News Flash – 17 November 2018

National News



Globally, pedestrians avoid skywalks yet India continues to bank on them


Mumbai: Experts feel that the increasing reliance of Mumbai, which does not prioritise pedestrians over vehicles, on FOBs and subways may be misguided. “World over, experience has shown that over bridges and subways increase walking distance and are frequently avoided by pedestrians,” said Urmi Kenia, a spatial planner and director with Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI). “They also keep out elderly and physically challenged pedestrians.” Pedestrians accounted for over 50% of the 490 fatalities in road crashes last year. TOI, in a survey this week, found lack of safe, mid-block crossings for pedestrians, even at prime locations in the city. Urban planners said it is essential to mark a crossing and protect it with a signal, a speed hump or a speed table. “Speed humps, if constructed in the manner prescribed in the Indian Road Congress guidelines, do not bring vehicles to a complete halt before the zebra crossing; they will slow down the vehicle enough to protect pedestrians,” a planner said. Safety features such as speed bumps are vital because traffic often doesn’t stop for zebra crossings. At Annie Besant Road in Worli, for instance, a zebra crossing is marked at the intersection with Bhogadevi Marg, but the signal alongside does not function.


“It is very dangerous to cross Annie Besant Road as cars move at high speeds and none of them halt,” K Adjania, who works nearby, said. “Traffic cops are instructed to keep vehicles moving whereas the focus should be on giving pedestrians the right of way to cross,” said Pankaj Joshi, executive director, UDRI. He recommended that stretches like Bora Bazaar and Perin Nariman Street near CST, which see huge volumes of pedestrians, be declared vehicle-free. Safe crossings also require a proper refuge in the median, or middle of the road crossing, for people to stand on. That’s missing at many crossings. New York provides an example of a safety measure. After discovering that most serious injuries and fatalities occurred at crossings, New York’s department of transportation introduced leading pedestrian intervals: traffic signals that gave walkers a head-start before cars ventured into an intersection. The few extra seconds allowed most pedestrians to reach halfway across the road—where they are visible to motorists.



70,000 trees on hillock near Kalyan set on fire


Kalyan: Over a year after one lakh saplings were planted on a hillock in Neville village near Kalyan to create a green cover, 70,000 of the trees were destroyed in a fire allegedly set by land-grabbers in the intervening night of Tuesday and Wednesday. Kalyan MP Shrikant Shinde, who had launched the plantation drive at Neville village last July, said the fire was not triggered by natural causes. “This fire is the work of someone who has an interest in the land where the trees were planted…it is not a forest fire. It could have been caused by land-grabber or those wanting to encroach the hillock,” said Shinde. He also blamed the forest department for its failure to protect trees and demanded action against ‘errant officials’. “In the past too, trees planted to create green cover have been destroyed in fires. This show failure on part of the department,” he alleged.



App to notify theft on long-distance Trains



Mumbai: Victims of theft on long -distance trains will soon be able to register complaints on the spot through a smartphone app. The Railway Protection Force (RPF) is developing the app that can also be used by security personnel to key in statements of witnesses before the journey terminates. Director general (RPF) Arun Kumar made the announcement at a security briefing on Friday. More than 1,300 cases of theft of passenger valuables on non-suburban trains were recorded on WR between January and September. But less than 250 cases have been solved. “Passengers’ belongings are usually stolen when they are asleep. By the time the theft comes to light, the train has moved on and it is not clear at which location the theft occurred,” said Kumar. “The advantage with this app is it can be downloaded by anyone, be it an RPF personnel, a passenger or a ticket checker,” said Kumar. The objective of the app is to record all information available when the theft comes to light. Later, the complainant would be given a login ID and can check the status of his plaint. As the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 terror attacks draws closer, the RPF is looking at a station security plan for long term access control at 202 stations across India. Thirty stations on WR and 17 on CR have been selected for the plan. State-of-the-art integrated security system will replace the existing security system on the suburban network. “From October 1, the railway board has allotted 0.25% of the railway budget exclusively toward security,” Kumar announced.



