Disaster management cell tackles 1,000 distress calls daily
Mumbai: It was a dark day in June. The skies had opened up; the downpour was relentless. In flood-prone Sion, with water levels in the neighbourhood climbing by the minute, Ravi Jain dialed the disaster control helpline 1916. To his surprise and relief, civic staff landed up within minutes. They opened manholes to inspect if plastic or other material was blocking the flow. In half an hour, the water in the area began to recede—it was a wooden plank that had stemmed the flow. For the BMC’s 24×7 Disaster Management Cell (DMC), trouble-shooting in the monsoon is part of a protocol that stretches round the year, 24×7. The cell receives up to 1,000 phone calls on a typical day, but numbers swell to 3,000 when Mumbai goes under in heavy rain. Situations vary from stuff as serious as a blaze which broke out in Lower Parel’s Kamala Mills area last year claiming 14 lives to deploying resources for nabbing a simian which may have gate-crashed a housing society. Man and machinery is mobilized depending on gravity and immediacy, and they are prepared for over 100 different scenarios, says Mahesh Narvekar, chief officer, BMC Disaster Management Unit. Narvekar has the disconcerting habit of calling the helpline to check if his team is following the protocol. “There is a fear among the staff that the boss may call anytime which keeps them on alert,” he says. Located on the second floor of the civic headquarters at Fort, the control room boasts of 30 hunting lines, a video wall, 50 hotlines to ward offices, police stations, hospitals, and TV screens tuned to news channels.
The resources are GIS mapped. A trained staff of 50 fields distress calls over three shifts. It’s come a long way since the operation began in 1999 with all of two phone lines and a wireless. Back then, it operated from a space in the basement, originally used to store old files. Manpower comprised untrained security staff. The July 2005 deluge changed everything. Rashmi Lokande, the cell’s deputy chief and one of the old-timers, recalls, “Communication lines went down and mobilising resources turned out to be a huge challenge. Back then it was just a few higher-rung officers who had mobile handsets, talking to local staff was not easy.” To make it worse, large parts of the city were without power, further strapping the administration’s response. “There were rumours of a tsunami which triggered a stampede in the Nehru Nagar slum at Juhu, killing 18 people. There was no public address system and therefore a message that it was a rumour could not be communicated to the public,” said Narvekar. Today, the disaster cell has a tie-up with all mobile operators to push public safety alerts. They also have a tie-up with channel operators to broadcast important messages. This monsoon, the cell waded into social media, especially Twitter, to beam out updates on high tide timings, weather forecasts, road closures.
On days of heavy downpour, municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta, who is seen frequenting the DMC, tracks the city’s movement through 44 screens mounted on a video wall in the control room. The feed comes from around 5,000 cameras across Mumbai. The cameras can be zoomed, panned and tilted to maximize visibility. Mehta often shoots instructions from the control post to staff across the city to speed up action against water logging. The starting point is usually a call from a citizen. Narvekar says his staff are trained to calm them down long enough to convey the details needed to activate a response. “You know, calls received here are different from a pizza delivery shop or an airline helpline,” he says. “Most callers sound distressed.” Offering an introduction to them often does the trick. The next step involves mobilising police, fire brigade or other agencies, depending to the need of the hour. And the response time to mobilise external agencies such as the NDRF is down to 30 minutes as opposed to the 2-3 hours it would take earlier. “How quickly one can mobilize the right kind of resources plays a crucial role in tackling a disaster,” says Narvekar. Finally, as if to underline the stress levels at work, he says, “This is a challenging job, my staff sit with headphones on all through their eight-hour shift. And for that we have a safety officer who is on duty to check in case anyone gets fatigued”.
