Researched by: Rachel John & Aarthi Ramnath
Tunnel disaster: 60 hours and counting!
On Sunday, a 60 km stretch of a tunnel being constructed in Uttarakhand collapsed—trapping 40 workers. The rescue efforts have been extremely challenging:
For the past two days, the rescuers had been trying to remove the debris to reach the labourers, but more debris from loose rocks above would come rushing down and block the path. The labourers can be reached from one end of the tunnel as the other portion is yet to be constructed.
On Tuesday, authorities began to drill 900 mm pipes into the ground—and weld them to create a passage for the labourers.
Point to note: The tunnel is part of an ambitious Char Dham highway project that aims to cut the journey between Uttarkashi and Yamunotri town by 26 km—to help pilgrims visiting these holy spots. Environmentalists have long warned against its viability:
Geologist Navin Juyal told The Hindu that the area is fragile terrain because of its proximity to the Himalayas. The rocks there contain a lot of water. “When you are aligning a tunnel in an area that is very close to the highly fragile Himalayas, the authorities should have conducted some geological investigation. Then the fragility of this place should have been brought to the notice of the authorities,” said Mr. Juyal.
BharatPe: The many sins of the Grover khandaan
The context: In 2022, the fintech startup BharatPe found itself mired in a tabloid-sized mess—with allegations of fraud and abusive behaviour against its founder Ashneer Grover and his family members. The allegations included misappropriation of company funds and embezzlement of at least ₹81.28 crore. We explained the allegations and the family drama in this Big Story.
What happened now: An investigation by the Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of Delhi Police has uncovered blatant instances of embezzlement. Eight of the recruiting firms contracted by BharatPe share the same registered address with relatives of Grover’s wife Madhuri Jain. According to the EOW, “The firms were established and their bank accounts were opened only for the purpose of syphoning off funds and for causing wrongful gain to the alleged persons.” For instance, Jain received Rs 1.5 crore from one of the recruitment firms—which got it from BharatPe. Mint has lots more details on the EOW status report.
Good news about Alzheimer’s
The context: There is no cure for this terrible disease—and scientists aren’t even sure of its cause. Worse, it is incredibly hard to detect. The diagnosis, therefore, comes too late to even attempt to arrest its progress.
What happened now: Researchers have developed AI-driven models that can help detect Alzheimer’s. One algorithm sifts through brain scans to identify patients who have characteristics of the disease. This “AI classifier” had an accuracy of more than 90%. The other model identifies brain features that can help doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s more accurately:
The researchers’ AI tool reviewed thousands of brain scans and chose the features that most reliably differentiated one person’s brain from another’s. Zhi says that this minimises the likelihood of human bias influencing the algorithm. Now, Zhi’s team is using the algorithm to identify the traits that best distinguish between brain scans of people with and without Alzheimer’s.
Nature has more on this study. New Scientist has more on a new project to develop a blood test to detect Alzheimer’s. We did a two-part series on the mystery of Alzheimer's Disease and the latest hypothesis that it could be caused by a virus.
Very good news about bread
As we all know, ultra processed foods are terrible for our health—and are linked to everything from cancer to diabetes and even dementia. But a new WHO-backed study offers some encouraging news about some of these so-called UPFs. Some of them—like bread and cereals—are actually good for you. And they can lower the risk of these terrible diseases. Other villains like “desserts, ready meals, savoury snacks and plant-based alternatives to meat products also got the all-clear.” They are not associated with “risk of multimorbidity”—or contracting two or more serious illnesses.
The main message of this study: “These observations do suggest a role for some UPF in the onset of multiple chronic disease. But they also show that the common assumption that all UPF foods are linked to adverse health events is probably wrong.” (The Guardian)
In amusing food-related news: America has been rocked by a ‘shrinkflation’ scandal—the declining amount of creme filling in those beloved Oreos:
Oreo fans.. have been perturbed in recent years by what some feel could be one of the biggest inflation scandals to hit supermarkets to date: “Double Stuf” Oreos with just a normal amount of creme, and even less in the original-sized versions. Some gripe that the filling no longer reaches the wafers’ edges. Others say the cookies now bear little resemblance to the creme-stuffed images on Oreo’s packaging.
Oreo maker Mondelez insists that the cookie-to-creme ratio is exactly the same. But this is the wicked company that cut costs by lengthening the gaps between the “peaks” of one of its Toblerone bars in the UK in 2016. Things are so bad that the Wall Street Journal devoted an entire article to this travesty:)
India Inc’s dismal diversity numbers
Boards of the biggest Indian companies are dominated by old men. According to an analysis of Nifty 500 firms, nearly 50% are above the age of 60. Millennials occupy just 1.2% of the seats. This is true even of women—who are only four years younger than their male counterparts on average. Of course, there is a huge gender gap—only 18.2% are women. Mint has lots of interesting nuggets plus charts on the folks who control corporate India.
Iceland’s volcano is going to blow… but when?
For weeks, authorities have warned residents to get ready for the eruption of the Fagradalsfjall volcano. On Monday, the Reykjanes peninsula experienced 900 earthquakes in a span of about 18 hours. And in recent days, a magma tunnel has formed under the peninsula—stretching to the sea. These tens of thousands of mini quakes since October have left massive cracks—running right through towns.
Added to that is the uncertainty—no one knows how bad it’s going to be—especially for the evacuated town of Grindavik:
If the magma erupts beneath the sea, it will be more explosive than if it erupts on land, experts say, though an eruption on land would be a greater threat to Grindavík itself. “It could become explosive if the magma interacts with sea water,” [research fellow] Michele Paulatto said… “If it erupts undersea, it could cause a Surtseyan eruption similar to the one that happened in 1963, also in Iceland, and created the island of Surtsey. That particular eruption lasted several years, so this is a possibility,” he added.
CNN has loads more details.
Three things to see
One: Raymond chairman Gautam Singhania’s family life has long been a source of scandal and speculation. He was first in the news thanks to a bitter feud with his father Vijaypat—who alleged that his son and heir had defrauded him. Now, news of his marital troubles went viral after his wife Nawaz Modi Singhania shared vids of her being blocked from attending her husband’s Diwali party. She also alleges that Singhania physically assaulted her back in September—breaking bones in her lower back.
He has since announced their separation—and the two are headed for a fraught mediation process. Why any of this matters: Nawaz Modi Singhania is chairman of at least ten companies owned by the Singhania family. Business Today has that story on the father. You can see her literally sitting in dharna at the gate—more clips are here. (Hindustan Times)
Two: The Big Apple is getting its first-ever electric air taxi—which demo-ed an exhibition flight at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport on Sunday. The seven-minute flight will connect downtown with JFK:
The craft can recharge in about five minutes, while passengers are unloading and boarding, said CEO JoeBen Bevirt. The idea is that travelers will book their trip, similar to a rideshare app.
We don’t know the exact price of this privilege—but Bevirt says it will be equivalent to a rideshare in a cab—which would be truly amazing. The service is slated to launch in 2025. Watch it in action below. (Reuters)
Three: Garfield lovers rejoice! A new flick starring the grumpy orange tabby is on its way—with Chris Pratt voicing the lead role. Thanks to the trailer, we also get to meet Garfield’s dad—voiced by Samuel L Jackson, no less. Sadly, the movie doesn’t release until May 24. (Variety)