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Amarnath Yatra: 67 pilgrims die in 2 weeks;
shrine board worried

SRINAGAR: The death of 67 Amarnath pilgrims, mostly due to cardiac arrest, in just 17 days of the yatra to the holy cave in south Kashmir Himalayas has left the board managing the pilgrimage worried and it has asked authorities to address all health-related issues.

Although 105 persons died during the 45-day yatra last year, which was highest due to natural causes, the high number of deaths in the first two weeks of the pilgrimage this year has the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which is headed by Governor N.N. Vohra, worried.

"As many as 67 yatris died during the ongoing pilgrimage, mostly due to cardiac arrest, during the first 17 days," an official of the shrine board said.

Cardiac arrest caused by rarefied oxygen at high altitude has been one of the most common natural causes of death among the pilgrims.

Officials of the state health department, which is running dozens of medical camps along the twin yatra routes, said in many cases the pilgrims were found to be in possession of fake fitness certificates.

"We have seen cases where some people are suffering from diabetes and respiratory problems. This is not a place for them to come but we cannot stop them as they come with fitness certificates issued by medical practitioners," an official of the health department said.

The official said the mounting death toll of the pilgrims prompted Vohra, who is chairman of the SASB, to direct all authorities to take steps to address health-related issues.

The governor has already convened two emergency meetings on pilgrim deaths since the 39-day annual pilgrimage to the shrine housing the naturally formed ice-Shiv lingam commenced on June 25 from the twin tracks of Pahalgam in Anantnag district and Baltal in Ganderbal district.

The yatra will end on August 2, coinciding with Raksha Bandhan.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who is facing lots of questions over the issue on his Twitter account, attributed the deaths to old age, poor fitness and lack of acclimatisation.

"It (is) on account of age, poor fitness and lack of any acclimatisation," Omar wrote on twitter.com.

Chief Executive Officer of the SASB N.K. Chaudhury said while the high number of deaths was a matter of concern, he was not in a position to comment on the issue. "Please talk to the health department," he said.

There has been an unprecedented rush to the Amarnath cave this year as more than four lakh pilgrims have so far paid obeisance at the shrine.

According to SASB, over 4.5 lakh pilgrims have registered for the yatra. Many unregistered pilgrims have also made way to the yatra. The SASB has opened six on-the-spot registration counters for such pilgrims.

Besides the state government, Army and paramilitary forces like CRPF and BSF have also chipped in by setting up a well-knit network of medical camps, which are functional round-the-clock along the two routes and have treated thousands of pilgrims.

The SASB has directed all camp directors to use the public address system to urge yatris to immediately contact the nearest health camp and take help in case they felt any kind of uneasiness or illness.

The healthcare facilities have been further augmented and over 1000 oxygen cylinders have been made available on the two routes to the shrine by the state health department.

"This was in addition to the oxygen cylinders available in the health camps established by the Army, paramilitary forces and NGOs," SASB officials said, adding oxymeters have also been made available at various locations to check oxygen levels of the yatris reporting at the health camps.

Additional specialist doctors have been deployed at the base camps and at critical places like Brarimarg, Sangam, Pissu top, Zojibal, Nagakoti to attend to the seriously ill patients.

Various steps have also been taken to improve arrangements for shifting of critical patients to the base camps and, thereafter, to the identified hospitals in Srinagar for prompt and appropriate treatment.

CRPF spokesman Sudhir Kumar said the force has set up various free medical camps including Cardiac Care Unit and Mobile medical camps for saving the lives of yatris on both routes.

Establishment of Special Cardiac Care Unit at Baltal has been introduced for the first time this year.

"Various high end equipment like nebuliser, laryngo scope, ambu bag, ET tube, CPR Mask, defibrillator, patient monitoring system, suction system, advanced oxygen concentrators and emergency drugs are kept available at the Cardiac Care Unit," the spokesman said.

Kumar said over 32, 000 pilgrims were given medical aid in the eight camps along Pahalgam track and three camps on Baltal route.




