Citizens' Issues
More petha units shut down in Agra
With the sealing of seven more units, the number of centres manufacturing Agra's famous petha sweet that have been shut down for using coal has risen to 30.
 
The Wednesday night operation was a joint effort of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, the Agra Municipal Corporation and the district administration. It followed reports that the units making petha, a sweet candy made of gourd, were still using coal although they had given affidavits that they won't do so.
 
An FIR lodged by pollution control board official Anand Kumar triggered the latest crackdown.
 
The still functional petha units in Agra's Noori Darwaza area have downed their shutters protesting against the government action.
 
"At this rate, Agra's petha manufacturers will go out of business," fumed Ankur, a shopowner at Noori Darwaza, the chief petha bazaar in this Taj Mahal city, to IANS.
 
"We will be finished," added Govind Prasad, another shopkeeper.
 
On Tuesday, Divisional Commissioner Pradeep Bhatnagar ordered firm action against the polluting units.
 
The Supreme Court had in 1996 banned the use of coal to produce petha as a fallout of a public interest litigation filed by lawyer and green activist M.C. Mehta. More than 500 petha units, employing over 50,000 workers, manufacture tonnes of petha each day in this city.
 
Rarely do visitors to Agra fail to pick up a packet or two of this sweet.
 
Nutritionists say that although high in sugar, the sweet candy is nourishing and cheap and low on fat.
 
The legend is that thousands of workers and craftsmen were given petha, an instant source of energy, while chipping in hot the Agra summers to raise the 17th century Taj Mahal, India's biggest tourist draw.
 
Interestingly, the raw material for petha is not locally available.
 
The gourd is brought from Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and elsewhere. Only the expertise and skill for manufacturing the sweet are available locally, said Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society.
 
In recent years, petha makers have experimented with new flavours, sizes and colours, besides attractive packing.
 
Earlier, there were just two or three varieties. Now there is sandwich petha, kesar petha, khas petha, orange petha, pineapple petha, coconut petha and other varieties.
 
Diabetics can get sugar-free petha too.
 
At the heart of the present controversy is the administration's renewed effort to shift polluting units out of Agra.
 
The Agra Development Authority has developed a "Petha Nagri" and allotted plots to the units, but officials say the manufacturers are not keen on shifting.
 
A medical professional said: "These units have been polluting the area, adding to solid waste and releasing all kinds of toxic gases that combine with early morning fog to make life hell for the people."
 
An official said that the units in 2002 filed affidavits claiming they were not using coal and had switched to liquefied petroleum gas.
 
"But investigation revealed that the use of coal was rampant," he said.

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15 die as coaches of Varanasi-bound train derail
At least 15 people were killed when two crowded coaches of a passenger train derailed in Uttar Pradesh on Friday after the driver overshot a signal, officials said.
 
The ghastly accident took place at Banchrawa, 40 km from from here in Rae Bareli district, when the Dehradun-Varanasi Janata Express was on its way to Varanasi, the officials said.
 
One of the two coaches which derailed was a sleeper class. The other was a general coach.
 
Mahesh Gupta, a railway divisional commissioner, told IANS that 15 people had been killed and that the toll could rise.
 
Rescuers struggled to remove bodies crushed within the mangled coaches. Some bodies were pulled out from under the coaches.
 
"The number of casualties is likely to increase as the general bogey has been completely flattened," an official told IANS. 
 
District officials assisting the railways in the rescue and relief effort also confirmed that the death toll would go up. 
 
Northern Railway officials said that prima facie the train driver seemed to be at fault.
 
"The train was to stop at the Banchrawa railway station but it did not. When he realized this, the engine driver applied the emergency brakes, leading to the derailment," one official said. 
 
The accident disrupted train services on the important New Delhi-Lucknow-Varanasi sector.
 
Furious locals and villagers from nearby areas who rushed to the site raised slogans against the administration and railway authorities, saying official rescuers took a long time to reach the disaster spot. 
 
A special relief train has been rushed to Banchrawa from Lucknow, the officials said.
 
Six doctors and 20 ambulances were also sent to the accident site, and 100 beds have been reserved in Lucknow hospitals to cater to the injured, officials here told IANS.
 
The Uttar Pradesh government has announced Rs.2 lakh each to the families of the dead and Rs.50,000 to the injured. 
 
The railways ordered a probe into the accident. 
 

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Researchers zero in on 'culprit' causing heart failure
Researchers have identified what they describe as "the long-sought culprit" that contributes to heart failure.
 
The research, published in the journal Nature, revealed that an enzyme called PDE-9 interferes with the body's natural "braking" system needed to neutralise stress on the heart.
 
"Like a play with multiple characters, heart muscle function is the result of a complex but perfectly synchronised interaction of several proteins, enzymes and hormones," said lead investigator Dong Lee, cardiology research associate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US.
 
Naturally found in the gut, kidneys and brain, PDE-9 is already a prime suspect in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's, the researchers said.
 
But the new study shows that the enzyme's footprints are also present in heart cells and markedly elevated in patients with heart failure - evidence that PDE-9 is a multi-tasking "offender" and a key instigator of heart muscle demise, they added.
 
Working with lab animals and human heart cells, the scientists found that the enzyme PDE-9 wreaks mischief by gobbling up a signalling molecule, cGMP, which normally stimulates the production of a heart-protective protein called PKG.
 
The protein PKG is known to shield the heart muscle from the ravages of disease-causing stress, such as long-standing high blood pressure.
 
To understand the enzyme's role, the scientists exploited the knowledge that heart muscle health is safeguarded by two separate mechanisms, or signalling pathways.
 
Nearly a decade ago, researchers identified the culprit responsible for breakdown in one of the signalling pathways, an enzyme called PDE-5. Ever since then scientists have searched for the second "offender" that causes glitches in the other pathway.
 
The discovery of PDE-9 provides that long-sought break in the case, the researchers said.
 
In the current study, PDE-9 blockers not only stopped heart muscle enlargement and scarring in mice with heart failure, but they nearly reversed the effects of the disease.

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