News Flash – 5 January 2018

National News

 

 

FIR filed in Aadhaar data leak case; all info safe, says UIDAI

 

NEW DELHI/ CHANDIGARH: The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has registered an FIR for unauthorised access to Aadhaar data, such as names and other demographic details, due to the misuse of the grievance redressal facility at the office of the Surat district administration in Gujarat. The breach came to light following a report in The Tribune that claimed an “agent” available on WhatsApp facilitated access by a login ID and password to the particulars of any Aadhaar number. The agent, the report claimed, was paid Rs 500 through Paytm. Particulars such as name, address, postal code, photo, phone number and email were accessed and the Aadhaar card printed, the report said. UIDAI denied that the breach allowed access to millions of Aadhaar cardholders’ details, saying the search facility is available for the purpose of grievance redressal to designated personnel and state government officials and details are limited to the particular Aadhaar number punched in. The system did not provide an avenue to other cardholders. Demographic information cannot be misused without biometrics, UIDAI said. An FIR has been filed at Mohali from where the “purchase” of access to Aadhaar data was reported. Officials said they are taking the unauthorised use of the grievance mechanism seriously and will work with police to trace people involved in making the login ID and password available to a private entity, which will also be investigated. “UIDAI assures there has not been any Aadhaar data breach. The Aadhaar data, including biometric information, is fully safe,” UIDAI said, adding the redressal mechanism was intended to help residents by entering their Aadhaar or enrolment number.

 

Stating that the given case appears to be a misuse of the grievance redressal search facility, UIDAI said it maintains a complete log and traceability and legal action will follow. “UIDAI reiterates that the grievance redressal search facility gives only limited access to name and other details and has no access to biometric details,” it said. The media report also mentioned that groups operating on the internet targeted village-level enterprise (VLE) operators operating under the Common Service Centres Scheme and said the VLEs had gained illegal access to Aadhaar data to subsequently claim to provide “Aadhaar services”. A UID official said they were looking at the claim but pointed out that enrolment agents did not have access to the Aadhaar system. With the Supreme Court due to soon pronounce on the validity of the use of Aadhaar for a range of services, the claim of a data theft raised a flurry of reactions, with Left leaders saying the incident exposed the frailty of the UID system. Senior police officials told TOI that by entering Aadhaar numbers, one could get details that are available on an Aadhaar card, along with the phone number. Kiran Jonnalagadda, cofounder at tech discussion forum Has Geek and Internet Freedom Foundation, said the Aadhaar system is insecure.

 

“The backdoor has already been opened. It is quite easy to hack into their systems and the stolen demographic identities can be misused in a lot of ways,” he said. He is one of the petitioners in a change.org petition demanding proper auditing of Aadhaar database. A person working with the government on Aadhaar-related projects said while leaks should not happen, no material leak had happened in this case. “Aadhaar has less information about you than even the voter ID card,” he said, adding that such leaks could happen even in the voter ID card system or the RTO. The Indian system does not allow any agency, including the government, to access a resident’s data, without authorisation from the person. He said telecom operators and others in the US can look up a citizen’s data by accessing his/her social security number without even the citizen knowing about it. UIDAI said Aadhaar is not a secret number. It is to be shared with authorised agencies whenever an Aadhaar holder wishes to avail a certain service or benefit from government schemes.

 

 

Fire safety norms modified for hill station buildings

 

 

MUMBAI: In a boost to construction in the hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala the state urban development department has clarified that fire norms of having an open space of six metres around buildings will apply only to multi-storey structures which are more than 15m in height (ground plus four). The height restriction in Lonavala municipal council area is 12 metres (approximately ground plus three). An urban development department official said when the Development Plan (DP) and Development Control Regulations (DCR) were sanctioned in 2005, the development control rules stipulated that fire norms will apply to all multi-storied buildings. “This was interpreted as being applicable to even ground plus one structures. Hence, all such plots had to have an 6m open space around them. This made construction difficult,” he said.

