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With 54% of India’s total land prone to earthquakes, are we prepared to handle it?

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By Harshmeet Singh

The brutal 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Nepal has caused unprecedented loss of life and physical damage. While the official death figure, at the time of writing this, is over 2,500 in Nepal and 51 in India, it would surely rise exponentially as the rescue efforts intensify in the following days. As the world rallies behind the Nepalese people and help pours in from all quarters, there is only thought in everyone’s mind – ‘Is there nothing we can do against the nature’s fury?’

Despite galloping scientific achievements that the mankind has witnessed, we have never been able to question the invincibility of Nature. While the textbooks are filled with lessons on kinds of earthquake, there is still no breakthrough on any earthquake prediction mechanism. In such a scenario, the best bet for any country, to deal with such a horrendous event is to be prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best. With the Himalayas making India an active seismic zone, it would be worth taking a look at India’s preparedness to handle strong earthquakes.

Unlike some other natural disasters, there is a fair demarcation of the territories around the world which are prone to earthquakes due to their location over major fault lines and highly seismic zones. According to Geographical statistics, close to 54% of India’s total land is earthquake prone. A number of major Indian cities come under seismic activity zones IV and V, implying that they are highly susceptible to devastating earthquakes.

Northern India, in particular, has multiple cities coming under these zones. Add to that the vertical growth that our cities are witnessing over the past decade or so, and you would be able to picture how a major earthquake can leave us in tatters.

Earthquake resistant structures

India’s national capital, Delhi, falls into seismic zone IV, thus making it highly prone to major earthquakes. In 2007, under the ‘Indo-US capacity building exercise for disaster management’, five buildings in the capital were retrofitted in order to ensure that they sustain future earthquakes with minimal damage. Retrofitting is a mechanism through which an existing building is modified, using certain strategies, to conform to the present day standards for earthquake resistance.

Soon after, the National disaster management authority issued specific guidelines for ‘Seismic Retrofitting of Deficient Buildings and Structures’. But unfortunately, most builders turned a blind eye towards such guidelines.

In 2011, NDMA said that close to 4,000 multi-storied buildings in Ahmedabad won’t survive a high magnitude earthquake due to a faulty design. The situation was even worse in Delhi in 2013. Talking about Delhi, a senior official from the NDMA said, “It is hard to imagine the damage caused by an earthquake with high intensity. The city has over 25 lakh buildings; a majority of them do not adhere to the safety code, nor have they been constructed under proper technical supervision,”

National Retrofit Program

In 2014, the NDMA, with assistance from experts from IITs and ministries, came out with guidelines on ‘seismic retrofitting’. Launched under the Home Ministry, it was called the ‘National Retrofit Program’. The short term aim of the program was to retrofit critical structures and buildings such as hospitals and schools on an immediate basis.

According to these norms issued under the program, “A special class of buildings has emerged in a big way across the country, called open ground storey buildings (or buildings on stilts). This is a solution being provided by architects to solve the parking crisis in urban India, but it does not address earthquake safety of these buildings. These do not conform to prevalent Indian standards for earthquake safety. These buildings are flexible and weak in the open ground storey compared to the storeys above,”

According to the NDMA, the devastating Bhuj earthquake in 2001 saw a number of weak RC (reinforced concrete) buildings bite the dust, whereas many government owned buildings, which had an open ground storey, stood the test since they were in accordance with the ‘Indian Seismic Code’.

Other Steps taken

In 2007, the NDMA also made it mandatory for all the new constructions in Mumbai and New Delhi to abide by the earthquake resistant designs. The RBI had also issued orders to all the banks, asking them to deny infrastructure loans to any building which is not abiding by the earthquake resistant structures’ guidelines. But unfortunately, these norms are flouted more often than not. In most cases, there is no formal scrutiny of the building’s design before the loan is approved by the Banks.

Although it is mandatory to approve the structural design from the civic authorities before construction, the process has taken the shape of a mere formality. The structural engineers, who are supposed to ensure that the buildings’ designs are earthquake resistant, seldom care to go into such details.

Although a number of surveys, to earmark ‘dangerous’ buildings, have been conducted by the civic authorities over the past few years, it is hard to see any concrete outcome. Building audits do not find a place in the priority list of the Governments. And with high-rise buildings making their way into tier 1 and tier 2 cities, the risk of a huge life loss is imminent.

In December 2014, the Supreme Court directed the central Government to ensure that all the upcoming infrastructures in the country display their ‘earthquake resistant category’ and define the implications of their category, as per the Government’s definitions. Even after the apex court’s judgement, majority of the new buildings have been overlooking these norms.

Are we ready to face an Earthquake?

