Sri Sri attack case solved: B’lore Police


The Bangalore police on Saturday claimed to have solved the mysterious attack on spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

On May 30, it was reported that an unidentified gunman had fired at the convoy of the spiritual leader while he was on his way to attend a programme near his ashram. One of his devotes had been injured in the incident.

The police claimed that one Dr Mahadev Prasad fired the bullet to chase away a stray dog.

Dr Mahadev Prasad, chairman of the Dr B R Ambedkar Medical College, owns a farm house 2,000 feet away from Sri Sri’s ashram. He fired three rounds of bullets to chase away a stray dog, and one of the bullets landed at the ashram, said the police.

The police, who had retrieved the bullet at the site, tracked it back to Prasad.

Prasad has a licensed firearm, said the police, adding that he hadn’t reported the incident fearing the repercussions.

Bangalore police baffled by attack on Sri Sri


Is there more than what meets the eye is something that Bengaluru police officers investigating Sunday’s incident at Sri Sri Ravishankar’s ashram near the city are trying to ascertain.
Investigations into the alleged shooting that occurred at the ashram, 25 km from Bengaluru, have so far not yielded any definitive information about the incident or its motive.

Police officers maintain it is a stray incident, not aimed at hurting anyone at the ashram.

Bengaluru Forensics Sciences officials say they have discovered nothing during their investigation to indicate that it was an attempt on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s life.

FSL officials say the bullet, which hit devotee Vinay Kollumath, was shot from a distance of about 800 feet and bears no trajectory mark. This, they say, indicates it is stray in nature and not targeted at anyone.

“Although we are still ascertaining the velocity with which it was fired, all leads take us to the fact that it is a stray bullet,” an FSL official told this correspondent.

A city police officer said that information from within the ashram is not forthcoming. “We have absolutely nothing left to investigate,” he added, speaking on condition that he would not be identified by name for this report.

The Art of Living organisation, which Sri Sri Ravi Shankar heads, has claimed that it was an attack on the guru who turned 54 on May 13. Sri Sri Ravishankar himself told the media on Monday that it may have been an attempt on his life, but added that he did not wish to enhance the security around his presence.

The police are intrigued that the complaint about the incident was lodged three hours after the alleged firing occurred. The incident occurred at 6.30 pm, but a police complaint was registered only at 9.30 pm.

A puzzled police officer added, “he is such an important person and if there was an attempt on his life, then it is very natural that they would want police protection and a proper investigation conducted as soon as possible.”

The police are also surprised that despite many people being present at the site of the incident, not one person spotted the alleged assailant. No attempt was made to apprehend the individual who allegedly fired the bullet either.

Kollumath’s trousers bear an L shape tear, FSL officials say. Had the bullet hit him as is being claimed by Art of Living officials, he would have suffered a deep injury.

Also, the bullet was fired five minutes after Sri Sri Ravi Shankar left the venue, indicating that the attack may have not been directed against the high-profile guru.

The AOL continues to maintain that the attack was directed at Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but refuse to comment further on the case, saying it is the job of the police to find out more.

‘Dinakaran cannot return till his name is cleared’


The Bangalore Advocates’ Association on Thursday took strong exception to the statements made by a group of lawyers, who had demanded that Justice Dinakaran should return to the seat and start hearing matters.

A group of lawyers had stated to the media that the Chief Justice of the Karnataka high court, who has been asked to take leave in the wake of corruption charges, should come back and start hearing matters.

The association took strong exception to the statements, and passed a resolution seconding their earlier one in which it was stated that under no circumstance will Justice Dinakaran come back to the court unless his name is cleared of the charges.

President of the association Putte Gowda told rediff.com that the they have not changed their stand on Dinakaran.

“The statements that have been issued seeking the return of the CJ are motivated, and have been issued by vested interests. I don’t want to go into the details as to why these people have issued such a statement, but would like to add that the association is going to initiate proceedings against them,” Gowda said.

“Further I also want to tell the media that no one, apart from either the Bar Council or the Advocates’ Association, is authorised to give such statements,” Gowda added.

