A total of 81 lions have died across the country from January 2006 to 2008, with nine of them becoming victims of poaching, Rajya Sabha was informed on Thursday. Fifty two lions died a natural death, one because of an accident and six due to electrocution while 13 fell in a well and nine lions died because of poaching in Gir protected area and surrounding habitats of Gujarat. Out of the six lions electrocuted, five of them died in Permpara village, outside the Gir Protected Areas in October 2007. Investigation shows that a farmer had laid electrified wire fencing his agriculture land to prevent crop damage from wild herbivores, minister of state for environ ment and forests S. Regupathy said.

The government has toed the line of Union culture minister Ambika Soni of leaving a decision on the Sethusamudram Project to the Supreme Court. The question at stake was whether the Ram Sethu was man-made or a natural formation. The government was in no position to take any position, since it had not conducted independent archaeological studies to arrive at any definitive conclusion. The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA), chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday, finalised the affidavit to be filed by the government in the Supreme Court on the Sethusamudram Project. The CCPA was attended by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Union culture min ister Ambika Soni, Union law minister H.R. Bhardwaj and Union shipping ,minister T.R. Baalu. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier set up a GoM headed by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, where the government response was formulated. The Union Cabinet secretary was then asked to draft the govern ment affidavit, with inputs from the Union culture secretary, Union shipping secretary and Union law secretary. The Supreme Court on January 31 had granted another four weeks of extension to the Centre to file affidavit by the first week of March. An affidavit on the issue filed by the government in September last that sparked a furore as it raised questions over existence of Lord Ram. Union culture minis ter Ambika Soni had ordered deletion of the controversial portions of the draft affidavit, before embarking on a visit of Japan. But the instructions were not carried out and the offensive portions ordered to be deleted were retained, triggering a controversy. Ms Ambka Soni ordered withdrawing of the affidavit and suspended two officials of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for gross negligence of duty.

Over 55 per cent of Indians will live in urban areas by 2050, a big change from now when only about 30 per cent of the country's population is urban, according to projections in a United Nations report. In terms of numbers, over 900 million people in India will be living in urban centres in another 40 years, three times the over-300 million urbandwellers today. However, India will still not be as urbanised as China where the number of people living in cities will go up to 70 per cent from the current 40 per cent. India will remain the country with the largest rural population during most of the future decades, according to the 2007 Revision of World Urbanisation Prospects released by the UN on Tuesday. By 2025, Chennai will be another mega city of over 10 million people, besides Mumbai with 26.4 million (up from 18 million in 2005), Delhi at 22.5 million (up from 16 million) and Kolkata with 20.5 million residents (up from 14 million). The population growth in many second tier cities will even be high er. In Ahmedabad by 2025, the population will grow to 7.7 million, up 50 per cent from the current 5.1 million. In Pune, 6.8 million people will live by then, a growth of 60 per cent from the current 4.4 million. Migration from rural to urban areas would continue despite attempts by the country's planners to prevent people from moving to cities, said Hania Zlotnik, director of department of economic and social affairs' population divi sion, while releasing the report in New York. Ms Zlotnik said Indian planners should try to promote economic development in rural areas. But improving agriculture and establishment of agroindustries would mean fewer people would be needed in that sector, pushing excess labour to the non-farm sector in the cities. She outlined two scenarios - either people would migrate to cities such as Mumbai, or one-time rural areas would transition into urban centres by generating other activities as has been happening in China. The annual population growth in India's rural areas has been declining since reaching a peak of 1.9 per cent during 1980-85. It will record negative growth by 2025. In comparison, the urban growth rate reached a peak of 3.9 percent during 1975-80 and has been declining since, yet will remain above two per cent till 2040. Projecting for the world, the UN report said half the global population would live in cities by the end of this year, for the first time in human history. Their number would rise to 70 per cent by 2050, most of that growth being concentrated in Asia and Africa. The number of mega cities is expected to double from the current 20 to 40 by year 2025. The greatest expansion, however, would happen not in metropolises but in cities with populations of less than 500,000 and even some of the rural areas will graduate into urban areas. The report notes that its projections will be realised only if fertility rates in the developing world continue to decline.

