Helicopter ferrying pilgrims to Vaishno Devi crashes near Katra, 7 dead


Seven people, including a pilot, were killed on Monday when a helicopter ferrying pilgrims to the Vaishno Devi temple crashed near Katra in Jammu and Kashmir, police said. The helicopter was privately operated.

Following the crash, helicopter services between Katra and Vaishno Devi have been suspended.
India Today reports that the helicopter landed barely meters away from a thickly populated locality, somewhere near the base camp in Katra.

In October, over 2.7 lakh pilgrims visited and paid their obeisance at the holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi during Navaratras in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Finance Department, headed by Haseeb Drabu of the PDP, issued a notification on September 2, asking the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) to impose a 12.5 per cent service tax on pilgrims travelling by helicopter to and fro from Katra to Sanjhi Chhat.

Contact details of the Vaishno Devi board are: +91-1991-232367, 232238, 234053, 232029

Source: Yahoo

In memory of 13/11, West Bengal to construct its own Eiffel Tower

eiffel towerTo commemorate the November 13 terror attack in France, which saw 130 people dying, and as a mark of solidarity against terror, the West Bengal government is now constructing a scale model of the Eiffel Tower in Rajarhat, neighbouring Kolkata. Though at 55-metres, the replica will be about six times smaller than the iconic 324-metre structure in Paris, it will still be about as tall as an 18-storey building. The foundation stone for the project, to be built by the Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO), will be lain on November 28 at Eco Park.

“The idea is to show our solidarity with those who died in the attack in Paris earlier this month. It was a gruesome attack and whether it is Paris or Kolkata, the loss of human lives can’t be tolerated,” said state urban development minister Firhad Hakim.

The minister, who will be laying the foundation stone of the project, added that it will take about three years to complete the structure.

The Consul General of France in Kolkata, Damien Syed, has also been invited to the foundation laying ceremony. “At a later stage, we will look to tie up with the French consulate in Kolkata with respect to the structure. We want it to symbolise, not just peace, but also the long connections between France and Bengal,” a senior government official said.

The Eiffel Tower replica is going to be a part of the “Seven Wonders of the World” theme-park at the Eco Park in Rajarhat. Incidentally, the original plan for the “wonders” being replicated at the park didn’t include the Eiffel Tower. Only the Taj Mahal from India, Christ the Redeemer from Brazil, Chichen Itza from Mexico, the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Colosseum in Rome had been chosen. After the terror attack in the French capital, the state government decided to include the iconic tower in the list of monuments being replicated at the park and plan was given the clearance within days, said sources.

Like the original monument, the replica tower will also have two tiers where tourists can climb up to the observation room, at a height of 25 meters from the ground, and get a panoramic view of the city. Apart from two elevators, the building plan also includes a coffee shop and a souvenir shop. The Institute for Steel Development and Growth has prepared the architectural and structural designs of the Eiffel prototype, HIDCO officials said, adding artist Rupchand Kunda has been commissioned to design the replica.

“The location is adjacent to a large lake and the idea is that when the tower is lit up, it will be reflected in the water body. The architect for the project has been chosen and the team has been studying the original design. An estimated 300 tonnes of steel will be utilised for the project,” said a government official, adding that the 18-storey limit was mandatory as per the city’s building bye laws.

Kolkata already boasts of a Big Ben, a scaled down version of the clock tower by the same name at London’s Westminster

Shashi Tharoor’s Oxford address revives colonial debate

NEW DELHI: Former Union minister Shashi Tharoor’s spirited call at the Oxford University for reparations for losses to the Indian economy due to 200 years of British colonial rule went viral online on Wednesday and stood in sharp contrast to the July 2005 speech at the same institution of the then PM Manmohan Singh who had extolled British rule in India.

