Saturday, April 16, 2011

10p diabetes drug could treat breast cancer patients



Scientists have developed a new test that identifies patients who could benefit from the cheap treatment.

They found that the people whose cancer cells “fed” off high-energy compounds were more likely to see their tumours spread or to die.

This meant they could be helped by being given the diabetes drug, metformin, which stops the “fuel supply” for aggressive cancer cells.

Professor Michael Lisanti, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at the University of Manchester, said: “We’ve shown that the saying, ‘you are what you eat’ holds true for cancer. The food cancer cells consume is crucial to how well a patient does and what treatment they need.

“If cancer cells are consuming high-energy food, this makes a tumour more aggressive and harder to treat. However, patients could benefit from metformin, which cuts off this fuel supply. There is more work to do but this test could be an important new way of tailoring treatments to a patient’s needs, across a range of cancers.”

Last year it was reported that metformin was being tested to see if it can stop the growth of lung cancers.

In a new paper published in the journal Cell Cycle, researchers from Manchester and Thomas Jefferson University in the US describe their attempts to see if it will also help breast cancer sufferers.

They studied 219 breast cancer patients and worked out which ones had tumours that fed on high-energy foods, known as ketones and lactate, found in healthy cells.

The researchers found that the patients whose cancer cells consumed high levels of ketones and lactate were more likely to have their disease return, spread to other organs or die.

This group is most likely to benefit from being given metformin, the standard treatment for Type 2 diabetes that costs as little as 10p a day.

Professor Anthony Howell, Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit in Manchester, said: “It is particularly encouraging that some of those treatments might already be in the doctor’s drug cabinet, and cheap to prescribe.

"We have some way to go but we hope that drugs like metformin will be saving lives of breast cancer patients over the next few years.”

Vodka Redbull lead to more risky behaviour than just alcohol



Researchers found that while physical and mental impairment were no different with the combination, the feeling of intoxication was higher.

This heady mix could lead to greater risk taking and more chance of causing injury or embarrassment.

Professor Cecille Marczinski and her colleagues randomly assigned 56 college student participants between the ages of 21 and 33, to one of four groups.

One received alcohol, the other energy drinks while a third group was given both together and a final group a non-stimulating soft Beveridge.

"The findings from this study provide concrete laboratory evidence that the mixture of energy drinks with alcohol is riskier than alcohol alone," said Prof Marczinski.

"College students need to be aware of the risks of these beverages. Moreover, clinicians who are working with risky drinkers will need to try and steer their clients away from these beverages."

The results were published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Samsung Galaxy S II hands-on review



THE FIRST THING we noticed about Samsung's latest smartphone when we picked it up at The Gadget Show this week was its weight. It is comfortable to hold considering its large screen size but feels worryingly light, which gives the impression of poor quality. But this is easily forgotten and makes other phones seem bulky.

The chassis of the phone is quite plasticky and seemed a bit fragile. We would expect more for our money in this case, with many competing phones coming with better build quality such as an aluminium uni-body.

The Galaxy S II has a 1.2GHz processor that is more than capable of the tasks it has to carry out. We found that browsing the Internet and watching videos were no problem for this smartphone. It can also seek through video in real time with ease and zoom in and out using the built-in gyro, a cool but unnecessary feature.

Navigation around the screens is reasonably easy on Android 2.3 Gingerbread, but when compared with HTC's Sense overlay on Android the Samsung phone just doesn't compete on its user interface.

The 8MP camera on the phone produced great results with bright and sharp photos. The camera is also capable of recording high definition video.

The large 4.2-inch display uses Super AMOLED Plus technology, which we found impressive and lends itself to typing on the onscreen keyboard. The screen is bright, it's a great size for browsing the Internet and is well suited for watching videos.

From our initial look at the Galaxy S II, we'd say it is definitely a decent upgrade from the Galaxy S in a number of areas including the screen, processor, camera and weight. We'll bring you a full review of the handset soon.

Nokia's Pushmail Banned In India



The telecom department has been asked by the home ministry to bar mobile phone companies from launching Nokia's popular messaging service--pushmail/powermail--in India until it put in place a legal monitoring system. “In view of the Intelligence Bureau’s report, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is requested to advice the Telecom Service Providers not to launch Nokia’s proposed pushmail/powermail service without putting in place monitoring facilities to the satisfaction of the LEAs,” ministry of home affairs told the Department of Telecom.

Nokia Messaging is a push e-mail UI that enables mobile users with compatible Nokia phones to manage multiple e-mail accounts. It can mobilise up to 10 e-mail accounts including Gmail, Yahoo!, Rediffmail, Sify and Indiatimes, amongst others.

With about 50 per cent of its E-Series smartphones getting activated for e-mails in the country, the company claims to clock over one lakh activations a month for its messaging e-mail service in India.

"Our push e-mail services are operator-agnostic and can be enjoyed by consumers across operator networks on a host of Nokia devices. We have been working proactively with Government authorities, including setting up servers in India. It is our endeavour at Nokia to comply fully with legal requirements wherever we operate. In offering our services in India, we have adhered to the rules and regulations as required by the Indian Government," the company said in an e-mail response to ET.

BlackBerry chief walks out of interview when asked on India's demand



Research In Motion RIM founder Mike Lazaridis ordered a BBC reporter to stop the interview after he was asked questions about his problems with India and Middle East countries which are seeking access to BlackBerry enterprise emails in view of national security issues."That's just not fair," Mike Lazaridis shot back at BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones when he posed this question to the RIM co-CEO at a recent interview.

Looking sideways, a visibly upset RIM boss said, "First of all, we have no security problem. We've got the most secure platform. We've just been singled out because we're so successful around the world."

When the reporter asked whether he could assume that BlackBerry has no issues with India and Middle East countries, Lazaridis said, "No, we don't... we have just been singled because we are successful around the world. It is an iconic product, it used by businesses, it is used by celebrities, it is used by consumers, it is used by teenagers... we are
just singled out just because of our success."

When the reporter pressed him further on the India question, the BlackBerry chief said, "We are dealing with a lot of issues... we are doing our best to deal with the kind of expertise..."

