Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The NPC Kaiga Incident - From the Frontline

Misplaced trust - T.S. SUBRAMANIAN Source - Frontline

Once again a “mischief-maker” is able to expose colleagues to radiation doses at an Indian nuclear power plant. The Kaiga Atomic Power Station, where 65 NPCIL employees were found to have received radiation doses in excess of prescribed limits in November.

ON April 17, 2004, three employees of the Waste Immobilisation Plant (WIP) of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Tarapur, Maharashtra, were exposed to radiation doses when they used, at different times, a particular chair in a room at the plant. Embedded in a fold of the cushioned seat of the chair was a vial of liquid waste containing caesium and strontium, both radioactive substances. The vial should have been sent to a “counter” for “counting” its radioactivity. Instead, it was found lodged in the chair. Top officials of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) laid the blame for the incident on “mischief” by a “disgruntled” WIP employee, who was dismissed.
Tarapur, about 130 km from Mumbai, then had two nuclear power reactors. (It has four now.) Liquid waste from these reactors is stored in underground tanks. Liquid waste is categorised as high-level and low-level. Solid waste is vitrified (converted into glass) and stored in capsules.
Five and a half years later, on November 24, 2009, at the Kaiga Atomic Power Station on the banks of the Kalinadi river in Karwar district of Karnataka, bioassay tests of the urine samples of 65 employees working in the first reactor building revealed that they had received radiation in excess of the prescribed limits. They were all employees of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), which designs, builds and operates nuclear power reactors in the country. They had drunk water mixed with tritiated heavy water from a water cooler kept in the operating island of Unit-1. Tritiated heavy water is a radioactive fluid in the heavy water. The three operating reactors at Kaiga use natural uranium as fuel and heavy water as both coolant and moderator.
Two of the 65 employees received radiation doses above the annual limit of three rem (or 30 millisieverts) set by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB), the watchdog organisation that monitors safety in nuclear installations in India.
A top DAE official blamed the incident on “an insider’s mischief”. He said “an insider had mixed tritiated heavy water in the drinking water kept in the cooler in the operating island of the reactor”.
S.K. Jain, Chairman and Managing Director, NPCIL, also called the incident “possibly an act of mischief”. He explained that there was heavy water in the reactor’s moderator system and primary heat transporter. During the reactor’s operation, a part of the deuterium in the heavy water gets converted into tritium. (Deuterium and tritium are isotopes of hydrogen.) While light water contains two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen (H2O), heavy water contains two atoms of deuterium and one atom of oxygen (D2O). Tritium oxide, or super-heavy water, contains two atoms of tritium and one atom of oxygen (T2O). “Trained, qualified workers” took out vials of tritiated heavy water from the sampling points in the reactor building to the chemical laboratory (which, in this case, was situated outside the building) for analysis, Jain explained. This is done every day. When urine samples of 250 workers were tested on November 24, it came to light that 65 of them had received tritium radiation. Investigation revealed that water in the water cooler had been contaminated with tritiated heavy water. “Preliminary inquiry does not reveal any violation of operating procedures or radioactivity release or security breach,” he said.
Jain was confident that since the “computerised access control system has a record of all the personnel who have entered the operating island”, it was only a matter of time before the mischief-maker would be identified.
The DAE/NPCIL do not seem to have become wiser after the incident at the WIP at Tarapur. No closed-circuit cameras have been installed in the corridors/passages leading from the sampling points in the reactor buildings to the chemical laboratories, which are generally situated outside the reactor building.
With touching naivete and implicit faith in their staff, top NPCIL officials explained away the absence of closed-circuit cameras. Their unanimous argument was: “The workers are our staff. Their antecedents were checked before they were appointed. So there is no need to monitor every movement of a worker.” Besides, they argued, it was not feasible to install cameras all over the nuclear power plant “from end to end”, and that cameras had been installed in what they called “strategic areas”, “sensitive spots” or “vital points”.
But all of them declined to reveal what were the “strategic areas” or “sensitive spots” where closed-circuit cameras had been installed. An AERB official frankly admitted: “The closed-circuit cameras have been installed at strategic locations so that nothing is removed without authorisation. But who would have thought a fellow would go out of his mind and mix tritiated heavy water with drinking water?” One NPCIL official said that the vial containing tritiated heavy water would not be detected by radiation-monitoring counters if it was covered with a piece of cloth.
A top DAE official said, “There are a large number of places where closed-circuit cameras have been installed. There were no cameras here because it was a corridor [in Unit-1 at Kaiga]. The cameras were not installed then because the decision at that time was based on a [particular] scenario. Now you have to factor in this scenario [of an employee spiriting away the vial containing tritium and mixing it with drinking water in the cooler].”
The AERB sent two of its officers to Kaiga. They concluded that a drinking water cooler was the source of the tritium contamination. The water tank of this cooler, like other water coolers, was kept locked. “However,” said Om Pal Singh, AERB Secretary, in a press release, “it appears that a mischief maker added a small quantity of tritiated heavy water to the cooler, possibly from a heavy water sampling vial, through its [cooler’s] overflow tube.”
Officials of NPCIL and the AERB also played down the gravity of the ingestion of tritiated heavy water by the 65 employees. An “update” on the incident from Jain on November 29 said: “Any contamination caused by heavy water inside the human body is quickly flushed out through natural biological processes like urination and perspiration. These processes can be hastened through simple medication. The contamination detected in this incident has been brought down quickly and one worker is currently close to the limit specified by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board.… No worker is hospitalised.”
Om Pal Singh argued that the “administration of diuretics accelerates the process of removal of tritium from the human body by urination” and said the personnel who ingested the tritiated heavy water were referred to hospitals for the administration of diuretics.
But according to an article in Science and Democratic Action, published by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, United States, in its August 2009 issue: “As radioactive water, tritium can cross the placenta, posing some risk of birth defects and early pregnancy failures. Ingestion of tritiated water also increases cancer risk.” These observations form part of the lead article, “Radioactive Rivers and Rain: Routine Releases of Tritiated Water from Nuclear Power Plants”, by Annie Makhijani and Arjun Makhijani. They observed: “The problem of routine tritium emissions is, in our opinion, underappreciated, especially because non-cancer foetal risks are not yet part of the regulatory framework for radionuclide contamination and because tritium releases constitute the largest routine releases from nuclear power plants.”
Although the Kaiga incident came to light on November 24, it was not before November 30 that the Kaiga station officials “formally” requested the Mallapur police for an investigation. Notwithstanding the NPCIL top brass’ confidence in the computerised access control systems, biometrics and the list of 250 employees who work in Unit-1, neither the State police nor the Central intelligence agencies had zeroed in on the “mischief-maker” as of December 7.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Karwar cuisine- a tradition - Sourced from

