10 dead in Kerala, TN, several fishermen missing as cyclone Ockhi heads for Lakshadweep

Heavy rains lashed many parts of south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu and at least 10 people have died since yesterday as cyclone Ockhi intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm and hurtled past the coasts of the two states towards Lakshadweep Islands on Friday.

Cyclone Ockhi: 8 killed, several fishermen missing
Heavy rains lashed many parts of south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu and at least 10 people have died since yesterday as cyclone Ockhi intensified into a very severe cyclonic storm and hurtled past the coasts of the two states towards Lakshadweep Islands today.
Four people were killed in south Kerala and five in south Tamil Nadu in rain-related incidents yesterday even as the authorities mounted a massive search and rescue operation for scores of fishermen reported missing at sea.
One fisherman, who was among those rescued today, died in hospital here today, taking the toll in Kerala to five, official sources said.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued a warning of a very severe cyclone for Lakshadweep Islands this evening and said the system was likely to intensify further in the next 24 hours.
In a Red message issued at 1730 hours today, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the system, now over the Lakshadweep  area and adjoining southeast Arabian Sea, continued to move west-northwestwards with a speed of 15 kmph during the past six hours and intensified further into a "Very Severe Cyclonic Storm".
It lay centred at 1430 hours IST today near latitude 9.1º N and longitude 73.0º E, about 90 km north of Minicoy and 220 km south-southeast of Amini Divi. 
"The system is very likely to intensify further during next 24 hours. It is very likely to continue to move west-northwestwards across Lakshadweep Islands during next 24 hours and then move north/ northeastwards during the subsequent 48 hours," the bulletin said.
The IMD warned that, under the influence of the system, heavy to very heavy rainfall was very likely at most places over Lakshadweep area during the next 24 hours, with isolated extremely heavy falls. There could be isolated heavy to very heavy falls during the subsequent 24 hours, it said.
The bulletin also said that rainfall was very likely at many places over Kerala during the next 24 hours, with heavy rainfall at isolated places.
According to it, gale winds, with speed reaching 120-130 kmph, gusting to 145 kmph, were very likely over and around Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours and gradual decrease thereafter.
Squally winds, with speed reaching 45-55 kmph, gusting to 65 kmph, were very likely along and off Kerala during the next 24 hours and along and off Karnataka coast during the next 24 hours, it said.
The bulletin said sea conditions would be phenomenal over and around Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours and very high during the subsequent 24 hours.
Sea conditions would be high to very high along and off the Kerala coast during the next 24 hours and along and off the Karnataka coast during subsequent 24 hours.
The cyclone could cause damage to power and communication lines due to breaking of tree branches and uprooting of large avenue trees; major damage to thatched houses, huts and kutcha houses; some damage to pucca roads; flooding of escape routes; and damage to banana and papaya trees and standing crops.
Storm surge of about one metre above astronomical tides was very likely to inundate low lying areas of Lakshadweep Islands, the bulletin said.
Fishermen along and off Lakshadweep Islands were advised not to venture into the sea during the next 48 hours. Similarly, fishermen were advised not to venture into the sea along and off the Kerala and Karnataka coasts during the next 48 hours.
Ships and aircraft of the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) were involved in the rescue efforts at sea while teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were deployed in the affected areas in the two states and units of the Indian Army were on standby to come to the aid of the civil adminstration, if necessary.
Official sources here said more than 220 people had been rescued from the sea by the Navy, ICG and IAF. Many of them were admitted to hospitals here for treatment, they said. 
Some of the fishermen were rescued by a Japanese cargo ship in the area. As many as 37 people were rescued by Advanced Light Helicopters (ALHs) of the Indian Navy which flew between Thiruvananthapuram and the sea.
The ICG said it had deployed nine ships and two Dornier aircraft in the area and rescued as many as 52 fishermen so far.
The International Safety Net (ISN) had been activated to advise Merchant Traffic to render assistance to stranded fishermen, it said.
Among others, Indian Naval Ships Sagardhwani, Jamuna and Nireekshak were in the affected areas in the Arabian Sea. INS Sharda and Shardul are also sailing out soon to augment the search effort. Both ships were in final stages of embarking HADR items for assistance at Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, Indian Navy sources said.
In Poonthura, a coastal village near here, angry groups of fishermen and their families staged protests, alleging that the government had not acted in time and not done enough as far as the rescue efforts were concerned. 
Former Chief Minister and Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, both senior leaders of the Congress, visited the area today to listen to the woes of the villagers.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told newspersons that the state government had received an alert about the cyclone only on Thursday afternoon. He said the rescue efforts were also hampered by the bad weather conditions.
Mr. Vijayan said all possible efforts were being made to locate and rescue the missing fishermen. He said the state government had urged the Ministry of Defence to deploy more aircraft for the search and rescue operations.
In Lakshadweep, the authorities had issued orders for the evacuation of people from low-lying areas in Kalpeni, Minicoy, Kavratti, Agatti, Androth, Kadamath and Amini islands.

Congress wrests Gurdaspur in Punjab from BJP, its ally IUML retains Vengara in Kerala

In a morale booster for the party ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat from the BJP by a huge margin and its ally, the IUML, retained the Vengara Assembly seat in Kerala in bye-elections held on October 11.

Congress' Sunil Jakhar wins Gurdaspur LS bye-election
In a morale booster ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress has wrested the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha  seat from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by a huge margin and its ally, Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), retained the Vengara Assembly seat in Kerala in bye-elections held on October 11.
Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar drubbed Mr. Swaran Singh Salaria of the BJP by a record margin of 1,93,219 votes in Gurdaspur.
In Vengara, Mr. K. N. A. Khader, the candidate of the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), who is a member of the IUML, won from Vengara, defeating his nearest rival, P. P. Basheer of the Left Democratic Front (LDF), by a margin of 23,310 votes in the October 11 bye-election.
Counting of votes was taken up in both constituencies this morning, and the results were out by noon.
Gurdaspur had fallen vacant following the death on April 27 of well-known Hindi film actor Vinod Khanna, who represented the constituency in the Lok Sabha as a candidate of the ruling BJP.
Mr. Jakhar polled 4,99,752 votes against the 3,06,553 votes secured by Mr. Salaria. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate Suresh Khajuria got just 23,579 votes.
Considering the fact that Mr. Khanna had won the seat by an impressive margin of 1.35 lakh votes in 2014, the bye-election ended up being a cakewalk for Mr. Jakhar, 63, the Congress Punjab unit chief and son of late Lok Sabha Speaker Balram Jakhar.
In between, in March this year, the Congress won a resounding victory in the elections to the Punjab Legislative Assembly and its leader Amarinder Singh returned as Chief Minister of the state. The bye-election had turned into a battle of prestige for both sides.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had ended up on the losing side in all the nine Assembly segments in Gurdaspur. Mr. Jakhar has managed to turn this around, winning from all the nine segments this time.
Gurdaspur was considered a Congress stronghold for long years, with its candidate Sukhbuns Kaur Bhinder winning the seat five times in a row from 1980 to 1996 before the BJP brought in Khanna, a top Bollywood actor, as its candidate in 1998. The actor-turned politician was re-elected from the seat in 1999, 2004 and then in 2014. In 2009, former Punjab Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa by a thin margin of 8,359 votes.
Mr. Jakhar described the bye-election result as a "referendum" on the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's government at the Centre and said the people of the constituency had sent a "strong message of resentment" over its policies.
"Congratulations to @sunilkjakhar ji for his impressive win in #Gurdaspur bypoll, it's a victory for @INCPunjab policies & development agenda," Mr. Amarinder Singh on microblogging site Twitter.
"Assure people of #Gurdaspur that every single promise made by @sunilkjakhar will be fulfilled and all development works will be fast-tracked," he added.
Congress leader and Punjab minister Navjot Sidhu said, "This is a beautiful Diwali gift, packed with a red ribbon, for our would-be party president Rahul Gandhi."
In Vengara, Mr. Khader polled 65,227 votes against 41,917 secured by Mr. Basheer, a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the main constituent of the ruling LDF in the state.
Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) candidadte K. C. Naseer ended up third with 8,648 votes while Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominee K. Janachandran  Master, finished fourth with 5,728 votes in the results announced today.
The bye-election in Vengara was necessitated by the resignation of IUML leader P. K. Kunhalikutty, who was elected to the Lok Sabha on April 12 from the Malappuram seat that fell vacant following the death of former Union Minister E. Ahamed.
While the UDF celebrated the victory, the LDF drew satisfaction from the fact that they had reduced the IUML candidate's victory margin from 38,057 votes in the 2016 Assembly elections, when Mr. Kunhalikutty had won, to 23,310 votes in this bye-election.
Today's results have come just three days after the Congress swept the municipal elections in Nanded-Waghala in Maharashtra, considered a stronghold of the party. The party won 67 of the 81 seats, while the BJP won four and its ally Shiv Sena got just one.

