Central team visits Assam as flood toll climbs to 50
A villager walks cattle through floodwater at Buraburi village in Morigaon district in Assam.
GUWAHATI/BHURAGAON/ITANAGAR: The death toll in Assam’s floods rose to 50, with five more people killed on Thursday. MoS for home Kiren Rijiju led a central team comprising National Disaster Response Force and NITI Aayog officials for ground assessment of the damages incurred due to floods and landslides in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. After visiting Lakhimpur, the worst-hit district in Assam, the team took stock of the situation at Laptap village in Arunachal Pradesh’s Papum Pare district where 14 people were killed by a landslide on Tuesday. Rijiju said, “We have seen the extent of damage and an initial assessment has been carried out. The Centre will provide all support after the preliminary damage assessment report”. According to Assam State Disaster Management Authority, the flood affected-population has increased to 17.43 lakh, with 25,000 more people reportedly hit in the last 12 hours.
Chairing a review meeting in New Delhi, minister for Development of North Eastern Region Jitendra Singh said this year’s damages were unprecedented and a total of 58 districts have been affected due to floods and landslides in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur, with around 85 lives being lost. Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal said Singh called him and expressed concern over the devastation caused by floods. “Singh also conveyed PM Narendra Modi’s condolences for the loss of life and property,” he said. Landslides and flashfloods have killed 19 in Arunachal Pradesh so far, including three Indian Air Force personnel and a minor. Many district and administrative headquarters have been completely cut off from the rest of the country. Assuring Arunachal Pradesh of all possible help from the Centre to mitigate the damage caused by floods and landslides in the state, PM Modi spoke to chief minister Pema Khandu on Wednesday.
Bomb scare at Churchgate Station
Security at Churchgate station in Mumbai.
Mumbai: Security agencies went into overdrive following a bomb scare at Churchgate station on Thursday. No explosive was found and train services were not affected. “An unverified phone call was received on RPF control room at 10.44am regarding a bomb being planted at Churchgate station. Personnel from the Government Railway police(GRP) and Railway Protection Force (RPF) conducted checks inside trains and on station areas. The canine squad was also roped in. The Anti-Terrorism Squad was alerted,” said an official. Security agencies are trying to trace the caller. WR chief public relations officer Ravinder Bhakar said, “The bomb call was taken seriously in wake of the Amarnath killings and also because it’s the sixth anniversary of the triple blasts at Zaveri Bazaar, Opera House and Dadar.” On July 13, 2011, three blasts left 26 people dead and over one hundred injured. “We have called in for reinforcements from other RPF posts and everybody is on high alert along the WR section,” said a senior RPF official at Churchgate. “We came across two abandoned bags, but they had clothes and medicines,” the official said, adding that the teams were asked to stay put at the station till evening peak hours. Security agencies on the CR were also asked to stay alert.
Stifled for breath: Hyderabad chokes on polluted air in 13 locations
HYDERABAD: Its official, the city’s air is unfit for breathing. The Air Quality Index maintained by the Telangana State Pollution Control Board(TSPCB) shows that there are 13 areas in the city where air pollution has crossed the threshold limit. So much so that the board has admitted that the air in these areas can cause breathing discomfort to people with lung and heart ailments. The areas are Balanagar, Uppal, Jubilee Hills, Paradise, Charminar, Jeedimetla, Madhapur, MGBS, Rajendranagar, Nizampet, Pashamylaram, Bollaram, Nacharam and ICRISAT, suffer from poor or bad air quality, say PCB officials. However, long-suffering residents of these areas rue that despite repeated attempts and protests to highlight their plight, the officials of the PCB have done little to improve the situation. According to Dr. A Durga, a resident of Fatehnagar which is just a stone’s throw away from Balanagar, the air in the area has turned hazy because of the smoke emitted by vehicles. “Many people in the colony have begun to develop skin problems and a persistent cough. The pollution in the air is evident, as we can literally see the pollutants float in the air. We have tried speaking to the pollution control board and other concerned civic authorities but all our efforts have been in vain,” she said. Even the city’s green brigade has raised an alarm over the deteriorating air quality.
