry in East and West Godavari thrives on a
group of financiers. It is not the brokers, but the financiers whocall the
shots. They finance the owner of the `company' (as a brothel in the
coastal areas is called) as well as sex workers for their daily needs.
Whenever the police raid brothels and produce sex workers before the
court, the financiers rush there with bagfuls of money. They pay the fine
imposed on individual sex workers or the bail amounts.
In some cases, money is advanced towards renovation of brothels with
luxuries like revolving beds and rooms with mirrors all around. Some
brothels beat star hotels in terms of modern facilities.
This is one business, where no surety or a guarantor is needed. Everything
functions smoothly on mutual trust. The woman returns the money after she
takes an advance from the `company'-owner.

Tech Babu goes live with radio over Net

Published in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on December 1, 2007
November 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov. 30: The main opposition Telugu Desam has set up an online radio station named TDP Radio. All you need is an Internet connection and a pair of speakers to tune into TD’s version of the happenings in the State. TDP Radio is the brainchild of party president N. Chandrababu Naidu, who has a yen for things hi-tech.
He wants to disseminate hot news of the state to Telugu-speaking people living in foreign countries, with a TD slant of course. It can be assessed by clicking TD’s official website, Mr Naidu got the idea of
having his own radio station after the recent interaction with Telugu-speaking NRIs in the US, the UK and Canada.
A survey conducted by the party showed that about five million Telugu-speaking people were living in about 100 countries.
“The online radio service will not only give news to Telugus but will also keep them in touch with our party,” said a senior TD leader. An exclusive website for the Telugu NRIs for exchange of views on various important topics has also been set up by TD. Telugus outside the country can post their views on TDP Radio in the NRI website. Since TDP Radio is webcast, it can be accessed and heard from anywhere in the globe.
TD is perhaps the only political party in the country to have its own online radio station. Mr Naidu has also set up video links in the party’s official website to enable people to see happenings in TD headquarters NTR Bhavan.
Press conferences held at NTR Bhavan are webcast, both in audio and video formats. Now that the State Assembly elections fast approaching, Mr Naidu is also thinking of reviving his party’s mouthpiece, Telugu Desam Weekly, published earlier in Telugu and Urdu.

BCG Booster dose needed to fight TB

Published in Deccan Chronicle on November 30, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 29: City scientists suggest that a booster dose of BCG vaccine should be given to children between the age of 13 and 15 years to prevent spread of tuberculosis in the country.
The Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics and Mahaveer Hospital and Research Centre took up a study to find out why people, who had been immunised for TB in childhood, were developing the killer disease at a later stage in life. The study revealed that the efficacy of the BCG vaccine comes down with age, necessitating a booster dose during the adolescent period.
Those who do not take a booster BCG vaccine stand exposed to the attack of the TB bacteria.
Mycobacterium bovis BCG vaccine has displayed inconsistent efficacy in different trials conducted in various geographical regions. Though BCG has brought down the instances of TB in children, its efficacy wanes with age, causing concern to health experts and researchers. The present study employed the latest laboratory techniques to establish that a single dose of BCG vaccine given at birth is not effective throughout the life of an individual. He or she needs a booster dose, preferably in the adolescent or teenage to prevent the spread of the disease.
Ninety healthy children who were without any clinical evidence of tuberculosis, 45 with a BCG-scar and the remaining 45 without scar and 25 with tuberculosis were covered in the study. The incidence of TB was analysed in 216 children attending a DOTS clinic in Hyderabad.
High incidence of TB was observed in age group 13-14 years followed by children in the age group 10-12 years. In all 79 per cent of vaccinated children showed positive proliferative responses while only 39 per cent of the unvaccinated and 58 per cent of the tuberculosis children showed positive responses.
The stimulation indices in vaccinated children decreased in the older children concurring with an increase in the incidence of TB.
"Significantly high levels of in vitro interferon demonstrated in BCG vaccinated children substantiate the observation that BCG is effective in children, but the effect may wane with age. The immunity could be boosted using modified BCG," the study pointed out.
Though a variety of live vaccines have been developed as vaccines, until now no booster vaccine has been shown capable of significantly enhancing the level of protective immunity.
The study noted that waning of immunity was of particular public health interest because it may result in increased susceptibility later in life. The mechanism underlying the gradual loss of effectiveness of BCG as the individual reaches 10 to 15 years of age is poorly understood.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Top class Brahmin colony cast in Medak

