News Flash – 6 August 2018

National News



Major fire at RTO in Tardeo destroys documents, comps

Nearly 400 people visit the RTO every day for licences.



Mumbai: A major fire broke out on the premises of the regional transport office (RTO) at Tardeo early on Sunday. The blaze, which was first noticed around 5.20am, raged for at least two hours, completely gutting the area that housed the learner’s driving licence section located beside a petrol pump. No one was injured. The cause of the fire is not known. While documents, computers and furniture have been destroyed, RTO officials said they have a back-up of records. The learner’s driving licence tests scheduled for Monday morning—around 400 aspirants turn up every day—could be affected as RTO officials struggled until Sunday evening to zero in on an alternative location to conduct tests at the Tardeo premises on Monday. State transport commissioner Shekhar Channe told TOI that no data has been lost. “All data has been digitized. Also, we have a back-up on another server kept at a safe location,” he said. The Tardeo RTO handles driving licence applications for the island city. This includes areas between Cuffe Parade/Colaba up to Sion/Mahim. On an average, 400 people arrive to take driving licence tests daily at the Tardeo office. RTO officials claimed that the tests scheduled to be held on Monday would be conducted “smoothly”.


The fire, which was doused by 7.35 am, was first noticed by the lone watchman who was deployed to guard the premises. Office paraphernalia like computers, printers, servers, biometric devices, licence documents and furniture was destroyed. While the cause of the fire has not yet been ascertained, a fire brigade official said that a short circuit could have sparked it. Sources also said that the possibility of sabotage has not yet been ruled out. A deputy transport officer said that they were arranging for new computers, printers, biometric machines and office furniture from other RTOs and other government departments. The fire-ravaged premises, spread on a 10,000-sq-ft space, had a huge waiting hall and an air-conditioned room to conduct driving tests. Fire brigade officials said that a CNG petrol pump is located beside the RTO office. A senior RTO official said that important documents besides hardware have been gutted. “Most documents were those submitted as proof to obtain licences and for issue of new licences,” said the official.



Caught on camera: Lone women targeted by snatchers

INCIDENT 1 A man starts following the target when she is returning to her house in Mansarovar Park. As soon as he sees an isolated stretch, the man attacks her from behind. He then pins her down and thrashes her, taking away her mobile phone and chain.


INCIDENT 2 Three men on a bike follow a woman in Laxmi Nagar. When she reaches her house, two men go inside and snatch her chain, while the third reverses the bike. The men rush out of the house and flee on the bike. The woman is seen trying to chase them.



New Delhi: Two snatching incidents captured on CCTV, which occurred last week in east and northeast Delhi, show robbers targeting lone women returning home. In the first incident that took place around 8.30pm on July 29, a 30-year-old woman was robbed of her mobile phone and chain in Mansarovar Park of northeast Delhi. A CCTV camera installed in one of the houses captured the robbery. The woman, Hemalatha, was returning home after collecting medical reports from her doctor. In the footage, a man is seen following the victim while she is passing through a lane in Hardevpuri Colony. A bike crosses them, which was later identified as the snatcher’s accomplice. The snatcher throttles her from behind as soon as the lane gets deserted. The woman grapples with the man, but he pins her down and thrashes her. The woman stops protesting after which the snatcher takes her mobile phone and chain. The man runs for a few meters and then gets on the bike. The woman is seen rushing towards the robber and then returning to the crime spot. Passersby gather and people are seen coming out of their houses. The woman is visibly distraught and is seen narrating the ordeal to bystanders. A PCR call was made after which an FIR was filed on woman’s complaint. Police said they are trying to nab the snatchers. In the second incident, robbers barged into a woman’s house and snatched her chain in east Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar. CCTV footage shows three men on a bike following the woman in a lane in L-Block. The woman enters her house and the trio pull over outside. Two men go inside the house and snatch her chain while the third reverses the bike. The men rush out of the house, sit on the bike and speed away. The woman is seen running after them, but gives up after a few metres. An FIR has been registered and the robbers are still at large.



