News Flash – 28 August 2019

National News



State’s only Hill Rail Wrecked by Heavy Rain


Thane: The Matheran toy train is expected to remain shut for at least a year because of extensive rain damage to its narrow-gauge tracks. Central Railway (CR), which runs the service, has estimated restoration work to cost Rs 20 crore, and has decided on a feasibility study before undertaking repairs. The study would look at whether the route, which has been repeatedly damaged because of natural factors, is sustainable in the long run. Against an annual average of 3,038mm, Matheran has recorded 5,217mm rainfall so far this monsoon, leading to landslides, cave-ins, washed-out sleepers and uprooted rails at nine locations along the 21km route of the state’s only hill railway. This is the worst disruption since 2005, an extreme-rain year when over 50% of the tracks were washed away, and extensive damage was reported at 35 spots. Back then, restoration work took two years, before services were resumed in March 2007. “Restoration is challenging in the absence of any road to ferry equipment and material to the tracks. We will have to start from the ground, at the Neral-end, and gradually move up the hill as the stretches get repaired. This is time-consuming,” said a senior official. A shorter, faster road link, along with taxi services, exists between Matheran and Neral and is the route of choice for locals. The toy train, which offers picturesque views of hills and valleys, is majorly of heritage importance. CR is considering a plan to first restore services in the shortest and last section of the route Aman Lodge to Matheran which hasn’t been majorly damaged.



But there’s a catch. “Right now, maintenance facilities are at the base, in Neral. Even coaches and locomotives roll in here for upkeep. If services in the uppermost section are to be resumed, the maintenance yard will have to be shifted to Matheran,” said CR’s chief public relations officer, Shivaji Sutar. Every year, toy train services are closed during the monsoon between Neral and Aman lodge, and resumed in October. This year, the entire route has had to be shut because of the rains. “At many places, even embankments, which are sturdy structures, have been washed away,” said a senior CR official. He said that because nature unleashes its fury on the Matheran Hill Railway so very often, CR authorities aren’t sure if restoring the route yet another time is a good idea at all. “There is a question mark on the service right now. We are waiting for a cost-benefit analysis before taking a decision. A point to note is that this route doesn’t generate much revenue,” said the official. “The railways may spend crores, but we will be back to square one if torrential rains damage the line again during the next monsoon. In any case, approval for the funds needs to come from the railway board, not to speak of environmental clearances since Matheran lies in an eco-sensitive zone”. Locals aren’t convinced of CR’s reservations. “Toy train services in Shimla and rain lashed Darjeeling work properly because state leaders care for heritage,” said Manoj Khedkar, who lives in Matheran. “I wish our leaders were equally sensitive to history and to the needs of locals”.



With more than 9,300 Cases till August, Dengue Sting may be Worst in Karnataka


Bengaluru: With 9,374 dengue cases reported till August 26, Karnataka seems to be the worst-hit state in the country. The National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) of the Union health ministry is yet to compile its dengue-incidence data beyond May 26, 2019 at which point of time Karnataka had the highest number of cases (1,076). Cases in the state have gone up by nearly eight times in three months since then. According to data accessed by TOI, Maharashtra reported 1,556 cases and two deaths till July 31. Telangana recorded 1,457 cases till August 3 and Kerala 1,703 till July 30. Andhra Pradesh witnessed 843 cases till August 11 and Delhi 57 till August 26. Tamil Nadu, which had 951 cases as on May 26, 2019, has not updated its data. As on July 31, Karnataka had recorded 6,150 dengue cases.



Dr Kalpana Baruah, joint director, NVBDCP, said the reporting pattern in Karnataka could be one of the reasons for its high number of cases. “The other reason could be intense transmission of the virus,” she said. The state health department attributed this to intermittent rain pattern and inadequate larvae-breeding prevention measures taken by the public and municipalities. Dr Mahmood Shariff, research officer, NVBDCP, said Bengaluru city 3,542 cases till August 26 and Dakshina Kannada district are the problem areas. There have been 930 cases of dengue and two deaths in DK district. “A majority of the cases was reported from BBMP limits and Dakshina Kannada. We’ve instructed officials to be alert and take up precautionary measures. The situation is not so bad in other areas,” he added. A team from NVBDCP will visit Bengaluru on August 29.