Mukherjee says tragic to see universities caught in vortex of violence, disquiet

Declaring that there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian, President Pranab Mukherjee said on Thursday that the country's premier institutions of higher education must resound with creativity and free thinking.

President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ at Kochi in Kerala on March 2, 2017.
President Pranab Mukherjee delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ at Kochi in Kerala on March 2, 2017.
Declaring that there should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian, President Pranab Mukherjee today said the country's premier institutions of higher education must resound with creativity and free thinking.
"Those in Universities must engage in reasoned discussion and debate rather than propagate a culture of unrest. It is tragic to see them caught in the vortex of violence and disquiet," he said while delivering the 6th K.S. Rajamony Memorial Lecture on the topic ‘India@70’ in Kochi.
"India was a world leader in the field of education when our Universities like Nalanda and Takshshila were at the height of their glory. Nalanda and Takshshila are not mere geographical expressions but representations of the idea for free thought which flourished in these great Universities of the past.  Our premier institutions of higher education are the vehicles on which India has to propel itself into a knowledge society.  These temples of learning must resound with creativity and free thinking," he said.
"There should be no room in India for the intolerant Indian.  India has been since ancient times a bastion of free thought, speech and expression.  Our society has always been characterized by the open contestation of diverse schools of thought and debate as well as discussion.   Freedom of speech and expression is one of the most important fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. There must be space for legitimate criticism and dissent," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee began by speaking about Kerala, which has been the gateway to India for traders and religious missionaries from different parts of the globe. He said the people of Kerala were known for their progressive thinking and the State's impressive achievements in the field of literacy, education, health, gender equality, tourism and culture had brought it global acclaim.
Turning to the topic of the lecture, India@70, he said that for 50 years before independence in 1947 the economic growth rate of India was 0% to 1%. "In the fifties, our growth rate rose to 1 – 2%, the sixties 3 – 4% and in the 90s, with economic reforms, to 6 to 7%.  In the last decade, our growth rate has averaged around 8%, making us the fastest growing large economy of the world," he said.
"India’s population in 1950 was 360 million. Today, we are a 1.3 billion strong nation.  Our annual per capita income has gone up from Rs. 7,500 at the time of independence to over Rs. 77,000. GDP growth rate has risen from 2.3 percent to 7.9 percent in 2015-16.  Poverty ratio has declined from over 60 percent to less than 25 percent.  Average life expectancy has gone up from 31.4 to 68.4 years. Literacy rate has gone up from 18 to 74 percent. Food grains production has gone up from 45 million to an estimated 272 million tonnes in 2016-17," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee spoke about the progress achieved by the country in the field of food and industrial production, as well as in areas such as space, information technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. He said that, in the last 70 years, India had transformed itself from a poor, under-developed nation into the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.
He said equally important was India's success in consolidating the unity of its nation and democracy in the midst of extraordinary challenges and tremendous diversity.  
"We have firmly established within our country the rule of law, an independent judiciary and vibrant media as well as civil society.  We have also created strong institutions like the Election Commission and the CAG who stand as pillars of our political system.  Every known religion in the world, over hundred different languages used in everyday life, 1600 dialects and multiple cultures are united under one flag and one Constitution. Around 553 million people voted in the 2014 General Elections, an exercise matched in scale and scope by none else in the world," he said.
The President said the most important legacy bequeathed to the nation by its founding fathers was its Constitution.
"A Constitution is a charter for the governance of a nation. The notion of what is good governance must be defined by the need of the times and enriched by the experience of the decades. Yet, the Constitution enshrines certain timeless values that should never be compromised. It is against the touchstone of these values that we must constantly measure our performance," he said.
"The Preamble records the resolve of the people of India to secure to all citizens justice - social, economic and political as well as liberty, equality and fraternity.  It also establishes the principle of secularism. Justice - social, economic and political - is in the life of any nation a journey more than a destination. To achieve social justice requires not mere governance but a recasting of mindsets and the transformation of social ethos.  That is the job not just of the legislature, the executive or the courts, but of each one of us.
"The ultimate goal of any democracy is the empowerment of the individual, irrespective of his economic, religious or social standing. This may appear to be a utopian dream for many, but the strength of a system lies in its capacity to ceaselessly work for its accomplishment.  The goal of political justice requires the continuous empowerment of marginalised sections of our society. We owe ourselves to create a system in which access to politics is not limited to a privileged few but an average Indian also feels empowered enough to contribute," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee said economic development was vital to good governance but stressed that this must be imbued with the principle of equality on which there could be no compromise.
"An egalitarian society can only be created when growth is inclusive. It is important to ensure that there is justice and equality of opportunity and the state does not create conditions in which the privileged few gain at the cost of the multitudes who suffer endemic poverty. A sustainable society can only be based on the principles of equity and justice," he said.
He said democracy required constant nurturing and at no cost should the exploitation of fault lines be allowed. In this context, he underlined the importance of protection and safety of women and children.
Mr. Mukherjee said the country's leaders and political activists must listen to the people, engage with them, learn from them and respond to their needs and concerns. "Our law makers must never take the people for granted. They must focus on the fundamental task of law making and raising of issues of concern to the people as well as finding solutions to their problems," he said.
"Legislation is the first and foremost responsibility of a Parliamentarian. It is most unfortunate that time devoted towards legislation has been gradually declining in our Parliament," he said, citing figures for time lost due to interruptions and adjournments.
"No one who holds any elected office has been invited by the voters to occupy that office.  Each one has gone to the voters and pleaded for their votes and support.  The trust placed by the people in the political system and those elected should not be betrayed. Our Legislatures and Parliament must not turn into arenas for combat.  Floor tests are not meant to be muscle tests.  The opportunity to represent the people is not a right or entitlement but a moral obligation and duty.  Our elected representatives owe it to the people of our country to act as models of exemplary conduct," he said.
Mr. Mukherjee said Parliament and State Legislative Assemblies were central pillars on which the edifice of democracy   rested. 
"They are the supreme institutions comprising of members directly elected by our people.  It is through them that governments are held accountable by the people.  If they become dysfunctional, it results in not just paralysis of those institutions but creates an adverse impact across the system.  The debate and discussions which ought to take place in the open in the House of Parliament and Assemblies cannot be replicated elsewhere.  When they cease to function effectively, issues spill out onto the streets.  The very basis of our democracy gets undermined," he said.
The President said the time had come for collective efforts to re-discover the sense of national purpose and patriotism that alone can lift the nation on to the road of sustained progress and prosperity.
"The nation and the people must always come first.  Let us strive to arrest the moral decline in our society and ensure that our core civilisational values find firm root.  Let us exert ourselves to strengthen India’s pluralism and diversity.  Let us be uncompromising in rooting out violence, prejudice and hatred.  
"Let us strive for rapid progress but even as we do so, ensure that the benefits of economic progress percolate down to the poorest of the poor and those living in the furthest corners of our country.  Let us make the poorest in our land part of the story of a rising India.  Let us embrace education, skill development and innovation which will enable us catapult India into the future and build a knowledge economy, riding the technological wave of the 21st century.
"I see a very bright future for India. Our Constitutional values, young population and entrepreneurial abilities as well as capacity for hard work provide us the fundamentals required for rapid progress as well as the building of a caring and compassionate society. India has changed dramatically in the last 70 years.  I am confident that in the next ten years, we will see even greater progress as we steer our nation, focused on further strengthening our open, democratic and inclusive society," he added.

