Researched by: Rachel John, Anannya Parekh, Niveditha Ajay & Rhea Saincher
The Balasore train tragedy: The latest update
Just two months before the horrific accident—caused by a signalling error—the railway board had flagged dangerous shortcuts taken by staff. A letter sent to zonal heads flagged five incidents where the train entered the wrong track—including two derailments. Workers were disconnecting and reconnecting the signalling system during repairs without taking proper precautions. As a result, sloppy wiring jobs went undetected due to lack of testing. Indian Express has more details.
The nosediving value of news
According to a new Reuters Institute report, the percentage of people who are very or extremely interested in news has precipitously dropped to 48%—from 63% in 2017. In fact, 36% of the people surveyed in this global report sometimes actively avoid the news. The most worrying is this:
The number of people globally who initially access news through a website or app has dropped by 10 points since 2018, and younger groups prefer to access news through social media, search or mobile aggregators.
But the real bad news for journalists is this: even on these platforms “audiences pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities than journalists.”
Editor’s note: Yeah, we’re biased but this is not a good omen for democracy. For better or worse, journalism is a profession that has norms—even if they are sometimes violated by publications around the world. But they can be called out for making up stuff or omitting information—even sued for egregious misinformation. But there are no standards for celebs or influencers. Who is going to hold them accountable if they get facts wrong? (Reuters)
ED strikes again: Tamil Nadu minister arrested
As the Lok Sabha elections grow closer, the authorities are becoming ever more zealous about cracking down on corrupt netas—preferably from the opposition. The Enforcement Directorate’s latest target is the Tamil Nadu electricity minister V Senthil Balaji. He was arrested in connection with a job racket back when he headed the transport ministry: “Several crore rupees in bribes were allegedly collected from candidates aspiring for jobs as drivers, conductors, and mechanics in the state-run Metropolitan Transport Corporation.”
Why this is notable: This is the first time that a central investigation agency like ED entered the TN secretariat to conduct a search on a minister. Balaji soon developed a health issue—chest pains, in this case—that required immediate hospitalisation. This is a standard practice among netas to duck imprisonment—except it seems genuine in this case. The minister may require immediate bypass surgery. Meanwhile in Telangana: income tax officials raided offices of two Bharat Rashtra Samithi MLAs and an MP. (The Telegraph)
Marooned! An Indian navy story
The navy brought in a boat named Barasingha to help clean up the Yamuna. But the situation is so dire that the damn boat has not been able to leave the docks:
The problem is that the boat needs a certain depth to be able to turn and manoeuvre. Yamuna, because of the silt and the waste that has been gathering on the river bed for years, is not even 2 metres deep at certain points, which is what the boat needs for mobility.
The boat was requisitioned by Delhi’s LG—who chairs a high level committee that is part of the National Green Tribunal. But here’s the bit that caught our eye: the dredging plan has more to do with tourism—creating a waterway—than saving the environment. And conservationists are not thrilled:
Dredging the river has been a point of contention over the years with experts as well as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) expressing apprehension that giving permission for desilting will lead to indiscriminate mining.
This is because the aim is to use the dredged sand for construction—and this so-called ‘desilting’ is very harmful for the aquatic ecosystem. Also read: how illegal sand mining is creating a water crisis. And here’s an older Times of India piece on why experts oppose dredging. (Indian Express)
Schengen visa goes digital
You will no longer get a sticker in your passport. Instead, your passport will be digitally linked in the database. Even better news:
The incoming EU system will allow applicants to upload required documents and pay processing fees online, but certain cases, such as first-time applicants or individuals with new passports or changed biometric data, may still require an in-person appointment at a consulate or visa office.
FYI: the Schengen visa allows you to visit all EU nations with the exception of Cyprus, Ireland, Bulgaria and Romania. (Economic Times)
Coming soon: An AI-generated Beatles song
The Fab Four could never overcome their differences to make new music while John Lennon was still alive. Beatles fans will soon enjoy the ‘last’ Beatles song—which uses AI to recreate John Lennon’s voice. The actual song is a demo first recorded back in the late 1970s. Here’s all we know about it:
[T]here was speculation that the song might be “Now and Then,” a song Lennon composed and recorded as a demo in the late 1970s. His widow, Yoko Ono, gave the tape to McCartney as he, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, who died in 2001, were working on “The Beatles Anthology,” a career-retrospective documentary, record and book series. Two other songs on that tape, “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love,” were later completed by the three surviving Beatles using Lennon’s original voice recording and were officially released in 1995 and 1996.
New York Times has lots more details.
Disney’s shifting calendar
The company has moved around the release dates for some of its most popular franchises. It has: a) delayed the next three ‘Avatar’ flicks—and a number of Marvel franchise releases—by a year; b) announced a new untitled ‘Star Wars’ movie’ (our money is on Mandalorian); c) unveiled plans for a ‘Moana’ live action reboot—because there is no Disney classic that cannot be ruined? The reason behind this shuffle: Hollywood writers are still on strike—demanding better compensation for streaming content. (Reuters)
Get ready for Netflix dining
The streaming platform unveiled plans to create immersive dining experiences in LA. The chefs will be drawn from popular TV shows like ‘Chef’s Table’ and ‘Iron Chef: Quest for an Iron Legend.’ No, the platform is not opening a restaurant. ‘Netflix Bites’ will be staged at various locations—the first being Short Stories Hotel in LA. In sum, this is an offline play that offers viewers the opportunity to immerse themselves in their fave food shows. Look for it to come to India soon—coz food travels. (Variety)
Three things to see
One: All is not well with the BJP-Eknath Shinde alliance in Maharashtra. First came a full page ad splashed across newspapers—which declared ‘Modi For India, Shinde For Maharashtra’. And it helpfully offered a stat that showed more voters preferred Shinde over BJP state chief Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister:
The Shinde-led Shiv Sena was strongly chastised by its partner for such temerity. As a result, newspaper readers were subjected to this ad instead—which dutifully affirms the unity and integrity of the alliance—and the vast popularity of the PM. (Indian Express)
Two: This is the Republic Bharat’s star reporter filing a ‘ground report’ on Cyclone Biparjoy from Dwarka, Gujarat lol!
Three: The luxury watch brand Omega bought a fake watch for—wait for it—a record price of $3.4 million at an auction. So the company bought a vintage watch of its own brand—the 1957 Speedmaster ‘Broad Arrow’—at an auction. Except the damn thing turned out to be a "Frankenstein" made of authentic parts from other vintage watches—some parts did not even fit together. It turned out to be a plot cooked up by three former employees including one who was part of Omega’s brand heritage department:
That ex-employee “worked in tandem with intermediaries to purchase the watch for the Omega Museum,” arguing to company executives that it “was a rare and exceptional timepiece that would be an absolute must” for Omega’s collection, the company said.
At the auction, the piece was set to sell for $87,100 to $131,000—but a fierce bidding war ensued allegedly among “buyers from China, Texas, and Oman”, after which Omega finally bought it. The investigators are still working on reconstructing exactly what happened, but the forgery was quite sophisticated which is why Omega believes former employees were involved in its assembly. (Bloomberg, paywall)