The RIM co-CEO exploded when the reporter finally asked him whether he could 'confidently tell' and give 'assurance' to BBC listeners in India and the Middle East whether they could continue using the BlackBerry smart phone without any problems in future.

"The interview is over. You can't use that, Rory. It's just not fair. This is a national security issue. Turn that off," the BlackBerry boss told the reporter.

The BBC has posted the video of this portion of the interview on its web site.

The BBC interview followed Lazaridis's recent interview to the New York Times in which he slammed those who are writing off the BlackBerry maker as a 'broken brand'.

Though after many deadlines, RIM has given India access to its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), it has remained non-committal on allowing access to its encrypted corporate service.

India has more than a million BlackBerry users and RIM has set sights on the fast growing market as its share in the North American smart phone market shrinks.

The Canadian wireless giant, whose stock has slipped nearly 20 percent since last month after forecasts of a less-than-spectacular current quarter, is pinning its hopes on its PlayBook tablet due to hit markets in Canada and the US April 19.

Superbug threat: Govt mulls introducing new 'schedule'



New Delhi: The threat of a multi-drug resistant superbug looming large has forced the government to consider introduction of a separate schedule in the existing Drugs Act to regulate and check unauthorised sale of antibiotics in the country.

According to the current law, schedule H of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act contains a list of 536 drugs which are required to be dispensed on the prescriptions of a registered medical practitioner.

In order to have separate regulation to check unauthorised sale of antibiotics, a 'Schedule H1' may be introduced under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, a senior health ministry official told a news agency.

As part of the provisions under this new schedule, a system of colour-coding of third generation antibiotics and all newer molecules like Carbapenems (Ertapenem, Imipenem, Meropenem), Tigecycline, Daptomycin may be put in place restricting their access to only tertiary hospitals, the ministry has proposed.

Appropriate steps would also be taken to curtail the availability of fixed dose combination of antibiotics in the market.

For documenting prescription patterns and establishing a monitoring system for it, consumption of various antibiotics in tertiary care public hospitals in Delhi under the central government would be studied.

The proposal for the separate provisions comes amid the fact that resistance has emerged even to newer, more potent antimicrobial agents like carbapenems.

The factors responsible for this are widespread use and availability of practically all the antimicrobials across the counter meant for human, animal and industrial consumption, the ministry says.

To monitor antimicrobial resistance, it is necessary to have regulations for use and misuse of antibiotics in the country, creation of national surveillance system for antibiotic resistance, mechanism of monitoring prescription audits, regulatory provision for monitoring use of antibiotics in human, veterinary and industrial sectors and identification of specific intervention measures for rational use of antibiotics.

The health ministry has in this regard also constituted a task force to review the current situation regarding manufacture, use and misuse of antibiotics in the country, recommend the design for creation of a National Surveillance System for Antibiotic Resistance, initiate studies documenting prescription patterns and establish monitoring system for the same.

International medical journal 'Lancet' had recently published a study claiming the present of antibiotic-resistant superbug NDM-I in the capital's public water supply system.

Though the Indian Health Ministry has denied its presence as well as questioned the motives of the study, it has led to jitters within the health establishment with the government initiating studies into the report.

Members of the task force, headed by Director General of Health Services (DGHS) R K Srivastava include Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (Member, Board of Governors, MCI), S K Bramhachari (Director General, CSIR), Surender Singh (Drugs Controller General of India) and Randeep Guleria (professor AIIMS).

The group will help formulate a National Antimicrobial Policy which will include understanding emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance and the factors influencing it.

It will also establish a nationwide well coordinated antimicrobial programme with well defined and interlinked responsibilities and functions of different arms of the programme, rationalising the usage of available antimicrobials, reducing antibiotic selection pressures by appropriate control measures and promotion of discovery of newer and effective antimicrobials based on current knowledge of resistance mechanisms.

Study: 2 million babies stillborn every year



More than 2 million babies are stillborn every year worldwide and about half could be saved if their mothers had better medical care, according to researchers' estimates.

While the vast majority of stillbirths happen in the developing world, the rates in countries including Britain, France and the U.S. have not dropped to the degree many experts had expected, as rising obesity levels among pregnant women increase the risk.

Experts say providing better obstetric care, treating conditions like syphilis, high blood pressure and diabetes in mothers, among other strategies, could save more than 1 million infants every year. The research was paid for by organizations including Save the Children, the World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It was published online Thursday in the journal, Lancet.

"It's a scandal there are so many stillbirths that can be prevented," said Joy Lawn, director of global evidence and policy at Save the Children in South Africa, who led the Lancet series. She said the politics of public health has meant the stillbirths problem has been sidelined by maternal and child health programs, even though there are more stillbirths than children killed by AIDS and malaria combined.

In developing countries, most stillbirths are caused by delivery complications, maternal infections in pregnancy, fetal growth problems and congenital abnormalities. In developed countries, the reasons are often unclear why stillbirths occur, and surveillance and autopsy data are patchy.

But the researchers' estimates have a wide margin of error: the numbers range between 2.1 million to 3.8 million stillbirths a year. Those figures are based on reported statistics from 33 countries, largely in the West. For the other 160 countries, where the most stillbirths occur, scientists relied on modeled estimates.

William Easterly, an aid development expert at New York University, said the numbers were based on too little information to be reliable. He was not connected to the research.

"It's basically made-up data," he said.

Easterly said he was glad to see stillbirths on the global agenda, but warned the estimates could distort public health policy.

Finland and Singapore had the lowest stillbirth rates worldwide — two per 1,000 births — while Nigeria and Pakistan were at the bottom of the list, with 42 and 47 stillbirths, respectively, per 1,000 births. In the U.S., there were six per 1,000 births, though the rate is nearly double for blacks.

In an accompanying commentary, Gary Darmstadt of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said it wouldn't cost much to prevent many stillbirths. "If all we did was to provide good-quality care during childbirth, at a cost of less than $1 per head, we could avert 1.4 million deaths of mothers, (babies) and stillbirths," he wrote.

But with weak health systems in countries where most stillbirths occur, Easterly said saving lives wouldn't be that straightforward. "Health technologies don't implement themselves," he said. "The care still needs to be provided by health workers who have very complex motivations in often poor and corrupt health systems."