CPCB’s latest: Taking all diesel vehicles off city roads on bad air days could help


New Delhi: The Central Pollution Control Board-led task force is considering banning diesel vehicles on bad air days instead of taking all non-CNG vehicles off Delhi roads as proposed by the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority. Task force member and health expert Dr T K Joshi told TOI on Friday that banning all vehicles was a proposal that could not possibly be implemented in a city like Delhi. However, taking diesel vehicles off the road on highly polluted days could prove a more effective and feasible strategy. “The possibility of banning polluting diesel vehicles was discussed in the last meeting of the task force,” Joshi disclosed. “However, since the system to use stickers to identify the fuel used by each vehicle is not yet in place, identifying diesel vehicles is not possible at the moment. So we don’t know how to go about it”. According to CPCB, the pollution is expected to remain ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ till November 19, thereby negating any need for tough measures for the moment. “In the next review of the Graded Response Action Plan, we will discuss vehicle ban and odd-even road proposal. We will discuss not just these, but any other measure that is suggested,” a CPCB official said. The plan to distinguish vehicles run on different fuels orange hologram stickers will identify diesel users, light blue the petrol ones and grey, those running on other fuels — has been proceeding very slowly. At present, Delhi has 5.09 lakh diesel vehicles that are less than 10 years old, 1.06 lakh that are between 10 and 15 years old and another 2.18 lakh that are older than 15 years.


In a letter on Wednesday, EPCA chairperson Bhure Lal pointed out to CPCB member secretary Prashant Gargava, “The Supreme Court has directed for vehicle sticker scheme, which would identify vehicles by fuel type/age. But this scheme has still not been implemented by the government”. In October, the Union transport ministry had issued guidelines to NCR states to ensure vehicles had colour-coded stickers on their windshield identifying the fuel powering them. The holographic sticker is planned to be self-destructive, which means that if anyone tries to peel it off, it gets destroyed. The stickers would make at-sight identification possible of the fuel use. However, nothing much has happened on their implementation. Diesel cars are deemed to be more polluting by experts. “Legally, diesel cars emit three times more NOx than petrol cars. Diesel emission is so dangerous that it is in the same category with tobacco smoking in Class I carcinogens, with strong links with lung cancer,” said Anumita Roy Chowdhury, executive director, research and advocacy, Centre for Science and Environment. There is one crore registered vehicles in Delhi, of which around 60 lakhs are two wheelers. The remaining 40 lakh four-wheelers need these stickers if any plan is to be implemented to ban vehicles using particular fuels to curb pollution.


The practicality of such bans is still being debated, however. The CPCB task force’s Dr Joshi, who is also health advisor to the Union environment and forests ministry, said, “Unless there is an efficient public transport system, cycle tracks and encroachment-free roads, there is no point of thinking about a total ban on vehicles. Even implementing the odd-even road rationing might not help as there was no significant impact the last two times this was done in Delhi”. Joshi added that if the air quality deteriorated, banning diesel vehicles was a better option, but “how to do it remains a crucial question”. Earlier, the EPCA chairperson had told CPCB that given the high pollution load from vehicles in Delhi-NCR, a drastic reduction in vehicles was needed to reduce pollution levels during highly affected days. “Even after removing trucks and other diesel commercial vehicles, which are the highest segment of this pollution load, the remaining vehicles add up to substantial load, particularly private diesel vehicles which contribute substantially to both NOx and PM emissions… All cities, which have similar emergency plans, like Paris or Beijing, include restrictions on private vehicles, which is done by either number plate or by fuel type/age,” he said.



