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Science News This Week:
1) Individual Brain Cells Track Where We Are and How We Move:
|Individual Brain Cells Track Where We Are and How We Move|
Leaving the house in the morning may seem simple, but with every move we make, our brains are working feverishly to create maps of the outside world that allow us to navigate and to remember where we are.Take one step out the front door, and an individual brain cell fires. Pass by your rose bush on the way to the car, another specific neuron fires. And so it goes. Ultimately, the brain constructs its own pinpoint geographical chart that is far more precise than anything you'd find on Google Maps.But just how neurons make these maps of space has fascinated scientists for decades. It is known that several types of stimuli influence the creation of neuronal maps, including visual cues in the physical environment -- that rose bush, for instance -- the body's innate knowledge of how fast it is moving, and other inputs, like smell. Yet the mechanisms by which groups of neurons combine these various stimuli to make precise maps are unknown.
To solve this puzzle, UCLA neurophysicists built a virtual-reality environment that allowed them to manipulate these cues while measuring the activity of map-making neurons in rats. Surprisingly, they found that when certain cues were removed, the neurons that typically fire each time a rat passes a fixed point or landmark in the real world instead began to compute the rat's relative position, firing, for example, each time the rodent walked five paces forward, then five paces back, regardless of landmarks. And many other mapping cells shut down altogether, suggesting that different sensory cues strongly influence these neurons.
Finally, the researchers found that in this virtual world, the rhythmic firing of neurons that normally speeds up or slows down depending on the rate at which an animal moves, was profoundly altered. The rats' brains maintained a single, steady rhythmic pattern.The findings, reported in the May 2 online edition of the journal Science, provide further clues to how the brain learns and makes memories.
The mystery of how cells determine place
"Place cells" are individual neurons located in the brain's hippocampus that create maps by registering specific places in the outside environment. These cells are crucial for learning and memory. They are also known to play a role in such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer's disease when damaged.
For some 40 years, the thinking had been that the maps made by place cells were based primarily on visual landmarks in the environment, known as distal cues -- a tall tree, a building -- as well on motion, or gait, cues. But, as UCLA neurophysicist and senior study author Mayank Mehta points out, other cues are present in the real world: the smell of the local pizzeria, the sound of a nearby subway tunnel, the tactile feel of one's feet on a surface. These other cues, which Mehta likes to refer to as "stuff," were believed to have only a small influence on place cells.Could it be that these different sensory modalities led place cells to create individual maps, wondered Mehta, a professor with joint appointments in the departments of neurology, physics and astronomy. And if so, do these individual maps cooperate with each other, or do they compete? No one really knew for sure.
Virtual reality reveals new clues
To investigate, Mehta and his colleagues needed to separate the distal and gait cues from all the other "stuff." They did this by crafting a virtual-reality maze for rats in which odors, sounds and all stimuli, except distal and gait cues, were removed. As video of a physical environment was projected around them, the rats, held by a harness, were placed on a ball that rotated as they moved. When they ran, the video would move along with them, giving the animals the illusion that they were navigating their way through an actual physical environment. As a comparison, the researchers had the rats -- six altogether -- run a real-world maze that was visually identical to the virtual-reality version but that included the additional "stuff" cues. Using micro-electrodes 10 times thinner than a human hair, theteammeasured the activity of some 3,000 space-mapping neurons in the rats' brains as they completed both mazes.
What they found intrigued them. The elimination of the "stuff" cues in the virtual-reality maze had a huge effect: Fully half of the neurons being recorded became inactive, despite the fact that the distal and gate cues were similar in the virtual and real worlds. The results, Mehta said, show that these other sensory cues, once thought to play only a minor role in activating the brain, actually have a major influence on place cells.And while in the real world, place cells responded to fixed, absolute positions, spiking at those same positions each time rats passed them, regardless of the direction they were moving -- a finding consistent with previous experiments -- this was not the case in the virtual-reality maze."In the virtual world," Mehta said, "we found that the neurons almost never did that. Instead, the neurons spiked at the same relative distance in the two directions as the rat moved back and forth. In other words, going back to the front door-to-car analogy, in a virtual world, the cell that fires five steps away from the door when leaving your home would not fire five steps away from the door upon your return. Instead, it would fire five steps away from the car when leaving the car. Thus, these cells are keeping track of the relative distance traveled rather than absolute position. This gives us evidence for the individual place cell's ability to represent relative distances."
Mehta thinks this is because neuronal maps are generated by three different categories of stimuli -- distal cues, gait and "stuff" -- and that all are competing for control of neural activity. This competition is what ultimately generates the "full" map of space."All the external stuff is fixed at the same absolute position and hence generates a representation of absolute space," he said. "But when all the stuff is removed, the profound contribution of gait is revealed, which enables neurons to compute relative distances traveled."The researchers also made a new discovery about the brain's theta rhythm. It is known that place cells use the rhythmic firing of neurons to keep track of "brain time," the brain's internal clock. Normally, Mehta said, the theta rhythm becomes faster as subjects run faster, and slower as running speed decreases. This speed-dependent change in brain rhythm was thought to be crucial for generating the 'brain time' for place cells. But the team found that in the virtual world, the theta rhythm was uninfluenced by running speed."That was a surprising and fascinating discovery, because the 'brain time' of place cells was as precise in the virtual world as in the real world, even though the speed-dependence of the theta rhythm was abolished," Mehta said. "This gives us a new insight about how the brain keeps track of space-time."The researchers found that the firing of place cells was very precise, down to one-hundredth of a second, "so fast that we humans cannot perceive it but neurons can," Mehta said. "We have found that this very precise spiking of neurons with respect to 'brain-time' is crucial for learning and making new memories."Mehta said the results, taken together, provide insight into how distinct sensory cues both cooperate and compete to influence the intricate network of neuronal activity. Understanding how these cells function is key to understanding how the brain makes and retains memories, which are vulnerable to such disorders as Alzheimer's and PTSD.