November 27, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov. 26: A group of eminent Brahmins is setting up a 1,200-acre colony for the community in Siddipet of Medak district to resurrect the old Agraharam ambience. They include senior IAS, IPS, IFS and IRTS officers and journalists from the community. The Brahmin colony has been named Dhanwantari Agraharam and will have modern amenities including engineering and medical college, a super-specialty hospital, super markets, temples and an exclusive hall for rituals.
This is the first ‘caste-based’ mega real estate venture in and around Hyderabad. In olden days kings and rulers used to donate lands to Brahmins to set up Agraharams. Similarly, the new venture is meant to bring Brahmins scattered all over the city to one colony to create “mutual understanding”. The ambitious project, being taken up by Dhanwantri Foundation International, will be ready in two years’ time. Plots have been allotted and construction will begin on the auspicious Pongal day in mid-January next year. The foundation has purchased 180 acres of land near Jadcherla in Mahbubnagar district and 1,200 acres near Siddipet with funds contributed by about 1,000 members.

Plots are being sold at Rs 150 a square yard as against the normal market value of Rs 1,500. Dr P. Kamalakara Sarma, managing trustee of the foundation, refused to divulge more about the project. “I am busy with my patients,” he said when contacted. However, his message on the foundation’s website says that the vote bank-based democracy of India had led the Brahmins to a pathetic situation, irrespective of their position. “The feeling of ego and so-called intellect has not allowed the community to function as a systematic organisation leaving individuals to suffer,” he further adds.
Despite the tall talk, poor Brahmins seem to have no place in this modern Agraharam. The 504 governing council members of the foundation will get land ranging between one and three acres and 400 donor members will get 1,000 square yards each. A senior IPS officer, who is on the board of trustees, said he had been briefed about the project though he did not buy a plot.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tasleema issue: UNPA asks her to keep quiet or leave

November 2007
Vijayawada, Nov. 24: The United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) on Saturday curtly told controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen to either stop hurting religious sentiments or leave India.
The UNPA, which held its first political conclave here, took serious note of the "religious discord" Taslima had been creating in India since she stepped on its shores seeking asylum.
However, the coalition decided not to ask the Centre to extend or deny asylum to the writer. Neither did the meeting pass any resolution though it discussed the issue for long.
Briefing mediapersons after the two-hour conclave, National Conference leader and former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mr Farooq Abdullah, said that if Taslima wanted to live in peace she should stop writing against religions and creating hatred between communities. "She should apologise for her writings and desist from publishing anything that would hurt the religious sentiments of people," said Mr Abdullah. "We apprehend trouble wherever she goes. We have seen what happened during her visit to Hyderabad."
Mr Abdullah said it was for the Centre to decide whether to extend her asylum. "But on her part, she should ensure that peace prevails in secular India. She must not attack religions. If she wants to do that, let her go to some other country," he said.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Breast milk, vaccines halt pneumonia

