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Monday, April 26, 2010

Edition 16 : Who Moved My Land?

Part of the land adjoining historic Council Hall seems to have been usurped after the plan of the rennovation of building comes to fore. While officials claim the new building will facilitate the modernisation of government machinery, activists say there is no word on the misuse of land.
The land sharks in Pune city are everywhere. Not even government offices are being spent from the eyes of these sharks. Taking objection to one such case, a Right to Information activists is running from pillar to post to save one of the prime plots in the city. The case involves one grade II building which is also one of the landmarks of the city. The Council Hall, which housed first meeting of the Maharashtra’s legislature stands witness to the attemps to usrp land by vested interests. The state government is going to build a new building near the site of the Council Hall, where at present some of the government offices are located. The new building will house all major government departments. Pune’s guardian minister, Ajit Pawar laid the foundation stone for the new building at site in June last year. Rs 42 crore has been earmarked to build a “new” structure at the district collectorate. Pawar claimed the new building will facilitate good functioning and speedy work for government works. At the time of passing the plan, it was declared by the government that the building, which has a Grade II status, will not be tempered with. Even though there has been no harm to the building yet, the land surrounding the building has suddenly vanished in the melee of tin shades, pointing to construction activity. The fact was noted by Rajesh Shende, president of the Janhit Foundation. Shende had received some information through RTI. The activist noticed that the new activity is beyond that what the administration had marked in the orioriginal plan. “The tin shades I saw were not on the places which was marked in the maps. When I asked the authorities, they told me that this construction is not part of the original plan but was designed through internal resolutions. The budget for this activity was sourced under the rights with the divisional commissioner,” Shende said. The Plan Shende had asked the information about the budget process, drawings and maps for new building. The new building will be a two storied one. He was informed that no existing building will be destroyed for the new structure. However, the trees were cut on the spot where now construction is going on. Shende has received the information on Dec. 11, 2009. Interestingly, within two weeks from providing this information, a bunch of big and old trees were removed from the ground. Activists of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had then agitated against the cutting of trees which is banned by the Bombay High Court, unless a permission is sought. According to Shende, “No construction can be done near a heritage site. The perplexing question is who is trying to get hold of this land? Why is authority providing no information? This everything is done in so much a hush hush manner.” l
The most irritating part is that the administration is not forthcoming with information. The land costs crores of rupess today. There should be transparency involving such an important place. Even the information that I wanted to seek was not given properly. There is something fishy in the whole affair.- Rajesh Shende
History Of The Building
The Council Hall was built in 1870. British engineer Colonel Melliss was the architect of this majestic structure. The cost of the land was Rs 50,875 then, while the expenditure of the construction was Rs 1,22,940! In 1886, a fancy dress competition and a ball were organised in honour of Queen Victoria’s son in this hall.The Pune district gazette of 1985 desbribes the building thus: It is a double-storeyed building nearly rectangular in plan, 183’ by 53’ and 40’ to the top of the walls. It is in the Venetian-Gothic style of ornamental coloured brickwork. The porch in the middle of the west face is surmounted by a tower or campanile 76’ high with low-pitched tiled roof. On the ground floor at the north end and stretching above the first floor to the roof is the Council Hall, 80’ by 40’ and 40’ high.

