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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Court questions state's disaster preparedness

The Bombay high court on Thursday wondered if the state government has made any alternative arrangement to tackle natural disasters and questioned its preparedness while hearing a PIL on the destruction of wetlands and mangroves.

On March 10, the HC had ordered a total ban on reclamation and construction on wetlands in Maharashtra and for prompt action to be taken against violators on a PIL by NGO Vanashakti. The court's observations came after the report of the chief conservator of forests (mangroves) confirming that there is massive destruction of wetlands and mangroves in areas such as Dahisar, Vasai, Ghodbunder Road and Kalwa in Thane district and Uran in Raigad district.

Vanashakti's advocate Gayatri Singh told a division bench of Justice V M Kanade and Justice P D Kode that destruction continued and no action was being taken by the civic bodies. Maharashtra Pollution Control Board's advocate Sharmila Deshmukh said no authority was empo wered to take action against violators and even the Wetlands Authority, which has been set up recently, had no powers.

The judges also lamented the decline and destruction of greenery in areas such as Vasai and Ghodbunder Road. Justice Kanade said that on his way to the Maharashtra Judicial Academy at Uttan there was "massive destruction and construction of illegal bungalows". Justice Kode said Ghodbunder Road during his childhood "was considered to be better than Ratnagiri because of its greenery".

Referring to the landslide in Pune, the government's advocate G

W Mattos said it had happened due to deforestation. The judges also wondered what would happen to Mumbai if wetlands disappear. "Fortunately it is raining. The entire city of Mumbai will have to be evacuated if it does not rain for two years," said Justice Kanade.

The judges also questioning the government's preparedness to handle natural disasters. "What alternative arrangement the government has thought about?" asked Justice Kanade. Posting the hearing on August 7, 2014, the judges said "concrete solutions" will have to be found otherwise their orders "will remain merely on paper".

Day's rain gives city over a month's water supply

Santa Cruz, which recorded the lowest June rainfall in 63 years with a paltry 87.3mm, got 1468.7mm of rain in July the highest ever in the month since 1951. It surpassed even the 1,454.5mm recorded in July 2005, which included the downpour of 26/7. Moreover, rainfall received on July 30-31 in catchment areas has increased the city's water stock by 1.2 lakh million litres.

The low rainfall in June this year had become a matter of concern but it gathered pace in July. Rainfall in Santa Cruz since June 1 this year is 1,556mm, of which only 87.3mm was received in June.

V K Rajeev , director, Regional Meteorological Centre, Mumbai, said weather systems being different every year, rainfall could vary during the four monsoon months. "There are variations in systems and the distribution of rainfall varies every year. Currently , there is a low pressure trough, which is moving inwards and we have issued a forecast of heavy rainfall over the next 48 hours. This year the maximum quantum of rainfall so far was received in July," he said, denying rumors of a `cloudburst' which were doing the rounds on social media.

In the past decade, rainfall higher than 1,400mm was received only in 2005, which was the year of the deluge that sank several parts of the city. The excess rainfall so far in case of Colaba and Santa Cruz is 120.3mm and 197mm respectively . While Colaba has already received 68.7% of the season's required average so far, Santa Cruz received 69.7%.

The good news also continued in catchment areas and there was a 100% rise in water stocks in a week. While on July 25 water stock in catchment areas was 3.3 lakh million litres, on July 31, it rose to 8 lakh million litres. Vihar and Tansa, which supply a combined 11% of water to the city , are just two metres below the overflow level whereas Upper Vaitarna is 3.5 metres off. BMC on Thursday halved water cuts to 10% and may lift it completely if good rain persists.

2 drowning deaths in city

Two separate cases of drowning were reported in the city on Thursday. A teenager, Rafiq Shah (17), drowned in the sea at Versova behind Sagar Kutir building, Yari Road, around 2.30pm. He had gone for a swim with his friends.
In the other case, Khalid Ansari (30) of Bhiwandi drowned in Nadi Naka river. He had gone for a swim after seeing the river overflow. Fire brigade officials could not trace either Shah or Ansari's bodies till late in the night.

Downpour hits highways

Heavy rain on Thursday afternoon caused a major crack on the Mumbai-Nashik highway at the new Kasara Ghat. One side of the highway, towards Mumbai, was blocked. The crack was a foot wide and three feet deep and just next to a 150-metre-deep valley. Later, National Highway 222 was cut off between Kalyan and Titwala after Rayta bridge connecting both submerged.
Waldhuni river in Kalyan and Nadi Naka river in Bhiwandi, too, overflowed. A total of 200 families living close to Waldhuni river were shifted. In Bhiwandi, in the absence of civic facilities, around 2,000 people are forced to live in 3-foot water.

