BMC Sets up New Advisory Panel on Bridges
The BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has decided to appoint a new advisory committee for bridges in the metro city. The committee will have experts and renowned engineers, who will conduct a re-audit of all the bridges in Mumbai that are closed. This was announced by BMC commissioner Praveen Pardeshi after a meeting with activists concerned over the traffic chaos triggered by the shut-down of nearly 30 bridges in Mumbai.
 
A delegation comprising Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam, renowned structural engineer Shirish Patel, Moneylife Foundation's trustee Sucheta Dalal, RTI activist Anil Galgali and transport activist Ajit V Shenoy, Dr Nori and others met the commissioner to discuss the possibility of salvaging some of the existing bridges, if possible, by a re-assessment.
 
Mr Nirupam started the discussion by highlighting the chaos triggered by the closure of bridges and the hardship that it was causing people. He told the BMC commissioner that based on a discussion by persons with domain expertise, it was felt that the problem could be mitigated by re-examining some decisions. 
 
 
Accepting the demand for re-auditing city bridges, Mr Pardeshi asked BMC officials to start work on the setting up of the committee, including roles and responsibilities. Mr Patel pointed out that the BMC needs to examine the original designs of bridges from the companies who built them so that alternate solutions could be explored. Mr Pardeshi accepted this suggestion and asked his engineering department to look for the original plans, which may be over 30 to 40 years old. 
 
 
There was also a discussion on the method of selecting companies to build and re-design the bridges. Mr Pardeshi shared the BMC’s plans to move away from the method of selecting the lowest cost bid and move towards more innovative solutions to this problem. Mr Pardeshi also accepted Mr Patel’s suggestion that municipal engineers need training and refresher courses to familiarise themselves with the latest developments in the field.
 
Earlier this month, Moneylife Foundation had invited Alpa Sheth, a highly qualified and respected structural engineer from VMS Consultants to inform us on the current status of Mumbai’s urban infrastructure. After an hour of productive discussion, the activists, employees of the Railways and BMC, as well as experts who were present at the session had mutually agreed that a common administrative group needs to be formed to oversee and take charge of all the infrastructure issues that the city is facing. There was also general consensus to get the BMC commissioner involved in this process and perhaps that is where the concerned citizens should make a beginning.
 
The meeting with Mr Pardeshi was the next step in this direction.
 
Through her talk, Ms Sheth had proposed possible solutions to the problem and it starts with stopping demolitions of bridges based on flimsy audit reports done by a single person. She reaffirmed that there has to be a cadre of 'certified bridge audit engineers' who have been trained with IRC manuals and codes. Furthermore, the training can be done by Indian Association of Bridge and Structural Engineers (IABSE), perhaps in collaboration with the Indian Academy of Highway Engineers. “Instead of playing the blame game, everyone involved should take equal responsibility - consultants including IIT professors, government engineers, contractors and more."
 
"Conversely, every time we have a bridge deemed by a consultant as unfit for use, we need to have a committee review this and see the cost-benefit ratio to carry out repairs to extend its life until a replacement bridge is in place, rather than simply demolishing it without a Plan B in place. The culture of cronyism in the selection of consultants and contractors needs to be done away with, if we have the intention of improving the infrastructure of the city," Ms Sheth had said.      
 
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    RAJENDRA RAMCHANDRA KOTI

    2 months ago

    Very heartening to read this. 3 pillars of democracy working together to solve societal issues.

    Assocham suggests tax sops for senior citizens
    Industry body Assocham has advocated tax measures to benefit senior citizens in the Union Budget, to be presented on July 5 by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
     
    The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) in its budget memorandum has suggested increase in minimum tax exemption limit for senior citizens (above 60 years) to Rs 7.5 lakh from Rs 3 lakh and no tax for super senior citizens (80 years plus) on income up to Rs 12.5 lakh. 
     
    It said many senior citizens couldn't get benefit of any robust social security or pension fund investments as they did not exist during their working life and were largely dependent on interest income from fixed deposits.
     
    Drastic decline in the rate of interest in past one year had left senior citizens in financial difficulty, it said and added, the actual inflation that was much higher than headline inflation had added to their misery.
     
