News Flash – 23 November 2018

National News



Travelled to zika-affected areas? Can’t donate blood for 4 months


Mumbai: With zika virus actively circulating in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, blood banks across the country have been asked to strengthen screening of donors. Zika virus, which primarily spreads with the bite of an infected mosquito, can also be transmitted through blood transfusion and sexual contact. The National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) reiterated that blood banks should strictly adhere to the donor-selection criteria, including obtaining a detailed travel history from prospective donors. It said that anyone with a travel history to the affected areas should not be allowed to donate till 120 days of their return. They should also not accept blood till two weeks of a donor’s recovery from any acute viral infection and cessation of medicines. It further stated that the donors must be symptom-free at the time of donation. In its circular issued on November 19, NBTC, the umbrella body of blood banks, has asked donors to remain vigilant. It has also asked them to inform a blood bank if they develop any signs and symptoms of zika within two weeks of donation.


Dr Shobini Rajan, director of NBTC, said donor screening protocols already involve asking them about their travel history and the circular was only to reiterate the same. She said there was no case of zika transmission through blood donation in the country yet, and the circulation was precautionary. A blood transfusion officer said the circular was welcome as there are no approved tests to screen blood donors for zika. The circular also said that no human plasma should be imported from affected regions or countries. State officials said they have already strengthened surveillance of fever cases, particularly among pregnant women. Exposure to the viral infection during pregnancy can cause infants to be born with microcephaly (smaller head size) and other congenital malformations. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently confirmed though that the strain of zika that causes microcephaly was not found in Rajasthan.



Trader abducted, robbed of Rs.19 Lacs by men posing as Haryana cops



New Delhi: A businessman was abducted and robbed of Rs 19 lakh by six men who claimed to be from Haryana Police. The man, Sanjeev Kumar, stays in Hyderabad. On October 31, he said, he went to a client’s house in Patel Nagar to collect payment for a delivery he had made earlier. Around 7.30pm, after he stepped out of the client’s house and got into his car with three other colleagues, three men held him by his collar and dragged him out. One of the men was armed with an AK rifle. Three other men were waiting in an SUV nearby. They forced him to enter the car and started thrashing him. “They said they were from STF and had information about me being a smuggler,” Kumar said. The men then drove the car to an unknown location where they asked him to hand over Rs 9 lakh he had collected from the client. They put a pistol on his temple and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t budge. Kumar was then asked to call a friend and borrow Rs 10 lakh and get it transferred into his account. Kumar said he was then driven around Bahadurgarh; after which he was brought back to Delhi. They stopped at a 24×7 store for shopping. Kumar was then driven to a Rohini mall and dumped there. The businessman contacted a friend there and went to the Ranjeet Nagar police station where he was allegedly asked to settle the matter and not proceed with a case. It was only four days later that an FIR was lodged and that too after Kumar met the home minister and moved court, Kumar claimed. Police, however, denied there was any delay. Kumar also said he was not informed about the FIR. “Neither the SHO or IO contacted me. They detained one person but let him off as he was politically connected,” Kumar said. Additional DCP (central) Amit Sharma said a case was registered and action would be taken once sufficient proof was available. Police sources also suspected that Kumar’s abductors could be members of Bahadurgarh STF.



Heavy rains, landslides in Tirumala distress devotees



Tirupati: A well-marked low pressure area over southwest and adjoining southcentral Bay of Bengal moving towards parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh has brought non-stop rains to the drought hit Chittoor district of AP on Thursday. According to the rainfall data released by the district administration at 8am on Thursday, several parts of Chittoor registered very light to very heavy rainfall ranging from 0.1mm to 141.8mm in the last 24 hours. While Yerpedu mandal registered very heavy rainfall of 141.8 mm, other eastern mandals including Vadamalpet and Satyavedu in the district received similar amount of rainfall. The temple city of Tirupati registered 65.2mm rainfall in the last 24 hours. Revenue officials maintained that no major damages related to public property or crops has been reported so far. “There is no cause for concern. The situation is under control. In view of the continuous downpour, vulnerable hamlets were cautioned across the district to observe the situation and duly alert revenue and police officials”, they added. Meanwhile, rain battered the sacred abode of Lord Venkateswara at Tirumala for the second consecutive day on Thursday. The heavy and relentless downpour which began on Wednesday morning continued all through the day on Thursday, causing severe inconvenience to the visiting devout. With no shelter outside the Tirumala temple, pilgrims who exited the temple complex had to run helter-skelter along with their children and the elderly. Even the physically challenged had to face an ordeal. Several minor landslides were reported along the second Ghat road leading to Tirumala on Thursday.



