Monday, April 18, 2011

Is Lokpal really of a few, by a few and for a few?

In the last three weeks , we have witnessed Anna Hazare and team campaign against corruption. The demand for much awaited Lokpal Bill, which has been in the making for 43 years, has brought the urban population (mostly middle class and upper-middle class) to the streets to voice out their opinion on the cacophony of corruption in India. While so many participated in the fight against corruption, many did not know who Anna Hazare was or what the Lokpal bill was.

In one of his interviews, Anna Hazare said that he had announced two months ago that he would be campaigning against corruption." I do not understand how it came as a surprise to people", he said.However, his fast-unto-death (the literal meaning of which has never been clear to anyone) brought the media's attention and it harped on to this issue, after Lelyveld's Great Soul controversy. The media brouhaha in this regard was appreciable, but what the media has overlooked is to probe whether the members of the drafting committee were really worth being in the committee.

It is said that " a collegium consisting of several different kinds of people – Bharat Ratna awardees, Nobel prize winners of Indian origin, Magasaysay award winners, Senior Judges of Supreme and High Courts, the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the Chief Election Commissioner, and members of the outgoing Lokpal board and the Chairpersons of both houses of Parliament," should be members of the drafting committee. Does this mean people like V.S Naipaul (Bharat Ratna awardee) should be a member of the drafting committee? If this is what we are looking at, well, we need to think again!

A few critics pointed out that the movement was more a right-wing kind of one, with Baba Ramdev, Swami Agnivesh, Kanchi Swami and RSS members grabbed the limelight. Also, questions were raised whether the Anna Hazare campaign would remain apolitical.

As usual, (especially) the broadcast media kept repeating shots of people shouting slogans against corruption in all the major cities and towns in the country. Even if there were very few, the TV channels portrayed this as if millions were a part of this movement. What most of us haven't observed is:  people who are denied basic rights every time, the ones who are oppressed, the ones who are subjected to violence almost everyday were not a part of this so called "movement against corruption."

For example: The Times of India carried a headline on April 9, 2011 "India wins again" which is quite misleading. The headline was referring to Anna Hazare calling off his fast. but this portrayed it as if the Lokpal bill came into force. Because, the bill was proposed in 1968 when Indira Gandhi was the prime minister of India and had accepted for an institution like Lokpal be established. It was revived in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2001.But, each time it was proposed, a committee was set up and the matter ended there. As a result of series of scams in 2010, an alternative drat of the Jan Lokpal Bill has been proposed by activists from India against corruption, under the guidance of Karnataka Lokayukta Chief, Santosh Hegde and senior lawyer, Prasanth Bhushan.

In the entangled mess, accountability is a question. Who are the members of the drafting committee answerable to and how do you make sure that they are not corrupt or have no records or being corrupt? It is a good a step to bring out a provision to set up an institution like the Lokpal which protects the whistle-blowers and investigates cases of corruption. Having said this, will setting up another institution and another law, apart from outmoded laws India, bring any change in the system? How will the corrupt ones be punished when or if the members of the drafting committee themselves are corrupt? When institutions like CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) and CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) are corrupt, how credible will Lokpal as an anti-corruption institution be?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pilling on those pounds? Think twice!

“Three bites diet” of Victoria Beckham or Jennifer Aniston’s diet - green salad with nuts, kalku and cheese with lemon sauce on the lunch menu or planning to live only on juices? Which one of these would you prefer?

While the world seems to be obsessed with fitness routines, ostensibly-successful slimming treatments and crash diets, it is the time we do some reality check.

We have 100 people suggesting 100 different ways to stay fit and fine. We are flooded with suggestions from friends, relatives, boyfriends and sometimes enemies, too, that confuse us.

With umpteen weight-loss programs and treatments available for people to choose from, one wonders whether shedding few pounds by working out is worth it.

An advertisement board outside a slimming powder selling company says, “Lose weight now, ask me how!” and another says, “lose up to 10 kg for just Rs.10, 098.”  People are trapped by such superficial benefits the ads portray, which is not the case in reality. However, not many prefer physical activity or working out over these “cost-effective” slimming treatments.

Special discounts are offered to brides and grooms depending on the duration and the type of weight -loss treatment they choose. The moment they enter a weight-loss clinic their statistics are detected by a machine through radiations. Then they are advised to lose weight accordingly, depending on their height and weight.
Weight-loss programs have become an obsession among youngsters. Without realizing whether it is the right age to start working out, youngsters blindly opt for such treatments because it is a matter of self-image and beauty.

On Facebook’s photo albums, comments like “OMG! Look at me…I’m luking so fat” or “Plz delete this picture, I look so ugly and fat” make us wonder whether there is a smoke screen that masks the real identity of people.

“Most of them opt for such programs to look slim and pretty. Very few of them know the importance of health and fitness,” says Rachna T.V., an engineering student. 