“Most of the city’s air is filled with vehicle exhaust fumes, a result of adulterated fuel. The civic authorities too are compounding the situation by burning garbage out in the open,” said Dr. S Jeevanand Reddy, a city based environmentalist. He said the state government should improve the public transport system, which could reduce the number of privately owned vehicles on the roads. A solution, to this fuming problem, he said was to open the completed metro rail stretches for commuters. “The government is using the metro rail as a poll plank. If they open this route for the general public, it would help solve half the problem” he said. PCB officials said that there has been a considerable rise in the pollution levels owing to the movement of heavy vehicles in places like Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station, Madhapur, Bollaram, Nacharam and ICRISAT. “Apart from these areas, the constructions taking place across the city are also contributing to the rise in air pollution.” said N Raveendhar, a senior scientist with the board.
Fire at footwear godown in Kamla Nagar
NEW DELHI: A fire broke out at a footwear godown in north Delhi’s Kamla Nagar on Thursday, fire officials said. The incident was reported at 9.10 AM, an official of the Delhi Fire Services said. Around 12 fire tenders have been pressed into service, he said.
Angry passengers demand right of way, jam rail tracks
Passengers protest near Carmelaram station, Sarjapura, on Thursday morning.
BENGALURU: Angry passengers jumped onto the tracks at Carmelaram station near Sarjapura on Thursday morning and held a protest for more than two hours, bringing to a halt four daily trains heading towards and coming from Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna (Bengaluru city) railway station. They demanded that their train- the Dharmapuri Bengaluru DEMU -be allowed to pass first, contrary to the usual practice of being made to wait while the others whizzed past. Activists said the protest was a reflection of the railway infrastructure struggling to cope with the demands of commuters between Bengaluru and neighbouring towns. South Western Railway (SWR) authorities blamed it on the single track between Bengaluru and Hosur (60km), doubling of which has not been approved till date. Five pairs of trains ply on the track daily. The Dharmapuri-Bengaluru DEMU entered the station around 8am and within moments, passengers got off the train and onto the tracks. They said their train was being held back to facilitate the movement of other trains, which delayed their journey every day, throwing their daily schedule haywire. The protesters demanded that their train be allowed to pass before three other trains approaching the station. The other trains -Seshadri Express, Nagercoil-Bengaluru Express and Kochuveli-Bengaluru Express -were only minutes away from Carmelaram station but were stopped well in advance, averting an accident on the tracks.
Umesh C, one of the passengers aboard the Dharmapuri train, said, “It is chaos every morning. The train timings are always delayed by an hour or so because the track is single and the trains pass each other within one hour between 7am and 8am in the morning. But the trains are late by an hour. This disturbs our schedules because we all depend on the local trains to go to work and back”. R K Saxena, divisional railway manager of SWR said, “Because it is a single track, we operate the trains in such a way that one train arrives at the station and the other one waiting there departs. That is the standard mode of operation wherever there is a single track across India. But the passengers got down on to the other track of the station and were upset with the timetable. We had to immediately stop the other approaching trains to avert any calamity”. Saxena said the doubling of the track was not considered in the last budget because of the low density of train movement unlike the Yeshwantpur-Bengaluru-Byappanahalli and Yelahanka Yeshwantpur lines. HSR Layout police rushed to the spot and made way for train services to resume. “What irked the commuters was the daily delay,” a police officer said. “There are four trains that pass by Sarjapura, Bellandur and Anekal between 7am and 8am but they are always late and come between 9am and 10am instead. We promised the protesters that we would convey their concerns to the railway authorities and got them to board the train”.
Alert motorman gifts 13-year-old runaway girl fresh shot at life
HOWRAH: It was around 9.30 pm on Wednesday when motorman Ashok Kumar Sikdar spotted a slight figure leaping on to the tracks, right in front of his Howrah-bound local, as he pulled it out of Kulgachhia station at a speed of over 30 kmph. Sikdar applied the brakes and closed his eyes as the train hurtled towards the figure, fearing it was too late to save whoever it was who had chosen so painful a death. The train came to a stop a few seconds later. When Sikdar opened his eyes, he found he had managed to bring the train to a halt just inches away from a girl, cowering under the motor cabin’s spotlight. For the 13-year-old, the alert motorman’s efforts had just given her a gift of life after she ran away from home, looking to end her life on the railway tracks, after learning that her dad was trying to sell her off to the flesh trade. The traumatised girl from Uluberia in Howrah is now recuperating at a children’s home as cops wait for her to compose herself so that she can make the statement that will help them nab the absconding father. “I climbed down from the cabin, feeling both relieved and angry, and found the girl attempting to crawl underneath the stationary train. I asked for help from passengers and managed to pull her out. She came out struggling, pleading that we let her die,” Sikdar, 49, who has been driving trains in the Howrah-Kharagpur division for 18 years, told TOI. The girl’s tale then spilled out between sobs. A resident of Jagadishpur in Uluberia, the class-VII student was one of five siblings whose mother had eloped with a stranger some months ago.