63-yr record: Santa Cruz got 1,469mm rain in July

24-Hr Torrent Adds Month's Water Stock

July has brought record rainfall for Mumbai and considerably reduced concerns about the extent of water cuts the city may have to face in the next one year. The rainfall for the month in Santa Cruz--1,469mm--has been the highest for July since 1951 and has surpassed even the 1,454mm recorded in 2005, the year of the 26/7 deluge.

In June, Santa Cruz had received only 87.3mm rainfall, the lowest in 63 years, forcing the BMC to impose a 20% water cut. The heavy rain in the past 24 hours itself (July 30-31) has given the city more than 30 days of water stock as the catchment areas have accumulated 1.16 million litres.
With the showers on July 2930 having added 50 days of stock, Mumbai now has water stock for over six months.

Within a week, the catchment areas have seen a 100% rise in stock. While the stock in the seven lakes that supply water to Mumbai was 3.33 lakh million litres on July 25, it rose to 8.03 lakh million litres on July 31.

The BMC, which has now halved water cuts to 10%, may cancel the cuts altogether if the good rainfall persists.

However, heavy rain affected railway services and threw road traffic out of gear.

Fourteen CR services-four of them on the Harbour line--were cancelled due to water-logging and signal failure. Trains were running at least 25 minutes late on the main CR line till late night.
Trains on the Metro network, too, ran late by 15 minutes.

Heavy traffic jams were reported at Sion, Wadala, Mulund, Kanjurmarg and parts of central Mumbai, and the Bandra-Worli sea link saw a major snarl at 10.30 am. On the Mumbai-Nashik highway, a major crack on the new Kasara Ghat road resulted in traffic being affected for some time.

Two drowned, one killed in landslide

Two men drowned in separate incidents in the city on Thursday, while a six-year-old boy was killed in a landslide in Chembur. Rafiq Shah (17) drowned after he went for a swim in the Versova beach in the afternoon, and Khalid Ansari, a Bhiwandi resident, drowned in the local Nadi Naka river, where he had gone swimming. Six-year-old Ganesh Kurade was killed early Thursday morning when a landslide flattened six shanties near Ashok Nagar in Chembur. Two other residents of Ashok Nagar suffered minor injuries.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Strength of 348 dams suspect as no checks in 10 yrs: CAG

Budget Overshoots Estimates By Nearly Rs 70,000Cr
A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report has found the structural strength of 348 large dams suspect as they have not been inspected for over a decade. This is despite the fact that the government spent Rs 70,000 crore more than the estimates, the report added.

Good rainfall for even a few weeks can flood huge tracts of land because of dam bursts, following years of delay in completing important projects and charges of corruption. In five dams, seepage and leakage noticed during an inspection in 2007 increased from 3% to 130% in 2012. "The high pendency of inspection notes and reply of officials indicates that field construction offices did not give due importance to quality control during construction of dams," the report said, point

ing out that 42% construction divisions failed to furnish construction programmes to prepare for quality tests.

Cross drains were blocked in 2007, and by 2011, they were found to be "de-shaped" at Manjara dam in Osmanabad district. The earthwork at Mun dam in Buldhana district got washed away as rectification of the right and left bunds, required in 2007, was not done. The CAG pointed out that the Dam Safety Organization did not follow criteria for selection of dams for periodic inspections. The compliance to deficiencies pointed out in health status reports of dams ranged from less than 1% to 43.81% in 2007-12.

Quality control circle officers inspect dam construction sites and issue 'red inspection slips' in case serious deficien

cies are noticed. "Work is not supposed to resume unless the deficiencies are rectified. But execution of 30 out of 81 dam projects, wherein slips were issued, continued. Even compliance to inspection notes of the quality control organization on construction work was poor. Of 5,991 inspection notes issued in 2009-13, 45% (or 2,411) were pending for reply and compliance," the report revealed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

24-hr downpour adds 32 days' water stock

A heavy downpour in the 24 hours between Monday and Tuesday added 32 days of water stock to the seven lakes supplying the city. The lakes now have four months' supply. Also, not only has the season's rainfall deficit been covered but Santa Cruz has got excess rainfall of 78.1mm and Colaba 101.5mm. Weather men have issued a warning of very heavy rainfall-from 7cm to 14cm--in the next 24 hours. Some parts of Thane and Konkan districts may get as much as 24cm.

