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Is Mumbai burning? As Khairani Road fire claims 12 lives, a look at major infernos this year

In the early hours of Monday, 12 labourers were charred to death after a fire broke out at a shop on Khairani Road in Mumbai’s Saki Naka area. The death toll did not rise further as nine other workers managed to escape in time.

From Monday’s blaze that claimed a dozen lives to the fire at the iconic RK Studio in September, this year has seen multiple incidents of major fires that led to significant loss of both life and property. Following are some of this year’s incidents:

A year of major infernos

Barely hours into the new year, Mumbai’s firefighters were tasked with dousing four blazes on 1 January, 2017. Fire engines were rushed to Mumbra, Malad, Dombivli and Andheri after residents reported flames, and contained all the blazes within hours.

Later that month, a major fire broke out at a slum between the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Masjid stations, leading to a temporary suspension of train services on the central line.

In February, a ‘Level 3 fire’ broke out at the Tata Cancer Hospital in Parel, which was later contained with the help of four fire engines and four water tankers that were at the spot.

A week later, four labourers were charred to death in a fire that broke out at a plastic factory in Bhiwandi following an alleged short circuit, also leading to massive loss of property. Hindustan Times reported that the police had to resort to a headcount of workers in the factory when the fire broke out to identify the deceased.

Although the next three months were relatively incident free, a minor fire at the Bank of India building in South Mumbai in April forced the emergency evacuation of nearly 300 people who were trapped in the 100-year-old building. Later in May, a fire emergency was reported at Mumbai’s domestic airport terminal, which was also contained soon.

In June, a major fire at choreographer Terence Lewis’ dance academy at Khar broke out with some 20 dancers still inside and rehearsing. The fire was put under control before long and the incident led to no loss of life.

The year’s worst fires, however, were reported in the final four months.

Rescue workers and firemen try to douse a fire which broke out in a Mumbai slum area in October. Reuters

The iconic RK Studio in Mumbai’s Chembur area caught fire on 16 September, causing damage to the sets of a reality TV show which was being shot at the venue. The fire did not cost lives, although damage to property was reported to be extensive.

In the same month, six people lost their lives and 11 were injured with severe burn injuries when an under-construction building in Vile Parle caught fire. The Times of India reported that police were investigating if the fire was caused by negligence.

On 7 October, efforts to extinguish a fire that broke out at a fuel tank farm of the Mumbai Port Trust, located on Butcher Island off the east coast of Mumbai, continued for days as even after firefighters had brought the blaze under control, “excessive heat” led to re-ignition.

Later that month, thousands were left homeless after a massive fire engulfed shanties in the Garibnagar Slum in the Behrampada area in Bandra East. The hawkers and slum-dwellers bore most of the brunt. “Some furniture and windows of the booking office at the south side FOB at the Bandra station got damaged due to the fire from the nearby slums…No casualty to railway staffers or passengers was reported,” a statement from the Western Railway said.

In November, two fire incidents — one inside the Arunachal Bhawan building opposite Vashi Railway Station and another in an empty monorail train — led to a disruption of public services but did not result in loss of life or major loss of property.

‘Fire safety measures are not followed’

Speaking to Firstpost, deputy chief fire officer of the Mumbai Fire Brigade, Hemant D Parab, said that fire safety measures not being followed by residents is the main reason behind the high number of blazes in Mumbai this year.

“Precautions that need to be taken are not taken seriously,” Parab said. “There are fire safety mechanisms already in place in most high-rise buildings. They have to be properly maintained and kept in working condition,” he said.

The deputy chief fire officer added that people occupying those premises need to know how to operate the machinery. “Training has to be given as to how to operate fire extinguishers, how to evacuate the people in emergency situations so that if safety gears are available, they are appropriately utilised,” Parab said.

Published Date: Dec 19, 2017 02:33 pm | Updated Date: Dec 19, 2017 02:41 pm

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A simple solution to end the encryption debate

Criminals and terrorists, like millions of others, rely on smartphone encryption to protect the information on their mobile devices. But unlike most of us, the data on their phones could endanger lives and pose a great threat to national security.

The challenge for law enforcement, and for us as a society, is how to reconcile the advantages of gaining access to the plans of dangerous individuals with the cost of opening a door to the lives of everyone else. It is the modern manifestation of the age-old conflict between privacy versus security, playing out in our pockets and palms.

One-size-fits all technological solutions, like a manufacturer-built universal backdoor tool for smartphones, likely create more dangers than they prevent. While no solution will be perfect, the best ways to square data access with security concerns require a more nuanced approach that rely on non-technological procedures.

The FBI has increasingly pressed the case that criminals and terrorists use smartphone security measures to avoid detection and investigation, arguing for a technological, cryptographic solution to stop these bad actors from “going dark.” In fact, there are recent reports that the Executive Branch is engaged in discussions to compel manufacturers to build technological tools so law enforcement can read otherwise-encrypted data on smartphones.

But the FBI is also tasked with protecting our nation against cyber threats. Encryption has a critical role in protecting our digital systems against compromises by hackers and thieves. And of course, a centralized data access tool would be a prime target for hackers and criminals. As recent events prove – from the 2016 elections to the recent ransomware attack against government computers in Atlanta – the problem will likely only become worse. Anything that weakens our cyber defenses will only make it more challenging for authorities to balance these “dual mandates” of cybersecurity and law enforcement access.

There is also the problem of internal threats: when they have access to customer data, service providers themselves can misuse or sell it without permission. Once someone’s data is out of their control, they have very limited means to protect it against exploitation. The current, growing scandal around the data harvesting practices on social networking platforms illustrates this risk. Indeed, our company Symphony Communications, a strongly encrypted messaging platform, was formed in the wake of a data misuse scandal by a service provider in the financial services sector.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

So how do we help law enforcement without making data privacy even thornier than it already is? A potential solution is through a non-technological method, sensitive to the needs of all parties involved, that can sometimes solve the tension between government access and data protection while preventing abuse by service providers.

Agreements between some of our clients and the New York State Department of Financial Services (“NYSDFS”), proved popular enough that FBI Director Wray recently pointed to them as a model of “responsible encryption” that solves the problem of “going dark” without compromising robust encryption critical to our nation’s business infrastructure.

The solution requires storage of encryption keys — the codes needed to decrypt data — with third party custodians. Those custodians would not keep these client’s encryption keys. Rather, they give the access tool to clients, and then clients can choose how to use it and to whom they wish to give access. A core component of strong digital security is that a service provider should not have access to client’s unencrypted data nor control over a client’s encryption keys.

The distinction is crucial. This solution is not technological, like backdoor access built by manufacturers or service providers, but a human solution built around customer control.  Such arrangements provide robust protection from criminals hacking the service, but they also prevent customer data harvesting by service providers.

Where clients choose their own custodians, they may subject those custodians to their own, rigorous security requirements. The clients can even split their encryption keys into multiple pieces distributed over different third parties, so that no one custodian can access a client’s data without the cooperation of the others.

This solution protects against hacking and espionage while safeguarding against the misuse of customer content by the service provider. But it is not a model that supports service provider or manufacturer built back doors; our approach keeps the encryption key control in clients’ hands, not ours or the government’s.

A custodial mechanism that utilizes customer-selected third parties is not the answer to every part of the cybersecurity and privacy dilemma. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that this dilemma will submit to a single solution, especially a purely technological one. Our experience shows that reasonable, effective solutions can exist. Technological features are core to such solutions, but just as critical are non-technological considerations. Advancing purely technical answers – no matter how inventive – without working through the checks, balances and risks of implementation would be a mistake.

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