2) Ebola's Secret Weapon Revealed:
|Ebola's Secret Weapon Revealed:|
Researchers have discovered the mechanism behind one of the Ebola virus' most dangerous attributes: its ability to disarm the adaptive immune system. University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston scientists determined that Ebola short-circuits the immune system using proteins that work together to shut down cellular signaling related to interferon. Disruption of this activity, the researchers found, allows Ebola to prevent the full development of dendritic cells that would otherwise trigger an immune response to the virus."Dendritic cells typically undergo a process called 'maturation' when they're infected by a virus -- they change shape and present antigens on their surface that tell T-cells to attack that particular virus, thus generating an adaptive immune response," said UTMB professor Alexander Bukreyev, senior author of a paper on the discovery now online in the Journal of Virology. "But Ebola prevents dendritic-cell maturation and produces a severe infection without an effective adaptive immune response. We found that its ability to do this depends on several specific regions of two different proteins."
Bukreyev's research group made the discovery after a series of procedures that started with a clone of the Ebola Zaire virus strain. Working under maximum-containment conditions in a biosafety level 4 facility in UTMB's Galveston National Laboratory, the team introduced mutations into the virus' genetic code at four locations thought to generate proteins that affected immune response.
They then infected human dendritic cells with each of the resulting new strains and compared the results with those produced by unmutated Ebola Zaire. Each of the four new viruses, they found, was unable to suppress dendritic-cell maturation."We saw two very interesting things," Bukreyev said. "First, that these mutations restore maturation of dendritic cells very effectively, and second, that a mutation in even one of these genetic domains makes the virus unable to suppress maturation. That means that the virus needs multiple combined effects in order to undermine the immune system in this way."Ebola's ability to evade the human immune response is one of the factors that accounts for its high mortality rate -- up to 90 percent in humans -- and the notoriety that it gained after its first appearance in Zaire in 1976, in an outbreak that killed 280 people. Zaire -- now the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- is the home country of Ndongala Lubaki, lead author on the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at UTMB.
3) 'Oil for the Joints' Offers Hope for Osteoarthritis Sufferers:
|'Oil for the Joints' Offers Hope for Osteoarthritis Sufferers|
A team of researchers led by a Boston University Biomedical Engineer has developed a new joint lubricant that could bring longer lasting relief to millions of osteoarthritis sufferers. The new synthetic polymer supplements synovial fluid, the natural lubricant in joints, and works better than comparable treatments currently available. According to Professor Mark W. Grinstaff (BME, MSE, Chemistry), the best fluid supplement now available offers temporary symptom relief but provides inadequate lubrication to prevent further degradation of the cartilage surfaces that cushion the joint. To achieve both objectives, Grinstaff, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School orthopedic surgeon Brian Snyder and a team of Boston University chemistry and engineering students, fellows and clinicians have advanced the first synthetic synovial fluid. They describe the unique polymer and its performance in Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The most common form of joint disease and a leading cause of disability in the elderly, osteoarthritis (OA) affects about 27 million Americans and 200 million people worldwide. Characterized by pain and swelling, the disease emerges in hand, hip, knee and other commonly used joints where degradation of cartilage and synovial fluid results in bone-on-bone abrasion. Treatments range from anti-inflammatory drugs to total joint replacement. While there's no cure for OA, one treatment -- injection of a polymer to supplement synovial fluid in the joint -- promises to relieve symptoms and slow the disease's progression by reducing wear on cartilage surfaces.
"From our studies, we know our biopolymer is a superior lubricant in the joint, much better than the leading synovial fluid supplement, and similar to healthy synovial fluid," said Grinstaff. "When we used this new polymer, the friction between the two cartilage surfaces was lower, resulting in less wear and surface-to-surface interaction. It's like oil for the joints."Originally produced last year for another study, the new polymer mimics some of the properties of natural polysaccharides, large compounds that link repetitive sequences of sugar molecules in a chainlike pattern."You put it between your fingers, and it's slippery," Grinstaff observed. "Once we made it, we wondered if we could use it as a lubricant and where it would be useful. That's how we thought of using it as a potential treatment for OA."Another advantage of the biopolymer is its large molecular weight or size, which prevents it from seeping out of the joint, enabling longer lasting cartilage protection. Unlike the leading synovial fluid supplement, which lasts one or two days, the new polymer remains in the joint for more than two weeks.
4) Bird fossil sheds light on how swift and hummingbird flight came to be:
|Bird fossil sheds light on how swift and hummingbird flight came to be|
A tiny bird fossil discovered in Wyoming offers clues to the precursors of swift and hummingbird wings. The fossil is unusual in having exceptionally well-preserved feathers, which allowed the researchers to reconstruct the size and shape of the bird's wings in ways not possible with bones alone. Researchers spotted the specimen -- the nearly complete skeleton of a bird that would have fit in the palm of your hand and weighed less than an ounce -- while working at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.The newly discovered bird was named Eocypselus rowei, in honor of John W. Rowe, Chairman of the Field Museum's Board of Trustees.First collected in southwestern Wyoming in a fossil site known as the Green River Formation, E. rowei lived roughly 50 million years ago, after the dinosaurs disappeared but before the earliest humans came to be.E. rowei was a tiny bird -- only twelve centimeters from head to tail. Feathers account for more than half of the bird's total wing length.To find out where the fossil fit in the bird family tree, the researchers compared the specimen to extinct and modern day species. Their analyses suggest that the bird was an evolutionary precursor to the group that includes today's swifts and hummingbirds.
