News Flash – 24 May 2017

National News



Uttarakhand: 21 pilgrims feared dead as bus falls into gorge in Uttarkashi



DEHRADUN: At least 21 Char Dham pilgrims are feared dead while seven others have been injured after a bus carrying devotees from Indore in Madhya Pradesh plunged into a gorge near Dharasu in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand on Tuesday. The bus returning from Gangotri was on its way to Chinyalisaur when it fell into a 250m deep gorge. Ram Singh Meena, additional director general of police (ADG) law and order, told TOI, “The bus was carrying 28 pilgrims, all of whom were from Indore. Seven of the pilgrims have been rescued. But the remaining 21 are feared dead. Darkness is hampering rescue operations as teams have spotted the bus but are unable to climb down the hillside.”

A senior government official said that keeping in mind the high level of water in Bhagirathi River, release of water from Joshiyada barrage has been stopped. Teams of State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), Jal Police, ITBP, police along with the district magistrate and SP Uttarkashi have reached the spot. The injured have been admitted to Chinyalisaur hospital. The ADG said that 57 pilgrims from Indore had arrived in the state for Char Dham yatra in two buses. “One of the buses met with an accident. According to preliminary reports, a type of the vehicle separated from the rim due to which the driver lost control over the bus and it fell into the gorge,” said Meena. Chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has announced compensation of Rs 1 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for those injured. Rawat has also directed a magisterial probe into the incident.



Keep cities clean or get a poor appraisal, Maharashtra tells civic chiefs



MUMBAI: The state government has finalized the KRA (key results area) parameters for all municipal commissioners for the 2017-18 appraisal year. The highest marks, 30%, are reserved for ensuring at least 90% waste segregation and composting, followed by 20% for property and other tax recoveries, 20% for making the municipal corporation financially independent and to increase revenue sources, and 10% each for three other areas, which includes declaring a city open-defecation free (see graphic for all KRA details). The parameters or their weightage, issued on Monday, are not applicable on the BMC commissioner yet, for whom the particulars are being worked out by the state’s chief secretary. A senior officer said they will more or less be the same as the idea is to align the KRAs for civic chiefs with the Union government’s projects, especially the Swachh Bharat Mission.

“We have also stressed on three broad parameters: making corporations financially independent, complying with the Centre’s flagship projects and redressing public grievances,” said Manisha Mhaiskar, principal secretary, urban development department. An official said it also aligns with the chief minister’s aim of a systematic waste disposal and treatment mechanism in all cities of Maharashtra. Mumbai this year slipped in the Swachh Bharat rankings to the 29th spot from last year’s 10th. Waste disposal in Mumbai has been a long-time concern, as all three garbage dumps in the city are full and waste processing has been started only at one site, Kanjurmarg (where a waste processing unit of 3,000 metric-ton capacity has been installed). The Deonar and Mulund grounds are still being dumped with unsegregated garbage, to already make an almost unsalvageable situation worse. This is the third year the state government has set KRAs for employees based on completion of projects and meeting other targets. The Fadnavis government links KRAs with promotions and increments.

TIMES VIEW: If one goes by the KRAs alone, the state seems to have its priorities for civic body’s right. The point is to make bureaucrats accountable so that promotion and career growth are not guaranteed regardless of performance. It is good that the Fadnavis government has linked promotions to the KRAs. Now it must walk the talk.



Corporation school kids turn into disaster managers



CHENNAI: A young boy crumples in pain holding his feet. At once, two others materialise on either side, hoist him up and carry him off to a safe zone to administer first aid. They turn to another injured classmate who appears to have a burn injury. Attending to him, they turn objects within easy reach – like a handkerchief – into emergency aid tools. The smallest one then hops off and runs away, signalling the end of the drill. These young boys and girls from Nettukuppam middle school in Ennore are now disaster managers in their own right. Nearly 2,700 students like these, from across corporation schools in the north Chennai zones of Tiruvottiyur and Manali, go through weekly lessons in managing all kinds of disasters. Ranging from ages 8 to 15, many of these children hail from families of fishermen and labourers.

“Earthquakes, fires, floods, stampede…” trails off 12-year-old Bhuvaneswari, recalling the calamities they’ve been trained to face. From tying knots to drawing up an evacuation plan for their school, the students have been trained by volunteers from Save the Children foundation, which kick-started the project to educate children in vulnerable areas of the city. With help from the local fire stations and St John’s ambulance services, the NGO has managed to get students to assess vulnerabilities in their schools and plug those gaps, by closing an open well or repairing cracks in buildings. Having stared at disaster from close quarters, the importance of the exercise is not lost on the kids. “All our possessions were affected by the water, my books were all damaged,” says Neelavathy, a 12-year-old studying in Manali government school, recalling the December 2015 floods. “But now I know exactly how to protect my belongings if it happens again,” she confidently declares.



‘Armed forces need support from strong leadership’



AHMEDABAD: Arun Jaitley, the Union finance minister who also holds the defence portfolio, on Tuesday said that the government supports the Indian Army‘s pre-emptive action across the Line of Control to fight infiltration and terrorism. “Such actions are needed to ensure peace in J&K,” Jaitley said in a tweet. On the sidelines of a discussion on ‘Global growth through Indian economy’, organized in Ahmedabad by the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Jaitley said that strong leadership was necessary to take tough calls on national security. “There have always been challenges to national security,” Jaitley said. “Previous governments at the Centre had been suggesting that Pakistan be isolated on the international front. However, it is important to take tough decisions in the interest of national security”.