The one word answer to this question is ‘No’! There is a high chance that the building where you are currently residing isn’t earthquake resistant because the structural engineer passed the structure plan without giving it a second thought. Considering that more than half of India’s territory comes under an active seismic zone, this imagination could very well turn into a reality. Till then, we can only hope that our builder chose to follow the norms rather than bypassing them for an easy passage.

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80% Cases of COVID-19 in India Exhibit Nil or Mild Symptoms: Health Minister

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan says that nearly 80% of COVID cases in India are asymptomatic

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Health MinisterHarsh Vardhan said that almost 80% COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. Wikimedia Commons

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday said almost 80 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in India are asymptomatic or at best with very mild symptoms, according to Covid-19 pandemic in India updates.

In an exclusive interview to IANS, the Health Minister said, “Even today, in almost 80 per cent of the cases of COVID-19, which are being reported in India, the patients tend to exhibit either nil or mild symptoms. These patients are mostly contacts of confirmed cases. Interestingly, had it not been for our contact tracing efforts, and if left to their own in isolation, these patients may not have even remembered or reported their infection.”

Harsh Vardhan, who has recently been elected the chief of WHO’s Executive Board, was answering a query on whether asymptomatic patients who are potential virus carriers and who can take the virus deeper into rural India are causing worry to the government.

He said, “I am aware about WHO’s mention of some laboratory-confirmed cases that are truly asymptomatic. It is equally true, that as on date, there has been no documented asymptomatic transmission.”

However, he added that recently, more symptoms like headache, muscle pain, pink eye, loss of smell, or loss of taste, intense chills, rigors and sore throat have been included in the list of COVID-19 symptoms by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States. “It will require more studies before these symptoms are finally included in our list in India,” he quipped.

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Recently, more symptoms like headache have been included in the list of COVID-19 symptoms. Pixabay

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He added that the new symptoms were very subjective and vague which might go unnoticed, might not be remembered by the patient and, thus, might even go unreported. “Moreover, if for a moment we talk of testing such asymptotic patients, identification of all these asymptomatic cases will require repeated testing of 1.3 billion population which is a resource expensive exercise for any country and is neither possible nor recommended,” the Health Minister said.

He emphasized on priority-based and targeted testing and said that it will be helpful in detecting more cases of COVID-19 and curbing the disease. “With our efforts at sustained and quality assured scaling up of the testing facilities, I am sure, we shall be better placed for maximum case detection,” he concluded. (IANS)

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What Difference Between Chinese Domination and American Domination?

Chinese government has always been dominant over it's people

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Who is more dominant, Chinese government or US government?. Pixabay

By N.S. Venkataraman

Chinese government has not left anybody in doubt, about it’s ambitious target of dominating the world at any cost. Chinese government has been suppressing  freedom of speech in China, taking away the rights of citizens of Hong Kong in authoritarian manner and aggressively occupying the territory of neighbours such as Tibet and part of Indian territory, which it occupied after 1962 Indo Chinese war. China is now claiming Indian province Arunachal Pradesh as it’s own and aggressively claiming territorial right in South China Sea and Senkaku island. Chinese government says that Taiwan is part of it’s territory and objects to any recognition given to Taiwan by any other country.

Further, China is trying to enforce it’s domination over small and weak  nearby  countries  such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and others, by extending loans, which  these countries cannot afford to repay in the foreseeable future.

Viewing China’s methods and targets, one does not find much of difference between today’s Chinese government and Hitler’s Germany. Several countries in the world are  gradually realizing that checking China’s ambition is as necessary, as checking Hitler’s ambition  that caused World War II.

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Chinese government has been suppressing freedom of speech in China. Pixabay

However, the supporters of China claim that US government too should be accused of trying to dominate the world and it has sent troops to several countries such as Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and others to enforce it’s domination. There is an element of  truth in this, as American government seem to think that it has the duty to police the world.

In any case, on careful analysis of the scenario and judiciously comparing the domination desire of China and USA, one cannot but see a subtle difference between both these countries.

While China believes in ruthless elimination of opponents both inside and outside China (just like the way Hitler did) and wants to occupy territories of other countries by coercion or force , US does not indulge in such acts of suppression of human rights or occupying territory of other countries.

US has not concealed it’s desire that freedom of speech and democratic procedures should prevail in all regions in the world. On many occasions , US has fought against totalitarian regimes, religious extremists and terrorist groups and has paid a high price by losing American lives.

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USA desires to dominate the world. Pixabay

USA may have the ambition to dominate the world and ensure it’s authority as super power, but it has no ambition of territorial expansions that China has.