Deccan Chronicle, August 19, 2007
Syed Akbar
Bangkok, Aug 18: Health experts and doctors from across Asia and the Pacific have emphasised the need for breastfeeding and vaccination to prevent the spread of pneumonia, the infectious disease that has emerged as the largest killer of children under the age of five.
Armed with statistics and data, health experts, attending the 3rd Asian Pneumococcal Diseases Conference organised by Wyeth Limited, argue that proper breastfeeding for at least 11 months accompanied by vaccination will bring down the child deaths related to pneumonia by about a million every year.
Reduction in indoor pollution and intake of nutritious food will also help in building up immunity against the silent killer disease.
"Preventing children from developing pneumonia in the first place is critical to reducing its death roll. Prevention efforts include may well-known survival interventions such as expanding vaccine coverage, breastfeeding, promoting adequate nutrition and reducing indoor air pollution," says Dr Nitin Shah, former president of Indian Paediatrics Association.
Pneumonia kills more children than any other illness, more than AIDS, malaria and measles combined. Over two million children die from pneumonia each year, accounting for almost one in five under-five deaths worldwide. And India leads the chart with 44million cases of pneumonia, followed by China with 18 million.
According to WHO statistics, pneumonia accounts for 19 per cent of all under-five deaths. Around 26 per of neonatal deaths or 10 per cent of all under-five deaths are caused by severe infections during the neonatal period. And a significant proportion of these infections is caused by pneumonia/sepsis. If these deaths were included in the over all estimate, pneumonia would account for up to three million, or as many as one third (29 per cent) of underfive deaths each year.
Unfortunately, pneumonia has received far less attention and funding that malaria and AIDS. While 20 lakh children die of pneumonia, only eight lakh fall victim to malaria. AIDS kills three lakh children.
Health experts point out that children who are exclusively breastfed develop fewer infections and have less severe illnesses than those who are not. Breast milk contains the nutrients, antioxidants, hormones and antibodies needed by the child to survive and develop and specifically for a child's immune system to function properly.
"Infants under six months who are not breastfed are at five times the risk of dying from pneumonia as infants who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Infants 6-11 months old who are not breastfed are also at an increased risk of dying from pneumonia compared to those who are breastfed," the experts said.
The experts were unanimous in their view that immunisation will help reduce childhood deaths from pneumonia by preventing children from developing infections that directly cause pneumonia such as Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib); and from infections that can lead to pneumonia as a complication like measles and pertusis.
Three vaccines - measles vaccine, HiB vaccine and pneumoccoccal conjugate vaccine - have the potential to save millions of children's lives by reducing deaths from pneumonia. They work to reduce the incidence of pneumonia caused by the bacterial pathogens Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine) and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib vaccine) as well as pneumonia caused by serious complications from measles (measles vaccine).

Hindu seers to check religious conversions

Seers to meet in Delhi today
By Syed Akbar
Published in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on June 23, 2006
Hyderabad, June 22: With instances of religious conversions on the rise in the country, Visakhapatnam-based Sri Swarupanandendra Swami of Sri Sarada Peetham has launched a nationwide campaign to mobilise the support of Hindu seers to protect the Vedic dharma.
Sri Swarupanandendra Swami will hold a series of meetings with Hindu religious scholars and sankaracharyas for two days from Friday in New Delhi to chalk out a strategy to stop Hindus from converting to other religions. During his stay in New Delhi he is scheduled to meet, among others, Sri Swami Jayendrananda Maharaj and Sri Swami Prabhavananda Maharaj.
More than two dozen seers are expected to participate in the meeting. Later, the Swamiji will hold a conclave of Hindu seers for three days from June 25 onwards in Haridwar.
Prominent swamis including Sri Vidyanandagiri, mahamandaleshwar of Kailash ashram, Rishikesh, and Sri Medhananda Puri Maharaj, mandaleshwar of the same ashram, will be present. The Sarada Peetham will launch a campaign all over the country after mobilising support from Hindu seers of various cults.
"The idea of a nationwide campaign is to protect the Hindu dharma from attacks from different quarters. Attempts are being made to weaken Hinduism. Religious conversions and preaching of non-Hindu religions in Hindu holy places are on the rise. We will educate Hindus and remind them of the ancient values of our Sanatan Dharma," the swami observed.
The Sarada Peetham also plans to hold a meeting of sadhus and sants in Hyderabad on September 10 as part of the campaign. The programme was originally scheduled for June 30, but had to be postponed to September 10 as swamiji will be busy mobilising support of other Hindu seers in north India, a spokesperson of the peetham said.
Hindu religious scholars have expressed anger over preaching of non-Hindu religions in Tirumala and Simhachalam. The police had to intervene and take into custody the preachers in both the places recently.

