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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”

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Children of a lesser God

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Workers look inside a sewage treatment facility Sunday in a posh neighborhood in New Delhi. Five of their colleagues died of toxic gases that while cleaning facility’s tanks. (Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Anil, Vishal, Sarfaraz, Pankaj, Raja, Kiran Pal and Umesh……………..Who are these people? They were all young men with a dream and a family to look after but they are all dead. They were sanitation workers and went inside sewer to clean but never came back.

Last week in Delhi, a photograph of an 11-year-old child crying next to the body of his father went viral on the social media. The pictures, tweeted by a New Delhi-based journalist early this week, showed the child sobbing next to his father Anil at a local crematorium, who died while cleaning a sewer last week in New Delhi prompted social media users to raise nearly 55 lakh rupees to support the family.

To step into a manhole to clean the sewer lines in urban India is as dangerous as fighting insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir. In last eight years at least, the death toll among sewer workers has started to converge with that of security forces killed in the beleaguered state. Statistically speaking, it is safer to be a soldier in the army serving in Kashmir than a sewer worker in India.

The Supreme Court has passed strictures against both central and state governments for sending people into manholes without even basic protective gear, and ordered Rs10 lakh to be paid to the survivors of each of those who died in the line of duty. Unfortunately, we don’t recall even a single instance where this compensation was awarded to the family members of dead sewer worker.

Nobody gives a second thought to a man who dies while cleaning the gutter. The best he can hope is just a casual description in the city pages of newspapers unless his death has a horrendous novelty, like in a recent case in Delhi when Anil, a 37-year-old man died of asphyxiation while cleaning a Delhi Jal Board (DJB) sewer in west Delhi’s Dabri last week on Friday.

Police said that Anil, a labourer was lowered in a 20 foot deep sewer by a weak rope tied to his waist which snapped midway. It was a double tragedy for the family as Anil had lost his four-month-old son only six days back. A week back three labourers were asphyxiated while a fourth is battling for life after reportedly inhaling poisonous gases inside a manhole they were cleaning in Lajpat Nagar.

This incident occurred less than a month after four men died while cleaning a septic tank in Ghitorni, Delhi. Joginder (32), Annu (28) and a 25-year-old unidentified man, were declared brought dead at AIIMS. Like in other similar cases reported earlier, the men weren’t wearing protective gear when they entered the sewer line.

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Sewage and septic tank workers, NCR, Delhi

According to reports, in all the death cases of the sewer cleaners recorded so far, none of the workers were equipped with protective gears like masks or any other safety equipment. Inspite of manual scavenging being banned by law, it continues nevertheless. Last month, the Delhi Govt had decided to fully mechanize the cleaning of sewers and provision of life imprisonment was suggested for those who failed to adhere to these new rules.

It is shocking that these sewer workers are forced to operate without bunny suites, masks, and oxygen cylinders. In fact, it was shocking to learn that the workers drink liquor before venturing into these death chambers to numb their senses. It is estimated that almost 90% of the workers are hooked to liquor. Many die young and there are few among those employed with municipalities who live till the retirement age.

Mumbai’s municipal corporation does not have data specifically for sewer workers, but last year, they acknowledged the death of 1386 conservancy workers since 2009. Another report released by the National Commission for Safai Karamacharis, a government agency, said on an average, one manual scavenger has died every five days in India since January 1, 2017.The report also said that if the amount of Hydrogen Sulphide in sewer is high, the death will be instant.

Bezwada Wilson, an activist who launched “Safai Karmachari Andolan” – a campaign against manual scavenging in 1995, told the press that the government numbers are a fraction of the data about sewer deaths as over 300 people were killed in the sewers in 2017 itself. He further added that there is no effort from the government to end this inhuman practice, which primarily employs the lowest rungs of our society, belonging to Dalit caste.

It’s getting difficult for the community of sewer workers to survive because they are already marginalised. If a person calls a worker to clean his sewer, he can neither refuse to work nor can he ask for the safety equipments to enter in the manhole. Though, there is a law in place but nobody gets punished. Law can take place only if there is a political will but unfortunately that is missing. If we look at the budget allocation, it clearly shows that sanitation workers are not a priority for this government.

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Life after Parrikar’s Delhi airlift doesn’t look easy for Goa BJP

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Manhohar Parrikar

After nearly three decades of Manohar Parrikar’s complete dominance over the affairs of state BJP, the party is now looking at life in Goa without him, who is battling advanced pancreatic cancer and was airlifted to New Delhi’s prestigious AIIMS on Saturday.

With apparently chances of Parrikar’s return to active politics bleak, life doesn’t appear all that smooth for the Goa BJP leadership, at least for now, as it is already battling crises of lack of credible successors, skeptical alliance partners who have sniffed the weakness, and the possibility of an ugly succession battle for power in Parrikar’s absence.

For now, several core Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in Goa seem to be in favour of dissolution of the state assembly, instead of allowing leaders from other alliance parties to head the coalition.

Barely hours after Parrikar took off in a specially chartered flight to the national capital on the instructions of the BJP high command, alliance partners Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward have already started scrapping publicly over sharing of power.

“The BJP should appoint the senior-most leader in-charge. Goa has already suffered because of lack of leadership. We need to fill that void,” state MGP chief Dipak Dhavalikar told reporters, throwing his party MLA, brother and Public Works Department Minister Sudin Dhavalikar’s hat in the ring for the post of officiating Chief Minister.

However, Goa Forward president and Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardesai has already rejected the option to make Dhavalikar the Deputy Chief Minister, with an ailing Parrikar continuing in the top post.

