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Five persons killed; thousands of houses damaged; trees, electric poles uprooted by strong winds

Three persons were killed as super cyclonic storm Amphan made landfall near Sagar Islands in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal on Wednesday, while a baby died in Bhadrak district of Odisha and a woman drowned in Kendrapara.

Thousands of kutcha houses in the coastal parts of West Bengal were damaged. Embankments were breached in the low-level areas because of the massive storm surge. Preliminary reports said one person each died in Minakha and Basirhat of North 24 Parganas district and a third in Howrah.

According to the Regional Meteorological Centre at Alipore in Kolkata, the landfall started at 2.30 p.m. and continued till 7 p.m. The landfall was reported near Sagar Island of the Sunderbans between Digha in Purba Medinipur and Hatia in Bangladesh.

Sanjib Bandyopadhyay, a senior official at the Alipore centre, said wind speeds of 150-160 km per hour were recorded in the coastal areas after the cyclone made a landfall. In Kolkata, wind speeds of 112 km per hour were recorded.

Heavy rainfall was reported across all districts of south Bengal. The super cyclone was one of the fiercest the State has witnessed in recent years — more powerful than Bulbul (2019) and Aila (2009).

“The trajectory of Amphan is conforming to what we have been forecasting,” M. Mohapatra, Director-General of the India Meteorological Department, said at a press briefing in New Delhi.

Electricity supply was disrupted in certain coastal areas after electric poles were uprooted by strong winds. In other districts of south Bengal, there were reports of old houses collapsing and trees being uprooted. The storm surge in the coastal areas of South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas was predicted to be about four to five metres above the astronomical tide level, which would inundate low-level areas in the Sunderbans.

The weather office has predicted that the cyclonic storm will remain over Gangetic West Bengal in different intensities till Thursday morning. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, along with senior officials, was monitoring the situation at the State Secretariat.

Heavy damage: Mamata

“Entire south Bengal is hit. South Bengal is finished. I would request [the Centre] to provide humanitarian relief and not to engage in any politics,” said Ms. Banerjee.

The West Bengal government has evacuated three lakh people, two lakh from South 24 Parganas alone.

Restrictions have been imposed on the movement of people in Kolkata and adjoining areas, and ferry services have been suspended in the Hooghly. The Kolkata Airport has suspended the movement of cargo flights for Wednesday.

Two lives were lost and power infrastructure was damaged as four coastal districts bore the brunt of the cyclone in Odisha. A three-month-old child died when a wall collapsed in Tihidi block of Bhadrak district. A woman drowned when she had gone for fishing in Kendrapara district.

Thousands of trees were uprooted as gusty wind blew over coastal districts. Balasore, Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur and Bhadrak districts were severely affected.

‘It is not based on historical facts’

Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli

Nepal’s new official map is “artificial” and unacceptable to India, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Wednesday after Kathmandu unveiled a new political map that claimed Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh of Uttarakhand as part of its sovereign territory.

“This unilateral act is not based on historical facts and evidence. It is contrary to the bilateral understanding to resolve the outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue. Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India,” said official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, urging Kathmandu to opt for diplomatic dialogue to settle border disputes.

Earlier in the day, the new map was launched at a press conference in Kathmandu by Minister of Land Management Padma Kumari Aryal, who said the government of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli is committed to protecting the territorial integrity of the country.

They will get up to ₹13,000 an acre a year under a new income support plan

The scheme would cover rice, maize and sugarcane farmers initially.

Farmers in Chhattisgarh would get up to ₹13,000 an acre a year under a new income support programme announced by the State government. The Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyaya Yojana would kick off on Thursday, the 19th death anniversary of the former Prime Minister. In the first instalment, ₹1,500 crore would be distributed among 18 lakh farmers, more than 80% of them small and marginal, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel told The Hindu. The annual cost of the scheme would be ₹5,700 crore.

Mr. Baghel said the scheme would cover rice, maize and sugarcane farmers to begin with, and would expand to other crops later. Rice and maize farmers would get ₹10,000 an acre, while sugarcane farmers would get ₹13,000. The money would be distributed in four instalments. “This will help them through the agricultural cycle and hopefully help with extension activities. Chhattisgarh gets more than 50 inches of rain annually, but our irrigation facilities need improvement. Most farmers are able to cultivate only one season. That needs to change.”