Kerala: Court orders probe against CM Oommen Chandy, Minister Aryadan Mohammad

A Vigilance Court in Thrissur on Thursday ordered registering of an FIR and initiating a probe against Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleague Aryadan Mohammad on the bribery allegations raised against them by Saritha S Nair, main accused in the "solar scam".

Kerala solar scam: FIR ordered against CM; protestors lathicharged
A Vigilance Court here today ordered registering of a first information report (FIR) and initiating a probe against Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and his cabinet colleague, Electricity and Transport Minister Aryadan Mohammad, on the bribery allegations raised against them by Saritha S Nair, main accused in the "solar scam".
Saritha and her associate Biju Radhakrishnan are accused of having cheated several businessmen and non-resident Indians (NRIs) of large sums of money promising them partnership in a company floated by them, Team Solar Renewable Energy Solutions Pvt Limited, which offered solar energy solutions to institutions and households. 
They had also boasted of close connections with Mr Chandy and other ministers and even produced letters on official letterheads to support their claims. The scam came into light when an NRI, Sajad, filed a police complaint accusing them of having defrauded him of Rs 40 lakh. Subsequently, 33 cases were registered against them on various complaints.
Saritha, while deposing before the Justice Sivarajan Commission in Kochi yesterday, had alleged that she had paid a bribe totalling Rs 1.90 crore to an aide of the Chief Minister and Rs 40 lakh to Mr Mohammad. Both have denied the charges.
However, Inquiry Commissioner and Special Judge S S Vasan, taking cognisance of a private complaint, asked the Vigilance Director to file an FIR and complete the probe as early as possible. The court rejected the contention of the government counsel seeking a quick probe into the allegations before initiating proceedings against the Chief Minister. Justice should be equal for all, for the common man as well as Chief Minister, the court observed.
The judge said he was not looking into the merits of the complaint against the Chief Minister which is to be considered by the investigating officer. The report is to be submitted to the court on April 14. The court also rejected the submission of the state counsel regarding jurisdiction of the court since the alleged bribery took place in Thiruvananthapuram. However, the court upheld the contention of the complainant P D Joseph, a social activist, that it had also occurred in Kochi, which fell within the purview of the court.
Reacting to the court order, Mr Chandy told reporters in Kozhikode that he was prepared to face any inquiry and rejected the opposition demand for his resignation. “My conscience is clear and both of us have done nothing wrong,” he said, speaking on behalf of his ministerial colleague, too.
In a related development the Kerala High Court stayed the Thrissur Vigilance Court order of registering an FIR against Mr K Babu, who had resigned his post as Minister following the court order. 
Passing the order, High Court Judge P Ubaid observed that the vigilance court had acted in unnecessary haste without waiting for the order of the division bench of the High Court. The stay will be applicable for two months. In the meantime, the court directed the Vigilance Director to conduct a quick probe and submit a report within ten days.
Earlier, on January 25, Mr Chandy had deposed before the judicial commission. The deposition, that went on into the night, was completed only in the early hours the next day. He reportedly told the commission that he had met Saritha only three times and came to know about the financial dealings only after her arrest. He had acknowledged receipt of a contribution of Rs 2 lakh to the Chief Minister's Distress Relief Fund in a letter drafted by his office under his letterhead. The letterhead was later found to be misused. He also denied that he had met Saritha in his office along with Sreedharan Nair, a quarry owner and one of the complainants in the scam, as stated by Intelligence ADGP A Hemachandran.
The Chief Minister later told reporters that he had refused to undergo a lie-detector test as he had not lied or acted against his conscience. Neither has the state exchequer incurred any loss nor the accused obtained any monetary advantage, he added. 

Kerala: Four female rowers attempt suicide in SAI hostel; one dead, three hospitalised

A 15-year-old rower died and three female athletes were hospitalised in a serious condition after they consumed poisonous fruit on Wednesday in an alleged suicide attempt at their hostel at the Sports Authority of India's Water Sports Centre at Alappuzha in Kerala.

Kerala suicide attempt: DG SAI says priority to save lives of girls
A 15-year-old rower died and three female athletes were hospitalised in a serious condition after they consumed poisonous fruit yesterday in an alleged suicide attempt at their hostel at the Sports Authority of India's (SAI) Water Sports Centre at Alappuzha in Kerala.
The decased was identified as Aparna Ramachandran, a resident of Avalookunnu in Alappuzha district, official sources said. The three others are also from Kerala, they said.
The four athletes allegedly consumed the fruit of cerbera odollam (Othalanga in Malayalam) sometime during the afternoon yesterday and were rushed to the Alappuzha Medical College Hospital, about 150 km from here, in the evening after they started showing symptoms of food poisoning.
While Aparna failed to respond to treatment and breathed her last around 4 am today, the other three girls were said to be in a serious condition.
The reason for the extreme step taken by the rowers could not be ascertained immediately, but parents and relatives of the girls said they were subjected to mental and physical harassment at the hostel in recent times.
The hostel authorities, however, denied these allegations and said there were no complaints of any harassment. Media reports quoted them as saying that the girls had recently been caught consuming beer and were questioned about it, and they must have resorted to the extreme step fearing further action.
The State Government as well as the Sports Authority of India have ordered inquiries into the incident.
Kerala Home Minister Ramesh Chenithala told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram that he had asked Inspector General of Police (Kochi Range) M R Ajithkumar to conduct an inquiry into th incident and the officer would reach Alappuzha later today.
In Delhi, SAI Director General Injeti Srinivas said SAI had taken an extremely serious view of the incident and he had submitted an initial report to Union Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. He said SAI would conduct a probe into all aspects of the incident.
Mr  Sonowal said in a statement later that he had asked the Director General of SAI to rush to the spot and give a factual report on the incident.
“I am deeply aggrieved by the incident that has happened in Kerala. The young girl who has died was a very promising sportsperson. It is a big loss to the country in general and Sports Authority of India and sports fraternity in particular. I convey my condolences to the bereaved family. We will give all possible help to the bereaved family," he said.
"Three girls are still undergoing treatment. I pray for their speedy recovery. To provide them the best possible treatment is our top priority," he said.
"Local police is investigating the matter. I have also directed the Director General of SAI to rush to the spot and give me a factual report. I have specifically directed him to ensure that the best possible treatment is made available to the three girls who are undergoing treatment. 
"While law will take its own course, at this stage I would only like to say that if anyone from Sports Authority of India is found guilty in connection with this tragic incident, strictest possible action will be taken against him or her," he added.
Mr Srinivas told newspersons in Delhi that it was the most shocking and tragic incident in the three-decade-old history of SAI, which is tasked with nurturing sports talent in the country.
He said he had been informed of the incident around midnight last night and has been in touch with Kerala government and local SAI officials since then.
"Our immediate priority is to deal with the medical emergency, to save the lives of the three trainees" he said. He said he had been told that there was no real antidote for the poisonous fruit and that, since the entire matter came to light only after some hours after they had consumed the fruit, the poison appeared to have entered their bloodstream and complicated matters.
Mr Srinivas said the four girls had reportedly left a suicide note jointly signed by them. One of the three girls in hospital, who is conscious and is able to speak, has deposed before the sub-divisional magistrate, he said. "All these matters will be investigated," he added.

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10 dead, 50 hurt as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails near Hosur

At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed on Friday morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.