Mass burial in Mangalore


The bodies of 12 persons who lost their lives in the horrific air crash at Mangalore on May 22, will be buried in the city in the presence of various religious heads.

Sources in Mangalore’s district administration told rediff.com that unfortunately, since the DNA tests conducted on these 12 bodies did not match with the samples given by the relatives, they have no claimants.

It was a heart-rending sight to see some of the family members — who have not been able to identify their loved ones — when they agreed to the mass burial. The ceremony will take place near Panambur beach at 3 pm.

The proposal was made by Commissioner of Police Seemant Kumar Singh to the four families which were claiming the bodies. Singh then stepped in and convinced the families not to pursue the claim as it could lead to further complications.

The families then requested that the funeral be conducted in the presence of priests from all religions. While agreeing to the same, the district administration said there would be no problem in issuing a death certificate to the family members.

A single window system has been set up at the Air India office in Mangalore for this purpose, which has already issued 60 death certificates so far.

Records would show that the bodies of Mohammed Zubair from Volakadu Udupi, his children Zainab and Ziad, Navid Ibrahim, Vaman Prabhu from Ashoknagar, Ignatius D’Souza from Shaktinagar, Mohammed Ismail Hassan Jeppu, K K Shetty from Kodialbail, Abubakker Siddiq from Uppala, Abdul Aziz from Uppala, Abdul Basheer K M Bekal, Sukumar Moilatti in Kerala, and crew member of the ill-fated aircraft, Sujata, have not been recovered.

Sri Sri Ravishankar attacked


Sri Sri wants the gunman to attend ‘satsang’

The day after an unidentified gunman fired at his convoy and injured a devotee, spiritual leader Shri Shri Ravishankar ruled out enhancing his security, saying it will block communications between him and the common man.

Addressing a press conference in Bengaluru, Shri Shri claimed that the ‘divine intervention of a supernatural force and the vision of his driver’ saved him on Sunday.

The spiritual leader was on his way to attend a programme near his ashram on Sunday evening when an unidentified gunman fired at his convoy. The shot accidentally grazed the thigh of a devotee who sustained very minor injuries.

Shri Shri added that he wanted to invite the gunman to attend a satsang (spiritual discourse) with him. “If he meets me, he will correct himself. Those who indulge in such acts do so with the sole objective of spreading terror,” he said.

Shri Shri urged his followers to put the incident behind them and move on, adding that he had forgiven his attacker.
Shri Shri claimed that he had no enemies and didn’t understand why such an incident took place. “I am unhurt and safe. We need to look at this incident from a spiritual level. I have no enemies at all,” he said.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that the bullet was fired from a pistol.

While the devotees at the ashram suspect that it could be a terror attack, the police have ruled out such a possibility. A senior police officer said that they are probing the matter and the unidentified gunman was still at large. “We have some clues as of now, but it will not be right to reveal all that right now as it may hamper the probe,” he said.

The police were informed about the incident nearly three hours later, he said.

At the spiritual leader’s ashram at Kanakapura, the day started with the regular rudra puja.

“All activities at the ashram will go on as usual. There will be no change in any of the programmes,” a spokesperson of the ashram told rediff.com.

Scores of policemen, security personnel and investigators probing the case have been deployed at the ashram.

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An unidentified gunman opened fire on the convoy of spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar on Sunday. The spirtual leader was on his way to meet some delegates after a satsang at the ashram, which is 25 km Benguluru city.

A release from the ashram stated that one devotee sustained minor injuries when the bullet brushed past him. The incident took place at 1830 hrs on Sunday.

The police are investigating the matter but are still unsure about the motive.

Home Sec: Govt will not take the attack lying down

The next course of action against the Naxalites, who blew up a rail track in West Bengal that resulted in a collision between a passenger train and a good train, would be taken shortly following a high-level meeting, Union Home Secretary G K Pillai told rediff.com.

He said that the government would not take the latest attack lying down. Pillai, however, refused to comment on whether the government proposes using the army or the air force against the Naxals but added that nest course of action would be decide in a few days.

On the West Bengal incident, Pillai said that all angles point to derailment of the trains as a result of sabotage. “It is an attack by the Naxals and they are responsible for the civilian casualties. Investigators have found clues to suggest sabotage and they are probing further,” he said.

