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August 13, 2001 - August 14, 2001

Stardom at a price for engineers Tuesday, August 14, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Post-quake, structural engineers of the city have been catapulted to overnight stardom. Structural engineers, who used to receive a minuscule half per cent of the project cost, compared with 3% paid to architects, are now looking at an upwardly mobile career graph complete with fringe benefits like the much-sought-after 'status'.

However, the sudden changeover from the backroom to the centre-stage has its downside, too. The recently-formulated General Development Control Regulations (GDCR) make mentions galore about structural engineers and put their job open to scrutiny with a healthy dose of accountability thrown in.

The development control regulations drawn up by the state government with respect to structural safety put down the qualification and experience required in a structural designer to certify structural safety of a building, in black and white.

It says: "A degree civil engineering recognised by All India Board of Technical Education. In addition, the applicant should have at least five years' experience in structural design, two years of which must be in a responsible capacity in the form of structural designer."

One with a Master's degree in structural engineering from a recognised institute and at least two years' experience in structural design work, or a doctorate in structural design from a recognised institute and at least one-year experience in structural design work will, after registering with the AUDA or the AMC, be allowed to prepare and submit structural details of all types of buildings and other structures.

Already a total of 120 civil and construction engineers have registered with the AMC. Of these 75 are structural designers.

Once the formalities are completed, the structural engineer will prepare a report on the structural design of the building. He will draw up a safe structural design keeping the soil-bearing capacity of the plot in mind and specify the right mix of construction material to ensure the strength of columns, beams and slabs.

He will also certify structural safety and overall soundness of the structure and advise on implementation of the project. In short, the structural engineer will be responsible for the safety of the building and its occupants.

"Structural engineering is an extension of civil engineering," explains P N Patel, who obtained his master's degree in civil engineering, specialising in structural designing, way back in 1977. After working with the PWD and teaching at LD College of Engineering in Ahmedabad and LE College, Morbi, Patel retired in 1981. Ever since he has been running his own consultancy firm.

"Our work is like building a skeleton for the human body. Ensuring a strong foundation and stability of the framework of concrete slabs, beams and columns that hold together a multi-storeyed structure is our responsibility. The correct mixture of the building material and the steel reinforcement required for a building have to be calculated by structural engineers," explains Patel.

"We have to ensure, through a complex mode of calculations, that the building's load is evenly distributed in harmony with its architectural design. The only change now will be that subjects hitherto not a structural engineer's priority _ horizontal forces of earthquake, wind force and the possibility of floods _will have to be taken into account while making the calculations," says Patel.

Another significant addition made by the GDCR to the structural engineers' responsibility is inspection of the work at important stages of construction and certify that the work being executed is satisfactory. This aspect could take the technocrats to the site of construction which, till date, was not amongst their responsibilities.

The star status and heightened financial gains apart, the additional responsibilities conferred by the GDCR have not gone down well with the structural engineers of the city.

Says Hitendra Soni of SMPS Consultants: "Admittedly, the regulations are comprehensive and liberal in handing out accountability to technocrats like us. But the requirements laid out by the regulations are overlapping in many cases and thus impossible to adhere to in totality."

Points out Soni, "The regulations have also forced us to procure expensive computers and software packages needed for the extensive calculations necessary for drawing up a structural design. This will increase the cost of structural designing and slow down the work, as structural engineers would adopt the path of caution in the wake of GDCR's unnecessary checks and balances."

"A structural engineer's work is limited to the drawing board where he advises the architects, builder-developers and owners on how to construct a structurally sound building. That post-quake we are more in demand is apparent, but holding us accountable for how a project is implemented is going a little too far," remarks Umang Patel, a structural engineer working with Cactic Consultants.

For many though, the tables have turned at long last – from following the diktats of architects to a commanding position in construction business.

Says Sanjiv Kapasi, a structural engineer heading the operations of Grid Consultants, Navrangpura: "Though one can't say that the demand for structural engineers have sky-rocketed after the quake, there is a perceptible change. Now, one feels like a visiting specialist medical practitioner."

Soon after the quake, Kapasi, had rendered voluntary structural engineering services and inspected nearly 150 high and low-rise buildings in the city.