For Samantha Baker, who had a stillborn daughter, Scarlett, any efforts to understand why stillbirths happen and how to avoid them are welcome. Baker said Scarlett's umbilical cord twisted around her neck and suffocated her when she went into labor.

"I can't think of a worse tragedy to happen to expecting parents," she said. Baker, an accountant in Kent, south of London, now works with Sands, a British charity that supports families affected by stillbirths.

Baker and her husband spent several hours with Scarlett after she was born in December 2009. "The hardest thing was leaving her at the hospital," she said. Three weeks ago, Baker gave birth to a son, Harry. She and her husband also have an older daughter, Sydney.

She hopes the Lancet series will promote more efforts to reduce stillbirths and provide support for stricken families. "Nobody ever wants to talk about (stillborns) because it's so sad," she said. "But not every pregnancy ends happily."

Our addiction to antibiotics created the superbug



In the December 2009 edition of Antimicrobials and Chemotherapy, an article carried the lines: "A Swedish patient of Indian origin travelled to New Delhi, India, and acquired a urinary tract infection caused by a carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae strain." But it was the next line that really caught the attention of the microbiological and infectious disease fraternity: "The isolate, Klebsiella pneumoniae 05-506, was shown to possess a metallo-├čbeta-lactamase (MBL) but was negative for previously known MBL genes."

Of course, beta lactamases are hardly exotic, in fact they traipse around hospital wards with the wild abandon only a microscopic marvel of evolution can exude. But this one, initially named New Delhi Metallo (NDM) beta lactamase (the name has since been changed to Plasmid-encoding Carbapenemase-resistant Metallo-B-Lactamase), was different. This one refused to be put down under the jackboots of modern antibiotics. This one was a fighter. And initial findings suggested it was born and brought up right here in India.

But as news cycles grow and collapse in a rapid sequence, NDM-1 disappeared off the news and into the gaping hole of not-quite-there superbugs. And it stayed there till the April edition of the medical journal Lancet came out.

In their paper Dissemination of NDM-1 positive bacteria in the New Delhi environment and its implications for human health: an environmental point prevalence study, Messrs Walks, Weeks, Livermore, and Toleman, wrote: ‘Not all patients infected with NDM-1-positive bacteria have a history of hospital admission in India, and extended-spectrum -lactamases are known to be circulating in the Indian community. We therefore measured the prevalence of the NDM-1 gene in drinking water and seepage samples in New Delhi.’

They found bacteria with the PCM gene in drinking water and seepage samples in New Delhi. 50 tap water samples and 171 seepage samples were collected from sites within 12 km of central New Delhi. Of these samples, 20 strains of bacteria were found to contain PCM gene in 51 out of 171 seepage samples and 2 out of 50 tap water samples.

If this was a Hollywood movie, it's about now one would have turned to the rest of the group and said: "Gentlemen, I think we'll need a bigger dose of antibiotics."

But to the lay reader, biological acronyms tend to hover meaninglessly in the air, until that is, they hit home. So is NDM-1 the superbug that's going to make the Spanish Flu look like a particularly bad case of the sniffles?

Is it going to make antibiotics redundant? And more importantly, from a historical perspective, did we give it to the world?

The initial reaction to the Lancet findings were apocalyptic to say the least. "The superbug is out of hospitals and on the street", "It's in the water supply and in your home", were just a few of the doomsayers threats.

That naturally led to the conspiracy theorists feeling left out: "It's a Western conspiracy to dent India's nascent health tourism sector", "It's meant to belittle our sanitation facilities"....

Unfortunately for headline writers across the country, the truth may not be all that dramatic.
Bacteriologists argue that beta lactamases have been in existence around the world for years. They were triggered through our abuse of antibiotics.

Beta lactamase is an enzyme released by certain bacteria. This enzyme is capable of crossing over to other bacterial species. And when this happens, an otherwise relatively harmless bacteria becomes a powerful organism or 'superbug'. In short, a superbug does not respond to ordinary antibiotics.
Even elite antibiotics often fail to kill superbugs.

The problem is, NDM-1 has ideas above its station.one of them is that it wants to be a 'superbug'.
The Central government has launched its own study that will confirm or debunk the Lancet's version. But it remains a fact that antibiotic abuse is a problem in India. India has the dubious distinction of being a nation that consumes the highest quantity of antibiotics. Then there's the issue of sanitation, or the lack thereof. Hospital ICUs are colonised by bacteria that are capable of using antibiotics like penicillin as nutrition. Although our municipal authorities claim to test the water regularly, do they have the mechanism to find out whether the bacteria are carrying the superbug gene, NDM-1, or any beta lactamase enzyme.

In the absence of sophisticated culture tests, it will never be known if the water we drink is contaminated by simple bacteria or superbugs. Then there's the issue of abuse of antibiotics in the veterinary sciences. Dairy milk and meat have been found to be contaminated by antibiotic residue. Animal hormones are used for artificial ripening and increasing the size and texture of fruit like mangos, bananas and papaya.

The abuse of antibiotics, scientists cite, is one of the contributory factors for the emergence of superbugs. "There should be checks on the use of broad spectrum antibiotics. Doctors often prescribe broad spectrum antibiotics for problems that require just pathogen-specific antibiotics. And that makes his body resistant to antibiotics. In a way we are responsible for the emergence of superbugs," says senior geneticist, Dr M.N. Khaja.

Unfortunately, due to lack of updated medical knowledge and regular Continuing Medical Education (CME) courses, many doctors fail to recognise the problem when patients approach them for medical help. Medical knowledge is undergoing a sea change thanks to the discovery of new pathogens, changes in the way diseases manifest, and the emergence of drug-resistant ailments.

The Medical Council of India had long-ago proposed holding regular refresher courses for doctors to keep them abreast of developments in the medical world. It had also proposed that only those who attend the refresher course and pass the examination conducted after the course will be eligible for re-registration. But these proposals have been kept in cold storage and many doctors are not informed of the advances in medical science.