The home secretary said, “They (Naxals) are getting more aggressive each day and have also shown scant regard for the lives of the innocent people. We will take steps to counter their moves, but will not let this menace grow.”

Pillai said the confirmed death toll in West Bengal is 54 while the number of persons injured is 137.

How Maoist derailed the train


The accident caused by Maoists on a railway track in West Bengal on Friday morning, which killed at least 100 people, has raised questions about the lack of security on board long-distance trains in India.

During preliminary investigations, railway authorities found that the fish plates on the track had been taken off in order to derail the train. A fish plate forms a crucial link on a railway track as it is the metal bar that holds the tracks together.

The fish plate is made out of nickel silver and it helps maintain the alignment and electrical continuity on the track. The Maoists removed the fishplates to de-link the tracks, which caused the train to lose its balance and get derailed.

Authorities point out that it is not too difficult to take out a fish plate, as it is fixed to the track with bolts, which can be unscrewed in a matter of minutes with the right equipment. The fishplates are placed at regular intervals of the track and it is difficult to monitor each and every one of the numerous fishplates to spot a case of tampering, say authorities.

The Railway Protection Force, set up on the lines of the Central Reserve Police Force, has been entrusted the task of providing security and taking care of law and order on India’s lifeline. The RPF is also supposed to guard the tracks, though sources in the force admit that it is difficult to provide security all the time.

“There is a need for specific intelligence and without that, we are helpless,” said the source, adding that the RPF also has to deal with a shortage in staff. .

Given the extensive railway network across India, monitoring every part of it is extremely tough, said the source.

The RPF usually focuses on a specific area and needs actionable intelligence to do that, according to authorities.

According to intelligence officials, locals in Naxal-hit areas can provide valuable inputs, ut are reluctant to do so. “There is a list of suspects and we keep a track on such persons. Their movements can be known only with the help of local support. Despite so many inhuman attacks, locals do not share information easily. There is a need to educate these perople about the ill effects of Naxalism. Once the locals turn against the Naxals, it will be easy to address the problem,” said an IB official.

Not pilot fatigue, but admin work is taxing


The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which is probing the Mangalore air crash, is trying to ascertain whether the crash was caused by a technical snag or due to pilot error.

Vishwanath Mala, who was a pilot with Air India for 15 years, says that any investigation into such incidents should not only focus on the reasons for the crash, but should also suggest measures that ensure such incidents never occur. Interestingly Mala adds that an Air India pilot is not fatigued due to the flying hours, but due to the administrative tasks when is not flying.

Mala was with Air India between 1961 and 1998. He flew aircraft for 15 years and retired as a senior executive. He spoke with rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa regarding the ongoing investigation and what the role of a pilot ought to be.

Pilot Fatigue:

On recent flights, I saw the flight commandant receiving passengers at the entrance. I was shocked when I saw this. There is a crew dedicated for such work and I don’t understand why the commandant is expected to do this.

What pilot fatigue are we talking about today? On a flight to Dubai the pilots get enough rest. I have flown the Mumbai-London route for several years. It is a 14-hour flight. The fatigue is calculated and accepted. All this is part of the job and we are trained to be ready for it. We are aware of the risk that we are taking while flying long hours and once the journey is complete, we took ample rest.

What bothers me however is that in Air India, 90 per cent of the pilots are in the office when they are not flying. They are doing administrative jobs at this time. That is not the job of the pilot. Their job is to fly and it is unfortunate that they get into these administrative jobs, keeping their promotions in mind. What tends to happen in such cases is that they do an administrative job, go home, rest a while and then fly. I feel that a pilot should only fly and in the remaining hours he should rest and not do any other job.

As pilots, they should only focus on flying. There is a need to change the manner in which the system works across the board.

The Mangalore Airport:

I was very much part and parcel of the team which made various suggestions on the setting up of the airport. In 2006 when the new international terminal was inaugurated, I was a guest of honour. I had suggested that the runway be made a bit longer. However more than that what I wanted done was to lower the airfield and get more flat area. Further we had said that if the airfield was lowered then we could getan additional area of 3,000 feet. This is a 8,050 feet airfield and under normal circumstance there is nothing wrong. However, Mangalore is not a normal situation. It is a table-top with valleys on either side. Bearing this in mind, the authorities would have done well to lower the area.