Singh had gone to Oxford to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law and had said despite the economic impact, “It is possible to assert that India’s experience with Britain had beneficial consequences… Our notions of the rule of law, of constitutional government, of free press, have all been fashioned in the crucible where an age-old civilisation met the dominant Empire of the day… all (our) great institutions, derived from British-Indian administration, have served the country well.”

In his speech, Tharoor pointed out, “India’s share of the world economy when Britain came to our shores was 23%. By the time the British left, it was down to less than 4%. Why? Simply due to the fact India was governed for Britain’s benefit. Britain’s rise in over two centuries was financed by its depredation of India.”

In his 15-minute address as part of a debate on British colonialism, Tharoor argued that Britain’s prosperity in the 18th and 19th century was built on resources taken from India. Britain’s Industrial Revolution was based on the systematic deindustrialization of India, turning the country from an exporter to an importer of English goods.

India was Britain’s biggest cash cow, biggest consumer of British goods and provider of high incomes for British civil servants. We literally paid for our own oppression,” he said.

However, Singh had argued that the British had had a positive impact. “Today, with the balance and perspective offered by the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight, it is possible for an Indian Prime Minister to assert that India’s experience with Britain had its beneficial consequences too,” Singh said.

In contrast, Tharoor said 15 to 29 million Indians died due starvation in famines induced by the British. He cited the example of the Great Bengal Famine during the Second World War where four million people died because Winston Churchill deliberately as a matter of policy diverted essential supplies to reserve stockpiles for British soldiers. When these deaths were brought to his notice, Churchill asked whether Gandhi had died.

Tharoor said India’s contribution to Britain’s First World War effort stood at eight billion pounds if computed now. Britain’s Second World War debt stood three billion pounds in 1945, of which 1.25 billion pounds was owed to India. “They never paid it back,” Tharoor said.

He addressed the question of the Indian Railways as legacy of British rule by saying, “Many countries built railways and roads without needing to be colonized.” He said the British built the rail network for their benefit and made India bear the cost. They have a moral debt to pay, he said.

Source: TIMES OF INDIA and OxfordUnion

Largest whale to get beached in Maharashtra


NAVI MUMBAI: A 42 feet long blue whale was washed ashore at the Revdanda coast, which is 17 km south of Alibaug. Forest officials had reportedly contacted marine biologists after spotting it on Wednesday when it was still alive and struggling to survive.

“This big whale was first spotted on the shore on Wednesday afternoon. It was initially showing signs of life, so the villagers tried to push it back in the sea. However, the whale later died,” informed a local resident.

Chief conservator of forests (mangroves cell), N Vasudevan, said: “It is unfortunate that this blue whale was stranded in the shallow sea and eventually died. The blue whales are the biggest species of earth, and can grow up to 100 feet.”

Vasudevan added that the dead whale was later buried on the beach at Revdanda on Thursday. This is reportedly the biggest sized whale to have washed ashore in and around Mumbai coast in recent times. Around two months ago another dead whale was found at the Uran coast of Raigad district; while several dead dolphins were also found around the Mumbai cost in the recent past.

“Marine creatures like dolphins and whales are being regularly spotted on the shores like this due to various reasons, including sea pollution due to our industrial effluents. The latest blue whale to be found at the Raigad district shows that our waters are rich in biodiversity, and that we must take care of our environment,” said activist, D Stalin.

Earlier this year, there was a wave of excitement among scientists after marine biologists from the Cetacean Population Study team had spotted live blue whales in the sea, close to the Konkan coast of Sindhudurg.

The latest dead blue whale was reportedly a young female.

Vasudevan added that way back in 1912, a blue whale and its calf had washed ashore in Ratnagiri, while in 1906, there was another dead blue whale sighting at Thane coast.

In and around the Maharashtra-Karnataka coast, we normally see Sperm whales and Bryde’s whales.