MP Relative’s House Burgled, Goods worth Rs.1 Crore Looted



Hyderabad: A burglar broke into the house of businessman T Uttam Reddy in Banjara Hills on Tuesday and decamped with valuables worth over Rs.1 crore. The businessman is a relative of Rajya Sabha MP T Subbarami Reddy. “At around 2.20 am, a burglar entered the premises of builder Uttam Reddy’s house by scaling the boundary wall. The offender opened the rear door of the duplex by removing the digital lock using his screw driver and gained entry,” said Banjara Hills D I K Ravi Kumar. Upon entering the house, the accused went to the bedroom in the first floor where the owner and his wife were fast asleep. “The offender found the keys of the cupboard next to the couple. Using the keys, he opened the cupboards and jewellery worth Rs.1 crore,” the DI said. After committing the offence, the accused left the house by scaling the compound wall. All this while, the security guard was also sleeping. “The offender wore a mask and gloves,” police said. A case was booked under sections 457 and 380 of the Indian penal code. The number burglary cases have seen a steep rise in the city in the recent past. Most burglars walk around looking for houses with locks on their gates to see if the residents are away and strike at night, CCTV footage with police officials show. Police are still investigating the cases.



Explosive check for Airport Security System


Kolkata: Since Monday, around 500 bags some carrying deadly chemicals and explosives are being sent through the X-Ray Baggage Inspection System (XBIS), comprising the newly installed Computer Tomography X-Ray (CTX) machines in the Kolkata airport terminal basement. Three officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), an agency of the US department of homeland security that was set up to secure air travel following the 9/11 attacks, are keeping a hawk-eye on the system’s ability to detect the ‘suspicious’ bags and then segregate them from the rest. “Three TSA agents are carrying out the integrated site acceptance test (ISAT) that involves assessing the robustness of the system in detecting bags that carry explosives and chemicals that pose a threat to flight safety. When the system is commissioned, thousands of bags will pass through the system and detecting the odd suspect bag is absolutely crucial. Though there will be an additional layer of baggage screeners who will monitor the contents of the bags as di splayed on the X-Ray image, it is the XBIS on which the checking depends,” explained airport director Kaushik Bhattacharya. The TSA test has two parts first, to ensure that CTX is satisfactorily performing with respect to its detection capabilities, safety features including X-Ray radiation levels, etc. The second is to test the complete system along with baggage handling from check-in to baggage make area (BMA).



Though the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) is the competent authority for flight safety in India, it has sought the expertise of TSA for checking the XBIS as the latter already has a strict protocol in place. The test kits carrying explosives and chemicals are key to the inspection. The TSA trio will rigorously test the seven CTX machines till the end of the week. However, the checks will be conducted on one machine at a time to ensure least disruption in services. “When a CTX machine undergoes tests, operations at the portal linked to that machine is affected. Since the conveyor belts that carry the bags deposited by passengers cannot be carried from the departure lounge to the baggage sorting area in the basement during this period, we have deployed baggage loaders to manually carry the bags down,” said Bhattacharya. Following the tests, TSA agents will submit a report to BCAS. Once BCAS is satisfied about compliance, it will give a go ahead. “We expect the final nod by September-end and will commission the system immediately thereafter,” Bhattacharya said. This will be a boon for flyers during the festive season when the passenger count shoots up as the queue for getting bags screened at standalone X-Ray terminals will disappear. Passengers will be able to drop their bags directly at the check-in counters, saving up to 15 minutes during peak rush hours. Each CTX machine can screen up to 1,800 bags per hour.

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