Centre’s disapproval

The additional income to farmers would increase rural demand and also act as a stimulus for the State’s economy, he noted.

Chhattisgarh had paid farmers above the Central Minimum Support Price (MSP) last year but the Centre disapproved of this. The State government was told that if it continued with the incentive, its rice would not be entirely picked up into the central pool. The State’s attempt was to meet the standards set by the Swaminathan Commission that farmers must get 150 percent of their cost of production as MSP.

“We gave ₹2,500 for rice based on that calculation, but the Centre would not let us do that,” Mr. Baghel said. The new scheme would compensate the farmers through a different track.

Majority say lockdown has hurt their preparations for the coming sowing season

Most farmers managed to harvest their crops despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but 60% of them still faced losses, mostly related to the lockdown, according to a new survey in 12 States. A majority of farmers also say the lockdown has hurt their preparations for the upcoming sowing season either because they cannot afford inputs such as seeds and fertilizer or because of labour shortages.

The situation is worse for wage workers, with four out of five seeing their incomes fall over the last month. On average, wages were 76% lower compared to the same time last year.

These are some of the findings from a telephonic survey of almost 1,500 agricultural households in 200 districts of 12 large States, conducted in the first half of May by researchers from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in association with the Public Health Foundation of India and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad. This was a baseline survey, and is expected to be repeated in June and July, to track the impact of the pandemic on agriculture and food security.

The survey found that 26% of respondents had harvested a crop in the past month, while 26% said this was not a harvesting season for them. Only 10% were unable to harvest their rabi or winter season crop, due to lockdown-related issues such as low market prices, difficulty in market access, government curbs and a shortage of labour and machinery.

The situation becomes more complicated when looking at different crops and different States. Wheat is the biggest rabi crop and harvesting rates were especially high in northern States like Punjab (95%) and Haryana (81%) which also have high rates of mechanisation. However, while almost 90% of the

Designer peptides to impede aggregation of brain plaque

Slow degeneration: Amyloid plaques on axons of neurons affected by Alzheimer’s disease.Getty Images/iStockphotoGetty Images/iStockphoto

A war trick borrowed from Greek mythology, specifically poet Homer’s epic Iliad, could help reduce short-term memory losses associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati (IIT-G) have, after a five-year study, arrived at methods for preventing the accumulation of neurotoxic molecules in the brain, which leads to memory loss.

One is the use of “trojan peptides” that does what the Trojan horse did for the ancient Greeks in their victory over Troy.

The other is the application of a low-voltage electric field toward preventing amyloid plaques from aggregating to cause memory loss.

The cause of Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of amyloid-beta peptides in the brain.

“This peptide is akin to the plaque that blocks arteries over a period of time, affecting blood supply and leading to cardiovascular diseases. Its aggregation, meaning the formation of one over the other, deforms the cortex of the brain leading to Alzheimer’s,” Vibin Ramakrishnan of IIT-G’s Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, told The Hindu.

He teamed up with Professor Harshal Nemade of IIT-G’s Department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering, and research scholars Gaurav Pandey and Jahnu Saikia, for the study on the neurochemical principles of Alzheimer’s disease and ways of arresting it.

The peptide molecules need to have a certain structure to aggregate.

The use of an external electric or magnetic field modulates these molecules to “pull back the possibility of Alzheimer’s to a certain extent”.

The second approach has been to design a “deceitful” peptide with “negative syncretical points” for checking the plaque formation.

“The trojan peptide is roughly like the peptide in the body. But while it goes along with the other peptides, its function is contrary to aggregation. Through intravenous injection of the trojan peptide, we can retard the degeneration of nerve cells by 17-35%, translating into a 10-year delay in the onset of the disease,” Dr. Ramakrishnan said.

Next step

The next step for the researchers is to work with these techniques on mice induced with Alzheimer’s at the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research in Guwahati.

The IIT-G researchers said some 100 potential drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease failed between 1998 and 2011.

The development of a cure for the disease is important for India, which is third behind China and the U.S. in the number of Alzheimer’s patients, they said.

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