Between Monday and Tuesday , though, the island city got just 48.3mm and Santa Cruz 26.6mm.
On the other hand, the Vasai-Virar region, Palghar, Dahanu and tribal belts of Jawahar and Mokhada got 176mm, which saw villages get cut off from the city and flooded important roads and residential townships such as Vasant Nagri, Evershine Nagar Nirman Nagar.

The Vasai Virar municipal fire brigade rescued villagers stranded along the highway in Virar. A 10-year-old boy was reportedly carried away by strong water currents in Palghar.

Pelhar dam in Nala Sopara that supplies Vasai-Virar began to overflow. Usgaon dam in the Vasai-Virar region reached 86% of its capacity . Damni dam on Surya river in Palghar also began to overflow.

Water stock in the seven lakes that feed the Mumbai region swelled to 4.9 lakh million litres on Tuesday from 3.7 lakh million litres on Monday .
Tansa and Bhatsa gained the most, 276mm and 247mm, respectively , compared with 66mm and 45mm between Sunday and Monday . Modak Sagar is 3 metres below the overflow mark and Vihar is 4 metres short.

"Bhatsa and Modak Sagar, which have a huge capacity , received widespread rainfall of 247mm and 216mm, respectively . Tulsi is much smaller, which could be why it overflowed. Interior parts of Maharashtra received moderate rainfall while it was fairly widespread in north madhya Maharashtra. The south-west monsoon has been very vigorous on account of an offshore trough as well as strong winds. We expect 95-96% of rainfall in August, of the long-range forecast," said K S Hosalikar, deputy director general meteorology , Regional Meteorological Centre, Mumbai.

Navi Mumbai, between 7am to 7.30pm, got an average rainfall of 50.6mm. Airoli recorded the highest of 63mm followed by Vashi with 50mm, Nerul with 43mm and Belapur 44mm. Morbe dam capacity increased to 77.9 metres from Monday's 76.4 metres.

Thane got a total of 55mm rainfall. There was one incident of wall collapse at Wagle Estate and one person was reported missing while swimming inside a lake at Kalwa.

The downpour brought down minimum temperatures in Colaba to 24.8 degrees Celsius and Santa Cruz to 25.7.

On Tuesday , between 8.30am and 8.30pm, Colaba recorded 11.6mm rainfall and Santa Cruz 45.3mm. The is land city and the suburbs have received more than 50% of the season's required total.

Meanwhile, traffic was comparatively smooth on Tuesday , as it was a public holiday. There some stretches, though, like the Western Express Highway which continued to witness snarls.

The cratered flyover at Malad on WEH caused backlogs around noon. "The northbound stretch of Pedder Road was jammed around 3 pm. The stretch before Mahalaxmi signal was particularly bad," said another motorist.

Slow-moving traffic was reported from Babulnath to Haji Ali, on S V Road opposite Juhu Aerodrome, Vasai, near Huma Adlabs at Kanjur Marg, Aarey flyover on WEH, near Dahisar check naka and near Dindoshi on WEH.

A tree fall threw traffic out of gear at near Hiranandani Junction at Powai.

Heavy water logging was reported at JVLR, Andheri Link Road, Kanjur Marg, L B S Marg near Gandhi Nagar, Sujay Hospital at Andheri East, Andheri Subway and Marol Naka to WEH.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Raj Bhavan cuts power bill by Rs 14L, sets example for housing societies

British-era buildings, with their high ceilings and massive rooms are known to consume huge quantities of power. The 150year-old Raj Bhavan on Malabar Hill was no exception. But in an example for far humbler abodes in the city, it has adopted a series of green measures, reducing its power bill by Rs 14 lakh during the 2013-14 financial year.

The feat has won the 48acre compound an award by the recently concluded national green energy campaign instituted by the Maharashtra Energy Development Agency (MEDA).

The compound, which, besides the governor's official residence, comprises guest houses and over 200 staff quarters, saved 1.35 lakh units of power in the last fiscal over the previous one by using only energy-efficient appliances and devices, and solar-energy panels. Raj Bhavan invested over Rs 78 lakh on the green project, and is expected to recover the cost in six years.

Power experts say the pro ject can be replicated by housing societies and townships to reduce power consumption.

