News Flash – 7 December 2018

National News



Pollution-related death rate in 2017 higher in Maharashtra than Delhi


Mumbai: While the focus of bad air level is on the national capital, an India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative study has revealed that pollution related death rate in Maharashtra was much higher than in Delhi in 2017. The death rate per a population of one lakh in Maharashtra was 86.9 against Delhi’s 65.3 last year. The report, published in Lancet Planetary Health journal, also shows that over one lakh deaths in Maharashtra were attributable to air pollution, second only to Uttar Pradesh. By comparison, Delhi recorded 12,322 such deaths in 2017. On the presence of harmful particulate matter in the air, the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 says the population-weighted mean for PM 2.5 ug/m3—average exposure of less than 2.5 microns—was 209 in Delhi, the highest in the country. On the other hand, the PM 2.5 mean for Maharashtra was 55.7 ug/m3. While lower than Delhi, Maharashtra’s PM 2.5 levels were much above the national safe limit of 40 ug/m3. Particulate matter of the size 2.5 microns can easily enter the lungs and cause ailments. Authors of the report attribute higher death rate in Maharashtra to population concentration in cities and extensive use of solid fuel in homes. “Population concentration in big cities such as Mumbai, Pune and Nashik is a factor in calculating the death rate. In several districts, use of solid fuel is quite high and this way you end up exposing people to both ambient and household pollution.


That is not the case in Delhi because it has primarily an urban population. Delhi’s baseline mortality rate is also helped by the fact that overall it is an affluent city with better access to healthcare and awareness,” said Kalpana Balakrishnan, first among the 76 authors of the study. In Maharashtra, 37.7% of population used household fuel against 1.9% in Delhi. Similarly, disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) attributable to air pollution exposure is higher in the state than Delhi. DALY is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death. A breakup of DALY attributable to ambient air pollution shows Maharashtra fare better than Delhi though. DALY rate per one lakh population attributable to ambient PM pollution is Maharashtra is 1,392 against Delhi’s 2,018. The state, though, has 804 DALY rate attributable to household air pollution. In Delhi, it is as low as 13. Experts say there is a need to create awareness not only about ambient pollution but also household air pollution. “Unfortunately, the focus of air pollution is on Delhi but most other Indian cities and states are equally polluted,” said Dr Sundeep Salvi, Chest Research Foundation, Pune, also an author of the study. “Children and elderly are most vulnerable. The government must take tough decisions to reduce air pollution, which may make people unhappy in the short term,” said Salvi.



Witnesses safe in Delhi, at least on paper


New Delhi: Even as the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed state governments to provide round-the-clock police protection to witnesses facing threats, the capital had implemented the “Delhi witness protection scheme” in 2015 through an order issued by the lieutenant governor. This had been done in the wake of a 2013 Delhi high court judgment in State versus Manu Sharma that had seen serious threats being alleged against witnesses. Under the 2015 scheme, there are three categories of witnesses, those in Category A facing an imminent threat to their life and those of their families. The second category required the protection of their reputation or property, while Category C witnesses and their families were at risk of harassment and intimidation. The protection given to witnesses is deemed to be as basic as providing a police escort to the courtroom, offering temporary residence in a safe house or using modern technology such as video-conferencing for recording a testimony. But in more complex cases, where the cooperation of a witness was critical to the successful prosecution of a powerful criminal, extraordinary measures such as anonymity and resettlement under a new identity in an undisclosed location are to be considered. Accordingly, Delhi government created a witness-protection fund to support such requirements. “While the allocations are made in the annual budget of the state government, the fund also includes the receipt of fines imposed on the accused, apart from donations from national and international charity organisations or philanthropists. The divisional magistrate operates the fund,” a state officer explained.