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Three women drown in Rapar Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Times News Network
AHMEDABAD: Three women drowned when the jeep in which they were travelling overturned in a small river in Rapar on Saturday. The women along with seven other people were returning after visiting Varneshwar Mahadev Temple.

The three have been identified as Ansuyaben Naroda (19), Kamlaben Thakur (45) and Manjulaben Soni (45), all residents of Moda village in Rapar.

According to police, the incident was reported by one Taraben Mehta who was accompanying the three women. Mehta said the jeep overturned when they were crossing the small river. She said that usually the river is dry and shallow, but due to the recent rains, there was more water in it. The other seven people have been rescued and are safe.

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Saurashtrians in celebratory mood Tuesday, August 14, 2001

RAJKOT: "The dush kal (bad phase) is over. It's time to celebrate," says Rajkot collector P N Patel, echoing the sentiment of the lakhs of visitors to the ongoing Janmashtami mela in the heart of the city. A good monsoon after five long years has given Saurashtrians enough reason to rejoice.

"The farmer is a happy man. The groundnut crop is growing well thanks to the rain. All 1,800 check dams are full to the brim," Patel says, explaining the unusually high turnout at the fair, second only to Junagadh's Mahasivratri mela.

No wonder then that the biggest city in the region is all decked up, predominantly in saffron, and practically on a five-day holiday playing host to three fairs. All roads, whether you take the good old 'chakda' or the classy Toyota Qualis, lead to Shastri Maidan where the biggest fair, organised by the government's Lokmela Samiti, is being held till August 15.

To enjoy this mela you need lots of patience to tackle the traffic jams and an old but sturdy pair of shoes to wade through the slush (remember the good monsoon). An umbrella isn't a practical proposition even if you're caught in a downpour because there's no way you can walk with it open in the crowd.

"We have had two lakh visitors till this (Sunday) evening," says constable Ashok Ghelani as he goes about making announcements for those lost at the fair. "We have been keeping a tab on the number of visitors. There have been no complaints of pickpocketing or eve-teasing yet," the control room informs even as policemen keep a watch from the machans at vantage points.

With nearly 500 stalls, most of them eateries, and at least 20 types of swings it's a daunting task for the municipal corporation to keep the place clean. "You can hear us making repeated appeals to the public not to litter the place, but they seem to be falling on deaf ears," says an exasperated RMC official, adding "It's a tough task for our garbage van to move in the area swarming with people".

"People in Rajkot must be eating three times the ice cream their counterparts in Ahmedabad do," jokes the collector. He has a point if you notice the 30 big ice cream stalls and the amount of wrappers strewn around them.

The administration and the police are not the only ones on their toes. The saffron brigade has been working overtime, too. Besides decorating the town with saffron banners and flags they have ensured every form of public transport headed for the fair carries the Vishwa Hindu Parishad flag. If only our leaders could ensure the distribution of the national flag with such zeal!

What's more the Bajrang Dal has a stall specially meant to recruit youngsters. "We have recruited nearly 300 boys since the fair began on Friday," claims volunteer Mahindra Nagwadia. "To become a member you have to pay Rs 55 and fill a form. Once you become a member, the Bajrang Dal looks after you like a member of the family. If you have a problem finding a job, we'll help you out," he says, brandishing a trident-shaped dagger which every recruit is given 'for self-protection'.

A little distance away a huge inflated Mickey Mouse dances to Whigfield's 'Saturday Night' number attracting children and adults alike, while the 'dayro' (folk song) artistes prepare for the night as celebrations reach a crescendo.

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BBA threatens stir Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Times News Network
VADODARA: The Baroda Bar Association (BBA) has threatened to stage an agitation over delay in setting up a Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) in the city. Functionaries of the association here stated that the delay is due to lobbying for setting up the tribunal elsewhere.

A decision to set up the tribunal in Vadodara was taken after the 1999 budget. BBA president Narendra Tiwari said that at present the only DRT in the state was in Ahmedabad.

Tiwari added that the need for another DRT was felt, as officials of banks and financial companies as well as debtors had to travel to Ahmedabad for pending cases. An advertisement for appointment of staff was given in February, 2001. However, a release here stated that the process has been stalled since then. According to Tiwari, intense lobbying was being done by political leaders to set up the tribunal in other cities.

