Saturday, August 2, 2008

Abraham Mar Paulose: Children the Priority

Dr. Abraham Mar Paulose celebrated Holy Communion at the Annanagar Mar Thoma Church yesterday, Sunday 20th July. It was his first visit to the parish after his consecration as a bishop in 2005. As the youngest bishop of the Church, he expressed his concern for the place of children in the Church. He lamented that it has been the Sunday School which is often canceled when a special function happens in a Church. As the General Secretary of the Mar Thoma Sunday School Samajam, then priest Rev. Dr. K U. Abraham, he has made significant contributions to the children's ministry. The Children's Maramon which he organized in 2005 became a land mark in the history of the Sunday school, which attracted almost a lakh of children. In his sermon he challenged the members to go beyond the traditional concepts of ministry. He pointed out that the programmes and projects of the Church are not the ministry. Those are only some expressions of the ministry of love. The meaning and success of a project is not how effieciently it was executed, but with what purpose and concern it was organized. He has also referred to the recent tension between the church and state in Kerala. The churches need to rethink its mission and ministerial function in the light of the criticisms raised against the schools and colleges run by them. Accumulating and preserving power and property are not the mission of the Church, rather risking them for the sake of Christ. Bishop is a well groomed speaker, who has been trained by the Balajana Sakhyam, the most influential secular organization for children in Kerala. Also he was actively involved in student union activities at the university level, now having very high ranking politicians of Kerala as his friends. Even as a bishop he boldly expresses his opinion on the political and social issues in society. His leadership qualities will certainly help the church in the contemporary period to give effective leadership in the ecumenical circles. We wish him all the best in his new endeavors to make the Church meaningful and effective.

Felix Wilfred Festschrift and Padma Shri Prof. Dr. Anandakrishnan

A Festschrift in honour of Dr. Felix Wilfred on his 60th birth anniversary was released at the Senate Hall of the University of Madras on 22nd July 2008 . Dr. Felix Wilfred retired recently from the University, having served the Department of Christian Studies since its inception in 1993 and as its Head from 2003. Dr. Wilfred is widely known as an Indian Christian theologian who is conversant with Indian traditional philosophy as well as subaltern traditions. He is also a member of the Research Committe (SATHRI) of the Senate of Serampore College (University). He is currently the President of the editorial board of Concilium, the renowned theological review published in seven European languages. Dr. Felix Wilfred himself is a multilinguist knowing more than a dozen languages including Indian, Biblical and European. Felix has to his credit till date published 15 books, more than 250 articles, edited 7 volumes and 25 issues of journals, presented more than 200papers, and guided 25 Ph. D. Theses. He also serves as the member of the Statutory Ethical Committee of the IIT, Chennai and of the Anna University from 2006. He is also a member of UNESCO. After retiring from the University he now serves as the founding Director of Asian Centre for Cross-cultural Studies at Panayur, Chennai, besides serving the many National and International Catholic Theological Associations. Archbishop A. M. Chinnappa of the Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese acclaimed him as "a courageous and perceptive theologian who interprets Christianity and its teaching to the local context of life in a meaningful and relevant way." Archbishop also has pointed out that Felix is a "theologian who has led us to think about inculturation in a new way. A scholar who has pursued a scientific approach to the study of religions and has highlighted the potentialities of religions for social transformation." Dr. K. Rajaratnam, Director Emeritus of Gurukul and Director of CReNIEO (Centre for Research on New International Economic Order) was one of the speakers. He hailed Felix as a theologian who has attempted to restore the gospel theme of the liberation of the oppressed as the primary concern of theology. Rajaratnam described Prof. Padma Shri Anandakrishanan who gave the Keynot address as one of the best speakers of India. Anandakrishnan is now chairman of MIDS and IIT Kanpur. (To read excerpts from the Key note address titled,"Interdisciplinary Approach to Knowledge: An Ethical Perspective" click here ). Prof. Dr. S. Ramachandran, Vice-Chancellor of the University released the Festschrift. Dr. G. Patrick, Head i/c, Department of Christian Studies, Dr. M. Ranganatham, Registrar i/c of the University, Dr. D. Aphonse, Principal St. Paul's College, Trichy, Dr. Chitra Krishnan, Head, French Department, Dr. Cruz Hieroniumus, Biblical Scholar, Fr. Xavier Arulraj, Chairman, Tamil Nadu Miniorities Economic Development Corporation Ltd., were other speakers.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Carl Hodges Farming a saltwater plant that could feed the world and its vehicles

Indian Express - Indian Newspapers in English Language from five editions



Posted online: Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 1304 hrs Print Email

Farming a saltwater plant that could feed the world and its vehicles, a physicist from the Arizonian dust bowl dreams of greening desert coastlines

A few miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, amid cracked earth and mesquite and sun-bleached cactus, neat rows of emerald plants sprout from the desert floor. The crop is salicornia. It is nourished by seawater flowing from a man-made canal. And if you believe the American who is farming it, this swath of green has the potential to feed the world, fuel our vehicles and slow global warming.

