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Thiruvananthapuram

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.
 
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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.
 
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Now Kerala is bringing literacy to tribals, migrant labourers

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It has been billed as a state with 100 per cent literacy. But people here know they had an unfinished task. Having actually reached an overall literacy rate of 93.94 per cent, Kerala has now embarked on a programme to bridge the small gap in its achievements by training illiterates among tribals, scheduled castes, transgenders and the migrant labour communities.
 
Stock-taking of the activities in the past two years of the Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority (KSLMA) revealed that 11,000 students -- mostly from Wayanad and Palakkad districts -- are at various levels of equivalency exams among the tribal community. There are also 5,300 migrant labourers, 2,000 from the scheduled castes and 145 transgenders whose literacy levels are now being raised.
 
"The main reasons for the programme to have got a good response was because the trainers (teachers) are drawn from these communities themselves, leading students to immediately correlate with them --the oldest of whom is a 90-year tribal woman in Wayanad," Director of KSLMA, P.S.Sreekala, told IANS.
 
"We have 601 tribal teachers who are supporting us, besides retired teachers and colleges students. We have set out a timetable of 100 hours of classes where the basics of maths and Malayalam are taught to these illiterates and neo-literates. Our aim is to enable them to integrate themselves into the society, wherein they need not feel any sort of complex that they do not know to read or write," said Sreekala.
 
While the fee for the 100-hour classes till the equivalent 7th is free, students have to pay Rs 1,950 to Rs 2,250 from Class X and above. For SC/ST students it is fully free. With the scheme picking up, the respective local bodies are supporting the students by paying their fees.
 
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Twenty-six-year-old Sunitha, who hails from a tribal settlement at Peringottukunnu in Wayanad district, told IANS that she had just written the 4th equivalency test.
 
"Our son in the new academic year will be in Class 1 and I am happy that I can teach him to the best of my ability, from what I learned. Before I went for my classes I could not read, but now I am able to slowly read even a newspaper. I now want to attend classes for the next level. I wish to do it because then I will be able to at least guide our son," Sunitha said.
 
The KSLMA has been supported by successive state governments and for the current fiscal has been allocated Rs 17 crore, up from Rs 15.50 crore in the previous fiscal. Of this, Rs 12 crore has been set aside for the literacy programme.
 
Speaking to IANS, P.N. Babu, the coordinator of the programme in Wayanad, said that it was a huge experience not just for students but also for the educators.
 
"There are around 2,975 tribal colonies here and we have touched 300 colonies where we got the students to attend the basic course in literacy. We held classes once a week and everyone who attended has carried the message back to their colonies. Hence, not only are we going to get more students from these colonies but are also starting classes in another 200 colonies," Babu added.
 
The state is well on its way to be truly called a literate one.
 
IANS
 
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Kerala seeing advanced demographic transition: Report

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Kerala is currently experiencing an advanced demographic transition as the mortality and fertility levels have come down and so migration plays a critical role in shaping the future demographic scenario, said a report released here on Monday.
 
The report, titled 'Impact of mortality and fertility transitions in Kerala on migration and its implications for state's economy', was put together by a team led by noted demographer S. Irudaya Rajan of the Centre for Development Studies here.
 
"Kerala was the first Indian state to achieve Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) below 25, in 1989, while the state further reduced the IMR to 10 in 2016. But with an IMR of 34 in 2016, India has a long way to catch up with Kerala," said Rajan.
 
The study showed that significant strides were also made by Kerala in improving life expectancy at birth.
 
During 1951-60, the male and female life expectancies at birth for Kerala were 44.2 years and 48.1 years, which advanced to 72.2 years and 78.2 years, respectively, during 2011-15.
 
"With the significant fall in levels of mortality, the fertility levels have also come down considerably. Kerala was the first Indian state to achieve below replacement level fertility in 1987, while India is yet to achieve this demographic milestone even during 2015-16 while Kerala's Total Fertility Rate (TFR) has further dipped to 1.6," said Rajan.
 
The combined effect of the reduction in mortality and fertility rates in the state has been a decline in the natural growth rate of the population.
 
However, the population of Kerala has doubled from 16.9 million in 1961 to 33.4 million in 2011.
 
In the past six decades since the formation of the state, age-specific growth rates too have significantly declined in line with the overall population growth rates, with an exception of population of 60 years and above.
 
The study pointed out that negative growth rates were observed in the case of young population (0-14 years) during the past three decades.
 
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Rajan said the mortality and fertility changes accompanied by a host of social determinants facilitated this inward and outward migration.
 
International migration from Kerala was initially directed towards a few South Asian countries.
 
By 1960, Keralites found a place in the British colonies such as Malaysia and Singapore, countries in the African region and had also moved to developed countries in North America and Western Europe.
 
The oil boom in the Middle East triggered heavy migration from Kerala to countries in this region. The number of international migrants peaked during 2013 with 2.4 million migrants from Kerala living outside the country and then declined to 2.2 million in 2016.
 
During 1961-81, most of the migrants from Kerala moved within India as there was a significant outflow of persons from Kerala to Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi and other places.
 
"As a consequence, there will be a further decline in the international migration from Kerala to the traditional destinations. The ageing of the population and decline in the number of people in the migration-prone age groups are also likely to accentuate this downward trend.
 
"The rate of growth of Kerala's native population will start declining within a decade or so. The fertility and mortality indicators of the native population have already reached near saturation levels. Migration is the only component that can significantly alter the emerging population scenario in Kerala," said Rajan.
 
IANS
 
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Adoor Gopalakrishnan says boycotting of National Awards 'understandable'

Veteran filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan says the sentiments of those who boycotted the National Film Awards ceremony as a mark of resentment that the President wasn't handing over a chunk of the honours, are natural and understandable.

Gopalakrishnan, who in his glittering career extending close to five decades, has won 16 National Awards, said here on Monday: "The feelings that they expressed are only natural and are understandable."