News 24 in 7

Famous naturalist and broadcaster, David Attenborough, had once described these giant mammals like this:

“Blue Whale’s tongue weighs as much as an elephant, its heart is the size of a car and some of its blood vessels are so wide you could swim down them. Its tail alone is the width of a small aircraft’s wings. Its streamlining, close to perfection, enables it to cruise at 20 knots – one of the fastest creatures in the sea. The ocean’s largest inhabitant feeds almost exclusively on one of the smallest, krill. A single whale can consume 40 million of them in a day. Despite their enormous size, we know very little about them.”

Almost 20 types of whales are found in the Arabian Sea. There are two basic types of whales – toothed and baleen. Baleen whales have a specialised filter in their mouths that blocks out dirt and other sea trash while these mammals drink the water.

Blue whales and Humpback whales, which were washed ashore in and around Mumbai coast earlier, belong to the baleen whale category.

source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Largest-whale-to-get-beached-in-Maharashtra/articleshow/47822581.cms?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=TOI

Tracking ‘Make in India’: 8 things to note

News 24 in 7India’s new government launched ‘Make in India’ as an initiative to encourage companies to manufacture products locally. It is a program designed to facilitate investment, foster innovation, enhance skill development, protect intellectual property and build the best-in-class manufacturing infrastructure. The government is positive on the developing contours of the Make in India program as most government ministries have aligned their goals and targets to further this mission. Here are the focus points for Make in India, according to report by Barclay’s, a British bank.

Here are pointers to note:

1. Foreign direct investment: The main goal for Make in India is foreign direct investment. It aims to boost local manufacturing, technology transfer and skill development across sectors. So far, the new government has eased requirements in the construction sector, permitted 100% FDI in railways, allowed 49% on approval and above 49% on case-by-case in the defence.

2. Ease of doing business: For the economic world, the government is making efforts to reduce complexities in terms of deregulation and de-license. The BJP government aims to achieve greater transparency, rule-based processes, timely dispute resolution, single-window and simple processes for the Make in India campaign. The management has eased regulatory environment vis ebusiness, industrial licensing and compliance requirements made less stringent and self-compliance driven in heavy industries and approvals are now process driven by the environment ministry. In the commerce sector, the ministry has reduced paper work for imports and exports.

3. Quality and technology: As a part of the Make in India mission, the government plans to create eco-system for indigenous technology development. In order to achieve this, the health industry has introduced schemes with outlay of Rs 9 billion for capital goods sector for product and technology development. In the defence sector, the government intends higher domestic procurement.

4. Labour reforms: Easier scale for hiring or laying off and lower compliance burden are the goals Make in India is trying to accomplish. Despite India’s overlapping outdated labour laws, the government has performed an early stab at labour reforms with amendments to laws pertaining to apprenticeship, industrial closures, and labour compliance.

5. Infrastructure: The road ministry has generated higher funding and targets allocated to roads, railway, and ports. Apart from the 100 smart city project, industrial corridors are under construction. The government strives to build transport, power infrastructure, industrial corridors and export oriented infrastructure.

6. Tax reforms: As a part of the Make in India mission, the new government aims to reduce tax litigations and unclog the complexity in the tax code and create a national market. The Finance Ministry is in full swing by reducing custom duty on a number of inputs to domestic industry like steel grade limestone, dolomite in financial 2015-16 union budget.

7. SME support: One of the Make in India program’s objective is to make small and medium enterprises export-oriented by providing technology, credit and value chain support. Tax pass through for venture capital funds, proposes inclusion of lending to SMEs as priority sector lending, subsidy for installation of machinery, and 15 new technology centres are some measures the government has taken to make progress in this initiative.

8. Skill development: Skill development is one of the key objectives to achieve the Make in India mission. Skilled manpower for manufacturing and technology intensive industries are some of the goals the government wishes to attain. So far, the government has launched ‘Skill India’ program that envisages expansion of skill councils in partnership with India Inc and opened new higher education institutions.

This work is produced by Simplus Information Services Pvt Ltd.