He is Carl Hodges, a Tucson, Arizona-based atmospheric physicist who has spent most of his 71 years figuring out how humans can feed themselves in places where good soil and fresh water are in short supply. The founding director of the University of Arizona’s Environmental Research Lab, his work has attracted heads of state, corporates and Hollywood stars, among them Martin Sheen and the late Marlon Brando.

Hodges’ knack for making things grow in odd environments has been on display at the Land Pavilion in the Epcot theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida and the Biosphere 2 project in Arizona. Here in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, he wants to channel the ocean into man-made “rivers” to nourish commercial aquaculture operations and crops that produce food and fuel. This greening of desert coastlines, he said, could add millions of acres of productive farmland and sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide. It also could neutralise sea-level rise.

Analysing recent projections of ice melt occurring in the Antarctic and Greenland, Hodges calculates that diverting the equivalent of three Mississippi rivers inland would do the trick. He figures that would require 50 good-sized seawater farms that could be built within a decade if the world gets cracking. “This is the big idea” that humanity has been waiting for, he believes.

Experts including Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center, say seawater agriculture could prove to be an important weapon in the fight against climate change. Hodges already has built such a farm in Africa. Political upheaval there shut much of it down in 2003. He’s determined to construct a showcase project in North America. All he needs now is $35 million. That’s where salicornia comes in.

A so-called halophyte or salt-loving plant, the briny succulent thrives in hellish heat and pitiful soil on little more than a regular dousing of ocean water. Several countries are experimenting with salicornia and other saltwater-tolerant species as sources of food. Known in some restaurants as sea asparagus, salicornia can be eaten fresh or steamed, squeezed into cooking oil or ground into a high-protein meal.

Hodges, who heads the nonprofit Seawater Foundation, plugged salicornia as the plant to help end world hunger. When oil prices exploded, he saw his shot to lift the shrub from obscurity. Salicornia can be converted into biofuel. And, unlike grain-based ethanol, it doesn’t need rain or prime farmland, and it doesn’t distort global food markets. NASA has estimated that halophytes planted over an area the size of the Sahara Desert could supply more than 90 per cent of the world’s energy needs.

Last year, Hodges formed a for-profit company called Global Seawater Inc to produce salicornia biofuel in liquid and solid versions. It recently planted 1,000 acres of salicornia in rural Sonora. That crop will provide seed for a major venture planned 50 miles north in the coastal city of Bahia Kino. Global Seawater is attempting to lease or buy 12,000 acres there for what it envisions will be the world’s largest seawater farm.

The plan is to cut an ocean canal into the desert to nourish commercial ponds of shrimp and fish. The effluent would be channelled further inland to fertilise fields of salicornia for biofuel. The seawater’s next stop would be man-made wetlands. These mangrove forests could be “sold” to polluters to meet emissions cuts mandated by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. “Nothing is wasted,” Hodges said. Global Seawater already has a small refinery to process salicornia oil into liquid biodiesel, which Hodges believes can be produced for at least one-third less than the current market price of crude oil. Leftover plant material would be converted into solid biofuel “logs” that he said burned cleaner than coal or wood.

NASA is interested in testing fuel from Hodges’ halophyte. So are cement makers and other heavy industries. Retired executives from major corporations are helping Global Seawater raise capital. But some environmentalists are dubious. Channeling millions of gallons of seawater inland could have unintended consequences for fragile deserts, said biologist Exequiel Ezcurra, former head of Mexico’s National Ecology Institute. Hodges says his project has met all environmental requirements posed by Mexico. His work on shrimp cultivation fuelled the explosion in Mexico’s aquaculture industry. The leader of Abu Dhabi sent his lab $3.6 million on a handshake to build a saltwater greenhouse system for growing vegetables.