 

The council has a court appointed committee to sanction building plans. The committee too had recommended that the DC rule must be modified. “It was only after the courts ordered the demolition of a building in a case for not following fire safety norms that the issue gained urgency. Now we have clarified that the norms that are applicable across Maharashtra will be applicable in Lonavala too,” said the official. However, for all educational, assembly, mercantile, institutional, industrial, storage, hazardous and mixed occupancy buildings the fire safety norms will apply if the plot size is more than 5,000 sq. feet.

 

 

Delhi fog: 17 flights delayed, over 60 trains running late

 

NEW DELHI: Rail and air services were badly hit in Delhi as dense fog continued to grip the National Capital Region(NCR) on Friday morning. The fog resulted in 17 flights being delayed at the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport and over 60 trains were also running late. Track the pollution level in your city.  In Delhi, 20 rescheduled and 18 cancelled due to prevailing fog conditions and low visibility. However, Met has forecast improvement in visibility later in the day. The cold spell in the capital, brought on by icy north winds blowing since New Year day, intensified on Thursday, with the minimum temperature falling to the season’s lowest of 5 degrees Celsius as Delhi woke up to yet another foggy morning with visibility below 50 metres. “There will be dense to very dense fog on Friday morning as there is sufficient moisture in the air. The intensity is likely to reduce from Friday onwards, however temperature will stay around 5 to 6 degrees in the next few days,” said a scientist on Thursday at the Regional Weather Forecasting Centre (RWFC). Air Quality Index of Delhi’s Lodhi Road area, prominent pollutants PM 2.5 & PM 10 remained in ‘very poor’ category on Friday. Delhi’s most polluted location on Thursday was Anand Vihar with an AQI over 450, while DTU, Punjabi Bagh and Mandir Marg were also recorded in “severe”.

 

 

Swollen, bleeding eye infection puts Chennai in panic’s scopes

 

 

CHENNAI: A panic-stricken couple and their 16-month-old daughter rushed to an eye hospital in the city on Wednesday after blood started to drip from the child’s swollen eyes. Most parents are unlikely to welcome a doctor diagnosing their child with conjunctivitis colloquially referred to as ‘Madras Eye’ — but this pair welcomed the ophthalmologist’s conclusion with relief. Little wonder, since neither of them had heard of, let alone witnessed, such a severe case of the viral eye infection. “We’re seeing many patients with a severe form of highly infectious acute haemorrhagic conjunctivitis,” said Dr S Soundari of Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospitals. “Some of them come only after the condition worsens, vision is disrupted or there is bleeding from the eyes,” she said. Madipakkam home maker R Gayathri, 26, and her husband said they were terrified for their daughter when they saw blood fall from the little girl’s eyes. “We saw the redness in her eyes and took her to a pediatrician,” Gayathri said. “He gave her some eye drops but then we saw blood and panicked. We later discovered that our daughter needed stronger medication.”

 

The doctor has put both the mother and child on antibiotics. A virus usually causes conjunctivitis inflammation of the conjunctiva, a membrane that covers the front of the eye. Acute haemorrhagic conjunctivitis involves the discharge of blood by vessels of the conjunctiva. Doctors may prescribe antibiotics or steroids to treat secondary infections and ease symptoms. Self-medication or drugs doled out by a local pharmacist can prolong symptoms and make them worse, doctors warned. Closed environments such as offices and schools may cause rapid spread of the infection and cause an epidemic outbreak. “The health department should put out an urgent advisory,” said Dr Mohan Rajan of Rajan Eye Care. “We have had patients with secondary infections that require high spectrum antibiotics. Some recover only after a month.”

 

 

International News

 

 

Thieves steal Indian jewels from Venice exhibition

 

 

ROME: Thieves on Wednesday stole precious Indian jewels from the famed Al Thani Collection that were on show in a Venetian palace, making off with a brooch and a pair of earrings by mixing in with the crowd on the final day of the exhibition, police said. The stolen jewels were not the top highlights of the Al Thani Collection, which includes gems dating from the time of the Mughal Empire. But police said they were made of gold, platinum and diamonds and reports estimated their value in the millions of euros. Venice police said the security alarm went off at around 10am at Venice’s Doge’s Palace and police immediately sealed the area. But the thieves had already made their escape from the museum, known as the Palazzo Ducale and one of Venice’s top tourist destinations. Venice police said the thieves managed to delay the triggering of the alarm system, allowing them to escape. The Al Thani Collection is a renowned collection of 270 pieces of Indian and Indian-inspired jewellery. Forbes magazine has said “there is no comparable collection on the planet”.