ATM thieves use passcode, flee with Rs.26 Lakhs



New Delhi: Criminals fled with approximately Rs 26 lakh from an ATM located in Seelampur in northeast Delhi. However, the robbers didn’t need to uproot the machine, as has been seen in earlier instances, because they knew the passcode of the cash box. Confirming the incident, DCP (northeast) Atul Kumar Thakur said the incident occurred early on Sunday. Three men entered the kiosk, opened the cash box of the ATM and stole approximately Rs 26 lakh from it. Police suspect an insider role into the incident. They have prepared a list of current and former employees of the bank and the cash logistic firms to zero in on the suspects. Senior officers said that only a few people are aware of the passcode of ATMs.



Night-show fire at Priya cinema sparks panic

Firefighters battle the blaze late on Sunday at Deshapriya Park.



Kolkata: A fire broke out at Priya cinema on Rashbehari Avenue, one of Kolkata’s landmark single-screen theatres, on Sunday, while the night show of a major Bollywood production was on, triggering panic among viewers and local residents. There was, however, no report of injuries or casualties. The fire started at the first floor office of the cinema around 10.15pm. Within minutes, the whole area was shrouded in smoke. There was a stampede-like situation as the movie-goers panicked and tried to rush out. They were, however, safely evacuated. Four members of the family that owns the cinema and stays on the top floor of the five-storey building had to wait a while before they could be brought to safety. The theatre was screening ‘Fanney Khan’ to a sizeable weekend audience in its 9.15pm show when the fire was detected. The building has a lounge bar in its basement, which also had a good weekend crowd. Two eateries on the same floor also had a considerable number of patrons inside. The top two floors house the office and home of Arijit Dutta, the owner. It is not very clear where the fire was first seen. Fire brigade sources suggested it was spotted between a first floor eatery and the box office. Dutta, who spoke to reporters, suggested it could have started from the office. Fire minister and mayor Sovan Chatterjee, who rushed to the spot, said the matter would be thoroughly investigated. Police commissioner Rajiv Kumar was also at the spot.


Even as the fire brigade tried to control the flames, the theatre’s staff had opened all emergency exits to let out people from inside. Dipak Pal, a floor staffer, indicated they had initiated the emergency evacuation drill after the fire alarm sounded and the fire brigade had been informed. Fire brigade officers present at the spot said the blaze could be contained, but the accompanying smoke could have been hazardous. They said they broke the glass panes to let out the smoke. The officers also indicated that no one was hurt during the evacuation. “There was some panic when we were asked to evacuate through the emergency exits. We followed instructions and came out safely. While we were being led away by the staffers, we could smell heavy smoke. We are grateful to have been escorted out of the hall so quickly,” said a south Kolkata resident. “The whole area was covered in smoke. People were running out of the gate. We were inside the resto-bar in the basement when somebody screamed that there was a fire upstairs and asked us to run out,” said Papiya Basu, who had come to spend Sunday evening at Priya. Traffic around Deshapriya Park was disrupted for a while because of the incident.



Techie exposes skimmer at Kasba ATM

Software engineer Soumyabrata Sen in front of the Kasba ATM that the police suspect has been compromised and (right) the suspected skimming device inside the ATM booth.



Kolkata: A day after attending a seminar on cyber security, a software engineer in his early 30s claimed to have found an ATM card skimmer, which looked identical to the card reader, at an unguarded private bank ATM in Kasba’s Bakultala on Sunday afternoon. Soumyabrata Sen, a software engineer with Cognizant, was at the ATM booth located at the crossing of Bakultala Lane and Rasbehari Avenue around 3.30pm on Sunday to withdraw Rs 3000 from his father’s account with another bank. Sen was running the mandatory checks he had learnt only a day before at a seminar. “I checked the green plastic case on the card reader and felt something was wrong. The colour was a little off and it seemed larger than the usual one. On touching, I felt the reader was not fixed properly. So, I didn’t insert the debit card. Then I checked the panel above the keypad and as I pressed it on the edges, it came off and there was a skimming device with a memory chip and a small camera,” Sen told TOI. Realising that he had exposed a skimming device attached to the ATM, he first went outside and alerted the man who had withdrawn money from the ATM immediately before him and then called one of his seniors, who told him to call the police. Officers of Kasba PS, barely 300 metres away, reached the spot and seized the panel with the camera and SD card. They also dislodged the card scanner attached to the top of the card reader.


