News Flash – 1 September 2017

National News



Residents who left building earlier shocked and relieved on hearing about collapse


MUMBAI: Shock and relief is how residents who had left Husaini building responded when asked about the collapse. Shocked that the building collapsed and some of their neighbours died; relief that they decided to leave earlier. Sakina Dudhwala distinctly remembers when the Mumbai Housing Board stuck a notice at the building entrance in 2013 informing residents that the building was in a dangerous condition and they must evacuate. “Our house was close to the common toilet block. This section was the most dilapidated part of the building. It was only a year earlier that Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT) had bought the building and their representatives had been approaching us for consent for redevelopment. I decided that I would give consent only if they gave us alternate accommodation,” he said. SBUT had appointed Alamdar Infrastructure to interact with tenants, obtain consent and arrange for their shifting. Dudhwala had visited Anjirwadi, where the trust had constructed transit tenements. He had liked the place and was determined to get a tenement there. Initially, Dudhwala was told his building was in cluster nine, and he would get alternate accommodation only when the cluster was taken up for redevelopment. In the meantime, the trust repaired the building. But Dudhwala was persistent. Finally, he was allotted a tenement at Anjirwadi three years ago. On Thursday, Dudhwala rushed to the site on hearing about the collapse but after a few hours he could not stay there as it was too upsetting.


Immediately, thereafter a couple of other residents also asked to be shifted, and they were moved to Gorakhwadi. “Shocked. Thank God we move out when we did. The others too had been offered tenements here but they preferred to stay on,” said Tasneem Merchant, who runs a parlour on a lane diagonally opposite her old home, which is now no more. “Of course, I want to come back, after all it is our mohalla. But Gorakhwadi is also very comfortable,” she said. Sakina Dudhwala said after they left the building, those who stayed behind were able to use the entire floor. The additional space perhaps lulled them into a false sense of complacency, she said. She is happy in her new place, which she claimed was better than her previous abode. “It is a self-contained flat, spacious, water, electricity and parking is free. It is also a quiet area, unlike Bhendi Bazaar,” she said. Despite the hustle bustle and the full-of-life ambience of Bhendi Bazaar, it remains one of the most under-developed and neglected areas in the city.



Why nearly 5 lakh drivers are on Delhi roads without valid papers



NEW DELHI: If your licence has been suspended by the traffic police for speeding or jumping a red light, you are unlikely to get it back immediately after the three-month period fixed by the Supreme Court. The lack of coordination between traffic cops and the Delhi transport department often leads to a delay of another three months, prompting almost five lakh people to drive without a licence on a daily basis. Rajiv Kakria, who recently went to the Sheikh Sarai motor licensing officer to collect his licence, had a similar experience. “I was challaned for exceeding the speed limit and, after three months, was told to return after three months. During this, I am not allowed to drive a car,” said Kakria. But many others resort to driving illegally during this additional period. The situation is similar outside all 13 motor licensing offices in the capital. Many complain that they have to go to the transport department several times just to find out if it has received the licence from the traffic police. “Even during my third visit to the Dwarka authority, I was told that it was yet to receive the licence. On their advice, I went to the traffic police of the Kalyanpuri circle where I was challaned but they couldn’t find my document and told me to return after a month,” said Baljeet Singh, a software engineer who stays in Chawla. Transport officials claim this is nothing unusual. In 2015, a Supreme Court committee on road safety had recommended the three-month suspension of licence to bring down traffic violations. While traffic cops admit that the rule has reduced the rate of violation by almost 50%, insufficient coordination between the authorities often leaves almost one in every 10 drivers on the road without a licence.


The traffic police helpline is flooded every day with complaints from the licence-holders awaiting their documents. According to the traffic police, once a challaning officer has seized a considerable number of licences, these are sent to the relevant motor licensing office by post. However, the process takes more than three months as it takes time to segregate the licences according to the zones. “Since the details are noted down manually, a police officer has to scan the counterfoils to mark the zones. The process takes about a month,” said an officer. Transport officials say they start counting the period from the day they receive the document, and not from the day it has been seized. They admit that the manual process takes more time due to lack of coordination. “There is often confusion about the zone of a licence, which results in at least 15% of the seized licences going missing during the process. This delays the matter further as the aggrieved drivers then have to apply for a duplicate licence,” said a transport official. “More automation and digitisation may solve this problem,” said a senior transport department officer. The entire process, he said, should be digitally monitored through a software to make tracking of licences easy.