 

 

‘Bomb cyclone’ pounds northeastern US, causes travel chaos

A city worker struggles with a snow blower on the streets of Boston as snow falls from a massive winter storm on January 4, 2018 in Boston, United States.

 

 

NEW YORK: A giant winter “bomb cyclone” walloped the US East Coast on Thursday with freezing cold and heavy snow, forcing thousands of flight cancellations and widespread school closures — and even prompting the US Senate to cancel votes for the rest of the week. Millions of Americans faced potential power outages in bitterly cold sub-freezing temperatures, with some 45,000 people in Virginia and thousands more in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida already affected. Relief in the form of warmer temperatures was not expected until next week, according to the National Weather Service, and the snow was expected to only taper off by late Friday as the storm moves northeastward into Canada. Florida — the “Sunshine State” better known for palm trees, beaches and balmy weather — saw its first snow in nearly three decades in northern parts of the state. Roads were closed in northern Florida and southeastern Georgia, where Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in coastal areas. Florida’s Governor Rick Scott urged people there “to prepare for extreme cold weather conditions, including potential snow, sleet or ice accumulations”. With up to a foot (30.5 centimeters) of snow expected in New York, accompanied by powerful windgusts, schools were closed. More than a foot of the white stuff was expected in Boston. Mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers to stay off the roads and take the storm “very seriously”. The storm could bring “very dangerous conditions,” he warned on Wednesday.

 

Wind gusts of up to 55 miles (88.5 kilometers) per hour were expected through Friday on Long Island and southeastern Connecticut, with wind chills as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 Celsius), increasing the risk of frostbite and hypothermia from prolonged exposure. Blowing and drifting snow reduced visibility, and downed trees and power lines were likely. “Very anomalous and potent winter storm system currently developing as it moves northward towards New England bringing multiple hazards: moderate to heavy snow, low visibility, strong to damaging winds, coastal flooding, and hazardous seas,” the National Weather Service said in a forecast discussion. “Anticipate travel and economic impacts today and tonight with accumulating snow and white-out conditions. Expect downed trees and power lines resulting in scattered to widespread outages”. Airlines have scrapped more than 3,000 flights so far due to the storm. Nearly 75 per cent of flights out of Boston and New Jersey’s Newark airports were cancelled due to the snow and other adverse weather conditions, according to flight tracker Flight Aware, though only about a quarter of flights to and from New York’s main John F. Kennedy airport were scrapped. Air France announced it was cancelling all flights Thursday and Friday from Paris to New York and Boston. The storm owes its moniker to a process known as bombogenesis, in which a weather system experiences a sharp drop in atmospheric pressure and intensifies rapidly, with blizzard-like conditions combined with hurricane-force winds.

 

About 12 deaths have already been blamed on the frigid temperatures this week. Winter storm warnings were in effect from the Mid- Atlantic region northward through New England, meaning that hazardous conditions were imminent. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency. “Virginians living in the impacted areas should stay off the roadways to allow local and state road crews and first responders to do their jobs safely and efficiently,” he said. “With continued frigid temperatures expected to last for several more days, road conditions will remain treacherous beyond the expected end of the snowfall today,” he added. National rail line Amtrak cancelled service between Washington and Newport News, Virginia. In Washington, federal agencies opened two hours late and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the chamber would hold no further votes this week, shortening what was already a short workweek due to the New Year’s holiday. Senators had only returned to the upper chamber Wednesday, and they face a series of critical votes in the coming weeks, including on funding to prevent a government shutdown and spending cuts.

