News Flash – 6 September 2018

National News



Three ‘Courier Boys’ rob Rs.62 Lakhs from Khar Flat



Mumbai: Three men posed as courier boys, barged into a Khar businessman’s flat on Wednesday morning and fled with valuables and cash totaling Rs 62 lakh after tying up his wife and daughter. There are no CCTV cameras on Govind Bhavan building premises, said Khar police. The robbery took place around 9.30am, when the businessman had left for work; only his wife Kohinoor Banu (38) and daughter were at home. “The men told the watchman that they had to deliver a parcel to the fifth floor flat,” said a police officer. “It seems that they had done a recce as they knew there were no CCTV cameras. They left the building 30 minutes after committing the robbery”. In her complaint, Banu said, “The doorbell rang and a man outside the door said he had a gift delivery in my husband’s name. When I opened the door, two more men barged in. They overpowered me and my daughter, made us sit on chairs and tied our hands and legs with dupattas. They broke open the locker in the cupboard and stole our valuables and cash.” Minutes after the men left, Banu and her daughter managed to free themselves and alerted their neighbours, who informed the police.



Floods claimed 1211 lives in six states; 170 in Karnataka

WATER WOES: Kerala has reported maximum casualties of 488 till September 3



New Delhi: The death counts of people who perished in the floods in six states this monsoon season has climbed to 1,211, the highest in the last two years. Kerala has reported maximum casualties of 488 till September 3, followed by UP at 256 and West Bengal at 210. Karnataka, Assam and Uttarakhand have reported high casualties as well in flood-related incidents with 170, 50 and 37 people dead so far, respectively, according to data compiled by the disaster management division of the union home ministry. In 2017, around 1,200 people had died in flood-related incidents in the five states of Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Maharashtra and UP. Last year, Bihar accounted for the highest 514 deaths, followed by 261 in West Bengal, 160 in Assam, 124 in Maharashtra and 121 in UP. These states had 34 million population affected by floods and over 22.81 lakh (2.2 million) living in relief camps. In 2016, the flood situation reports showed 936 deaths due to floods—Bihar reporting the highest loss of 254 people, followed by 184 in Madhya Pradesh; 145 in Maharashtra and 102 in Uttarakhand, among others. This year, Kerala has experienced unprecedented floods, affecting over 54 lakh population with a record 14.52 lakh living in relief camps. An estimate made by the National Disaster Management Authority puts the loss of human lives at 1,600 on average every year due to floods. The damage caused to crops, houses and public utilities are in excess of Rs 4,745 crore annually (estimate till 2005) with 12% of the geographical area of the country being flood prone.



5 ATM Thieves held in East Delhi



New Delhi: Next time someone offers you help at an ATM, be alert as they might be a gang of cheats. Five of such cheats were arrested from east Delhi for duping almost 40 people of several lakhs in the last couple of months. The men used to enter ATM kiosks in groups of three and pretend to help the customers in need. They used to distract them and get their PIN and then replace the cards. DCP (east) Pankaj Singh said on Sunday, they were tipped off about the gang who would be present near a temple in New Ashok Nagar. A team raided the premise and nabbed the accused, Soval, Robin, Jagat, Aryan and Nitin. They also revered Rs 30,000 from them. During investigation, the accused men were spotted in several CCTV footage and confessed to have cheated several people at ATM booths. Police recovered a bulk of ATM cards along with an Alto, Wagon-R and Mahendra XUV from them.



Dengue fever alert in Kerala as cases go up



Kochi: An alert has been issued against the spread of dengue fever in Kerala. Health minister K K Shailaja said the alert followed a spike in cases being reported as mosquito menace has increased owing to waterlogging in several areas after the floods. On Wednesday, 11 confirmed dengue fever cases and 39 suspected cases were reported. Besides, 64 confirmed leptospirosis cases and 112 suspected cases were reported on the day. The disease was confirmed in a death in Thiruvananthapuram while it was suspected in another death in Pathanamthitta. The minister said there was no major increase in leptospirosis deaths even while the number of cases went up manifold in a week. “Since the floods in August, there were 45 suspected leptospirosis deaths and 13 confirmed deaths,” she said. The state government will seek the help of Indian Council of Medical Research and other agencies to conduct a study on contagious diseases in the wake of floods. The Kerala Government Medical Officers’ Association, meanwhile, demanded that the government should intervene to stop unscientific preventive methods against communicable diseases.



Storm in a Tea cup: Why Burglars skipped jackpot


Hyderabad: Though burglars pulled off the sensational heist at HEH The Nizam’s Museum in early hours of Monday, they surprisingly did not touch other highly prized antiques in the same gallery. Despite a treasure trove within their grasp, thieves settled for the three-layered gold tiffin box, a tea cup set and a spoon. Their seemingly odd behaviour has left cops scrambling for clues. During investigation, Hyderabad police teams scanned nearly 50 cameras in which two burglars were seen travelling on a bike, but grainy CCTV footage has not given them much headway. They could neither make out the colour or registration number of the motorcycle. The investigators could see a number plate, but were not sure it had any registration number on it. “There are a few high-value diamond-studded artefacts placed near the stolen objects. However, they chose the three articles, hinting they zeroed in on only these artefacts. What could be the reason is something even we are curious to know. The accused were seen at four different places in Mir Chowk area. Similarly, the duo, with their faces covered, was caught on cameras moving on a bike. But, this has not given us any lead,” sources in Hyderabad police told TOI.