IMD plans to alert cities if rain could lead to floods


The Union earth sciences ministry in New Delhi plans to upgrade the Met department’s system of rain forecasts by including an ‘impact warning’ that would alert cities on whether a spell of rain could lead to flooding. India Meteorological Department issues warnings for heavy rain but these have mostly failed to prompt state governments into taking pre-emptive measures. The latest case in point was Tuesday’s deluge in Mumbai, which IMD had forecast days in advance. “For heavy rainfall that leads to floods, state governments take IMD’s warnings lightly, even though the forecasts are mostly good,” M N Rajeevan, secretary, earth sciences ministry, told TOI. To get over this problem, Rajeevan said the ministry was thinking of seeking the help of the UK Met Office to introduce impact into IMD’s forecasts. “What IMD does is to give rain probability and expected quantum. What needs to be done is to convert that forecast into a flood warning. Will the rain flood the city or not?” he said. “We have started thinking about it and plan to collaborate with the UK Met Office in developing the new protocol,” he added.


What may help in the exercise is work by IIT-Bombay in collaboration with central meteorological institutes in developing an urban flooding model for Chennai. Work on the model was commissioned after the unprecedented Chennai floods of December 2015. Whether a rain spell will cause flooding in a city often depends on a complex interplay of factors that include soil condition, state of drainage system, topography and, of course, amount of rain. “It’s a complicated calculus that requires a lot of data about the city. But we hope the work being done on Chennai can be replicated for other cities,” Rajeevan said. The official said developing a new forecasting system would take time but he hoped something would be in place by next year. In contrast to rain forecasts, IMD’s cyclone warnings have been taken very seriously by affected states in recent years, with Odisha and Andhra Pradesh undertaking mass evacuations ahead of storms forecast. “We have started getting a good response for our heatwave warnings too,” Rajeevan added.



Bengalureans lured by throwaway prices, duped of Rs 10 lakh on OLX and Quikr



BENGALURU: If you spot a lucrative offer on online classifieds platforms OLX or Quikr on cars bikes or cellphones and the seller insists on advance payment citing huge demand, don’t rush into sealing the deal. For, you may be scammed. In the past six months, cybercrime sleuths have seen at least 11 cases of gullible Bengalureans being cheated of their money by conmen who put up ads on OLX and Quikr, claiming to sell expensive cars, two-wheelers and phones at unbelievably low prices. The victims have lost money in the range of Rs 5,000 to over Rs 1.5 lakh, with the total amount running into nearly Rs 10 lakh. Police said there is a likelihood of more people having been cheated similarly, who may not have reported the incidents due to embarrassment or the loss being small. Explaining the modus operandi of the conmen, a senior police officer said they post ads of products, mostly automobiles and hi-end cellphones and leave a mobile number on the platform. “The ads carry attractive photographs of the products claimed to be on sale for throwaway prices. For example, a second-hand car worth Rs 10 lakh will be advertised for just Rs 3 lakh,” said the officer.


Claiming there is huge demand for the product, scamsters coax buyers over phone to pay in advance. Unsuspecting victims transfer some money (online) to a bank account provided by the fraudster, who promises to deliver the product at a pre-arranged location in Bengaluru, where the rest of the money needs to be paid. Once the advance is paid, the ad vanishes, the fraudster’s phone is switched off and the money deposited is withdrawn in Delhi or Gurugram, police sources explained. Businessman Rajkumar from Vijayanagar fell for a similar OLX fraud when he was lured into buying a 2012 van for Rs 3.50 lakh and ended up losing Rs 1.30 lakh he had transferred online in February. “I responded to an online ad and received a call from a woman speaking in Kannada claiming to be from Belagavi. The dirt cheap price quoted was hard to resist,” said Rajkumar who lodged a complaint with Magadi Road police. Making users aware via emails: Quikr According to a Quikr spokesperson in Bengaluru, the platform administrators know of such frauds and have been spreading awareness among users through emails and ads. “We have stressed the need to be smart while using services on our platform. One of the reasons behind the institution of the Quikr Doorstep service (where the company completely deals with the product transaction) is to prevent our customers from falling prey to such frauds,” the spokesperson said. No representative from OLX was available for comment.