Given the differences in wing shape between these two closely related groups of birds, scientists have puzzled over how swift and hummingbird flight came to be. Finding fossil relatives like this specimen is key to figuring that out, the researchers say."This fossil bird represents the closest we've gotten to the point where swifts and hummingbirds went their separate ways," said lead author Daniel Ksepka of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Hummingbirds have short wings relative to their bodies, which makes them good at hovering in mid-air. Swifts have super-long wings for gliding and high-speed flight. But the wings of E. rowei were somewhere in between.
"[Based on its wing shape] it probably wasn't a hoverer, like a hummingbird, and it probably wasn't as efficient at fast flight as a swift," Ksepka said.The shape of the bird's wings, coupled with its tiny size, suggest that the ancestors of today's swifts and hummingbirds got small before each group's unique flight behavior came to be. "Hummingbirds came from small-bodied ancestors, but the ability to hover didn't come to be until later," Ksepka explained.Closer study of the feathers under a scanning electron microscope revealed that carbon residues in the fossils -- once thought to be traces of bacteria that fed on feathers -- are fossilized melanosomes, tiny cell structures containing melanin pigments that give birds and other animals their color. The findings suggest that the ancient bird was probably black and may have had a glossy or iridescent sheen, like swifts living today. Based on its beak shape it probably ate insects, the researchers say.The other authors of this study were Julia Clarke, Sterling Nesbitt and Felicia Kulp of the University of Texas at Austin, and Lance Grande of the Field Museum of Natural History.
5) Robotic Insects Make First Controlled Flight:
|Robotic Insects Make First Controlled Flight|
In the very early hours of the morning, in a Harvard robotics laboratory last summer, an insect took flight. Half the size of a paperclip, weighing less than a tenth of a gram, it leapt a few inches, hovered for a moment on fragile, flapping wings, and then sped along a preset route through the air.
Like a proud parent watching a child take its first steps, graduate student Pakpong Chirarattananon immediately captured a video of the fledgling and emailed it to his adviser and colleagues at 3 a.m. -- subject line, "Flight of the RoboBee.""I was so excited, I couldn't sleep," recalls Chirarattananon, co-lead author of a paper published this week in Science.The demonstration of the first controlled flight of an insect-sized robot is the culmination of more than a decade's work, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard.
"This is what I have been trying to do for literally the last 12 years," says Robert J. Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SEAS, Wyss Core Faculty Member, and principal investigator of the National Science Foundation-supported RoboBee project. "It's really only because of this lab's recent breakthroughs in manufacturing, materials, and design that we have even been able to try this. And it just worked, spectacularly well."
Inspired by the biology of a fly, with submillimeter-scale anatomy and two wafer-thin wings that flap almost invisibly, 120 times per second, the tiny device not only represents the absolute cutting edge of micromanufacturing and control systems; it is an aspiration that has impelled innovation in these fields by dozens of researchers across Harvard for years."We had to develop solutions from scratch, for everything," explains Wood. "We would get one component working, but when we moved onto the next, five new problems would arise. It was a moving target."Flight muscles, for instance, don't come prepackaged for robots the size of a fingertip."Large robots can run on electromagnetic motors, but at this small scale you have to come up with an alternative, and there wasn't one," says co-lead author Kevin Y. Ma, a graduate student at SEAS.The tiny robot flaps its wings with piezoelectric actuators -- strips of ceramic that expand and contract when an electric field is applied. Thin hinges of plastic embedded within the carbon fiber body frame serve as joints, and a delicately balanced control system commands the rotational motions in the flapping-wing robot, with each wing controlled independently in real-time.
At tiny scales, small changes in airflow can have an outsized effect on flight dynamics, and the control system has to react that much faster to remain stable.
The robotic insects also take advantage of an ingenious pop-up manufacturing technique that was developed by Wood's team in 2011. Sheets of various laser-cut materials are layered and sandwiched together into a thin, flat plate that folds up like a child's pop-up book into the complete electromechanical structure.
The quick, step-by-step process replaces what used to be a painstaking manual art and allows Wood's team to use more robust materials in new combinations, while improving the overall precision of each device."We can now very rapidly build reliable prototypes, which allows us to be more aggressive in how we test them," says Ma, adding that the team has gone through 20 prototypes in just the past six months.
Applications of the RoboBee project could include distributed environmental monitoring, search-and-rescue operations, or assistance with crop pollination, but the materials, fabrication techniques, and components that emerge along the way might prove to be even more significant. For example, the pop-up manufacturing process could enable a new class of complex medical devices. Harvard's Office of Technology Development, in collaboration with Harvard SEAS and the Wyss Institute, is already in the process of commercializing some of the underlying technologies."Harnessing biology to solve real-world problems is what the Wyss Institute is all about," says Wyss Founding Director Don Ingber. "This work is a beautiful example of how bringing together scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines to carry out research inspired by nature and focused on translation can lead to major technical breakthroughs."
And the project continues.
"Now that we've got this unique platform, there are dozens of tests that we're starting to do, including more aggressive control maneuvers and landing," says Wood.
After that, the next steps will involve integrating the parallel work of many different research teams who are working on the brain, the colony coordination behavior, the power source, and so on, until the robotic insects are fully autonomous and wireless.The prototypes are still tethered by a very thin power cable because there are no off-the-shelf solutions for energy storage that are small enough to be mounted on the robot's body. High energy-density fuel cells must be developed before the RoboBees will be able to fly with much independence.Control, too, is still wired in from a separate computer, though a team led by SEAS faculty Gu-Yeon Wei and David Brooks is working on a computationally efficient brain that can be mounted on the robot's frame."Flies perform some of the most amazing aerobatics in nature using only tiny brains," notes coauthor Sawyer B. Fuller, a postdoctoral researcher on Wood's team who essentially studies how fruit flies cope with windy days. "Their capabilities exceed what we can do with our robot, so we would like to understand their biology better and apply it to our own work."