“We have seized the suspected parts and informed bank officials suspecting that the ATM has been compromised,” said an officer. Manager of Global Force, the firm in charge of maintenance at the ATM, later sent a technician to check the device. He has switched it off till the investigation is over. “I do not come to this ATM for regular maintenance. I am here to take stock of the situation and inform my seniors. All I know is that this ATM didn’t have a guard,” said Mehndi Hasan Mullick, the technician. After the news became public, many residents, who regularly use this ATM, visited the spot and started discussing if their card details were hacked. “I use this ATM regularly. Yesterday, I had withdrawn Rs 3000 and today morning I had withdrawn Rs 1000. Has my card also been hacked?” businessman Sanjib Naskar asked a policeman standing near the ATM. The incident comes five days after residents in various parts of the city complained that they lost their money through illegal ATM transactions. Probing into the case cops arrested two Romanian nationals on Friday and recovered 20 fake debit cards from them.



Thundershowers lash city, inundate pockets


Kolkata: The city sky remained gloomy with heavy clouds throughout Sunday. By afternoon, it started pouring in most parts of Kolkata and the adjoining areas. A special weather bulletin issued by the Indian Meteorological Department warned of heavy rain in Kolkata and other parts of south Bengal since a low pressure system was developing over northwest Bay of Bengal. The Met office had earlier predicted an increase in rain activity by Sunday. Though a good part of the morning escaped without significant rain, thundershowers, accompanied by lightning, started up in the afternoon. According to the Met office, there is a cyclonic circulation over Bangladesh and Bengal. Under the influence of this system, which extends up to 3.6km above the mean sea level, a low pressure area is likely to develop over northwest Bay of Bengal and adjoining areas of Bengal during the next 24 hours. “The cyclonic circulation developing over Kolkata can trigger heavy rain. But the system is likely to move towards northeast Bay of Bengal. Therefore, the intensity of rain is expected decrease from the second part of Monday. But we will continue to get a few spells of thundershower or moderate rain,” said G K Das, director (weather) at Regional Meteorological Centre, Kolkata.


In meteorological parlance, rainfall between 7cm and 11cm within 24 hours accounts for heavy rain. By 5.30pm on Sunday, Alipore had recorded 4cm rain in nine hours. The afternoon downpour left many pockets in the city inundated, affecting traffic movement. The overnight rain predicted by the Met office has raised concern about more craters and potholes opening up on major thoroughfares. But not everybody was inconvenienced by the rain. “I was driving back home from a weekend retreat in Deulti with a gang of friends. Just as we hit the National Highway, it started pouring heavily. We had fun driving in the rain,” said Sumantika Chowdhury, a PR professional. Apart from Kolkata, North and South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly are expected to get heavy rain overnight. As the cyclonic circulation moves towards the northeast Bay of Bengal on Monday, the system could trigger heavy rain in pockets of Midnapore and the western districts.



Security agencies likely to close shop in face of high GST rates


Kolkata: Unable to cope with the GST regime, several security agencies in Kolkata and the state are shutting down. The private security industry employs nearly half a million people in Bengal and over a lakh in Kolkata. Sources said, the first problem was that this industry was charged 14% service tax. This tax was based on receivables. Now, the 18% GST must be paid upfront by the agency on a monthly basis. This is pushing up costs, hurting the small players. This is choking the private security industry, felt Satnam Singh Ahluwalia, secretary general of Central Association of Private Security Industry (Capsi), West Bengal. “Security agencies raise the bill on the 20th of every month and deposit the GST. However, the agencies themselves receive the payment of these bills only after 60-90 days or more,” he said. The solution, he argues, is to introduce a reverse charge mechanism, where the principal employer (to whom the security guards are outsourced) pays the GST on due date and claims refund later. Secondly, it is unclear what should be taxed. Any bill raised involves the salary component and the statutory taxes payable (roughly 14% for PF and 4.7% for ESI). Added to this is an 8%-10% profit margin. “When we are being taxed on the entire bill amount, we are paying taxes on reimbursements and the profit together. Reimbursements are payable immediately, so why should we be taxed for it?” asked Ahluwalia. Capsi, Bengal, had already petitioned on the matter to state finance minister Amit Mitra, chief minister Mamata Banerjee and governor Keshari Nath Tripathi. At the Centre, they took it up with the home affairs ministry and union finance minister Piyush Goyal. Capsi was assured that its demands have been send to the GST Council for consideration.