Source: Yahoo

Contact lenses ‘alter eye bacteria’

Contact lenses may increase the risk of eye infections by altering the make-up of bacteria living on the eyeball, research has shown.

Researchers found contact lenses appeared to transfer bugs from the skin to the eye, upsetting the bacterial ecosystem and triggering infections

Researchers found contact lenses appeared to transfer bugs from the skin to the eye, upsetting the bacterial ecosystem and triggering infections

Researchers found the lenses appeared to transfer bugs from the skin to the eye, upsetting the bacterial ecosystem and triggering infections and inflammation.

Lead scientist Dr Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, from NYU Langone Medical Centre in New York City, said: “Our research clearly shows that putting a foreign object, such as a contact lens, on the eye is not a neutral act.

“These findings should help scientists better understand the long-standing problem of why contact-lens wearers are more prone to eye infections than non-lens wearers.” The researchers took hundreds of swabs of various parts of the eyes of nine contact lens wearers and 11 participants who did not wear contact lenses.

They found that in both groups the eye surface, or conjunctiva, harboured a more diverse range of bacteria than the skin directly beneath the eye.

Three times the usual proportion of three types of bugs, Methylobacterium, Lactobacillus, Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas, were identified on the eyeballs of contact lens wearers.

The conjunctival “microbiome”, or microbial ecosystem, of lens wearers turned out to be more like that of the skin than of the eye.

Dr Dominguez-Bello added: “What we hope our future experiments will show is whether these changes in the eye microbiome of lens wearers are due to fingers touching the eye, or from the lens’s direct pressure affecting and altering the immune system in the eye and what bacteria are suppressed or are allowed to thrive.”
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.

Co-investigator Professor Jack Dodick, chair of opthalmology at NYU Langone, said: “There has been an increase in the prevalence of corneal ulcers following the introduction of soft contact lenses in the 1970s. A common pathogen implicated has been Pseudomonas.

“This study suggests that because the offending organisms seem to emanate from the skin, greater attention should be directed to eyelid and hand hygiene to decrease the incidence of this serious occurrence.” Some 5,245 distinct bacterial strains and subtypes were identified in the eyes of lens wearers and 5,592 strains in the eyes of non-lens wearers.

Surprisingly, the research showed that more Staphylococcus bacteria – which are linked to eye infections and are more prominent on the skin – were found in the eyes of non-lens wearers. The scientists cannot yet provide an explanation for this result.

Source: Yahoo news

Nepal earthquake: Is India prepared?

When life meets death in the horoscope of time, the “god willing” school of philosophy emerges quickly. In the first heart-stopping minutes that followed the 7.9-magnitude earthquake that ripped through Nepal on April 25, several believers threw up their hands-both in honour and in despair-in front of the Himalayan republic’s reigning deity, Lord Pashupatinath. But slowly, as the snow settles back on the Khumbu Icefall and the Indian tectonic plate resumes its ancient rhythm of subducting beneath the overriding Eurasian plate and the climbing death toll gives way to deep grief as well as deep anger, the old questions begin to loom large: how did we get here? And why weren’t we ready for this?


Some say it will take decades to rebuild Nepal, especially because the amount of aid needed to do so is larger than the GDP of that country. Others, notably the non-profit organisation Geo Hazards International whose mission is to reduce earthquake risk in developing countries, points out that “a person living in Kathmandu is nine times more likely to be killed than a person living in Islamabad and about 60 times more likely than a person living in Tokyo,” because of the rampant and indiscriminate construction taking place in Nepal since the last major earthquake struck the India-Nepal border in 1934. As for the “What if” question that rises, unbidden, to the throat of every Indian glued to the dance of death and destruction that plays non-stop on the TV near you, seismologists shudder as they grope for an answer.