The milestone of this first controlled flight represents a validation of the power of ambitious dreams -- especially for Wood, who was in graduate school when he set this goal."This project provides a common motivation for scientists and engineers across the university to build smaller batteries, to design more efficient control systems, and to create stronger, more lightweight materials," says Wood. "You might not expect all of these people to work together: vision experts, biologists, materials scientists, electrical engineers. What do they have in common? Well, they all enjoy solving really hard problems."I want to create something the world has never seen before," adds Ma. "It's about the excitement of pushing the limits of what we think we can do, the limits of human ingenuity."
Movie Release This Week:
1) The Iceman:
Inspired by actual events, The Iceman follows notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Academy Award® nominee Michael Shannon) from his early days in the mob until his arrest for the murder of more than 100 men. Appearing to be living the American dream as a devoted husband and father; in reality Kuklinski was a ruthless killer-for-hire. When finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters have any clue about his real profession.
2) Generation Um... (2013) :
|Generation Um... (2013)|
The world is downtown New York City, present day - from the point of view of a driver for an escort service. John (Keanu Reeves), a quietly sexy withdrawn guy, is finally aging out of his young, trendy neighborhood, dealing with the beginnings of the next chapter of his life.
John's friends are the party girls he works for - Violet (Bojana Novakovic), an unstoppable entertainer whose weathered beauty and self-proclaimed wisdom are matched only by her lack of audience; and Mia (Adelaide Clemens), the new girl with the dark past, whose traffic-stopping sensuality has brought her nothing but victimization. Both survive on their ability to manipulate men, and don't know how to live any other way. But John, they trust. And through their relationship, all three find a comforting and humorous refuge from the downward spiral of their self-destructive but entertaining lifestyles.
The end of another night out for this odd family of circumstance sets the stage for an all too familiar day spent coming to terms with and reveling in the lives they have unintentionally created for themselves.When John impulsively steals a camcorder, he decides to capture the sights, sounds, and senses of New York - or rather, his sights, sounds, and senses. He records nature, people, himself. Today. John's experiment takes a new turn when he pans the camera's attention to his Party Girls. Violet is gung-ho, ready at a moment's notice to become the center of attention before the focus fades away. Mia is less enthused, but finds herself opening up to the promise of a spectator.John's camcorder unravels the girls' lives, as both Violet and Mia find themselves attempting to outdo one another's secrets and opinions
3) Midnight's Children:
At the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, as India declares independence from Great Britain, two babies are switched at birth by a nurse in a Bombay hospital. And so it is that Saleem Sinai (portrayed as an adult by Satya Bhabha), the bastard child of a beggar woman, and Shiva, the only son of a wealthy couple, are fated to live the destinies meant for each other. An epic saga that starts in the full flower of the British Empire, Midnight's Children takes us from the unlikely courtship of Saleem’s grandparents in 1917 to the birth of his own son in the late 1970’s. In between, families are torn asunder, lovers are separated and reunited, the privileged become poor, the poor rise to power, and characters who have been handcuffed to history struggle to break free and make their way in the world. Through it all, the lives of Saleem and Shiva are mysteriously intertwined. They are also inextricably linked to the history of India itself, which takes them on a whirlwind journey full of trials, triumphs and disasters. Adapted by Rushdie himself (who also serves as the film’s all-knowing narrator), Midnight's Children is a tale at once sweeping in scope and intimate in tone. Full of heartbreak, hope, comedy, tragedy and a considerable amount of magic, the film conjures characters and images as rich and unforgettable as the vast nation it celebrates.
A newlywed couple moves into a cabin in the woods. Before long, the couple discover that the house is built on strange, supernatural ground, the nature of which yields explosive, violent results.
Get up close and personal with 16 of the most successful women in the Adult Film Industry as they shed their clothes for an intimate photo shoot with Director Deborah Anderson. Questions are asked and intimate stories about their lives
are revealed, from why they chose the business of sex to how they got into it in the first place. These porn stars have kept their private lives private in the past, yet Anderson has a way of opening up a dialog allowing them to share more than just their naked skin on screen. Their vulnerability is touching, while their confidence and beauty are intoxicating. Once you hear their stories, you'll never look at them in the same way again.
Political News This Week:
1) Police seize property documents of Saradha Group:
|Police seize property documents of Saradha Group|
Saradha group chairman Sudipta Sen, along with two others Debjani Mukherjee and Arvind Singh Chauhan are currently in 14 days' police custody.
The police seized documents relating to the property of the Saradha Group today."We have seized property documents relating to the investigation into the Saradha Group," Arnab Ghosh, Deputy Commissioner (DD), Bidhanagar City police told PTI here.Saradha group chairman Sudipta Sen, along with two others Debjani Mukherjee and Arvind Singh Chauhan are currently in 14 days' police custody.Sen has been accused of duping thousands of investors in Bengal.The police yesterday took Debjani Mukherjee to the main office of the group and seized important documents.
Rs.100 crore found in Saradha Group chief’s 254 accounts:
West Bengal Police have found Rs.100 crore in 254 bank accounts of Sudipta Sen, the arrested promoter of the chit fund aided Saradha Group, and were also looking into why the agencies which monitor such companies “did not” do their job.