Edition 16: A case gone too far

Even after a month and half, the investigation agencies are yet to declare any headway in the case. Contrary to it, there has been contradicting claims by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Maharashtra’s home minister R. R. Patil. On Friday, Patil said that in the last 365 days the State had received 349 alerts and none about Pune's German Bakery as a possible terror target. Responding to a question in the State Assembly, Patil said all precautions were taken in view of the alerts. However, there was no alert about the Bakery, but an alert only regarding the Chabad House near it, which was tightly guarded. This was in sharp contradiction to to a statement by Chidambaram, who said that centre had warned the state and local police about possible attack on German Bakery. The Maharashtra government would not hand over the German Bakery blast probe to the Central Bureau of Investigation as many as 18 Central agencies are currently investigating the case along with the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS). Earlier in the week, Mr. Chidambaram said in Parliament that the February 13 blast in Pune was a “blot on our record” despite the Centre sharing enough intelligence about the terror threat. According to Chidambaram, “Enough information was shared with the Maharashtra police about specific targets in Pune. In turn, the Pune police on October 9, 2009, sent advisories to various establishments, which included German Bakery. Its manager Praveen Pant acknowledged the receipt of the police's letter. But the Bakery and some other establishments did not heed the warning. Again in December 2009, the advisory was reiterated.” In view of this claims and counter claims, one can not but agree with the statement by Girish Bapat, the member of Legislative Assembly. Bapat said in assembly that the city was in a state of unrest and insecurity as no one has been arrested. Lost in these exchange of words, the common citizen has got little beyond some minutes of confusion. Why is there clear word from a singly authority in the country? On one day, the blast is linked to one outfit, another day we are told the perpretrators of crime have been identified, another day we are told the case has been cracked and even before that statement stops resounding, someone comes up with a bold statement that the case will take some time to be solved. A senior government official said last week that home-grown Islamist militant group was responsible for bomb blast in the Indian city of Pune. The Indian Mujahedeen (IM), a shadowy movement that has claimed attacks in the past, has been identified as responsible for the blast that killed 16 people, including several foreigners, a government source told AFP. The bomb hidden in a bag in the German Bakery in Pune was the first major attack in India since the November 2008 assault on Mumbai. The blast left 17 people dead which included 3 foreigners. However, the authority seems not to ready to show concern for the doubts and apprehensions in the minds of millions of citizen. The attack left a scar on the image of Pune city which was on the progress path for the last decade or so. At the time when the city is fast turning into an Information Technology hub, none can afford to suffer such a blow. The multiple agencies notwithstanding, it is a sorry truth that none of the the major cases which had repercussions in the mind of people have progressed much. Just last week, Bombay High Court asked the Pune police to submit a report on the investigation in Deepak Mankar case. Mankar, a Congress corporator, was accused of threatening a senior citizen for selling his flat. More than six months after the case was registered, matter is still pending. In this scenario, how can the citizens of heave a sigh of relief? Can someone assure them that the countless people who think this land as one of the secure spots in India will be secure as always? What we want is a concrete assurance, not the mediocre government rhetoric!

Edition 16: CDAC advances on three fronts

Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) recently celebrated its 23rd annual day with elan. The organisation which has contributed immensely to the computing in Indian languages, announced release of three new products from their R&D stable. These three products, aimed at three different spheres of application, take to new level of advance for the C-DAC. The products were formally released on March 16 at the hands of Padma Shri Dr Vijay Bhatkar, Founder Director, C-DAC and Chairman, ETH Research Labs as part of the 23rd Foundation Day celebrations. They are GenoPipe (A tool for high thoroughput comparative genomics of prokaryotes), SEISTOM (A seismic traveltime tomography package), and LIPS Live (Language Independent Programme Subtitles Live). On the occasion of announcing these products, Rajan T Joseph, Director General, C-DAC said, "It is indeed an emotional moment to look back at the milestones crossed and take stock of our achievements. These products are a showcase of our expertise in technologies ranging from High Performance Computing to Multilingual Computing. We shall certainly look forward towards playing a catalytic role in this." Here is a brief take on what these three products are and how they will help us
GenoPipe Bacterial diseases have always chased humans. Two of the most common bacterial diseases are Tuberculosis and Typhoid, caused by bacteria called Mycobacteria and Salmonella. High throughput genome sequencing and advances in computational biology are technologies that enable us to tackle such diseases. GenoPipe is an automated pipeline for comparative genomics, a very significant step in the analyses of genomic data. The tool is capable of handling multiple bacterial genomes and has been tested on Salmonella and Mycobacterium, the causative agents of Typhoid and Tuberculosis. GenoPipe has been installed on ‘BIOGENE’ a 1TF machine at C-DAC, Pune and the Institute of Animal Health (IAH), UK where it is being used by the scientists.
Seistom Seistom package is a tool that uses seismic waves generated by explosions to create computer-generated, two and three-dimensional images of the Earth's interior. By using arrival times of waves recorded by seismic sensors, SEISTOM can define the geology of the Earth’s sub surface. This information can give scientists an estimate of the composition of the earth’s interior and can help in locating hydrocarbon/ mineral sources etc. inside the earth. It can also be used to study and predict surface stability that plays an important role in the construction of foundations for dams, bridges, water reservoirs etc. Industrial applications for SEISTOM can cover areas like dam construction, bridge constructions, reservoir studies, ground water and mineral/hydrocarbon exploration etc. LIPS Live Language Independent Programme Subtitles Live is a multilingual fully automated Subtitling Suite. It brings the power of multilingual subtitling by facilitating on-the-fly subtitling instead of the cumbersome process of working with video tapes and without any manual intervention. LIPS Live can be easily integrated with the existing playout automation transmission system. The product caters to all official Indian languages as well as international languages. Standard subtitle protocols that differ can also be handled with ease. Easy correction in mismatch of sub-titles with any particular scene can be done in a matter of seconds and as a major plus: it enables searching for a scene through the sub-titles.