Straightened airport taxiway to cut time ahead of takeoff


Chennai: Flying in and out of Chennai airport will be hassle-free for airlines early next year as Airports Authority of India (AAI) will complete straightening of a taxiway and linking of rapid exit taxiways to the main runway by March. This will reduce congestion as aircraft will save 10 minutes to get to the Guindy end of main runway for takeoff while the rapid exit taxiway will help flights that have touched down to move out of the main runway to allow more take offs and landings. The taxiway which runs in front of the old airport building where cargo flights are handled at present is a bottleneck because it curves and runs closer to the main runway to make way for parking bays in front of the terminal. Pilots have to either slowdown or wait at the spot where the taxiway turns if there is a movement of cargo plane on the parking bays or if flights are landing on the runway. Taxiing takes 10minutes more than it should usually take from the terminal to reach the Guindy-end of the runway. The airport is also not able to handle wide-bodied planes like A380 and giant cargo flights smoothly.


AAI has started straightening work a few months ago as part of the phase 2 expansion of the airport. A senior official said that the straightening of taxiway is on schedule and would be completed by March next year. The apron space in front of the cargo terminal will have to be acquired. The old airport building also may have to be pulled down at a later stage. The authorities have already started arranging an alternative space for parking cargo planes. “The linking of rapid exit taxiways to the main runway is expected to take a little longer as work need to be done near the runway after closing it for operation. It may need nine months to complete the work once linking work begins,” he added. The rapid exit taxiway is ready and AAI is looking at closing main runway from sometime this month to start work to link them to the runway. Sources said that a notice would be issued notifying the closure of the runway during the day in two phases for nine months. “This is the right time to take up the work,” he added.



International News



Venezuela’s Maduro survives drone ‘assassination’ bid

SHIELD OF LOVE’: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (inset) said at no point did he panic; confident the military would protect him. ‘That drone came after me. But there was a shield of love that always protects us.



Caracas: A drone attack caused pandemonium at a military ceremony where President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela was speaking on Saturday, sending National Guard troops scurrying in what administration officials called an assassination attempt. The president, who was unharmed, later told the nation, “To all of our friends in the world, I am fine, I am alive.” He blamed right-wing elements and said, “The Bolivarian revolution keeps its path”. Maduro has presided over a spectacular economic collapse in Venezuela, where inflation is expected to reach one million percent this year despite the country’s large oil reserves. Economists blame decades of mismanagement under Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez. The drone attack was the latest in a string of attempts in recent years to end the tenure of Maduro, who was declared the victor of an election in May that carries his term until 2025. No previous assaults have been as bold, though, and this appeared to have been the first assassination attempt on a head of state using drones. It was an attack that seemed scripted for Hollywood: Off-camera explosions. Low flying drones exploding midair. The president and first lady ducking for cover. Thousands of soldiers in a military parade suddenly fleeing in a stampede that was broadcast to the country, live. Jorge Rodríguez, the communications minister, said the attackers had used “several flying devices” that were detonated near where the president was standing.


The attack came shortly after 5.30 pm (local time) during an event the government said was meant to celebrate the 81st anniversary of the country’s National Guard. During the president’s speech, which was broadcast live on state television, the camera began to shake. Maduro then looked into the air as his wife, Cilia Flores, flinched and reached for another official to brace herself. The video feed was interrupted, but Maduro could be heard continuing to talk as voices in the background yelled for people to flee. The video feed then showed figures dressed in black breaking through a barrier from the sidelines of a wide street where hundreds of uniformed guardsmen were arrayed in formation. The figures in black ran toward the guardsmen, who abruptly fled in panic. The transmission then cut off. Maduro, addressing the nation just before 9pm, blamed far-right elements in Venezuela and Colombia for the attack, and said that President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was also responsible. “All the investigations point to Bogotá,” he said, accompanied by his ministers and military high command. “They have tried to kill me today.” Maduro also suggested involvement by unidentified Americans, and at one point, even asked Trump to arrest the “terrorists”. He said some arrests had been made of those responsible.