The probe:

The black box is mounted near the tail area of the plane, which is least impacted during a crash. It is the nose and wing areas which sustain the most damage during a crash.

However I think that the investigation had been very badly-handled so far. The first thing that should be done was retrieval of the bodies, which was done perfectly, but why wasn’t the area cordoned off while search operations were on?

Everything from the position of the wing, the nose and the tyre are important aspects in the investigation. A crash site should be treated as sacrosant. During the retrieval of bodies many parts of the aircraft would have moved. Once this activity is completed, all the parts need to be put together so as to determine what exactly went wrong. Re-assembling the aircraft is very important since this helps determine how exactly the airplane was ripped open. If the area is not cordoned off and there is extensive movement, then there is every chance of losing vital parts which could hamper the probe.

Looking at the manner in which it is going at the moment, I am pretty sure that the investigation will be a shoddy job. There appears to be no honesty left and the entire effort it appears to be to hush things up and shift the blame.

Investigations should not aim at putting the blame or just ascertaining the reason for the crash. Investigators should think long term and suggest various means to avoid such unfortunate incidents in the future.

Better infrastructure, less stressed crew needed

In the worst air crash in India in the last decade, an Air India flight from Dubai overshot the runway and crashed at the Mangalore airport on Saturday morning, killing 158 passengers.

As authorities probe the cause of the crash, a range of factors from the lack of safety infrastructure to the absence of a metallic runway at the airport have been blamed for the crash.

Walter D’souza, editor-in-chief of popular website Daijiworld, is a regular traveler on the Dubai-Mangalore route. In a conversation with rediff.com, D’souza said that he takes the same flight from Mangalore every time he travels to Dubai, and the incident has shocked him.

“The incident is unfortunate. This runway has been in operation since 2006 and just because of this incident, it is unfair to blame it.

“I have traveled on that aircraft several times and I fly to Dubai every month. This flight takes off from Mangalore at 9 pm and reaches Dubai by midnight. It stops there for an hour and then immediately returns to Mangalore. I feel that the maintenance time is too short for this flight and the aviation authorities are completely dodging this point. I have felt that the crew and the aircraft are overburdened.

“Over the years, the number of people going to Dubai has increased, and so has the number of flights. There were just three flights per week in 2006. The number of flights later increased to seven and then to ten. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, two flights shuttle between Mangalore and Dubai. There is a need to operate additional aircraft on this route.

“The airport has been running smoothly for some time. But there is a need to set up 1,000 metres of additional runway for better operations. This incident was a clear case of pilot’s error and it is very clear that the aircraft hit a pole before it crashed,” he said.

Vikram Hegde, a senior advocate in Mangalore, points out that the schedule for Dubai-bound flights is very hectic. He tells rediff.com that the airport should be expanded as people from coastal Kerala, northern Karnataka and south Karnataka use it.

“There has been a lot of criticism regarding the runway. But a table top airport is a better bet when compared to the Mumbai airport, where the aircraft flies through the city.

“The aviation industry can provide better infrastructure. There have been 32,000 landings at the Mangalore airport so far. The air traffic to Gulf is extremely heavy and during the holiday season, it almost doubles.

“Regarding the arrangements that have been made following this incident, I have not heard anyone complaining. The local hospitals have managed despite low infrastructure and full marks have to be awarded to them,” he said.

Tragedy in the skies: Day 2


DNA experts to help in identifying bodies
The team of DNA experts from Hyderabad, who arrived in Mangalore on Sunday morning to help in identifying the bodies of the Air India plane crash, has its task cut out. The team will stay in the coastal town till each victim’s body is identified. Most of the bodies have been charred beyond recognition in the plane crash.

A dispute has broken out between the families of Rajendra Ramesh and John Mampilly, both of whom have staked claim for the same body. Ramesh is a resident of Mangalore while John hails from Kasargod in Kerala. The authorities at the Wenlock Hospital had a tough time on Sunday in handling the two grief-stricken families.