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Karwar cuisine

Cuisine of Karwar, a small town on the western coast of India, just south of Goa, is unique in its taste, flavour and variety. People of  Karwar have spread over different parts of India and the world in search of employment and livelihood. But the karwar Diaspora, no matter where it exists cares for the food of the native land. Their mouth waters the moment somebody mentions the Karwari dishes.

There are books on Goa cuisine which is therefore well advertised but Karwar cuisine is less known. Though it may have similarities to Goa cuisine, it is distinct. Goa was under Portuguese rule for five hundred years and this inevitably affected the content and the style of cooking with the inevitable impact of the Portuguese food style. But Karwar cuisine has retained its pristine purity and traditional favour. the Malwani food in south Konkan is similar in some respects. But Karwar food has its own tongue- tingling and mouth-watering quality. It is quite distinct from the food of the neighboring Karnataka and Maharashtra states. Karwar food deserves to be widely known and its dishes made accessible to not only the Karwar Diaspora but also all the lovers of good food the world over.

Local crops and products, fruits and vegetables inevitably enter into the cuisine of the people. Rice, cocoanuts and the fish are naturally the main ingredients of Karwar food but it is enriched by wide varieties of fruits, nuts, vegetables, leaves and spices.

Rice: rice is locally grown since the crop requires heavy rains, which Karwar is blessed with. The locally grown parboiled rice ( ukado tandul) is used for rice gruel ( pej) for mid-morning meal. Rice ripens around Dasara-Diwali time (month of October) and appears in the market. It is stored in the house in hugemoodos (baskets made of dry paddy stalks) for use through the rainy season till the next crop is available.

Cocoanuts:  Every Karwari house would normally have a grove of cocoanut trees in the backyard. Cocoanuts are used in abundance in Karwari cuisine to produce a variety of curries, chutney and sweet dishes like patoli, modak and madgane. A traditional house has a ragada, a stone artifact that is used to mash cocoanuts flesh. Cocoanut milk is an input to sweet dishes like payas and madgane. It is mixed with jaggary made from local sugarcane which serves asros cakes made of rice are dipped and eaten. Cocoanut when dried up becomes copra which when crushed becomes oil which is a medium for cooking. Fish fried in cocoanut oil gets an aroma and taste of its own.

