News Flash – 31 October 2018

National News



Bandra Slum Fire: 2 kids take shelter under table, rescued

Two women and as many children were injured in the fire that destroyed more than 70 shanties, many of them illegal two-storey structures, in a slum at Bandra West late Tuesday morning.



Mumbai: A massive fire destroyed 70 shanties in Nargis Dutt Nagar slums in Bandra Reclamation around 11.30 am on Tuesday. Two children, including a toddler, who were reported missing were rescued from under a table in their shanty, where the duo had taken shelter from fire. Over half a dozens of LPG cylinders exploded as the fire kept spreading in the slums, most of which were illegal two-storey structures. A senior fire official said, “A large mob came to Bandra fire station and informed us about the blaze. We immediately mobilised resources. We rescued two children—Humera Sallauddin Rahim (5) and Saifuddin Sallauddin Rahim (2)—who had taken shelter under a table.” The two children and two women who suffered a mild shock were rushed to Bhabha Hospital. All were discharged after treatment. Initially eight fire engines were rushed to the spot, it was increased to 12 later. Besides, 10 water tankers and four ambulances were also deployed. The fire was extinguished by 1.05 pm. Local MLA Ashish Shelar, who visited the spot, said it could be a sabotage and demanded investigation. “The BMC has failed to take adequate action against illegal slums which have only kept growing, ” he said. The cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained, a fire brigade official said, adding that, “a thorough investigation will be carried out”.



Under test conditions, this technology cut PM2.5 by 90%


New Delhi: National Physical Laboratory of India (NPLI) on Tuesday certified a ground-level air purifying technology that can improve air quality even in an open environment. Therefore, it might be possible to have cleaner air at a bus stop or playground even on a bad air day. The technology, which is called the ‘CleanAirZone’, has been installed on a pilot basis at Gurdwara Rakabganj Sahib where the testing was carried out earlier this month. NPLI says its utilisation could reduce PM2.5 concentrations by up to 90%. Developed by Evergreen Pvt. Ltd, the machine could soon be implemented by the end of the year with talks now ongoing with the state government and corporations. “Since it is an open environment around us, the machine is capable of creating a micro-environment of clean air like at a bus stop or a playground. Open restaurants can even utilise it. The technology not only purifies the air but ensures that the air stays trapped in the area where it is installed and can be embedded in the existing infrastructure,” said Sukhbir Sidhu, CEO of Evergreen.


Sidhu said the first such machine could be installed in the capital before the end of the year, and depending on its success, more such machines could be installed. The study carried out by NPLI analysed the pollution levels outdoors and near the machine and saw an average reduction in PM2.5 levels by 30 micrograms per cubic metre with the PM 2.5 readings dropping by up to 90%. “The testing was done for two days continuously. This can be seen as a good improvement in an outdoor environment,” said Shankar Agarwal of NPLI. The technology utilises a combination of atmospheric chemistry and airflow engineering and makes use of Nano particles and a dual purifier system to trap gases and particulate matter. “We were waiting for the certification process to finish. Now, agencies can utilise the technology on the ground,” Sidhu said. Delhi’s air quality touched “severe” for the first time this season on Tuesday with the AQI crossing 400 in the evening.



