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Incredible rescue from Thai cave: Mission “I m Possible”

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Thai Cave Rescue Team

In the northern Thailand, hundreds of international rescue workers were busy spending their last waking hours for the past 15 days trying to get a group of 12 boys, and their 25-year-old soccer coach out who have been inadvertently trapped in a cave after flooding caused by relentless monsoon rains.

In a marathon rescue operation, four boys were rescued on Sunday and an additional four emerged on Monday. Today, since early morning, a high-risk operation was in progress to rescue the remaining four boys and their coach. After a grueling operation all 13 people were rescued after being trapped in the cave for 18 days.

Thai navy Seals, who have been running the operation, confirmed that all 13 were out. The Seals officially broke this news on their Facebook page by posting “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science or what”.

Three navy seals and a doctor, who had been with the boys, emerged safely from the cave several hours later. The four boys and their coach who were rescued today have been airlifted to hospital to join their eight teammates who were rescued earlier.

The entire plan is based on bringing four boys each day because on an average, it takes about 20 hours to re-set the oxygen tanks which divers use inside the cave for the rescue purpose. It is not clear at this point of time if all five of those remaining inside will get out on Tuesday.

                   A Buddha statue is seen in front of Tham Luang cave

The idea of entire operation was based on to first take out the strongest boys which may seem counterintuitive, but then officials were working on the theory that those who have the best chance of surviving should be rescued first.

The boys who were mostly in 11-16 years age group, and their 25-year-old soccer coach became stranded when they went exploring inside the cave after a practice game. But the sudden Monsoon downpour blocked off their escape and also prevented rescuers from locating them for almost 10 days.

It was on July 2 when rescue teams finally discovered the boys and their coach who were found in relatively good health but had traveled deep inside the cave complex. Ekapol Chanthawong, the soccer coach who got trapped in the cave with 12 boys for nearly two weeks apologized to their parents in a handwritten note released Saturday and promised to take care of children during the difficult rescue mission.

                             Photograph: Thai Navy Seal/Reuters

The assistant coach of the Wild Boars, the football club has been on the receiving end of seething criticism for leading the boys into the predicament. At the same time, he got accolades for his subsequent efforts to keep them alive. It was told by authorities that the coach took the boys deep into a massive Tham Luang cave complex in the northern Chiang Rai province after a football game on June 23.

Through handwritten letters, the boys assured their parents and also requested for their favorite foods from family members. One boy called Tun wrote “Mom and Dad, please don’t worry, I am fine”. He further requested to get fried chicken after he got out of the cave. “The air here is little chilly but don’t worry”, wrote another. He also wrote “Don’t forget to set up my birthday party when I am back”

In a joint letter, the boys said they were all hale and hearty and wanted to go to their homes immediately. They also made a special request to their teachers. They wrote “Teacher, don’t give us lots of homework!”

While the boys sounded a brave tone, their situation remained critical as rescue teams raced against the time to find a way to get them out. Heavy rains were forecasted for this week which could raise the water levels in the flooded cave complex, making the rescue impossible.

The most likely rescue scenario would have involved getting out the boys by using diving gear with the help of expert divers. But, most of the boys didn’t know how to swim and had become physically weak during last two weeks. The difficulty level of the rescue operation would have made swimming across the cave very dangerous as in some places the width was not more than 20 inches.

The assistant coach of the Wild Boars, the football club has been on the receiving end of seething criticism for leading the boys into the predicament. At the same time, he got accolades for his subsequent efforts to keep them alive. It was told by authorities that the coach took the boys deep into a massive Tham Luang cave complex in the northern Chiang Rai province after a football game on June 23.

Through handwritten letters, the boys assured their parents and also requested for their favorite foods from family members. One boy called Tun wrote “Mom and Dad, please don’t worry, I am fine”. He further requested to get fried chicken after he got out of the cave. “The air here is little chilly but don’t worry”, wrote another. He also wrote “Don’t forget to set up my birthday party when I am back”

In a joint letter, the boys said they were all hale and hearty and wanted to go to their homes immediately. They also made a special request to their teachers. They wrote “Teacher, don’t give us lots of homework!”

While the boys sounded a brave tone, their situation remained critical as rescue teams raced against the time to find a way to get them out. Heavy rains were forecasted for this week which could raise the water levels in the flooded cave complex, making the rescue impossible.

The most likely rescue scenario would have involved getting out the boys by using diving gear with the help of expert divers. But, most of the boys didn’t know how to swim and had become physically weak during last two weeks. The difficulty level of the rescue operation would have made swimming across the cave very dangerous as in some places the width was not more than 20 inches.

As part of their rescue efforts, the divers are tutoring boys and the coach about rudimentary diving lessons. Thai authorities have made it clear that diving through the murky water is the only way the boys could be taken out. A fibre-optic cable is being laid inside the cave which would ensure the audio as well as video communication between children and their parents.