WhatsApp forward in group lands ‘default’ admin in jail for 5 months
Bhopal: A 21-year-old youth in Rajgarh district of Madhya Pradesh has been in jail for the last five months over a WhatsApp message forwarded by somebody else. His family members insist he is paying the price for ending up as the “default admin” as the actual administrator left the group after the “objectionable” forward. But police say they took action on the evidence they had then. Junaid Khan, a BSc student and resident of Talen town in Rajgarh, was arrested on February 14 this year and booked under the IT Act and IPC Section 124 A (sedition). He was part of a WhatsApp group in which the admin, Irfan, had posted an objectionable forward. Some locals filed a complaint at Talen police station and a case was registered against Irfan and the “admin”. Police say Junaid was the WhatsApp group administrator when the case came to their notice. His family says otherwise. “Junaid was a member of the group, but not the admin. When the matter came to light, he was in Ratlam on family work. It was then that the admin left the group and another member became admin by default. But he, too, quit. Junaid became group admin by default. But he was not admin when the post was originally shared,” Junaid’s cousin, Farukh Khan, told TOI.
Junaid couldn’t write his examinations as the court denied bail because he was booked for sedition, said Farukh. “We approached senior police officers and complained with the CM Helpline but to no avail,” Farukh claimed. When TOI contacted the then Pachore police station Incharge, Yuvraj Singh Chouhan, who investigated the case, he said, “Junaid’s family members did not say this when he was arrested. Now, after the challan has been put up in court, they say he was the ‘default admin’. If they have any evidence, they should produce it in court. Irfan, too, was arrested and when the matter came to our cognizance, Junaid was group admin. There was no evidence or any other way to ascertain who was admin of the group when the post was shared by Irfan. We filed the challan on the basis of evidence available with us”.
5-storey illegal building collapses in Ghaziabad, 1 killed
Ghaziabad: At least one labourer was killed and eight others were injured when an under-construction five-storey illegal building collapsed in Ghaziabad on Sunday. The dead as well as the injured comprise labourers and their family members who were working in the building. This is the second time a multi-storey building has collapsed in NCR within a week. Two adjacent buildings had collapsed in Shahberi in Greater Noida last Tuesday. The building, located in Radhey Krishna Colony, came crumbling down around 2.30pm when heavy rain lashed the city. GDA officials said the illegal building was scheduled to be demolished on July 12 but it was not carried out due to logistical issues. Local police and NDRF personnel rushed to the spot and began rescue operations. The area in which the building stood was inundated with rainwater and two approach roads were quickly created with the help of earthmovers to allow ambulances and other vehicles to move in. “There is one casualty so far. Seven injured workers were taken out from the debris and sent to the government hospital in Sanjay Nagar. There is no count on the exact number of trapped people. Prima facie, it appears the building collapsed as poor quality construction material was used. It also seems the structural design of the building was flawed. An inquiry will be conducted by ADM Sunil Kumar Singh,” said district magistrate Ritu Maheshwari.
The DM said a compensation of Rs 2 lakh each for the deceased and Rs 50,000 for the injured has been ordered from the CM’s relief fund. “Three patients, including two minor kids, were referred to GTB Hospital in Delhi. The remaining three are in Sanjay Nagar. The conditions of all three survivors are stable,” said chief medical officer NK Gupta. According to the survivors, the columns of the building had developed cracks in the recent past. “We had complained to the contractor on Sunday morning about cracks in the columns, but he brushed aside our complaints. We were transporting sand from the second floor to the fourth floor when all of a sudden the entire structure collapsed,” Geeta, a survivor. “The building was unauthorised. Its map was not approved by the GDA. We had issued a notice to the builder in December last year directing him to demolish it. But he did not heed to our notice,” said Santosh Rai, GDA secretary. “Six people have been taken into custody for questioning. Four teams have been formed to investigate the matter. Efforts will continue to trace and rescue any living person trapped inside the debris. An FIR has been registered,” said SSP Vaibhav Krishna.