Learn Vedas with Computers

By Syed Akbar
Published in Deccan Chronicle, Vijayawada, December 2001
Call it a blend of modernity and eternity. Or simply a union of secularism and religion. For the students of the Vedic University at Sitanagaram in Vijayawada, it's knowledge that matters.
They do not want to distinguish it as modern or ancient. Knowledgefor them is timeless and eternal — be it learning the ancient Vedasor solving the modern-day complex problems on hi-speed computers. The students of Jeeyar Educational Trust (JET) are masters not only in the Vedic knowlege but also in computer education, spoken English, Sanskrit, Telugu and rationalism.
The university campus itself speaks of a perfect harmony between modernity and tradition. If there are thatched huts on one side, there are concrete buildings on the other. If there's a goshala and a deer enclosure, there's also a well-furnished library with computerised index and a modern printing press.
The atmosphere at the Vedic Pathasala is so serene and captivatingthat eight-year-old D Gopalacharyulu from Nepal does not want toleave the place. "I wanted to return home when my parents brought me here five monthsago. The ashram is lovely and the people here are very friendly. I donot want to return now and I will complete the entire course with theblessings of Swamiji," he told Deccan Chronicle.
Ch Srinivasacharyulu is just seven and he is already into the comprehensive Yajur Veda course. He is quite adept in studies andshows interest in computers too.While children of his age play with toys, Srinivasacharyulu takes pride in the companionship of the Scriptures and saintly persons."I love this place. The computer is good," he says.
The JET takescare of education, clothing, books, board and stay of the students.

Ocean to give rain clue

By Syed Akbar
Published in Deccan Chronicle on November 19, 2002
Hyderabad, Nov 18: Scientists from Hyderabad are taking a deep look at the oceans to be able to improve the monsoon forecasting and help governments to prepare better to tackle drought.
Scientists from the city-based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, prompted by failure of monsoons for three successive years and prevalence of unprecedented drought conditions, have taken up a mega project to understand the mysteries of the deep and correlate the data for accurate and scientific prediction of monsoon winds. Explaining the oceanographic mossion dubbed Argo, Dr M Ravichandran, INCOIS scientist, told Deccan Chronicle on Monday that scientists could not predict accurately the movement of monsoons due to lack of observation of the oceans.
Ravichandran has just returned from a trip of the Indian Ocean to release floats from the ORV Sagar Kanya.
The Argo - named after a ship in Greek mythology led by Jason, chief of the argonauts, in search of the Golden Fleece that belonged to the king Colchis - is a revolutionary concept for measurement of temperature and salinity, along with reference level velocities, through the upper 2,000 metre of the ocean in real time.
Each Argo float descends up to 2 km where it drifts with the currents. After 10 days, it slowly rises to the surface measuring temperature and salinity profiles as it goes up.
At the surface, it relays this information through satellites. It then sinks to begin another cycle.
The expected life of an Argo float is four years.
City scientists have released nine such in the Indian ocean. In all they propose to release 150 Argos. The international ocean community plans to deploy 3,000 Argos in three years for global coverage.
Ravichandran said the circulation and temperature in the upper layers of the ocean in the tropics respond rapidly to changes in global atmospheric circulation and rainfall distribution.
The resulting changes in sea surface temperature are coupled to changes in global atmospheric circulation and rainfall distribution.
This coupling between the tropical oceans and atmosphere is the key to potentially successful climate predictions, he said.