Another student, Akhila Neeraje, points out that most girls are offended when people tell them that they have put on weight. “Some lose weight to fit into smart and trendy clothes which they otherwise wouldn’t fit into.” 
The very appeal of the weight loss clinics and gymnasiums is attractive. People would kill to lose weight at such lavish places. Cost is another factor that allows a lot of people to experiment with these treatments. 
According to Savita Date Menon, a psychologist, there is lot more to it than just weight loss. People who obsess about their weight “slip into depression, panic, get dark circles, perspire at any time of the day, become restless and act cranky sometimes,” she says.

Talking about the constant need to prove that one looks better than the other, she says that peer pressure also plays a vital role in planting such thoughts in people’s minds. 
“What happens if you are fat? Is it a crime or a curse?” Menon asks.
“I spent Rs.1, 500 to lose 4 kilograms of weight in a month and it is quite affordable,” says Sowjanya J., a housewife.

 When we opt for such treatments, we ought to know whether these will keep us healthy or ruin our health. If one goes through procedures like liposuction et al, he or she has to maintain his or her physique or figure going forward. Otherwise, the treatment is equal to trash.

Explaining the significance of exercising, Deepa Ananth, a nutritionist residing in Bangalore says that there is no shortcut to lose weight. 

 “People should remember that they gained the extra weight over a period of time and they can’t burn it all up overnight. So, have patience and lose that extra weight over a period of time. Don’t take up crash diets, because you will definitely gain the lost weight back,” she says.

 The success rate of the weight loss treatments in comparison with physical exercises is much lesser. Such treatments lure people with glossy ads showing puffy guys turning into hot models.

 Sanjay Y., a software engineer enrolled for a four-month program that said “lose 15 kg in 3 months.” The next day, he got instructions stating that he should follow strict diet and should exercise for an hour every day.

 “The boys would put some massagers and magnetic strips all over your body and watch television. After three months, I did not lose even 3 kg and had to shell out Rs. 28,000 to realize that this was a moneymaking business,” says Sanjay.

 When Sanjay enquired about the staff’s training, he found out that they learn terms like fat, burn, kilos, cellulite, etc. to please the customers.

“This is a marketing strategy. Try discussing about a health ailment, they go topsy-turvy over it.” 

 Exercising or spending time on any physical activity should become part of your daily routine.

Anitha Ravi, a gym trainer at Hyderabad says that working out is not only about burning calories, but also increasing your stamina.

 “Any form of exercise keeps you active throughout the day. It also helps in proper blood circulation, which makes your skin glow,” Ravi says.

 Exercise increases basic metabolic rate (BMR) which keeps your digestive system active as your food is digested faster. (Generally, BMR is high as soon as you exercise and all that you eat after exercising doesn’t get converted into fat).  And, if you do not exercise, your BMR will remain low.  

According to Ravi, weight loss depends on the body type. There are three types of bodies: ectomorphic, endomorphic and mesomorphic.

An ectomorph may have long fingers, toes and neck. Ectomorphs do not put on weight easily but once they put on, it is very difficult for them to lose weight. 
 A mesomorph has well-defined muscles and large bones. Mesomorphs gain and lose weight easily. 
The body of an extreme endomorph is round and soft. Endomorphs put on weight faster than they lose weight.

 Another fitness trainer, Gavin Z., says that there is no particular routine that one can follow and it depends on how long one can work out. 
“But, if you want to maintain your figure or physique, burn 300 calories per day. If you consume about 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day, you need to burn at least half of it,” Gavin says.

Working out four or five times a week keeps you fit. If you are bored of your routines, change your schedule so that you do not lose interest in working out. If you are tired of walking on the treadmill, go for aerobics, yoga, cycling, swimming or kick-boxing. 

Cardio workout and breathing exercises are a must because they enable overall functioning of the body and blood circulation. 

Also, before you start your workout, warm up your body to avoid muscle blocks or sprains. Do not get disappointed or feel inferior looking at someone leaner than you. Work out regularly and you will see the positive results.
 Do not expect results overnight and be disappointed with your trainer or your routine. Loving your body and having patience to see the results is very important.

Apart from your work out sessions, a balanced diet is very important. You can eat well without cutting down your favorite food. All you have to do is know what is good for you and what is not. Starving will not help because it might adversely affect your health and make you fat. 

 So, all you have to do is eat well, exercise regularly, love your body and feel confident. Stay healthy, stay safe.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why are we chasing the nuclear power mirage?

With more and more nations taking to nuclear energy and accepting it as a cleaner and efficient source of energy, arguments against the use of nuclear power are building up at a greater pace.
The total nuclear power capacity in India is 1840 MWe against 346000 MWe in the world.

The Japan earthquake and tsunami has jolted the whole world and compelled everyone to re-think about the use of nuclear power. While Germany has planned to shut down a third of its nuclear reactors manufactured prior 1980, India is still reviewing its safety measures in this regard.

If we consider the economics of installation of nuclear power plants, the cost of nuclear power depends on the cost of electricity generated by the nuclear power plant compared to the cost of generation of electricity from coal from a thermal power plant.