Among other protective measure, the 2015 notification advocates the use of specially designed “vulnerable witness courtrooms” equipped with live links, one-way mirrors and screens and separate passages for witnesses and accused. The officer added, “It also says witnesses should have the option to modify the image of their faces as well as the audio feed of their voices”. Once the order for witness protection is passed, cops have to ensure its implementation. During the investigation or the trial, witnesses can file an application with the area DCP requesting identity protection, who will then ask the Special Cell for the threat analysis report. The witness or family members or any other person seen suitable in determining the threat perception are questioned before validation of the identity protection order. Once an order for concealment of a witness’ identity is passed by the competent authority, it is the responsibility of Delhi government’s divisional commissioner or Delhi Police’s witness protection cell to ensure that the identity of such a witness is fully protected. The witness is provided with an emergency contact number usually of the area SHO for emergency use. The scheme permits police to monitor the witnesses’ email and telephone calls for security reasons, and the serving telecom can be asked to allot another number to them. Police can also help them procure unlisted numbers. The guidelines enjoin upon the SHO, investigating officer and others concerned, including lawyers from both parties, to maintain full confidentiality. The IO is also required to preserve the soft copy of the papers related to the proceeding for three years.



Blue Line again: For 2nd day in a row, snags leave commuters stranded


New Delhi: For the second straight day, signaling issues caused disruptions in train services on the snag prone Blue Line (Dwarka-Vaishali/ Noida City Centre) on Thursday, causing hardship to thousands of passengers who got delayed during peak morning rush hour. On Wednesday, a snag in the signaling system of Blue Line, the longest and one of the busiest corridors of Delhi Metro network, crippled train services for nearly five hours in the afternoon and then resurfaced during peak hour rush at 7pm. The problem was rectified by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) on Wednesday night but it resurfaced again on Thursday morning at 9am. While DMRC tried rectifying the problem and made alternative arrangements, train services were massively hampered throughout the morning rush hour. “I got late by more than an hour on Wednesday evening due to snag in the Blue Line and on Thursday again, I got late for work because the snag was yet to be rectified,” said Vasudev Sharma, a commuter. Passengers travelling towards east Delhi on the Blue Line faced major hardships during the evening rush hour as there were no direct trains from Dwarka towards Vaishali and trains had to be changed at Yamuna Bank to go towards Vaishali. Many students complained that they missed their semester examination while lawyers rued about missing important hearings. “In view of the signaling issue, which surfaced intermittently between 9am and 11am on Thursday between Yamuna Bank and Vaishali section of Blue Line, DMRC, from 10.50am onwards, started running trains in an independent loop with a frequency of around 5 minutes and 30 seconds from Yamuna Bank to Vaishali through local control at station level,” a DMRC spokesperson said.


“However, the issue is still under observation and the original train operation plan will be reintroduced on the entire Blue Line once the system stabilises,” he added. Train services on a major portion of the Blue Line from Dwarka to Noida City Centre were being run in a seamless manner in one go with a frequency of around 4 minute 30 seconds on automatic mode through central control (Operations Control Centre), the spokesperson claimed. “At present, there are 17 interlocking sections on the Blue Line to maintain train operations through automatic signaling. There are two systems (one as back-up) simultaneously operating at all these interlocking stations, which manage the signaling communication of trains with the OCC,” the spokesperson explained. “The issue pertaining to Blue Line appears to be a software-related problem and M/s Siemens, whose system is operating on this line, has been informed about it. “A lot of the erratic behaviour of the signaling system has also been sent to their headquarters in Germany for further detailed analysis to help us understand the cause of this fault,” the spokesperson said. DMRC has adopted a ‘fail-safe’ system for running of metro services. In the eventuality of any failure on any part of the system, trains have to follow a set protocol for providing/ continuing the services in manual mode with restricted speed in the affected sections, thereby leading to bunching of trains but ensuring full safety. DMRC claimed that train services were normalised on Blue Line by 6pm on Thursday.