10 dead, 50 injured as Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-City Express derails
At least ten passengers died and about 50 others suffered injuries when the 12677 Bangalore-Ernakulam Inter-city Express derailed this morning near Anekal Road, close to Hosur in Tamil Nadu, official sources said.
The mishap occurred at around 7.45 am between Anekal Road and Hosur stations on the Bangalore-Salem section of South-Western Railway, they said.
Prima facie, the derailment occurred after the train hit a boulder that had rolled down onto the tracks in the ghat section, the sources said.
The train had left Bangalore at 6.15 am for Ernakulam in Kerala. Nine coaches and the engine of the train went off the rails, and one coach in particular, D8, a second class chair car, was badly affected, they said.
The derailed coaches included two air-conditioned chair cars and six second class chair cars, but they did not suffer much damage.
A pantry car and four second class chair cars were not affected by the derailment, the sources said.
South-Western Railway spokesperson Chandrasekhar Gupta told NetIndian over the telephone that ten bodies had been extricated from the mangled coaches.
He said 18 of the injured passengers had suffered severe injuries and were undergoing treatment in the Narayan Hridalaya, Sparsh and Anekal General hospitals nearby.
Police and emergency personnel, including railway officials and staff, from nearby areas in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka rushed to the spot with ambulances and medical equipment. The Railways rushed medical vans and accident relief vans to the spot.
Efforts were being made to restore rail traffic on the section at the earliest, the sources said.
In Delhi, Minister for Railways Suresh Prabhu said he was rushing to the scene of the accident and that he had directed the Chairman of the Railway Board, the General Manager of South-Western Railway and other senior officials to reach the spot.
He said all possible help would be rendered to the affected passengers and families. He also announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 200,000 for the next-of-kin of each of those killed in the accident, Rs 50,000 for the grievously injured passengers and Rs 20,000 for those with minor injuries.
Union Minister D V Sadananda Gowda, a former Minister for Railways and former Karnataka Chief Minister, was among those who reached the scene of the accident. 
"I am personally monitoring it and in touch with State and local administration. All Sr rail officials are directed by me to be on job," Mr Prabhu said.
"Condolences to all the  unfortunate members of the families who lost lives. Directed to provide best possible medical care to the injured," he said.
"Ordered enquiry to fix responsibility and for corrective action to prevent such unfortunate accidents. Monitoring action regularly," he added.
The Railways have set up the following helplines to provide information and assistance to victims and their relatives: 0948090599,  08022371166, 09731666751.
Besides, the Railways have set up the following helpline numbers in Kerala:
Trivandrum: 0471-2321205, 2321237, 09746769960
Ernakulam Jn.: 0484-2100317, 0813699773
Ernakulam Town: 0484-2398200
Trichur: 04877-2424148, 2430060
Aluva: 0484-2624143

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Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns, may return to Delhi politics

Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit said on Tuesday she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.

Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit resigns
Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit today said she had resigned from her position, amid reports that the Narendra Modi government at the Centre was planning to shift her to the North-East and indications that she might return to active politics in Delhi.
Ms Dikshit, 76, who was Chief Minister of Delhi for 15 years over three consecutive terms, had taken over for a five-year term as the 22nd Governor of Kerala only on March 11 this year after she and her Congress party suffered a humiliating defeat in the December 4, 2013 elections to the Delhi Legislative Assembly.
She had lost in her own constituency of Gole Market by a huge margin to Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, who went on to serve as Chief Minister of Delhi for 49 days before he resigned. The Congress had managed to win only eight seats in the 70-member house.
Ms Dikshit was among the Governors appointed by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre who had refused to heed clear signals from the new Modi government, which assumed office on May 26, that they should hand in their papers.
There were also reports in the media suggesting that she might be shifted to a North-Eastern state if she refused to quit.
Ms Dikshit met President Mukherjee and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh here yesterday. 
"I have only one thing to say. The news flashing on television channels is correct. I have submitted my resignation yesterday," she told newspersons.
"This is what I wanted to say, and I wanted to say it myself."
"I don't have anything more to say right now. After my resignation is accepted, I'll say whatever I have to say," she said.
To repeated queries about her views on the way the Modi government had handled Governors and about her future plans, Ms Dikshit said that she would not like to say anything further.
"Let my resignation be accepted, after that I promise you that I will talk to you," she added.
Asked if she had been under pressure from the Modi government to resign, Ms Dikshit said, "I have nothing to do with all that. I did what my heart told me to do."
She is now expected to plunge back into active politics in Delhi, where Assembly elections may be held in the next few months if it is not possible to form a viable government within the present Assembly in which no party has a clear majoirty.
With this, eight of the Governors appointed by the previous government have resigned so far, while two were sacked.
Soon after the new government started nudging them, five Governors -- B L Joshi in Uttar Pradesh, M K Narayanan in West Bengal, Ashwani Kumar of Nagaland, Shekhar Dutt of Chhattisgarh and Bharat Vir Wanchoo of Goa, all of whom are former police officers -- resigned.
Mr Vakkom Purushothaman, a senior Congress leader from Kerala, who was shifted from Mizoram to Nagaland after then Gujarat Governor Kamala Beniwal was moved to Mizoram, resigned in protest against the manner in which he was transferred without consulting him.
Ms Beniwal, who had a few run-ins with then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is now the Prime Minister, was sacked on August 6. Earlier, on July 11, Mr Virendra Kataria had been removed as Lt Governor of Puducherry.
On Sunday, another senior Congress leader from Kerala, Mr K Sankaranarayanan, resigned after he was transferred as the Governor of Mizoram from Maharashtra.
The Governor of Uttarakhand, Mr Aziz Qureshi, has meanwhile filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging that he had received calls from the Union Home Secretary suggesting that he resign. He contended that only the President could remove him.

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Naidu lauds Travancore's Sree Chithira Thirunal for people-centric governance

People must be at the centre of governance and the leadership must have empathy and compassion, according to Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu.
Delivering the 24th Sree Chithira Thirunal Memorial Lecture in honour of Maharaja Sree Chithira Thirunal Balarama Verma of the erstwhile Travancore here yesterday, Mr Naidu said a democratic government has to be ever vigilant, ever watchful and ever open to new trends.
They need to be responsive to the changing needs and times if they have to stay relevant. An attitude of constant reform, transformative visionary leadership can make a difference, he added.
Kerala Governor Justice P. Sathasivam and Kerala’s Minister for Culture and Law A. K. Balan and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.
Referring to Sree Chithira Thirunal as an icon of good governance embodying the essence of ‘Indianness,” Mr. Naidu said he had shown the path that can propel India to greater development trajectory, to the heights of inclusive and sustainable development and well-being.
The ruler was a shining example of wise and progressive leadership that has made an immense contribution to India’s glorious history, he added.
Quoting Kautilya’s Arthashastra on the ideal qualities of a King, the Vice- President said his emphasis on justice and protection of the people are two essential qualities of a wise King such as Sree Chithira Thirunal.
“Social justice and inclusion were a part of the genesis of independent India and we couldn’t have had a really ‘free’ nation with a sizable ‘unfree’ population. This concern is reflected in the Preamble of our Constitution which aims to secure social, economic and political justice to all our citizens,” he added.
The memorial lecture is being held by the Sree Chithira Thirunal Smaraka Samithy on his birth anniversary every year since 1992.
“As the last ruling Maharaja of the Princely State of Travancore, Sree Chithira Thirunal is known for a number of progressive measures. One immediately recalls his famous path-breaking proclamation in 1936 allowing temple entry to Dalits. It is worth recalling that in the historical context of those times, this was a very bold step,” he added.
“In the socio-economic context of pre-independence India, removal of barriers to social integration of the Dalits was a big challenge.  There were Dalit movements demanding temple entry in different parts of India.  For example, Dalits forced their way into Jagannath Temple in Orissa and into the Chamundi temple in Rajasthan. Against this backdrop, Sree Chithira Thirunal’s proclamation to allow temple entry in 1936 is truly a remarkable leap into the future,” Mr Naidu said.
“It was a truly bold step that Sree Chithira Thirunal took. It was difficult to emulate but it set the tone for social reforms.  It is no accident that this State has been in the vanguard of social justice movements. This is the land of Saint Narayana Guru who preached and practised social equality. 
“This is the land of Mahakavi Kumaran Ashan, the great philosopher-poet and an ardent disciple of Narayana Guru. This is the land of Guruvayur and Vaikkom Satyagraha,” he added.
Sree Chithira Thirunal was a trailblazer in establishing sound systems of education and health.  While there were only 31,793 students in High Schools when Sree Chithira Thirunal became the Maharaja, there were 1,54,113 students at the end of his rule.
The farsighted Prince’s outstanding contribution to the high literacy rate of Kerala can be seen in the scheme of compulsory primary education for all children in the age group of five to eleven years which he launched on February 11, 1946.
He followed it up with a host of measures to universalize education – full fee concessions, mid-day meals, free clothes and hostel facilities.
While focusing on good quality primary schooling, he also established the University of Travancore and shaped it into a centre of excellence. He streamlined the higher education sector through the University Act in 1937.
He has many other ‘firsts’ to his credit.  He was a king who was ‘democratic’ in his actions. His devolution of powers to India’s first State Assembly and conducting elections based on universal suffrage are pioneering initiatives. So is his decision to abolish capital punishment which was the first such decision in entire Asia, Mr Naidu said.
“He was a deeply caring monarch whose heart was with the people. He cared for the farmers and set up a Land Mortgage Bank and appointed a Debt Relief Committee. He laid a solid foundation for industrial growth with around 20 industries during his reign.  He was a great institution builder.  Even after laying down the office, he continued to create institutions like the Sree Chithira Thirunal Institute for Medical Science and Technology,” he added.
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Football: Kerala confident of denting East Bengal's title hope