Jaitley said Indian soldiers had crossed the LoC in September last year to carry out a surgical strike. “Our armed forces were always capable and they should be supported by a strong leadership,” Jaitley said. “Earlier, when our soldiers were beheaded in Pakistan, the Indian Army had said that their sacrifice won’t be in vain. Every day, our forces protect our country’s borders and stop infiltration”. The Indian Army on Tuesday said it had attacked Pakistani military posts and inflicted ‘some damage’ along the LOC in Jammu & Kashmir in a recent ‘punitive assault’ as part of its counter-terrorism strategy.



1.23 lakh smart cards sold after underground metro line opens


CHENNAI: The sale of smart cards on the metro rail has got a boost with the launch of the underground line from Thirumangalam to Nehru Park on May 14. Since the inauguration of services on the underground line, a total of 1,23,827 smart cards have been sold. The card sales have picked up because point-to-point ticket tokens are not sold at stations on the underground line, with smart cards being the only option. With 28 km of the line now open to the public and patronage going up, smart cards seem to have become the best option to travel as they offer discounts. The smart card fare for travel from Nehru Park to St Thomas Mount metro stations is Rs 45 as against Rs 50 for tokens and from Nehru Park to the airport is Rs 54 as against Rs 60 for tokens.

A senior official of metro rail said, “We are looking at making smart cards the norm. People will get used to the convenience of buying a smart card. The card needs to be purchased only once. It can be recharged using the machines that are kept at all stations”. However, tokens are still available for purchase at elevated stations. Metro rail is also planning to popularize a few other cards like a multiple trip tourist card costing Rs 100 for those who would prefer to travel along the line several times on the same day. Store value cards are also being promoted. This card is the same as a smart card with the advantage that it is transferable to family and friends. Following the inauguration of the underground line, a total of 2,82,621 passengers have travelled on the metro as compared to 20,25,439 commuters this year until the launch.



International News



UK to deploy troops after attack, risk now ‘critical’, says Theresa May



LONDON: Britain‘s armed forces will be deployed to boost security, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday, as the country raised its terror threat to the highest level of “critical” after a suicide attack in Manchester that killed 22 people, including children. May said members of the armed forces would be positioned at key sites to free up police for patrols and military personnel might be deployed at public events such as concerts and sports events as a further attack was seen as potentially imminent. May said the independent body which sets the threat level had recommended it be raised from “severe” after a man named by police as Salman Abedi set off an improvised bomb on Monday night as crowds streamed out of a concert.



“It is now concluded on the basis of today’s investigations that the threat level should be increased for the time being from severe to critical,” she said in a televised statement after a meeting of the government’s crisis response committee. “This means that their assessment is not only that an attack remains highly likely but that a further attack may be imminent”. Britain’s international terror threat level was last at the critical level in June 2007. May, who is due to contest a national election on June 8, said the man named by police as the attacker, Salman Abedi, was born and brought up in Britain and investigations into whether he was working alone were ongoing. “The work undertaken throughout the day has revealed that it is a possibility we cannot ignore that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this attack,” she said.



Deadliest month for Syria civilians in US-led strikes: Monitor



BEIRUT: US-led air strikes on Syria killed a total of 225 civilians over the past month, a monitor said on Tuesday, the highest 30-day toll since the campaign began in 2014. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the civilian dead between April 23 and May 23 included 44 children and 36 women. The US-led air campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria began on September 23, 2014. “The past month of operations is the highest civilian toll since the coalition began bombing Syria,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. “There has been a very big escalation”. The previous deadliest 30-day period was between February 23 and March 23 this year, when 220 civilians were killed, Abdel Rahman said. The past month’s deaths brought the overall civilian toll from the coalition campaign to 1,481, among them 319 children, the Britain-based monitoring group said. Coalition bombing raids between April 23 and May 23 also killed 122 IS jihadists and eight fighters loyal to the Syrian government, the Observatory said. The loyalists were killed in a strike on a convoy headed toward a remote garrison near the border with Jordan being used by coalition forces. Earlier this month, the US military said that coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria had “unintentionally” killed 352 civilians since the campaign began.

The coalition launched operations against IS in Iraq in August 2014, then expanded them to Syria the following month. It is now backing twin offensives against IS’s last major urban strongholds — Raqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. It has deployed special operations forces on the ground in both countries as advisers. On Friday, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said President Donald Trump has instructed the Pentagon to “annihilate” IS in Syria in a bid to prevent foreign fighters from returning home. The president has “directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS,” Mattis said, using an alternate acronym for IS. “The intent is to prevent the return home of escaped foreign fighters”. Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to quickly defeat IS, signed an executive order soon after taking office giving his generals 30 days to come up with a revised plan to wipe the jihadists out. The review resulted in the new “annihilation campaign” and saw commanders gain greater autonomy to make battlefield decisions.



Militant attack on Afghanistan army base kills 10 soldiers: Officials

File photo of an attack on an army base in Dihdadi district of Balkh province in Afghanistan.


KANDAHAR: At least 10 Afghan soldiers were killed when militants attacked their army base in the southern province of Kandahar, the defence ministry said Tuesday, in the latest attack on Western-backed forces. “Last night the enemies of Afghanistan attacked Achakzai camp of army corps 205 in Shah Wali Kot district. Ten brave army soldiers were martyred and nine others wounded,” the ministry said in a statement.

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