AI aircraft triggers mishap alert in HK; two pilots grounded



New Delhi: Air India has derostered two pilots after their aircraft “descended rapidly and deviated significantly from the normal glide path” while approaching to land in Hong Kong on October 20. This triggered “a ground proximity warning system alert. The crew recovered the aircraft at about 200 feet above mean sea level (AMSL) before performing a go around,” said a “serious accident bulletin” issued by Hong Kong’s Transport and Housing Bureau. The plane landed safely in second approach. An AI official said, “The pilots were derostered (taken off duties) and investigation was started immediately”. The incident happened when the Boeing 787 (VTANE) Dreamliner was approaching to land at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) with 197 passengers and 10 crew members at 6.14 am (local time) on October 20, 2018. The flight AI 314 had originated at Delhi.


“Before the approach to VHHH (HKIA), the crew had received cautionary information from the Hong Kong arrival Automatic Terminal Information Service (ATIS) regarding the possibility of Instrument Landing System (ILS) glideslope (GS) fluctuation. At 06:08:17 hours, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) further advised the crew of the possible glide path signal fluctuation. At 06:11:00 hours, ATC cleared the aircraft for the instrument landing system (ILS) approach for Runway 07R,” the preliminary report by THB says. “During the approach, the aircraft descended rapidly, triggering a Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) alert on board the aircraft. The crew recovered the aircraft at about 200 feet above mean sea level, approximately 2.6 nautical miles from Runway 07R before performing a go around. The aircraft landed uneventfully on Runway 07R on the second approach,” it adds. After the incident, AI operations has sent an advisory to its Dreamliner pilots regarding GS fluctuation in Hong Kong. GS is an imaginary line from the approach end of the runway to the incoming aircraft that is about to land.



Polluted N Kolkata air equal to smoking 22 cigarettes a day


Kolkata: At 9pm on Wednesday, north Kolkata residents unwittingly smoked an equivalent of 22 cigarettes each just by breathing in the foul air with the PM2.5 count as high as 500 g/m3. The pollution-laden air was potent enough to cause as much damage to the lungs as puffing on 22 cigarettes. Reeling under the worst spell of pollution in recent years, the PM2.5 count in the city continues to hover around the 400 g/m3 mark, making every gulp of air we breathe as toxic as smoking 18 cigarettes. Yet, unlike the cigarette packets that contain graphic warning messages, there is no alert to warn unsuspecting citizens beyond the haze that envelops the horizon. PM2.5, the deadliest among all pollutants, is an extremely fine particulate matter that can enter the lungs and the blood stream unhindered. The data used to extrapolate the damage has been collected from an automated air quality monitoring station at the Rabindra Bharati University campus off BT Road. This year, the air quality index in the north Kolkata neighbourhood has strayed beyond the 400-mark thrice, twice in November and once in December.


AQI is the 24-hour average of the count of the most prominent pollutants. It is the civic authorities and the government that have to sense the danger and issue an alert. According to Global Burden of Disease (GDB) by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), PM2.5 is the 5th highest ranking risk factor that caused 4.2 million deaths from heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, chronic lung disease and respiratory infection. Though the readings at the other automatic air quality monitoring station at Victoria Memorial Hall had readings that were marginally better, environmentalists point out that the latter, ensconced in green surroundings, does not represent the pollution count that most Kolkatans face. “The readings emerging from the RBU station are more in tune with what it is in the rest of the city,” said environment crusader Ajay Mittal. In fact, in places like Dunlop, Shyambazar, Sealdah, Moulali, Esplanade and Tollygunge, where traffic plies day and night, the PM2.5 count will be a lot higher than RBU.



Solar recharging station to help people in Gaja-hit village



Thanjavur (TN): A group of college students and a Coimbatore-based startup have installed a solar-powered recharging station in Ramakrishnapuram village near Pattukkottai, to help the villagers tide over the delay in power restoration after cyclone Gaja. The station has been set up at an estimated cost of Rs.1 lakh, and around 30 mobile phones and 30 rechargeable LED bulbs can be recharged at a time. Around 400 people in Ramakrishnapuram and Punalvasal villages are benefiting from the recharging station, which functions for 8-10 hours. A week after cyclone Gaja wreaked havoc in delta districts, a survey by ‘Climate Smart Technologies’ and students of Holy Cross college in Trichy found the villagers sought portable equipment to recharge their cellphones. Subsequently, PSG College in Coimbatore and other good samaritans funded to hire eight 2KW panels, inverter and batteries for making the recharging station. “We wanted to provide a sustainable solution, so we decided to install a solar-powered charging station. An SHG in the village was appointed as the custodian,” said Jeevanandhan Duraisamy, founder of Climate Smart Technologies. While the solar panels that were hired will be taken back by the start-up and colleges involved, the battery units and inverter will be handed over to the SHG in the village. Students involved in designing the charging station added that authorities would be approached to install such models in every hamlet as part of disaster management measure.