After humbling Mohun Bagan in Kolkata, debutants Gokulam Kerala FC are gearing up for another major humdinger in Hero I-League 2017-18 as they are slated to host Kingfisher East Bengal at the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode tomorrow afternoon.
Coming back from a major win, that too in an away fixture, coach Bino George said, “We have five matches left, we will try our best to do well.”
Meanwhile, it was the Kerala outfit's second win on the road while the first one came against Indian Arrows, the youngest side of the league.
Bino George lauded their newly recruited Bahrainian midfielder Alajmi for his humongous effort of late.
"Alajmi was a replacement to Francis Ambane and he made the right impact on the team," he said.
Meanwhile, Kingfisher East Bengal have got the better of league leaders Minerva Punjab FC in their last outing which opened up the title race wide open.
Bino George righty pointed that the Kolkata outfit will surely go out all guns blazing to garner a win tomorrow. On the other hand, Gokulam will also need to focus on nothing less than three points tomorrow.
“For East Bengal, winning this match is important for them, the same way it is more important for us also win this particular match.”
Khalid Jamil, on the other hand, sees this match as a 'very vital one' as their opponents are coming from a hard-earned win.
"This match is very vital one for us and they're playing very good football now. We have to be very cautious on the field and eventually, we need a win to stay alive in the title race."
Kingfisher East Bengal have defeated Minerva Punjab FC in their last outing, and, incidentally, this was the Punjab-outfit's first defeat at home this season.
Meanwhile, Khalid Jamil has his entire squad at his disposal and everyone is available for the selection. 
The gaffer, as usual, prefers to take one match at a time and he is only focusing on tomorrow's match now.
"We always prefer to take one match at a time and we won't deviate from our strategy tomorrow. We have to be strong and we need a positive result," Jamil confirmed.
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Blast on ONGC rig Sagar Bhushan occurred near AC plant, above ballast tank: preliminary assessment

A preliminary assessment of the blast that caused the death of five workers on Sagar Bhushan, a drill ship of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) while undergoing repairs at the Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) yesterday, has indicated that the accident was caused by a "momentary explosion of high impact" that occurred near the air-conditioning (AC) plant, which was situated above the ballast tank.
A press release from CSL said the Director, Factories and Boilers, had visited the scene of the mishap and recorded his observations today.
"The probable location of the explosion was identified based on the nature of the deflections on the bulkheads (steel walls) and the damage extant observed during the inspection," it said.
The release said the site of the accident had been cordoned off and is being investigated by the forensic department of the Police Department.
CSL clarified that the source of gas leakage and the reason for the explosion is yet to be confirmed and the same would be clarified only after the inquiry ordered by the company is completed.
"The accident is observed to have happened near the AC plant, when the area was being inspected by CSL Fire and Safety personnel prior to issuing work permit for starting of the work," it said.
Mr. Pon Radhakrishnan, Union Minister of State for Finance and Shipping, visited the scene of the accident today and also had an interaction with the CSL management, site team, employees, trade union leaders, the Fire and Safety team and the medical team.
Later, the Minister visited the injured workers at the Medical Trust Hospital here and also interacted with members of their families. 
CSL had declared a financial assistance of Rs. 10 lakh to the next-of-kin of the deceased in addition to other statutory benefits as applicable. It had disbursed Rs. 25,000 as immediate incidental expenses to the family of the deceased. It also said it would provide the best medical care to the injured and meet all their hospital and treatment expenses.
Mr. Radhakrishnan directed CSL to extend additional assistance to the affected, incuding an amount equivalent to two months wages to be disbursed immediately; employment as appropriate based on qualification to one immediate dependent family member of each deceased worker.
He said appropriate education assistance should be given for children of deceased up to completion of degree level education. In addition to the statutory compensation relief, the company should disburse wages to the injured till they return for work, the Minister added.
Meanwhile, the hospital authorities said Sreerup, 35, who suffered 45% burns as well as inhalational injuries, is presently on ventilator in the ICU and is being treated by a team of specialsits. "His condition continues to be critical and prognosis is guarded," they said.
Four other affected persons are undergoing treatment in hospital, they added.
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Five dead, seven injured in blast on ONGC's rig Sagar Bhushan at Cochin Shipyard

Five workers died and seven others suffered injuries in an explosion on board Sagar Bhushan, a drill ship of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), which was docked at the Cochin Shipyard here for repairs.
The injured were rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment, where the condition of one of them was stated to be critical.
Doctors at the Ernakulam Medical Trust Hospital told journalists that one of the injured had sufferd 45 percent chemical burns and was in a critical condition in the intensive care unit of the hospital. 
While he and two others were undergoing treatment at the hospital, four workers were discharged after receiving first aid, sources said.
The mishap occurred around 9.15 am while repairs were being carried out in the forward section of the ship, sources said.
A press release from Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) said a telephone call was received at CSL informing that there was a gas leakage near AC compartment area of the ship, which was undergoing repair in drydock No. 1.
"Immediate instruction was passed on to stop all the hot works. By this time, explosion had occurred in the forward area of ship, near to the AC plant. Immediately, fire tender rushed to the ship along with ambulance. Fireman onboard the ship immediately started firefighting and the fire tender joined with them for the fire fighting from the Aft area. Two firemen with BA (breathing apparatus) sets immediately rushed into the smoke filled area and started fire fighting and rescue operations. Others continued firefighting from the forward hatch and reached to the incident spot," the release said.
"All necessary assistance and actions are being taken and the entire senior leadership of the company is involved. Senior civil and police officials are on the ground and appropriate actions are being taken," it said.
The Chairman and Managing Director of Cochin Shipyard had personally visited the deceased in the hospital and had said that the family of deceased would be adequately compensated in line with the policy of the company. An immediate ex-gratia payment of Rs 10 lakh for the next-of-kin of the deceased has been promised by the company.
He also said all expenses for the treatment of the injured would be borne by the company as per the existing policies.
The ship had arrived at Cochin Shipyard on December 7, 2017 for drydock repairs. It was drydocked on January 12 and was to be undocked on February 28. The work completion was scheduled for April 7.
"The drillship was undergoing mandatory Special Survey (Hull & Machinery) repairs in Cochin Shipyard as per class requirement. The cause of the incident is being ascertained," a brief statement from ONGC said.
The five deceased men, all from Kerala, were identified as Unnikrishnan S, Senior fireman), from Tripunithara, Ernakulam; Gevin Reji (on contract), Safety Assistant, from  Pathanamthitta; Jayan K B from Mammanumukku, Kochi; Kannan M. V. from Eroor; and Ramshad M. M. Maalippuram, Ernakuluam -- all employed on external contract as general workers.
The three hospitalised persons were identified as Sreeroop P T,  Abhilash T and Jaison Varghese.
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Five dead in blast on board ONGC's drill ship Sagar Bhushan at Cochin Shipyard