Edition 16: Pune: A Home for Foreigners

Mainly owing to the vicinity of Mumbai and then for other many reasons, Pune always enjoyed a repute among foreigners as the friendly city. People from all ethnicities came here to visit the city, to stay here. This was evident from the history. Many of these persons contributed immensely to the growth of the city as also emergence of Pune as a centre of education. ­­ After hosting a large flock of foreign students over the years, the city began to see an increasing number of foreign visitors who are not students. Records show that foreigners who come to the city for non-academic purposes are growing in the last five years. Known as the Oxford of the East, the city boasts of a large number of foreign-national students. The number has been on the rise. Yet, the growth seems to be downwards on percentage basis as records show increasing number of non-student foreign national visiting the city. The records available with Foreigners’ Registration Branch show that 4,214 students registered in 2007 as compared to 3,445 students in 2006, which shows a growth of 22 per cent. In 2005, the number of students registered was 3,784, while in 2004, the number was 2,900. This shows that number of foreign student dropped in 2006 while 2005 had witnessed a growth of almost 30 per cent. At the same period, overall foreign visitors increased relatively. In 2007, there have been 6,153 visitors compared to 5,024 in the previous year. That amounts to a growth of 22.5 per cent. The growth in the preceding year was In this background, the recent announcement by R. R. Patil, state home minister that government will check the records of foreigners and seek character certificates from their respective countries sounds disappointing. No, we are not questioning the decision. It is only that such a move will put a comma on the free environment that all of us were used to till now. Patil made this announcement while replying to a calling-attention motion on last month's German Bakery blast in Pune. The issue was raised by the Shiv Sena's Neelam Gorhe. Patil said, "We have already started checking foreigners' visas and taking action against suspect people." The police already have a rule in place that requires flat-owners in Mumbai to inform them if they give out their premises toforeigners. Hotels and lodges in the city have also been told to inform the police about guests from abroad. Paradoxically, while genuine public and tourists suffer from government’s moves, the real culprits always manage to get scot free. In the case of David Hedley, he came twice in Pune, made recce of many installations and police were caught napping. If now the administration decides to fasten its belts, it is a welcome move. Whatever shape the government’s action might take, it should not take away the shine away from the Pune. The city was a home to the persons of repute, of action without taking into account the person’s ethnic credentials. The custom must go on, in typical Puneri style!

Edition 16: University of Pune, Down The Memory Lane

As a city stretching its commonly known history four centuries back, the city of Pune offeres quite a selection of places where the past melts in the present without giving any hint of the legend behind it. The structure of University of Pune is one of those buildings which constantly appear as a symbol of the Pune. The university is identified with the Main Building. It is a monumental and Grade A heritage building, complete with the splendours of British Raj era. With a beautiful architecture and its tower project high into the sky bearing the flag of the University, it is without doubt one of the prominent monuments of the city. The office of the Vice-Chancellor, Dean's Chambers and Records Section are located in the Main Building. Meeting of various academic bodies are conducted in the four prestigious halls of the Main Building Viz., Yashwantrao Chavan Sabhagriha, Sant Dnyaneshwar Sabhagriha, Shivaji Sabhagriha and the Sant Gadge Maharaj Sabhagriha. After the rennovation, the building has acquired a renewed charm. The Legend The lofty Main Building of the University of Pune was once the residence of the governors of Bombay in the days of the British Raj. It was built in 1864 when Sir Bartle Frere was the Governor. Designed by James Trubshawe, the magnificent edifice was built in Ganeshkhind, on the outskirts of what was then called Poona. Architecturally, it defies classification though its spiritual antecedents are Italian and the 80 feet flag tower has been described as an 'Victorian rendering of an Italian campanile'. The building was inspired by Prince Albert's Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. The cost of residence was Sterling Pound 175'000 to build, nearly six times the amount raised by the sale of the Governor's previous residence. The building of such a palatial house in the aftermath of the cotton crash in Bombay was severely criticized and referred by the British Parliament as 'a typical instance of the extravagance and insubordination of the Governors of Bombay'. Sir Frere defended his action staunchly, even though the house was not habitable by the time he left India in 1867. His successor, Sir Seymour FitzGerald carried out the furnishing and decoration, and he in turn was criticized for being extravagant, especially for the sterling pound 500 chandelier in the ballroom-which still sparkles, adding to the grandeur of the Ballroom!