“We have unearthed 254 bank accounts. We have so far seized approximately Rs.100 crore,” Bidhannagar Deputy Commissioner of Police Arnab Ghosh told media persons here Friday.The commissionerate, now probing the Saradha case, has taken Sen into custody to subject him to intense grilling.Ghosh said Sen never kept money in those accounts for long durations. “Often, the money disappeared from the accounts within 48 hours.”In an oblique reference to the central agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Board of India, which monitor collective investment schemes like the ones operated by the Saradha Group, Ghosh said it was clear that such bodies did not do their job. However, he did not name any of the agencies.
“It is clear they didn’t do their job. I won’t take any names. We are also looking into why they didn’t do their work. But that is only a part of the investigation, not the entirety,” Ghosh said.The officer said papers for two under-construction commercial plots in the name of Sen have been found in Chandannagore in Hooghy district.Meanwhile, Manoj Kumar Nagel, arrested director of one of the group companies, was presented in court which further remanded him in police custody till May 8 on a complaint lodged by an investor at the Salt Lake Electronics Complex police station.“His bail petition has been rejected and he has been remanded in police custody till May 8,” Ghosh said.Nagel was arrested on April 21.The group’s companies went bust mid-April and downed shutters across West Bengal after they were unable to repay the lakhs of depositors – mainly poor people from villages and small towns – who had parked their hard-earned money with them lured by the promise of huge returns.
Another Saradha depositor commits suicide
In the sixth case of suicide in connection with the collapsed chit fund company Saradha, a depositor, who had invested his money in the scam-ridden company today committed suicide in South 24 Parganas district. Ranjit Pramanik (18) who had invested his money in the scam-ridden company committed suicide by consuming poison at Thakurchawk in Joynagar area of South 24 Parganas district, police sources said.
Earlier 50-year-old Urmila Pramanik, a resident of Baruipur in South 24 Parganas district, who had invested Rs 30,000 in the Saradah group had set herself on fire on April 20 and succumbed to her injuries on April 21 in Chittaranjan Hospital after the Saradha group went bust. Swapan Kumar Biswas (36), a money collection agent of the Saradha group who had deposited Rs four lakh from his personal savings in the scam-ridden company was found hanging from the ceiling of his house at Balrampur in Purulia district on April 27. Three agents of the Saradha group in South 24 Parganas district had also committed suicide at Mathurapur, Diamond Harbour and Falta after the scam-ridden company went bust.
West Bengal government opposes CBI probe into chit fund scam
The West Bengal government today opposed a prayer for CBI investigation into the multi-crore chit fund scam, claiming in an affidavit to the Calcutta High Court that at this stage credibility of the investigation by the state police cannot be doubted.
"At this stage any direction for handing over investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) would be premature," the affidavit, submitted before a division bench comprising Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Joymalyo Bagchi, claimed. "The police authorities have acted with promptitude commensurate to the urgency of the situation. There has been no laxity on the part of the state respondents in the matter of investigation," it said.
"The main accused persons have been arrested. At this stage credibility of the investigation cannot be doubted," the state asserted in its affidavit. Sudipto Sen, the chairman of Saradha Group, was arrested along with two associates from a hotel at Sonamarg in Kashmir and were at present in the custody of the Bidhannagar Police, which is investigating the matter. Opposing the petition, the state claimed that it was politically motivated and therefore not maintainable. The police authority is interrogating the arrested persons and taking necessary action to unearth the entire scheme and modus operandi, it was claimed.
Pointing out that apart from Saradha Group, there were more players in the field and a comprehensive strategy was to be taken to cover all such cases, it said that the government has constituted a four-member commission of inquiry headed by Justice (retd) Shyamal Kumar Sen. A special investigation team, headed by the Director general of West Bengal Police, has also been formed, it was stated in the report. "The state government has so far undertaken no covert or overt action to shield anybody," it said denying allegations by the petitioner that efforts are on to shield influential people allegedly involved in the matter.
2) Roar on rivals, silence on own ranks:
|Roar on rivals, silence on own ranks|
Mamata Banerjee today waved at a rally photographs and newspaper advertisements that she claimed established “links” between CPM leaders and the Saradha Group and other deposit-mobilising companies, but steered clear of commenting on Trinamul’s alleged connections with such entities.
Addressing her first public meeting since the Saradha crisis unfolded, the chief minister did not mention if she was planning action against Trinamul leaders whose names have cropped up in the default controversy, although she said “law would take its own course”. She mentioned the arrests of murder-accused Trinamul councillors Mohammad Iqbal (Munna) and Sambhu Nath Kow, and Arabul Islam, charged with assaulting CPM veteran Abdur Rezzak Mollah.
|Mamata Banerjee today waved at a rally|
“These sham businesses prospered under the comrade friends and now they are blaming us,” Mamata said at the rally in Shyambazar.The chief minister iterated that she didn’t know about the operation of sham companies till the crisis surfaced on April 15.Had Mamata and finance minister Amit Mitra kept tabs on tell-tale signs such as dwindling small savings collections, the government could have averted the crisis precipitated by the sham companies.There, however, was no reference to any act of omission as Mamata focussed on the steps taken by her government in the aftermath of the Saradha crisis, such as passing a bill to protect investors, setting up a commission and a Rs 500-crore relief fund for depositors.While her claims brought loud cheers from the urban audience of around 3,000 — the presence of any cheated depositor was unlikely — convincing the rural people who have lost their life’s savings will be easier said than done, a Trinamul leader said.“People want their money, which they had invested after seeing our party leaders in close proximity with the Saradha Group,” he said.