"If the President is able to be present for one hour only, then the programme could be held over two days. Everyone would certainly wish to receive the award from the President," added the 76-year-old, who is a Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan awardee.

Last week, President Ram Nath Kovind gave away the awards to just 11 winners, while the rest of those who attended the event received the honour from Minister of Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani.

From among the fairly big contingent of award winners from the Malayalam film industry, veteran playback singer K.J. Yesudas and director Jayaraj, after expressing their displeasure against this decision, went and collected their award.

IANS

Two held for rape-murder of Latvian woman in Kerala

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Two men were on Thursday arrested on charges of raping and murdering a Latvian tourist who went missing from Kovalam last month, Kerala Police chief Loknath Behra said.
 
Accused Umesh and Udayan are relatives and were working as unregistered tourist guides, the Director General of Police (DGP) told the media. 
 
Behra cautioned the media against reporting the woman's name since she was a rape victim.
 
"This is an unfortunately brutal crime and should not happen to any person. An innocent woman, for no fault of hers, lost her life... the police investigation team will be rewarded for their good work," Behra said.
 
Inspector General of Police Manoj Abraham, who led the probe team, said that the accused will be presented in a court here on Friday for remand.
 
"The woman was lured away by the accused and supplied with narcotics. She was later sexually assaulted and attacked when she resisted. The probe will continue as we want to find out if there are more people involved in the crime," said Abraham.
 
A day earlier, the Latvian's sister told the media here that the funeral of the 33-year-old deceased will be performed at the public crematorium here on Thursday and ashes taken to her home country.
 
She had also met Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at his office.
 
The victim, her partner Andrew and Ilzie had arrived in Kerala for ayurvedic treatment at a facility on Thiruvananthapuram's outskirts when she went missing on March 14. 
 
The victim was last seen hiring an auto-rickshaw to Kovalam. She was not carrying her passport or mobile phone with her when she went missing. On April 20, her highly decomposed body was found in a marshy area near the famed Kovalam tourist destination. An autopsy pointed to strangulation.
 
Once murder was confirmed, police questioned several area residents and had taken four of them in custody. 
 
State Bharatiya Janata Party President Kummanem Rajasekheran demanded that the body be buried and not cremated just in case another post-mortem was required. 
 
IANS
 
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Rajnath attends 100th birthday celebrations of Bishop Chrysostom

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Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh yesterday said religion is a personal choice and should always remain free from any coercion or allurement.
 
Speaking at a civic reception to honour Bishop Philipose Mar Chrysostom, the emeritus Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, on completion of 100 years of age, Mr. Singh said Prime Minister Narendra Modi runs a government at the Centre which firmly believes in taking every section of society along and building a New India. 
 
The goal is development with unity and the dream of making the nation great again could be realised only when the people of India stand united, he said.
 
The Home Minister said that India has been united not because one religion or some theological thought held the political power or exercised control over the system. 
 
"This great nation is united because it provides space to peaceful coexistence of multiple thoughts and theologies. The problems faced by this country had always been addressed through a unique interplay of ideas and the biggest living proof of this interplay of ideas is our Constitution," he said.
 
Mr. Singh said that the ‘Sarva Dharma Sambhav’ should be maintained in the country and continue cementing the pillars of united India. He said unity is the country's strength and everyone must work to strengthen the bonds of unity, amity and harmony in society.
 
"This should be our resolve today when we are celebrating the birth centenary of Mar Chrysostom," he said.
 
The Union Home Minister said the life and work of Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan is an inspiration not only to the people of Kerala or to the 
 
"Christian community, but to the entire nation. His life is a shining example of how God can be worshipped through selfless service for the society and the humanity. Mar Chrysostom has endeared himself to all sections of Kerala society through his inspiring words and works. The basic quality of Mar Chrysostom Metropolitan is his attitude of universal goodwill and his concern for the development and wellbeing of the entire community of citizens, transcending any narrow sectarian consideration. Considering his valuable contributions to Indian society for well over six decades, the Government of India has conferred Mar Chrysostom by awarding the ‘Padma Bhushan’ this year. By felicitating him with ‘Padma Bhushan’, the Government has not only shown respect towards him but also recognised his tremendous contribution," he said.
 
While remaining true to his own faith, Mar Chrysostom has been able to raise himself above all sectarian considerations and divisions. He has motivated all sections of society to love each other for the common good, he said.
 
Mr. Singh pointed out that Mar Chrysostom is a man of prayer and he also works as a social reformer. His contribution towards the empowerment of weaker sections of society is also noteworthy. He has dedicated his life to God through service of fellow human beings.
 
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan presided over the function. Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Prof. P.J. Kurien, Kerala Minister for Tourism and Co-operation Kadakampally Surendran, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, Lok Sabha Members Shashi Tharoor and V. Muraleedharan (MP), Mayor V.K. Prashanth and a host of other dignitaries were present on the occasion.
 
Mar Chrysostom, 101, is the longest-serving Bishop in Christendom, having been consecrated as Episcopa on May 23, 1953. He was designated as Suffragan Metropolitan in May 1978.
 
After Alexander Mar Thoma stepped aside as Metropolitan in March 1999 due to ill-health, he was designated as Officiating Metropolitan. he was installed as Metropolitan on October 23, 1999 when Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan was made Valiya Metropolitan (Senior Metropolitan).
 
Bishop Chrysostom has served as the president of the National Council of Churches and attended the World Council of Churches at Evanston in 1954 and Uppsala in 1968. He also attended the Second Vatican Council.
 
He resigned as the head of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church due to ill-health on August 28, 2007. 
 
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Strangulation caused death of Latvian tourist: Autopsy report

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The autopsy report of the Latvian woman, whose decomposed body was found last week after she went missing from Kovalam in Kerala last month, suggests that she was strangulated to death, informed sources said on Saturday.
 