Girl jumps off train to escape harassment, two arrested in Vijaywada



Hyderabad: A 21-year-old girl jumped off a running train to escape eve-teasing. The young techie was harassed by two men, one hailed from Uttar Pradesh, while another was from Bihar. The girl threw herself off Kanyakumari- Nizamuddin Hazrat Nizamuddin Express train after the rogues started troubling her and two other girls. The victim sustained injuries on her forehead and is undergoing treatment. The railway police nabbed the three rogues in Vijayawada, about 180 km from the spot. The three youths — Kurban of Bihar and Harikesh Yadav and Sudhakar of Uttar Pradesh — were arrested soon after the train arrived at Vijayawada station, the police informed. Reportedly, the victim, along three other two of her friends, boarded the train from Chennai to reach Vijayawada, their native place. The victim had to reach home for her betrothal. The girls did not have confirmed tickets, so they got into a sleeper coach. They got into S1 coach hoping to request the ticket checking officials for arrangements. The compartment was full, so the girls were standing.


Soon after, three youths started teasing them. Two of the youths started behaving indecently with the victim. They started to pull her dupatta and started touching her inappropriately, while the other one started filming the activities on his phone. Frightened, the hapless women sought the help of other passengers in the coach, but none came forward to help them. As the train reached Singarayakonda station in Prakasam district, one of the women jumped off the running train. The other two pulled the chain bringing the train to a halt. They rushed their injured friend to Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) hospital at district headquarter Ongole in 108 ambulance. The girl sustained injury on her forehead and is declared out of danger. Deputy superintendent of railway police M Satti Babu told Mirror, “We have registered a case under Indian Penal Code sections 342 (wrongful confinement), 506 (criminal intimidation), 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman) and 290 read with section 30 (creating public nuisance).



Darjeeling unrest: Chaos in Hills, violence spectre looms


DARJEELING/KOLKATA: What came as a respite for the people in the Hills initially, gradually turned into chaos and confusion by the evening, as soon as GJM president Bimal Gurung declared that the bandh will not be lifted. People feared that differences within the parties might lead to clashes, bringing the days of violence back in the Hills. “Some locals, often seen in GJM rallies, told us in the evening that bandh will not be lifted. Some of the shop owners were even threatened with dire consequences if they dared to open shops,” said a businessman. “It is not yet clear what will happen tomorrow. So we will stay alert,” he added. “On Friday morning, some of the shops will open and owners of others will wait to see if the picketing continues. If shutters are not downed forcibly by the agitators, then others will also open their shops,” the businessman, who runs a grocery store in Darjeeling, said. Hotels will also start opening only after the owners find that there’s no violence in Darjeeling. “Everybody is scared and it is now evident that there is a rift among the political parties. Who will risk his life and property now?” asked a hotel owner on condition of anonymity. The mood in the Hills was tense on Thursday evening after trade unions supported by the GJM started raising their voices against lifting of the bandh. A rally was organized near Chowk Bazaar and agitators protested against lifting the bandh.