In blaming her political opponents and highlighting the steps taken by her government, Mamata was doing exactly what her predecessor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had done at a rally in Panihati last week.Bhattacharjee had blamed Trinamul for the rise of sham companies, although his party was in power for 34 years, and stressed that he never allowed anyone with links to sham companies to come close to him.“This is the biggest tragedy of Bengal…. The two main political parties are trying to maximise political gains from the losses suffered by the poorest of poor by blaming each other. No one is talking about how they can be helped,” said a professor of economics.Although the chief minister tried to address concerns by referring to the Rs 500-crore relief fund, the paltry allocation can’t solve the problem as the default crisis could run into several thousand crores and affect lakhs of people in rural Bengal.
Some in her party told The Telegraph that she had to take such a “political step” as the crisis had “exposed links” between the ruling establishment and sham companies. In a purported letter to the CBI, Saradha boss Sudipta Sen had levelled allegations against Trinamul MPs Kunal Ghosh and Srinjoy Bose. Subsequent probes by agencies have revealed that several other senior leaders had connections with Saradha.Despite the growing clamour for heads to roll, Mamata has not taken any action so far.Although Ghosh was not present at the meeting today, transport minister Madan Mitra, who had been the leader of a Saradha employees’ union, attended the meeting.Trinamul MPs such as Somen Mitra and Subhendu Adhikari, who had warned against the mushrooming of “chit funds”, were not present at the venue.
“It is clear from her speech that she is not contemplating any immediate action against people like Ghosh, whose association with Saradha has been established beyond doubt. The party may distance itself from the journalist-turned-MP but a public action is unlikely as it will mean owning up responsibility,” a Trinamul leader said.In her 75-minute speech, the chief minister almost echoed what the party’s all-India general secretary, Mukul Roy, and industries minister Partha Chatterjee have been saying since the outbreak of the default crisis in mid-April.But she was more virulent in her attack. Mamata carried with her a thick file containing copies of CPM mouthpiece Ganashakti and the ready reckoner Dial, both of which had Saradha advertisements and photographs of CPM leaders, including that of Bhattacharjee and Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar, with owners of illegal deposit-mobilising companies.“Uni na bolle kichhu boltam na (If he hadn’t said a word, I too would have remained silent),” Mamata said, referring to Bhattacharjee’s speech at Panihati.
Mamata referred to Ghosh only once, saying he hadn’t informed her that Saradha’s media wing employees were not getting their salaries. “If I am not informed, how will I get to know?” she said.The chief minister also stressed that she had no family, which some Trinamul insiders said was an attempt to distance herself from allegations levelled against her nephew Abhishek Banerjee’s company. Abhishek and his company Leaps and Bounds came under attack from CPM leader Gautam Deb.“Please don’t link my name with anyone else. I stay alone. I am related to people and none else,” Mamata said.
3) Sarabjit Singh cremated with state honours, thousands pay final respect:
The mortal remains of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, who died after being brutally assaulted in a Pakistani jail, were on Friday consigned to flames in his village with full state honours amid emotional scenes.A contingent of Punjab Police reversed their arms and then fired shots in the air as a mark of respect to 49-year-old Sarabjit, who died yesterday in a Lahore hospital.
The pyre was lit by Sarabjit's sister Dalbir Kaur in the presence of his wife Sukhpreet Kaur, daughters Swapandeep and Poonam and son-in-law Sanjay. Dalbir Kaur was assisted by local SAD MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha.A large crowd comprising villagers and VIPs, including Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, bid a heartfelt adieu to Sarabjit, whose body was brought here late last night 23 years after he inadvertently crossed over to Pakistan.The final journey of Sarabjit commenced at around 1.15pm with his coffin, wrapped in the tricolour, being taken to a flower-bedecked hearse van stationed adjacent to a government school ground where the body had been placed for the people to pay their last respect.Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Union minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur were among others present. Badal had announced a state funeral and three-day state mourning besides financial aid to the family and government jobs for his daughters.A Granthi recited prayers at the cremation ground before the pyre was lit. People climbed rooftops of nearby houses to have a last glimpse of Sarabjit.
|Sarabjit Singh cremated with state honours, thousands pay final respect|
Others present included Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal, state Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa, vice chairman of National SC Commission Raj Kumar Verka, Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma and leaders representing various parties, including SAD, BJP and Congress.Villagers consoled sobbing members of Sarabjit's family as the body was taken for the last rites. His distraught daughters felt unwell during the funeral and had to be helped by the locals.Slogans like 'Pakistan Murdabad' and 'Sarabjit Amar Rahe' (Long live Sarabjit) rent the air as his body was placed in the school ground to enable people to pay their respects. The mortal remains were later taken in a procession to the nearby village cremation ground.
Tight security arrangements were made at the cremation site in view of the presence of a large number of VIPs and additional police contingents were brought from Tarn Taran and other adjoining districts, including Amritsar.The funeral procession took some 45 minutes to reach the cremation ground, about 400 metres from the school ground, after taking a round of the village.The village with a population of around 11,000 and located about 36km from Amritsar, was in a state of mourning since Thursday with residents gathering near the house of the family after the news of the Indian prisoner's death spread.Shops and commercial establishments in this area remained shut today. The village witnessed some angry protests with locals raising anti-Pakistan slogans and burning effigies.Meanwhile, a second autopsy was conducted on Thursday night by a team of six doctors at the government-run Amritsar Medical College to ascertain the cause of Sarabjit's death. The first postmortem was carried out at the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore.
Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has demanded an independent probe by an international agency into the circumstances leading to Sarabjit's death.According to his family, Sarabjit had inadvertently crossed the zero-line near here in an inebriated state while working in his fields which run along the border.Sarabjit was arrested in 1990 by the name of Manjit Singh by Pakistan army in 1990. He was accused of being an Indian spy and was charged with plotting series of bomb blasts in 1989 at Lahore and Multan.