The Kerala Police investigation team, who were handed over the report earlier in the day, said the autopsy reiterated the police findings that she had been strangulated to death.
 
It was on Friday that the Kerala Police for the first time said that according to their findings, manual strangulation was the cause of death. They have also recovered a noose made of vines, which is now a crucial evidence for them.
 
Earlier, DNA test of the highly decomposed body had confirmed that it was of 33-year-old Liga Skromene. The body was also identified by her sister Ilzie and her live-in partner Andrew.
 
The police, according to informed sources, have taken into custody five men from the Kovalam area who are believed to have befriended Liga. With the scientific report also available with the police, they expect to crack the case in a day or two.
 
In a related development, the police have begun a probe against Ashwathy Jwala, a known social activist who was all along with Ilzie and Andrew when the two were running from pillar to post to get help from the state authorities.
 
Jwala was trying to help the two meet Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but despite several attempts he failed to manage an appointment. Also, after their first meeting with state police chief Loknath Behera, he expressed dissatisfaction over the way they were treated.
 
As Jwala went public with his comments, state Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran slammed him for spreading "half truths" to the media.
 
According to a complaint made to the state police chief, Jwala collected funds in the name of Liga.
 
However, Jwala denied the charges, and said he was ready to face any kind of probe.
 
"I have been into public work for the past five years and this is first instance of a complaint against me. I will deal with this legally. But I am definitely pained over the baseless allegations...," said Jwala.
 
Ilzie also defended Jwala, saying the charges were false.
 
Liga, her partner Andrew and her sister Ilzie came to Kerala for ayurvedic treatment at a facility on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram.
 
She went missing on March 14 and was last reported to have taken an auto-rickshaw to Kovalam. She was not carrying her passport or mobile phone with her.
 
IANS
 
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Infosys donates Rs 2.50 crore to Kerala hospital

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Tech major Infosys has donated Rs 2.50 crore to the Neurosurgery Department of the state-run Medical College hospital, here.
 
The money was used to install a brand new neurosurgery dedicated operating microscope, replacing a two-decade-old one.
 
Speaking to IANS, P. Anil, Head of Department Neurosurgery, said that Infosys answered to a request he had made in 2017.
 
"I took a chance and I wrote to Infosys if they can come to our help. It was a year back. Soon they responded and after they undertook a brief study of our activities, they decided to help us," he added. 
 
"In between there were some issues with regards to GST but finally the equipment has been installed. We have already put it to use in the first case, a few days back," said Anil.
 
Anil said the new device has come as a huge boon to the patients who mostly come from poor background.
 
The Thiruvananthapuram Medical College hospital has the most crowded casualty department with accident cases coming for expert and quick treatment.
 
Speaking to IANS, Sunil Jose, a top official attached to the Infosys unit here, said their company always has set aside money as part of the corporate social responsibility programme.
 
"Our studies found out that the department provides yeomen services to accident victims and most of the patients came from the low and middle income category.
 
"In this microscope project, we started working on it as soon as we got the proposal from the Neurosurgery Department. We felt that they are doing a good job and sanctioned it," said Jose.
 
Incidentally this is not the first time that Infosys have helped the hospital. They had built a sky walk connecting the major building after finding out that patients were being moved in stretchers through the road. 
 
IANS
 
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Kerala's KASE aims to boost blue-collar job acceptability

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Many in Kerala look down upon blue-collar jobs even though thousands of Keralites do such jobs abroad and elsewhere in India. To get rid of this perception is the primary objective of state-owned Kerala Academy for Skills Excellence (KASE), said a top official.
 
Blue-collar jobs primarily include electricians, plumbers, carpenters, traditional craftsmen, refrigeration and air-conditioning mechanics, those involved in wall and floor tiling, bakery and restaurant services, florists and others.
 
Aiming to skill the young workforce of Kerala, as also elevate their skills to global standards, KASE promotes, establishes, sets up, monitors, governs and regulates institutions and academies.
 
Talking to IANS, KASE Director Sriram Venkitaraman, a young doctor-turned-bureaucrat, pointed out "the day the perception towards blue-collar jobs in our state changes, Kerala will have no reason to look back".
 
"If one goes to the Middle East, we can see Keralites happily working at such jobs; but that's not the case here.
 
"Our aim is to see that we change this perception and for that we have already started equipping all such people with additional skills. If things go as planned, all such workers will soon be making a beeline not just to Middle East but to other parts of the world as we have a huge population of the youth seeking jobs," said Venkitaraman.
 
He said they have started to tap into the industrial training institutes -- 91 in the government sector and 450 in the private sector -- where more than 60,000 youth who have completed school education join annually.
 
"We had been to Singapore, which currently is the world leader in training students in these trades.
 
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"We will soon enter into an agreement with the Singapore government which will be our knowledge partner to turn our ITIs (Industrial Training Institutes) into state-of-the-art institutes. For this, the state government has worked out a budget of Rs 800 crore, of which, in the first phase, Rs 228 crore would be allocated," he said.
 
Venkitaraman, who has travelled all over the world, pointed out that in the West, blue-collars workers are respected and this attitude is what he plans to bring to India.
 
As part of its strategy, KASE has, in the past few months, been conducting zonal and district-level competitions aimed at identifying and training the youth to participate and win medals at the World Skills Competition that is scheduled to be held in the city of Kazan in south-western Russian in 2019.
 
"We ran a competition where we had just one condition -- that all participants should be younger than 21. A total of 7,500 participants competed to showcase their vocational skills in 20 trades -- 120 of whom have been selected for the state finals to be held at Kochi over three days from April 28.
 
"Of these, 40 will be selected to represent their state at the national level after which the final selection for Russia would be made," said Venkitaraman.
 
He said taking part in the state-level finals are electricians, plumbers, carpenters and traditional craftsmen, and the three-day event will be a held on a "massive scale" and will also be open to the public.
 
"Basically, we want to showcase this event as we feel this could be one way to change the perception that prevails here," he said.
 