"The leadership in Vadodara has done little for the issue. The elected representatives of the city must take up the issue," Tiwari said adding that if the tribunal is set up elsewhere, the BBA would stage an agitation.

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Gas Act lies at anchor, $2.5 bn investments held up Monday, August 13, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: For all the hullabaloo surrounding the Gas Act and the state government's urgency in obtaining a clearance for the Act six months ago, the government has failed to get the implementation process started.

And, the result has been disastrous: around $2.5 billion investment expected for several liquefied natural gas terminals along Gujarat's coastline is at stake. The hold-up is because of the Centre's delay in deciding whether Gujarat should be given complete rights over transmission and distribution (T&D) of gas on state territory, as stipulated in the Act.

Also hanging fire is the plan to build a 2,500-km gas grid at the cost of Rs 3,000 crore. The Act was first brought as an ordinance in December 2000, much to Governor S S Bhandari's initial resistance.

State energy minister Kaushik Patel on Saturday told 'The Times of India': "Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel has pleaded -- both orally and in writing -- with Union petroleum minister Ram Naik to clear the matter once and for all." Yet, Kaushik said, the Centre is bent on taking "either a presidential reference on the issue of jurisdiction, or even approach the Supreme Court for advice. This despite the fact that the Act was passed in February in the state Assembly after taking legal opinion from senior Supreme Court advocate Fali Nariman and the advocate-general of Gujarat."

The main "legal hitch" in the state's failure to implement the Act, according to Kaushik, relates to the Gujarat governor's "clear-cut direction to the state government not to implement the Act till it was cleared by the Centre".

Bhandari did not sign the Act after it was passed in February for three months. And when he signed it on the CM's insistence, he made it conditional to Centre's approval on the issue of jurisdiction. Officials here consider this "unprecedented for a state governor to put a conditional approval of an Act".

Officials say the Centre is now going all out to subvert the state's Gas Act by coming up with its own Act to regulate transmission and distribution of LNG.

"It is at the draft stage," said an official. "One does not know what it will contain and how much time it will take; nor does one know when it will be placed in the Union Cabinet for approval, not to talk of placing it before Parliament. This has complicated things further for those wanting to invest in the state for LNG terminals, particularly for Shell at Hazira and British Gas at Pipavav."

Indeed, Gujarat's plan to make the state a gateway for transmission and distribution of LNG itself is in jeopardy. The Act clearly provides for setting up a gas commissionerate responsible for signing up concessional agreements with foreign and Indian parties wanting to invest in LNG and monitoring its orderly distribution in a regulated manner. It also stipulates setting up a gas regulatory authority that would look into tariff issues for transmission and distribution as also evolving efficiency standards. No steps have been taken in either direction, not to talk of setting up the gas grid.

The reason why the Centre is resisting Gujarat's effort is, according to state government sources, the Union petroleum ministry's the that the Gas Authority of India Ltd will lose its monopoly over a matter that is allegedly under state jurisdiction.

At present, GAIL charges as high as Rs 1.20 per metre cube supplied to Gujarat through the Hazira-Bijapur-Jagdishpur pipeline controlled by it. Officials say a state gas regulatory authority might put into question the tariff, which in actuality should be "distance-based". Which means, it would be about 30 to 40 paise.

The Centre fears that if the Gas Act is allowed to operate in Gujarat, the GAIL's profits could be hit badly. Also, other states could come up with similar transmission and distribution laws, hitting at the GAIL even further.

Already, there is a lot of confusion over gas distribution in Gujarat. Gujarat Gas distributes gas in Surat and Ankleshwar. And, there are other players, including Reliance, Adani, Hindustan Oil Exploration Company, who are waiting in the wings for rights to industrial centres. Without the Act being implemented, gas distribution would become haphazard.

Investments of around $2.5 billion, for setting up liquefied natural gas terminals along Gujarat's coastline, are at stake; all because of the Centre's delay in adjudging whether Gujarat should be given complete gas T&D rights on state territory, as stipulated in the Act.
Source - The Times of India

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