Plants that eat up toxic elements

Published in Deccan Chronicle/The Asian Age
Problem: Waterways and public drinking sources can contain deposits of heavy metals that can cause serious health problems. These contaminants are very difficult to remove using conventional methods.
Solution: Certain plants that thrive in watery environments can absorb these pollutants as they grow.
By Syed Akbar
Pineapple, sunflower and amaranthus, the popular leafy vegetable of the Indian kitchen, can suck up pollution from the soil, water and air, researchers at the University of Hyderabad have reported.
These plants accumulate the pollutants in their roots, stems and leaves and leave the substratum clean.
These plants clean up pollutants that cannot otherwise be removed through the normal chemical processes. As with all things natural, these plants do not despoil nature.
A study by University of Hyderabad researchers has revealed that these and other ornamental and horticultural plant species are capable of removing pollutants even from sewage.
The study was conducted on the bed of the highly polluted Musi river that passes through Hyderabad. Leafy vegetables like Amaranthus spinosus, Alternanthera philoxeroides [alligator weed] and Alternanthera sessiles [khakiweed]were grown on the sewage sludge of the river.
The researchers measured the metal content in the soil and in the fully grown plants after harvesting them.
The team found that the plants had sucked up a variety of metal pollutants.
The concentration of these metals was invariably high in leaf tissue. The transfer factor and content of cadmium, zinc and ferrous in plant parts of these species showed their ability to bioconcentrate these in their tissues.
"It is possible to use these species to restore the biosolid and sewage sludge contaminated sites, while exercising caution on human consumption. Alternanthera philoxeroides was used for removal of lead and mercury from polluted waters," the study reported.
"It is possible to supplement the dietary requirement of human food with zinc and ferrous as these are essential nutrients and the plant species are edible. However, there is a need to monitor the metal transfer factor through the food chain," the study said.
What the study is warning of is leafy vegetables grown in polluted beds. Since the leafy vegetables suck up pollution, people eating them may ingest the metals which can be harmful in large quantities.
Scientists call this ability to suck harmful metals as "hyperaccumulation". Plants with this ability can decontaminate metalliferous substrates in environment. Species belonging to families like Poaceae [a family of common grass], Asteraceae [the sunflower family], Euphobiaceae [the castor family], Caryophyllaceae [the family of ornamental flowers including campion], Fabaceae [legumes] and Brassicacea [the mustard family] simply suck up metals like nickel, zinc and lead.
In the process of using hyperaccumulators to clean up sewage or river beds, the plants are grown on the polluted area. They absorb and concentrate the metals in their roots and shoots. After they become saturated with metal contaminants, roots or whole plants are harvested and disposed.
Heavy metals can be removed from water through hyacinth, pennywort and duckweed. The mustard plant can remove uranium and caesium.
This leads to permanent removal of metals from the polluted area.