All said and done, if the world were to choose between USA and China, it would inevitably come to the conclusion that world domination by USA is a lesser evil than the world domination by China.

Unlike China, the citizens of USA have the right to criticise the decisions of the government, launch protests against human rights violation, if any and exercise their franchise once in four years to change the party in power, if it would act against the wishes of the people. By such process, the conscience of USA largely remain in tact and US government is vulnerable to the pressure of public opinion, both in USA  and other parts of the world.

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In China, the citizens don’t have the right to criticise the decisions of the government. Pixabay

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On the other hand, China has totalitarian regime and no citizen can survive in China if he would criticise the Chinese President or question the decision of the Chinese government. To this extent, it is dictatorial regime in China, which can be termed as uncivilized form of governance.

The fact is that USA has been remaining as super  power in the world for several decades now and  the world has not  become worse due to the dominating power of USA. Of course, there have been criticism against US government by some section of world opinion but  most of such critics belong to religious extremist groups  and motivated  leftist (communist) forces , whose economic  and administrative policies  have totally failed to deliver the goods.

Achieving super power status by China   and establishing it’s authority in large parts of the world with least consideration for value systems and sentiments of people, is the worst thing that can happen to the world civilization.

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Don’t Lecture India; Look at Your Own Record

Many countries worldwide have a horrifying record regarding human rights

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Europeans have a horrifying record regarding human rights violations. Pixabay

By Maria Wirth

Europeans have a horrifying record regarding human rights violations. Germany is well known for an unprecedented, systematic holocaust of Jews and gypsies right in the middle of Europe only 80 years ago. Yet Britain, France, Portugal and others were as brutal with equal or even higher number of humans killed in their colonies. Their victims count many millions and many of them were Indians.

The Arabs, Turks and Mongols, too, have a horrifying record regarding human rights. The number of victims killed also goes into many millions, and many of them were Indians.

The Muslims invaded India already over thousand years ago and were as brutal as ISIS in our times. Unspeakable torture and beheadings were done on massive scale. Even the supposedly benign “Akbar the Great” slaughtered Hindus in huge numbers. The collective sacred threads of the Brahmins massacred by him is said to have weighed 200 kilogram. Can one even imagine such incredible injustice and brutality to civilians and priests? Thousands of temples were destroyed. Hindu women were sold into sex slavery. Hindus even had to open their mouth and receive gratefully the spittle by Muslims sitting on horses, and slaughtering cows was seen as “noblest deed” because it was so painful for Hindus, is recounted in “Legacy of Jihad” by Andrew Bostom.

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Hindu women were sold into sex slavery. Pixabay

The brutality experienced by Hindus was so horrendous that, even in independent India, they hardly dare to complain when they are subjected to cruel discrimination. It is painful to read comments whenever Hindus are killed or raped by Muslims: “This won’t make news, as the victim is only a Hindu”. It is so sad, but understandable after what they have gone through for over thousand years. They had no way to get justice; had to bear their suffering silently.

Guru Nanak cried out to the Supreme, and it is part of the Grant Sahib, “Having lifted Islam to its head, You have engulfed Hindustan in dread… Such cruelties they have inflicted and yet Your mercy remains unmoved….Oh Lord, these dogs have destroyed the diamond-like Hindustan.”

The British colonial masters were not less brutal. Their disdain for the natives was incredible. Winston Churchill is on record saying that he “hated Indians” and considered them a “beastly people with a beastly religion”. Celebrities like Charles Dickens wanted the Indian race ‘exterminated’ and considered them vile savages and Max Mueller wanted them all converted to Christianity.

Britain looted and reduced the formerly wealthiest country of the world to painful poverty, where during their rule over 25 million people starved to death, 3 million as late as in 1943 in Bengal.

The crimes of the British colonialists are, like those of the Muslim invaders, too numerous to list. They tied Indians to the mouth of canons and blew them up, hanged scores of them on trees, and even just after over one million Indian soldiers had helped Britain to be victorious in the First World War with many thousands sacrificing their lives, General Dyer gave orders to shoot at a peaceful gathering in Amritsar in 1919 where thousands died. An old coffee planter in Kodagu told me that even in the early 1950s there was a board in front of the club house in Madikeri. It read: “Dogs and Indians not allowed”.

Can anyone imagine the pain those Indian generations went through, having arrogant, often uncouth ruffians looting their land and despising them as dogs?

How could Europeans and Arabs be so cruel to other human beings? The reason is that they saw themselves as superior and others not quite as human.

Religion played a big role in making them feel superior. Both Christianity and Islam teach their members that only their religion is true and that the Creator will reward them with eternal heaven, but will severely punish all those who do not follow their ‘true’ religion. If God himself will torture them eternally in hellfire, why should his followers be good to them? Wouldn’t it mean siding with God’s enemies and betraying Him?