“I cannot imagine the catastrophe if an earthquake of magnitude 6 hits Delhi,” says Harsh K. Gupta, president of the International Union of Geodesy & Geophysics, pointing out that the Indian capital is located in Zone 4 (the country is divided into five seismic zones). He adds, “The vast slums and unauthorised colonies, especially around the soft Yamuna floodplain, in which lakhs of people live, will be flattened like a house of cards. The Qutab Minar can probably survive an earthquake of the magnitude of 7.0, but beyond that I don’t think so.”

Vineet Gahalaut, seismologist at the Hyderabad-based National Geophysical Research Institute, emits a strangled laugh. “Have you seen the balconies in the houses in Old Delhi that almost touch each other as housewives exchange kitchen recipes? If a Nepal-type earthquake hits Delhi, the streets are so narrow, you won’t even be able to do search and rescue,” he says. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)-set up by a government fiat in the wake of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and the tsunami of 2004-conducted three mega drills in north India and the North-east from 2012-2014 in an effort to develop a contemporary intensity map as well as inform and educate people about the ravages of earthquakes.

Hypothetically simulating, in Chandigarh on February 13, 2013-in the middle of the night when most people are asleep-the 8.0 magnitude of the 1905 Kangra earthquake in which 20,000 people are believed to have been killed, across Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh, the NDMA found that 1 million people would have died at present. The scenario-building exercise was repeated in 2014 across all eight states of the North-east, this time simulating the 1897 Assam earthquake of 8.7 magnitude in which around 1,500 people were killed. The NDMA found that if the earthquake had struck at night in 2014, at least 800,000 people would have died.

NDMA member Lt-Gen N.C. Marwah says the three mega drills (the first took place in Delhi in 2012, see box) created a great sense of awareness among the population, but admits that the national disaster management plan is still awaiting approval from the Prime Minister’s Office. Asked about the vulnerability assessments of Delhi, or other towns falling in the highest-risk zones 4 and 5, Marwah says the NDMA doesn’t have the authority to carry out any of these studies, as it is the states that must implement them. “We can only issue guidelines on how to make India disaster-resilient, and yes, the NDMA is a toothless tiger”, he adds.

Rohit Jigyasu, head of the risk preparedness committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, believes the NDMA guidelines need to be simpler and allow greater use of indigenous technology and construction techniques, for instance in Kashmir, where buildings are commonly constructed from wood.

“The NDMA has no guidelines for cultural heritage. For example, there are absolutely no risk management plans for Qutab Minar, which will unlikely survive a Nepal-magnitude quake,” Jigyasu says. “In fact, NDMA and cultural organisations such as the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have no contact at all. In case of a disaster, who does the ASI call?”

The NDMA passes the buck to the state governments, but no state has a comprehensive disaster management plan, says Ravi Sinha of IIT-Bombay, who helped write a risk report for Mumbai. The National Institute of Disaster Management restricts itself to policy planning and general awareness-type exercises, while the India Meteorological Division’s micro-zoning of Delhi and the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ (MoES) ongoing micro-zoning exercises of 30 cities is limited to topographical surveys. The incredible truth is that not one of these agencies has any information about the state of preparedness in any part of the country, both rural and urban.

And so it took a passionate professor from the department of earthquake engineering at IIT-Roorkee to blow the lid off the bureaucratic stranglehold at the MoES, which in September 2014 stopped funding a 10-year-long IIT project gathering data on structural responses to earthquakes from 293 strong ground motion instruments placed at key positions along the Himalayas.

Exactly a month before the Nepal quake, on March 26, Ashok Kumar of IIT-Roorkee wrote to MoES,complaining that the ministry had unilaterally shut down the sensor project because it wanted to give it to the ministry-controlled National Centre for Seismology.

Thakur added, presciently, “Our country will cut a very sorry face if a big earthquake event occurs, as in the present stage of instrumentation we may not get any strong motion record.”

So as scientists all over the country logged in after the quake to look at data, they found there was none. IIT-Roorkee had been told to shut down its project but the new ministry-controlled seismology centre had not taken over yet.