The DNA experts from Hyderabad have collected samples from the body, but the results will take a couple of days to arrive.

According to a member of the team, it will take at least seven more days to identify the 12 unclaimed bodies of victims. The Wenlock Hospital authorities have urged the relatives of the deceased to remain calm and assured them that they are doing their best.

Air India has announced that it will fly special flights between Dubai and Mangalore and has urged the Centre to issue interim visas to relatives of the deceased who stay abroad.

Cockpit Voice Recorder recovered

The team from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which is probing the Air India plane crash that claimed 158 lives near the Mangalore airport on Saturday, has been divided into four groups to look at a particular aspect of the crash. The four teams will look into engineering and wreckage, operations, air traffic control and aerodrome.

A release from the civil aviation ministry states that wreckage group has further been divided into smaller groups to search for a particular kind of evidence.

The search team on Sunday recovered the Cockpit Voice Recorder from the wreckage. Though affected by fire, it is expected to yield the desired information.

The Digital Flight Data Acquisition Unit, a parallel unit of the Digital Flight Data Recorder which records flight parameter for a shorter duration, has been recovered.

A preliminary replay of the Air Traffic Control tapes has been already carried out and a detailed analysis is being carried out, says the release.

It adds that the preliminary investigation of navigational facilities, the aerodrome and runway facilities at the time of the accident has been completed.

Necessary records about the plane and the crew members have been taken for detailed analysis. The analysis of CVR, flight data and the various records will take nearly a fortnight.

Search for the black box continues..

The search for the black box of the ill-fated Air India flight — which crashed near Mangalore airport on Saturday morning killing 158 people on board — will commence at 6.30 am on Monday. Search operations were called off on Sunday due to poor light.

Though the search team could detect signals from the black box, it was unable to retrieve the box buried under the massive wreckage at the crash site, a source told rediff.com.

The black box is crucial for the investigation into the reason behind the crash as it will help the probe team ascertain the exact reason behind the plane overshooting the runway and plunging into the ravine.

The search party managed to recover the cockpit voice recorder, but the probe team from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation may not be able to glean much information from it, other than a recording of the Air Traffic Controller giving its clearance for the landing.

ATC officials had already told the DGCA team that they lost touch with the pilots in the final moments before the plane crash.

The DGCA personnel, who are investigating the crash, say that it appears to be a case of pilot’s error. “We have inspected the runway and the crash site as well as the object the plane hit and it appears that the pilot was at fault. We are waiting for the black box which will give us a clear picture,” said a DGCA official.

12 bodies to be still identifed: AI cheif

Twelve bodies of the victims of the Air India plane crash in Mangalore were yet to be identified, said AI Managing Director Arvind Jadhav in a press conference on Sunday.

“I regret what has happened,” he said, adding that AI will provide Rs 10 lakh compensation to the families of victims above the age of 12 and Rs 5 lakh for the kin of those below that age.

He also announced compensation of Rs two lakh for the injured victims, but added that AI was in consultation with insurance companies on how to take this further.

Jadhav informed that bodies of 128 victims had been handed over to their families.

When asked about the investigations into the reason behind the crash, he said that the airline was not involved with that as the “Directorate of Civil Aviation was probing the crash.”

On the issue of expat pilots, he said, “As per the DGCA’s rule, we need to take prior
permission before an expat pilot flies a plane. We have submitted a plan for the replacement of expat pilots. We needed them because we needed experienced pilots to fly new aircraft.”

Speaking on whether the pilots were suffering from fatigue, Jadhav added, “There was no problem and both the pilots had ample rest before flying the plane.”

The search for the plane’s black box was going on and it had not been found yet, he said.

Urging people and the media not to speculate on the reasons behind the crash, Jadhav said speculations would harm the interests of the victims.

“It was an international flight. It has international ramifications. Speculations will hurt the interests of the passengers,” Jadhav said.

“Only 12 per cent of the operations have been affected. On Air India Express, 90 per cent of the operations are on,” he said.