Diesel price may be raised after Presidential poll

NEW DELHI: The government is likely to raise diesel prices after Presidential polls on July 19, an Oil Ministry source said on Thursday, as the government attempts to cut the amount of money it pays out to keep prices lower.

"This has been the thinking for quite some time", that a price rise could come after Presidential polls, the source said, requesting anonymity.

"It is inevitable. By how much, I can't say," he added.

The government heavily subsidises diesel prices as the fuel powers much of the economy, especially in farming and transportation.

The source added that gasoline prices ostensibly already freed from government controls were currently not causing any losses for India.

"It is under control, there is volatility both on the rupee front and oil prices (global) at the moment we are not incurring any loss," the source said. Reuters




Shettar sworn in Karnataka Chief Minister

Bangalore: Jagadish Shettar, a Lingayat leader backed by BJP leader B.S. Yeddyurappa, was on Thursday sworn in as Chief Minister of Karnataka, along with a full-fledged 33-member ministerial team that included 11 new faces and two Deputy Chief Ministers. 

State unit BJP president K.S. Eshwarappa and R. Ashoka, who was a member of the D.V.Sadananda Gowda cabinet, were sworn in as Deputy Chief Ministers by Governor H.R. Bhardwaj, who administered the oath of office to the new ministers at a ceremony at the Raj Bhavan. 

56-year-old Shettar has retained all members of the Gowda ministry. All the ministers have been given Cabinet rank. 

Those sworn-in as ministers are: Govind M Karjol, S Suresh Kumar, C M Udasi, Vishveshwara Hegde Kageri, Umesh V Katti, Basavaraja Bommai, Murugesh R Nirani, V Somanna, Shobha Karandlaje,B N Bache Gowda, M P Renukacharya, C P Yogeeshwara, S A Ravindranatha, Revu Naik Belamagi, Balachandra Jarkiholi, S A Ramadass, Anand Asnotikar, A Narayanaswamy, Raju Gowda alias Narasimha Nayak and Varthur Prakash. 

The new faces in the ministry are: Sogadu Shivanna, C T Ravi, D N Jeevaraja, S K Bellubbi, Aravind Limbavali, B J Puttaswamy, Anand Singh, Kalakappa Gurushantappa Bandi, Sunil Vallyapure, Kota Srinivasa Poojari and Appachu Ranjan. 

Sadananda Gowda, former Chief Minister B.S.Yeddyurappa and party General Secretary Anant Kumar were present during the function. PTI



Dara Singh passes away

MUMBAI: Wrestler-turned-actor Dara Singh, who was battling for life since the last five days, passed away early this morning.

84-year-old Singh was taken home from hospital by family members last night so that he could be with them in the last moments of his life.

"He passed away at 7.30 AM peacefully," Dr Ram Narain, COO, Kokilaben Hospital, told PTI.

Singh was brought to the hospital on July 7 after he had suffered a cardiac arrest and since then he was in the ICU.

From his first marriage, he has a son Parduman Singh Randhawa and from his second marriage he has five children two sons and three daughters including TV and film actor Vidhu Dara Singh.

The Commonwealth wrestling champion entered the film industry in the fifties and is known for his roles in "King Kong" and "Faulad". He was last seen in Imtiaz Ali's "Jab We Met" in 2007 in which he played Kareena Kapoor's grandfather.

The veteran actor also played the character of Hanuman in Ramanand Sagar's epic television series 'Ramayan'.




2G probe: ED questions Raja for first time

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate has questioned former Telecom Minister A Raja in connection with its money laundering probe in the 2G spectrum case.

This is the first time that the ED has questioned Raja in the case.

During questioning, ED investigators grilled Raja on various issues related to spectrum allocation under his ministership and also about his personal finances, sources said.

Raja, according to sources, was also questioned about his Ministry associates and their role in the grant of telecom licences.

The ED also took possession of financial documents that it had asked Raja to bring along with him for questioning, under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

Sources said the former DMK minister could again be called for questioning with regard to the policy decisions taken to grant spectrum to few specific firms.

Raja had got bail in May this year after he was arrested by the CBI last year in the same case.





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