    Also, medical expenses shoot up heavily in old age as persons covered by mediclaim insurance policies had to cough up high insurance premia after one or two claims, it said.
     
    It also suggested against tax deduction at source (TDS) from payment of interest to senior citizens.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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    T N Ramakrishna

    2 months ago

    I heartily congratulate right initiatives if ASSOCHAM

    Ramesh Poapt

    2 months ago

    Good one, particularly by.....Assochem!?

    T N Ramakrishna

    2 months ago

    Super senior citizens are left out by the NDA got since they came to power in 2014. In fact they are made to pay more income taxes by way of increased cess. Their 8ncome tax liability us not even reduced by a single rupee as their basic exemption limit was never increased from 2012. It is high time that the basic exemption limit should be increased to Ra 1500000 fif duper senior citizens and to Rs 2500000 to those who are aged 90 and above. Further exemption from interest 9n their bank deposits should bE increased to 600000 and above that a flat 10% tax be collected. Similarly benefits should be given to Senior citizens also

    ksrao

    2 months ago

    The question of tax exemption on income arises when there is income. But many seniors do not have incomes on a large scale. They depend mostly on pension plus bank interest, but bank interest rates go down but cost of living never goes down. In addition, old pensioners of State Bank of India, of the rank of Chief General Manager, get less pension than a peon who retires today, thanks to some machination and manipulation by SBI. So, raising the income tax slabs is of no use unless income by way of interest and pension goes up.

    Ramesh Bajaj

    2 months ago

    This is very nice for seniors with a high income.But, on the other side of the coin are seniors who were earning good income, are no longer earning a decent income....so does this income tax deduction benefit them.
    Can we suggest ways so that they can increase their income.? If they are willing to work.

    Fire Traps in India: How Prepared Are We?
    In the past decade several Indian cities have experienced disastrous fire accidents that have claimed several lives. The latest such incident at a coaching centre in Surat resulted in the death of 20 young students while several others were seriously injured.
     
    A report from India Today, says that Mumbai itself has seen twelve major fires in the past six months. Twelve people were killed in a massive fire that broke out at a snack shop in Saki Naka in December; four died after a fire broke out in a residential complex in Marol; film studio Cine Vista was gutted in a massive fire in Kanjur, killing a technician; two firemen were injured in a fire that broke out in an industrial area in Andheri; a massive fire broke out inside a chemical factory in Asalfa village; five people lost their lives when a commercial building in Goregaon caught fire; the income tax office in the Scindia House building was also affected by fire. These are just incidents that have occurred recently in Mumbai. In Delhi, 17 people fell victim to a fire that swept through a five-floor hotel and nine lost their lives in a multistorey commercial complex in Bangalore.    
     
    The recent fire at a coaching centre in Surat has raised alarm bells in many institutions.  Citizens in Vizag, which is considered to be an institutional home for many students, are worried that coaching centres in the city display an attitude of sheer negligence towards fire safety. 
     
    According to a report from The Hindu, “Many coaching centres are located in narrow streets and alleys, in densely populated areas.” At first glance, it seems like the government is helpless in taking appropriate action against such coaching classes, as they are largely an unregulated sector. But it does make you wonder, if fire safety audits done with due diligence on a periodic basis would help promote safety in such institutions. 
     
    A concerned parent who wishes to remain unnamed, shared his experience of visiting a coaching class in Chennai where his daughter is admitted and his experience will reinforce the feeling that another incident like the Surat fire is just around the corner. 
     
    He said, “The condition of the building seems to be very precarious. It has four floors and each floor has seven classrooms, partitioned with wooden, plastic or ply sheets. The passage to each room is hardly three feet wide. Each class has around 60 students, quite in contrast to their assurances that it would not be more than 40.
     
    There is a single lift in the building which has a capacity of six person and the staircases are three feet wide. During the evening hours, at any given point of time, there will be 400 students on a floor. Any fire accident such as that in Surat and the resulting stampede can have fatal consequence for all involved. The teachers and non-teaching staff are the first at the exit when classes finish and the few private guards that are there, remain to be of no use. How the authorities can turn a blind eye to the situation and how permissions or clearances are given on a yearly basis, is a puzzle. There needs to be a proper investigation and it will require the public’s attention.”
     