The Colombian government dismissed the claims.US national security advisor John Bolton also insisted there was “no US government involvement” and even suggested that the incident could have been “a pretext set up by the regime itself”. “If the government of Venezuela has hard information that they want to present to us that would show a potential violation of US criminal law, we’ll take a serious look at it,” he said. Analysts said on Saturday that while the attack might be used to drum up support for the president, it was a deep embarrassment for Maduro. “It will boost his rhetoric and give some substance to his conspiracy theories,” said analyst David Smilde. “But the optics of this weaken him. The images of him being interrupted in mid-speech and the armed forces running away make him look vulnerable.” Smilde dismissed theories that the government had organised a failed attack to build support for Maduro. He said the attack appeared “amateurish”. Meanwhile, opposition leaders in Venezuela warned that the government might use the incident as an excuse to crack down on those who legitimately oppose his policies. “We warn that this confused event could be used as an excuse to repress the constitutional rights of the people to continue protesting for the defense of their rights,” the Broad Front opposition alliance said in a statement.



WWII plane crashes in Alps, 20 dead



Flims (Switzerland): Twenty people died after a vintage World War II aircraft crashed into the Swiss Alps on Saturday. The German-built Junker JU52 HB-HOT aircraft, dating from 1939 and nicknamed ‘Iron Annie’, was a collectors’ aircraft. It crashed into Piz Segnas, a 10,000-foot peak in the east of the country at an altitude of 2,540m on the mountain’s western flank. The fully booked plane was flying the passengers back to its base at Duebendorf, near Zurich, from a two day trip to Switzerland’s Italian-speaking southern Ticino region. The victims were 11 men and nine women between the ages of 42 and 84 — seven couples from various parts of Switzerland, a couple from neighbouring Austria and their son, and the three crew members. There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash, and officials said they expect a complex probe given that the 79-year-old plane was not equipped with black boxes.



7.0 quake rocks Indonesia’s Lombok, Bali islands; 32 killed



Denpasar (Indonesia): At least 32 people were killed on Sunday when Indonesia’s resort island of Lombok was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The powerful quake triggered panic among tourists and residents, and was also felt on the neighbouring holiday island of Bali. On Lombok, thousands fled from their homes to gather for safety in open spaces. Agung Pramuja, head of the Disaster Mitigation Agency in the West Nusa Tenggara province which includes Lombok and neighbouring islands but not Bali, said 32 people were confirmed dead, many from northern and western parts of Lombok. He said the agency was still collecting data on the injured. Singapore law and home affairs minister K Shanmugam, who was in the Lombok town of Mataram at the time of the quake, wrote on Facebook that his 10th-floor hotel room shook violently and walls cracked. “It was quite impossible to stand up. Heard screams,” he wrote. “Came out, and made my way down a staircase, while building was still shaking. Power went out for a while. Lots of cracks, fallen doors”.


The quake struck Lombok in the early evening at a depth of 10 km. It came a week after a magnitude 6.4 quake killed 14 people on the island and briefly stranded hundreds of hikers on the slopes of a volcano. Most of Lombok suffered power cuts, local media reported. Travellers at the international airports in Lombok and Bali were thrown into panic and there was minor damage to the buildings, but operations were not disrupted, officials said. The quake was felt for several seconds in Bali, where people ran out of houses, hotels, and restaurants. “All the hotel guests were running, so I did too. People filled the streets,” said Michelle Lindsay, an Australian tourist. “A lot of officials were urging people not to panic.” Other witnesses said the initial quake grew in intensity over several seconds, rattling windows and doors, and there were many aftershocks.

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