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September 29, 2001 - September 29, 2001

Govt may bend laws to prevent broken homes from shrinking Saturday, September 29, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Dhiren Bhatt and his eight neighbours in the now-collapsed Parth Apartment in Gulbai Tekra had three-bedroom flats, each measuring 133 square yard. When Parth residents presented their reconstruction plans they were told that the legally the plan would have to be restricted to 55 square yard flats.

The residents of Parth are among the scores of residents of buildings that collapsed in the January 26 earthquake who are now finding that reconstruction would mean living in much smaller homes. The collapsed buildings had illegal extensions which are not being allowed under the new stricter rules imposed after the earthquake.

Think-tank of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation is hard at work these days. The corporation's administrators are going through the grind trying to stop broken city homes from shrinking in the post-quake reconstruction scenario.

No less than 69 complaints are with the AMC that speak of irregularities practised by builders and developers. In some cases the FSI has been increased or that extra storey has come up on a low-rise or a pent-house added to a 10-storeyed high-rise. While in others the cantilever portion of a building has been extended illegally for more space without column or beam support and without AMC's permission.

Though the civic body's recommendations, which have been called for by the state government to resolve these cases, will differ on a case-to-case basis, the civic authorities have decided to suggest that minor illegalities be allowed to remain when broken homes are reconstructed.

Till Thursday, corporation authorities were busy holding discussions with individual house owners and discussing the pros and cons on reconstruction of their broken homes keeping the stringent General Development Control Regulations (GDCR) in mind.

"We spoke to the builder-developer community at the outset but dialogues with owners are proving to be fruitful as the latter is prepared to adjust. And, the corporation too is ready to take that extra step towards a humane reconciliation. Since other building illegalities are being regularised through levy of Impact Fee, it is only just that a suitable solution be there for those whose homes were destroyed by the earthquake," said a senior official in AMC.

So, that extra elbow room that you had in your dream home may still be there when the new house comes up but fate of that penthouse or that illegal storey or commercial establishments in place of parking lots may be doomed.

Residents of Shitalbaug Apartment in Paldi, which collapsed killing seven residents, had to actually buy out some residents to get more space. The flat was built at a time when FSI ceiling was 1.1 but the builder somehow managed an FSI of 2. Sanctioned for 96 square metres, on completion the building covered 120 square metres. Shitalbaug had 16 flats but the new GDCR allows only 11. "So we paid back Rs 5.25 lakh to each of the remaining five families. Now we are faced with reconstruction cost of Rs 4,500 per square yard," lamented a Shitalbaug resident.

The state minister for urban development, Parmanand Khattar told TNN that Section 29 (2) of the Town Planning Act empowers the state government to set aside certain rules of the GDCR in special circumstances. Of the 69 collapsed-building cases in Ahmedabad, studies and recommendations on 46 have reached the urban development department from the municipal commissioner's office. Violations of building bylaws and deviations in FSI and original plans are being considered.

"A suitable, humane solution to this impasse will soon be evolved so that reconstruction of the crumbled multi-storeys, with as little changes to its original structure as possible, can start," the minister said.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]

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Cases drag on in city courts for want of infrastructure Saturday, September 29, 2001

AHMEDABAD: * Ashok Bakshi, an accused under section 409 and 114 of the IPCode for breach of trust and abetment in a criminal act, has been awaiting trial since 1986. Bakshi's case is pending in court number 5 of Ahmedabad City Metropolitan Court and not a single witness has been examined to date.
* Kishore Natwarwal, another accused is facing charges similar to Bakshi in at least three cases. In his case too not a single witness was examined by the court though the cases were filed between 1985 and 1989.
* Karsan Das filed a discharge application in the court number 15 in 1992, accused under section 106 and 120 B of IPC for inflicting physical injuries to other person in self-defence and hatching a criminal conspiracy. He is still waiting for court's direction.

Oft-repeated and now cliched 'justice delayed is justice denied', still has to make sense, at least for the state legal department.

Slackness, which has become synonymous with the government department, has been putting scores of litigants at Ahmedabad City Metropolitan Court through undue hardships for the past couple of months. Cases are frequently adjourned as eight of the twenty courts under the Ahmedabad City Metropolitan Court are non-functional for want of proper infrastructure.

