Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trinamool Congress demands rollback of petro prices

Kolkata: UPA ally Trinamool Congress today launched street protests here to demand immediate rollback of fuel price hike, but remained non-committal on BJP's move to bring cut motions to censure the government.

'Let us see the development and we will act as the situation develops,' TC's Chief Whip in Lok Sabha Sudip Bandhopadhay, who led the protests, told PTI when asked whether the party would support BJP's cut motion.

Bandhopadhay, whoseparty faces civic and municipal polls in West Bengal in May-June, said 'in the backof the overall price rise, it is not the appropriate time to increase fuel prices.

'When the budget will be debated we will express our annoyance against the fuel price hike and tell how it will put more burden on the people already hit by soaring prices of essential commodities.'

'The government should not make it a prestige issue and rollback the hike.

Over three million women gather for Pongala festival

More than three million women devotees lit earthen kilns to cook rice and jaggery as offering for the presiding deity of Attukal Bhagavathi temple here Sunday on the occasion of Pongala festival.
The ritual started after the chief priest lit a hearth with fire brought from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The fire was then passed on to the devotees, who stood in lines, stretching up to main roads of the city.

The devotees carrying bricks, firewood, rice, jaggery and coconut then lit up their stoves with the sacred fire to cook the offering for the Attukal Bhagavathi deity, believed to be an incarnation of Kannaki, the central character of the Tamil epic 'Silappathikaaram'.

Devouts from all over south India begun arriving here a few days back to bag a place near the temple, dedicated to Attukal Bhagavathi.

The offering is made on the penultimate day of the 10-day-long Attukal Pongala festival, which is often referred to as the equivalent of the Sabarimala pilgrimage for women.

The offering is prepared using rice, jaggery and coconut and is cooked in three to four hours' time. When the priests spray sacred water from the temple on the cooked rice, the women pack their offering and begin their return journey.

Gopinathan Nair, president of the temple trust said that all arrangements have been made for the smooth conduct of the festival.

'More than 3,000 police personnel, including 500 women, have been deployed and it is going on smoothly,' said Nair.

Veteran singer K.J. Yesudas and a few political leaders were also present on the occasion. Leading south Indian actors, including the regulars like Chippy, Kalpana and Praveena were seen busy preparing the offering.

The Guinness Book of Records listed the festival as the world's largest annual gathering of women in 1997, when 1.5 million devotees converged here Feb 23.

According to legend, Kannaki destroyed the city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu after the king of Madurai wrongfully imposed death penalty on her husband. Kannaki then travelled to Kerala, where she rested for a while at Attukal and women are said to have cooked pongala to appease her.

Mammootty extends olive branch to Thilakan -Feb 27

Alappuzha (Kerala), Feb 27 : Malayalam superstar Mammootty Saturday tried to make peace with Thilakan by saying he never called for a ban on the veteran actor in the industry and is willing to work with him.

"I have nothing against Thilakan and will certainly act with him. The issue with Thilakan will be resolved by AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movies Artistes) soon. We never called for a ban of Thilakan. We will make no public statements in this regard and we are not interested in a media trial either," Mammootty said.

Thilakan is in dispute with various film workers' organisations, including the AMMA, for his utterances against some superstars and select directors.

He replied to a show-cause notice from the AMMA, saying he has done no wrong and the question of an apology does not arise.

The dispute led to a public slugfest with both sides taking a dig at each other.

Noted critic Sukumar Azhikode slammed superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal and asked them to stop acting and endorsing jewellery brands.

Azhikode said the two superstars should call it a day and remarked that if both of them come without make up, many people will faint.

To this AMMA president and comic actor Innocent retorted that if Azhikode is to endorse jewellery brands then people who buy it will return them.

Mammootty, trying to bring peace between two sides said since Thilakan expressed his inability to appear before AMMA March 1, then the movie association will give a new date set according to the actor's convenience.

"Thilakan is an elder statesman of our fraternity and instead of keeping away from AMMA, he should be the guiding force to all of us," said Mammootty.

Reacting to Mammootty's statement, Thilakan said: "Honestly I have nothing against Mammootty and Mohanlal and I do respect their talents. I will talk to Mammootty if he calls me."(IANS)

Will not comment on Thilakan: Mammootty on Feb 22

Malayalam superstar, Mammootty has declined to comment on the controversy triggered by the outburst of thespian Thilakan.

Mammootty, talking over the phone, said: "I will not say anything. What is there to be said?" He was speaking from the sets of his latest film 'Pokiriraja'.

Actor Thilakan is currently facing the heat from various film bodies, including the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA), for his utterances against film organisations in the state.

Discussing his films, including his latest release 'Dhrona', which has not done as expected, the superstar said: "See, it was an excellent subject, but somehow it has not come out well. Mind you, this is the way films are. You win some, you lose some. When there is a setback you go back to the basics, and that is precisely what I do, and fine-tune myself for the next film."

Speaking about his next project, Mammootty said it would be the directorial debut of veteran character and comedy artiste, Jagdeesh.

"I am told that the name of the film is going to be 'Amar Akbar Antony', but don't mistake it for the yesteryears' Hindi film. It is a love story, and I play the role of a technocrat. I heard the story and am yet to see the script," added Mammootty.

The year 2009, was very good for Mammootty with eight releases and a variety of roles. He also received an honorary doctorate from the Kerala University.

