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70 killed in Kolkata hospital fire

KOLKATA (PTI): At least 70 persons suffocated to death when a massive fire broke out in a centrally- airconditioned seven-storey private hospital in the metropolis today.

Police and hospital sources said 70 persons had died in the fire at the private 190-bed AMRI Hospital at Dhakuria in the southern fringes.

The fire in the annexe building of the hospital was detected at around 3:30 am by local people who rushed to the gates but were driven away by the security guards, following which the fire spread swiftly, West Bengal Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said.

As smoke billowed out, firemen using ladders with platforms smashed window panes in the facade of the building to rescue patients trapped inside the ICU, ICCU, Intensive Therapy Unit and Critical Care units.

The firemen evacuated patients with pulleys from the upper floors as they were not in a condition to be taken down by ladders put up by the fire brigade all around the building.

The fire brigade had difficulty in entering the hospital premises as the approach roads were narrow, he said.

Additional Director-General, Fire Services, D. Biswas said the fire brigade was informed at 4:10 am and responded immediately.

Biswas said that patients who died were admitted in the critical care and orthopaedic units and were unable to move.

He said if proper fire fighting arrangements existed at the hospital, such a fire could not have taken place.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who visited the hospital, ordered cancellation of its licence. She urged angry relatives of the victims to go to the state-run SSKM Hospital to identify the bodies.

Senior vice-president of AMRI S. Upadhay said there were 160 patients in the annexe building at the time of the fire.

ANI adds: According to reports, an FIR has also been lodged against the AMRI Hospital authorities by the fire department.

The dead bodies are being moved from the AMRI hospital to the city's SSKM Hospital. The families of the victims have been asked to identify the dead bodies before the post-mortems are conducted.

Helpline numbers that have reportedly been issued for the families concerned of the victims are: 09932215296 and 09831225067.



Lokpal report recommends constitutional status for ombudsman

NEW DELHI: Recommending constitutional status for the anti-graft ombudsman, but leaving the issue of the Prime Minister's inclusion to Parliament, a standing committee on the Lokpal tabled its report in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on Friday.

Panel chief Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the committee recommended keeping group A and B employees within the ambit of the Lokpal while putting group C and D staff under the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC).

"Group C staff has been placed under CVC, a statutory body, as Group A and B, which are higher in bureaucracy, have been put under Lokpal, a higher constitutional body," said Singhvi.

He said the panel dealt with 24 issues and had unanimity on 13 issues. He also said the maximum dissent notes (13) related to exclusion of Group C staff from the Lokpal.

"The panel is not a political forum, individual members can submit their notes of dissent and this is reflected in the report," said Singhvi.

He also said that the other controversial issue of bringing the Prime Minister within the am bit of the ombudsman has been left to the wisdom of Parliament with three options — inclusion of the Prime Minister under the Lokpal, non-inclusion, and deferred inclusion.

The panel also suggested keeping the speech and conduct of MPs in the house out of the Lokpal, saying Article 105 provides enough safeguards for the purpose.

The committee has left the judiciary out of the Lokpal, saying the issue be dealt with separately through the judges' accountability bill.

It has also recommended a separate grievance redressal bill to address the demand of a citizen's charter.

According to the standing committee, a single enactment under Articles 253 and 254 of the Constitution will enable the setting up of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas, with uniform powers in states.

Stating that the panel has separated the Central Bureau of Investigation's probing role from prosecution for objectivity, Singhvi said in case of a complaint, the Lokpal would initiate a preliminary inquiry and then refer it to the agency, which would then not be answerable to either the Law Ministry or the Lokpal.

The case would then go to the prosecution wing of the Lokpal and then to the special courts to be set up, he said.

While the panel had made mandatory reservation for Dalits, backwards and minorities up to 50 per cent in the search panel for the Lokpal, it has introduced the selection committee as a unique concept, he added.

The panel has suggested punitive measures to deal with false complaints, Singhvi said. — IANSBack



Pak army believes NATO attack pre-planned: reports

ISLAMABAD: A senior Pakistani military officer said a NATO air strike killing 24 Pakistani troops on the Afghan border last month was pre-planned and warned of more attacks, comments likely to fuel tension with the US.

Major General Ashfaq Nadeem, Director-General of Military Operations, was also quoted by newspapers on Friday as saying that Pakistan, a strategic US ally, would deploy an air defence system along the border to prevent such attacks. Nadeem made the remarks to a Senate committee on defence on Thursday. Senator Tariq Azim, who attended the briefing, confirmed to Reuters that Nadeem had made the comments. The Daily Times said Nadeem described the attack as a plot. Another newspaper quoted him as saying it was a “pre-planned conspiracy” against Pakistan.

“We can expect more attacks from our supposed allies,” the Express Tribune quoted Nadeem as saying at the senate briefing. US and Pakistani officials have offered differing initial accounts of what happened.

Pakistan said the attack was unprovoked, with officials calling it an act of blatant aggression—an accusation the US has rejected. 

Two US officials told Reuters that preliminary information from the ongoing investigation indicated Pakistani officials at a border coordination centre had cleared the air strike, unaware they had troops in the area. 

Nadeem ruled out the possibility that NATO forces may have thought they were firing on militants, who often move across the porous frontier and attack Western troops. One newspaper reported that he told the Senate committee that militants do not leave themselves exposed on mountain tops, like the ones where the Pakistani border posts were located. Senator Azim also quoted Nadeem as saying that NATO helicopters singled out one army Major as he was crossing from one border post to another after losing communications, and this also led the military to conclude the attack was planned.  Pakistan responded to the attack by suspending supply routes to NATO forces in Afghanistan. Idle drivers of trucks carrying fuel and other supplies to the neighbouring country fear being attacked by Pakistani Taliban militants who oppose cooperation with NATO. Militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade at such trucks in the southwestern city of Quetta in Baluchistan province on Thursday night, setting fire to 29 vehicles, police officials said.

Washington, which sees Pakistan as critical to its efforts to stabilise Afghanistan ahead of a combat troop pullout in 2014, has tried to sooth fury over the NATO incident.  President Barack Obama called Pakistan’s president to offer condolences over the strike that provoked a crisis in relations between the two countries. He stopped short of a formal apology. Pakistan boycotted an international conference in Germany on the future of Afghanistan because of the NATO attack. US-Pakistani ties were already frayed after the secret US raid in May that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. — ReutersBack



8 Pak hockey players join India league

Lahore: The Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) is in crisis as eight players have reportedly signed contracts with the unofficial World Series Hockey league in India. Former captain Zeeshan Ashraf and Adnan Maqsood have left for India and former captain Rehan Butt, Shakeel Abbasi and Waseem Ahmed have also joined the league. The federation has warned that the revolting players would face a life ban. “Our stance is very clear—any player who decides to go and play in this unauthorised league faces a life ban,” PHF secretary, Asif Bajwa said.



Srinagar-Jammu National Highway closed

SRINAGAR: The Srinagar-Jammu National Highway was closed today due to snowfall near the Jawahar Tunnel in Qazigund area. Traffic control authorities said efforts were on to clear the road but continuing snowfall was impeding road clearance operation. Higher reaches of Kashmir have been receiving intermittent snowfall and rains since Wednesday. The 294-km highway is the only road link between the Kashmir Valley and the rest of the country.




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