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Punjab, Haryana farmers suffer as crop gets ‘electrocuted’

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Chandigarh, April 14 : Farmers in the agrarian states of Punjab and Haryana are often blamed for causing environmental and health concerns by burning crop residue but scores of farmers also suffer burning of their crop for no fault of theirs.

Incidents of standing wheat crop being burnt to cinder across hundreds of acres in Punjab and Haryana have come to light in the past 10 days, just ahead of the harvest.

The reason? Short-circuiting of overhead high-tension electricity wires that criss-cross agricultural fields in both states.

In Punjab’s Patiala district, for instance, the crop over nearly 200 acres in Kathgarh Chana and Khagta Kalan villages was burnt last week.

“The short-circuit can happen anytime — day or night. While in the daytime, the fire is noticed by someone and steps are taken to control it, at night it can cause extensive damage,” farmer Jagir Singh of Patiala district told IANS.

“We had been complaining to the electricity department officials that the loose overhead electricity wires are dangerous, but they have not replaced these on time. This has led to the damage,” he added, pointing to his own loss of over Rs 2 lakh.

The Sangrur-Patiala highway was blocked by farmers for some time last week near Sohiyan village after the wheat crop — ripe and ready after four to five months of intense effort — was damaged on five acres of land. The fire was caused by a short-circuit.

“A similar incident took place last year. The authorities failed to replace outdated electricity wires,” farmer Balwinder Singh of Jheormajra village pointed out, adding that he was going to harvest the wheat crop when the incident took place.

Officials of the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL) say that they try to replace the defective wires but sometimes the exercise takes time.

“Whenever we get complaints from farmers and village panchayats regarding faulty and loose wires, we try to repair them on priority. However, sometimes a delay occurs and farmers have to suffer,” an Executive Engineer with PSPCL told IANS.

Farmers rue the fact that they are forced to fend for themselves as the fire brigade facility is available only in major towns and cities.

“The fire brigade reaches the spot after one hour or even later. By that time, the fire spreads. At times, villagers use local resources to douse the fire,” farmer Gurjant Singh of Bathinda district pointed out.

On Wednesday, wheat crop on 23 acres of land of two farmers was damaged in Chugte Khurd village of Bathinda district due to a short-circuit in the overhead electricity wires.

Revenue officials have to calculate the loss suffered by farmers in such incidents so that the authorities can provide some compensation to the farmers.

Green Revolution state Punjab, which occupies just 1.54 per cent of the country’s geographical area, contributes nearly 50 per cent of foodgrain to the national kitty. The production in neighbouring Haryana is nearly 40 per cent of that of Punjab.

By : Jaideep Sarin

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])

India

India’s first Humboldt Penguin born in Mumbai Zoo

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Mumbai, Aug 16: Nature lovers were thrilled as India’s first Humboldt Penguin chick was hatched at the Mumbai Zoo, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) officially announced here on Thursday.

“The Humboldt Penguin chick hatched at 8.02 p.m. on Independence Day (August 15). It appeared to be active and the mother Flipper was tring to feed it too,” confirmed the Zoo Director in-charge Sanjay Tripathi.

After mating in captivity, the Penguin pair Mr Molt and Flipper, finally delivered an egg in July at the Veer Jijabai Bhonsale Udyan, or Mumbai Zoo.

While Mr Molt is the youngest male, Flipper is the oldest female in the zoo’s penguin colony which attracts hordes of excited visitors daily.

As an anxious team of zoo caretakers, vets and others kept vigil for nearly 40 days, the egg was finally hatched late on Wednesday and the small fluffy chick struggled out to freedom in the nest inside the special chilled enclosure where all the penguins have been kept.

The special enclosure is spread across 1,700 sqft where an average temperature of 16-18 degrees is maintained, the water quality is regularly tracked and the Penguins are fed on fish, including Indian Mackerals.

Eight Humboldt Penguins – later named as Dory, Donald, Daisy, Popeye, Olive, Bubble, Flipper and Mr Molt — were imported here from a South Korea zoo on July 26, 2016.

However, one female, Dory could not survive and died on October 23 following a bacterial infection during the period of acclimatisation before they went on public display, and have been the top attraction of the Mumbai Zoo.

IANS

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Sunita Williams among 9 astronauts to fly into space from US soil

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Washington, Aug 3 (IANS) Indian-origin astronaut Sunita Williams is among the nine astronauts named by NASA on Friday for its first human spaceflight programme from the US soil since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

The astronauts will fly on the spacecraft developed by Elon Musk-owned SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and global aviation firm Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, as part of the US space agency’s Commercial Crew programme to send humans to the ISS on private US spacecraft.

Williams has been named for the Boeing programme to the ISS — the first test flight scheduled to take place in the middle of 2019.