However, 2010 appears to have got off on a wrong note with 'Dhrona' bombing at the box office and the Thilakan controversy adding to troubles. At the moment, the AMMA and the other film bodies are strongly behind Mammootty.

Mammootty is a three-time national award winner and into his third decade in the industry.

Veteran Malayalam actor, Thilakan had criticised film organisations for denying him an opportunity to act in the new film 'Christian Brothers'.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Suspended from party Kollam mayor resigns

Kollam: N Padmalochanan, CPI(M) leader and Kollam mayor, who was suspended from the party for inaugurating the reception committee office of RSS Pranth Sanghik, submitted his resignation from mayors office. But the corporation secretary has declined to accept the letter as the mayor had not given the it in person.
The district committee of the party which met in the morning had listened to the explanation
Padmalochanan tended for attending a RSS function. But the committee did not accept his argument that he went to the RSS function merely in the capacity of the mayor. There was severe criticism against Padmalochanan who was a state committee member of the party and secretary of CITU attending a function of RSS. When his action became a sensational news he had apologized for it in the media. This too was criticised for not being in tune with the party line.
Padmalochanan was in the V.S. faction of the party but he later came to the official side.

FM introduces single window system in Kochi

New Delhi: Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced setting up of a single window system in Kochi to pay income tax, submit tax returns and complaint redressals . Called `Aayakar
Seva Kendra', this system will be implemented in two more centres namely Pune and Chandigarh, apart from Kochi under the first phase. Under the phase II programme, 4 more regions would be included, Mukherjee said

Special trains to be run for Attukal Pongala

Thiruvananthapuram : Southern Railway will run special trains between Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam to clear the extra rush of passengers during 'Attukal Pongala'.

The Special train will will leave Kollam at 0400 hrs and will arrive Thiruvananthapuram at 0600 hrs on February 28.

The Mangalore-Thiruvananthapuram Parasuram express will halt at Mayyanad, Paravur and Kappil. The Lokmanya Tilak-Thiruvananthapuram express will halt at Murukkumpuzha and Kazhakuttam, a railway press release said here.

The Hyderabad-Thiruvananthapuram express will halt at Kappil, Chirayinkeezh
and Kochuveli as part of the 'Attukal Pongala'.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mohanlal-Azhikode spat takes listless Mollywood to new low

24 Feb 2010, ET Bureau

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Malayalam movie industry, which has served more controversy than profits in recent times, has plunged to a new low with a squabble in which the choice of words are more appalling than some that are spoken on screen.

At the heart of the latest controversy is an allegation by veteran actor Thilakan that some big names in the industry are conspiring to deny him opportunities. But the issue has changed course - in true filmy style - and turned into a personal squabble between leading star Mohanlal and octogenarian writer and social critic Sukumar Azhikode.

Azhikode has been hinting that it is high time that the leading stars of Malayalam stepped aside in deference to their age and girth, and the comment has brought the writer into an open confrontation with Mohanlal, with the Thilakan issue acting as the trigger-point.

Admittedly, Malayalam movie actors are on the bulkier side in comparison to their peers in other language movies, and six packs are as rare as chicken’s teeth in Mollywood, even among the younger crop of actors. That, however, hasn’t dulled their appeal among their fans at home and the non-resident Malayali diaspora across the world.

Picking on Azhikode’s claim that he had got Mohanlal to sit across the table with Thilakan and sort matters out, Mohanlal said he had said no such thing, and that Azhikode must be having some “hallucination”. Not content with that, the thespian said he considered Azhikode’s statements as some “aged uncle’s joke”, and that whether he should stop acting was not a matter for Azhikode to decide.

Piqued by Mohanlal’s tart comments, Azhikode reminded the actor that he was himself ageing, that if some of his nubile heroines saw him without makeup, “they will faint”, and that he should take a leaf out of the books of Tamil stars like Rajnikant and Kamal Hassan and go around without makeup.

That observation was met with matching acidity by one of Azhikode’s own ilk, writer T Padmanabhan, who said Azhikode appeared to be envious of handsome people, and that he had no business to suggest that the veteran actors should call it a day.

Perhaps the only point that could go in favour of Azhikode is the fact that movies featuring the two lead actors in Mollywood, Mohanlal and Mammootty, have not been the ones that have earned profits for their producers. Industry sources say that the five films that are known to have made money in the recent past, To Harihar Nagar, Makante Achan, Neelathamara, Bhagyadevatha and Passenger, did not feature either of the mega stars. Neither does Mollywood appear likely to benefit from the latest spat that involves a superstar and a super scribe.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mohanlal denies agreeing to Azhikode mediation

Kerala film row worsens as Azhikode enters fray

Thiruvananthapuram: There is a new twist to the controversy in the Malayalam film industry involving actor Thilakan, with writer and social activist Sukumar Azhikode joining the debate.

Thilakan is currently facing the heat from various film workers' organisations, including the Association of Malayalam Movies Artistes (Amma) over his remarks against some A-listers and directors.

Azhikode said he had got a promise from leading star Mohanlal that the actor would sit across the table with Thilakan and sort out the differences.

However, confusion followed when Mohanlal told a Malayalam television channel that he had given no such promise, and that he considered Azhikode's pronouncements as "some joke by an aged uncle".

Mohanlal went on to describe the writer's statements as some "hallucination" and that what the senior writer was saying was "pure nonsense".