Bushnell praised Hodges’ science as “superb” but said algae might prove to be the best plant-based biofuel because it can produce much more fuel per acre. Hodges is “a pioneer,” Bushnell said, “but first-movers generally aren’t the successful ones at the end.” Said Sheen, “We have to be outrageous in our efforts to solve” climate change. “Carl is on a mission to save the world.”
-Marla Dickerson (los Angeles Times)

Somnath Chatterjee

Indian Express - Indian Newspapers in English Language from five editions


Subrata Nagchoudhury

Posted online: Sunday, July 27, 2008 at 1300 hrs Print Email

The CPI(M) expelled Somnath Chatterjee last week but he has always been on the fringes of the party he joined in 1968. Subrata Nagchoudhury profiles the Speaker who was never afraid to speak his mind

ONE of the many portals that hosts the profile of Somanth Chatterjee is the Lok Sabha website. The profile on the Speaker has a column on his special interests and among them is listed ‘law and civil liberties.’
Law and the spirit of liberty were probably the two things that defined those tense moments for Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee when Parliament held the trust vote on Tuesday. If the UPA Government stood firm on its resolve to go ahead with the vote, so did the Speaker. This, despite an intimidating but unwritten diktat from his own party hanging over his head.
It was the call of liberty that had brought Somnath Chatterjee’s father N C Chatterjee and CPI(M) patriarch Jyoti Basu on the same platform. Old timers recall that when the communist party was banned in 1948 and there were illegal detention of communist cadres, N C Chatterjee formed the All India Civil Liberties Union to fight those cases of violations. When the ban was lifted in 1951, it was Basu who moved the petition for the release of the detainees and N C Chatterjee was one of the prime legal movers, even though the two had different political beliefs—Chatterjee was the founding member of the Hindu Mahasabha.
It was hardly a surprise that Basu became Somnath Chatterjee’s mentor when he entered politics in 1968, soon after the first United Front Government came to power in West Bengal in 1967. Chatterjee’s legal expertise and resources proved to be an asset for the party and Basu designed a profile for him in the party to be based in Delhi.

SOMNATH Chatterjee may have joined the Communists but it was from clear from the beginning that he wasn’t quite one of them. He did not belong to the cult of those hardcore, dogmatic apparatchiks. In fact, he was from the breed of aristocratic, foreign-bred, legal luminaries, much like Basu himself. Chatterjee’s wife Renu comes from the old Rajbari (royal family) of Lalgola in Murshidabad district. Though she has hardly been seen in public life, she was at her husband’s side throughout the current crisis.
A man of many interests, Chatterjee has followed them even as he chartered his political career. He has even brought out a music album with his youngest daughter Anushilla—he did not sing, of course, only lent his imperious baritone to the narration. The CD, Je Ache Antare (The One Within), was released by Jyoti Basu. Music aside, Chatterjee is also a sports enthusiast. He has for long been a member of the executive committee of Mohun Bagan Athletic Club and the Cricket Association of Bengal.
Chatterjee’s elder daughter Anuradha Bhattacharya is a creative designer in jute products and stays with her father in Delhi while Chatterjee’s son, Pratap, is a practising lawyer in the Kolkata High Court.
Educated in Kolkata, Chatterjee later went to the UK to earn an MA degree from Cambridge University and a Barrister-at-Law from Middle Temple. It was more of the “utility factor,” as put by a party insider, that ensured Chatterjee a solid berth in the party. Chatterjee was to look after the party’s legal needs, particularly in Delhi in addition to his parliamentary responsibility.
In a way Chatterjee’s aristocratic upbringing was his undoing too within the party hierarchy. He probably never aspired nor rose to be a mass leader. His natural flamboyance and confidence, emanating largely out of his patronage by Jyoti Basu, made him a personality distinct from others in the party. A perfect Bengali bhadralok (genteel folk), his way of functioning as an MP was also different from his flock’s. For example, during his visits to Bolpur, his constituency, he would often hold “durbars”, listening to the grievances of his voters in the manner of Congress MPs of yore. He would try to mitigate their woes, prescribe solutions or follow up cases on his own instead of going through the customary party channels. The local CPI(M) unit often complained he ignored them and as a result, lowered their importance in public perception.
But Chatterjee could not care less. The lack of his mass base kept him “an outsider” within the communist hierarchy despite his long association of nearly four decades with the CPI(M). The coveted Politburo berth eluded him. It was only by virtue of his position as the leader of the Lok Sabha that he could make it to the Central Committee of the party. Even here, he himself opted out after being elected the Speaker in 2004.
He entered the national political arena with his election to the Lok Sabha in 1971. Since then he has entered the Lower House 10 times. From 1989 to 2004, he was the leader of the CPI(M) in the Lok Sabha. His margin of victory in successive elections is a measure of his popularity in Bolpur constituency. In the 2004 polls he won by a margin of 2,08,000 votes, while his victory margin of 2,54,000 in 1996 was a record of some sort in Bengal.