“I went out to buy stocks for my medicine shop when I heard the news of withdrawal of the bandh. Our shops were open throughout as health was kept out of the bandh purview. But the economy of the Hills has been badly hit since the bandh was declared,” said Ramesh Gupta. Gupta, who runs a medicine shop near Chowk Bazaar, felt that people have been waiting to see an end to the strike. Meanwhile, the administration is keeping a close watch on the developments to prevent any untoward incident on Friday. “We have taken all possible measures to maintain peace in the Hills. There will be enough police force to ensure safety of the people,” said Jayashi Das Gupta, district magistrate of Darjeeling. The trade unions at the tea gardens on the other hand have decided not to lift the strike on Friday. The gardens, however, will remain open. “There is no instruction from the party high command to lift the strike. So, there is no question of lifting it. Workers have sacrificed for 80 days and there is no looking back now,” said Su raj Subba, general secretary of the GJM-supported Darjeeling Terai Dooars Plantation Labour Union. While the authorities of schools in Darjeeling are yet to decide if they will keep it open, their counterparts in Kurseong said that they will keep the schools open. “We are happy and the school will open on Friday. What has education to do with politics?” said Robindro Subba, principal of the Himali Boarding School in Kurseong.



Tamil Nadu Blue Whale victim told friends he’d survive



MADURAI: The 19-year-old college student from Madurai who committed suicide while allegedly ta king up Blue Whale challenge was found to have been glued to his mobile phone days before he resorted to the extreme step. Friends and relatives of the victim say that he often kept aloof from others and even went missing for short periods. Although his friends circle was aware of the game, he kept his family members in the dark about what he has been going through. He did not share the details with his brother even though he specifically inquired about the game. J Vignesh, 19, second year BCom student at a city college, was found hanging in his house at Mottamalai near Vilachery in Austinpatti police limits on Wednesday evening. His parents, daily wage labourers, are yet to come out of the shock and can’t believe that their son had died due to a game.


The victim’s grandmother Anthonyammal said that he was glued to his phone and neglected everything around him. She said she had promised him a new bike when he successfully completed his graduation, she said in a choking voice. According to his brother Sathya Moorthy, Vignesh was reluctant to share what he was playing. When he insisted on knowing about it, he would only say that it was a different game and did not elaborate further. “The night before he committed suicide, he went missing for a short while in the dead of the night. I went out in search of him but could not find him. When I returned later, he was found sleeping. He was found distressed for the past two days, but did not say why,” he said. P Amarnath, a young man from the village, said, “His friend’s circle knew that he was playing Blue Whale game and particularly that he was in the final stage. They were connected on a WhatsApp game and many were also playing it. They had warned him not to take up the suicide challenge. However, he told them that he would survive the challenge and meet them as a winner”.



International News



Immigrants battle deportation fears in Harvey’s aftermath

US Border Patrol Agent looks out while standing on the bow of an air boat during a search and rescue operation in floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston.



HOUSTON: Alain Cisneros walked past thousands of cots filled with storm victims at the Houston convention center holding up a poster with the words, “Do you have questions?” written in Spanish in bold black letters. He pulled up a chair next to a woman from Honduras and tried to deliver a reassuring message as the 23-year-old recounted in an exhausted voice how waters rose to her chest in her Houston apartment, forcing her to wade to safety with her three young children. Ricxy Sanchez listened to Cisneros’ assurances that although she is in the country illegally she shouldn’t worry about being deported if she asks for help and that she should consider applying for disaster relief. With almost everything she owns destroyed in the storm, she’s thinking about moving back to violence-ravaged Honduras. “Stay here to suffer with our children?” Sanchez asked, shaking her head. The encounter illustrates the complexity of responding to a disaster on the magnitude of Harvey in a city where an estimated 600,000 residents are in the country illegally and immigrants have been on edge amid stepped-up immigration enforcement under the new White House. Authorities have gone out of their way to tell jittery immigrants that they will not be arrested for seeking help, and outreach workers like Cisneros have been delivering that message in person at shelters like the George R. Brown Convention Center and on social media and Spanish-language media outlets. The Harvey victims Cisneros met at the shelter shared the same concerns as almost everyone else: When can they return home? When can they start earning money again? How will they replace their belongings? The ones in the country illegally had deeper fears of deportation amid the chaos of having their homes wiped out. “We basically lost everything,” Sanchez said, drinking from a Styrofoam cup half-filled with black coffee. “Everything”. Sanchez, who arrived a year ago from Honduras, told Cisneros she has been raising her three young children _ ages 5, 2 and 1 _ alone on wages cleaning houses since being abandoned by their physically abusive father two months ago. She recently skipped a date in immigration court, but Cisneros suggested seeking legal status under protections for victims of domestic violence.