Mohanlal also denied speaking to Azhikode from Dubai. He reminded Azhikode that the issues were between Thilakan and the associations and wondered how he and Thilakan could meet and sort them out.

Meanwhile, Thilakan stated that he would only agree to such talks "on certain conditions". He, however, would not spell out what those conditions were.

Kerala's first multiplex all set to open

Kochi: Fifty-eight-year-old M.A.Mohammed, a Dubai-based Kerala businessman, is on a roll as the state's first multiplex is all set to open at his Oberon mall here.

The air-conditioned Oberon mall which opened last year in March is the state's biggest mall, which has a built up area of 3,50,000 sq ft. The four-theatre multiplex would be run by Mumbai based Cine Max, Mohammed told IANS.

'Everything is ready and it is now a matter of days before the state's first multiplex opens. This is located on the fourth floor of our mall and can seat 700,' said the soft spoken businessman.

His Oberon group is a closely held family business along with his three brothers and his two sons. The group is into agri-products, pharmaceuticals, furniture and a growing chain of restaurants in the state.

'A decade back along with my cousin V.A.Hassan, we launched the Flora Group of Hotels in Dubai and today we have four luxury hotels and two luxury hotel apartments in Dubai,' said Mohammed who is also the director of Flora.

Now often shuttling between Dubai and here, Mohammed's success saga began ever since he entered the family business of agro-commoditytrading, soon after he graduated in the early seventies. He then joined his father, M.K Abdullah, at Irinjalakuda near here.

Right now he is focusing on the luxury hotel Flora which will be ready in six month's and is located a stone's throw away from the Cochin International Airport.

' Our Oberon Group turnover has now crossed billion and has been steadily growing. At the end of this fiscal too, we will grow by 15 percent. We are expanding Oberon Taste Buds, a chain of restaurants across the state. In three years time we will have 10 restaurants in the state. Our third restaurant is opening next month here,' said Mohammed.

His restaurant at his mall here is the biggest in the state and occupies an area of 13,000 sq.ft.

A devout Muslim, Mohammed is the Thiruvananthapuram District president of the Muslim Education Society and his next major project is one that has been his dream for long.

'We will soon start construction of a state of the art fully residential engineering college in Kerala. This will be for the non-resident Keralite population. It will have state of the art infrastructure and will be comparable to the best anywhere,' said Mohammed.

CPI-M leader regrets for appearing at RSS venue

Kollam: Faced with the prospect of a disciplinary action, senior CPI-M leader and Kollam city Mayor N Padmalochanan today expressed 'deep regret' for embarrassing the party by inaugurating the RSS organising committee office.

'This is a serious lapse on my part. I should not have attended the function. I deeply regret for what had happenedand I will be more careful in future to avoid such conduct,' Padmalochanan told reporters.

CPI(M) sources said Padmalochanan tendered the apology since he would have faced stringent disciplinary action if he declined to regret since the party leadership has taken a serious view of the matter.

He met the state leaders in Thiruvananthapuram yesterday and explained his position.

Ranjith flays Azhikode for his anti-Mammooty remarks

Kozhikode: Writer and film director Ranjith said that Malayalam writer, orator and critic Sukumar Azhikode's allegations that superstar Mammooty had received Rs 5.5 crore to act in the movie `Pazhassiraja' is baseless. Ranjith, in an exclusive to Mathrubhumi online, said that such kind of allegations without establishing proper facts is not new to Sukumar Azhikode.

Ranjith came down heavilyagainst the critic saying that Azhikode, who is a superstar in the oratorical world, has also received many favours at many forums. He said that Azhikode need not feel jealous about what superstars Mohanlal and Mammooty received.

Ranjith said that Thilakan's allegations against Mammootty for being behind the removal of the veteran actor in the Mohanlal-starred movie is quite humourous. Mammooty does not have any role in these, he clarified. Azhikode is making falseless allegations without establishing the truth and supporting Thilakan.

Thilakan controversy: War of words continues

Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 23
The war of words in the Malayalam film industry, involving veteran actor Thilakan, superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal and others, continues unabated.

Thilakan is currently facing the heat from various film workers’ organisations, including the Association of Malayalam Movies Artistes (AMMA), for his utterances against some superstars and select directors.

He replied to a show-cause notice from the AMMA, saying he has done no wrong and the question of an apology does not arise.

Thilakan has been getting support from the Communist Party of India after a few legislators joined him on podium during public meetings in Kottayam and Ernakulam districts.

But the biggest cheer for him came Monday when veteran social critic Sukumar Azhikode lashed out at Mohanlal when he said the love scenes done by the superstar on screen have become unpalatable.

Azhikode also criticised Mohanlal for endorsing jewellery and found fault with him for coming to the defence of Mammootty.

Mohanlal told reporters here Tuesday that it should not be of concern to Azhikode if he was endorsing jewellery.

“I told him to leave me alone. Even Amitabh Bachchan endorses products. I see the statements from Azhikode as those made by an old man. He also advised (me) to settle the present controversy. I replied I have nothing to do on that and it has to be done by AMMA,” he said.

Thilakan has been asked to appear before the disciplinary committee of AMMA March 1.

“I am yet to decide on whether I should appear or not. Several people are trying to settle the issue and I am willing to discuss it on certain conditions, which I will make at an appropriate time,” he said.