He was tried by courts and was awarded death penalty. Sarabjit's trial in Pakistan was based on a statement which Pakistani authorities had claimed was given by him during the course of investigation.However, Sarabjit had said during his trial in court that he was a farmer on the Indian side of the border and had strayed into Pakistan while he was drunk, a stand which was also taken by his family members.His 54-year-old sister Dalbir Kaur had unsuccessfully led a campaign to secure Sarabjit's freedom. She was joined by Sarabjit's wife Sukhpreet Kaur (around 45-year-old) and daughters Swapandeep Kaur and Poonam, both in their mid twenties.The two daughters were minors when their father crossed over to Pakistan and they had their first glimpse of their father in 2008 when they went to Pakistan with their mother and aunt.
Dalbir Kaur had gone to Pakistan a couple of times as part of her attempts since 1991 to get her brother freed.Sarabjit, the second Indian prisoner to die in Pakistan's notorious Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore this year, was brutally attacked on Friday last by six fellow inmates when he and other prisoners were brought out of their cells for a break.Sarabjit was convicted of alleged involvement in bomb attacks in Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990 and spent about 22 years in Pakistani prisons.His mercy petitions were rejected by the courts and former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. The previous Pakistan Peoples Party-led government had put off Sarabjit's execution for an indefinite period in 2008.
4) Karnataka poll: Facts at a glance:
|Karnataka poll: Facts at a glance|
* Assembly constituencies: 224 (Voting will take place in 223 polling has been countermanded in Periyapatna following the death of the BJP candidate
* The Congress is contesting all the 224 seats, the BJP 223, the JD-S 222, the KJP 224, the BSP 175, the NCP 24 and the Communist Party of India-Marxist 17. The remaining 1,839 candidates are largely independents and some are from the Janata Dal-United, Samajwadi Party and unrecognized parties and independents
* Voters: 43.6 million (Men-22.22 million, Women-21.35 million)
* First time voters (between 18 and 22 years): 3.55 million
* Polling booths: 52,034
* Highly sensitive booths (prone to disturbance/violence): 10,103; Sensitive: 14,209
* Vigilance squads: 2,000, each of five members, including a photographer and a videographer
* Officials on poll duty: 253,000
* Police personnel on poll duty: 48,182; Another 100,000 more will be on duty to maintain law and order
* Constituency with maximum number of candidates: Bellary (29)
* Constituencies with minimum number of candidates: Yenkanamaradi and Mudhol (5 each)
|Campaigning for the Karnataka assembly election came to an end on Friday|
Campaigning for the Karnataka assembly election came to an end on Friday evening.The Election Commission has made elaborate arrangements for the polling day on Sunday, with extensive security arrangements in the state. Over 1,35,000 security personnel will be deputed for the assembly election.9954 polling booths have been identified as hyper sensitive, 14,209 booths sensitive and 149 booths as naxal prone. Extra protection will be provided to these booths.The voting process will begin at 7 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m.
5) Sikhs burn Sajjan Kumar's effigy:
|Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Titler|
Various Sikh groups Friday staged protests and burnt effigies of Congress leader Sajjan Kumar here over his acquittal in a 1984 anti-Sikh riots case.
|Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Titler|
On the nationwide call by Sikh organisations, members of the Guru Singh Sabha organised a protest and burnt effigies of Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Titler.Guru Singh Sabha president Jasvinder Singh blamed the UPA government and its chairperson Sonia Gandhi for not taking action against the culprits responsible for anti-Sikh riots, brutal killings and arson.The Sikh groups are angry as a Delhi court acquitted Sajjan Kumar in a case related to the killing of five people in the Delhi Cantonment area during violence against Sikhs following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi Oct 31, 1984.
The court, however, convicted five others in the case.
Sports News This Week:
1) IPL 2013: Yusuf Pathan's blitzkrieg keeps Kolkata alive with 8 wicket win over Rajasthan:
|Yusuf Pathan's blitzkrieg keeps Kolkata alive with 8 wicket win over Rajasthan|
It's not happened too often in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013, but on Friday (May 3) night at Eden Gardens against Rajasthan Royals, Kolkata Knight Riders put up the kind of performance that made them so tough to beat last season, winning by eight wickets in a one-sided encounter.The Rajasthan innings, after they won the toss and batted, was easily summed up with three talking points – Kolkata's bowling, Sanju Samson's innings and Rahul Dravid’s decision to keep himself away from the crease till the fourth ball of the final over.The pitch that rolled out for the match was practically inert and Kolkata, predicting that possibility, had packed their XI with slow bowlers. Eventually, they all played their part to restrict Rajasthan to 132 for 6.Sumit Narwal, the Delhi medium pacer, was patchy and bowled only two overs, but Sunil Narine, as he always is, Sachithra Senanayeke, Rajat Bhatia and Jacques Kallis were all on the spot. The delivery Senanayeke dismissed Ajinkya Rahane with was the pick of the lot – it was flighted, dipped to fool Rahane and turned sufficiently for the bat to be beaten and for Manvinder Bisla to pull off an easy stumping.
But Narine was the star, and in his first over, the 11th of innings, he made Shane Watson appear amateurish when Watson practically flayed at thin air before being dismissed lbw off the fifth delivery. For a change, with almost all the bowlers coming good, Gautam Gambhir had the liberty to use Narine as and when he wanted and Narine, though he picked just that one wicket, was brilliant, going for only 20 runs in his four overs.If Narine was Kolkata's bowling hero, Samson, 18, did his growing reputation no harm by scoring a 36-ball 40 that was aggressive in patches and so sensible at other times that he belied his age. Samson hit the only two sixes of the Rajasthan innings but figured out early enough that the pitch was not made for big hitting and rotated the strike well, losing his patience only towards the end when he was first dropped by Bisla, a sitter off Narine, and then lost his wicket two runs later.