“We are overwhelmed by the kind of response (we got) from the local villagers who reached the spot and helped in rescue operations. Without them, the eight persons could not have survived,” Jadhav said.

Hope and grief

Tales of tragedy, grief, dashed hopes and relief surround the crash of the Boeing 737-800 in Mangalore. While some of them are about people who missed the ill-fated flight by a whisker, others are about passengers who took the doomed flight at the last minute.

Among the many tragic stories about the crash victims, one is about Zulekha and her son Abdul Salam, who were returning to Kaup near Mangalore after eight years to meet Zulekha’s mother. But the mother’s dream of meeting her daughter and grandson was never fulfilled.

Praveen Sherigar, a resident of Matharu, was coming home for a double celebration. He wanted to attend his brother’s wedding and his sister’s house warming function.

Jayram, who hails from Bajal in Mangalore, was going to visit his ailing parents with his wife Chitra and son Rahul. In a cruel twist of fate, he could not get tickets to a flight two days ago, and was forced to board the Air India flight.

Steven Rego, 16, can thank his stars and his mother, whose mistake made him miss the flight to Mangalore. He was holidaying in Dubai with his parents and was supposed to return to Mangalore on Saturday. Although his mother had booked tickets for Saturday’s flight, she got confused about the timing. She mistakenly assumed that the flight was supposed to take off on Saturday night and hence Rego missed his flight.

K Chandu, who was scheduled to travel to Mangalore for his son’s admission, could not do so because of the additional work assigned to him by his boss.

Teresamma Phillip made a similar mistake as Rego’s mother. She thought the flight was going to take off on Saturday evening and hence missed her brush with tragedy.

Hospitals become a sea of humanity

Hospitals in Mangalore on Sunday struggled to cope with scores of grieving family members who turned up to collect the bodies of their loved ones. Heart-rendering scenes of grief and disbelief were witnessed at Wenlock Hospital and others, where the bodies of the Air India plane crash victims were kept after the tragedy.

On Saturday night, when search operations were still going on in the ravine where the plane landed after overshooting the runway, relatives of the passengers harboured hopes that maybe their loved one had managed to survive the crash.

But their night-long wait came to a hopeless end when they learnt that only eight passengers had managed to survive miraculously.

A forensic team from Hyderabad has arrived in Mangalore to assist the bereaved families in identifying the bodies, most of which are charred beyond recognition. So far, 87 bodies have been identified, including those of the six crew members, who were all killed in the crash.

“The wait is never-ending and it is tough waiting for experts to identify the bodies of our loved ones. We are just waiting for the obvious,” says Sameera, whose brother was on board the ill-fated aircraft.

“It is a day-long process, but we will ensure that we complete it (identifying the dead bodies) as early as possible. We don’t want to keep the families waiting since we can understand their anxiety,” said one of the members of the team.

Black box holds the clues

A day after the Boeing 737-800 crashed near Mangalore airport, killing 158 people on board, search teams at the site are still looking for the Cockpit Voice Recorder or the black box which may reveal the reason behind the crash.

A member of the Karnataka police team, which is carrying out search operations at the crash site, told rediff.com that the massive wreckage of the ill-fated plane has to be cleared before looking for the black box.

Jija Hari Singh, inspector general of police (fire and emergency service) said, “The black box will be found on Sunday. The work of recovering the bodies has to be completed first and only then can we begin searching for the black box.”
The area where the black box fell after the crash has been identified.

The search party has managed to find the throttle of the plane in a forward position, indicating that the pilot thrust the aircraft in a forward position before the crash.

The black box is crucial to probe the reason behind the crash. The preliminary finding of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation suggests that the pilot’s error could have caused the crash.

The DGCA is now trying to find out why the pilot overshot the runway by over 1,500 feet. The Air Traffic Controllers had issued a landing clearance approximately 4 miles before the touchdown, but the pilot seemed to have lost contact with the ATC during the final moments.

The DGCA team will also look into whether the plane experienced any technical difficulties at the time of landing. “Although it is highly unlikely that there was anything wrong with the plane, we will still go into that aspect as matter of procedure,” DGCA sources told rediff.com.

Photo courstey: Daiji world