At least five workers died and four others suffered injuries in a blast on board Sagar Bhushan, a drill ship of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), which was docked at the Cochin Shipyard here for repairs.
The injured were rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment, where the condition of one of them was stated to be critical.
Doctors at the Ernakulam Medical Trust Hospital told journalists that one of the injured had sufferd 45 percent chemical burns and was in a critical condition in the intensive care unit of the hospital.
Of the three others, one had problems with his eyes, while the other two had minor injuries and were under treatment.
The mishap occurred around 9.15 am while repairs were being carried out in the water ballast tank in the forward section of the ship, sources said.
Fire brigade and other emergency services personnel, police and ambulances rushed to the scene to carry out rescue operations, the sources said.
Kochi Police Commissioner M P Dinesh confirmed to journalists outside the shipyard that  five workers had died.
He said the number of workers affected by the explosion and fire was being ascertained. He said the fire had been doused and all the workers had been evacuated from the ship.
He said the cause of the blast could be established only after a proper enquiry.
Later, a brief press release from ONGC said the ship had been dry docking at Cochin Shipyard since December 7, 2017.
"The drillship was undergoing mandatory Special Survey (Hull & Machinery) repairs in Cochin Shipyard as per class requirement. The cause of the incident is being ascertained," it added.
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Integrated Automatic Aviation Meteorological Systems inaugurated at INS Garuda in Kochi

Rear Admiral R. J. Nadkarni, Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Southern Naval Command inaugurated the Integrated Automatic Aviation Meteorological System (IAAMS) at INS Garuda here today.
INS Garuda is the fourth air station to have been installed with this integrated system. IAAMS is an ambitious project of the Indian Navy to modernise the meteorological infrastructure of the nine Naval Air Stations. The IAAMS project at INS Garuda will give a major fillip to aviation safety through automation of weather monitoring process, an official press release said.
Equipped with state-of-the-art Meteorological Sensors, Radar Vertical Wind Profiler, Transmissometer, Ceilometer and Automatic Weather Observation System, IAAMS undertakes automatic and continuous recording of relevant weather parameters that are vital for accurate weather forecasting.  
It has a special alarm feature that alerts the duty staff about any abnormal change of weather parameters that may affect safe flying operations.  The system can also provide automatic dissemination of routine weather reports of the air station as per World Meteorological Organization (WMO) standards to other Air Stations and to ATC tower without human intervention, the release added.
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Foundation stones laid for Rs 3618 crore railway projects Kanniyakumari-Nagercoil-Thiruvananthapuram section

Minister of State of Railways Rajen Gohain laid the foundation stone for the Rs 3618 crore Doubling with Electrification projects covering 349 Km in Kanniyakumari-Nagercoil-Thiruvananthapuram section at Nagercoil near here, in Tamil Nadu, yesterday.
Besides laying the foundation stone for three infrastructural projects, Mr Gohain inaugurated the escalator facility, wi-fi services and 100% LED lighting facilities at Nagercoil Junction.
Union Minister of State for Finance and Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan, Minister for Information & Publicity, Tamil Nadu, Kadambur Raju and Member of Parliament A. Vijayakumar were present on the occasion.
Mr Gohain, in his address, stated that more customer-oriented facilities were being implemented. He lauded Southern Railways’ efforts to implement 100% LED at all stations and praised its initiatives to eliminate level crossings, thus ensuring the safety of rail users.
The outlay for railway projects in Tamil Nadu in this fiscal year was Rs 2287 crore, an increase of about 160% over the financial years from 2009-10 to 2016-17. The outlay for passenger amenities went up from Rs 33 crore in fiscal 2016-17 to Rs 38 crore in 2017-18, he said.
Mr Radhakrishnan expressed his happiness about the sanction accorded by Central Government for the Rs. 4000 crore rail development project.
Southern Railway General Manager R K Kulshrestha, Divisional Railway Manager (DRM), Trivandrum, Prakash Bhutani, DRM, Madurai, Ms Neenu Ittyerah, Principal Heads of Departments, officers and staff of Southern Railway participated in the function.
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Malayalam actor and director Sreenivasan hospitalised in Kochi

Well-known Malayalam actor and director Sreenivasan was hospitalized here late on Tuesday night.
The 61-year-old actor was admitted to the Aster Medcity here, where doctors treating him said he was in a stable condition. Hospital sources told NetIndian over the telephone that he would be shifted to a private room from the intensive care unit (ICU) in a couple of days.
Sreenivasan's son and actor Vineeth Srinivasan said on his Facebook page that his father had been taken to hospital due to variations in his blood sugar level.
"The doctor has recommended staying in the hospital tonight and discharging him tomorrow. I request everyone not to spread baseless news. Thanks everyone,” Vineeth said in his post.
Sreenivasan is also an acclaimed scriptwriter in Malayalam cinema and has also produced movies.
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International Dam Safety Conference to be held in Thiruvananthapuram on January 23-24

India will be hosting the International Dam Safety Conference - 2018 here on January 23-24.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan will inaugurate the conference and Mr Arjun Ram Meghwal, Union Minister of State for of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation will preside over the inaugural function.
The Central Water Commission is organizing the event in association with Kerala Water Resources Department (KWRD), Kerala State Electricity Board, National Institute of Technology Calicut and College of Engineering, Trivandrum.
Dam safety conferences are organized as an annual event under the Dam Safety Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP) being run by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation in the seven states of Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Uttarakhand.
Launched in 2012 with a financial outlay of Rs 2100 crore, the World Bank aided project aims at the rehabilitation of old dams in the country that may be experiencing distress and are in need of attention for ensuring their structural safety and operational efficiency.
The project also aims to strengthen the institutional capacity and project management in this area. As part of this exercise, DRIP has been engaged in bringing greater awareness on dam safety issues and finding novel solutions to address them by pooling the best technologies, knowledge and experience available around the world.
In this direction, Dam Safety Conferences are being organized as annual events in the different DRIP states. Dam professionals, academicians, scientists, as well as industries assemble to deliberate on the problems associated with the dam safety and share the concepts, techniques, instruments and materials available to address the design and construction of new dams, and also for monitoring, surveillance, operation, maintenance, rehabilitation along with disaster mitigation measures for existing dams.
The conference will see the participation of 550 delegates from over 20 countries.  Some of the international experts include Dr Anton J Schleiss, President of the International Commission on Large Dam EPFL Switzerland, Dr Nicholos Schofield, Chief Executive of Australian Water Partnership and  Mr Satoru Ueda, Lead Dam Specialist of the World Bank.
Dr Martin Wieland, global seismic expert from Switzerland, Dr Ignacio Escuder Bueno, President of Spanish Commission on Large Dams, Technical University of Valencia, Spain, Dr Desmond Harfort, leading dam safety expert, BC Hydro Canada, Mr Angus Swindon, National Director, Entura, Hydro Tasmania, Australia will also attend the conference.
More than 140 technical papers will be presented on several aspects of dam safety including case studies. About 30 national and international organizations are showcasing contemporary developments in technology, materials, instrumentation and their application in addressing dam safety issues during the exhibition being organized during the conference.
The themes for various sessions include Sustainable Dam Safety Initiatives; Uncertainties and Risk Management in Dams; Operation, Maintenance, Rehabilitation, and Upgrading of existing dams; Dam Safety Management Practices; and Integrated Flood Management for existing dams.
Seven dam safety guidelines and manuals developed under DRIP will also be released for implementation during the conference.
A software programme - Dam Health and Rehabilitation Monitoring Application (DHARMA) will also be launched during the conference. It is a web tool to digitize all dam-related data effectively. It will help to document authentic asset and health information pertaining to the large dams in the country, enabling appropriate actions to ensure need-based rehabilitation. It is a new stride in asset management aspect by India.
The key recommendations emerging from the deliberations of the conference will be circulated to stakeholders as well as policymakers for implementation. Select technical papers received for the conference will be published as a compendium to provide a permanent reference in the libraries of the State Agencies responsible for design, construction, operation and maintenance of dams.
For wider dissemination, the compendium will also be available on the DRIP website:
Dams have played a key role in fostering rapid and sustained agricultural and rural growth and development, which have been key priorities for the Government of India since independence.
Over the last 70 years, India has invested substantially in the critical infrastructure required to manage and store the limited surface water resources in reservoirs to ensure food, energy, and water securities.
Globally, India ranks third after China and the United States of America in terms of a number of large dams (5254 large dams in operation and 447 large dams under construction) with a total storage capacity of about 283 billion cubic meters.
About 80% of these large dams are more than twenty-five years old, and about 213 dams exceed the age of 100 years and were built in an era whose design practices and safety considerations do not match with the current design standards and the prevailing safety norms. This necessitates special efforts at rehabilitation of old dams and ensuring their long-term structural safety.
In the year 2017, the project was extended by two years, until June 2020, to finish all the programmed rehabilitation works on 223 dams with a proposed revised cost of Rs 3466 crore.
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Malayalam actress Bhavana gets married to Kannada film producer Naveen