Their ordeal began then; their dad told them that he couldn’t afford their education any longer and said he would sell them off if they didn’t find ways to earn their living quickly. “He would come home drunk. When I refused to quit school, he thrashed me black and blue and threatened to sell me off for Rs 50,000,” the girl told Sikdar and the passengers. “Recently, some strangers came to our house and dad called me to the room in which they were sitting and then asked me to leave. But I stopped outside the door and heard them negotiating a price of Rs 50,000-60,000,” she added. “That was when I realised how close I was to being sold off and fled to my aunt’s home in Kulgachhia, two stations away,” she recounted. But she received a few slaps from her aunt and was told that her father was the best person to decide her fate. “I pleaded with her to give me shelter and promised to do all the household chores. But she turned me away and said I should throw myself before a train if I didn’t agree to what my father wanted,” she said. It was then that she decided that she had seen enough of life. Sikdar handed the girl over to the Government Railway Police at Uluberia station where the train halted for five minutes, instead of the usual 10-12 seconds. Uluberia GRP officer-in-charge Sanket Mandal assured the girl she would be safe, offered her a warm meal and kept a watch on her till she dosed off as fatigue set in. On Thursday morning, he handed her over to Kharagpur division of Child line. “She was a wreck and in severe trauma. She can barely speak and is extremely afraid of her father who has abused and tortured her. Once the girl’s condition improves, her statement will help us take action against the father,” Mandal added.
GHMC turns blind eye to need for safety audit even as killer roads snuff out lives
HYDERABAD: Despite several stretches in the city turning into death traps, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has continued to turn a blind eye to the need for a comprehensive and scientific Road Safety Audit (RSA) of the city’s roads, rue experts. Though a proposal for RSA was mooted some years ago, it was never taken up. Instead, the civic body has been focusing more on ad hoc corrective measures like widening roads and putting up dividers. This despite a string of fatal accidents snuffing out lives on deadly stretches in areas like Jubilee Hills, Banjara Hills and near the old airport (which falls under the R&B department) and the traffic police department handing over a list of 85 accident prone spots to the civic body and asking it to take steps to make the roads safer. GHMC’s engineering wing officials admit that unlike some planned cities like Chandigarh and Bhubaneswar, Greater Hyderabad is not a planned, due to which road geometries are not in tune with road safety in many places. Many major roads have sharp and steep curves and some stretches are uneven as the civic body has been re-carpeting roads resulting in the height of some roads rising abnormally over a period of time. “RSA is an important exercise for safe roads and is generally taken up on highways. The city typically does not require such a study as vehicle speeds are not supposed to exceed 20 to 40 kmph in the city. But with over speeding increasing, the city also requires RSA,” public health wing engineer-in-chief, R Dhan Singh, who headed the engineering wing of GHMC earlier, told TOI.
Incidentally, a few months ago the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) got RSA done for the Outer Ring Road (ORR) after a series of road accidents. The Central Road Research Institute (CRRI), which conducted the study, suggested remedial measures such as providing crash barriers, signages and reflective stickers. Civic officials, too, recall that a few years ago GHMC had done ‘camber corrections’ on NTR Marg after a series of road accidents on Necklace Road near NTR Gardens. However, former director of CRRI, PS Reddy, feels that Greater Hyderabad requires more than just RSA. “Hyderabad requires both RSA and Road Safety Review (RSR). Generally, RSA is done to assess the possibility of accidents at various stretches and spots, while RSR is taken up at locations where more number of accidents are taking place,” Reddy said. Municipal administration and urban development (MA&UD) department officials said the newly formed special purpose vehicle Road Development Corporation (RDC) will take care of all these issues apart from developing the roads. Initially, the corporation, which has been allowed by the government to raise loans for road re-development, is being given about 250 km of main roads. GHMC has 9,000 km roads running through its jurisdiction, of which main road stretches cover 400 km. “The first meeting of the RDC was held recently. It will also look into the safety aspect by appointing a consultant,” said a senior official of the MA&UD department. In the meantime, GHMC officials said they have already started correction measures at the identified 85 spots such as Dairy Farm Road and the area near the passport office at Secunderabad.