IANS
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Foul play unlikely in Latvian tourist's death: Kerala Police

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The Kerala Police said on Sunday night that a preliminary inquiry into the death of a Latvian woman tourist -- whose decomposed body was found near Kovalam on Saturday -- does not suggest any foul play.
 
"There are no injuries to her body parts. But, the exact reason of the death can be established only after the chemical analysis report comes," said the police in a statement.
 
The body of Liga Skromane, 33, who had gone missing last month from here, was found in a highly decomposed state near Kovalam. Her sister Ilzie identified the body.
 
Earlier in the day, Ilzie said that they would meet Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday to seek a proper probe into the incident.
 
"Yes, we are going to meet the Chief Minister tomorrow (Monday) and we will seek a probe by the crime department or a special investigation team into what happened to my sister," Ilzie told the media, adding that she had also sought the help of the Latvian government in the case.
 
To the shock of both the bereaved family and the police, the head was found lying away from the rest of body, in a marshy spot near Kovalam.
 
Even though Ilzie and Andrew -- the partner of Liga -- came and identified the body, the police are now waiting for the DNA test results for confirmation.
 
The autopsy was conducted on Saturday at the medical college hospital here and the body has been kept at its mortuary.
 
Meanwhile, the Kerala government has announced an ex-gratia payment of five lakh rupees to the family of Liga and the Department of Kerala Tourism has informed Ilzie that the state government would bear the expenses of transporting the body to their home country.
 
It was late on Friday that fishermen found the body in a highly decomposed state and alerted the police.
 
The place from where the body was recovered is known to be frequented by small-time drug-peddlers, and empty bottles, cigarettes and a lighter have been recovered from the site.
 
Liga had come to Kerala along with her sister Ilzie for Ayurvedic treatment at a hospital on the outskirts of the capital city following complaints of depression.
 
She, however, went missing on March 14 and was last reported to have taken an auto-rickshaw ride to a tourist destination at Kovalam. She was not carrying a passport or mobile phone with her at that time.
 
IANS
 
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Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala to meet Rahul Gandhi

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Congress President Rahul Gandhi has summoned former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala to Delhi. They will meet on Thursday to help Gandhi pick a new state unit chief.
 
Gandhi is seeking a younger crop of leaders, an informed source said. He is focussing on the second generation of leaders. The front runners include V.D. Sateeshan and P.C. Vishunath -- all below the age of 50.
 
The new state president will replace M.M. Hassan, who was brought in as an interim president after V.M. Sudheeran quit in 2017.
 
Over the years, the Congress in Kerala has been divided for well over three decades between former Chief Ministers K. Karunakaran and A.K. Antony. With the turn of the 21st century, the baton has passed on to Chandy and Chennithala.
 
Chandy was defeated in the May 2016 Assembly polls. He has since refused to accept any post.
 
Former Defence Minister Antony was made the state president when he was just 32 and Chief Minister at 37.
 
All senior leaders have had a long run and must now make way for the younger leaders, said a party leader who did not wish to be named.
 
The 77-year-old Antony has quit from state politics. But he is a key decision-maker when it comes to Kerala and Gandhi holds him in high esteem. Chandy, a two-time Chief Minister, now at 74 continues to be the biggest crowd puller for the party in the state.
 
IANS
 
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Bishop Geevarghese Mar Athanasius of Mar Thoma Church passes away

Geevarghese Mar Athanasius
Geevarghese Mar Athanasius
Rt. Rev. Geevarghese Mar Athanasius, the Suffragan Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, passed away at  a private hospital here in the early hours of today, the church annnounced.
 
Bishop Athanasisus, who had been ailing for a long time and had been in and out of hospital for the past many months, was admitted again to the P V S Memorial Hospital here yesterday and was put on a ventilator. He breathed his last at 4.40 am today, the announcement from the Thiruvalla, Kerala-headquartered church said.
 
He would have turned 74 on April 26.
 
The announcement said the Bishop, who headed the Ranni-Nilackal Diocese of the church, was "fondly remembered for his soul-stirring oration, marked with Christian maturity and vast knowledge in human relations".
 
It said he had initiated several humanitarian projects for the upliftment of the poor and needy.
 
Born as C. I. George on April 26 to C I Idicula and Achiyamma of Nedumpram,  he did his schooling at Neerattupuram and obtained his B. Sc. degree from the Mar Thoma College, Thiruvalla and a Bachelor of Divinity (BD) degree from the Leonard Theological College, Jabalpur in 1969.
 
He was ordained as a deacon on May 3, 1969 and as a priest on June 14 that year and served in various parishes of the church, including Mumbai Dadar, Kottayam, Madras Chetpet and Toronto, Canada.
 
While in Canada he did higher studies in Wycliffe College, Toronto (1975-76). He was selected as Bishop while serving in Edayaranmula parish. He was consecrated on December 9, 1989 with the name Geevarghese Mar Athanasius.
 
He was assigned to be the head of Mumbai – Delhi Diocese. Later, he served as head of Kottayam-Kochi Diocese from November, 1993 to September, 2001 before coming head of the Ranni Nilackal Diocese in October, 2001.
 
He was installed as Suffragan Metropolitan of the church  on October 2, 2015, making him the second in the official hierarchy after the Metropolitan, the Most Rev. Joseph Mar Thoma, the head of the church.
 
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Kerala Hindus celebrate Vishu

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Hindus across Kerala celebrated Vishu or the traditional new year on Sunday and prayed for good luck and fortune for the coming year.
 
Before visiting temples, families began their day with the 'Vishukani darshan' or looking at deities the first thing in the morning, which is arranged the previous night. 
 
On Vishu, the puja room is decked up with a special vessel (urali) containing cucumber, pumpkin, coconut, plantains, mangoes, pineapples, rice, grains and arecanut, which is kept in front of their favourite deities.
 
Bright yellow konna flowers are also kept next to the vessel.
 