Kerala Culture Minister M.A. Baby told reporters that there were a few film-based organisations and if all were willing, the government would intervene.

Rail budget: 7 new trains for Kerala

Mamata Banerjee's railway Budget for Kerala has managed to give the state its due share. Her first sop to Kerala came in the form of a drinking water bottling plant to be set up at Thiruvananthapuram to provide drinking water at a cheap rate. 6 bottling plants for clean water at cheap rates have been given approval in public-private partnership (PPP) mode.

Her next goodie to the state is the approval for the Kanjikode coach factory at Palakkad to be started this year itself. She has announced setting up of 5 new coach factories across the country. A coach factory in Rae Bareli has also been approved in the year 2011.

A survey for introducing railway linefrom Punalur to Thiruvananthapuram, Madurai to Kottayam, Dindigul to Kumali, Thallassery to Mysore, Chenganoor to Thiruvananthapuram via Adoor and Kozhikode to Angadipuram in Malappuram district.
The Dindigal - Pollachi - Palakkad line to be converted to broad guage line.

The state has also been approved 7 new trains. Pune- Ernakulam Superfast Express, Mumbai-Ernakulam Turanth Express, Kanyakumari – Bhopal via Thiruvananthapuram Express, Kozhikode - Thiruvananthapuram Jana Shatabdi Express, Thiruchirapalli - Mangalore Express, Bharath Theerth Express from Himachal to Kanyakumari , Kozhikode – Kannur passenger, Nilambur - Shornur new passenger train, Mangalore –Kannur passenger extended to Kozhikode.

Floating mall on Kerala backwaters

A floating shopping mall on Kerala's beautiful backwaters is catching the attention of tourists. The mall on a boat floats in the backwaters of the low-lying Kuttanadu area of Alappuzha district.

"The floating Triveni Super Store, which sells everything a home needs including refrigerators and TV sets at subsidised rates, is the brainchild of state Cooperative Minister G. Sudhakaran,/" an employee of state government-run Consumerfed, which runs the mall, told IANS.

Kerala's tourism department is very happy with the Consumerfed initiative as it catches the attention of tourists visiting the backwaters of Kerala, an area that ranks above the Taj Mahal in National Geographic Traveller/'s best destinations of the world.

"Ever since the launch of the floating mall in June last year, it has become a tourist attraction,/" says M. Shivshankar, director, Kerala Tourism. The boat, lined with shelves full of grain to perfumes and health drinks to shampoos, caters to more than 100,000 people in 12 panchayats of Alappuzha. It docks at 53 villages along the backwaters.

These villages cannot access the mainland except through boats. A Triveni store official said the timings of the boat/'s arrival in each village is announced beforehand, and villagers look forward to it.

The mall is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. For safety reasons, only 20 people are allowed on board at a time. "Ours is a supermarket," says Reji R. Nair, managing director of Consumerfed, which was chosen the best cooperative in the state last year. /"For the villagers, there is a lot of excitement to step into the boat which has everything for their needs under one roof."

Provisions like rice, wheat and sugar are priced at least 10-15 percent below market rates. "The villagers can buy even refrigerators and TV sets from the floating mall. For that one has to just place an order and it will be delivered at your doorstep within two-three weeks," says A.K. Anoop, the mall/'s manager.

"The mall has average daily sales of Rs.60,000," he said. The sales go up during festivals like Onam and Christmas.

"We wait for the boat to arrive in our village," says M.C. Vijayan, a farm labourer in Changankery, 18 km from Alappuzha.

"Earlier we used to take a bus to the town for shopping, which took a lot of time and money," Vijayan said. The mall was designed by the University of Cochin's naval department. It was built at a dock in Kochi at a cost of Rs.50 lakh.

Cement was mixed with certain polymers and reinforced with steel to build the boat, which is anti-corrosive. A solar panel was added to light the boat and power the billing machine.

Consumerfed, which runs 100 Triveni super markets and 46 liquor shops in Kerala, is building two more floating malls because of demand from villagers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thilakan issue: AMMA forms disciplinary panel

Kochi: A disciplinary committee of AMMA has been formed to take stock of Thilakan's case as he had refused to apologise to AMMA. AMMA president Innocent, secretary Edavela babu, T P Madhavan, Kunjan and Janardhanan are the members of the committee.

The Association of MalayalamMovie Artistes (AMMA) had issued Thilakan a notice asking him to apologise in a week's time or face action.

Thilakan will be asked for an explanation for having gone against the two Malayalam film organizations AMMA and FEFKA. The organization will again forward a letter to Thilakan seeking his explanation.
Thilakan began his one-man fight against AMMA and FEFKA after he was denied an opportunity to act in 'Christian Brothers'.

SC decision a shot in the arm for Kerala

18 Feb 2010

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Supreme Court decision to set up a five-member empowered committee to sort out the Mullaperiyar Dam issue comes as a victory of sorts for Kerala as the Court has finally agreed to set aside the Central Water Commission report that went against the state in raising the water level of the dam.

This also means that the state can now submit fresh evidence, documents and studies from various IITs on the safety of the dam, which will now be examined by the empowered committee in detail.

The IIT Delhi report on floods and the IIT Roorkee report on earthquakes will now be considered by the panel.