Poonsak Woongsatngiem, a rescue official with Thailand’s interior ministry, told The Guardian that the water level inside the cave had been reduced by 40 per cent in the past few days. However, more rainfall is putting pressure on the rescuers to come out with a plan to remove the boys before flood waters rise higher.

Divers who are working round the clock to free the boys and their coach must navigate dark, flooded tunnels for six hours to reach them. It takes another five hours to return. The authorities are also calculating as how long they could afford rescuers to remain in the cave considering that the weather could anytime change for worse. If it comes to that, the rescuers will be asked   to withdraw which could cut the contact with boys for next four months.

According to the rescue plan, the boys would be dressed in wetsuits, boots and helmets, and divers would use an 8mm static rope to guide them out. They will be given oxygen supply from a navy diver’s kit. A number of “stage tanks” have been also placed at every 25 to 50 metres along the cave to ensure a continuous supply of oxygen. Divers working in the rescue team have warned boys about the dark and dangerous waters which have flooded the cave.

Though boys are physically in much better shape but experts have their doubts as according to them the ordeal may have taken a heavy toll on their confidence level which could worsen if their stay becomes longer. Paul Auerbach from the Department of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University medical school said  “It’s very likely that while the boys were in the cave they may have experienced various degrees of anxiety, fear, confusion, vulnerability and dependency, and perhaps hopelessness,” In the end, it will be apt to say “Jako rakhe Saiyan maar sake na koi”

Analysis

Fake Operations – Column: Spy’s Eye

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FBI

A national Intelligence organisation — like that of India — earns the respect of the countrymen because it helps the State in discharging its sovereign function of safeguarding national security, stays completely non-partisan and establishes a method of working that is secretive but never crooked. Since security, by definition, is protection against a scheming adversary resorting to a ‘covert’ attack, the counter-intelligence effort relies on tradecraft techniques perfected with professional training – like surveillance, infiltration into the enemy’s camp, communication monitoring, raising human sources and carrying out an interview under ‘cover’. The adversarial entity has to be identified and then targeted keeping in view the aim that security by definition is preventive – if there is therefore the danger of an enemy infiltrating its vanguard into the country clandestinely, these ideally have to be picked up right at the point of entry.

For this a lot of effort is made round the clock by operational teams to garner intelligence about the identity and location of ‘enemy’ agents. Intelligence operators could try to ‘turn in’ a member of the adversary’s set up or ‘plant’ a person of their own trust there. The results are never easy to get but the intelligence agency is prepared to ceaselessly slog for getting access to the plans and activities of a ‘real’ enemy. A professional and upright intelligence organisation goes for the hard targets and does not fall for the temptation of somehow creating an illusion of success for credit in the eyes of the political masters — by manufacturing a narrative of threat without establishing the presence of an ‘enemy’.

If this is done by fabricating a ‘trap’ by way of creating a fake university for getting unsuspecting individuals — who could not, by any stretch of imagination, be described as ‘enemy agents’ — to land in the country for joining that educational institution and then hauling them up as unlawful people precisely on the ground of being in a fake institution, this is a rogue operation and not an intelligence effort. The criminality here would be on the shoulders of the phoney entity and its creators alone and not on the victims of the ‘fraud’ committed by the former.

Imagine the shock that the people across the democratic world would feel over the recent media reports to the effect that the Homeland Security agents in the US apparently in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — both are a part of the US Task Force against Terrorism — have rounded up hundreds of Indian students precisely in this way and tried to claim it as a great operation designed to detect infiltration into US. India has sent a demarche to the US Embassy in Delhi questioning this action and the Indian Embassy in Washington has intervened to help the imperilled students but this raises serious questions about the spurious operations and unethical ways of some lead agencies engaged in counter-intelligence work.

The Trump regime had no doubt taken a serious view of illegal migrations and fraudulent entry of outsiders into the US from countries which traditionally posed a threat to the American security. But are the American intelligence agencies totally oblivious of the complete convergence that India and US had achieved on security matters or are they so desperate about creating an impression of being pro-active after their Chiefs had run into problems with President Trump that they wanted to secure ‘results’ through such dubious means?

The ‘University of Farmington’ based in Michigan was reportedly created two years ago by undercover agents of Homeland Security and its head — one Ali Milani — wrote letters to the prospective students imploring them to come to his university, getting in this questionable manner more than a hundred Indian students on its rolls during this period with the help of a gang of recruiters. The Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) is now treating these students as a prize catch to prove its great work against ‘illegal’ immigration. It should have targeted the fraudulent intermediaries, something it did not do precisely because it had connived with them for ‘operational’ reasons.