Strokes due to air pollution on the rise: Neurologists
Trichy: Neurologists based in Trichy on Sunday said the incidence of people suffering stroke due to air pollution has increased. Apart from this, they stated that air pollution is also a possible factor for multiple neurodegenerative diseases. The Tamil Nadu Pondicherry Association of Neurologists released a statement stating this on the occasion of World Brain Day celebrated on July 22 every year. World Federation of Neurology has listed ‘Clean Air for Brain Health’ as this year’s theme for WBD. The federation, citing the Global Burden of Disease study, a research programme, mentioned, “Based on the investigated data from 1990 to 2013 in 188 countries through the study, it’s demonstrated that air pollution contributes to up to 30% of the burden of stroke”. According to the neurologists in the city, emphasis is laid only predominantly on how lungs are affected due to air pollution while the possible effect of it on brain health is often ignored. Consultant neurologist, M Chandrasekharan, told TOI that the reason fewer people talk about adverse effects of air pollution on brain is because it’s an indirect cause.
However, its effect on lungs is a direct cause. “But it should be noted that air pollution, which causes oxygen deficit, affects the brain in a lot of ways,” he said. Experts said air pollution increases clotting capacity of the blood, which might cause blockage in small and big blood vessels. A stroke is caused when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel bursts. President of Tamil Nadu Pondicherry Association of Neurologists, Dr M A Aleem, said the number of people who suffer stroke is on the rise. “Though there is no concrete data to show increase in the number of stroke, based on the patients I have seen who suffered stroke, at least 25% to 30% are those who are exposed to air pollution often,” he told TOI. Air pollutants, which are dissolved in the blood, irritate the neuronal tissues, leading to cell death, which causes neurodegenerative diseases too.
Blast hits Kabul airport on return of exiled Afghanistan Vice President, 14 killed; IS claims attack
Afghan vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum arrives at Kabul airport on Sunday.
Kabul: Afghan vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack at Kabul airport as he returned home on Sunday from more than a year in exile in Turkey over allegations of torturing and abusing a political rival. Dostum, who left Afghanistan last year after heavy pressure from Western donors including the US, drove away from the airport in a motorcade only minutes before the explosion, which police said killed at least 14 people and wounded more than 50. He was unharmed in the blast, which was claimed by Islamic State, and made only brief mention of it when he met supporters who had been waiting for hours to give him a red carpet reception at a rally at his office compound. However, the incident underlined the increasingly volatile and unstable political climate in Kabul ahead of parliamentary elections in October that are seen as a dry run for more important presidential elections early next year. Dostum backed calls for peace talks with the Taliban and thanked Afghanistan’s international partners for their help while calling on Afghans to register for the elections. “Any fraud in this election will lead the country to a serious and dangerous crisis,” he said.
Dostum’s triumphant return was in stark contrast to the outrage he faced after reports in 2016 that his guards had seized political rival Ahmad Eshchi and subjected him to beatings, torture and violent sexual abuse. Dostum, who helped the United States oust the Taliban regime in 2001, allegedly allowed hundreds of Taliban prisoners to be suffocated in shipping containers. He denied Eshchi’s accusations but, amid international demands that he faces justice to show that powerful political leaders were not above the law, he left the country in May last year, saying he needed to seek medical treatment in Turkey. Even in exile, he remained a powerful figure with wide support among his fellow ethnic Uzbeks in northern Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani now faces the challenge of reintegrating Dostum, an ally in the disputed 2014 election who helped deliver the ethnic Uzbek vote but a volatile and unpredictable partner ever since. On Saturday, Ghani’s spokesman said accusations against Dostum would be dealt with by independent legal authorities.
3-year-old boy attacked with acid at UK store
London: A 3-year-old boy suffered severe burns on his face and arm during a suspected acid attack that investigators think was deliberate. West Mercia police chief superintendent Mark Travis said the police are working to identify the substance that burned the child on Saturday at a discount store in Worcester, England. A 39-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm. Three others were being sought for questioning Sunday and police released photos to generate public tips. The boy is hospitalized. He has not been identified.