The provision to submit new reports will also give an opportunity to Kerala to go in for a detailed Dam Break Analysis report by experts from either IIT Guwahati, IIT Kanpur or IIT Roorkee.

The State Cabinet had already okayed such a study.

The committee has also been asked to look into all matters pertaining to the Mullaperiyar dam such as sharing of water and power and not restrict itself to issues raised before the Supreme Court. This effectively means that Kerala can bargain for an equitable share of water and power from this dam.

The constitution of the empowered committee is also advantageous to Kerala as it has said that the two technical members in the panel should be experts not connected with the dispute. This would also technically mean that the members of the CWC could not be members of this high powered committee.

The panel will be headed by a Supreme Court judge.

Another factor that has added to the confidence of the state team is that it has been able to convince the apex court on the non-viability of the proposal of letting water from Mullaperiyar flow into Idukki. They argued that after 1979, at least at six instances, both Idukki and Mullaperiyar had filled up to capacity and once the water volume crossed the 68 tmc limit at Idukki, the water had to be released.

The Kerala team was also able to convince the Court that Tamil Nadu had used more water even after lowering the water levels and that there was more irrigation in Tamil Nadu after lowering the water levels in the dam.
Indian Express Reports

SC panel to study Mullaperiyar dam safety

Feb 18, 2010

NEW DELHI: A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to constitute a high-level empowered committee to examine the safety aspects of the Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala.

The five-judge bench comprising justices D K Jain, B Sudarshan Reddy, Mukundkam Sharma, R M Lodha and Deepak Verma said the five-member panel would be headed by a retired Supreme Court judge.

Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been authorised by the court to nominate one member each who could be a retired high court judge or a technical expert.

The Centre has also been authorised to nominate two renowned technical experts not connected with the dispute.

The apex court said it will pass appropriate orders on Thursday for formally constituting the committee, which in turn would submit its report to the Bench within a specific timeframe. Both Tamil Nadu and Kerala are locked in a bitter tussle over more than the century old Mullaperiyar dam located in Idukki district.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Inflation rises to 8.56 per cent in January this year

New Delhi, Feb 15 (PTI) Wholesale price-based inflation rose to 8.56 per cent in January, shooting past the RBI's forecast of 8.5 per cent for this fiscal end, as food items such as sugar, potatoes and pulses turned costlier.

Overall inflation in December was 7.31 per cent.

Sugar prices rose by 58.96 per cent in January year-on-year while potatoes turned costlier by 53.39 per cent and pulses by 45.64 per cent.

On monthly basis, prices of masur increased by 9 per cent, arhar by 6 per cent and wheat by 4 per cent.

Fuel index rose by 1.8 per cent due to higher prices of naphtha that rose 21 per cent. Furnace oil rose 6 per cent while bitumen, non-coking coal and light diesel oil rose 3 per cent each.

To tame inflation, the RBI, in its quarterly monetary review, had asked banks to keep aside more cash with them.

Slowdown brings Kerala's houseboats within reach of many

Slowdown brings Kerala's houseboats within reach of many
PTI, February 14, 2010
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: India's not-to-miss tourist experiences like a ride on the Palace on Wheels or stay at the Lake Palace are often beyond the means of most Indians, but the economic slowdown has brought at least one experience within the reach of the middle-class -- Kerala's houseboats.

For long patronised by rich foreign tourists, the backwater cruise industry in Kerala has woken up to the benefits of winning domestic tourists who virtually kept it afloat when the waves of the global economic slowdown hit the Indian shores in 2008-end.

An overnight cruise through the coconut lagoon - an experience that the National Geographic Traveler has ranked ahead of viewing the Taj Mahal - is now cheaper by at least 20 per cent, if not more, than the period preceding the slowdown.

"A single bedroom houseboat can be hired for as low as Rs 6,000 a day and the rates include all meals for a couple... there were days when the same ride would have cost Rs 10,000-15,000," says Kochumon alias Sanish, who captains 'Sandra', a well-appointed two bed-room houseboat that in its earlier avatar as 'kettuvallam' (rope-tied country boat) ferried rice and spices in the Kuttanad region, the state's rice bowl.

Compared to this, a ride on the Palace on Wheels costs anywhere around Rs 2,00,000 per person per week.

"We are seeing a lot of interest from tourists from the north, especially Maharashtra, Gujarat, Delhi and Haryana and rates are no longer prohibitive," said Anil James, a houseboat operator.

A typical backwater cruise takes tourists on a 40-km journey through the Vembanad lake, India's longest spread over 1,512, with a stopover at night by idyllic fishing villages whose people and tourists alike shop from a floating market 'Triveni' operated by Kerala Consumerfed.

At one point after September 2008, business hit its nadir and stayed that way for about six months before domestic tourists started coming in, said Sanish, but Kerala Tourism officials feel the reason for poor business was not a fall in foreign tourist arrivals, but rather oversupply.

"We have 600 houseboats in Alappuzha and Kollam region and the slowdown in business was because of oversupply here," Kerala Tourism Director M Shivshankar said.

The Tourism Department has written to the Irrigation Department, which is the licensing authority for houseboats, asking them to cap the number of boats. The officials are looking at evenly spreading out the houseboat population so that the experience remains premium.

"We are creating new landing points between Ernakulam and Alappuzha and they would be ready by 2010-11 and ensure that crowding is avoided," Shivshankar said, adding that the state was also developing new backwater cruise circuits in Kayankulam and Ashtamudi, so that people from Thiruvananthapuram in the south need not travel all the way up to Alappuzha for backwater cruise.