"The courts are not functioning due to insufficient space, as the metropolitan court was allotted limited blocks," BM Gupta, newly elected secretary Ahmedabad Criminal Court Bar Association, said. The court rooms here resemble pigeon holes, not big enough to even properly accommodate court furniture required for conduct of a trial.

"We have been allotted two more blocks, but it will take some time before courts resume work as renovation work is still required," SA Chauhan, registrar, Ahmedabad City Metropolitan Court, said.

Though he was non-committal on resumption of normal functioning, Chauhan said the court was awaiting state government's sanction for estimates and plans submitted for renovation in newly allotted premises.

"We have sanctioned Rs 79 lakh for renovation at the new premises of Metropolitan Court at Meghaninagar. Now, the job has to be done by R&B department at the site," PD Gujarathi, Secretary Legal Department, told TNN.

And, with each passing day cases are piling up before courts, which are already weighed down by a backlog of some four lakh cases, besides fresh additions -- approximately 20,000 new cases every month -- court sources said.

Besides courts, some 1,900 advocates enrolled with Ahmedabad Criminal Court Bar Association and 250 other non-member advocates are lacking in even the basic amenities, such as proper seating arrangements, drinking water and urinals.

Though court has allocated five sheds for seating arrangement to practising advocates, many of them have taken refuge in parking stands while others have constructed platforms and sheds in the open.

"There is a 70 per cent drop in clients coming for affidavits, power of attorney and other legal formalities because of the distance," C D Ghori, an advocate and notary, said.

Not to talk of the reference libraries the court officials have to shuttle between -- Meghaninagar to Mirzapur and Gheekanta Court premises -- for looking up old records.

"The sessions and rural courts are in the centre of the city while metropolitan court has been shifted to a far corner of the city," Balwantsinh Chauhan, another advocate, said.

The problem for the accused, litigants and public at large started earlier this year when it was decided to construct a new premises for the court at the original location of the court at Gheekanta. The court was subsequently shifted to Mirzapur court premises but after the earthquake in January this year it was again moved to Meghaninagar in May.

Insiders apprehend that the construction of the new court complex may overshoot the scheduled time frame of 30 months.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]

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Work of preserving rare audio recordings begins Saturday, September 29, 2001

VADODARA: "At the stroke of midnight, when the world sleeps ..." these immortal words by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of independence may soon be available for listening to people of the city. The Faculty of Performing Arts of the MS University (MSU) has begun on its ambitious programme of recording this and other such historical speeches on audio cassettes and compact discs (CD).

The faculty has allocated a sum of Rs 1.5 lakh for the programme. The speeches are, at present, recorded on spools which have been preserved by the faculty for several years now. The spools include rare speeches by Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Subhash Chandra Bose.

The idea was born about an year back. This was one of the dream projects of MSU's former vice-chancellor Dr Anil Kane. Kane had encouraged the faculty to preserve these recordings in compact discs and audio cassettes which have a longer life.

Besides the speeches, the spools have musical performances by stalwarts like Pandit Omkarnath, Ayaz Khan and Maula Baksh. "These recording are rare and very few have heard them. The collection was either recorded in the faculty or was donated to us by the Gaekwad family. The speeches might have been recorded on radio. It was a part of the collection of Maharaja Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad," said Faculty of Performing Arts dean Mahesh Champaklal Shah.

Shah said besides preserving the recordings, the faculty was attempting to popularise them. "Many of us are aware of these speeches or musicians, but have not really heard them. This attempt will give such people a chance to listen to the leaders and musicians. Such historical events and talented performances need to be brought to the people," Shah said.

Not stopping at conversion of the spools into modern formats, the faculty is also contemplating to make these available to people. "We can make these recording available to whoever wants to have them. However, this will need permission from several people and will be done in the second phase," Shah said.

According to Shah, the present programme would include only conversion of spools into other formats. Shah said tendering for the work will begin soon. According to Shah, a couple of companies had shown keen interest in the conversion project. "We have already been approached by some of them. However, we will have to wait till the number of offer is in line with the university rules," Shah said.

While Rs 1.5 lakh will be needed for the first phase of the programme, a total cost of Rs 5 to Rs 6 lakh is involved in the project. Those working on the project feel that finances for the programme should not be a major problem. The faculty is expecting that once the programme kicks off, people will themselves come forward with help.