But on what basis do they consider only their religion as true and themselves as superior? The reason is that the respective founder of their religion allegedly said so. No other reason exists and no proof. On this flimsy basis, Christians and Muslims treated other human beings most inhumanly, believing they are destined for hell while they themselves are God’s favorites and will go to heaven. This brainwashing in the name of religion happens even in our times and its effect is still not questioned and analysed.

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Christians and Muslims treated other human beings most inhumanly. Pixabay

Yet today, neither white Christians, nor Arab or Turkish Muslims are constantly reminded of those terrible crimes of their forefathers. “The present generation must not be held accountable for the sins of their fathers”, is however not applied to Hindus and especially not to Brahmins. Media keeps hitting out at them as if they had been the worst violators of human rights in the past. Hinduism is portrayed as the villain due to the “horrific and oppressive” caste system.

Anyone, who knows a little about history, knows that this is false and malicious. The structure of Hindu society into four varnas or categories is mentioned in the Vedas and depends on one’s aptitude and profession – Brahmins, who memorise and teach the Vedas, Kshatriyas, who administer and defend society, Vaishyas who supply the society with goods and Shudras, who are the service sector. The varnas are not fixed by birth in texts like Bhagavad Gita or Manusmriti. But the British themselves cemented ‘castes’ (a Portuguese word) in their census and then turned around and accused Hindus of their birth-based, fixed caste system.

There was however one more category which the whole world has been told about and which is used to the hilt to despise Hinduism. They were the untouchables who do unclean work, like handling dead animals, cleaning sewers, etc. The fact that other varnas avoided touching them is still made a huge issue of in the West. In fact it is portrayed, as if this practice made Hindus the greatest violators of human rights and makes the millions tortured and killed by Christians and Muslims pale in comparison.

Yet there is no proof that even one of those untouchables has been killed for doing unclean work. Higher castes may indeed have looked down or still look down on those whose job involves dirt, which is unfortunately a human trait in all societies. It has nothing to do with Hinduism. Most people are aware that such work also needs to be done.

There is in all likelihood another angle regarding “untouchability”, which the British did not realize: Ayurveda knew already 3000 years ago that invisible germs can cause serious illness and those dealing with cadavers and dirt are more likely to carry and spread those. However, the British didn’t know about this fact till only some 150 years ago, when Louis Pasteur claimed that germs cause sickness. (By the way, Google describes this discovery as “crowning achievement of the French scientist”, and avoids mentioning India’s ancient Ayurveda).

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Higher castes may indeed have looked down or still look down on those whose job involves dirt, which is unfortunately a human trait in all societies. Pixabay

Now in today’s time of “social distancing” due to the Corona Virus, we know that not touching others is a precaution to prevent potential infection and has nothing to do with discrimination. The British could have given Hindus the benefit of doubt that they avoided physical contact with certain people due to caution. But since the British didn’t have the advanced knowledge about harmful germs they could not see the possible reason behind it.

Since Independence, the caste system is officially abolished and discrimination against lower castes is a non-bailable offense. Yet the West still makes a huge issue of the caste system and untouchables. Why? Was this the greatest crime the British could find against the “natives” and therefore exaggerated it tremendously?

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This is not to say that people of higher castes didn’t or don’t look down on lower castes, but the demonization of Brahmins is most unwarranted, as Brahmins are least likely to harbour hatred for others due to their strict rules for sadhana which requires them to keep a very high standard of mental and physical purity.  Yet evangelicals, NGOs, international media, Muslim organisations, they all are after them and Hindus in general. They attack them for “atrocities” which never even happened, while the unspeakable atrocities, which were perpetrated upon them, are ignored. It’s a classic case of noticing the speck in the brother’s eye, but not the beam of wood in one’s own eye.

They got away with it for too long, because Hindus didn’t react. The meekness of Hindus was legendary. They were even called cowards. Yet in recent time, Hindus are becoming more assertive. They realize that the constant attacks on them are malicious, and that they are being fooled in the name of secularism because neither Christians nor Muslims can be secular. They are by nature communal because they need to make their community spread all over the world.

It is time to call out this blatant insincerity. When a head of state, like Imran Khan, accuses the Modi government in a tweet of “moving towards Hindu Rashtra with its Hindutva Supremacist, fascist ideology”, he better looks at his own country and his own ideology. A Hindu Rashtra with its inclusiveness and freedom are any time better than the exclusive, supremacist ideologies of Islam and Christianity, which force human beings into a strait-jacket of blind belief and several Muslim states threaten even today those who want to get out with death sentence.