"Updating medical knowledge should be made compulsory for doctors. It is worrying that 90 per cent of doctors do not know about new diseases like Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever. When Chikungunya first broke out five years ago, doctors could not recognise it. Dengue has been around for many years, and yet doctors grapple with treatment. The trend is to first administer an antibiotic and if it does not work, change it. In this way doctors experiment with antibiotics and other medicines, indirectly giving birth to superbugs," says senior health activist, V. Satyanarayana.

The Central government has finally woken up to the problem of antibiotic abuse in the backdrop of Lancet's revelation, and is studying the need to bar the random sale of powerful antibiotics. If the Centre has its way, tertiary antibiotics will now be available to only a few important hospitals in the country. Some of the powerful drugs listed under Schedule H will be shifted to a new Schedule (Schedule H1).

General practitioners, small hospitals and the general public will not have access to these antibiotics. This will, to some extent, check the menace of over-the-counter sales of powerful medicines. Some scientists, however, believe that the Lancet study may be flawed. Did those involve in the Lancet study adopted a different yardstick when it came to discovering NDM-1? Indian scientists believe so.

Stating that the foecal-oral route of the transmission of enteric bacteria is not novel, Dr Niyaz Ahmed says it has always posed health risks for centuries, throughout the world. When these phenotypes are seen in Germany, Japan, China and Taiwan, Indian cities cannot remain exceptions.

However, the prevalence in the environment and in hospitals constitutes two different issues. Unfortunately, all the published reports on NDM-1, including the Lancet study, are based on 'convenience sampling'. "When conveniently spotted and potentially suspected sources are picked up as first choice and tested with highly sensitive tools such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and Real Time PCR, it is possible to get positive results even in places such as Switzerland. However, culture or PCR positivity does not mean that a potential epidemic is brewing," he adds.

A senior scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology argues that had the Lancet team been sincere and really scientific in its approach, it would not have compared potable water from India and sewage water from Cardiff, Wales, for the NDM-1 study. "If they want to say sewage water in Europe is better than drinking water in India, it's a different story. But justice and fairness demands that the samples should be identical. They should have first compared Indian drinking water with drinking water samples from Europe, and then after ruling out the presence of NDM-1 in European water samples, they should have gone for sewage effluent sampling," the CCMB scientist said, on condition of anonymity.

But what are the implications of the superbug for you? According to senior physician Dr Aftab Ahmed, it will be a difficult task to treat health problems created by superbugs, as they do not respond even to powerful antibiotics. They, however, are susceptible to a couple of regimes. If these superbugs become resistant to these too, then it will be a Herculean task indeed. "If we do not kill Vibrio cholerae or E. coli in the stomach itself, it will spread to other parts of the body like blood, bones, lungs, heart and kidneys. Even simple diarrhoea caused by superbugs will become harder to treat," he warns.

Before we get lulled into a sense that this discussion has little value outside medical circles and peers looking for a review, here's a number to keep in mind: 100 million. That's the number of people that died of the Spanish Flu worldwide in 1918–19.

Review: Teen Thay Bhai



Teen Thay Bhai is a film so bewildering and tonally inconsistent that as you watch, you can only wonder: what were these people smoking? The story, about three estranged brothers who are forced to spend time together because of their grandfather’s will, must have sounded good on paper. But the film careens wildly going from slapstick to stoner comedy to high emotion to a chest-waxing scene that echoes The 40 Year Old Virgin. And yet, despite the frantic activity, it manages to be staggeringly boring.

Which, given the talent involved, is an absolute shame. The film is produced by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and the brothers Chixie, Happy and Fancy are played by Om Puri, Deepak Dobriyal and Shreyas Talpade.

Each one is etched with affection. The eldest Chixie is described as Bhatinda ka mashoor sadial, while Happy is a bogus dentist who diagnoses every malady as ‘shifting pain’ and Fancy, a Hollywood wannabe, is a small-time actor in Punjabi movies.

The actors, especially Dobriyal, go full throttle. Stray scenes have charm – Happy’s love story, which involves a fire and a haystack is genuinely sweet. But these moments are lost in a screenplay so flat and turgid that you barely notice.

Debutant director Mrighdeep Singh Lamba strains hard to make you laugh – Teen Thay Bhai includes everything from fart jokes to a purposefully loud Ram Leela – but I barely smiled. I’m going with one and a half star.

Angry over cancellation of Akon`s concert, fans protest



Pune: Angry fans, disappointed with the cancellation of popular American songwriter-singer Akon`s concert, protested here tonight, sources close to the artiste said.

Akon was not given permission to perform as the local organizers did not have the necessary foreign artiste performance license, a spokesperson of the event manager said.

Protesting fans created ruckus in the conference hall of a hotel here.

Police, however, said that no official complaint of damage to hotel property has been registered with them and the organizers were refunding the ticket money of the full house.

Akon wants to act in Bollywood movies



Senegalese-American singer Akon, who will be performing in a concert in India, on Friday expressed his desire to act in Bollywood films.

"I am waiting to get into Bollywood movies. I'm not quite sure what character I would want to play...but I definitely want to do it," Akon told reporters in Mumbai.

The 'Smack that' hit maker has worked with composer Aadesh Srivastava and also sang a song for Shah Rukh Khan's forthcoming film "RaOne".

"It was an amazing experience to work with Shah Rukh. Actually he opened me up to Bollywood. I can remember all the Khans. I enjoyed so much that I am trying to get into Bollywood," the singer said.

The R&B singer, who turned 38 on Friday, is celebrating his birthday in Pune, where he is going to perform before over 1,000 people at a private concert in West Inn hotel in the town. "I am very happy to celebrate my birthday here," he said.

Akon, who is here for the The Venky's Akon Live In Concert, will perform in Gurgaon and Bangalore on April 16 and 17 respectively. Proceeds from the concert will be donated to Mana Shetty's NGO 'Save The Children India'.

"India has a great audience...everybody who comes to the show knows every word of every song. It feels great to be back," he said.

The Venky's Akon Live In Concert is being brought to the country by Netsurf Entertainment and B M Group and IVNO Events and Productions, in association with Thrive Entertainment and S Raj Entertainment.

The audience can look forward to groove to thumping hip-hop numbers like 'Beautiful', 'Lonely', 'Right Now', 'Dangerous', 'I am so paid', 'Angel' at the concerts.