India is planning to launch a satellite to study the sun, the Lok Sabha was informed on Wednesday. Satellite Aditya will study the corona, the outermost region of the sun, and other crucial parameters of space weather, minister of state in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan said in a written reply. The satellite will also study coronal mass ejection or solar flares, evolution and structures of coronal magnetic field. The mission is intended to enhance scientific knowledge of the sun's radiation and continuous monitoring of its atmosphere, Mr Chavan said. The data generated will also help to design satellites to withstand adverse effects of solar environment, he said. Sources said the 100-kg satellite is expected to be launched by 2012 and likely to be placed in a near-earth orbit of 600 km. The sun's corona is highly active, releasing energy during solar flares in the form of bursts manifesting as geomagnetic storms on earth. These storms can distort the earth's magnetic field and have a huge bearing on near-earth space where satellites are located. Isro has built a mobile launching pedestal at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota as a part of augmentation to the existing second launch pad, Mr Chavan said in reply to a separate question. The launch of Chandrayaan I, India's maiden moon mission, has been shifted to June-July in reply to a separate question. The launch of Chandrayaan I, India's maiden moon mission, has been shifted to June-July

The Sethusamu dram ship canal project could become operational by November this year depending on clearance by the Supreme Court, minister of shipping, road transport and highways T.R. Baalu told the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. He said the government had constituted a committee of eminent persons on October 5, 2007 with the terms of reference to invite suggestions and objections if any from all concerned persons in the project. The minister said the committee had submitted its report to the government on November 29, 2007. The Sethusamudram project was approved by the government in May 2005. However, pursuant to orders passed by the Supreme Court on September 14, 2007, dredging work at Adam's Bridge area had been suspended. The committee was formed pursuant to the submissions made before the Supreme Court by the government counsel on September 14, 2007, in respect of certain transferred cases and writ petitions relating to the project.

Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) announced discoveries of four sites of crude oil and natural gas in one month after its board meeting on Monday. It said it has notified the director-general of hydrocarbons about the discoveries. Three of the discoveries are onland and the fourth in offshore. The board also cleared three major investments for growth-oriented projects. The onland discoveries have been made in well Kosamba-41 and well Chaklasi-8, both in western onshore and in well Mekrang-7 in Assam. The offshore discovery has been made in well B-12-11 in PEL Block BOFF 1,2,3 on the Arabian Sea. The three projects are the revised configuration of Dahej Petrochemicals Project, the augmentation of the gas-processing capacity of its Hazira complex and the additional participation in the GulfA joint venture. ONGC will take up addi tional participating interest (PI) of 30 per cent in the development phase of Gulf-A in the joint venture block of CB-OS-1, at the northern-most end of the Gulf of Cambay. ONGC's share of 55.26 per cent of the capex would be $57.209 million. The other partners in this joint venture are Tata Petrodyne and HOEC.

NEARLY half of the world's 1.3 billion smokers live in China, India and Indonesia, the three largest consumers of tobacco products. In China alone, more people smoke than live in the United States. Those countries and others in the developing world represent promising frontiers for the big tobacco companies as they move to win over existing smokers and, according to a new report by the World Health Organization, convince teenagers and women to light up. Smoking has declined slowly in the West. But over the last four decades it has grown steadily in the developing world, in fact, during that time, the respective shares of global cigarette consumption between rich and poor nations flipped:Tobacco products already are responsible for about 5.4 million deaths a year from lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses, according to the W.H.O., an arm of the United Nations. If trends continue, that number will rise to more than eight million annually by 2030, the agency estimated, with 80 percent of those deaths in the developing world. The eventual toll from tobacco products could be a billion deaths in this centuff, the report said - 10 times the 100 million smoking-related deaths that occurred in the 20th century. The W.H.O. tracked the vigor of tobacco controls worldwide and found them especially weak in poorer nations. One reason is that many governments are in the tobacco business and rely on it for revenue. Case in point: the world's largest cigarette maker is the state-owned China National Tobacco Corporation. BILL MARSH China Has 30 percent of the wodd's smokers. India Has 11 percent of the world's smokers. Indonesia Has 5 percent of the world s smokers Below are percentages of adult smokers in China, India and indonesia - defined by the United Nations as those 15 years and older - and nonsmokers who offer a potentially fucrative market for tobacco products

The Union tribal affairs ministry has stressed the need for implementation of Forest Rights Act in time-bound manner and urged the states to complete the preliminary work for identification of beneficiaries by the mid-March.

Despite mak ing numerous foreign junkets to study the subject of sanitation, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is yet to give the city even the minimum number of toilet blocks. Though the MCD has been indulging in big talks to give the city the modern toilet blocks managed by foreign companies, it's the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC), which has less than 10 per cent of Delhi under its jurisdiction, having modernised 94 of toilet blocks in the south of Rajpath area and in the next six months will create another 100 of them in the north of the Rajpath areas.

One of the emblems of the Antarctic, the king penguin, could be driven to extinction by climate change, a French study warns. In a long-term investigation on the penguins' main breeding grounds, investigators found that a tiny warming of the Southern Ocean by the El Nino effect caused a massive fall in the birds' ability to survive. If predictions by UN scientists of ever-higher temperatures in coming decades prove true, the species faces a major risk of being wiped out, they say.