Tourism landmarks under attack as Hills turn violent
The remains of the tourist information centre at Darjeeling Mall.
Darjeeling/Siliguri: The entire Darjeeling district plunged into anarchy on Thursday, with arsonists setting ablaze a popular tourist landmark in the heart of Darjeeling town and a railway station in Kurseong while a state cabinet minister’s convoy somehow managing to evade violent protesters baying for his blood not once but twice on the same day. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, as has become the practice, denied any responsibility and blamed “outsiders” , indicating that its leadership may not have any control over a large proportion of the agitators any longer. Pro-Gorkhaland supporters set ablaze the tourist information office at Darjeeling’s Mall, then torched the Gayabari railway station in Kurseong and after that a forest bungalow near the Teesta. They then targeted state tourism minister Gautam Deb’s convoy twice near Mirik. The burning of the recently refurbished tourism centre may have come as a decisive blow to Darjeeling’s tourism industry, which has already seen thousands of holiday bookings for the latter half of 2017 go to Sikkim and even Nepal and Bhutan. For both vacationers in Darjeeling and its residents, this was the town’s window to the outside world, a major money-spinner and a popular meeting point. “This has sent out a wrong signal. We would get hundreds of tourists converging here every day, enquiring about places to visit in Darjeeling and on its periphery. We would also give out information about Foreign Registration Office and hotels and answer queries on the Hill town’s history,” a senior tourism official said.
Earlier in the day, protesters led a siege on the state tourism minister’s convoy near Panighatta in Mirik. Deb had a close shave while he was on his way to attend a programme held to commemorate the 200th birth anniversary of Nepali poet Bhanu Bhakta, who has become the rallying point of the Hills communities demanding a separate Gorkhaland state. “Protestoes put up blockades at several points. They burnt tyres and also placed huge stones on the way in a bid to disrupt vehicular movement. They tried to stop my vehicle at two points and attacked the police vehicle in front. I got off my car and placed the Nepali poet’s photograph on a table by the roadside to offer my respects. Later, I joined the cultural programme,” Deb said, citing the incidents to iterate the demand for additional central forces for the Hills. He also accused Darjeeling MP and central minister S S Ahluwalia of supporting the ongoing “violence” in the Hills and questioned why the centre was a mute spectator to the repeated incidents of violence. The widespread arson came a day after GJM supporters forced a shutdown of two Teesta Lower Dam hydel power stations in the lower reaches of the Hills on Wednesday. GJM general secretary Roshan Giri, on his part, had nothing but this to offer: “We neither support nor do we indulge in any kind of vandalism and violence. Our members and supporters are in no way associated with putting the place on fire”.
Unlike during the Gorkhaland agitation in 1986, Gorkhaland supporters are now spreading the anarchy downhill towards the foothills and the plains — Sukna, Mirik, Panighatta and Darjeeling More — as well as towards Terai and Dooars, closer to Siliguri town that seems to be sitting on a powder keg. Miscreants also damaged several vehicles on the way to Sikkim, prompting the North Bengal State Transport Corporation to suspend bus services to the Hills. An army column has been deployed at Kalimpong and two more have been pressed into action in Darjeeling and Sonada. But things may go from bad to worse as protesters have decided to gherao the office of the district magistrate, sub-divisional officers and block development officers on Friday. Senior members of Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee (GMCC) will start an indefinite hunger strike at Chowrasta on July 15. The Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM), too, questioned the center’s silence. “They (central government) send teams to Basirhat where no one has died. But it chooses not to intervene in the Hills even when seven people have been killed. What is the secret behind this attitude of the government?” CPRM spokesperson Govind Chhetri asked.
As dengue spreads, insurers roll out specific covers
CHENNAI: With dengue cases on the rise, insurance companies are targeting customers with awareness campaigns and dengue plans. Insurance aggregator PolicyBazaar.com, which has 60 million users on its site buying about 1.2 lakh policies a month, says with the increase in cases down south, more people are buying covers for dengue. “In the northeast, dengue cases are rare. But with more cases being reported in the New Delhi-NCR region and south, there is added interest. We also recommend buying such covers,” says Dhruv Sarin, business unit head, health insurance, PolicyBazaar.com. Among insurers, who offer diseases-specific standalone covers, are players like Apollo Munich Health Insurance and DHFL Pramerica Life Insurance Co. But why a dengue-specific cover? Don’t normal mediclaim policies cover dengue? “One key reason is affordability. A normal mediclaim policy will cost between Rs 6,000 and Rs 8,000. But a disease-specific standalone cover would cost Rs 250 to Rs 300 (up to Rs 1 lakh cover) which is cheaper,” says Puneet Sahni, head product development, SBI General Insurance. “Another benefit is that normal mediclaim policies don’t cover outpatients. If you were to take treatment for dengue at home, with nursing care, diagnostic scans and drugs — a regular policy won’t pay. But with a specific-dengue cover you get coverage up to Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000 for a minimal cost,” says Sarin. With dengue affecting more children and the elderly, policyholders find homecare more convenient, say experts.