Elders of the household first witness the 'Vishukani darshan' following which the others are brought to the puja room with their eyes closed.
 
Another important event of the day is the giving away of 'vishukaineetam' (gift) which is generally in the form of coins.
 
One of the most awaited moment of the day is the special Vishu lunch which is a 26-course vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf.
 
IANS
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Malayalam films shine at 65th National Film Awards

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The Malayalam film industry on Friday walked away with a bag full of awards at the 65th National Film Awards in categories like best director, supporting actor, cinematography, socially relevant film, screenplay and a special mention.
 
Six-time National Award winner Jayaraj, 57, won the best director award for his film "Bhayanakam", which also won the best cameraman award for Nikhil S. Praveen and also the best adapted screenplay.
 
"I just cannot find words to describe my emotions and feelings at the moment after hearing the news. Not many know that about 650 people had gone to fight in the Second World War from Kuttanadu and the film tells the tale of that.
 
"I dedicate this award to them," said Jayaraj, who won his second National Award for direction.
 
"Thondimuthulem Driksashiyum", directed by Dileesh Pothan, was selected as the best Malayalam film. 
 
Upcoming star Fahad Fazil, who was selected as the best supporting actor for his role in the film, said: "I would rate this as the toughest character I have played and I am able to perform this well because I am in Malayalam films.
 
"I never expected that I would get an award, but we all knew the film 'Thondimuthulem Driksashiyum' would bring in awards. But at the time my worry all the time was the commercial success, as that is very crucial for the industry."
 
Journalist-turned-scriptwriter Sajeev Pazhoor walked away with the best scriptwriter award for the film.
 
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Veteran playback singer K.J. Yesudas won his eighth national award for the best male playback singer for his song "Poyimarenja kalam".
 
"Take off" was another film that got due recognition when its lead actress Parvathy won a special mention besides Santhosh Raman who won the award for the best production design.
 
"Right from the time the film was released, I used to get a huge response from all those who saw it. This was really motivating and many felt that this film would win awards and that has happened. The entire cast and crew of the film deserved it," said Parvathy.
 
The film shows the travails of Kerala nurses who were caught in 'war affected' West Asia and how they were repatriated.
 
"Aalorukum" bagged the best film under the social issues category.
 
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan congratulated all the award winners and said that these awards are a real morale booster for the entire Malayalam film industry.
 
IANS
 
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Shutdown in Kerala over SC/ST Act dilution

 
SC/ST ACt: Dalit factions stage protest in Kerala
Normal life across Kerala was paralysed on Monday following a shutdown in the state called by 30 Dalit organisations to protest against the dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
 
A similar shutdown took place in the state on April 2 as part of the nationwide 24-hour protest called by trade unions.
 
The state-owned Road Transport Corporation, private bus operators and traders body had earlier announced that they would function normally. But in many places, the protesters blocked roads to prevent vehicles from plying.
 
In Kochi, the leader of Monday's protest Geetanandan and his supporters were taken into custody.
 
"The report that we have got from across the state is that by and large the protest appears to have become a success... There is no reason for taking us into custody," Geetanandan told the media.
 
Shops especially in Kannur district, were asked to down their shutters.
 
In Kollam, a state-owned bus was stoned. Teachers who were to reach the Class X examinations paper valuation camp in the district were held up after traffic was halted.
 
"Don't think we can reach the camp on time. We decided to come after the state government had assured us that traffic would not be stopped and the police had taken all steps to prevent it. But now we are stranded," said a group of female teachers.
 
In the state capital, IT professionals were able to reach the Technopark campus in convoys.
 
University examinations for the day were rescheduled.
 
On April 3, the Supreme Court declined to stay its ruling, which activists say has diluted the law aimed at preventing atrocities on Dalits and tribes, as it asserted that it wanted to protect innocent people from being punished.
 
IANS
 
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Scientists confirm Bael extracts can neutralize cobra venom

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In India, an estimated 50,000 people die of snake bites every year and many don’t even make it to a hospital. In traditional systems of medicine, over 350 plant species have been identified as antidotes to snake venom but there are very few scientific studies validating their efficacy and mode of action at molecular level.
 
Now researchers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) and University College, Thiruvananthapuram, have successfully used extracts from Bael tree (Agele Marmelos) to neutralize adverse effects of cobra venom, thus confirming what was known to traditional healers.
 
The research team found that the extracts inhibited destruction of red blood cells and action of acetylcholinesterase blockers induced by the venom. Acetylcholinesterase blockers prevent muscle contraction of ribs and chest making breathing difficult, a major reason for instantaneous death due to cobra bite. The extracts also reduced abnormal breakdown of proteins by the venom.
 
Bael, also known as Bengal Quince, can be found throughout Indian subcontinent and south east Asia. Scientists evaluated extracts of leaves, bark and roots of the tree in laboratory and then used computer-based studies to identify molecules in these extracts that attach to venom proteins and can aid detoxification.
 
“Snake venom consists of innumerable biologically active molecules. Its individual constituents, quality and quantity are unstable and unpredictable. Similarly, the plant extract contains a plethora of chemical constituents which are not always stable but their synergistic effect can neutralize multi-toxicity,” explained Dr S Sreekumar, a member of the research team while talking to India Science Wire.
 
The results of interaction between 81 phytochemicals from Bael and each of the 14 venom proteins revealed that the plant contains potential molecules for detoxification of all cobra venom proteins. However, of the 12 selected molecules, three failed the drug likeness test.
 
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"This is a good beginning but the study is in vitro. They have to prove its efficacy through tests in human beings and then arrive at exact amount of plant extract that will serve the purpose. It is a very tedious process,” commented Dr H.S. Bawaskar, an expert on snake and scorpion bites at Maharashtra-based Bawaskar Hospital and Research Centre, who is not connected with the study.
 