India cautious over wheat exports as inflation bites



Any government faced with huge grain stockpiles, strengthening global prices and prospects of record output would be tempted to jump into export markets, but India's policy makers will think twice before opening the floodgates for exports of wheat.

Wheat shipments from the world's second-largest producer could partly fill a gap in global supplies caused by a shortfall in production in key exporters and calm the international market, which has soared almost 60% since April last year.

But India's federal government is expected to tread cautiously and, in the best-case scenario, allow exports of no more than 2-3 million tonne -- just a fraction of the country's estimated 2011 production of around 84 million tonne -- because of surging domestic food prices and exploding demand.

Farm officials, politicians and even economists have urged the government in recent weeks to lift four-year-old curbs on wheat exports, and India has empowered a group of ministers to decide if it should allow exports of wheat this year.

"The biggest constraint exports face is the issues around domestic food inflation," said Luke Matthews, a commodity strategist with Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Sydney. "The Indian government might be reluctant to allow widespread exports whilst domestic food prices are still high."

Inflation is a thorny issue for the Congress-led coalition government as the food price index climbed 9.18% in the year to March 26, even though grain prices were not the key driver.

Benchmark Chicago Board of Trade wheat prices have risen sharply since last June, after a devastating drought in the Black Sea region prompted Russia, usually the world's third-biggest wheat exporter, to ban grain exports.

Crop-damaging floods in Australia, the world's fourth-largest supplier, followed just as the crop was getting ready for harvest in December.

In more recent weeks, wheat crops in the United States, the world's No. 1 exporter and China, the biggest producer , have been coming under stress from erratic weather.

POLICY FLIP-FLOP

With concern over food prices growing across the nation of 1.2 billion people, the government has backtracked on its decisions about, and even slowed approvals of, grain exports.

In July 2009, the federal government lifted a ban on wheat exports, but reimposed the curbs within 10 days on concerns food prices may rise as the seasonal monsoon rains fail.

India has spent months deliberating sugar exports policy after an initial announcement in December. Last month, authorities finally decided to ship half a million tonne of sugar -- a tiny part of India's total output of about 25 million tonne-- but have yet to issue an official notification.

"I am not too gung-ho about wheat exports, with inflation around 10%. We are not sure about the government's decision," said Atul Chaturvedi, chief executive for farm business at Adani Enterprises, India's biggest exporter of agricultural products.

"Logically, it makes sense to export but logic sometimes doesn't work. Look at sugar, there is so much flip-flop in the policy."

Wheat exports have been banned since February 2007, when adverse weather conditions hit production and the government had to turn to costly imports.

Since then, five consecutive harvests have run ahead of domestic demand and warehouses have filled. The government has had to store the grain under tarpaulin, and its bulging stocks have begun to rot.

Wheat reserves swelled to 17.2 million tonne by March 1, more than double a government target of 8.2 million tonne. That, combined with forecasts of a record harvest of 84.3 million tonne in 2011, has prompted industry and trade to demand that export curbs be lifted.

India grows only one wheat crop in a year, with planting in September-October and harvest from March. Purchases of the grain by private traders and state-run Food Corp. of India, the main grain procurement agency, pick up only after mid-April.

The Food Corp. buys grains from local farmers at a fixed price to build reserves for emergency needs, to run various welfare programmes and protect growers from distressed sale.

Food Corp. is expected to buy 26.0 million tonne from farmers in 2011 against 22.5 million tonne in the previous year, government officials say.

Agency purchases have got off to a slow start so far. It has bought 661,000 tonne of wheat since April, when the new season purchases began, down from 1.3 million tonne a year ago.

In India wheat is primarily grown in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.

Traders said the authorities were likely to allow wheat exports of around 2 million to 3 million tonne. "They may do it in tranches, like first announcing wheat exports of 2-3 million tonne," said DP Singh, president of the All-India Grain Exporters Association.

Still, some trading firms have already started building stocks by buying wheat from wholesale markets in anticipation that the government will allow private traders to sell cargoes in the international market.

"With such buoyant production estimates, there is a strong possibility of exports and more private traders will buy wheat," said Veeresh Hiremath, research head of Karvy Comtrade, a brokerage based in the western city of Ahnedabad.

ABCIL buys Kanoria Chemical's division



Aditya Birla Chemicals (India) (ABCIL) has acquired the Chloro Chemicals division (CCD) of Kanoria Chemicals & Industries for a cash consideration of Rs.830 crore. Aditya Birla Chemicals currently makes chlor alkali at its plant at Rehla in Jharkhand.

According to a release, the Chloro Chemicals division of Kanoria is located at Renukoot, Uttar Pradesh, and makes chlor-alkalis, chlorine derivatives and water treatment chemicals.

The annual capacity of caustic soda at the facility is 1.15 lakh tonnes. It is a cost competitive manufacturer with captive power plants and coal linkage and forward integration into value adding chlorine derivatives. ABCIL will finance the transaction from internal accruals and borrowings. The transaction will be done on a slump sale basis and is expected to be completed towards the end of May.

CCD's revenues for 2009-10 were Rs.303 crore and the acquisition will take ABCIL's total caustic soda capacity to 2.20 lakh tonnes from 1.05 lakh tonnes per annum (tpa).For value addition and effective utilisation of chlorine, ABCIL manufactures aluminium chloride and stable bleaching powder.

Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Aditya Birla Group, said, “A compelling strategic fit, this acquisition further strengthens our group's standing in the chlor alkali / caustic soda sector. This acquisition solidifies the group's position as the country's largest producer of chlor alkali. It is a critical input in the aluminium sector. Given our large expansion plans for our aluminium business, this serves as an excellent sourcing point besides, of course, bolstering our capacity to service our customers. The business has potential for both growth in revenues and earnings.” Lalit Naik, Business Head for Chemicals, Aditya Birla Group, said, “the unit offers significant potential and infrastructure to expand the business which will serve the increasing need for caustic soda, both within our group and for external market. In addition, we also expect significant operational synergies on account of logistics and other cost savings.”