Both parties had contested the 2017 Assembly poll on an anti-BJP plank but had later joined the BJP-led coalition government on the condition that only Parrikar should head the coalition.

Another proposition, which was discussed by Dhavalikar with the BJP leadership about merging his regional party MGP with the BJP, has seen stiff resistance from the cadres of both parties.

Last week, state Congress president Girish Chodankar in a letter to Goa Governor Mridula Sinha had asked her not to consider the possibility of dissolution of the state Assembly and invite the Congress, which has more MLAs than the BJP in the 40-member House, to form the government instead of dissolving the House.

Party leaders say, under the current scenario, the best option would be Union Minister of State for AYUSH and North Goa MP Shripad Naik, who is a popular leader of the OBC, a significant vote bank which is peeved at the “pro-Brahmin politics” orchestrated with Parrikar at the helm of state and party affairs.

“Shripad is widely acceptable, both as a person and a politician. His nature is to take everyone along,” a BJP leader said.

There are also talks within the party about a possible anti-incumbency factor working for Naik in the upcoming Lok Sabha election. Getting Naik, a three-time MP from North Goa, back into the state politics would serve well for the party instead.

Elder to Parrikar by three years, Naik, 65, is complete counterfoil to Parrikar’s personality. While Parrikar is a sharp, incisive and intimidating, Naik is warm, gentle and known for his warm camaraderie.

Naik, in a way, has also been at the receiving end of Parrikar’s style of functioning, which did not allow any second power centre in Goa to develop.

The other options being touted within the party are Speaker Pramod Sawant and state BJP president and Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Tendulkar. While Sawant’s candidature has been opposed by alliance partners, Tendulkar could emerge as the dark horse in the BJP’s quest for a homegrown CM.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])

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Amit Shah’s 50-year dream: Whistling in the dark?

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Amit Shah

Bharatiya Janata Party : President Amit Shah’s boast at the national executive meeting about the party ruling for 50 years may have been in keeping with his usual aggressive, bombastic style, but it has been interpreted in two contradictory ways.

One was to see it as a sign of arrogance and the other was to discern in the seeming extravagant claim a hint of whistling in the dark to keep up the party morale. Both the surmises have an element of plausibility.

If the assertion underlines hauteur, the reason undoubtedly is the BJP’s belief that it faces no serious challenge at the moment. Notwithstanding the continuing unemployment, agrarian distress, high fuel prices, falling rupee, stagnant exports and the unease among the minorities and Dalits, the opposition has not been able to get its act together.

Because of this failure, there are now doubts about how it will fare in the forthcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh since the BJP’s main opponent in these states, the Congress, which was earlier expected to have an easy run, has been unable to reach an understanding with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and is troubled by its familiar internal squabbling.

Besides, the question as to who will be the opposition’s prime ministerial face is yet to be settled while there has been no clearcut articulation of an economic blueprint. The BJP, on the other hand, is pursuing a well-defined path. Even as “vikas” (development) remains its catchphrase, it also cannily indulges in the ruses of what a dissident saffron intellectual and former BJP minister, Arun Shourie, has called a “one-trick pony”.

The “trick”, according to him, is to foment divisiveness which has been highlighted by the communal uncertainties posed by the National Register of Citizens, which the Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, wants to be extended from his state to the entire country so that the “ghuspetiyas” (infiltrators or illegal immigrants) can be summarily evicted. “Chun chun ke nikaloonga”, as Amit Shah has thundered.

The BJP’s confidence apparently stems from the belief that while the promise of development will keep the youth and the middle class on its side — as has been confirmed by the Delhi University Students Union election results where the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), won three of the top four seats — the party’s nationalist plank targeting “ghuspetiyas” and the so-called urban Naxalites will keep the opposition off balance.

It is obvious that the opposition has found no effective answers to the allegations of being soft on illegal aliens and Maoist sympathisers and has to depend on the judiciary to keep any excesses of the ruling party in check as in the matter of lynchings.

How indifferent the BJP is towards such outrages or the disquiet expressed by the “secular” intelligentsia about its rule was evident from the seeming satisfaction which Amit Shah derived from the fact that the party keeps on winning despite the murder of Mohammed Akhlaq, allegedly for eating beef, or the “award wapsi” of the urban elite.

It is not surprising that he believes that a combination of the promise of economic growth and a depiction of the opposition as unpatriotic will keep the “lion” safe from the “wild dogs”, to quote the similes used by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat while addressing the World Hindu Congress in Chicago to describe the Sangh Parivar and its opponents.

On its part, the RSS has been engaged in broadening its appeal by calling the non-saffronites to its conclaves. It goes without saying that a possible mainstreaming of the avowedly pro-Hindu organisation will help the BJP to shake off to some extent the taint in the eyes of its opponents of its association with the RSS and thereby help in the fulfilment of the dream of ruling India for half a century.

It cannot be gainsaid that at the moment, much is going for the party. It has a Prime Minister whose popular appeal is testified by virtually all the opinion polls despite the government’s palpable inadequacies. The party also has a chief whose micromanagement of the organization has turned it into a formidable election-winning outfit.

In addition, its publicity is boosted not only by its members in the government and the party, but also by an army of trolls who lose no opportunity to pounce on the BJP’s critics with venomous abuses. Not to be left behind in supporting the ruling dispensation are some ‘nationalist’ television channels whose commitment to neutrality is conspicuous by its absence.

With so much in the BJP’s favour, its 50-year project may not seem all that far-fetched — except that the Indian voter remains famously inscrutable. Considering that the BJP secured no more than 31 per cent of the votes at the height of its popularity in 2014, it is obvious that a large percentage of the population do not think much of the party.

It may be this inconvenient fact which made Amit Shah whistle in the dark.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])

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