DHFL Pramerica says another inducement for patients is the easy claims process for disease-specific covers. “In a normal mediclaim policy, you will have to go through a lengthy, rigorous documentation process for claims. Here, it is a very simple, short, one-page form with faster turnaround time for claims payment,” says a company spokesperson. “Also at Rs 365 for a policy, it works out to Rs 1 a day — far cheaper than a regular mediclaim cover”. Insurers also say they are trying to create more awareness about dengue. Data with Star Health Insurance shows dengue fever claims have risen 124% and chikungunya 78% year-over-year with total number of claims reported across India being 18,157 for the south-based insurer. “While Tamil Nadu has seen quite a few claims. Our highest claims are coming right now from Kerala, particularly in and around Trivandrum. We are working with public health officers to create more awareness in this regard,” says Dr S Prakash, executive director, Star Health. According to claims data with ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company, there has been a spike in the number of dengue cases last year. With the highest number of claims coming from Mumbai (23%) followed by NCR (22%), Bengaluru (7.66%), Pune (6.28%), Hyderabad (4.89%) and Chennai in sixth position (3.05%).
Friendly fire kills two soldiers in southern Philippines
MANILA: A Philippine military jet accidentally killed two soldiers and injured 11 others as troops fought to retake a southern city from pro-Islamic State group militants, the military said today. The incident on Wednesday was the second time soldiers have been killed by their own air support since fighting began in Marawi city almost two months ago, military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said. The army called air strikes at midday against a building where militants were believed to be hiding, but one of four bombs dropped by an FA-50 fighter jet fell short, he told reporters. “The bomb fell in an area proximate to a building where some of our men were staying and the ensuing blast caused part of that building to collapse,” Padilla said. “The debris that fell from the part of the collapsed structure fell on our men causing the death of two and injuries to 11 others”. The fighting has left 92 soldiers and police, 392 militants and 45 civilians dead in 52 days of fighting, Padilla said. They included up to six civilians believed to have been killed by the militants and whose remains were discovered by troops at the city centre yesterday, the military said.
“They were civilians that were killed earlier during the start of the fight, executed by these terrorists,” Padilla added. However, an attempt to retrieve the remains was aborted today due to gunfire, local officials said. The military estimates about one hundred surviving gunmen still control around a thousand houses and commercial buildings in downtown Marawi. The fighting has forced nearly 400,000 residents of Marawi and surrounding towns and villages to flee, officials said. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law over the southern third of the Philippines after the fighting broke out in Marawi on May 23. He said it was necessary to help the military eliminate an attempt by the gunmen to set up an IS province in the southern Philippines, home to decades-old armed rebellions by the large Muslim minority.
Number of fatal terrorist attacks in western Europe increasing, data show
LONDON: The number of terrorist attacks resulting in fatalities in western Europe increased in 2016, despite an overall drop in the number of incidents taking place, according to data released by the Global Terrorism Database. The data shows that there were 30 such attacks resulting in fatalities in western Europe in 2016 and 23 in 2015. This compares with two attacks across the region resulting in fatalities in 2014 and five in 2013. In addition, terrorist attacks have become more deadly, with 26.5 people on average being killed in 2015 and 2016, up from an average of four a year in the preceding three years. The deadliest incident recorded in western Europe was the series of coordinated attacks on Paris in November 2015 that resulted in the deaths of 130 people and was claimed by Islamic State. Experts said ISIS, responsible for seven of the 10 deadliest attacks since 2012, was increasingly encouraging the use of knives and vehicles over firearms and explosives by their followers. “It’s very different to the al Qaeda threat, which was obsessed with mass casualties, bringing down airliners”, Dr. Sajjan Gohel, International Security Director with the Asia-Pacific Foundation think tank told Reuters. “What ISIS is trying to do is have a greater volume of attacks, but make it more cost effective and simpler”.