Caustic soda is one of the essential inputs for the manufacture of alumina and is also used widely in various other industries. CCD's manufacturing facility at Renukoot, and over and above the existing demand in alumina in that region, several new alumina manufacturing facilities are also coming up in the eastern part of India, which provides significant growth opportunities. Besides, there is a growing demand for chlorine derivatives.

Sensex slides 310 pts on weak infy guidance, inflation nos



Indian equity benchmarks shattered after the IT bellwether Infosys' disappointing earnings per share guidance for FY12 and spike up in inflation numbers on Friday. Unwinding pressure and build up of shorts halted the Wednesday's surprised rally by erasing more than 75% of gains on the Nifty in today's trade.

The 50-share NSE Nifty shed more than 100 points during the day to hit a day's low of 5806, before closing at 5,824.55, down 86.95 points or 1.47%, dragged down by 42 stocks out of 50.

Mitesh Thacker of miteshthacker.com feels that the market might be in the range of 5750-5910 for next few days.

"Clearly 5900 is the level to watch for an upside breakout. Though with CNX IT and lot of IT heavy weights chart has been damaged which might take a bit more of consolidation before the markets eventually cross those levels. On the downside - 5750-5760 is a very good level, the 200 DMA is at about 5730. So there are early signs of a range being developing over here. For the next few days we might be in this range."

Fourth quarter numbers and guidance for FY12 from the India's second largest IT services exporter Infosys dampened the mood on the Dalal Street today. The stock tumbled nearly 10%, to settle below the Rs 3,000 a share, which shed more than Rs 18,500 crore in market cap

Infosys reported a net profit of Rs 1,818 crore up 17.1% year-on-year, while revenue was up 22% on year to Rs 7,250 crore in the fourth quarter. Analysts had expected the company’s net profit at Rs 1,856 crore on revenue of Rs 7,447 crore for the fourth quarter, according to a CNBC-TV18 poll.

Infosys has guided for an earnings per share of Rs 126.05-128.21 for 2011-12, while many analysts had projected an EPS of close to Rs 145-150.

Analysts say they are likely to lower their 2011-12 (April-March) earnings expectations for Infosys Technologies since the guidance is way below what they were expecting.

"A downgrade is most likely to happen. An EPS of Rs 150 is out of the way now. We will be surprised if Infosys even manages Rs 140 a share," said Shindadkar of ICICI Securities.

"Infosys results, guidance will kind of come and go but it will not have as damaging effect on the IT sector and on the markets as a whole as it use to have earlier," Dipan Mehta, member BSE, NSE told CNBC-TV18.

Country's largest IT services exporter TCS slipped just 1.55%, much lesser as compared to Infosys' fall. Experts believe TCS will report better numbers than Infosys. Wipro plunged 4.8% and HCL Tech was down 3%.

The 30-share BSE Sensex slipped 310.04 points or 1.57%, to end at 19,386.82. The broader indices were marginally in the red. For the week, benchmark indices fell 0.3%.

Inflation was the second reason that added more fuel to the fire. The wholesale price index (WPI) for the year rose to 8.98% in March as against 8.31% in February on higher fuel and manufactured product prices. The reading for January was upwardly revised to 9.35% from 8.23%.

Jonathan Cavenagh senior forex strategist for institutional forex sales-Asia at Westpac Institutional Bank, said this was a pretty strong inflation print for India—9% versus 8.36%. “RBI won't be too happy with that and more broadly inflation is proving to be quite sticky around this 8-9% level, despite what could be considered an aggressive tightening cycle since early 2010. I don't think this does INR much good as Indian equities are coming off on the back of this data. So I wouldn't be surprised to see USD/INR higher and/or INR underperform other Asian currencies."

Sonal Varma, India Economist, Nomura Financial Advisory & Securities (India) said that RBI was expected to hike rates by 25 basis points (bps) on May 3, 2011.

The Nifty April Futures ended at 5825 with addition of 4.63% in open interest on the short side. Nifty 5900 call was the most active call on back of huge call writing. However, the Nifty 5800 Put saw 12% cut in open interest indicating put writers had to cover their short positions built up on Wednesday.

Heavyweights ONGC, ICICI Bank, NTPC, HDFC and HUL were down 1-2%. DLF, Maruti, Tata Motors, Reliance Communications, SAIL, Sun Pharma, SAIL and DLF too lost 1-2.5%.

Siemens plunged 4% after the open offer. Sources told CNBC-TV18 that open offer book has received 9.93 crore shares as against book of 6.7 crore shares. LIC and UTI tendered 100% of their holdings in open offer and Siemens promoters successfully raised stake to 75% via open offer.

However, Hero Honda gained another 5.5% today after it has approved a dividend of Rs 70 per share. Bharti, ITC, Bajaj Auto, L&T, Jaiprakash Associates and Dr Reddy's Labs were top gainers, with rising 0.5-1.5%.

In midcap space, Hathway Cable, Fresenius Kabi, HMT, Redington and Himadri Chemical gained 6-11% while Kwality Dairy cracked 14%. Unichem Labs, Core Projects, Indiabulls Financial and DB Realty slipped 4-5%.

In smallcap space, Uflex, Timken, C Mahendra Exports, Gemini Comm and Balaji Telefilm rallied 10-13%. However, Prraneta Inds, Banco Products, Atlanta, Infinite Computer and Kanani Industries lost 6-11%.

About 1352 shares advanced as against 1601 shares declined on the Bombay Stock Exchange.

India, Kazakhstan Sign Nuclear, Oil Pacts



Astana : Embarking on an ambitious roadmap to consolidate their strategic partnership, India and Kazakhstan today signed seven pacts, including a framework agreement in civil nuclear field and a stake-sharing accord in oil sector, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying there was “vast potential” for cooperation in all areas.

At wide-ranging talks between Singh and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, the two sides also decided to work for pushing the bilateral trade, which was currently as low as USD 300 million, through engagement of governments and business communities and diversifying to non-oil sectors like pharma, agriculture and IT.

The two leaders discussed a host of issues during their talks, which were first restricted and then delegation level, covering bilateral matters and international issues like developments in Libya and other North African countries and Afghanistan.

Summing up the talks, Singh said in a statement to the press that there was “solid and substantive outcome” that will help build on the strategic partnership forged during the visit of Nazarbaev to India in January 2009.