The research team is planning to take up this challenge in the next phase and develop a formulation that can be effective against four common venomous snake species of India. “We have already screened 60 plant species used in traditional medicine of which only four were found to effectively neutralize all toxic venom components. Bael is one of them. Once the screening process is complete, we will develop a standard formulation that not only works for all venoms but also leads to fewer or no side effects,” said Dr Sreekumar.
 
In modern medicine, use of anti-venom serum is the only method to treat snake bites but it comes with risk of various complications, including anaphylactic shock, pyrogen reaction and serum sickness. The serum is manufactured by injecting horses with safe levels of venoms. The antibodies they produce to fight off the venom are extracted from their blood and developed into the serum.
 
A big issue with this method is variation in amount of venom in a snake from region to region. An anti-venom prepared from a snake at one location loses its effectiveness when used at another site. “We need to decentralise anti-venom production to overcome geographical variation in snake venom,” said Dr Bavaskar. Some efforts are on to collect snake venoms from different regions to develop an antidote that can work pan India.
 
Besides Dr Sreekumar, the research team included N. C. Nisha, D. A. Evans and C. K. Biju. The study has been published in journal Current Science. 
 
(India Science Wire)
 
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Strike called by trade unions observed in Kerala

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A 24-hour nationwide strike called by trade unions was observed across Kerala on Monday.
 
The strike was called by the unions to protest against a decision to allow businesses to hire fixed-term employees (FTEs) which they claim will eventually threaten job security in all sectors.
 
All markets, shops and establishments in the state were closed.
 
The state secretariat saw just around 10 per cent of the total staff of around 3,000 in attendance, while the offices of all the state ministers wore a deserted look.
 
In the state capital, an auto-rickshaw that carried foreign tourists was stopped and protesters deflated the tyres.
 
While the protesters did not prevent the movement of private vehicles, the state-owned Kerala State Road Transport Corporation stopped its service.
 
In Kochi, the metro services were operating as usual.
 
All university examinations in the state scheduled for Monday have been postponed.
 
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Naidu lauds Travancore's Sree Chithira Thirunal for people-centric governance

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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.
 
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“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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Foundation stones laid for Rs 3618 crore railway projects Kanniyakumari-Nagercoil-Thiruvananthapuram section

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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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International Dam Safety Conference to be held in Thiruvananthapuram on January 23-24

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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.
 
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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: www.damsafety.in.
 
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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Modi visits cyclone-hit areas in Lakshadweep, TN, Kerala; announces relief package

 
Modi reviews relief efforts in cyclone Ockhi-hit areas
Prime Minister Narendra Modi today reviewed the situation in the areas of Lakshadweep, Tamil Nadu and Kerala which were struck by the recent cyclone Ockhi and announced a package of relief measures, including immediate financial assistance worth Rs. 325 crore from the Centre to meet the requirements of the two States and Union Territory.
 
The financial assistance announced by the Prime Minister today is over and above the assistance of Rs. 280 crore to Tamil Nadu, and Rs. 76 crore to Kerala, disbursed earlier this month, after Ockhi hit the region in late November-early December.
 
An ex-gratia assistance of Rs. 2 lakh to the next-of-kin of the deceased, and Rs. 50,000 to each of those seriously injured due to the cyclone have been sanctioned under the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF), it said.
 
Mr. Modi said the Government of India will support the reconstruction of approximately 1400 houses fully damaged due to Cyclone Ockhi, on priority, under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY). Under this programme, each beneficiary will get upto Rs. 1.5 lakh as support for building a new house.
 
Insurance companies have also been advised to pay the insurance claims of people affected by Ockhi cyclone expeditiously, he said.
 
During a day-long visit to the cyclone-affected areas, Mr. Modi met and interacted with people, including fishermen and farmers, affected by it.
 
In the course of the day, the Prime Minister interacted with people in Kavaratti in Lakshadweep and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu. He also visited Punthura village near Thiruvananthapuram, which is one of the villages that faced the impact of the cyclone. People explained to him the hardships faced by them on account of the cyclone. 
 
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He assured the people that all help will be provided  to them and that the Union Government stood shoulder to shoulder with them in their hour of crisis.
 
Mr. Modi held separate detailed review meetings on the current situation and relief measures, at Kavaratti, Kanyakumari and Thiruvananthapuram. The Governors, Chief Ministers of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Deputy Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha, and Administrator of Lakshadweep along with senior officials were present at the respective meetings.
 
Earlier, during the review meetings, the Prime Minister was briefed on the impact of Ockhi, the third major cyclone of this kind, to hit this area in the last 125 years. The cyclone hit on November 30, 2017, and  the search and rescue operations, began the same day. So far, a total of 197 ship days involving 20 surface platforms and about 186 flying hours have been utilised by the Indian Coast Guard for search and rescue operations. In addition, a total of 156 ship days and 399 flying hours, involving 10 ships and 7 types of aircraft have been utilised by the Indian Navy. A total of 183 fishermen and civil administration personnel were carried on board these ships to aid in the rescue operations. A total of 845 fishermen have been rescued or assisted till date.
 
The Prime Minister was informed that the surveillance was carried out even beyond 700 nautical miles from the shore, the release added.
 
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Modi to visit cyclone Ockhi-affected areas of Lakshadweep, Kerala, TN on Tuesday

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Prime Minister  Narendra Modi will visit Lakshadweep, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala tomorrow to review the situation in the aftermath of cyclone Ockhi, which struck the region in late November and the first week of December. 
 
Mr. Modi will visit Kavaratti in Lakshadweep, Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala and meet with officials, public representatives, cyclone victims, including fishermen and farmer delegations, an official press release said.
 
The release said the Prime Minister had constantly monitored the situation arising out of the cyclone and spoken to all relevant authorities and officials.
 
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman undertook a visit to the cyclone affected areas of both Kanyakumari district in Tamil Nadu and Thiruvananthapuram on December 3-4. 
 