"The project was started in 2012-13, resulting in a sav ing of Rs 8 lakh on Raj Bhavan's power bill. We hope to take the current financial year's saving to Rs 16 lakh," said Vasant Salunkhe, comp troller of the governor's households. "The measures included the use of only LED lighting, even for street lights, five-star (power-saving) ver sions of appliances like water heaters, ceiling fans and ACs, use of energy-efficient elevators and generation of solar power."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SC wants euthanasia debate, seeks states' views in 8 wks

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Centre Says Court Has No Jurisdiction

The Supreme Court on Wednesday decided to adjudicate the legality of active and passive euthanasia and the emerging concept of `living will' after shying away for decades from examining this highly emotive and legally complicated issue.

The Centre objected to the exercise. Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi said, "The government doesn't accept euthanas ia as a principle. Our stand on euthanasia, in whichever form, is that the court has no jurisdiction to decide this. It's for Parliament and the legislature to take a call after a thorough debate and taking into account multifarious views."

The court agreed it was a matter of public policy and that Parliament and the legislature were competent to decide it. But counsel Prashant Bhushan, for PIL petitioner NGO Common Cause, said the issues were debated in public for decades and the legislature had not yet taken the first step.

The court wanted a country-wide debate. The Constitution bench of Chief Justice R M Lodha and Justices J S Khehar, J Chelameswar, A K Sikri and R F Nariman sought views of all states and Union Territories on the PIL in eight weeks.
It requested senior advocate T R Andhyarujina to assist the court as amicus curiae.

The issue concerns the rights of a terminally-ill person after doctors rule out chances of survival. Active euthanasia would involve a doctor injecting a lethal medicine to trigger a cardiac arrest. In passive euthanasia, doctors, with consent from kin, withdraw the life support system. Explaining the "living will" concept, Bhushan said: "Given the unanimity that a person had the right to refuse a particular medicine or treatment, why should he or she be not allowed to execute a will in sound mind saying if he or she ever slipped into a vegetative state with a terminal disease with no chance of recovery, doctors shouldn't keep him or her alive with the help of life support? "The constitution bench should consider active euthanasia that provides an option to the terminally ill… to choose the option of right to die. If, after all medical interventions fail and the process of death has commenced, why should the patient not have a right to die." The A-G raised fundamental doubts: "What is dignified death? Who decides when the process of death commences? What if medical research tomorrow finds a cure to the presently terminally-ill (sic) disease? Can the court fathom the problems and abuse that could happen in far-flung places?" He said attempt to suicide is an offence under IPC Sec 309. "Abetment to suicide, too, is an offence," he said. "Euthanasia in any form would fall within the meaning of abetment to suicide. Would 'living will' not fall under expression of an intention to commit suicide? It is a difficult issue to find a solution through a straitjacket formula." The bench agreed with the A-G and solicitor general Ranjit Kumar that legislature would probably be able to debate the issue threadbare. It said the exercise was to find out whether there was a legal framework that could be put in place.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Techie puts fancy number plates back under lens

Posts Pictures Of Violators On FB, Traffic Police To Send Notices To 55

A software developer has pushed the traffic police to crack down on motorists using fancy fonts on number plates by posting photographs of the violators on a social media group.

Sandeep Ohri (48) decided to form a Facebook group and seek help from other alert citizens after noticing that the Mumbai traffic police's official page has been inoperative for years.

Traffic police chief B K Up dhyaya confirmed that his personnel would start sending challans by post to the homes of 55 offenders this weekend.
"We have access to the RTO's database of privately-owned vehicles in Mumbai registered post-2006. The photographs are proof enough of the violation committed by the motorists.
After receiving the challan if a motorist fails to pay up, we will send a chargesheet to court, which, in turn, will issue them summons," said Upadhyaya.

Not using standardized fonts on number plates poses a security issue, said officials. In case of a fatal accident, witnesses find it difficult to identify or recollect the digits of vehicles using such number plates.

"We have started installing cameras equipped with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) on certain stretches in Mumbai, such as the Eastern Freeway . ANPR captures number plates and uses optical character recognition to read them, without any manual intervention. But the system will face problems reading fonts that are not standardized," said a traffic police officer.

Ohri's Facebook group, which was started last month, already has around 900 members. "Clear photographs of vehicles found flouting the rule, along with the location where they were spotted, can be up loaded on the group. Every two or three weeks, I prepare a slideshow of the photographs with details on the make of the vehicle. Initially, I had sent a compilation of 32 such photographs to the traffic cops, but there was no response. This time, I sent 55 new photographs," Ohri said.