Water scarcity in future: recycled water the answer

Published in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle - November 2007
By Syed Akbar
It is 2020. Within a space station a group of men and women have just finished their daily workout. They sip water from specially made bottles.
There is nothing very unearthly about all this, except that the water has been "reclaimed" from sweat, urine and even their exhalations. The space tourists do not grimace while gulping the water. They don’t have any yucky feeling since they have already been drinking such water down below on Earth.
This is no scenario from a futuristic sci-fi movie. Scientists predict that drinking water reclaimed from urine, sewage and sweat may become the norm in the next two decades. Over-exploitation of groundwater is already causing shortage of water and climate change will only add to it. This will leave people with no option but to reuse "grey water" as urine is called.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States is conducting a major study with 50 volunteers on the psychological, chemical and biological reactions to consumption of water reclaimed from sewage including toilets. The European Space Agency is asking scientists on an Antarctica expedition to utilise recycled sewage water for drinking at its Concordia research station. This will give the ESA enough inputs for its proposed Mars mission by 2030. Nasa volunteers even "borrow" urine from others and drink it after putting it through a state-of-the-art treatment process.
Countries such as Singapore, Australia and the USA have also started experimenting with recycling of sewage and toilet water and are also supplying it in limited quantities to the population. Singapore mixes one per cent of treated sewage water with 99 per cent of natural water to reduce the yucky feeling among its citizens and Australian cities have taken up massive advertisement campaigns to sensitise people on the issue.
Many nations in water-scarce and drought-hit Africa have taken up similar projects with the assistance of the World Health Organisation and the United States. And in India, people have been even drinking "untreated" sewage water from polluted rivers and other water bodies. They might consider any sort of purification a blessing.
Crores of people living downstream of cities like New Delhi, Patna, Allahabad, Nashik, Rajahmundry, Hyderabad and Vijayawada drink treated sewage water without a second thought.
The Musi River empties into the Krishna River near Suryapet in Nalgonda carrying the treated sewage from Hyderabad. The Vijayawada Municipal Corporation has set up half a dozen such treatment plants to treat and let out sewage into the three irrigation canals that serve as drinking water sources for lakhs of people downstream. Vijayawada discharges 66 millions litres of sewage every day from 31 outlets into water bodies while Hyderabad pumps more than 300 million litres per day into the Musi river through 18 outlets.
Though reclaimed sewage water has not yet been "officially" used for drinking in India, several civic bodies and industrial houses are utilising it for watering lawns and for other purposes.
The Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, for instance, utilises the waste water for watering its avenue plantation on important roads and gardens.
Big industrial houses such as Madras Fertilisers and Chennai Petroleum purchase waste water from Chennai Metro, recycle it and use the "purified" water in their cooling plants. Arvind Mills, Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilisers, Kanoria Chemicals and Maruti Udyog are also known to use the recycled water for industrial purposes.
Naturally, a question will arise as to why people should drink treated urine and sewage water when rivers and lakes seem to be positively rippling with water. The simple answer is that there is not enough water to meet the future needs of the ever-growing population. Scientists point out that the quantum of water on earth is constant and this means that water cannot be created afresh. The only option is to recycle the available water to meet the increased demand.
As of now, civic bodies in many countries are supplying reclaimed water at subsidised rates to make people go for it. The Singapore government, in fact, takes tourists to many of its recycling plants to in a bid to create awareness on the importance of water conservation. "Soon water availability may be what will differentiate the haves from the have-nots," says H. Subramaniam, water management expert and vice-president of EverythingAboutWater. According to him, India will become a "water-stressed" country by 2025, with water availability declining to between 1000 and 1,700 cubic metres per person per year.
"The possibility of future wars over water is not science fiction," he says. "It is very real. Increasingly, water is seen a strategic resource to be used with caution and managed with care." Statistics support Subrahmaniam’s argument. The total precipitation including snowfall over India is 4,000 billion cubic metres and fresh water available for use is 1,869 billion cubic metres. This includes replenishable groundwater.
However, the actual amount of water available is just 1,122 billion cubic metres, including 690 billion cubic metres of surface water. Of this, 80 per cent goes into farming leaving just 20 per cent to quench the thirst of 1.02 billion people. India’s projected population by 2025 is 1.39 billion. The per capita availability of water in the country has come down from 5,277 cubic metres per person per year in 1955 to 1,970 cubic metres in 2007. By 2025, this will further go down further. India will face an acute shortage of water and there will be no option but to use recycled sewage water.
The very thought of drinking treated sewage water or urine might make you want to throw up, but the fact remains that water reclaimed from sewage and toilets is as pure as treated potable water. In some cases, it is even purer.
Several studies by the World Health Organisation and scientific agencies in the US, Japan, the UK and Australia have proved beyond doubt that treated sewage water is perfectly fit for drinking. Volunteers who participated in several "taste and tell" surveys were not able to tell the difference between tap water, bottled water and recycled water. Scientists say that recycled water can even be used for kidney dialysis. Scientists of the University of New South Wales used reverse osmosis system to treat water contaminated with pharmaceutical residues and found that it did not have even nominal traces of the chemicals.
However, some experts fear that some harmful traces might remain even efter strict filtration. "When we use recycled water, we must ensure that micro organisms such as E coli and others should be within limits," said Dr B. Ravishankar, senior medical gastroenterologist at Yashoda Hospital, Secunderabad. "Otherwise, it will open the door for infectious diseases." There is also another factor — Indian toilets are dirtier than those of Singapore, Australia, the UK and the US.
"Most Indians are ignorant of the fact that more than 80 species of dangerous micro-organisms have been found lurking in toilets," said Dr Vijay Punjabi, president of the Indian Medical Association. "There’s a likelihood of these germs making way into the recycled water."
What exactly happens to urine, sweat, perspiration and sewage water that are treated?
Scientists are simply aping Nature when they go in for recycling of waste water. In Nature, water from sweat, perspiration, faeces and urine go up into the sky through evaporation and later come down as rain. Many of us consider rain water as pure and do not hesitate to drink it.
In the future, scientists will be using membrane bioreactor process for recycling. It will combine clarification, aeration and filtration in a single stage to ensure pure water.
The low-cost and simple methods involve letting out the treated water into rivers, streams, lakes and tanks allowing it to get mixed with natural water. Later this water is purified and supplied to citizens. This indirect potable reuse is already being undertaken in Singapore. There are also other proven methods such as distillation, freezing, reverse-osmosis, electro-dialysis and ion exchange. Nasa plans to utilise its space technology to supply fresh water to countries that are hit by perennial droughts. "Sewage water can be recycled and reused for a dozen times," said senior physicist B. Raja Rao.
"After that, the water quality becomes quite bad." Health experts such as Dr G.R. Srinivas Rao, however, argue that a country such as India which is endowed with natural sources of water need not use recycled water for drinking.
"It may not be healthy since even a small loophole somewhere in the process can lead to an epidemic," he says.
But if things go on like this, we may not have a choice.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A single vaccine may not help in the control of malaria