The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) chaired by Cabinet Secretary Pradeep Kumar met on December 4 and reviewed the relief and rescue operations in the areas affected by the cyclone.
 
Government agencies both from the Centre and the affected States, including Coast Guard, Air Force, Navy, and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) were involved in relief and rescue operations. Relief camps were set up in the affected areas. The Union Government has released the second instalment of State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) to the Governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu in the current financial year of 2017-18 to supplement their efforts in dealing with the natural calamity. 
 
During the financial year 2017-18, the central share of SDRF to State Government of Kerala and Tamil Nadu is Rs. 153 crore and Rs. 561 crore, respectively, the release said.
 
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Rahul Gandhi meets Ockhi-hit fishermen in Kerala, Tamil Nadu

 
Rahul Gandhi meets cyclone Ockhi victims in Kerala, TN
Congress President-elect Rahul Gandhi today visited fishing villages in Kerala and Tamil Nadu which were hit by cyclone Ockhi earlier this month and declared that the time had come to set up a separate Ministry of Fisheries at the Centre to look after their interests.
 
He declared that the Congress, when voted back to power at the Centre, would set up a Ministry of Fisheries that would the difficulties and problems faced by fishermen could be dealt with quickly and immediately.
 
Mr. Gandhi offered his condolences to the families which had lost their loved ones in the tragedy and spent time with several of them as they talked about their pain and sorrow. "What you have lost cannot be measured in terms of value. So, my words are not going to replace what you have lost," he said.
 
He said he would have liked to come here earlier but he had commitments in poll-bound Gujarat which could not be cancelled. "Even though I was not here in my physical presence, my mind and spirit were here with you," he said.
 
Mr. Gandhi said it was very important that the Government and the people learnt from the disaster and set up systems to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies.
 
"We also expect the Government to offer compensation to everybody who has lost in this tragedy. It is the duty of the Congress, as the Opposition, to put pressure on the Government to ensure everyone who has lost gets adequate compensation. I am confident they will play this role," he said.
 
Mr. Gandhi said that, in many ways, farmers and fishermen across the country faced similar situations. 
 
"It is very difficult for them to make a living. It seems everything is aligned against them. At the national elvel, faremrs have a Ministry that protects them and looks after their interests. I think it is time that fishermen also have their Ministry at the Centre so that their difficulties can be dealt with quickly and immediately. The Congress is committed to providing a Ministry for fishermen when elected to power at the Centre," he said.
 
Mr. Gandhi, who flew in here form Delhi, visited some of the worst-affected villages such as Poonthura, Vizhinjam, Thaikkad and Palayam in Kerala and Chinnathurai in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu.
 
Senior State Congress leaders, including former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, Ramesh Chennithala and Dr. Shashi Tharoor, the Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram, accompanied Mr. Gandhi on the visit to the Kerala villages.
 
"Very good visit by Rahul Gandhi to two coastal villages in Thiruvananthapuram. People were touched by his directness & evident empathy during deeply moving conversations with bereaved families," Dr. Tharoor said on micro-blogging site Twitter.
 
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Cyclone Ockhi likely to weaken by Sunday, move northwestwards from Lakshadweep

Cyclone Ockhi appeared to be weakening on Saturday after striking the Lakshadweep Islands yesterday and the intensity of rains and winds reduced by this afternoon, providing some relief for people of the archipelago.

 
Cyclone Ockhi: Navy helicopter rescues fishermen at sea
Cyclone Ockhi appeared to be weakening today after striking the Lakshadweep Islands yesterday and the intensity of rains and winds reduced by this afternoon, providing some relief for people of the archipelago.
 
The islands, especially Minicoy and Kalpeni, had been lashed yesterday evening by heavy rains and gale winds, which caused substantial damage to public and private property. But no loss of life was reported from the islands, thanks  to the precautionary measures taken by the local administration, which had moved people from the low-lying areas on the coast to safer places like school buildings.
 
Meanwhile, the death toll in south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu, which were struck by heavy rains and strong winds in the past two days as Ockhi swept past the coast towards Lakshadweep rose to 16.
 
More than 530 fishermen from Kerala and 73 from Tamil Nadu who were stranded in the Arabian Sea for the past two days have been rescued so far by ships and aircraft of the Indian Navy, the Indian Coast Guard  and the Indian Air Force as well as by merchant navy ships.
 
However, more than 100 fishermen from Kerala and 97 from Tamil Nadu are still reported missing and the search and rescue teams continued their efforts to locate them. In the meantime, several fishermen from some of the coastal villages in Kerala set out to sea to look for and rescue their relatives and friends, local people told journalists.
 
Several of the fishermen rescued were admitted to various hospitals in Thiruvananthapuram and other places for treatment, the sources said.
 
The Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force have deployed 20 ships, 8 planes and five helicopters for the search and rescue operations. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said continued efforts would be made to ensure all fishermen affected returned home safely.
 
Official sources said 105 fishermen in eight boats from Kerala which had drifted ashore at Androth in the Lakshadweep were fine and would be repatriated upon improvement in weather.
 
Similarly, some boats missing from Beypore near Kozhikode in Kerala had reached Devagad port in Maharashtra after  getting caught in the cyclone. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis directred the district magistrate of Sindudurg and the State Maritime Board to extend all help to the fishermen.
 
A Red message issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) at 1930 hours today said the very severe cyclonic storm over Lakshadweep area and adjoining Southeast Arabian Sea had further moved northwestwards with a speed of 18 kmph during the previous six hours and lay centred at 1730 hours near latitude 10.5º N and longitude 70.3º E, about 275 km west-southwest of Amini Divi. 
 
"The system is very likely to weaken gradually from tomorrow, the 03rd December, 2017 morning. It is very likely to continue to move northwestwards during the next 12 hours and then recurve northeastwards during the subsequent 48 hours," it said.
 