The blind pursuit of Indian students is incongruous with the facts of the case. First, does the Homeland Security consider India as an adversary that would pump in its ‘agents’ into the US to indulge in unlawful missions there like some hostile neighbours and countries breeding Islamic radicals would possibly do? Secondly, considering the known keenness among Indian students to study in American universities with the legitimate objective of receiving higher education and jobs, the entrants would have responded to the ‘invite’ from this fake university with enthusiasm and come in only on legal travel documents.

In case a fake university was created by a fraudulent group outside of the government, it would have been the responsibility of the FBI to unearth that activity before any entrants were trapped but in this case a US government agency itself was the creator of an illegal entity, spending a whole lot of time, energy and funds to set it up just to be able to show that they had caught some Indian students on the wrong foot. Even if some students might have suspected the credentials of the university they would rightly expect the US government to deal with any irregularities about the institution they had joined in. But in this case, US undercover agents themselves were behind a university that fronted a trap operation. This is neither a good intelligence effort nor a worthwhile national security mission.

In any case, India should strongly object to this offending move of US agencies and treat it as an affront to its national standing. Is it possible that this is a deliberate act of Ali Milani to put India at par with those nations that had received adverse attention of President Trump and thus spoil Indo-US relations? The US policy makers should be interested in closely auditing the output of the country’s agencies entrusted with counter-intelligence work. The FBI should be concentrating on spurious institutions run by unlawful elements on its soil. Becoming a party to an operation meant to entice students to a fake university established by agents of the government themselves does not add up to a legitimate intelligence work in this case.

The FBI and other intelligence agencies, it is presumed, would be focusing on detection of sleeper cells of terrorists in the US that were posing a greater threat than before because of the unsuccessful ‘war on terror’. The danger had further increased with the known use of social media by the adversary for spreading radicalisation. The Commission on 9/11 had brought out many failings of US intelligence particularly, the inadequacy of follow up on signals that had indicated presence of radical aliens on American soil. American agencies can hardly afford not to devote all their time and resources to the serious threats to the security of US from terrorists and clandestine infiltrators. Violations of immigration laws and procedures can be detected — without resort to devious trap operations — through a professionally competent intelligence-based endeavour.

(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)

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15 lakh salaried employees with PF a/c’s stuck with toxic IL&FS bonds

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EPFO

New Delhi, Feb 17 (IANS) A new threat looms large for the government in an election year. A spanking new but restive community of salaried employees is concerned about its money deposited with the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).

At the cutting edge of the ever burgeoning IL&FS crisis, these employees are exposed to toxic investments. Most of these Employee Provident Funds and Employee Pension Funds have stated that the IL&FS resolution plan must provide repayment before secured creditors as the resolution framework proposed by the company doesn’t provide for any payment to secured creditors.

A sense of panic has crept in. They have collectively invested thousands of crores of rupees in IL&FS bonds. Many say that the resolution framework must balance interest of all stakeholders. Others have also challenged Sec 53 of the payment schedule distribution process as it doesn’t address public and social interest. Since these are tradeable instruments, the exact quantum is not known, but investment bankers estimate it to be in thousands of crores since the infrastructure company’s bonds – which were ‘AAA’ rated – were preferred by retirement funds that have a low-risk appetite but still have to get assured returns even when interest rates are low.

The growing discontent is across some of the blue chip Indian corporates. Some of these that have filed an intervening petition with the tribunal, thereby impleading themselves in this gargantuan case on how to run a corporate into the ground, include Apco Infratech, Apco, Titan, Asian Paints PF, Asian Paints Management Cadre Superannuation scheme, Aditya Birla Sun Life MF, Thomas Cook PF, Titan Watches, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), M & M PF, Himami, Bajaj Finance, Hindalco EPF, Max Financial Services PF Trust, IDBI Trusteeship Services Ltd, IndusInd Bank, Hudco Employees CPF, MMTC CPF, 63 Moons, Nayara Energy EPF, Indian Oil Corp, ITPO, CIDCO, SBI PF, GUVNL PF, Ambuja Cement, HDFC AMC, IREDA among others.

The size, scope and magnitude of these companies is self explanatory – HUL, Asian Paints, Hindalco and M & M from the private sector, IOC, SBI and MMTC from the PSU sphere and HDFC AMC and Aditya Birla Sun Life from the mutual fund industry, virtually imperilling India Inc and most importantly dragging the financial savings of lakhs of salaried employees.

The employee provident funds of various companies and other entities had invested in IL&FS bonds and bond holders are unsecured and may or may not get paid in the ongoing crisis at IL&FS. In any case, they are seen pretty much last on the priority list. Over 75 companies and their PFs have filed an intervening petition before the appellate court to seek directions and instructions on repayment to unsecured creditors.