Because the coal deposits are concentrated in Eastern India, setting up a thermal power plant in Western India would demand transportation of coal for long distances. In such cases nuclear power becomes favourable.

“The method for comparison such as single station cost and system cost also influence the feasibility of the coal vs. nuclear power plant. The comparison between coal and nuclear options on the basis of station cost method may give misleading results because single station method fails to take an analytical account of system interactions. This could result in the plant being pushed lower down in the operational merit order as it ages and as new; more advanced plants with lower marginal operating cost join the system,” says Prof. Alagah.

Like Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, says that in India nuclear power plants have been built at locations with the potential for earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or lower in the Richter scale, while in Japan and in the US, plants have been built where earthquakes of 4.0 or 5.0 in the Richter scale are possible.

But what happened in Japan shows how it was miscalculated and destroyed everything million times than what was predicted (magnitude of 9.0 compared to 5.0 on Richter scale).

Even scientists and engineers who have designed and worked at nuclear power plants warn about nuclear accidents because of uncontrollable nuclear fission chain reactions which result in the loss of coolant. Once the coolant is lost, the core starts melting which leads to disastrous consequences.

All the nuclear power plants in India are either on the coast or linked to rivers or water bodies. The 2004 tsunami brought into focus the vulnerability of nuclear power plants situated along the coast.

LV Krishnan, a veteran of the Department of Atomic Energy, who retired from the Kalpakkam plants, said that a tsunami was not taken into consideration when designing the plant. The official line has remained that the tsunami did not cause any radiation leak. It is very possible that our nuclear scientists have not taken the impact of climate change into consideration while designing their nuclear power plants. (Source)

According to the Prof. Yoginder K. Alagah who works for the ministry of power in India, “nuclear power is a genuine economic option in terms of Long Range Marginal Cost (LRMC) advantages for power supply at locations far remote from coal reserves, particularly if hydel sources are not available in these areas.”

The ones who argue for nuclear power say that it is necessary to develop nuclear power because:

·         There is a need to develop alternative energy systems
·         Utilizing Uranium resources and large amounts of Thorium deposits can sustain about 300,000 MWe of electricity generation capacity for about 300 years
·         Nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases
·         Fossil fuels are a finite source of energy while nuclear energy, produced with the correct technology could become a renewable energy source

For example: The energy produced by 1 gram of uranium is equivalent to that produced by 3 tonnes of coal. As fission is not an oxidation process, there is no smoke or carbon waste (Source)

While the ones who support nuclear energy say it is a cleaner source of energy, but there are arguments against it too.

Disposal of nuclear waste remains a growing concern. Because nuclear waste is not bio-degradable, it causes many health hazards to anyone who comes into contact with the waste. . An average nuclear reactor produces 20-30 tonnes of highly radioactive spent fuel each year, which remains radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

Nuclear power plants withdraw large amounts of water from nearby lakes, rivers, and oceans. In doing so, aquatic life is adversely affected. For instance: A 2005 study of impacts from 11 coastal power plants in Southern California estimated that the San Onofre nuclear plant impinged nearly 3.5 million fish in 2003 alone. (Source)

Nuclear waste can cause skin cancer and also alter the DNA in a person which can have a long-term impact on the descendants of that person.

Nuclear power plants raise the temperatures of a region resulting in the damage to the flora and fauna. For example: nuclear plants being shut down in Europe was because the outflow from the nuclear plants would have raised temperatures in the surrounding water.

Nuclear power generation routinely exposes occupational workers and the public to radiation and harmful isotopes for whose effects, including cancer and genetic damage, there’s no remedy. Radiation is unsafe in all doses.

The debate around Jaitapur nuclear plant is that it is located in a seismically active zone and is based on untested reactor design. Areva’s (French company) reactors haven’t been cleared by any nuclear regulatory authority and we (India) have planned to install six reactors.

Also, it will become the world’s largest nuclear power station generating 9,900 MW, or more than double India’s current nuclear capacity. Given its size, the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) will generate seven times more toxic iodine-129 than normal reactors, posing many problems. (Source)

Another problem with the Jaitapur plant is that the high temperature of the coolant water discharged into the sea will destroy mangroves, corals and numerous marine species, reducing oxygen availability.

While governments see compensation for land as the only issue that has to be addressed while permitting installation of nuclear power plants, it also has to consider the hazards related to it.

In China, a 10 metre high concrete protection is built for reactor at Hainan while India’s Koodankulam nuclear reactor has a 7.5 metre-high concrete protection against tsunami or flooding. Such measures should be taken into account.

While EPR’s are said to be missile-resistant and can prevent hydrogen accumulation, explosion of Fukushima reactor has invalidated its claim. Therefore, the alternatives to nuclear power are seen as wind energy and hydel power. So, we should stop chasing the nuclear power mirage and concentrate on alternative sources for power generation to avoid another Chernobyl-like disaster in India.