Defending his ministry’s decision, MoES Secretary Shailesh Naik told India Today that the IIT project had gone on for 10 years and it was high time it was integrated into a permanent network.  Naik said. “I am not a lawyer that I should check whether integration was done before or after.” Naik said he was sure that at least “one or two” stations would have still recorded the Nepal earthquake “as their battery life is one year.” He has now ordered a team to be sent to all stations to find out. In any case, he added, data from all 64 seismometers in the Himalayas (there are 82 all over the country) had already been released.

Meanwhile in Shimla, where bureaucratic apathy has combined with political greed to destroy a city once known as the Queen of the hills, a 2013 disaster management plan reveals that 98 per cent of the city will either collapse or suffer substantial damage if an earthquake of 7.5 magnitude occurs. According to NDMA consultant B.K. Khanna, at least 25 per cent of Shimla’s population of more than 8 lakh will be killed.

The National Building Code is a very good one and is constantly being revised,” says architect-planner AGK Menon, “but it is not mandatory. The truth is that 90 per cent of buildings in any city are built without permission.”

Experts rue the fact that India is totally unprepared. “We are building more high-rises on steep inclines even in the Himalayas,” says M.L. Sharma, HoD, Earthquake Engineering, IIT-Roorkee. Seismologist Gahalaut says, “Indians believe that earthquakes happen to other people.”

Certainly, the lack of resources accounts for a large part of India’s lack of preparedness. California’s advanced ShakeAlert system gave survivors a grace period of 5-10 seconds when the 2014 Napa Valley earthquake struck. Japan’s early warning systems (see box) meant that the P-waves from the 9 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sendai in 2011 gave Japan Railways about 12-22 seconds allowing the bullet trains, the Shinkansen, to grind to a halt. About 800 seismometers are operated by the Japan Meteorological Agency, while 3,600 seismic intensity meters are operated by local governments. All this information is fed into the Earthquake Phenomena Observation System in Tokyo and Osaka in real-time and disseminated. In contrast, India has placed 72 GPS instruments and 64 seismometers in the Himalayan belt.

Menon, who was involved in the redevelopment of Anjar town, flattened by the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, says, “In an effort to streamline the old town and broaden its streets, several people had been given land on the outskirts. But when I returned a few years later, I found that most people had left their new patches of land to return ‘home’.”
The most earthquake-prone city in India is Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram which falls in Zone 5, with Sikkim’s Gangtok a close second. A GeoHazards study notes how Aizawl clings to the hillside, some of its houses 10 storeys high. “If an earthquake comes to Aizawl,” says GeoHazards’ South Asia representative Hari Kumar, “just the landslides will bury thousands.”

The story of apathy compounded by bureaucratic indifference and political passivity is chillingly common across the national landscape. An engineer with the Delhi Development Authority recounted how, in 2005, the state government undertook a pilot project of retrofitting five key buildings in collaboration with the American donor agency USAID to make them earthquake-proof. These included the Delhi Secretariat in which the CM’s office is located, the police headquarters, the GTB hospital and Ludlow Castle school.

Some admirable work was performed-the school received a seismic belt, while the Delhi Secretariat received a full dose of seismic planning. Around 2007, after a few engineers had even been to the US for training, the work abruptly stopped. Turned out the 2010 Commonwealth Games were finally awarded to Delhi, and work had to be completed on a war footing. Delhi went to sleep until the Nepal earthquake, when Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced the city needed to get its act together.

And so the wheel of life continues to turn, god willing, even as the Indian tectonic plate in the Himalayas underthrusts beneath its Eurasian counterpart, each day confirming that the arrival of the Next Big One is a day closer. But if the rising death toll from the Nepal quake has one lesson for India it is that the country must finally shed its indifference that often passes off as fatalism and relearn the value of every life. Otherwise, there could be a far stiffer price to pay for that cynical shoulder shrug.