Police could trace the culprits’ trail till Bahadurpura and were working on electronic evidence to piece together their getaway route. Also, during CCTV footage analysis, police found that the entire operation, including accessing the museum building, scaling the walls, breaking the showcase and stealing the artefacts, was done in a matter of 15 minutes. They carried two sticks, which were used to break the ventilator and glass frame, the sources added. They also suspect that one of the burglars used his leg to tilt a CCTV camera away from the gallery, indicating that he was aware of the topography and location of the surveillance cameras. Investigators have now confirmed that the offence was committed when Fajar prayers were being performed at a nearby mosque. Police are still hopeful that the accused might have not left the city. Police have also gathered details of previous employees, including security guards, of the museum.



Red tape, quick-fix repairs to blame: Experts


Kolkata: Beams or girders that propped up the deck of the Majerhat bridge weakened over time and buckled on Tuesday, leading to its collapse, forensic experts and engineers said on Wednesday. But that was what broke the bridge’s back; behind this “immediate cause” was a mix of years of inertia, red tape and “ill-informed and superficial” efforts to paper over surface defects, they added. State Forensic Science Laboratory officials, who inspected the collapse site on Wednesday, said the 39-foot-long girders above the piers had buckled. “Preliminary investigation points to lack of maintenance. Minor cracks developed in the structure through which water seeped in, widening the cracks. The seepage corroded the steel cables inside the beams. The girder snapped from the middle when it could take no more,” a probe team member said. TOI spoke to dozens of bureaucrats and engineers directly responsible for the Majerhat bridge’s upkeep as well as civil engineering experts (who regularly provide inputs to and advise the government) on Wednesday. There was remarkable convergence of opinion on a few broad factors that could have led to the bridge’s collapse. First, inertia and a host of government rules in place, ironically, to check corruption — held up “proper” repairs of the ageing structure. And, even as there was no “meaningful” effort to shore up the decade sold structure, engineers continued to cover the bridge with layers of asphalt — to repair surface craters — which went on adding even more weight to the structure.


As many as five tenders for a repair job on the bridge fell through over the past several months because the amounts quoted for the job were too low, officials said. “We have this rule to weed out incompetent contractors who may take up the job quoting absurdly low estimates and then may not be able to compete the job,” one of them explained. And, when a contractor finally agreed to do the repair job for Rs 3 crore (16% more than the amount quoted by the PWD), the finance department held up clearance and sent it back, advising a re-tender. “This rule, again, is in place to check inflated bid amounts,” a finance department official said. But PWD engineers admitted that the bridge continued to be in poor shape, needing “urgent repairs”, even as this was going on. The delay in processing the contract for bridge repair proved critical, said a PWD official. “The bridge should have been under repair now, with part of it cordoned off and heavy traffic diverted along other routes,” he said. PWD officials said they had been worried about the condition of Majerhat bridge for at least a couple of years when an audit reported it “unsafe”. A year later, the warning was repeated, leaving senior engineers worried about a mishap. “It wasn’t just a repair job. The bridge needed rehabilitation. That means sections that were worn out or damaged had to be replaced and the undercarriage needed reinforcement.


Another major job was reduction of the load it carried by removing a foot of the bituminous cover and the tram lines buried under asphalt. The side rails also needed to be repaired but that was not a major job,” said a PWD official. What happened over the years was the exact opposite as several layers of asphalt were piled on the surface, increasing the load. Structural engineer Dipesh Barua, who inspected the bridge, said the bitumen layer was twice the permissible thickness. The water that accumulated on the deck after a shower added to the weight, putting more stress on the weakened girders. “Bridges act like sponges when they become old and ill-maintained. It becomes heavy and collapses when a weak point snaps,” architect Abin Chaudhuri said. Bridge designer Biswajit Som said the condition of the bridge, which should have lasted 100 years with timely upkeep, had become precarious because of lack of scientific evaluation and poor maintenance. “The weakening of the stressed girders would have led the section of the deck to sag. Accumulating water should have raised an alarm,” he said. Times View: The final probe report may take some time to happen but, from preliminary accounts, this tragedy can be attributed mainly to the lack of proper maintenance. Relevant government agencies need to learn from this. There is an urgent need to take a fresh look at the health of all other old bridges in the city.