Ugandan arrested for installing skimming device in ATM



Bengaluru: A 27-year-old Ugandan national was arrested on charges of installing skimming devices in an ATM in Rajajinagar, west Bengaluru. Police have recovered two fake ATM cards, skimming device, imaging device and a mobile phone from Nytro Ismail. The bank’s security guard alerted police when he found two men — Ismail and James Wenceslaus of Tanzania — loitering near the ATM kiosk in Rajajinagar II Block early on Friday. A special team, deployed on the spot, noticed the two come back to the kiosk in the afternoon. Ismail entered while James stood outside. The team caught Ismail but James escaped.



RPF jawan saves man from slipping under moving train

CCTV grabs show the RPF constable pulling the passenger to safety.



Kolkata: The quick reaction of a Railway Protection Force (RPF) constable saved a passenger at Howrah station on Friday. Constable Apurba Dolui received minor injuries after falling on the platform after pulling out the passenger from the space between the moving train and the platform. The incident occurred around 10.10am when the 12337 Santiniketan Express was leaving platform 12. As the train started, Dolui boarded the last coach the normal procedure for an on-duty RPF constable. He climbed the footboard of the last coach to ensure safe passage of the train and prevent entry of passengers into running trains. “As the train picked up speed, Dolui got off and was moving away when he noticed a man running along the platform to board the train. The man tried to grab a handle, but slipped and was about to fall into the gap between the train and the platform when Dolui pulled him back,” an officer said. The constable fell back with the passenger on top, receiving injuries to his arms. The passenger was reprimanded before being allowed to leave. The RPF is considering felicitating Dolui for his action.



When Safe Zones became Death Traps

NATURE’S FURY: Cyclone Gaja disrupted life in several districts of Tamil Nadu on Friday as it swept through. Flooded areas (photo showing Akkaraipettai in Nagapattinam district), uprooted trees and electric posts, damaged buildings were a common sight in most places in the region.



Tamil Nadu: As Cyclone Gaja drew closer to the Tamil Nadu coast, the national and state disaster management teams swung into action to ensure minimal loss of human lives. But, despite their quick action in moving nearly 82,000 people to safer places within three hours on Thursday night, at least 13 people were killed, according to chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. Unconfirmed reports and district authorities, however, said at least 30 people may have been killed in the storm-battered delta districts. Almost all the deaths occurred in areas that were assessed as safe zones and were not earmarked for evacuation. Nine deaths were reported at Vedaranyam and Thirukkuvalai in Nagapattinam district, the epicenter of the cyclone, officials said. “Deaths were mainly caused by uprooted trees falling over houses and due to wall collapses,” a source told TOI. Farmers in the delta region were relieved about having sufficient water for the paddy season and that their fields were spared, but, there was death and misery elsewhere. Four members (including three siblings) of a family at Sivakollai village in Pattukottai taluk died after their hut collapsed in the wee hours of Friday. Officials said the village wasn’t among those evacuated as it was away from the coast. In Peravurani taluk, four people died in building collapses or came under uprooted trees. At Mavadukurichi West, Valli, a 55-year-old woman, died after a coconut tree crashed down on her hut. Seventeen-year-old Kala of Periyakathikottai and 60-year-old Chellambal of Kazhanivasal were crushed to death under their huts.



Peravurani tahsildar Baskaran said none of these villages was evacuated as they were located some distance from the coast. “In Thanjavur district, Peravurani and Pattukottai were the worst affected,” he said. Officials said that in a majority of the affected villages, warnings were issued through different means of communication, urging the residents to move to safer areas. In Pudukkottai district, officials of the administration confirmed seven deaths. Since electricity supply had been suspended from Thursday evening, there were no incidents of electrocution. Five deaths have been recorded in Aranthangi taluk alone. S Rengasamy, 50, from Pachikottai died in the early hours on his farmland after a strong gust of wind brought down the asbestos roof on him. K Thannachi, a 42-year-old resident of Kulamangalam village who was sleeping in a temple, died after the asbestos roof of the structure collapsed on him. A thatched roof house came down in Kothamangalam village killing S Mariyayi, 75, while she was sleeping. One death has been recorded in Aranthangi taluk near Mangalanadu south village where Kasinathan, 50, died after a tree fell on him. S Parameswari, 26, from Viralimalai taluk died of head injuries after an asbestos roof of her house fell on her.