He said there are 50 more houseboats in the making now, but the aim was to leverage the backwater asset optimally. Kerala's houseboats have been listed among the world's ten Enchanting Escapes by AsiaSpa, the spa and resort magazine.

There are all kinds of houseboats to choose from - one, two and three-bedroom - to suit different budgets. And then there are the motherships - houseboats with ten bedrooms, he said.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

RSS Kerala unit all set for Bhagwat's visit

12 February 2010

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kerala unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is all set to welcome their chief Mohan Bhagwat on his maiden visit to the state Feb 24 and 25.

Bhagwat will visit Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram, P.Gopalan Kutty, an RSS activist, said.

"The major event will happen in Kollam on Feb 24 where he will address RSS activists in the state. The gathering will be attended by over a lakh members in full uniform from all over the state," said Kutty.

No intelligence lapse in Pune blast: Govt

Pune: Dismissing 'intelligence failure' in the Pune blast, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on Sunday said the terrorists have hit a 'soft target' like the German bakery which is frequented by foreigners and Indians alike.

He maintained that the 'hard targets' like the Osho Ashram and the Jewish Chabad House located near the bakery had been surveyed by US Lashker-e-Taiba suspect David Headley during his visit to India and the area was 'in the radar' of terrorists for some time.

'But apart from hard targets, there are soft targets... All these (the German bakery where the blast took place yesterday and an Italian restaurant nearby) are soft targets where foreigners and Indians congregate especially during the peak hours,'he told reporters in Pune after visiting local hospitals to meet the injured in the terror attack.

The Home Minister said the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has taken over the case and constituted teams to investigate the blast.

He announced a compensation of Rs five lakh to the families of those killed in the attack.

Terror struck Pune last night as a powerful bomb ripped apart a popular bakery near the Chabad House, killing nine people, including five women and a foreigner, and injuring 45 in the first major attack since 26/11 carnage.

The improvised explosive device, kept in a packet outside the kitchen of the German bakery, exploded at around 7.30 pm (IST) when a waiter attempted to open it.

Anil Ambani, Kokilaben on Sabarimala pilgrimage

Industrialist Anil Ambani and his mother Kokilaben arrived here Saturday evening on a one-day pilgrimage to the Sabarimala temple, police said.
Ambani's party also includes two relatives and the family doctor. Alighting from the helicopter that flew him here, Ambani got into the driver's seat of a white Mercedes Benz for the journey to the temple town.

Speaking to IANS over phone from Sabarimala, Deputy Superintendent of Police V. Varadarajan said that all security arrangements were in place and Ambani willpay obeisance at the shrine late Saturday night.

'He will stay at the guest house here and return early tomorrow (Sunday) morning for another darshan before returning,' Varadarajan added.

This is reported to be Ambani's first visit to Sabarimala and he will walk up the hill to the temple, which will take around two hours from the base camp at Pamba.

The Sabarimala temple is situated on the Western Ghats at an altitude of 914 metres and is four kilometers from Pamba in Kerala's Pathanamthitta district.

Police complaint against Kalabhavan Mani

13 February , 2010

A police complaint has been registered by the Dream World Water Park in Chalakudy against actor Kalabhavan Mani.

The water park employees allege that Mani arrived at the theme park along with thirty others including 19 children and demanded free entry for the children.

The Dream World authorities refused which led to an ugly fistfight between the actor and the employees of the water park.

Mani is a local man and could muster support which made the theme park authorities file a police complaint against Mani at the Chalakudy Police Station.

Mani is yet to respond to the police case filed against him.

Demands for railway development in Kerala submitted to Centre: Shashi Tharoor

February 13, 2010

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A list of Kerala's demands in the railway sector has been submitted for consideration ahead of the rail budget, Union minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor said today.

A dossier containing 38 proposals from the state had been submitted to the railway ministry and minister of state for railways E Ahamed was following up the matter, he told reporters on the sidelines of a function here.

On the twin city project between Thiruvananthapuram and Barcelona, an idea mooted by him, Tharoor said a draft agreement had already been prepared and the Mayors of the two cities would have discussions before signing the agreement.

The agreement would also cover projects involving financial commitments but they would be taken up one-by-one, on a project-to-project basis, he said.

Asked about the progress of the work on Vizhinjam port, he said it was the state government which should act fast, adding MPs from the state were willing to help to speed up the project.

Tharoor said parties should forget political differences while working for development projects and "we should create an atmosphere of co-operation to bring development to the state".

Friday, February 12, 2010

No law or order in state, says Opposition Leader Chandi

13 Feb 2010

KALPETTA: The UDF state committee here on Friday decided to launch a series of agitations against the CPM across the state in the backdrop of large-scale encroachment of land of UDF leaders.

Later, inaugurating a public meeting here, Opposition leader Oommen Chandy said the ‘ongoing’ encroachment in the district by tribesmen under the auspices of Adivasi Kshema Samiti (AKS) itself was evidence of the ‘inefficiency’ of the Achuthanandan ministry.

“Being in power, the LDF ministry can legally take over land if it is an illegal holding.

Instead the CPM has been using landless tribals just to settle political scores,” he said.