Fish:  A wide variety of fish is the treasure provided by the sea the estuaries. Karwar fishermen spread the early in the day and the fisherwomen bring the fresh fish to sell in the morning bazaar. The head of the household personally goes to buy the fresh fish according to the liking of his family members. Often he successfully bargains with the fisherwoman about the price. A successful purchase of quality fish at a bargain price becomes a matter of boast in an animated morning conversation with friends and neighbours. Bangada ( macharel) Tarala (sardine) are the fish most abundantly available as reasonable prices. Paplet( pomphret), Visvan or Surmai( king fish) Ravas, Shevate are bigger fish each with its own taste. Nagali found in estuaries are a delicate fish and is aptly called Lady’s Finger. Sungata (prons), Tisryo (shall fish) Kalwa (rock fish or mussels) and Kurlyo (crab) each has its own flavour and taste. Winter (November to January)     

 Is the best season for fish-lovers? The fish is abundant and appetite is demanding. During the rainy season, fishermen cannot enter the turbulent sea to catch fish. So fresh fish – bangada, sungata and mori (shark)- is dried in the summer season on the road under the hot burning sun and stored for use in the rainy season. They are carried in bundles by visiting Karwaris who live in places where fresh fish is not available. Kismore made of dried bangada, sungata and mori is more delicious.

Fruits: mango is rightly called the king of fruits. Everybody knows about Ratnagiri Alfanso (hapus), which is exported to up country market of Mumbai and from there to Dubai and other foreign lands. American president Bush relished the alfanso mango during his visit in India and hoped that the mango will be exported to US also. But Karwar varieties of mangoes are quite different and are unique in taste and flavour. Karwaris will not exchange them for any other variety. First are ishadthkalo (black) and dhavo (white).They are full of sweet pulp. There is musrad big in size and with special flavour. Third is fernadfirm in flesh and easy to cut into pieces. Karwar meal cannot conclude in the summer season without a plateful of pieces of these mangoes. Summer is the season when mangoes arrive in abundance in the market. Amras-puri is a favorite dish in a summer season meal. Beside there are also small juicy mangoes, which are used to prepare sasav, a special dish of Karwar. Mango curries flavoured with ghalani are also a favorite. Wild mango trees, grown in forest provide an abundance of raw mangoes, which are collected in early season to produce whole mango pickle besides a variety of other pickles. Mango juice is dried in the sun and made into flakes –sath for relishing the taste of mango long after the mango season is over.

Jackfruit: Like mangoes, jackfruits also ripen in summer. Huge jackfruits hang in bunch from the jackfruit trees. Every household compound has a tree or two. The green exterior with small spikes hides a treasure of golden ( garas) that is sweet flesh covering large seeds neatly packed inside. The huge fruit is ripped open with a knife and with oil smeared hands, lest the glue( cheek) sticks, thegaras are taken out to be consumed at leisure. There are two types of jackfruits – kappa and baraka. Garas of kappa are crisp and delight to relish. Those of baraka are juicy and are used to prepare relishing patolis – a pancake steamed in a covering of haldi (turmeric) leaves. Patolis are eaten steam-hot with dollop of ghee melting over it. The jackfruit seed ( bikan) is used as an additional input to curries.

Bananas: Bananas are a common fruit in India but the standard banana sold in the market is with green skin. But those in Karwar, smaller in size are golden in colour, sweeter and fragrant. Bananas are eaten fresh after the meal but are also turned into sasav, a sweet, sour, pungent dish.

Cashews: Summer is also the season for cashew nuts. Very few know that cashew nut appears on the top of the cashew apple resplendent in its red hue. Cashew apple is nice in taste but can hardly compete with mangoes and bananas. It is the cashew nut that is more coveted. A thick exterior covers the nut which is roasted on fire (nowadays it is done in cashew factory) the cover removed and the nut taken out for eating. The nut has a crisp brown cover, which is easily removed with fingers. There is hardly any nut as delicious as cashew nuts. It is eaten as it is or salted or spiced. It is also mixed with variety of preparations like sweets such as madgane and kheer or savouries like phov and muga- ambat( green gram curry). Cashew nut is the ingredients of katli sold by the famous Chitale shop in Pune.