2 drivers charred to death as trailer, tanker collide, explode in blaze; 2-hour jam follows


The explosion from the collision led to a devastating fire on Kona Expressway that brought traffic to a halt on NH-2 and NH-6 and also disrupted train services.



Howrah: Two drivers, one who was behind the wheels of a trailer carrying iron rods and another driving an LPG tanker, were charred to death when the two vehicles collided with each other on Kona Expressway and burst into flames on Thursday morning. No other persons were present in the two vehicles but a constable, who was inside a traffic booth around 20m away, is battling for life with 90% burns. The devastating blaze, which took place barely two-and-a-half kilometres from the junction of national highways 2 and 6, brought traffic on both the highways to a grinding halt for more than two hours. Even the overhead wires of the railways caught fire, disrupting train services. The police pointed out that a bigger calamity would have taken place had the accident happened during the day, instead of the dead of the night. The police said the accident took place near Garfa on Kona Expressway around 3.20am, when the trailer carrying iron rods, which was headed towards Uluberia, rammed into the tanker travelling towards Kolkata. “The trailer seemed to have been speeding. There is a small turn at the spot of the accident. The driver must have lost control of the vehicle and driven straight onto the LPG tanker coming from the opposite direction. The fog and mist could have contributed to the low visibility that might have led to the accident,” said an officer of the Howrah City Police. Merely hours earlier, the LPG tanker had been filled at the Salap refilling plant.


Immediately, the two vehicles burst into flames, along with a series of explosions ripping through the entire spot, with the traffic booth nearby even catching fire. People living around were woken up by the noise of the blasts and rushed out to find the two vehicles ablaze. They could do little to rescue the drivers, who were completely charred. Their identity is yet to be established. Chandu Sardar (42), the traffic constable inside the booth that caught fire, was rescued and taken to Howrah General Hospital with severe burns. He was later shifted to Medical College, where the doctors said his condition was extremely serious. The fire was such that the high-tension tower along the Kona Expressway and the overhead wires over the Howrah Amta tracks also caught fire, disrupting local services. As eight fire engines fought the blaze, traffic on the two national highways and Kona Expressway was stalled for more than two hours. “Six pairs of local trains were cancelled and it took time to reinstall the overhead wires. Train services were normalized by 7.30am,” said Sanjoy Ghosh, CPRO, south eastern railway. Forensic experts collected samples from the site.



Battered TN picks up pieces to rebuild itself

DOWN TO NOTHING: Much like the houses, a building belonging to the Indian Navy in Kodiakkarai was severely damaged due to cyclone Gaja.



Tamil Nadu: Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Thursday to seek assistance of `15,000 crore for permanent relief. The plan includes building multi-hazard resistant houses at a cost of `3 lakh each for two lakh people both in urban and rural areas, conversion of overhead power lines to underground cables in towns, and distribution of milch cattle and goats/sheep to affected farmers. Sources said the chief minister pointed to the massive damage meted out to kutcha houses and huts, especially in the districts of Nagapattinam, Tiruvarur, Thanjavur and Pudukottai. At least 3.78 lakh people are taking refuge in cyclone relief centres. The government only offers `5,200 to restore a damaged hut under state disaster relief fund, but they face continuous threat of natural disasters in future. “A special sanction of `6,000 crore may be made for reconstruction of houses in coastal districts,” the CM said, recalling Modi’s observations in the past to learn lessons from each disaster. While the Centre is examining a proposal for revision of norms for national and state disaster relief fund, the chief minister urged for an early decision on this, especially for the power sector. Districts plunging into darkness was raised by the chief minister. High winds with a speed of 100 to 160kmph during cyclones take a toll on power infrastructure. “Tangedco is forced to spend thousands of crores on a regular basis.