Malayalam film actress Bhavana and Kannada film producer Naveen at their wedding in Thrissur, on January 22, 2018.Photo:Bhavana's Facebook page.
Malayalam film actress Bhavana and Kannada film producer Naveen at their wedding in Thrissur, on January 22, 2018.Photo:Bhavana's Facebook page.
Popular Malayalam actress Bhavana got married to Kannada film producer Naveen at the Thiruvambady Temple in Thrissur near here this morning in the presence of close relatives and friends.
The couple later met people close to them at a get-together at the Jawaharlal Convention Centre in Thrissur and were slated to host a reception at the Lulu Convention Centre in that city this evening, sources said.
Bhavana and Naveen had got engaged in March 2017 after courting each other for about four years.
Born on June 6, 1986, as Karthika Menon, Bhavana, which is her screen name, has also acted in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu films. She made her debut in the Malayalam film Nammal in 2002 for which she got a Special Mention at the Kerala State Film Awards that year. She has appeared in more than 75 films and has won two Kerala State Film Awards.
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Chief of Royal Australian Navy visits Indian Naval Academy

Vice-Admiral Timothy W Barrett, Chief of Royal Australian Navy (RAN), along with RAN delegates, visited the Indian Naval Academy (INA) at Ezhimala, near here in Kerala, today.
During the visit, Vice-Admiral Barrett and the delegates were acquainted with infrastructure, academic facilities and training processes at INA.
The aim of the visit was to build bridges of friendship between the two navies, exchange best practices and to consolidate and enhance bilateral defence relations between India and Australia, an official press release said.
Naval cooperation between India and Australia has been traditionally strong, encompassing a wide span which includes operational interactions, training visits, port calls, participation in competitive annual sailing regatta Admirals Cup at INA along with capacity building and capability augmentation initiatives.
The visit follows the successful conclusion of the second edition of biennial Australia-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (AUSINDEX) conducted off the west coast of Australia in the Western Australia Exercise Areas (WAXA) from June 13-19, 2017.
Indian Naval Ships Jyoti, Shivalik and Kamorta participated in the exercise. The AUSINDEX was followed by the visit of Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ship, HMAS Newcastle to Kochi, Kerala from July 4-7, 2017.
In the recently concluded eighth edition of ‘Admirals Cup’ Sailing Regatta held at Indian Naval Academy, Team Australia represented by Sub Lieutenant Alix Peruzzis and Midshipman Bryson Carew, led by Lieutenant Duncan McCowan, came third in the overall team position.
The naval cooperation between the two countries is in pursuance of India’s Act East policy to promote bilateral relations, enhance interoperability and is reflective of the growing level of cooperation between both Navies, the release said.
The Chief of Royal Australian Navy, during his visit, called on Vice-Admiral S V Bhokare, Commandant, INA who is an alumnus of the Australian Defence College, Canberra.
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IndiGo announces new flights on Ahmedabad-Kochi sector

Low-cost carrier IndiGo today said it would launch new flights on the Ahmedabad-Kochi sector with effect from March 12.
A press release from the airline said it would also introduce additional flights on the Kochi-Hyderabad and Hyderabad-Ahmedabad sectors from that date, underscoring the tourism potential of Tier-II markets.
"Commencing on March 12, 2018, these new services will further consolidate IndiGo’s position as the fastest growing airline in India, with over 1000 daily flights connecting 48 destinations," it said.
IndiGo had recently announced its ATR operations and inaugural flights from Tirupati and Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh.
In March 2018, the carrier will also commence Vijayawada operations to Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, the airline said.
Mr. Sanjay Kumar, Chief Commercial Officer, IndiGo said, “We are delighted to introduce new connections between Kochi, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. IndiGo has established itself as the fastest growing carrier with its extensive domestic network and we are hopeful that the introduction of the new service will further cement our place in the Indian skies.”
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Reluctance to use technology a challenge to disaster management: UNEP expert

The impact of recent cyclone Ockhi that claimed several lives and caused widespread damage to properties in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Lakshadweep Islands could have been minimised by using non-profitable technologies as instruments for disaster management, an expert of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said here today.
“There is a reluctance to use technologies which is a great challenge to mitigation of disaster management,” said Mr. Muralee Thummarukudy, chief of Disaster Risk Reduction in UNEP.  
Speaking at the Startup Charcha organised by Maker Village at Kerala Technology Information Zone, Kinfra Hi-Tech Park, he pointed out that technologies which give more profit become popular in the market soon. He also recalled that during the late 1990s when mobile phones became more popular, it was the fishermen from Kerala who made use of the technology in a productive manner.
"The fishermen were able to know the price of the fish at each market and they would sell it at the place which gave them the maximum price. A study was also conducted at the international level to find out how the technology was used by the fishermen in Kerala to increase their profit,” he said.
When some young entrepreneurs pointed out that there are  technologies of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) available for Rs. 2,000 for fishing boats, he stated that the people are not seriously considering to leverage technologies to mitigate disaster. “We are still not able to find out how many fishermen were at sea when Ockhi struck," he said.
"Electronics is changing drastically with humans being replaced by computers and robots. Studies have pointed out that there will be 47 per cent employment loss by 2040, but this also brings hope for the startup companies to come up with new technologies,” Mr. Thummarukudy said.
The future for startups is in health care, entertainment and mobility as the population of those retired from service will increase in India, he said, adding: “Startups should come up with good ideas which can change the society and keeping a track of future requirements.”
During the visit, Mr. Thummarukudy also had a detailed interactive session with selected start-ups of Maker Village.
Film producer and actor Prakash Bare and Maker Village CEO Prasad Balakrishnan Nair also spoke on the occasion.
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NCB seizes nearly 5 kg cocaine worth Rs. 10 crore at Cochin Airport