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 10: A single vaccine may not help in the control of malaria and this major health nuisance has to be tackled through specific vaccines for different strains of malarial parasite.
A study by the city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and the National Institute for Malaria Research revealed that different vaccines need to be developed to prevent different isolates of Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria.
"The C-terminal region of merozoite surface protein-1 is one of the leading candidates for vaccination against the erythrocytic stages of malaria. However, a major concern in the development of MSP-1 based malaria vaccine is the polymorphism observed in different geographical Plasmodium falciparum isolates," the study points out.
The results from the study also revealed predominance of a particular type of allele among Indian field isolates. Seven such variant forms were isolated in a singe geographical location. This simply means there should be seven different vaccines each targeting a particular isolate, in the Indian context.
The study demonstrated the existence of allele specific antibodies in Plasmodium falciparum-infected patient sera. The scientists suggested the importance of a multi-allelic based vaccine for an effective malaria control in the country.
Malaria is one of the major causes of death from infection in India as in other developing countries.  Development of an effective malaria vaccine may reduce malaria-associated severe morbidity and mortality in malaria-endemic areas.
A number of parasite surface antigens of asexual blood stages are being investigated as vaccine candidate antigens. Among these antigens, merozoite surface protein-1 is a leading candidate antigen.
"A substantial proportion of antibodies directed to MSP-119 in Plasmodium falciparum-infected human sera have been shown to inhibit erythrocyte invasion in vitro. Sequence comparison of Plasmodium falciparum msp1 sequences among different geographical isolates shows a great deal of variations," the study said.
Malaria transmission is perennial in the country but is markedly low in the plain area than forest area. Plasmodium falciparum accounted for 85 per cent of total malaria cases during the study period. In forest and plain areas, the number of falciparum cases per thousand populations were 284.1 and 31.2 respectively, whereas the parasite rate was 14 per cent and 1.7 per cent respectively.
In forest areas, clinical malaria occurred more frequently in children aged 0-5 years and declined gradually with increasing age.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Natural colours from bacteria, mushrooms

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Nov 3: Natural colours obtained from bacteria, mushrooms and other fungi are all set to adorn clothes and crafts in the international market.
Pioneering research by Dr K Perumal and others on microbial dyes has produced an array of natural colours that could be used for dyeing clothes, stone works and handicrafts. These colours are eco-friendly and harmless both to the users and the manufacturers. Even dyes obtained from poisonous fungi are safe on the skin.
According to Dominique Cardon of Unesco, who is currently in the city to participate in the international conference on natural dyes, the colours obtained from fungi are unique in pattern and colour intensity. "A synthetic dye simply gives one colour whereas a dye obtained from fungus, mushroom or bacteria gives an array of colours. It is a cocktail of colours and is very rich in colour intensity and fastness," she said.
Dominique pointed out that the research on natural dyes from microbial agents by Indian scientists would revolutionise the world of natural colours and greatly benefit artisans and artists. "We have scores of coloured fungi and mushrooms. There are coloured bacteria too. Using industrial techniques the scientists obtained colours. These colours can be mixed in different combinations to obtain rare colour patterns," the French researcher pointed out.
Though dyes based on fungi, especially lichens, have been used for quite some time, the technique adopted by Indian scientists is the first of its kind. Colours like browns, yellows and greys are easily obtained from common fungi varieties available in the country.
The colours of the pH indicator, litmus, and various reds, yellows and mauve are also available especially when using appropriate mordants. The commonly used Litmus (of litmus test fame) is also a dye extracted from fungus of the genus Roccella. In alkaline conditions it is blue. As the dying conditions became more acidic, the colour changes from blue to purple and then red.
She said these colours can be fixed to the cloth by using an appropriate mordant. With the increase in the cost of petroleum products, manufacturers are increasingly turning to fungi for their colouring needs. The demand for natural colours has also gone up in the international market and the Indian dyes from fungi and bacteria are going to play a major role.