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The bulletin warned that rainfall was very likely at most places over north Lakshadweep Islands during the next 24 hours, with heavy to very heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
It said rainfall was very likely at many places over Kerala during the next 12 hours, with heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
Rainfall at many places was also very likely over south Gujarat, with heavy rainfall at isolated places, it said.
 
The bulletin said gale winds with speed reaching 70-80 kmph, gusting to 90 kmph, were very likely over and around north Lakshadweep Islands during the next 12 hours and gradually decrease thereafter. They would become squally winds with speed reaching 55-65 kmph gusting to 75 kmph by tomorrow morning for the subsequent 12 hours.
 
Squally winds with speed reaching 55-65 kmph, gusting to 75 kmph, were very likely over and around south Lakshadweep Islands during the next 12 hours and gradually decrease thereafter.
 
Squally winds with speed reaching 45-55 kmph, gusting to 65 kmph, were very likely along and off north Maharashtra and South Gujarat coasts on December 4 night and December 5, it said.
 
Sea conditions would be high over and around north Lakshadweep Islands during the next 12 hours and gradually become very rough by tomorrow morning for the subsequently 12 hours. They are very likely to be rough to very rough over and around south Lakshadweep Islands during next 12 hours and moderate to rough during the subsequent 12 hours.
 
Sea conditions would be rough to very rough along and off north Maharashtra and South Gujarat coasts on December 4 night and December 5, it said.
 
Storm surge of about 0.5 metre above astronomical tides was very likely to inundate low lying areas of north Lakshadweep Islands during the next 12 hours, the bulletin said.
 
Fishermen around Lakshadweep Islands were advised not to venture into the sea during the next 24 hours. Similarly, fishermen were advised not to venture into deep sea along and off Karnataka, Goa and south Maharashtra coasts during the next 48 hours.
 
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 10 lakh to the next-of-kin of those who died in the cyclone-related incidents in the state. Assistance would also be provided to those who had lost their boat and equipment.
 
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Heavy rains, strong winds lash Lakshadweep as cyclone Ockhi moves towards archipelago

Heavy rains, strong winds and high tides hit the Lakshadweep Islands where a red alert has been issued as cyclone Ockhi struck the archipelago on Saturday even as the death toll in south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu in the past three days rose to 12, official sources said.

A helicopter from the Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy carrying out a rescue effort over the Arabian Sea off the Kerala coast in the wake of cyclone Ockhi, on December 1, 2017.
A helicopter from the Southern Naval Command of the Indian Navy carrying out a rescue effort over the Arabian Sea off the Kerala coast in the wake of cyclone Ockhi, on December 1, 2017.
Heavy rains, strong winds and high tides hit the Lakshadweep Islands where a red alert has been issued as cyclone Ockhi struck the archipelago today even as the death toll in south Kerala and south Tamil Nadu in the past three days rose to 12, official sources said.
 
About 102 fishermen who had gone out to sea from south Kerala were said to be missing, with their relatives telling the authorities that they had not heard from them in the past two days. The sources said this information was being cross-checked with various agencies so that a more accurate figure could be worked out.
 
In the meantime, several fishermen from some of the villages had set out to sea to look for and rescue their relatives and friends, local people told journalists.
 
More than 220 fishermen stranded at sea off Kerala were rescued by ships and aircraft of the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard yesterday. 
 
Of the 12 rain-related deaths, seven had occurred in Kerala and five in south Tamil Nadu.
 
Several of the fishermen rescued yesterday were admitted to various hospitals in Thiruvananthapuram for treatment, the sources said.
 
Lakshadweep Member of Parliament P P Mohammed Faizal told NetIndian that Minicoy and Kalpeni islands were lashed last night by heavy rains and strong winds, which caused substantial damage to public and private property.
 
He said many of the other islands, including Kavaratti and Agati were also hit by the cyclone, but the situation was improving today.
 
There was no loss of life reported, thanks  to the precautionary measures taken by the local administration, which had moved people from the low-lying areas on the coast to safer places like school buildings, he added.
 
In a Red message issued at 0830 hours today, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the very severe cyclonic storm over the Lakshadweep area and adjoining southeast Arabian Sea had moved further west-northwestwards with a speed of 11 kmph during the previous six hours and lay centred at 0530 hours today near latitude 9.6º N and longitude 71.5º E, about 230 km west-northwest of Minicoy and 215 km south 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 the next 24 hours and then recurve northeastwards during the subsequent 48 hours," it said.
 
According to the bulletin, under the influence of the system, rainfall was very likely at most places over Lakshadweep area during the next 24 hours, with heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places and isolated extremely heavy falls (>20 cm). There could be isolated heavy to very heavy falls during the subsequent 24 hours, it said.
 
The bulletin said rainfall was also very likely at many places over Kerala, with heavy rainfall at isolated places.
 
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 gradually 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 the Karnataka coast during the next 24 hours.
 
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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 Kerala coast during the next 24 hours and along and off the Karnataka coast during the subsequent 24 hours.
 
Storm surge of about 1 meter above astronomical tides was very likely to inundate low lying areas of Lakshadweep Islands, it said.
 
Fishermen along and off Lakshadweep Islands and the  Kerala and Karnataka coasts were advised not to venture into the sea during the next 48 hours. 
 
Two Indian Naval Ships -- Sharda and Shardul -- have left for Lakshadweep and Minicoy with rescue equipment and relief material. Other naval assets from Mumbai and Karwar were kept on standby for deployment towards the islands to augment search and rescue efforts, Indian Navy sources said.
 
INS Sagardhwani and Jamuna would continue their search and rescue operations off Vizhinjam in Kerala, while INS Nireekshak will remain off Kollam in the state, they said.
 
The Navy's advanced light helicopters had sanitised an area up to 25 nautical miles off Vizhinjam and there was less likelihood of stranded vessels in the area, the sources said.
 
"Rescue efforts will continue to look for survivors in general area off the Kerala coast," the sources added.
 
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