The two sides signed an inter-governmental agreement for Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, that envisages a legal framework for supply of fuel, construction and operation of atomic power plants, exploration and joint mining of uranium, exchange of scientific and research information, reactor safety mechanisms and use of radiation technologies for healthcare.

After the talks, the Kazakh President announced that his country would supply India with 2100 tonnes of uranium and was ready to do more.
India and Kazakhstan already have civil nuclear cooperation since January 2009 when Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Kazakh nuclear company KazAtomProm signed an MoU during the visit of Nazarbaev to Delhi. Under the contract, KazAtomProm supplies uranium which is used by Indian reactors.

Ever since the Nuclear Supplies Group (NSG) ended India’s 34-year-old isolation in 2008 by giving a one-time waiver to have cooperation in civil nuclear field, it has signed such civil nuclear agreements with a number of countries including the US, France, Russia, Canada, Argentina and Mongolia.

Another highlight of the talks was a package of three agreements signed by India and Kazakhstan in the hydrocarbon sector. Under these, ONGC Videsh Limited would acquire 25 per cent stake in Satpayev oil block in Caspian Sea. The two sides also signed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, with the Prime Minister saying that they had agreed to intensify dialogue in counter-terrorism and drug trafficking.

A Joint Action Plan for Furthering Strategic Partnership was also unveiled which outlines the projects to be undertaken by the both sides during 2011 and 2014 in a range of sectors, including civil nuclear energy, hydrocarbons, cyber-security, IT, high-tech and pharmaceuticals.

As part of enhancing ties in the field of IT, Singh said he had offered to set up a joint IT Centre of Excellence in the Eurasian University in Astana.

He said he had also conveyed India’s interest to benefit from the Customs Union among Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus. In his opening remarks at the delegation-level talks, Singh said India attaches very high importance to its relations with Kazakhstan and “there is a vast potential for cooperation” between the two countries.

On his first official visit here, Singh told the Kazakh President that he had “come to the great country” to “build on the success” of his landmark state visit to New Delhi in 2009. He hailed Nazarbaev as a “very distinguished world leader” and congratulated him again for his re-election, saying it was “a tribute to confidence reposed in your leadership by the people of Kazakhstan.”

Nazarbaev said the current bilateral trade did not reflect the real potential and Kazakhstan was interested in expanding ties in all areas and particularly identified energy, high-tech and pharma as sectors holding promise. PTI

Obama Says Gaddafi Is Feeling Pressure To Leave



Chicago  : President Barack Obama says a military stalemate exists on the ground in Libya, but the United States and NATO have averted a “wholesale slaughter” and Muammar Gaddafi is under increasing pressure to leave.  Obama tells The Associated Press he doesn’t see a need to resume direct US participation in enforcing the no-fly zone, saying it’s assisting with intelligence, jamming and refuelling.

He acknowledges there’s essentially a stalemate there, but adds that the NATO operation is less than a month old.  Obama says Gaddafi is “getting squeezed in all different kinds of ways,” asserting he’s running out of money and supplies.

The president also says he’s confident that Gaddafi ultimately will be forced to surrender power and that there’s no need for a change in US policy at this time.

NATO Leaders Vow To Oust Gaddafi, Libyan Army Pounds Misurata



Tripoli : Leaders of US, UK and France today vowed to intensify the military campaign in Libya to force Muammar Gaddafi to quit as NATO bombed the capital Tripoli amid massive pounding by government troops of besieged western town of Misurata and key eastern city of Ajdabiya For the second day in a row, pro-Gaddafi forces pounded Misurata, killing at least eight people.

A local doctor said seven other civilians, including children and older people, were wounded today in the attacks on Libya’s third-biggest city that has been the scene of major fighting between rebels and Gaddafi’s forces for several weeks.

Al Jazeera quoted residents as saying that around 120 rockets shelled Misurata. Pro-government troops also shelled the coastal city yesterday, with dozens of Grad-type rockets, killing at least 23 people, the Arab channel quoted a rebel spokesman as saying.

Gaddafi’s forces also opened fire on rebels near the frontline of Ajdabiya, the gateway to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, killing one, opposition fighters said.  Even as the 28-member NATO alliance squabbled over intensifying the military operations, it launched three new air strikes in and around the Libyan capital, striking a missile battery and two other targets.

France and Britain want to extend air strikes to the logistics and decision centres of Gaddafi’s army, rather than start arming Libyan rebels, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet was quoted as saying by the pan-Arab channel today.  Amid differences among world powers over the air strikes in Libya, US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron made it clear that there can be no peace in the country till Gaddafi stepped down.

In a jointly written article published in the International Herald Tribune, they said leaving Gaddafi in power would be an “unconscionable betrayal” of the Libyan people.

“It is unthinkable that someone who has tried to massacre his own people can play a part in their future government,” the leaders wrote in an opinion piece released yesterday.

“So long as Gaddafi is in power, NATO and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds,” they said.

However, the Libyan leader’s daughter Aisha dismissed “talk about Gaddafi stepping down”, saying it was “an insult to all Libyans because Gaddafi is not in Libya, but in the hearts of all Libyans”.

The alliance is struggling to overcome differences over the Libya mission, with Britain and France seeking more strikes by other NATO nations, particularly the U.S.  Even as the 28-member NATO alliance squabbled over intensifying the military operations, it launched three new air strikes in and around the Libyan capital, striking a missile battery and two other targets, Al Jazeera said.

France and Britain want to extend air strikes to the logistics and decision centres of Gaddafi’s army, rather than start arming Libyan rebels, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet was quoted as saying by the pan-Arab channel today. PTI

Over 97 Lakh Voters To Cast Ballots In First Phase Poll In WB



Kolkata : Amidst tight security, 54 assembly constituencies spread across six districts in West Bengal will go to polls in the first phase tomorrow with 97.42 lakh voters expected to exercise their franchise.  The main contest is between CPI-M-led Left Front and Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance. BJP has also fielded candidates in 49 seats.

Multi-cornered contests are on the cards in all 54 constituencies in the first phase which would decide the fate of ten ministers. In all, 364 candidates are in the fray in the 54 seats.