Dravid, meanwhile, chose to watch the proceedings from the dugout as James Faulkner, Samson, Dishant Yagnik, Owais Shah and Stuart Binny all went in ahead of him. Was it because he didn't trust himself to score quickly or was there a bigger game plan? In the end, he faced only three balls, collecting a four and a two in them.Kolkata needed to plan their reply smartly and they got a good start courtesy Gambhir and Bisla – 41 runs – before Gambhir became the first wicket to fall. The credit for Gambhir's wicket really belonged to Yagnik, though Watson was the bowler. Watson had beaten Gambhir outside the off-stump and Gambhir's back foot had barely left the crease for a split second, but that was enough for Yagnik to whip off the bails in a spectacular piece of glovework.Speaking spin-wise, Rajasthan had left out Ajit Chandila, who has an economy rate of 5.73 this season, and brought in Brad Hogg and Ankeet Chavan. Hogg and Chavan both conceded runs at over nine-per-over and while Bisla and Kallis batted smartly, it was Yusuf Pathan, with an unbeaten 49 scored off 35 balls with three fours and three sixes, who ensured that Kolkata crossed the line with enough to spare – 16 balls to be exact.
2) IPL 2013: Rahul Dravid wishes for more foreigners in playing XI:
|Rahul Dravid wishes for more foreigners in playing XI|
Rajasthan Royals captain Rahul Dravid on Thursday wished the Indian Premier League allowed more foreign players in the playing XI than at present.
Currently, four foreign recruits are allowed in the playing XI while each franchisee can have 11 overseas players in the squad."We have a lot of very good foreign players. It is very difficult for us as we can only play four. I wish IPL would change that and get more foreign players, but it's not possible. Someone has to miss out," Dravid said at a function in Kolkata.
Dravid made the remark while lauding teammate and English batsman Owais Shah's performance in the last edition of the IPL. Shah, who represents Rajasthan Royals, has so far played one match in the ongoing tourney."I know he has been a top performer for us. In the last season, he had done very well but for the combination and balance of the side sometimes we can't fit all the foreign players," Dravid said.
Stressing the importance of playing good cricket, Dravid asserted that his side is focusing solely on moving to the play-offs without losing any sleep on the fate of the other teams."To be honest, we aren't worried about what happens to other teams. We are focusing on ourselves. Whether others are in the play-offs or are knocked out, it doesn't matter. I don't care who the other three teams are in the play-offs as long as we are one of the four," Dravid said during a felicitation ceremony organised by Rupa and Company Ltd. in Kolkata.Now lying third in the points table, the Royals will take on Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens on Friday."We have played particularly well so far. We are going to take a game at a time. We have been doing some things right, have been playing good cricket; specially in tough situations, we have somebody stepping up and doing the job for us. That's what we got to focus on. The next few days will be pretty busy for us. We will just try to play good cricket and put simple things in place," said Dravid.
3) IPL 2013: Mixed emotions for De Villiers, Uthappa after high-scoring encounter:
|Mixed emotions for De Villiers, Uthappa after high-scoring encounter:|
In a high-scoring encounter in Pune, The Royal Challengers Bangalore won their first game away from home this season. After riding on half-centuries by AB de Villiers and Saurabh Tiwary to post 187/3, Bangalore restricted the hosts to 170/9 in 20 overs, winning by 17 runs.
AB de Villiers was declared Man of the Match for a whirlwind knock of 50* of just 23 balls. "I really enjoyed my cricket tonight, it gave me a lot of pleasure to bat so well," said De Villiers after collecting his award. "In this format you can play a wide array of strokes but at the end of the day the basics are the most important and we did that right in this game."RCB skipper Virat Kohli was a relieved man after Bangalore registered their first away win of the season. "We knew this win was coming. It was a team performance and we are glad to get this win under out belt," said Kohli.
Pune skipper Aaron Finch said it was disappointing for Pune to be stuck at the bottom of the table. "We lost our way in the chase. Robin (Uthappa) should have batted till the end. I'm that we fought back but we are way too inconsistent," said Finch after the match.Robin Uthappa was the star performer for Pune, scoring 75 in an ultimately unsuccessful chase. "I was striking the ball well," said the Bangalore-boy after the match. "The wicket got better as the match progressed but Angelo and myself couldn't take the Warriors over the line. The crowds at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium in Pune support us regularly and I was glad I could repay their support with a good knock," added Uthappa.
4) Platini unconvinced by German Champions League domination:
|Platini unconvinced by German Champions League domination|
UEFA president Michel Platini refused to jump on the German soccer bandwagon on Friday, saying it was too soon to draw conclusions from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund reaching the Champions League final.Looking for explanations after Bayern and Borussia knocked out Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, pundits have heaped praise on the German clubs for their efforts in developing home-grown talent."Conclusions are made every year with respect to the finalists. We said the same thing five years ago about English clubs when it was Man United and Chelsea in the final, and about Italian clubs when it was Milan against Juve," Platini, who was knocked out in the World Cup semi-finals twice by Germany as France captain in 1982 and 1986, told a Euro 2016 news conference."I've never handed a (Champions League) trophy to a German club during my time.
"It's cyclical. It's a difficult Cup to win and no team has won it two years a row, so I won't draw any conclusions about the fact there are two German clubs in the final."Bayern beat Barcelona 7-0 on aggregate while Borussia saw off Real 4-3 on aggregate.They will meet in the final in London on May 25.