"What really upsets me is the blatant abuse of power by politicians, most of whom use fonts in regional languages on their vehicles' number plates. I used to spot such vehicles blocking the entrance to nursing homes in my residential locality . They were never towed away . When I took up the matter with the traffic police under the RTI, they spoke of public participation. That's when I decided to form a social media group," he added.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Maha records most 2-wheeler deaths for third year in a row

State Sees 5% Dip, City 4% In Road Mishaps

On an average, 38 people are killed every day in road accidents in Maharashtra, reveals the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) 2013 report, which was released on Monday . And, most of the deceased were killed in twowheeler mishaps.

For the third consecutive year, the state retained its dubious distinction of having the most number of deaths in twowheeler accidents as well as that of the highest number of pedestrians killed. But the city seemed a tad safer than the rest of the state, with Mumbai ranking fourth among all the cities for two-wheeler mishap deaths. When it came to total accidents recorded in a year, the state ranked fourth, recording 13,245 cases in 2013, while Mumbai came fifth among all the cities. But the report shows that driving in Maharashtra may have improved slightly , as it recorded a 5.2% dip in the number of cases in 2013 than that in 2012, when 13,936 road mishaps were recorded. Similarly, Mumbai saw a marginal dip of 4% compared to the previous year. "Lack of discipline among motorists and bikers leads to the fatalities on roads," said joint commissioner of police (Traffic) B K Upadhyay .
"The marginal dip in road accident in 2013 is due to different drives that are carried out to discourage motorists who do not follow the traffic rules."

At 15,630, Uttar Pradesh witnessed the most number of accident deaths in 2013, followed by Tamil Nadu with 14,996 cases, Andhra Pradesh with 14,647, Maharashtra and Rajasthan with 9,724 road deaths. From 2011 to 2013, the report showed that 40,861 people lost their lives to road mishaps in Maharashtra, while in Mumbai, 2,105 were killed in the same period. The entire country , including union territories, witnessed 4,13,348 road deaths from 2011 to 2013 and 49,527 in more than 90 cities that were surveyed. The report pinned the blame for over 70% road accidents on driver's fault, while it pointed out that a pedestrian's and cyclist's fault accounts for a mere 3-4 % mishaps, and bad roads lead to just 2% accidents in the country . Stating that a traffic police survey shows that 57% road mishap victims in the city were pedestrians and 31% are motorcycle riders and pillion riders, a traffic official also expressed concern over the growing number of youngsters losing their lives. "A majority of road accident victims--at least 60%--are in the 25-50 age group, followed by 30.3% in the 15-24 age group," the official said.

According to experts, motor vehicle population is growing at a faster rate than that of the economic and population growth. The surge in motorization, coupled with expansion of road network, has brought with it the challenge of ad dressing adverse factors such as the increase in road accidents. According to the WHO 2013 survey report, road traffic injuries are the sixth leading cause of death in India. "The majority of accidents are due to speeding of vehicles, especially bikes. We have come up with a drive called Eagle Operation to book helmetless bikers. We have also sought the RTO to conduct the test properly before issuing licences," Upadhyay said.

IPS officer-turned-lawyer Y P Singh also said reckless driving and speeding were the main causes of accidents. " A strict system of accountability should be in place for traffic and RTO officers who do not detect motor vehicle offences honestly and instead, take bribes," Singh said. "Licences are issued to novices once agents have paid. RTO officers get regular cuts from agents and so, unworthy people get licences."

`City that never slept is now unsafe for women'

There was a time Mumbai never slept, the Bombay High Court observed on Monday , lamenting the city's decline while hearing a PIL.

The observation was made by a division bench of Justices V M Kanade and P D Kode.
They were hearing a suo motu PIL on the safety and security of women who travel for work.
On September 17, 2012, the judges upheld the death penalty for two persons who raped and killed BPO staffer Jyotikumari Chaudhary in Pune on November 1, 2007. They also recommended guidelines for women working in night shifts. The chief justice converted their request into a PIL.

When it came up for hearing on Monday , prosecutor Poornima Kantharia submitted guidelines and directions have been issued by the courts, to which the judges said it is not sufficient as implementation is required at the ground level. Kantharia agreed, saying people are usually indifferent to the plight of a woman who is harassed and reluctant to help her. "There was a time the city of Bombay (sic) never slept. Women could go out during all 24 hours, now you can't,'' said Justice Kanade.

The judges also blamed the ready availability of perverse content on internet and television for corrupting minds.
"On the internet all material is available,'' said Justice Kanade, adding, "Children are affected. Channels showing perversity should be blocked."

Adjourning the matter, the judges said it would be ideal to increase police patrolling.

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