The Narcotics Control Bureau’s (NCB) Kochi Unit seized 4.8 kg cocaine at Cochin International Airport here yesterday.
Based on specific inputs, NCB apprehended Ms Jhonna, a Filipina, aged 36 years  when she was travelling from Addis Ababa to Kochi via Muscat. The cocaine was found hidden in a wrapped trolley bag carried by her. 
This was the biggest cocaine seizure by the NCB so far in Kerala, an official press release said.
Earlier, Kochi Unit of NCB had arrested a Venezuelan national with 1.013 kg cocaine last month and a Paraguayan national was arrested with 3.5 kg Cocaine in November, 2017. Both drug traffickers were intercepted by NCB officers when they landed at Cochin International Airport.
The estimated value of the cocaine seized yesterday is nearly Rs 10 crore in the current international market, the release said.
During the last six months, NCB has seized 42.815 kg of cocaine in 16 cases and arrested 22 persons, including 21 foreign nationals, the release added.
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India’s spices exports rise 24% during April-Sept 2017

Buoyed by surging demand in international markets, India exported 5,57,525 tonnes of spices and spice products valued at Rs. 8,850.53 crore  during April-September 2017 as against 4,50,700 tonnes worth Rs. 8700.15 crores during the corresponding period a year earlier, registering an increase of 24% in volume and 2% in rupee terms.
In dollar terms, India’s exports of spices and spice products during the first half of the current fiscal were pegged at $1.374 billion as against $ 1.300 billion during the same period in 2016, notching an increase of 6%, a press release from Spices Board said here today.
 Spices Board Chairman A. Jayathilak said chilli, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, garlic and mint products have been amongst the most demanded Indian spices, meeting the increasing demand for quality spices in global markets. “Moreover, the Board’s efforts to promote these spices have resulted in an appreciable increase in their exports,” he added.
“What is satisfying is that India’s exports of spices and spice products have been consistently moving up in the face of volatility in international markets and stringent food safety regulations imposed by countries across the globe,” he said.
The release said chilli retained its position as the most demanded spice with exports of 235,000 tonnes amounting to Rs 2,125.90 crore in value, as against 165,022 tonnes in the previous fiscal, registering an increase of 42% in volume.
Chilli was followed by cumin with a total volume of 79,460 tonnes worth Rs. 1,324.58 crore as against 68,596 tonnes valued at Rs. 1,104.32 crore during the corresponding period last year, registering an increase of 16% in volume and 20% in value.
Next in line was turmeric with an export volume of 59,000 tonnes having a value of Rs. 547.63 crore. 
However, the export of mint products, though 11,280 tonnes in volume, was worth Rs. 1317.40 crore in value as against 10,850 tonnes and Rs. 1157.45 crore, respectively during the corresponding period of the previous fiscal, registering an increase of 4% in volume and 14% in value.
The export of small cardamom, cumin, garlic, asafetida, tamarind and seeds like ajwain, mustard, dill and poppy registered an increase both in volume and value as compared to April-September 2016. The export of value-added products like curry powder, mint products and spice oils and oleoresins also increased in volume and value during the period.
The export of large cardamom, chilli, ginger, fennel and coriander also showed an increase in terms of volume.
During April-September 2017, a total volume of 2,230 tonnes of small cardamom, valued at Rs. 248.71crore, was exported as against 1,624 tonnes worth Rs. 138.96 crore during this period last year, registering an increase of 37% in volume and 79% in value.
During April–Sept 2017, a total volume of 27,040 tonnes of garlic was exported, fetching Rs.188.54 crore as against 15,337 tonnes valued at Rs.127.62 crores last year, registering an increase of 76% in volume and 48% in value.
In the case of value-added products, the export of curry powder/paste was 17,030 tonnes worth Rs. 348.88 crore as against 14,016 tonnes (Rs. 278.40 crores) last year, registering an increase of 22% in volume and 25% in value.
During the period, a total volume of 8,800 tonnes of spice oils and oleoresins valued at Rs. 1332.22 crore was shipped as against 6,617 tonnes worth Rs. 1237.06 crore last year -- an increase of 33% in volume and 8% in value.
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Modi to address 85th Sivagiri Pilgrimage celebrations in Kerala via video conference on Sunday

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will deliver the inaugural address, via video conference, for the 85th Sivagiri Pilgrimage Celebrations, at Sivagiri Mutt, Varkala, Kerala. 
Sivagiri is the holy abode of one of the great saints and social reformers of India, Sree Narayan Guru.
An official press release said that, on January 1, Mr. Modi would address, via video conference, the curtain raiser ceremony of the commemoration of Prof. S.N. Bose’s 125th birth anniversary, at Kolkata. 
Prof. Satyendra Nath Bose was an Indian physicist, best known for his work on quantum mechanics, providing the foundation for Bose–Einstein statistics. The class of particles that obey Bose–Einstein statistics, has been named Bosons, after Prof. Bose.
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Veraz wins blockchain hackathon at Maker Village

A blockchain-based solution allowing direct engagement between employers and their employees has won the top prize at a first-of-its-kind hackathon in India to address the challenges faced by migrant labourers.
Team 'Veraz', a technology company, represented by Nikhil V Chandran and Anoop V S, won the first prize at the maiden "BlockathonForChange', hosted by Maker Village. The team received a cash prize of Rs 1,00,000, and has been given an opportunity to incubate their venture at the Kerala Startup Mission.
Infillcube bagged second prize and received a cash award of Rs 50,000. Iridescent won Rs 25,000 as the third prize. A six-member expert panel made the final evaluations and selected the winners.
P Vijayan, IG, Ernakulam range inaugurated the valedictory function and distributed prizes to the winners. Alexis Wolff, Information Officer at the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai, D Dhanuraj, Chairman, CPPR and Prasad Balakrishnan Nair, CEO, Maker Village spoke.
The hackathon was organised in partnership with the US Consulate General, Chennai; Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) and Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM).
The two-day hackathon saw inventors, software developers, programmers, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs and start-ups from various parts of the country present their solutions to the issues of migrant labourers.
The hackathon was organised as the migrant labourers are often a disadvantaged and vulnerable group because of social, economic and cultural issues associated with migration. The hackathon was aimed at finding solutions to the challenges of migration of labourers which warrants immediate attention both at the ground level and the policy level.
Twenty teams were selected from the applications received. All solutions developed during the hackathon remain the intellectual property of the developers, who are free to build on these.

Blockchain technology to be tapped to address issues of migrant labourers

In a first-of-its-kind hackathon in India, developers will use Blockchain technology to try and find solutions to the many challenges faced by migrant labourers across the country.
Maker Village Kochi will host the "BlockthonForChange", organised in partnership with the US Consulate General, Chennai, Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) and Kerala Startup Mission (KSUM), on December 21 and 22.
Around 40 inventors, software developers, programmers, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs and start-ups from various parts of the country are participating in the hackathon, a press release from Maker Village said.
Migrant labourers are often a disadvantaged and vulnerable group because of social, economic and cultural issues associated with migration. In India, massive interstate migration of labourers warrants immediate attention both at the ground level and the policy level, said Prasad Balakrishnan Nair, CEO, Maker Village.
"We have selected 20 teams from the applications received. These teams will be making a presentation on their projects at the 'BlockathonForChange'. We are giving them awareness programmes to help them develop comprehensive solutions to mitigate the problems related to migrant labour,” he said.
The participants will compete for cash prizes worth Rs 1,75,000. All solutions developed during the hackathon will remain the intellectual property of the developers, who will be free to build on these after the hackathon.
Ernakulam district collector K. Mohammed Y. Safirulla will inaugurate the function   on December 21. IBM representative Dr Dileep Krishnaswami will deliver the keynote address. Alexis Wolff, Information Officer, US Consulate Chennai, Dr Martin Patrik, Chief Economist, CPPR and Rajesh Nair, Executive Director, Markets, Ernst & Young are among the others slated to address the participants.
P Vijayan, Inspector General of Police, Ernakulam Range, will be the chief guest at the valedictory function on December 22. 
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