Regulations
Cabinet approves project-exit policy for highways developers

The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), in a meeting here chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the two proposals to give a renewed thrust to the highways sector

 

The government on Wednesday approved a project-exit policy for highway developers and also authorised the state-run National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to intervene in languishing projects that are suffering from lack of funds.
 
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), in a meeting here chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the two proposals to give a renewed thrust to the highways sector.
 
According to the CCEA, the comprehensive 'exit policy' framework now permits developers to divest 100 percent equity two years after the completion of construction. 
 
"It is relevant to note here that during the last few years, PPP projects have not been able to attract bids; one of the primary reasons being lack of availability of equity in the market among qualified bidders," the CCEA said in a statement adding that the move will unlock equity from completed projects that can then be re-invested into new projects. 
 
"This decision will also harmonise conditions uniformly across all concessions signed prior to 2009 with the policy framework for post-2009 contracts," the statement said. 
 
The statement pointed out that there are 80 such Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) projects awarded prior to 2009 that have been completed and the lock-in equity in them works out to be Rs.4,500 crore. 
 
"Once this (equity) is unlocked and is re-invested in new projects, this could support 1,500 kms of new highways in PPP mode, thus reviving the response to BOT(T) projects," the statement said. 
 
On the decision to allow NHAI to intervene in languishing projects, the CCEA said the approval is for projects that are in advanced stage of completion but are stuck due to lack of additional equity or the lenders' inability to disburse funds further.
 
The statement elaborated that NHAI will provide funds to such projects from within its overall budget on a loan basis at a pre-determined rate of return. 
 
"This loan is to be recovered along with interest as the first charge from the toll receipts immediately after completion of construction," the statement added. 
 
Estimates with the government show that there are 16 projects that are languishing in various part of the country due to lack of funds.
 

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How brain balances hearing between the ears

A team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) sought to understand the biological process behind the 'olivocochlear' hearing control reflex

 

Researchers have answered the long-standing question of how the brain balances hearing between the ears. The balance is essential for localising sound, hearing in noisy conditions and for protection from noise damage.
 
A team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) sought to understand the biological process behind the 'olivocochlear' hearing control reflex.
 
"The balance of hearing between the ears is dependent upon this neural reflex that links the cochlea of each ear via the brain's auditory control centre," explained senior researcher Gary Housley.
 
Our hearing is so sensitive that we can hear a pin drop and that is because of the "cochlear amplifier" in our inner ear. This stems from outer hair cells in the cochlea which amplify sound vibrations.
 
In animal experiments, the team found that the cochlear's outer hair cells, which amplify sound vibrations, also provide the sensory signal to the brain via a small group of auditory nerve fibres of previously unknown function.
 
In mice lacking the sensory fibre connection to the cochlear outer hair cells, loud sound presented to one ear had no effect on hearing sensitivity in the other ear.
 
In normal mice, this produced an almost instant suppression of hearing. The researchers speculate that some of the hearing loss that humans experience as they age may be related to the gradual breakdown of this sensory fibre connection to the outer hair cells.
 
The ultimate goal is for cochlear implants in both ears to communicate with each other so that the brain can receive the most accurate soundscape possible.
 
"This research will help us move closer to that goal," the authors concluded in the paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

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Credit card-sized device lets patients analyse blood sample

It is simple to use: you switch it on by pressing a button, then apply your sample to a circle in the bottom right corner and wait for a digital reading to be displayed and even sent to your mobile phone

 

Patients suffering from kidney or heart diseases can avoid visiting hospitals for monitoring their disease status as researchers have now developed a pocket-friendly instrument. The credit card-sized device can analyse blood and saliva samples.
 
It is simple to use: you switch it on by pressing a button, then apply your sample to a circle in the bottom right corner and wait for a digital reading to be displayed and even sent to your mobile phone.
 
"The whole instrument is printed on the card using a screen-printing technique. It could be used to monitor diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease, or to detect cancer," said the researchers.
 
"Until now, we have been used to going to a doctor, who endows us with some wisdom and retains information about us, and then waiting to see, if we get better. Modern sensors and telecommunications are rebalancing this power; in the future, patients could have the information, while physicians provide a service," said Anthony Turner, professor at Linkoping University, Sweden.
 
According to Turner, who has developed the instrument, the new machine could turn a 2,500-year-old paradigm on its head and put the power in the patient's hands.
 
"We are on the cusp of an entirely new era -- not just for bio-sensing, but for measurements in healthcare and diagnostics generally," Turner noted.
 
Bio-sensors can detect and analyze data to give patients information on their heart rate and blood pressure, blood sugar and hormone levels, and even test whether they are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
 
This detection technology is a step forward in personal medicine, giving patients real-time information about how their bodies are functioning and suggesting the most suitable treatments.
 
The printed instruments are the result of a collaboration between Linkoping University and Swedish ICT non-profit Acreo, and the team is now looking for corporate partners to work with to mass-produce them.
 
The findings were presented at Elsevier's fourth international conference on Bio-Sensing Technology in Lisbon, Portugal on Tuesday.

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