SO when Chatterjee was busy completing the most important business of his lifetime, in far away Ilambazar, a village in his constituency, Mohammed Mohsin was rivetted to the television set. Mohsin describes himself as the HM (headmaster) of Chunapalasi High School near Illambazar with 1,185 enrollment, 98 per cent of whom are Muslims. Recalled Mohsin: “This school has something very special to remember. The marble plaque says it all—a donation of Rs 2,00,000 by MP Somnath Chatterjee.” Mohsin narrated how the infrastructure of the school improved vastly with the donation. That was not the end. Their MP also saw to it that the school got its electric connection in less than a year, a feat that could not be achieved for decades. Mohsin could barely hide his exuberance: “People in our village have the highest respect for him after what happened in the Parliament.”
Mohsin is not the only admirer. One of the many messages that Chatterjee received after his defiant conduct of the Lok Sabha trust vote proceedings was from Supriyo Tagore, one of the very few surviving descendants of Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan. Supriyo Tagore wrote to the Speaker: “I am shocked at the treatment meted out to you. I never thought that such injustice could be done to you.”
In was in 1985, that Somnath Chatterjee shifted to Bolpur constituency after having lost for the first and last time in 1984 in Jadavpur to Mamata Banerjee making her debut as a Congress candidate. Like many others, Chatterjee too was swept aside by the post-Indira Gandhi assassination sympathy wave in 1984. A year later, the Bolpur seat fell vacant and Chatterjee faced a formidable challenge from Siddhartha Shankar Ray, senior Supreme Court lawyer and the last Congress chief minister of West Bengal. But Chatterjee defeated Ray comfortably.
The political rivalry over, Ray now tells the Sunday Express, “Nobody can throw Somnath out of the Lok Sabha unless he himself decides to quit. He can continue in the chair as long as he wants. I am not aware of the provisions of the Communist Party constitution, but the manner of his expulsion was certainly objectionable.”
Ray also remembers Chatterjee as a lawyer colleague. “We have fought cases together. He’s been quite a brilliant legal personality with a large practice. But he has sacrificed a lot by way of not continuing in legal practice. He could have earned a lot,” says Ray.
At the Kolkata High Court, Chatterjee’s legal peers appreciate the stance he adopted in the recent standoff. For them, the battle essentially was between a legal hawk and a political boss. The Bar Library members relish the defiance that one of their former peers showed the political establishment.
During the early ’80s, when the Left ruled Bengal and the Congress ruled at the Centre, the two parties were at frequent loggerheads on various issues. Chatterjee was often the extension of Jyoti Basu’s belligerence and combative face in Delhi. The transformation of the one-man CEC to a three-member CEC is cited as a case in point by Bengal bureaucrats. One would recall the aggression with which T.N.Seshan was pursuing his witchhunt in Bengal’s electoral process with allegations of scientific rigging, booth capturing and bogus electoral rolls. Seshan had his way mostly, but then the Left too managed to replaced a one-man CEC into a three-member commission.
Yet another important phase of Chatterjee’s career came with his appointment as the Chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation in 1995. The introduction of a new industrial policy began a significant phase in Jyoti Basu’s regime. At such a time when private investment was being given importance, Chatterjee was Basu’s trusted man to deal with industrialists. As WBIDC chairman, Chatterjee went into overdrive signing Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with industries. No wonder he soon earned the name “MoUda”. Some of the projects he signed took off but many didn’t.
Industrialists remember him fondly. For Bengal’s business barons, Chatterjee is not the typical politician demanding favours and obeisance. As Harsh Neotia, the soft-spoken industrialist and pioneers of the private-public partnership in industry in Bengal, says, “Chatterjee is a very warm person. He’s always very enthusiastic about new ideas.” He adds, “We have worked together. We have travelled together and it’s amazing to see his energy level. He starts early in the morning and carries on till late at night without a flap.”
There was a time when Chatterjee seemed set for a bigger role in West Bengal. Basu was looking for a successor. Chatterjee’s name surfaced in the backdrop of an unseemly exit of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee from Basu’s cabinet in August 1993. The exit was read by many as Bhattacharjee’s revolt against Basu, a fact that the current Bengal CM subsequently denied. Bhattacharjee was back in the cabinet a year later, nipping Chatterjee’s chief ministerial prospects in the bud. Many in the party today would probably sigh in relief.