“There is no law and order in the state. The Chief Minister showers abuse on the District Collector and the police force for alleged mishandling of the tribal agitation. Even the CPM district secretary threatens the Collector.

It is total anarchy,” Chandy charged.

“The tribals encroached on the land hoping they would get land only if they encroached into it. They have no faith in the party as well as in the Chief Minister. So what is the use of a Chief Minister who has lost his own partymen’s faith?” Chandy warned that the trend of party cells dictating to officials would be opposed tooth and nail.

KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala said on the occasion that the CPM, which had refused to take over the controversial land in the past threeand- a-half years encroached on the land as soon as M P Veerendrakumar joined the UDF. On Munnar, he said “99 per cent of encroachment is by CPM men.” “If the Collector puts up a board on the land of Shreyamskumar, it would not become government land,” said K M Mani, leader of Kerala Congress(M).

“For 46 years I was a saint for the CPM but after I switched over to the UDF I became a Judas within no time,” said Veerendrakumar.

“With police protection anybody can encroach on any land. It is not a big thing.” IUML leader P K Kunhalikkutty, M V Raghavan (CMP), R Balakrishna Pillai (Kerala Congress- B), M I Shanawaz MP and P V Balachandran (DCC president) were present. UDF district convener K P Thomas chaired the meeting.

Later, these leaders told reporters that the UDF would start three-day panchayat-level campaign on February 18. The next UDF meeting on the issue will be held in Kochi on February 16, which would plan the state-level agitations, they said.

Party cells governing the state - Chandy

12 Feb 2010:Kalpetta: Opposition leader and former chief minister Oommen Chandy charged that the state is being governed by C P I (M) party cells. He also told the media that his front would start an agitation aginst this. Chandy and his team of United Democratic Front (U D F) leaders who visited stes where agitating tribals with the support of C P I (M) had encroached private properties were tlking to the media after their visit.
K P C C president Ramaesh Chennithala who accompanied the team alleged that the land encroachment was a Naxal model attack and the state was falling into a period of anarchy. Kerala Congress (M) leader K M Mani described the encroachments as C P I (M) encroachments and refused to accept them as tribal encroachments. 'The govt. is giving unlawful protection to an unlawful activity', he said.
Chandy explained that M V Shreyamskumar changing his political
stance had provoked the C P I (M) to act aginst the M.L.A. There was no allegation of Shreyamskumar acquiring the land with forged documents, he said. It was only a matter of Shreyamskumar not receiving the title deed for the land which was in his possession for a long time.
The U D F leadership meeting scheduled for 16th of this month in Kochi would chalk out the details of the agitation against C P I (M)'s cell governence, team members said.
Earlier the U D F team visited the places where C P I (M) activists had encroached on private property.The team visited Vellaramkunnu encroachment at first. Leaders of the action committee of the encroaching Adivasi Kshema Samithi (A K S ) cordially welcomed the U D F team and they submitted appeal seeking their help in solving the problem.

A K S had earlier warned that they would not allow a procession lead by the U D F team. Police were also deployed to block and disrupt processions. C P I (M) district leader later announced that visit by the leaders of the U D F would not be obstructed.

Million more families to get rice at Rs two

Thiruvananthapuram: Government plans to include another million families in the 'Rice for Rupees Two' scheme. This scheme is meant for farm labourers and workers engaged in traditional industries like coir manufacturing, cashew nut husking and handloom. It is learnt that the govt. is going to make the announcement in the next budget.
At peesent the beneficiaries of the scheme are people belonging to below poverty line (B.P.L.) category and A.P.L. people belonging
to fishermen, S.C/S.T. and people from Ashraya Scheme. As of now 2.6 million people get rice at Rs two.
The state govt. has not so far received the rice to be distributed at Rs three that the central govt has announced in the union budget so far. The state govt is diverting the rice quota it has received for distributing at Rs 6.30 for B P L and at 8.50 for A P L categories. Govt is giving 25 kg per month of rice to people belonging to B P L category and 35 kg to people belonging to Anthyodaya Annayojana scheme now.
Rice at Rs two for another million families will incur a financial burden of Rs 3.5 billions to the exchequer.

Wayanad encroachment: HC asks govt to clarify

Kochi: The High Court asked the district collector under what basis the land belonging to MLA Shreyamskumar was seized and a government board placed. The government should clarify under what circumstances the encroachment
was carried out, HC said.

The court also directed the Wayanad MLA Shreyamskumar to hand over relevant documents relating to the land to the court by Monday. The govt had seized the land belonging to Shreyamskumar in Krishnagiri.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jayaram's house, office attacked

February 5, 2010
Popular Malayalam-Tamil actor Jayaram's house and office in Valasaravakkam, Chennai, were attacked on Friday by a group of 25 activists of Naam Thamizhar Movement as a stiff reaction against the actor's comment against Tamil women during a talk show called "Ivide Husbands Happiyaanu" in a Malayalam TV channel. The talk show was aired as a promo to his new Malayalam film Happy Husbands.

According to sources, no one was injured in the attack as Jayaram and his family members were out of town. The activists damaged his car and windows in the house. Meanwhile, the police have arrested eight Naam Thamizhar activists associated with the attack.

The whole episode began when the TV anchor asked a funny question: "In most Jayaram movies, we can see only dusky-coloured housemaids appointed by his spouse(s), maybe because she is very cautious about her husband. Does it happen in real life as well?" The question was contextual as Jayaram plays a husband in the film who gets attracted to a bar dancer.