International News



2 killed in car bomb attack on police HQ in Chabahar



Dubai: At least two policemen died and 48 people were injured in a rare suicide car bomb attack by a Sunni jihadi group on a police headquarters in the port city of Chabahar in southeast Iran on Thursday, state media reported. While suicide bombings are rare in Iran, Sunni militant groups have carried out several attacks on security forces in recent years in Sistan-Baluchestan province, where Chabahar is located. State television also reported shooting in the area on Thursday. “Two policemen were killed in the terrorist attack in Chabahar this morning,” Hadi Marashi, deputy governor for security affairs, told state TV, which reported the figure of 48 hurt. Video clips posted on Twitter, purportedly from Chabahar, showed thick smoke rising. TV reported that four children, a pregnant woman and 10 policemen were among the wounded. The Washington based SITE Intelligence Group and state media reported that Sunni jihadi group Ansar al-Furqan had claimed responsibility for the attack.



UK suspends ‘Golden Visa’ amid fears of laundering



London: The “golden visa” route to enter the UK that wealthy Indians have used to get the right to live and work in Britain has been suspended amid money-laundering fears. The UK tier 1 investor visa, established in 2008, was the most favoured route that high net worth individuals from India, China and Russia used to get permanent residency in the UK. The British government suspended it from midnight on Thursday to prevent abuse of the scheme, thought to include money laundering and crime. There have been fears among some quarters that the scheme was open to misuse. It is widely believed that the poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in Salisbury in March triggered the suspension. One source told TOI: “I think diplomatic pressure has come to bear on the UK from a number of countries, including India, to prevent fugitives coming to England, and the Skripal scandal has created a national security issue. After Brexit, Britain will need all the assets it can get so I suspect they will devise a new scheme”. An October 2018 report by Global Witness and Transparency International UK claims that the scheme, which brings £498 million (about Rs 4,510 crore) into the UK annually, had a loophole until recently, — namely that minimal checks were undertaken on an applicant’s wealth until April 2015. This loophole was closed. “During this ‘blind faith period’ over 3,000 high-net worth individuals entered the UK, bringing with them at least £3.15 billion (about Rs 28,516 crore) of questionable legitimacy,” it states.


“The sale of EU citizenship poses corruption risks that threaten the integrity of the EU,” the report, titled “European Getaway: Inside the Murky World of Golden Visas”, says. “These schemes pose inherent risks for corruption, as people who steal money from their home countries need other jurisdictions to escape to when the going gets tough. There are numerous examples of high-risk business people and oligarchs enjoying all the benefits that golden visas have to offer”. To enter the UK via this route, applicants simply had to be from outside the EU and prepared to invest £2 million (Rs 18 crore) in UK treasury stock or trading entities. In return they were allowed to work, study or set up a business in the UK, though they did not have to. The £2 million had to remain invested for five years before the individual became eligible for permanent residency. There was also a fast-track route for the superrich who could get permanent residency after two years if they invested £10 million (Rs 90 crore), or three years if they invested £5 million (Rs 45 crore). It is not believed that Nirav Modi entered the UK this way as it is thought he may have Belgian citizenship. Vijay Mallya has had permanent residency in the UK since 1992. Luke Hexter, director, Knightsbridge Capital, London, which sells citizenship and residence-by-investment schemes, said the visa had been suspended only “whilst the government implements more stringent auditing processes”. “This is to ensure only legitimate and genuine investors are accepted, as there have been some cases where the source of funds has come into question,” Hexter, said.

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