Tight security arrangements have been made to ensure peaceful, free and fair polling in all the constituencies spread across north Bengal districts of Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling,  North Dinjapur, South Dinajpur and Malda.A total of 12,133 polling centres have been set up in the six districts.

Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Kumar Gupta said central and other security forces have reached the areas going to the polls and started flag march and area domination.  Inter-state and international borders have been sealed.

He said 16 polling booths are located in remote hilly terrain in Darjeeling and in Kalimpong and polling personnel had been despatched there on Saturday.  The election is being held in the backdrop of slogans for bringing in political change and witnessed high-voltage campaign.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi besides senior party leader and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee hit the campaign trail to canvas for the alliance candidates.

Blaming the Left Front for Bengal’s ‘under-development’, Gandhi promised that the Congress-Trinamool alliance would make Bengal an advanced state if voted to power.

During his campaign, Rahul Gandhi criticised the LF for its ‘misrule’ and said this election will bring an end to the CPI(M)-led government.

Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee toured the entire north Bengal to campaign for alliance.  Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee did not campaign for the Left candidates in north Bengal. Among the Left leaders who canvassed included CPI-M politburo member Brinda Karat, Sitaram Yechury and state Housing Minister Gautam Deb.Prominent BJP leaders who took part in electioneering included L K Advani, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and Arun Jaitley besides Hema Malini. PTI

Former Jaipur Ruler Maharaja Bhawani Singh Passes Away



Jaipur : The former ruler of Jaipur Brigadier (Retd) Maharaja Bhawani Singh passed away on Saturday night at the Medicity hospital in Gurgaon near Delhi, doctors said.

Bhawani  Singh, 80, was admitted to the hospital as he was not keeping well for some time. He breathed his last at aroun 1 am, family sources said, according to India TV correspondent Sangeeta Pranavendra.

Bhawani Singh was successor to the last Maharajah of Jaipur Sawai Man Singh II.  He is survived by his wife Padmini Devi and daughter Diya Kumari. The last rites will be performed on Monday here.

Brigadier Sawai Bhawani Singh Bahadur, MVC (born 1931) was the last titular Maharaj of Jaipur  and head of the  Kachwaha clan of Rajputs.

 The title technically ended when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi abolished the privy purses of all former rulers. Royal entitlements were abolished along with  privy purses through a constitutional  amendment in 1971. However, the erstwhile maharaja was considered a political, cultural, and religious icon in modern  Rajasthan  and he was sometimes still referred to in the media as His Highness, The Maharaja of Jaipur.

Born to Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II  and his first wife, Marudhar Kanwar of  Jodhpur,  Bhawani was educated at  The Doon School, Dehradun  and later Harrow School.

As the first male heir born to a reigning Maharaja of Jaipur for generations (all others, including his father, who was originally a minor noble, were adopted), his birth was a celebrated event in Jaipur, where the fountains of the royal palaces flowed with champagne in his honor giving him the nickname Bubbles.

As a young man, Crown Prince Bhawani Singh served in the Indian Army and received numerous honors, including a promotion to the Presidential Bodyguards in 1954, and the post of  Adjutant at Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.

 In 1968, Bhawani was second-in-command of the 10th Parachute Regiment  (Commando) one of the 3 elite Special Forces  battalions in India at the time, and became the Commanding Officer (CO) later in 1968.

In the Indo-Pak war of 1971,   Bhawani Singh led his troops deep inside Pakistani territory in the Sindh province  of Pakistan, attacking and destroying many Pakistani posts.

For this, he was awarded India's second-highest gallantry award, the Mahavir Chakra.  He was promoted to the rank of  Brigadier  in 1974. In his retirement, he also served as Indian High commissioner to Brunei  from 1994-1997

Bhawani Singh ascended the throne of  Jaipur in 1970 following the death of his father, and remained the official Maharaja until the abolition of the privy purse and royal entitlements by the Centre, although he remains generally honored like most other erstwhile rulers.

He married Princess Padmini Devi of Sirmaur, Himachal Pradesh on 10 March 1966 in a ceremony held at Delhi.  She was the daughter of his father's polo-playing friend Maharaj Rajendra Singh by his wife Maharani Indira Devi.  The royal couple have one daughter, Princess Diya Kumari (b. 30 January 1971).

In 1997, Princess Diya married  Narendra Singh Rajawat , a commoner and very distant cousin who had been a member of the household staff of the Maharaja of Jaipur.  He is a son of Thakur Buddha Singh of Kotda village in Tonk district; the father had earlier served as a guard at the city palace.  They have three children: Kumar Padmanabh Singh, Laksh Raj Singh and a daughter Gorvi Devi

Bhawani Singh continued to run, like his father, many palaces as hotels, including the Rambagh Palace,  Raj Mahal palace, or other former royal residences.  Bhawani Singh used to conduct several ceremonies and customs from the traditional seat of royal power, the sprawling City Palace. He was also involved in local politics, as was his late stepmother, Gayatri Devi, who passed away a few years ago.

Following his retirement from the army Bhawani Singh contested the  Lok Sabha elections in the year 1989 on a Congress party ticket but lost to a commoner Girdhari Lal Bhargav, the local BJP leader.

He then retired from active politics and devoted his time to his family and the nurturing of Jaipur's traditional arts and heritage.

17 Coins Extracted From Youth's Stomach In UP



Aligarh :  Doctors at the Narayani Hospital here were surprised to find 17 coins inside the stomach of a 20-year-old youth Avinash from Jalesar near Etah in Uttar Pradesh, reports India TV correspondent Pradeep Saraswat.

Avinash had been stealing coins from his friends for the last six years, doctors said. His secret was out when he suffered stomach disorder ten days ago  and was asked to undergo  an ultrasound test.

Seventeen coins of Re 1, Rs 2, 50 paise, 20 paise and 10 paise were extracted from his stomach by the surgeons.

Says Dr Sanjeev Garg of Narayani Hospital: "Because of the coins lying in his stomach his intestines had got infected. We are giving him treatment for this and he is now improving".

Avinash told India TV that he had this habit of stealing coins from his friends while playing 'kancha'(glass balls) with them. Gradually he got addicted to such thefts, he said.

 
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