It is essential to convert high tension and low tension overhead lines into underground cables at least in town areas of the coastal districts,” Palaniswami said, seeking `7,077 crore. While hundreds of hectares of coconut, cashew, mango and banana plantations were wiped out, the state sought additional allocation of `625 crore under National Agriculture Development Programme as a special case for farmers, who lost trees. The EPS government sought the Centre’s support for a special package for free distribution of milch cattle, sheep and goats and scheme for poultry development. The plan is that ten thousand farmers will get a milch cow costing `35,000 to `40,000 each. About 50,000 farmers will get four goats/sheep of 6-8 months of age at a cost of `15,000 each. While another 50,000 farmers will be provided with 50 four-week old backyard or native chicks for `7,000. Besides restoration of damaged roads and rural infrastructure, a special sanction of `100 crore was sought to provide alternative and allied livelihood for fishermen. Palaniswami has also reiterated the need to enhance the scale of assistance of all components of state disaster relief fund `25,000 for damaged huts, `2,000 for an uprooted tree instead of `18,000 per hectare, a minimum of `10 lakh for each mechanised boat, besides `25,000 for nets and `10,000 for engines.



International News



Robots begin replacing humans at farms

GRASSROOTS REVOLUTION: A robot harvester at a California farm.



California: As a boy, Abel Montoya remembers his father arriving home from the lettuce fields each evening, the picture of exhaustion, mud caked knee-high on his trousers. “Dad wanted me to stay away from manual labour. He was keen for me to stick to the books,” Montoya said. So he did, and went to college. Yet Montoya, a 28-year-old immigrant’s son, recently took a job at a lettuce-packing facility, where it is wet, loud, freezing — and much of the work is physically taxing, even mind-numbing. Now, though, he can delegate some of the worst work to robots. Montoya is among a new generation of farmworkers here at Taylor Farms, one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of fresh-cut vegetables, which recently unveiled a fleet of robots designed to replace humans — one of the agriculture industry’s latest answers to a diminishing supply of immigrant labour. The smart machines can assemble 60 to 80 salad bags a minute, double the output of a worker. Enlisting robots made sound economic sense, Taylor Farms officials said, for a company seeking to capitalise on Americans’ insatiable appetite for healthy fare at a time when it cannot recruit enough people. A decade ago, people lined up by the hundreds for jobs at packing houses in California and Arizona during the lettuce season. No more.


“Our workforce is getting older,” said Mark Borman, chief operating officer of Taylor Farms. “We aren’t attracting young people to our industry. We aren’t getting an influx of immigrants. How do we deal with that? Innovation”. Moving up the technology ladder creates higher-skilled positions that can attract young people like Montoya, who is finishing a computer science degree, and bolster retention of veteran employees who receive new training to advance their careers. In a 2017 survey of farmers by the California Farm Bureau Federation, 55% reported labour shortages and the figure was nearly 70% for those who depend on seasonal workers. Wage increases in recent years have not compensated for the shortfall, growers said. Driscoll’s, the berry titan based in Watsonville, California, has invested in several robotic strawberry harvesting startups, including Agrobot, which uses imaging technology to assess a berry’s ripeness before it is harvested. It is currently in test phase. Last spring, Christopher Ranch, a giant in garlic, began using a 30-ft-tall robot to insert garlic buds into sleeves, the nets into which they are bundled for sale in supermarkets. “Advanced tech in agriculture is going to be huge,” Montoya said.



Chief of Russia spy agency behind attack in UK Dead



Moscow: The head of Russia’s military intelligence agency that the West has blamed for a string of brazen attacks died on Wednesday after “a serious and long illness”, the Russian defence ministry said on Thursday. The ministry of defence heaped praise on Colonel-General Igor Korobov, 62, who had run the spy agency, best known as the GRU, since 2016, saying he had been made a Hero of Russia for his service in the post, the highest state award. Britain has accused the GRU of attempting to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent, the Netherlands has accused it of trying to hack the global chemical weapons watchdog, and US intelligence agencies say it tried to hack the 2016 presidential election. Russia denies all those allegations. Speculation about Korobov’s fate had been growing since an unconfirmed media report that Putin had summoned him after the Skripal affair and severely criticised the operation which left the Skripals alive and the GRU a target of mockery in the Western media.

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