NDRF sniffer dogs take lead in rescue effort, work overnight


Kolkata: It took the rescue team more than 24 hours to recover the second body from under the rubble, but the initial alert had come from Romeo and Max, the two search-and-rescue dogs of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) as early as 7.30pm on Tuesday. After the two dogs led the rescue team to a particular spot of the collapsed deck, drilling was intensified and the concrete slab of the crashed portion was broken. You may not have heard of Romeo, Max, Julie, Jango, Bela and Ruby, but these six search-and-rescue canines of the NDRF have been hard at work, combing through the rubble for survivors or bodies at the site of the Majerhat Bridge collapse. Romeo, a Labrador, and Max, a German Shepherd, led the rescuers to a spot in the middle of the collapsed deck around 7.30pm on Tuesday where they picked up the scent of humans stuck under the rubble. On Wednesday, they were still at work. Their only comfort zone — short naps on the railway tracks between the Majerhat and New Alipore stations. With little chances of the rubble being removed by Wednesday, they may have to remain longer at the spot.


Five Labradors and the German Shepherd accompanied by their handlers left their Haringhata base at 5.30pm on Tuesday evening. By 7pm, two of the Labradors were set to work. “They are not humans, but can express their willingness to continue the job. They get excited like us when they detect life below the rubble,” one of the handlers said. “Two Labradors were escorted to the rubble where their leashes were taken off to sniff around. It took merely a couple of rounds by 2.5-yearold Romeo to alert his handlers,” a cop said. According to sources, the two dogs jumped from one part of the broken concrete to another, sniffing the surface for ten minutes. They then moved to a pocket and started barking. The handlers alerted the rescue team, which immediately started drilling at the specified spot. A second team of handlers moved in with another Labrador and Max and the sequence was repeated. “These search-and-rescue dogs are trained to detect human scent during disasters. The dogs can also detect humans buried by an avalanche or mudslide. They work off leash and are trained to alert their handlers if they find something,” said Sandip Gadhvi, deputy commandant and senior veterinary officer at NDRF Kolkata.



Three dead, several feared missing as overloaded boat capsizes in Brahmaputra



Guwahati: Three people died and several are believed to be missing after a mechanised country boat disintegrated and sank in the Brahmaputra on Wednesday afternoon. The boat hit the pillar of an under-construction water supply reservoir on the river’s northern bank opposite the state capital. The state disaster response team found the bodies of two college students — Ankita Baruah and Dimpy Das — and another person, Kamal Das. Dimpy died on the way to hospital. Condition of several of the rescued is critical. The boat was travelling from Fancy Bazaar in the city to Madhyam Khanda Ghat in North Guwahati, and reportedly was carrying about 40 passengers, double the capacity permitted. The Inland Water Transport department admitted the possibility of ticketless travellers being on board. “Officially, there were 24 passengers since that many tickets were issued. But we know several people travel without ticket,” IWT director BB Dev Choudhury said.



International News



100 people fall ill on Emirates flight from Dubai to New York

Flyers head towards a waiting bus from an Emirates aircraft at JFK International Airport on Wednesday.



New York: As many as 100 passengers and crew reported feeling ill on Wednesday during an Emirates flight from Dubai to New York, and health workers were evaluating them as the airplane sat on the tarmac of JFK International Airport, authorities said. About 100 people complained of feeling sick on Emirates Flight 203, which landed with at least 521 passengers shortly after 9 am (EDT) at the airport, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. Their symptoms included cough and fever. Earlier, Dubai-based Emirates said in a statement that 10 passengers “were taken ill” on the flight from the Middle Eastern country and were transported to a hospital. It did not specify the symptoms or nature of complaints. The aircraft was taken to a location away from the terminal so that emergency officials could evaluate the situation, officials said.



More & more Americans ‘taking a break’ from Facebook



Washington: A large number of Americans are stepping back from Facebook in the wake of recent scandals over the social network’s handling of private user data, a study showed on Wednesday. The Pew Research Center report found 42% of US Facebook users said they had “taken a break” from the platform in the past 12 months, and 26% said they had deleted the Facebook app from their phone. Among those in the 18-29 age group, the break with Facebook appeared more pronounced, with 44% claiming to have deleted the Facebook mobile app. Although the survey did not indicate how many users were quitting Facebook entirely, the findings suggest a clouded outlook for the company which has been roiled by news of the hijacking of private data by political firm Cambridge Analytica and concerns of foreign influence campaigns on the platform. “Significant shares of Facebook users have taken steps in the past year to reframe their relationship with the social media platform,” researcher Andrew Perrin said in a blog post. According to Pew’s survey, three-fourths of US Facebook users have taken some steps to change how they interact with Facebook, including more than half who have changed their privacy settings.


Perrin said the concerns about Facebook appeared to transcend political affiliation. “Republicans are no more likely than Democrats to have taken a break from Facebook or deleted the app from their phone in the past year”. The report was based on a survey between May 29 and June 11 including 3,413 Facebook users aged 18 and older, with an estimated margin of error of 2.8 percentage points. The survey came ahead of a congressional hearing on foreign influence campaigns on social media, at which Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg was to testify. And it also came at a time when President Trump has stepped up his attacks on internet platforms. Facebook has already lost ground in the US among teens and young adult users, losing ground notably to Snapchat, but with some switching to Facebook-owned Instagram. But Facebook remains the world’s largest social network with well over two billion users worldwide.

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