Gaja washes away coastal salt pans


TRAIL OF DEVASTATION (Top) Most of the salt harvested in Vedaranyam salt pans have been washed away; A heavily damaged mosque at Pattukottai in Thanjavur.



Thanjavur: The famed salt pans of Vedaranyam, directly in the path of the battering storm, have been washed away. Salt manufacturers claim that close to two lakh tonnes of salt was damaged, though officials were not sure about the extent of damage. Salt production generally lasts from January to October and manufacturers claimed a majority of the stock had been destroyed. The Vedaranyam area produces 5 lakh tonnes of salt a year from pans spread over 9,000 acres, second only to Tuticorin. “The temporary shelters in which we stocked the salt have gone. We are yet to reach several pockets of the salt pans as uprooted trees and electric poles have hindered access,” said N Karnan, a salt producer. Most of the salt pans in Agasthiyampalli and Kodiyakkarai were inundated with rainwater; the bunds along the pans ravaged. In the pilgrim town of Velankanni, 80 shops were completely ruined and 120 houses were partially damaged. “We have never seen such an intense storm in the past few decades. It all began by around 8 pm on Thursday and went on till 5am on Friday. The sounds of trees falling and roofs being blown away still haunt us,” said V Panneerselvam, a resident of Koilpathu near Vedaranyam. Though police had been restricting the entry of tourists towards Nagapattinam town since Wednesday, a bunch of tourists, from various places, who were already camped in Velankanni struggled to source food and water.



15,000 acres of banana crops damaged across Tamil Nadu

ALL THAT REMAINS: Acres of banana plantations were destroyed at Lalgudi in Trichy district.



Trichy: Thousands of acres of banana plantations bore the brunt of the gusty winds in Trichy, Thanjavur, Nagappattinam, Karur and Pudukkottai districts on Friday. The sight of uprooted and broken banana plants upset hundreds of farmers in the delta region. Though paddy crops escaped the onslaught to an extent as they were short, coconut palms and lemon plants were devastated in many areas, including Marungapuri. In Trichy district, acres of banana plantations in Lalgudi, Srirangam and Andhanallur blocks lay shattered much to the shock of farmers. M Periyasamy from Lalgudi was stunned to see almost his entire banana crop on 15 acres brought down. “Only around two acres of plants withstood the winds on my banana farm. Several of them were uprooted and broken. This was the first time I witnessed such a trail of destruction by a cyclone in our area,” said the 48-year-old farmer. The farmers claimed that about 2,000 acres of banana cultivation in Lalgudi block alone suffered huge damage in the wind. “Preliminary assessment put the extent of damage at 80% in the Lalgudi area alone. The district administration should swing into action to assess the damage in order to get compensation for the loss,” said the state spokesperson of Bharatiya Kisan Sangam, N Veerasekaran. Trichy collector K Rajamani said that the process of assessing the damage would begin shortly. The entire stretch of both the banks of Cauvery river covering Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagappattinam is rich in banana cultivation and the farmers estimate that 15,000 acres of the crop had been damaged.



Tirupur sees 40 H1N1 cases since October



Tirupur: Of the 40 H1N1 flu cases reported in Tirupur district from October, four people are suspected to have died of it. As no laboratory facility is available in the district to test H1N1 virus, patients are referred to the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital, a senior health department official said. “Data collected from government and private hospitals in Tirupur, Coimbatore and Erode districts showed 46 residents were affected with H1N1 this year. As many as 40 cases were reported from October. The four deaths could not be associated with H1N1 as the patients had multiple complications including asthma and heart ailments,” he told TOI. Forty-two medical teams formed to sensitise people about dengue fever were also creating awareness about H1N1. “Medication is started immediately when patients are brought in. Tamiflu is given to even fever patients since the medicine does not have much side effects. We have distributed more than 30,000 Tamiflu tablets so far”. The health department has urged people to maintain personal hygiene and also avoid self-medication. “Since it is an airborne disease, it is important to maintain personal hygiene. People should wash hands whenever they return home from outside. It is important to consult doctors if they suffer from fever,” the official added.