Toxic air in Bengaluru leaves its children gasping for breath


Bengaluru: The impact of air pollution in the city is evident in its worst victims — children. A study by Clean Air Platform shows 25% of kids in Bengaluru have asthma while a pulmonologist says as many as 77% of children below five years have suffered wheezing at least once. The worst affected are those who commute to school amid heavy traffic. This results in a double whammy: Children’s lungs fail to grow to full capacity and whatever is left is compromised due to a steady build-up of pollutants. Paediatric pulmonologist Dr H Paramesh, who was part of the team that formulated the international guidelines on treating childhood asthma, says most Paediatric asthma cases occur in the 3-6 age group. “It is tough to diagnose these children as no lung function test can be done at such a tender age,” Paramesh says. Pointing to a Japanese study on childhood asthma, he says polluted air inhaled by the mother during pregnancy can affect her children. “If a pregnant woman lives 50-100 metres from a highway, the babies born to her would be three times more vulnerable to asthma, according to a Japanese study. Urbanisation has an adverse impact on the lungs,” he adds. The most common triggers for asthma in the city are allergens like dust mites and pollen grains which, when mixed with the city’s polluted air, make a toxic cocktail, says Dr KR Bharath Kumar Reddy, director and CEO of Shishuka Children’s Speciality Hospital. Dr Mohan Mahendrakar, Paediatrician and neonatologist from Vikram Hospital, says if he sees 15 cases of Paediatric asthma in a week, 3-4 will be from areas like KR Puram, Tin Factory Circle and Sarjapur Road. “The first thing I ask them is where they live and where they commute to. The roads that children take and where they live have a huge impact on their health.


Areas in and around Tin Factory and Sarjapur Road are notorious for traffic snarls and that’s where air pollution must be the highest. I see the impact of this in my practice as a Paediatrician every day. The cases we get are largely referred from doctors in such areas across the city,” says Mahendrakar. Doctors and parents in Bengaluru agree that the symptoms of asthma subside or altogether disappear when the children move from Bengaluru. Chandan Sharma from HSR Layout says his six-year-old son is severely asthmatic in Bengaluru but when they head out on vacations, there is no trouble. “When we travelled to Kochi and Goa, the boy hardly coughed. He was absolutely fine. That is when we realised that the problem lies in Bengaluru’s weather and its pollution,” says Sharma. Rampant construction activities in the city and lack of regulation have only worsened air quality, doctors say. And there is no way out for the unwitting victims.  “Masks won’t help,” says Mahendrakar, adding, “Only those sitting in air-conditioned cars with closed windows can avoid air pollution. Options like carpooling, using Metro and enhancing public transport system can avoid individual vehicles being taken out on the road. But for that, the government has to intervene,” he says. As for treatment, inhalers are the best-suited medicine to get rid of childhood asthma but there is resistance among parents who believe their children will get addicted, say city-based pediatricians.



Air pollution may decrease monsoon rainfall: UN report

THE BIG PICTURE: The largest impact of air pollution on the Indian monsoon will be a decrease in the amount of rainfall, the report, presented in WHO’s global conference on air pollution and health, warns.



Nagpur: Rising air pollution in India is likely to impact rainfall patterns in the country and decrease the monsoon in the long term, which can cause extensive financial losses, warns a United Nations report released on Tuesday. ‘Air Pollution in Asia and the Pacific: Science-based Solutions’ presents a comprehensive scientific assessment of air pollution in Asia and the Pacific. Released in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) first global conference on air pollution and health in Geneva, the report covers various pollution aspects which India is grappling with. The largest impact of air pollution on the Indian monsoon will be a decrease in the amount of rainfall, the report warns. “However, some parts can also witness high precipitation depending on the topography. Pollution will also impact the duration and distribution of rainfall,” said Nathan Borgford-Parnell, science affairs adviser at Climate and Clean Air Coalition who co-authored the report. Highlighting the effects of air pollution on Asian monsoon, the report states that the presence of particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), a deadly tiny pollutant, can affect precipitation patterns during the monsoon season in India. “A weaker trend in the Indian monsoon precipitation and has been linked to changes in the emissions of particles and other pollutants from within and outside Asia,” the report says. The report also has a word of praise for several mitigation measures taken by the government. Recognizing indoor air pollution as a major health crisis in India, the report reveals that it is contributing as much as 22-52% to the country’s ambient air pollution. Speaking exclusively to TOI, Andy Haines, member of the scientific advisory panel of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, said from Geneva, “The much-needed mitigation measure that India needs to ensure is provision of clean household energy.