    Situations such as these seem to be commonplace across cities in India and unless concerned citizens take some initiative, we are not going to see a change.
     
    Assessing the fire safety standards of an organisation or residence is an important exercise which can be accomplished by a fire safety audit, which evaluates a particular building for compliance with the National Building Code of India, as well as relevant Indian standards and the legislation enacted by State governments and local bodies, on fire prevention, protection and life safety measures. Municipal corporations and local bodies are responsible for providing fire services in many states, but due to lack of resources many such services are ill equipped to provide sufficient fire safety cover. 
     
    Renowned activist Anil Galgali has filed numerous right to information (RTI) queries requesting information on fire audits done in Mumbai, but there has been no disclosure of information on this matter so far. Under the RTI Act, information on fire audits conducted by the Mumbai fire brigade have to be disclosed and their failure to do so sheds poor light on their transparency and commitment to a safer Mumbai. 
     
    In spite of a complaint filed by Mr Galgali on 13 April 2018 the Mumbai fire brigade has not yet disclosed the report on fire safety audits. According to him, these audit reports are vital for a safer Mumbai and the non-disclosure of this information is of serious consequence. The fire brigade’s inaction is turning out to be life threatening for Mumbaikars, he said in a statement. 
     
    Mr Galagli has confirmed that there is an officer nominated and authorised in each of the 34 fire stations to carry out inspection of buildings in their particular areas, which is why it is surprising that they have no information on the progress of fire audits. He even took up the matter with former municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta by sending him a formal complaint about the delaying tactics employed by the fire brigade. 
     
    Taking this a step further and emphasising the need for transparency, Mr Galgali expressed the need for names of buildings and societies not following the process of a fire audit, to be listed on the fire brigade’s website. He believes this would at least instill a sense of shame in them, perhaps forcing them to act for the benefit of their fellow residents.
     
    FICCI-Pinkerton’s India Risk Survey of 2018 draws attention to the “under-equipped fire services in the country.” A study sponsored by the Union ministry of home affairs in the same year came to a similar conclusion. It found that out of the 8,550 fire stations that are needed in the country, a little more than 2,000 are in place, which is a shortage of about 65 per cent. According to the report, urban areas alone require an additional 4,200 fire stations just to meet the minimum standard for response time. The report has outlined the sad state of fire-fighting infrastructure in India and unless the shortfall is addressed, cities and villages in India will continue to remain live tinderboxes waiting for a spark.
     
    According to the ministry of home affairs, there is a large deficiency of fire-fighting infrastructure in 144 towns with population over 1 lakh each. Although the government in 2009-13 had given financial assistance of Rs176 crore to streamline the fire services and supplement the modernisation efforts across states, it now seems apparent that either the funding was poorly utilised or was not enough in the first place. 
     
    Other than maintaining a proper fire-fighting infrastructure and having a proper budget to do so, another important aspect lies in building consciousness among citizens about fire safety and prevention. 
     
    One simple way of spreading awareness would be to have periodic fire safety workshops in localities, schools, and workplaces with active participation from locally elected representatives. There are many offices or high rise buildings that have expensive and advanced fire-fighting mechanisms but hardly any person has been trained in the knowledge of using them. Furthermore, lack of regular maintenance of such equipment, which might be a result of insufficient knowledge, adversely affects its functionality. 
     
    We have lost far too many lives by not being prepared or properly trained. Lives have also been lost due to illegal constructions that the authorities have somehow missed or intentionally overlooked. Are we prepared for another fire outbreak? It sure does not seem like it. Unless fire safety is taken seriously by authorities and citizens alike, such incidents are bound to recur more frequently. Citizens need to take an active interest in learning about fire safety and prevention, while fire safety departments need to enforce safety audits periodically and then subsequently take action against erring establishments. 
     
    Learn About Fire Safety
     
    For spreading awareness on fire-safety, Moneylife Foundation has organised a small workshop on Friday, 14th June with Mr Shivajirao Bagat, deputy controller of civil defence Mumbai. If you would like to learn how to stay safe from fires, please do register: https://www.moneylife.in/event/245.html)
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