“For the first time since 2011, we are on the brink of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

Born in Euclid (Ohio), Williams came to NASA from the Navy where she was a test pilot and rose to the rank of captain before retiring.

Since her selection as an astronaut in 1998, she has spent 322 days aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for Expeditions 14/15 and Expeditions 32/33, commanded the space station and performed seven spacewalks, the US space agency said in a statement.

“The men and women we assign to these first flights are at the forefront of this exciting new time for human spaceflight,” said Mark Geyer, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“It will be thrilling to see our astronauts lift off from American soil, and we can’t wait to see them aboard the ISS,” he added.

In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were awarded a combined $6.8 billion in contracts from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of flying crews to the space station.

SpaceX is targeting November 2018 for Crew Dragon’s first uncrewed demonstration mission (Demo-1), three months later than the previous schedule released by NASA early this year.

The crewed demonstration flight, with two astronauts on board, will follow in April 2019, four months later than previously announced.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, on the other hand, will likely perform two crucial test flights next year, instead of this year as planned.

Each test flight will provide data on the performance of the rockets, spacecraft, ground systems, and operations to ensure the systems are safe to fly astronauts.

The crew for Boeing’s Crew Flight Test and SpaceX’s Demo-2 flights will each include at least a flight commander and pilot aboard to test out the systems.

After successful completion of the flight tests with crew, NASA will review flight data to verify that the systems meet the agency’s safety and performance certification requirements and are ready to begin regular servicing missions to the space station, the US space agency said.

Additional crew members will be assigned by NASA’s international partners at a later date.

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What if UNESCO withdraws Taj’s world heritage site title, asks SC

“It is a world heritage site. What will happen if Unesco say that we withdraw the world heritage title,” asked the bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta.

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Flooded lawns at Taj Mahal after rains. (Pic ANI)

New Delhi, July 26 (IANS) Slamming both the Central and Uttar Pradesh government for the neglect of Taj Mahal, the Supreme Court on Thursday wondered what if Unesco drops the 17th century Mughal monument from its list of world heritage sites.

Asked if the authorities concerned have filed the management plan for the protection and preservation of the heritage site, Justice Lokur said: “It is very very difficult to understand something that is happening. Something is said on affidavit, something is said orally and something otherwise. It is unacceptable.

Coupled with this, the court also wanted to know which was the authority responsible for the protection and preservation of Taj as it found that the three affidavits filed before it were by the Uttar Pradesh Tourism Department, second by the Union Environment and Forest Ministry and third by some other authority.

“Somebody has to take the responsibility. Who has to take the responsibility for Taj – either Centre or Uttar Pradesh government with an identifiable authority?” the bench said.

As senior counsel A.D.N.Rao told the court that the Archaeological Survey of India was responsible for the Taj, the court expressed surprise that the it has been kept out of the consultation process for preparing the draft vision document for the protection and preservation of the Taj.

Ordering that a copy of the draft vision document be made available to the ASI and asking its to share it with INTACH, Agha Khan Foundation, ICOMS and other similar entities who have expertise in protecting and restoring the historic monuments, the court also directed the UP government to give a copy of the vision document to petitioner M.C.Mehta for his comments.

Sharing the court’s concern on the possibility of Unesco dropping Taj from the list of world heritage sites, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told the court that the task involving the preservation and protection of Taj and other adjoining monuments including Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra fort at Mathura Ais massive and has to be carried by way of short term, medium and long term plan.

He told the court that short term plan itself would take two years to complete.

At the outset of the hearing, Justice Lokur took exception to Uttar Pradesh government filing the draft vision document asking if the state government expected the Court to “correct it.”

The court was told that the Taj Trapezium Authority was responsible for executing the larger plans fior the protection of heritage monument, Justice Lokur said had it been doing its job, things would not have come to such a pass.

The court directed it be told “categorically and unequivocally” who is responsible for the TTZ.

“Whether it is Union of India, then which Ministry, if it is Uttar Pradesh government, then which Ministry,” said Justice Lokur, adding that “we are in a situation where left hand does not know what right is doing”.

TTZ is an area of about 10,400 sq km spread over the districts of Agra, Firozabad, Mathura, Hathras and Etah in Uttar Pradesh and Bharatpur district of Rajasthan.

As the Attorney General referred to the draft vision document involving multi-pronged approach to preserve and protect the heritage monument, Justice Lokur confronted him with an affidavit by the Uttar Pradesh government which said that there were 1,167 polluting industries in the area.

Venugopal then sought to clarify that all of them were being operated on clean fuel and UP government’s standing counsel Aishwarya Bhati said it was just the nomenclature to describe them which is in use for long.

This drew the court’s ire.

“They are polluting industries, your affidavit says but you are saying that they are not polluting but by nomenclature they have been described so,” said Justice Lokur.

“There is something wrong with your English or there is something wrong with ours,” he added.

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