Burning of fossil fuels in households is a big health threat, especially for women and children who live in proximity to the source of pollution. UN claims that if the suggested measures are implemented, annual premature mortality associated with indoor air pollution can decline by 75%. This means that about 2 million premature deaths per year can be avoided in countries like India. The economic development data of 41 countries (in Asia and the Pacific) shows that unlike many other nations who managed to control air pollution with economic development, India’s air quality got worse with an increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A graph shows that as India transitioned from a low-income to a middle-income country between 1995 and 2014, levels of PM 2.5 increased significantly. “In the last decade, China, England and California have witnessed a decrease in pollution levels while their economies were developing. India showed an opposite trend with no improvement in the air quality. The entire country is facing a health emergency today and it is mainly due to lack of time-bound and sectoral targets to reduce consumption of polluting fuels. We need an aggressive shift towards public transportation and renewables,” said Sunil Dahiya, senior campaigner at Greenpeace India. Haines, who is also a professor of environmental change and public health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added that growing air pollution was adversely affecting the country’s health care, with an increase in pollution-related ailments like heart attack, cancer and other respiratory diseases.



Cafe robbers identified from CCTV grabs


Kolkata: A day after four men walked into a Cafe Coffee Day outlet at AD Block in Salt Lake on Monday morning, pointed a gun at the sole employee present and decamped with Rs 15,000 kept in the till, the police on Tuesday identified the four faces from the images of the CCTV camera installed next door. The images have also matched with the description of the persons given by the coffee shop employee in his police complaint. Two persons were detained in the evening for questioning but the police declined to divulge any details. “We have found CCTV footages from an adjacent building that shows four men walking towards the coffee shop and then after some time, walking towards the Keshtopur canal. The men’s images in the CCTV grabs match with that mentioned by the employee whom they held at gunpoint. We have circulated the photographs to all the police stations in our jurisdiction and in North 24 Parganas,” said a senior Bidhannagar Commissionerates officer. Following the robbery that took place in the morning office hour, stone’s thrown from the main road bustling with commuters, residents of the area, including the local councilor, had raised concern about the lack of security, especially inside the Blocks of Salt Lake. On Tuesday, a police team was deployed on patrol duty in and around the coffee shop area as well as the lanes and alleys.


The cafe concerned opened as usual around 10am. Shortly, the police called Subhankar Ghosh, who was tied, gagged and threatened with a gun by the robbers, to the police station. Another employee was also called there. “The cops made some queries. Ghosh gave vivid description of the men. He said two wore white shirts and trousers and one wore a blue shirt over a t-shirt. They all spoke in Bengali among themselves,” said the other employee, adding Ghosh took the day off after the questioning. Cops said they were verifying Ghosh’s statements as the cafe CCTV camera had no recording of the incident. “The shop camera showed the employee entering the premises at 10.10am. There was a power cut for 3 minutes at10.17am. The power resumed at10.20am but there is no footage for the next one hour. The 11.21pm footage shows Ghosh trying to seek help and call people outside the cafe with his hands tied and mouth gagged,” said an officer, adding they were checking the call details in the area. A senior Cafe Coffee Day official said talks had been on to deploy guards outside every CCD outlet and increase CCTV cameras. “Officials from head office in Bangalore will visit to discuss safety norms at the outlets. The CCTV cameras might be monitored centrally,” said an official.



Police warn food delivery boys against violating traffic rules

GOOD COUNSEL: A policeman tells men employed by a food aggregator about the importance of following traffic rules at Mandaveli RTO.