Ananas (pinapple): This is also summer season fruit. Its rough exterior cover is removed to reveal a sweet sour interior, which is sliced and eaten. The slices are canned and its juice tinned. Karwaris use the ananas for sasav and bhaji.

Chibud (melons): These again are available round Dasara-Diwali time. They are eaten mixed with phov, coconut and jaggery.

Vegetables: coastal areas are not known for modern vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower or green peas, which require cooler climate not available in Karwar’s coastal climate, which is warm and humid. But there are distinct local vegetables.

Neerfanas ( breadfruit) : though called a fruit it is indeed a vegetable. Green in colour like jackfruit but much smaller and round in shape. They appear on the branches of a huge tree with its artistic leaves. Their skin is peeled off to reveal a whitish flesh inside which is sliced and shallow-fried. These are called phodies a typical Karwar dish which is very delicious. A tasty bhajis- suki ( dry) and patal( saucy) is also made combined with vatana (dried white whole peas)

Mage: This is a typical fruit vegetable of Karwar – like the people of Karwar, soft and somewhat sweetish whose liquid bhaji mixed with vatana (dry peas) or ghalani and coconut paste is a great delight.

Vali-bhaji ( local spinach): This is a leafy vegetable whose bhaji mixed with dry shrimps is an ideal accompaniment to mid-morning pej( rice gruel). It is rich in iron.

Tambadi ( red) bhaji: this is another leafy vegetable of Karwar, which is often flavoured with lasun( garlic)

Toushe (cucumber): This is often used as an input to a delightful home made cake eaten with dollops of ghee.

Ambade: This sour fruit vegetable is put in a special curry called udadmethi, which tingles the tongue.

Leguminous crops:
Mug(green gram): are sprouted and are used as an input to a most popular vegetarian curry flavoured with phodani palo (curry leaves) and enriched with cashew nuts. It is eaten with rice and is a must at wedding feast and other ceremonial occasions. Usal is another dish flavoured with fresh coconut gratings. Mug is nutritious.

Chilli: Bydagi variety, grown in neighbouring Dharwar district is invariably used for all types of curries –vegetarian or fish. Byadagi gives the red tinge and taste to the curries but is not pungent.
Tepal (Trifal): It is an essential input in many fish, specially Bangada( maceral), tarala( sardin)  and vegetarian curries. It leaves unforgettable taste in the mouth. While raw they are green in colour but on drying assume a black tinge. Dried tepalas are stored and used for months together.
Sola- bhiranda and vatamba. They are grown wild and are plucked and dried. They are used to add sour taste to the curry. Red Bhirandas are used for sola kadhi, which has the cooling effect and is in demand in summer.
Haladi( turmeric) leaves: the aromatic leaves are used to cover the sweet pancake-patoli.

Cooking utensils and procedures:
Karwari cuisine has its own cook-wear i.e. modak-patr for steaming patoli and heet and special frying pan for cooking yerrapes. Kashya vessels for prparation of fish curries.

It has also unique cooking procedures i.e. dhuvan for smoking viangan( brinjal) bharit and kismore. A burning coal with coconut oil poured on it is covered with bharit or kismore, which them assume a delightful flavour.

Karwar cuisine- a tradition

Karwar cuisine is a tradition that is evolved from generation to generation and is a part of Karwari way of life. A Karwari housewife does not mechanically follow written prescriptions and formulae in a recipe book but relies on her own uncanny judgment of taste and flavour. She passes on her skill to daughters and daughters-in –law. Things have undergone a change in recent years. Girls are getting educated even up to the highest levels of education – graduate and even post-graduate. They get less time in the kitchen. They take jobs, which keep them engaged for hours on in the office. They do not find it possible to spare time for preparing dishes involving elaborate processing. They would like them to be available at some restaurant or hotel but latter are seldom familiar with the delicacies and nuances of Karwar cuisine. Hence the need for a recipe book on Karwar cuisine. We hope our book will be widely used.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Karwar Beach in 1933 - sourced picture

This picture of Col Gosnell was taken at Karwar in 1933. Came across this Web Page while Image Searching/browsing "Karwar Law" here -

Colonel Kenneth Arthur Gosnell, O.B.E.Army Officer. Ken served with the Indian Army, in Mesopotamia and India in 13th Rajputs and later the 6th Rajputana Rifles. Ken held the rank of Captain at his marriage in 1922, and ended his career as a Colonel. He was awarded the O.B.E. for service in the 2nd World War.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Alien food is laying its bait for the Konkani seafood—will it bite? -

Alien food is laying its bait for the Konkani seafood—will it bite?

