News Flash – 3 December 2018

National News



1,250 people live here, but just one can use fire exit at a time


Mumbai: The residents of Samrat Ashok Society, Mahalakshmi, where a woman died of suffocation trying to escape smoke from a fire on Sunday, want someone to be accountable for the incident. The building, constructed under the SRA scheme, is packed with hundreds of people, but has only one emergency exit on each of its 18 floors. This exit and the stairwell it leads to are so narrow that only one person can practically pass through them at a time. “The building lacks ventilation. Smoke from the fire quickly spread throughout because of this reason. People started to suffocate because of a lack of air circulation. They felt trapped everywhere, on the corridors, on the stairs, even in the emergency stairwell,” said Sachin Kamble, a 14th-floor resident. The casualties could have been higher had it not been for an alert resident, Pradeep Vanel, who rushed down his second floor flat to switch off the building’s power supply and then, along with a few others, went up to evacuate the building.


“We have been just dumped into this building, which many of us feel is worse than the slum we were living in before. This is just a vertical slum,” said one of the residents. “There aren’t adequate safety measures”. Not that the residents are free from blame. “The firefighting system was not in place. The electric duct on each floor was not sealed,” said chief fire officer P S Rahangdale. “Earlier, we had issued a notice to the building. Despite that, the residents failed to take correcting steps. We are in the process of filing a police case against the society’s office-bearers for negligence”. A fire officer said the electric duct on all floors was encroached on. “Household articles were kept there, which aided the fire on the floor it started,” he said.



Centre, RBI working on “offline” Aadhaar to open Bank accounts



New Delhi: In the wake of the Supreme Court order on Aadhaar, the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are in talks to allow use of ‘offline Aadhaar’ that relies on QR codes, instead of the biometric eKYC, for opening bank accounts, operating payment wallets and purchasing insurance covers. The move is significant as it will also benefit financial technology companies that have been prodding the government to amend the law to make Aadhaar mandatory, an option the Centre has ruled out. The SC has ruled that Aadhaar-based verification could not be done by private firms. The court’s decision not to make Aadhaar mandatory for bank accounts though it is so for welfare scheme beneficiaries led to a discussion on the use of offline Aadhaar where there is no link to the Unique Identification Authority of India’s servers. The printout with the QR code is “digitally signed” by UIDAI, making it much more reliable than documents like ration cards, driving licences and voter IDs. But since the use of offline Aadhaar has to be facilitated by the RBI, the central bank needs to bring out a circular and has held two to three rounds of discussions with UIDAI. The Aadhaar agency has suggested that the KYC master circular be amended, which will also ensure that the rules are in sync with the SC order.


The court had ruled that Aadhaar could not be mandatory for transactions other than those involving direct benefit transfer or income tax permanent account number (PAN). But the RBI’s earlier circular mandating the use of Aadhaar has meant that several banks are yet to implement the apex court ruling, which also requires them to tweak their systems. There was some confusion over the scope of the SC order and the SBI sought to withdraw the AePS altogether before UIDAI said this would be illegal. Sources told TOI the use of Aadhaar even by banks and insurance companies will be optional with account holders and those looking to buy a life cover allowed to offer other identification documents such as voter ID, ration card or driving licence to comply with KYC requirements. UIDAI has been pushing offline Aadhaar as the tool for KYC, offering it as a secure solution, which helps mask details beyond the name, photograph and address. These are details that are readily available and are needed for establishing a person’s ID. At the same time, QR code based Aadhaar verification is seen to be foolproof and comes with a digital signature.



Catching a train at Sealdah gets smarter with QR code scanning


Kolkata: If you are a suburban railway passenger rushing to catch a train from Sealdah, you sometimes run the risk of missing it because of the serpentine queue in front of the booking counter. But from Sunday, life got a lot easier. To book a ticket on your smartphone, you will now just need to scan the QR (quick response) code of the nearest station put up near the station, as well as inside it, and pay for your journey. The hassle of negotiating the long lines at ticket counters could not be lessened even after opening private-run counters beyond the station area. In eight hours, a booking clerk, who is supposed to issue 1,400 tickets, ends up issuing more than 2,000 tickets. The pressure mounts and sometimes erupts into violence and vandalism, said railway sources. On the revenue front, Sealdah Division, one of the busiest railway stations in Asia with a daily suburban passenger footfall of 20 lakhs, loses out on ticketless commuters. “Many do it so they don’t miss the train,” said a Sealdah division officer. M-ticket was introduced to counter this issue. A mobile ticket can be booked online through the UTS app, which had a limited success in Sealdah because of geographical fencing.


Geographical fencing allowed the app to automatically locate a passenger’s departure station, but only if they were 200m away from the station. It would then ask for the destination. But once the passenger reached the departure station, they couldn’t book the ticket on the app any more. “Thanks to the QR code, this problem has been resolved. Now, one just needs to scan the code to book the ticket. Besides reducing passengers’ hassle, we hope for a surge in revenue,” said Koushik Mitra, senior divisional commercial manager, Sealdah. Sealdah division has now put up their QR code in almost every nook and cranny of the station complex. The QR code posters will now be put up at important places near the station so a passenger can book their m-ticket from a place of their choice. The QR codes are also put up in other stations under Sealdah division. After Sealdah, Sonarpur has the highest footfall in the division. An official said, “A lot of commuters from Sonarpur will benefit from this app”.