Chennai: In a bid to crack down on delivery boys engaged by online food aggregators, transport officials and traffic police personnel stopped their two-wheelers and counselled them against speeding and flouting rules. Officials from regional transport office (RTO) in Mandaveli distributed books on road safety to delivery executives and warned them of severe action if they continued to violate traffic rules. This was in response to a recent TOI report stating that 73% of delivery personnel violated traffic rules. The report was based on a survey by Satta Panchayat Iyyakam, a Chennai-based NGO, at Old Mahabalipuram Road and Velachery. Some of the common violations by these men included riding without helmets, use of earphones or mobile phones while driving, jumping signals, riding on the wrong side of the road and speeding. Delivery boys said they were forced to rush because deadline commitments. Many had to pick up food packets from restaurants and deliver them at the customer’s doorstep within 30 minutes. An official from the state transport department said, “We have requested food aggregators operating in and around Chennai to increase the minimum delivery time from 30 minutes to 45 minutes so that the delivery boys get some extra time to drive cautiously. The aggregators have promised to look into this and bring in changes after discussing it with their higher-ups”. K Anbu, a road safety activist, said the enforcement agencies should start penalising violators and impound their vehicles. “Once their services are affected, the firms would start employing more people and this would in turn reduce pressure on existing staff”. Welcoming this, K P Rangaprasad from SPI said the government should frame a separate set of rules guiding vehicles operated by staff of these firms.



International News



Indian couple fall 800ft to their death at US park

Vishnu Viswanath (29) and Meenakshi Moorthy (29), the couple who died in an apparent fall from Taft Point at Yosemite National Park, US.



California: An Indian travel blogger and her husband fell 800 feet to their death while apparently taking selfies on a cliff edge at a popular lookout spot at Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains last week. Park rangers found the bodies of Vishnu Viswanath and Meenakshi Moorthy, both 29, on October 25 at the foot of Taft Point, where visitors can gaze over an unguarded cliff face. Viswanath’s brother, Jishnu Viswanath, told reporters on Tuesday that the pair had set up a tripod close to the sheer ledge shortly before they apparently fell. Another couple that was clicking selfies at the point said that a couple of their selfies accidentally captured the couple’s fatal attempt at the selfie, as also their fall. Park visitors later saw the camera and alerted rangers, who found the couple’s bodies using high-powered binoculars last Thursday.


Viswanath, a software engineer who had recently moved to work in San Jose, and Meenakshi, who had ambitions of becoming a full-time blogger, described themselves as “travel lunatics”. Moorthy wrote for a blog called ‘Holidays and HappilyEverAfters’, filled with photos of the couple at the Eiffel Tower, riding gondolas in Venice and exploring mountains. Soon after reports of their death emerged, attention was drawn to an old Facebook photo of herself posted by Meenakshi, that underscored the tragic irony of their death. “Is our life just worth one photo?” reads the caption, with a warning to tourists about how wind gusts can be fatal at cliffs. Vishnu’s parents have left for California while his brother Jishnu, a Melbourne resident, has reached the US. The families began to enquire about the couple only after they received no updates from the couple about their trip to Yosemite Park.



Flyers ‘Vomited & Panicked’ in previous flight of Crashed Jet

A relative of some passengers on the crashed Lion Air flight cries at a hospital in Jakarta.



Jakarta: The Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet that crashed in Indonesia on Monday flew erratically the previous day and its airspeed readings were unreliable, according to an accident investigator and a flight tracking website. According to data from FlightRadar24, the jet displayed unusual variations in altitude and airspeed after taking off from Denpasarn, Bali, on Sunday — including an 875-foot drop over 27 seconds when it would normally be ascending — before stabilizing and flying on to Jakarta. “About three to eight minutes after it took off, I felt like the plane was losing power and unable to rise. That happened several times during the flight,” Alon Soetanto told TV One. “Some passengers began to panic and vomit”. His account is consistent with data that show erratic speed, altitude and direction after the jet took off. A similar pattern was also seen in data pinged from Monday’s flight. Lion Air president Edward Sirait said there were reports of technical problems with the flight from Bali but they had been resolved in accordance with the plane manufacturer’s procedures. The airline didn’t respond to requests to verify a document purporting to be a Lion Air maintenance report, dated Sunday, that described inaccurate airspeed and altitude readings. Meanwhile, relatives, numbed by grief, provided samples for DNA tests to help identify the victims. Rescue officers sent 26 body bags to identification experts.

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