Jayaram's reply was also quick enough to hold up the good spirit of the show. "I have a buffalo like Tamil lady in my house working as a housemaid. The real intention my wife selected her is to avoid my peeping in the kitchen area. It is a trick by all wives."

According to latest reports, Jayaram apologized for having to make this comment, describing his domestic help as a buffalo-like Tamil woman. He said in a statement: "It was a joke and not aimed at hurting the sentiments of anyone. I myself am a Tamil and how could I hurt the sentiments of Tamil people? I have been in the Tamil film industry for 23 years and never have I hurt the feelings of Tamils. If any of my comments hurt women in particular, my profuse apologies."

Rahul surprises Kerala's Congress

Kochi: A.I.C.C. general sevretary Rahul Gandhi surprised Congress lraders of Kerala with an unannounced visit today. Rahul's unexpected visit at the Kerala StudentsUnion (K.S.U. -the students wing of Congress) leadership camp being held at Kunjattukara in Edathala.
The three day camp is scheduled to conclude today. Rahul arrived at Nedumbassery international airport at 11 O'clock this morning in a special plane. Neither the state leaders of the party or K.S.U. were informed of his arrival.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mullaiperiyar: 'Kerala’s line on dam unfounded'

04 Feb 2010

NEW DELHI: Senior advocate Harish Salve, told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that there were two issues concerning the Mullaiperiyar dam. One was on maintaining the maximum water level and the other on the structure of the dam in view of its age.

There were three major floods in the river during the dam’s lifetime. The first one was in 1924, the second in 1943 and the third in 1961.

Though the spillway was open, with that kind of rains, there was flood. And when the water overflowed, it imperiled the safety of the dam, Salve, appearing for the State of Kerala, pointed out.

The senior advocate told a Bench comprising Justices D K Jain, B Sudershan Reddy, Mukundakam Sharma, R M Lodha and Deepak Verma that during the floods, the exit rate of water was less than the inflow. “In the case of a cloudburst, how much water do you expect? What kind of degree of safety do you want?” the Bench asked.

Skirting the question, Salve replied that the safety and structure of the dam would be at stake.

At this juncture, Justice Sharma remarked: “So, you want to construct a new dam and control.” Salve only nodded and said: “India is an earthquake prone country. It is in zone 3. When the quake hits, we have a huge body of water. One mathematical calculation says the body would go this way, another mathematical calculation says it would go the other way.”

Justice Jain asked, “If you go up to 142 feet, how much additional area would be submerged? That is not answered here. Justice Lodha said: “According to you there were floods three times, in the year 1924, 1943 and in 1961. Are any statistics available on the extra submergence? he asked.

“During conditions of flood, backwaters surge and they would submerge areas that are not part of the lease. The Central Water Commission (CWC) said 27 years ago to keep the water level at 136 feet. Our law also says so,” Salve stated.

As the Bench did not get the answer it was looking for, Justice Lodha told Salve that the arguments sounded unfounded, misconceived and like jugglery of words. “I’ll answer it straightaway,” he said and successfully dodged it till the end of the hearing.

State cannot claim riparian rights: Salve

03 Feb 2010

NEW DELHI: Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the State of Kerala told the Supreme Court on Tuesday that for 27 years Tamil Nadu did not complain about the water level maintained in the Mullaiperiyar dam.

It was after Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy filed a petition stating that water level should go to 150-feet that the scramble, Salve told a Bench comprising Justices D K Jain, B Sudershan Reddy, Mukundakam Sharma, R M Lodha and Deepak Verma. Salve said Mullaiperiyar river rises and flows in Kerala alone before culminating in the sea and as such Tamil Nadu cannot claim any riparian rights over it.

“A government acts in the best interests of the people. These are classic federal issues. We must assume Tamil Nadu wants water control in the larger public interest,” Salve said.

This case was of seminal importance as it raised some important constitutional issues. One was on the constitutional validity of the 2006 Act passed by Kerala with regard to Mullaiperiyar. Res judicata may not have any role to play in this case, he felt.

The case hinged on two broad heads. a) On the legislative competence, b) Usurpation of judicial power. Earlier Tamil Nadu had the power. Now, I have taken it away by passing of the Act. Where is the usurpation of power? Salve questioned. There was no pleading by Tamil Nadu that it had a natural equitable right to water, Salve added. Just before rising for lunch, the Bench asked Salve as to what would be the effect on irrigation in Tamil Nadu if the existing dam were de-commissioned. “Zero,” he Salve.

Mullaperiyar: Tamil Nadu agrees on new dam

February 02, 2010

Tamil Nadu Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it will not oppose construction of new dam at Mullapriyar if the control of the dam is given to the state.
Appearing for Tamil Nadu, senior counsel K. Parasaran told a five-judge Constitution Bench, headed by Justice D.K. Jain that the state is ready to provide Kerala with the power generated by the new dam if Kerala is open to the idea of Tamil Nadu controlling the new dam.
During the hearing held last Thursday Tamil Nadu had taken the stance that its dispute with Kerala on the Mullaperiyar Dam was not an interstate water dispute that needed resolution through a water tribunal.
The dispute is only limited to whether the century-old dam can withstand the water pressure up to a height of 142 feet, the counsel for TN had said.