 

 

11 killed, 25 wounded in Kabul suicide attack

 

 

KABUL: A suicide attacker blew himself up near a crowd of police and protesters in Kabul on Thursday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 25 others, officials said, in the latest deadly violence to bring carnage to the Afghan capital. “A suicide attacker has detonated himself… close to a number of police who were trying to provide security for an ongoing protest,” deputy interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi told AFP. Health ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh told AFP that 11 bodies had been taken to hospitals around the city along with 25 wounded. Majroh added that the toll could rise. A security source who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity said 20 people had been killed and 20 wounded in the attack, but that higher toll could not be immediately confirmed. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack which happened during a protest following the death of a shopkeeper during a police operation targeting alcohol and bootleggers, an unnamed official said. The deadly assault comes a week after more than 40 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide blast claimed by the Islamic State group that targeted Shiites in Kabul. The capital has become one of the deadliest places in war-torn Afghanistan for civilians in recent months, as the Taliban step up their attacks and IS seeks to expand its presence in the country.

 

Last week’s assault came days after a suicide bomber killed six civilians in a Christmas Day attack near an Afghan intelligence agency compound in the city, which was also claimed by IS. On December 18 militants from the group stormed an intelligence training compound in Kabul, triggering an intense gunfight with police, two of whom were wounded. Security in Kabul has been ramped up since May 31 when a massive truck bomb ripped through the diplomatic quarter, killing some 150 people and wounding around 400 others — mostly civilians. No group has yet claimed that attack. Despite the increased security measures militants continue to carry out attacks. On Wednesday Afghanistan’s spy agency announced it had busted a 13-member IS cell in Kabul that had been planning to carry out “a series of big terrorist attacks” in the city. The Middle Eastern jihadist group has gained ground in Afghanistan since it first appeared in the region in 2015 and has scaled up its attacks in Kabul, including on security installations and the country’s Shiite minority.

 

 

23 civilians killed near Damascus, mainly from Russian air strikes: Monitor

A wounded man is carried to the hospital following an air strike.

 

 

BEIRUT: At least 23 civilians were killed in the Syrian opposition redoubt of Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, with the majority of victims perishing in Russian air raids, a monitor said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP that 18 people were killed by Russian strikes in the town of Misraba, while the remainder died in shelling from government forces. Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said three children and 11 women were among those killed. The war in Syria has killed more than 340,000 people and displaced millions from their homes since it began in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests. Eastern Ghouta, a small enclave east of the capital Damascus, is controlled mostly by rebels from the Jaish al- Islam group. Russia first launched bombing raids in 2015 in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s beleaguered forces. Those strikes have helped Assad regain control over much of war-ravaged Syria. The Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.

 

 

18 killed, about 260 injured in South Africa passenger train crash

Train passengers are transferred to a bus at the scene of a train accident near Kroonstad, South Africa.

 

 

JOHANNESBURG: A passenger train carrying people home after the holidays slammed into a truck in rural South Africa on Thursday, killing at least 18 people and injuring about 260 others, authorities said. Officials said the truck driver allegedly tried to cross the tracks just ahead of the oncoming train, part of which burst into flames after the collision, trapping some passengers in carriages. Those who were able to escape with their luggage hurriedly dragged bags from the smoking wreck to a nearby road. “The truck driver was taking chances. He thought that he was going to pass through,” Transport Minister Joe Maswanganyi told journalists. “Little did he know that the train was going to hit him. That has cost a lot of lives”. Some of the dead were badly burned, said Mthuthuzeli Swartz, acting CEO of the state-owned passenger rail agency. The train with 429 passengers aboard had been traveling from Port Elizabeth to the country’s commercial hub, Johannesburg. Video showed part of the Shosholoza Meyl train in flames after the collision that occurred between the communities of Hennenman and Kroonstad in Free State province. The crash derailed half a dozen carriages, and power lines were damaged. A large vehicle was upside down beside a train carriage that appeared to have partly crushed another, smaller vehicle. The truck driver emerged unscathed and the train driver and his assistant suffered minor injuries, Swartz said. He told local media outlet eNCA that the truck towing two trailers was halfway across the track when it was hit by the train and dragged for 400 meters (1,300 feet).


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