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PM unveils all-women bank

The Bharatiya Mahila Bank (BMB), India’s first all-women bank, is only a small step towards empowering women and a lot more needs to be done, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh while launching the first seven branches of the bank on November 19.

Coinciding with the 96th birth anniversary of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister inaugurated the bank in the presence of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, coalition leaders Sharad Pawar and Farooq Abdullah, besides finance minister P Chidambaram.

BMB will be a universal bank, but will primarily serve women, taking care of their special needs and requirements, while giving special attention to women coming from weaker sections of society and rural areas. The number of branches will go up to 25 by March-end,Finance Minister P Chidambaram said in his speech. “It will establish branches all over the country and, in due course, some branches abroad,” he said.

Apart from providing all services that are provided by banks today, BMB will also have products specifically designed for women. One of the products is for women who want to open their own catering business, while another is aimed at women looking to build world-class daycare centres for children, said Usha Ananthasubramanian, chairperson and managing director of BMB.

The bank’s board will consist of eight women, including CMD Ananthasubramanian, former banker Nupur Mitra, government nominee Priya Kumar, among others. “We can increase the number to 12, which we will do going ahead,” Chidamabaram said during the launch. The finance minister had first announced an all-women bank, while presenting the union budget earlier this year.

"Only 26% of women in India admit to having a bank account. On the other hand, four public sector banks, including State Bank of India, and several private sector banks have a woman at the head of the bank. The obvious conclusion is that, despite good intentions, there is deep-seated bias, at the institutional and individual levels against women," he said, stressing that BMB will seize the opportunity to lend to more women.

MKCL launches MOOCs-based Param Intervarsity

A major initiative in massive online open courses (MOOCs) was launched by the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Ltd (MKCL) on November 18 in the form of Param Intervarsity.

The occasion was graced by Dr. Anil Kakodkar Chairman, Rajiv Gandhi Science and Technology Commission of Maharashtra, Dr. Asha Kanwar President and CEO Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and Dr Vijay Bhatkar, scientist and architect of India's national initiative in supercomputing, among others.

Presenting the vision behind this initiative, eminent educationist and MKCL's Chief Mentor Prof. Ram Takwale said that "Param Intervarsity is a platform for establishing Meta or Param University with its infrastructure entirely in cyber space."

Its study centers would be located in colleges, university departments and other learning places "for offering personalized and situated learning support to students. On offer would be New Education, an innovative education form, which follows basic principles and approaches of Nai Talim of Mahatma Gandhi and Role-Based Learning and Performing by J P Naik,” Prof. Takwale said.

According to him, New Education would enable a student to use knowledge to learn by playing multiple roles in life and work areas of applications of their liking, talents and aspirations. The goal of new education would be to help an individual find one's Own Role, adopt lifelong learning and development paths and become a change maker to create a future for self and society.

Speaking at a press conference, MKCL's Managing Director, Dr. Vivek Sawant said the cyber university would offer knowledge-based courses for learning at higher education levels and also enable students to apply their knowledge for bringing change in society.

IIT-B's solar lamps to brighten lives of one million

IIT Bombay along with the Government of India's National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF) through Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has initiated a new endeavour and social programme - “1 Million Solar Urja Lamps (SOUL) through Localization of Solar Energy”. IIT Bombay will be collaborating with local rural organization; who will be the Institutional Partners (IP) to locally assemble and distribute SOUL to school children.

Even today, more than 40% families in India use kerosene as main source for lighting (census 2011). This lack of electricity in rural areas in dark hours hampers the education and growth of the young. The Government has successfully implemented the ‘Right to Education’, but we also need to give ‘Right to Clean Light’ as well. As IIT Bombay notes emphatically, “The young students CAN-NOT and SHOULD-NOT wait for light”.

According to this leading tech-training institute, if LED is used for lighting, a student needs less than 1 unit of electricity for entire year for study! Cannot we supply even 1 unit of electricity per year? Today, a solar energy solution for basic lighting is the quickest and cheapest solution. With this belief IIT Bombay has undertaken project to provide SOlar Urja Lamp (SOUL) to each and every child in the country. Our 1 Million SOUL project is a pilot project in this direction. For better repair and maintenance a concept of "localization" of solar energy is being promoted wherein solar study lamp are assembled, used and serviced by local people.

Tamil Nadu NGO Promotes Eco-sensitivity Among Villagers

For the past two years, villagers of Kittampalayam in Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu, have been celebrating Diwali sans the noise and pollution of firecrackers. Bats, cattle egrets and mynahs, which can be spotted aplenty in these villages, have remained safe in their habitat, at a time when many urban birds have to contend with the deafening noise and pollution. They have a team of eco-conscious people to thank for this as reported in The Hindu.

Members of Noiyal Green Foundation (NGF), an NGO started in Somanur in 2008, have been enlightening the villagers and tribals in Kittampalayam, Karumathampatti and other neighbouring villages about the impact firecrackers have on the lives of birds, the advantages of planting saplings and the need to preserve the environment.

“As children, we would never hesitate to drink the water from the Noyyal; it was so pure. Over the years, the levels of pollution have increased. The water is no longer safe to drink,” says R. Palanisamy, NGF president.

This prompted Palanisamy and seven of his friends from neighbouring villages to form an organisation through which villagers could be involved in preserving and improving the environment around them. Because they were from the area, they understood local issues better, and bonded well with the villagers. For details, call 94436-98742 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Travel Firm Promotes ‘Responsible Tourism’ in Northeast

‘Responsible tourism’ is a lot more than just “not littering” It is about connecting with the local people and their culture, about leaving the environment in a better state than before, about improving lives of the locals, about giving more than taking, and much more writes Anusha Subramanian in The Better India.

Software professional Piran Elavia, founder of Kipepeo, believes tourism must be the happy face of conservation. Elavia has borrowed the name ‘Kipepeo’ from an enterprise by the same name in Kenya that successfully bridged the divide between conservation and livelihood of the local populace. Explains Elavia: “To us, here in India, those are the bridges we want to build and that is the balance we seek to create: between tourism and conservation, between equitability in society and sustainability of environment, between the quality of life for human beings and the quality of life around them, between enjoyment today and enjoyment tomorrow.”

Explaining what responsible tourism is Elavia says, “Responsible tourism aims at increasing the positive impact of travel by enabling mutually enriching experiences between tourists and the environment, people and cultures they visit.”

Kipepeo’s first objective as a responsible tourism company is to strive to build bridges between resources and needs, leisure and livelihoods, visitors and hosts, in ways that are sustainable and beneficial to all. It has been involving the local communities actively in the tourism process, to assist them economically and socially. Secondly, Kipepeo’s objective is to highlight to the outside world this beautiful albeit misunderstood region of India.

“I want to change the way people think about NE India and get their fear out. Instead I want people to visit these places and take back wonderful memories with them,” says Elavia.

Kipepeo’s multi faceted approach for developing a sustainable tourism model:

  • Primarily using home-stays or community-run lodges for accommodating visitors.
  • Using local staff as guides, cooks and porters on all their treks and adventure expeditions.
  • Buying local produce & using locally available renewable resources.
  • Provide training to local people for tourism-related activities like guides, cooks, etc and assisting locals in setting up home-stays.
  • Educating and sensitizing all visitors to the cultural practices of the region.
  • Working in locations which are relatively remote and unknown, so as to provide alternative livelihoods to the local communities.

Kipepeo offers tours in the North East in places such as Assam, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland. One can explore these places via treks and wildlife tours, caving in Meghalaya and home stays in Sikkim and Arunachal.