As many as 15 lakh salaried employees across different sectors are caught in this ticking time bomb and the number is only likely to go up as the true extent of the malaise is known and understood. Till September last year, Indian rating agencies, not realising that IL&FS was set to implode, were giving Triple A rating to the bonds. With elections around the corner, this new expose will further polarise debate. After all it is salaried employees who are now staking claim to their hard-earned monies.

In fact, in the intervening petition filed by IndusInd Bank, they have categorically asserted that the top five creditors of IL&FS were not consulted in the resolution plan. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, senior counsel, with Diwakar Maheshwari, Avishkar Singhvi and Shreyas Edupuganti appeared for IndusInd Bank. Similarly, Abhishek Anand and Anant Pavgi appeared for Federal Bank while Vikram Hegde appeared for IREDA and Priya Puri appeared for Indian Oil Corp.

Abhishek Singhvi, Arun Kathpalia, Abhinav Vashisht, Amrendra Saran, Rajiv Datta appeared on behalf of the intevener (financial creditors or operational creditors or other secured creditors). The NCLAT order of February 11 allowed the intervening applications filed by them. Furthermore, other intervenors and parties who intend to file impleadment application were allowed before the next date – which is March 12, 4 p.m.

BOX Section 53 of IBSC

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any law enacted by Parliament or any State Legislature for the time being in force, the proceeds from the sale of the liquidation assets shall be distributed in the following order of priority and within such period and in such manner as may be specified, namely:

(a) the insolvency resolution process costs and the liquidation costs paid in full;

(b) the following debts which shall rank equally between and among the following:

(i) workmen’s dues for the period of 24 months preceding the liquidation commencement date; and

(ii) debts owed to a secured creditor in the event such secured creditor has relinquished security in the manner set out in section 52;

(c) wages and any unpaid dues owed to employees other than workmen for the period of 12 months preceding the liquidation commencement date;

(d) financial debts owed to unsecured creditors;

(e) the following dues shall rank equally between and among the following:

(i) any amount due to the Central Government and the State Government including the amount to be received on account of the Consolidated Fund of India and the Consolidated Fund of a State, if any, in respect of the whole or any part of the period of two years preceding the liquidation commencement date;

(ii) debts owed to a secured creditor for any amount unpaid following the enforcement of security interest;

(f) any remaining debts and dues;

(g) preference shareholders, if any; and

(h) equity shareholders or partners, as the case may be.

(2) Any contractual arrangements between recipients under sub-section (1) with equal ranking, if disrupting the order of priority under that sub-section shall be disregarded by the liquidator.

(3) The fees payable to the liquidator shall be deducted proportionately from the proceeds payable to each class of recipients under sub-section (1), and the proceeds to the relevant recipient shall be distributed after such deduction.

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Indus Water Treaty : Experts split on checking water flow to Pakistan

Hawks say a tough action must include short and long term steps, including the raising of the water storage capacity by building more dams and optimum use of water in the Indian side.

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indus water treaty

New Delhi, Feb 16 (IANS) Amidst calls for acting tough in the wake of the terror attack on CRPF convoy in Pulwama on Thursday, experts bat for “stopping” water to Pakistan from the west and east flowing rivers, like Indus and Beas. However, others doubt possibility of such an action.

Hawks say a tough action must include short and long term steps, including the raising of the water storage capacity by building more dams and optimum use of water in the Indian side.

At present, “more than the surplus” waters of these rivers are flowing into Pakistan, says M.S. Menon, a retired Water Resources Ministry top official, who had handled the Indus Water Treaty for long. He said tightening of the provisions on water release to Pakistan was possible.

“We have to develop capacity for consuming more water. For that, there should be more investment in storage dams to be constructed. There is a lot of water in Jhelum, Chenab and Indus that can be used very much domestically,” he said.

Under the Indus Water Treaty of 1960 between India and Pakistan, control over the water flowing in three “eastern” rivers — the Beas, the Ravi and Sutlej with the mean flow of 33 million acre feet (MAF) — was given to India. While control over the water flowing in three “western” rivers — the Indus, the Chenab and the Jhelum with the mean flow of 80 MAF — was given to Pakistan.

More controversial, however, were the provisions on how the waters were to be shared. Since Pakistan receives more water flow from India, the treaty allowed India to use western river waters for limited irrigation use and unrestricted use for power generation, domestic, industrial and non-consumptive uses like navigation, floating of property and fish farming, while laying down precise regulations for India to build projects.

But another retired official, who as the Indus Commissioner in the ministry had handled the subject for nearly two decades, said stopping water to Pakistan was not possible. “I don’t think anything like that is possible. Water flows naturally. You can’t stop it,” he said adding there are international treaty obligations India has to implement.

The former official said this issue has been discussed in the past but people make such demands because of an emotional situation.

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