Gaja triggers rain, landslides in Idukki

The newly-constructed temporary Periyavara bridge was washed out due to heavy rain on Friday.



Idukki: Heavy rainfall triggered by cyclonic storm Gaja caused landslides and landslips in various parts of Idukki district on Friday. The district received an average of 3.46mm rainfall in the past 24 hours. Landslides were reported in Mundanmudy, Nettikkudy and Nallathanni areas in Munnar and Mammal and Edamal in Vattavada. Old Munnar was flooded and the newly-constructed temporary Periyavara bridge was washed out due to heavy rain on Friday. Though Gaja weakened into a tropical storm and tracked westwards after making landfall over Tamil Nadu as a severe cyclonic storm, heavy rainfall was reported in Kerala under its influence. A house in Idukki was completely destroyed due to the landslide. Acres of vegetable farms in Vattavada were submerged in water and traffic on Top Station road in Munnar came to a standstill following a landslide near Mattupetty dam. Boating and other tourism activities in Mattuppetty were suspended on Friday noon. Five shutters of the Kallarkutty dam and three shutters of the Malankara dam were opened.


Increase in water-level in the Muthirappuhzha river flooded Old Munnar and disrupted traffic through the Kochi-Dhanushkodi national highway. “We have shifted three families from Vattavada and three families from Kunchithanni to their relatives’ residences to avoid causalities. No casualties have been reported at Mattuppetty. The officials have shifted tourists and local residents to safer locations,” said Devikulam tahsildar P K Shaji. Landslides and mud slips were also reported in Thattekkanni, Panniyarkutty and Kunchithanni areas. Passengers had a narrow escape when a car was trapped in a mud puddle in Panniyarkutty near Adimali. Traffic was disrupted following a landslide near Munnar Arts college road. Meanwhile, India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted light to moderate rainfall in the state for the next two-three days. Fishermen have been advised not to venture into sea till Monday as squally wind is expected.



International News



Egypt is getting new capital. But what of Cairo?

A billboard for a housing complex being built in Egypt’s new capital that is under construction in the desert, miles from the Nile-side Cairo, which has been the seat of power for more than 1,000 years.



Cairo: Billboards across Cairo advertise luxury homes with “breathtaking” views in compounds with names like “La Verde” or “Vinci” in Egypt’s new capital that is under construction in the desert, miles from the Nile-side city which has been the seat of power for more than 1,000 years. Often, what lies behind the billboards are Cairo’s most overcrowded neighborhoods, with shoddily built homes and dirt roads frequently inundated with sewage water. A city of some 20 million people combining charm and squalor, Cairo may soon witness an exodus by well-heeled residents, state employees and foreign embassies to the New Administrative Capital, as the vast project in the desert is provisionally known. It will be the latest phase in the flight of the rich, many of whom have already moved to gated communities in new suburbs, leaving the old Cairo in neglect and decay.


The new capital a proper name has yet to be found is the $45 billion brainchild of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the biggest of the mega-projects he launched since taking office in 2014. Critics call the new capital a vanity project, arguing its cost could have been better put to rebuilding the wrecked economy and refurbishing Cairo. They also see it as evidence of el-Sissi’s authoritarianism, launching a multibillion-dollar plan with little debate. El-Sissi often lashes out at those who question him, telling Egyptians to listen only to him and saying he’s answerable to God alone. He often says Egypt’s resources are limited leading some Egyptians, struggling amid skyrocketing prices, to wonder why so much is spent on questionable projects. The new city is being built on 170,000 acres about 28 miles east of Cairo and nearly twice its size. Construction began in 2016, and 6.5 million residents are scheduled to move their next year.

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