Corporation to buy five more beach cleaning machines after trial run

TO TIDY UP: Trial runs for beach cleaning machines being carried out by the city corporation.



Chennai: Greater Chennai Corporation has begun the trial run of three beach cleaning machines for Marina and Besant Nagar beaches. Official sources said this will be part of the tourism department’s Bharat Darshan project funded by the central government. The machines cost Rs.70 lakhs each and a total of five are set be purchased – three for Marina Beach and two for Besant Nagar beach. The corporation currently has two such machines to clean beaches on a regular basis for an hour in the morning and evening. Corporation officials, however, complained it was not enough. “We have 59 sweepers, who sweep the lawns and pavements. It is impossible to clean the entire beach area manually and one machine is not enough. We require more such machines as it saves time and labour,” said a corporation official. Officials said that the machine acts like a sieve. “It runs like a tractor on the beach. All the plastic waste, garbage gets retained in the machine while the sand is let out again. These machines are being used regularly,” said an official.


But activists complained that the machines were lying idle and hardly used. Dharmesh Shah, an environmental activist, complained that the machines were not systematically used. “Maintenance is very poor and most of them become defunct soon. Instead of investing into machinery alone, we need to find measures and draw out regulations to stop littering. Plastic use and garbage dumping should be checked to address the issue,” he said. Corporation officials said they have not made a final call on the purchase yet. “Several private companies are showing the trial and based on performance, we will choose the machines. The company from which machines are bought will be responsible for its operation and maintenance for five years,” said an official. Apart from this, the civic body also plans to spend another Rs.5cr to purchase canal cleaning machine and another amphibian that can be used during monsoons and cyclones.



PWD releases handbook to guide Engineers on Construction Safety



Chennai: Following a series of public structure collapses in different parts of the state last year, the public works department (PWD) has released a handbook for government engineers dealing with constructions. The handbook aims at making construction of public structures safe. The handbook titled as ‘Technical handbook on building construction for field engineers’ deals with a range of aspects in civil engineering, quality of construction materials, maintenance and demolition of public structures. According to PWD sources, it explores the importance of flawless structural stability for buildings. “Of late, Manufactured Sand (M Sand) is largely used in the construction sector as an alternate to river sand. Though testing can be carried out in laboratories to ascertain its standards, we have suggested simple on the spot testing methods to know the quality,” an official said. While majority of state government’s buildings are being built and maintained by the PWD, six departments, agencies and boards such as rural development and panchayat raj, municipal administration, Greater Chennai Corporation, Tamil Nadu Housing Board, Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, Tamil Nadu Adi Dravidar Housing and Development Corporation have their own construction wings. This is the first time that PWD has released a handbook for public buildings constructed by departments outside its purview, sources added.



International News



Macron mulls emergency as Paris sees worst riots since ’68

A sculpture of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic, was vandalised inside the Arc de Triomphe on Saturday.



Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron ordered his PM on Sunday to hold talks with political leaders and demonstrators, as he sought a way out of nationwide protests after rioters turned central Paris into a battle zone. The government has not ruled out imposing a state of emergency to combat the protests. Riot police on Saturday were overwhelmed as protesters ran amok in Paris’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, torching dozens of cars, looting boutiques and smashing up luxury private homes and cafes in the worst disturbances the capital has seen since 1968. The unrest began as a backlash against fuel tax hikes but has spread. It poses the most formidable challenge yet to Macron’s presidency, with the escalating violence and depth of public anger against his economic reforms catching the 40-year-old leader off-guard. After a meeting with members of his government on Sunday, the French presidency said in a statement that the president had asked his interior minister to prepare security forces for future protests and his prime minister to hold talks with political party leaders and representatives of the protesters. A French presidential source said Macron would not speak to the nation on Sunday despite calls for him to offer immediate concessions to demonstrators.


Arriving back from the G20 summit in Argentina, Macron had earlier rushed to the Arc de Triomphe, a revered monument and epicenter of Saturday’s clashes, where protesters had scrawled “Macron resign” and “The yellow vests will triumph”. The “yellow vest” rebellion erupted out of nowhere on Nov 17, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to some shopping malls, fuel depots and airports. Violent groups from the far right and far left as well as youths from the suburbs infiltrated Saturday’s protests, the authorities said. Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux had indicated the Macron administration was considering imposing a state of emergency. While the protests were initially against Macron’s fuel tax hikes necessary he says to combat climate change – they have also mined a vein of deep dissatisfaction felt towards his liberal reforms, which many voters feel favour the wealthy and big business. Police said they had arrested more than 400 people in Paris on Saturday and that 133 were injured.

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