"This is quite possible. When we made announcement of our intentions to convert the recordings, several persons had contacted us saying that they would like to have the recordings. Others offered to give us more similar recording for the purpose of conversion and preserving them," Shah said.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]

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Largescale revamp in Gujarat BJP likely Saturday, September 29, 2001

NEW DELHI: Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel seems to have earned a reprieve, albeit a short one, as the party leadership is now working on a package to give the BJP government in the state a facelift, sources indicated.

On the anvil is not just a change of the CM, but also of the ministry and a new beginning to gear up the party for the assembly polls due in February-March 2003.

Party president Jana Krishnamurthy indicated this Thursday. He first told journalists there was no question of changing the CM. Asked whether this was for six months, a year or longer, he shot back, "No one can predict what will happen next week in politics." Party sources said this suggested a change was on the cards, but its timing was undecided.

The party now wants to get the caste equations and factional interests right and send out a message that it means business. Unlike in UP, the situation in Gujarat was a bit easier as it was entirely a BJP government with no coalition partners to worry about, party sources said.

Keshubhai Patel, spending his second day in the Capital, stayed indoors at Gujarat Bhawan all day before returning to Ahmedabad in the evening. Patel was summoned to the Capital by home minister Advani and Krishnamurthy on Wednesday as the BJP leadership began seriously considering a change of CM.

The immediate provocation was the party's abysmal performance in last week's two by-elections in Gujarat, which only topped the BJP's dismal performance in the recent panchayat and civic polls, in which the Congress trounced the BJP. Besides, there has been criticism from within the party of Patel's handling of the post-quake rehabilitation.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]

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Women in Surat find driving skills a necessity Saturday, September 29, 2001

SURAT: For 27-year-old Malati Shah, driving the family's Maruti 800 is a compulsion as no public transport worth its name exists in the city.

In fact, it has become a part of her morning routine. Every morning she drives her three-year-old son to school. On the way back, she buys vegetables and groceries and if needed, also finishes off with banking matters and bills. All this before she drives herself to a computer centre where she is learning Java.

Citing the city's erratic transport system as the reason for her taking to the wheels, she says driving a car is no longer a status symbol, but a necessity in these days. They had employed a rickshaw for their child but the driver would disappear completely on some days, making it a race against time for the Shahs to drop their child at school.

This was fast becoming a rule rather than an exception and Malati decided she had to take things in hand, particularly since her husband kept himself very busy. Her husband suggested she join a motor driving school and Malati has not looked back since. But, she says, driving in the Surat traffic is more of a headache than any comfort and she often wishes there was an efficient bus service for commuters.

For Hema Anand (46), a resident of Adajan, something similar led her to learn driving. Her daughter was in Std X with a number of tuition classes to be attended apart from school. Thus followed a month-long stint at a driving school followed by some practice sessions at home, and today Hema not only drives the car to work but also picks up relatives at the station.

She feels that driving schools help since you don't have to worry about crashing your own car in the initial days. Controls are very much in the hands of the instructor and this leaves you free to concentrate on the learning aspects.

Meenakshi (25) is a newcomer to the city. A resident of Rander Road, Meenakshi thanks her stars that she knows driving. Though she prefers driving her two-wheeler while going to work, on days when it is unavailable, she uses her father's car. She believes it is very important to be mobile, particularly when the rickshaw drivers in the city charge according to their whims and fancy. Waiting for a bus is not practical for her, as her job involves meeting people on time.

Paresh Patel, employed at the Gurukrupa Motor Driving School, says they have about 25 to 30 women registering at the school every month. They come to learn the Maruti van and car. Personally, he feels that women need to take the car for household shopping especially since the men in the family are busy at work.

This is true especially in Surat where business is the norm and men are usually at work late into the nights. In such a situation, it is very important for the woman in the house to be in control, especially when someone is unwell or need immediate attention even late at night when no public transport would be available. Gita Shah (32) agrees. She drives a Maruti Zen while going to work as well as for shopping and taking the children for swimming at the health club on Sundays. Knowing how to drive a four-wheeler is simply indispensable, she firmly believes.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]

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