Then the 38-year-old Cisneros, himself an immigrant from Mexico who has lived in Houston since coming to the United States 20 years ago, said goodbye to her with a favorite line. “Don’t stay here with your arms crossed” he said. Houston is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in the country: Only Los Angeles and New York have a larger population of immigrants in the country illegally. The percentage of Latinos and Asians in the Houston area nearly doubled in 20 years, according to a 2015 report by the Migration Policy Institute, which also found the percentage of immigrants who are U.S. citizens to be well below the national average. The city has the third-largest population of Mexicans, Vietnamese and Hondurans, with large pockets of Pakistanis, Nigerians, Filipinos and Indians. A sharp increase in immigration arrests under President Donald Trump and Texas’ tough law against cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities _ which was largely put on hold Wednesday by a federal judge _ created an uneasy climate before Harvey struck. The Houston office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has made about 10,000 arrests this year, second-highest in the country after Dallas. Immigration advocates applauded Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s comments on Monday that he would represent anyone arrested on immigration violations after seeking help. “It was a big deal,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Immigrant Families and Students in the Struggle, an advocacy group known by its Spanish acronym FIEL. “People hear from us and say, `Well, you guys are going to tell us that to keep us calm.’ When they hear it from an official, they say, `OK, now we believe it’. Some were unnerved, at least initially, when the Border Patrol brought boats from stations on the Rio Grande to help in the Houston rescue effort.


An Associated Press photographer who joined three uniformed Border Patrol agents and two Houston police officers on a flat-bottom boat on Wednesday got no takers as they navigated receding waters and passed a commercial area that had store signs in Spanish. People there politely waved off the agents. John Morris, the Border Patrol’s chief of staff in South Texas, said the agency had 35 boats in the city’s flooded neighborhoods on Thursday and had rescued about 450 people since Monday. “The agents and the assets that are here in Houston as part of the recovery effort are absolutely 100 percent only here for rescue and safety,” Morris said. “There is no enforcement activity being undertaken while we’re doing this safety mission”. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has dispatched about 200 employees for search and rescue, also said it was “not conducting immigration enforcement operations in the affected area”. Groups like FIEL have made it their mission to help immigrants who are fearful of immigration authorities. Its staff has been working around the clock since last week in its office on the second floor of a two-story building in immigrant-heavy southwest Houston, and has dispatched outreach workers like Cisneros, who has also counseled immigrants following Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Ike in 2008. After driving on a near-empty freeway to the convention center, Cisneros found 35-year-old Adabella Fonseca resting on a cot with her 10-month old daughter while her husband was out inspecting damage to their trailer home. She fled Saturday when the water reached her chest; her husband stayed until it was neck-deep. Fonseca, whose parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a year old, said she had wanted to avoid the convention center because she feared immigration authorities. Now she was scared to leave. Cisneros clasped her hand, told her not to be afraid, and promised support. Before leaving, he asked how she felt. “Better,” she said, managing a faint smile.



Rohingya women, children die in desperate boat escape from Myanmar

Rohingya man carrying his mother in Ukhiya after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.



SHAH PORIR DWIP ISLAND, Bangladesh: On a remote beach looking out onto the Bay of Bengal, a baby boy lies swaddled in cloth, his face smeared with wet sand. The bodies of nine more children and eight women lie alongside. Another woman and a child have already been buried. The group, all Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, were found washed up on the shore on Thursday by villagers from Shah Porir Dwip island in Bangladesh, a short distance from the mouth of the Naf river that separates the two countries. They died after two rickety boats capsized as they fled a Myanmar army counteroffensive that followed Rohingya insurgent attacks on security forces last week. Nearly 30,000 more Rohingyas have made the perilous crossing by boat or on foot into Bangladesh, while 20,000 more are stuck in no man’s land at the border. “We left after the army came early yesterday. They burned houses and shot many people. We ran away so they couldn’t find us,” said Samira, 19, a survivor from one of the boats, as the monsoon wind and rain blew off the sea to soak her bright orange hijab. “I have no words. I don’t know what we’ll do”. Samira and others fled violence unleashed after Rohingya insurgents wielding sticks, knives and crude bombs attacked police posts and an army base on Friday, leading to clashes that have killed at least 117 people. Journalists and other outside observers have been unable to independently travel to the northwest of Myanmar’s Rakhine state since an earlier outbreak of violence last year, although some aid programmes had quietly been resumed. Myanmar says its army is conducting clearance operations against “extremist terrorists” and that security forces have been told to protect civilians, but Rohingya arriving in Bangladesh say a campaign is under way to force them out. The bodies washed up on Thursday were hardly the first Rohingya to perish trying to escape by boat from Myanmar.