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The earthy red of manganese dust around Karwar port, echoed in the colour of the fish curry served here, dominates your visual experience of this slumbering coastal Karnataka town. If the tangy curry, cooked with the wild spice jummana kalu, is a taste of the past, the red dust is all about the pressures of the present.

And the pressures are many. The landmark Amruth Hotel now has fish tikka and butter chicken. But the authenticity of its Konkani fare still survives.

They have all come in the name of development. The Kadra dam, the Kaiga nuclear power plant, the caustic soda factory and most recently, the Seabird naval base. These projects have led to bustling new settlements and have inexorably altered the traditional palate of a town where even Brahmins survive on a daily diet of fish. In the last couple of decades, jummana kalu (zanphoxylum rhepha) has had to fight the advances of ajinomoto and tandoori masala.

Ecologist Pandurang Hedge, who lives in Sirsi nearby, says he came to Karwar regularly once upon a time just to feast on its staple Konkani shellfish varieties, rice bakri (thin crusted rice-rotis) and shagoti (chicken in gravy) and the wild spice fish curry served with boiled rice at the city's most famous landmark—Amruth Hotel. "But now Amruth serves everything from chicken Manchurian and fish tikka, to fried rice and butter chicken masala. The Punjabification of food is an indicator of the changes the city has seen," he says.

Local editor Ashok Hasyagar says that Kaiga saw an influx of 8,000 families and Seabird brought another 3,000 in its first phase. A vegetarian, he came to Karwar as an employee of the caustic soda factory in 1975. "I struggled at that time because we did not get vegetables and milk in Karwar. Fish was the staple and fish-eaters hardly needed another calcium supplement. But now we have three streets selling vegetables and milk," he says. The same, he points out, is true of sweets—they came in with the Gujaratis and Marwaris, and almost swept away kaju miji, a local sweet made of jaggery and ginger.

S.R. Neelavar, the 87-year-old patriarch who started Amruth, admits to having diversified, but swears by the authenticity of his Konkani dishes. "I was inspired to start Amruth in October 1978 after the shagoti and rice bakri that I used to sell in Karwar twice a day, on my cycle, became very popular. Then, my wife Amruti was the cook. Now we have grown big, but my wife still keeps an eye on the cooking." To prove the point, he treats us to some delightful estuarian fried fish, a rare variety found where the river Kali meets the sea, and bangda (mackerel) curry rich with coconut milk, another important ingredient of this coastal cuisine.

Neelavar is a Daivagna Brahmin, traditionally a goldsmith. Just as the cuisine seems to be under attack, the jewellery, too, is facing pressure from competitors. "Karwar-style jewellery has a very special place but with Bengali goldsmiths coming into town, their style has begun to dominate, and perhaps their fish masala too," says Deepak Shenvi, a jewellery exporter.

But nobody can take away the teesra sukka (a small clam) delicacies from the Karwar people. This is evident when you visit the fisherfolk of the Kali riverbed. "We prepared teesra biriyani yesterday," say members of the Waingankar family. But Ashok Hasyagar rings an alarm bell: "Land erosion, sand mining and Seabird's break-water wall to stop waves have altered the undercurrent, and affected the abundance of shell fish."

A good number of the Saraswat Brahmins, another important community in the Karwar region, have migrated to Maharashtra. But their food survives, as we discovered at Shweta Homely Food, run by Shyam Sundar Basrur, a Chitrapur Saraswat. He served us delicious thoy, a yellow dal tempered with coconut oil and mustard and solkadi, a drink made of kokam and coconut milk, which tastes divine after a good karli or surmai fish curry. There are other wonderful fish curries, but also Chinese fried rice and kebabs. "We added chicken and mutton to cater to the demands of my clients, mostly bank and government officials transferred here," explains Shyam.

Amidst this torrent of seafood, there is a small pocket in Karwar untouched by fish, called Habbuwada. The Habbus are strict vegetarians who migrated from Bijapur during the Adil Shahi reign. In this 'wada', the talk is about rice porridge, the spicy saru, local greens, papaya, cucumber and sweet gourd. "Other vegetables were alien to us until recently," says Ramachandra Habbu, a college principal.

Tagore, who visited Karwar in 1873, when his uncle was the first Indian judge in the area, wrote of the sea beach: "It reflects the joy of the infinite and thus draws us to lose ourselves in it." But the universe of Konkani cuisine is not exactly infinite, at least not any more.