Many died trying to cross the Naf after smaller-scale insurgent attacks last October provoked a harsh military response. Over the years, tens of thousands have attempted to flee across the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to Thailand and Malaysia. A crackdown on people smuggling networks in Thailand in 2015 saw many Rohingya abandoned at sea by traffickers. The disruption to the smuggling networks also cut off a major escape route for the Muslim minority, which is denied citizenship and endures apartheid-like conditions in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Samira’s group hailed from a village to the south of the major regional town of Maungdaw in Rakhine. A Reuters reporter who travelled with government minders to the area on Wednesday saw many villages on fire. The two boats set off for the Bangladesh coast around 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The Naf here is about 3 km (1.9 miles) wide. After the group arrived on the Bangladeshi side, someone shouted that the police were near, Samira said. They went back out to sea – and a large wave tipped the boats over. Out of the 22 members of Samira’s extended family six died. “My brother can swim so he managed to save some of us,” she said. In total, 14 people survived, but “young children and those women couldn’t swim and they couldn’t be saved,” she said, looking over the bodies lined up on the beach.


The island – which used to be reachable by a bitumen road on a causeway – is about an hour by boat from Bangladesh’s Teknaf peninsula. The road has been washed away by the Bay of Bengal’s tides and strong winds. As the number of Rohingya refugees is expected to swell, humanitarian workers worry such boat accidents may become more frequent. Hundreds fleeing on boats were being pushed back by Bangladeshi border guards, according to authorities. The United Nations is pressuring Dhaka to let those fleeing Myanmar seek shelter on its territory, but Bangladesh – one of the poorest countries in Asia – has said it cannot cope with any more refugees and will not allow people to cross the border. Another boat in the area sank on Wednesday, killing two women and two children, after Myanmar border guards fired on it, Bangladesh Border Guard Lt. Col. Ariful Islam told Reuters. One person survived by floating on a jerry can. Jahid Hussein Saddique, a local administrator, confirmed the Thursday accident took place and said that a broker has been sentenced to six months in jail by a mobile court for human trafficking. “They didn’t know how to swim, so they died,” Saddique said. We don’t know the actual cause of death”.



Blue Whale game ‘mastermind’ held



The teenager accused of being the global mastermind behind the Blue Whale suicide group craze has been arrested. Cops detained the 17-year-old, who is accused of being the brain behind the death group, which has incited dozens of vulnerable children to take their own lives. The unnamed Russian teenager issued threats to her victims to murder them or their family members if they failed to obey orders to complete tasks she set them involving cutting themselves with razor blades and other acts of self-harm. The tasks include self-harming, watching horror movies and waking up at unusual hours, but these gradually get more extreme. Separately, a 21-year-old man has been arrested near Moscow for inciting adolescent girls to take their own lives. The female “death group administrator” used threats against parents or siblings of her victims as added pressure on them to obey her and commit suicide, say Russian state investigators. She also threatened the victims with being murdered in a sinister new twist to such online groups which pose rising concerns to police in many countries. “This administrator was sending particular tasks — often life-threatening — to each of several dozen members of the group,” said Colonel Irina Volk, of the Russian interior ministry. She set victims 50 tasks — in as many days — aimed at “creating psychologically traumatizing situations“, with the final stage demanding that the victim commits suicide.

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