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August 8, 2001 - August 9, 2001

PALANPUR:::: Phone links to cross one lakh mark in Banaskantha Thursday, August 9, 2001

PALANPUR: About 30,000 new connections, taking the total to over one lakh will be given by Palanpur telecom district and all 1,368 villages of the district will have easy access to telephone link by the year-end. The department has spelt out plans to minimise the consumers' difficulties.

"The waiting list at 14,400 will probably be cleared by the year-end. We have 72,737 working connections (26502 of them in rural area served by 165 exchanges, 128 are on optical fibre)", said telecom district general manager, Bharat Sanchar Nigam D K Rohatgi.

He said the revenue was up 38 per cent. The department has Rs 30 crore to its credit this year, as against Rs 22 crore collected during 1996-99.

Palanpur telecom department spread over 15 talukas from temple town of Ambaji to Mavasari, the last Indian village in the Little Rann of Kutch. He claimed that the border areas, including Ranesari, Suigam, Bharadava, Tadav, Saltalpur and Varahi have been provided with optical fibre while Korda and Vauva are being equipped with the same in the ensuing year so as to streamline the functioning of the communication system at sensitive points.

Referring to staff shortage he said it is the nerve point of Banaskantha "We have 8.05 employees per 1000 telephones while at other places the ratio is much higher. As against 89 posts of junior telecom officers (JTO) who share the responsibilities at the primary level, we have to put up with only 39. And 20 of 39 SDO phones posts are vacant."

Replying to a query, Rohatgi said the department will mention the phone numbers of the official concerned on the reverse of the bills to enable the lodging of complaints. The department will ensure that after the optical fibre is laid the road is resurfaced. Dwelling on the relationship between Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd and the private sector so as to develop healthy competition, he said he had no official information on their task in the district. "We are prepared to extend all co-operation they would need. Accommodation was the glaring problem particularly in remote areas. Of 165 exchanges, 159 have been located in rental premises.

At Ambaji, Chitrasani and Ajmirgadh, the department is yet to find a rented premise at each town. Land is required to erect towers for covering highways with cellular services. Another problem is the erratic power supply. At times, the power fluctuation is too high and could damage the sophisticated components. Sometimes the supply is low that the network can not work. They need stable power supply to ensure smooth functioning of the system.

The long queue at cash counters can be attributed to staff shortage. Besides, the volte-face on the part of local banks to collect the cash led to the rush, he said.

News Source : Times Of India News Service [ Lightning News ]

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Rains put the city to a near halt. Thursday, August 9, 2001

It was as if the floodgates had burst open on Wednesday afternoon. The incessant heavy showers threw normal life out of gear traffic came to a standstill on most streets following severe water logging. There promises to be more: the Meteorological Department has said there will be 50-mm rain by Thursday morning.

In just about three hours between 4. 30 p.m. and 7. 30 p.m. more than four inches of rain was recorded in western and southern parts of the city, with all railway underpasses getting waterlogged. Most roads were submerged and traffic came to a screeching halt.

The afternoon spell was one of the best this season and brought back vivid memories of last year’s deluge. Chaos reigned supreme on almost all the roads. Not to mention the usual clogging up of drains. Vehicles broke down in the middle of the road, horns blared non-stop and there was an absolute din.

Worst affected were the traffic policemen whom motorists and two-wheeler owners refused to listen to. Drenched in the rain, they tried their level best to bring some orders among the commuters. There were long traffic jams at Vastrapur, Vijay Charrasta, Panchvati, C N Crossroads, not to mention in the small bylanes where people turned to to avoid the rush.

The rain gauge installed at Tagore Hall Control Room recorded 89.5 mm rainfall from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The West Zone of the city received 26.5 mm, East Zone three mm, North Zone six mm, South Zone 73 mm and Central Zone 49.5mm rainfall.

Even as the rain continued, Standing Committee members in the AMC raised a ruckus over the inability of the administrative wing to check waterlogging. Madhuben Patel, municipal councilor from Nikol Road, was in tears as she narrated the plight of residents of eastern areas following the downpour.

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Another road to controversy in Gir Thursday, August 9, 2001

AHMEDABAD: First it was Kankai temple. Now it is the turn of Pataleshwar (Patla) Mahadev shrine. There has always been a battle of sorts between pilgrims and wildlife in the Gir Sanctuary, for the right to freedom of movement.

However, with the state government opening up a 10-km-long road leading to Patla Mahadev temple inside the sanctuary area, fears of the wildlife emerging as the loser in the battle for freedom of movement have come true.

No access is granted to visitors during monsoon, which is a closed season for the sanctuary, on this road. During other seasons the visitors have to pay a fee, procure passes, get themselves registered and follow stipulated traffic regulations on this stretch.

However, one general resolution of the government has removed all curbs on entry to the Gir by granting free transit, sparking off a major controversy and furore amongst nature lovers. Monsoon is critical for the forests which regenerate during the period while the wildlife mates and breeds, which requires privacy and tranquillity.

The road leads from Babariya check-post near Sasan to the temple and further to Banej. In the absence of entry restrictions, thousands of pilgrims and tourists and hundreds of vehicles would pass through and pollute the forest area.

"The GR says the road has been opened only for the month of Sravan, but local politicians want it to remain open throughout the year and that, too, without curbs" says Revtubha Raijada of Sky Forest Youth Club of Keshod, which is opposing the move.

However, conservator of forests (wildlife circle), Junagadh, avers "the road has been opened only for the Sravan month as per orders".

The move, it is feared, will set a bad precedent. "There are 24 temples in Gir Sanctuary, some located deep inside the National Park area. There are already demands to open up roads to many of them. The forest department cannot object if others press their case," points out Raijada.

Movement on roads are known to 'divide' the forest areas, resulting in migration of animals from the jungle, thereby posing a danger to the lives of people residing in the vicinity.

"Such decisions negate the very purpose of declaring an area as a sanctuary. Besides, its is unethical _ you say 'no' to genuine nature-lovers who want to visit the forest during this season but allow hordes of so-called pilgrims to roam inside and do what they want," laments a wildlife expert.

There are half a dozen other roads inside Gir including Dhari-Kodinar State Highway No 33 which are accessible during daytime with certain traffic regulations.

"Three years ago, in protest against the special concessions given to the Kankai Temple Trust in Gir, a strong grassroots movement had emerged. A special parliamentary committee had even expressed strong reservations to the state government disregarding various factors detrimental to Gir," recalls Raijada.

Besides, the Gujarat High Court had advised in November 1997, in a matter filed by Hema Pratap Pandit of Nadiad, that the state government must not proceed along lines that would disturb the peace and tranquillity of the area, he adds.

The 20-km long Sasan-Satadhar road passing through Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel's constituency is already a bone of contention with the villagers wanting it paved and conservationists appalled at the very idea. The latter wonder what would happen to the wildlife if such a highway passes through the forest. As of now this road is open all 24 hours and there are no restrictions on traffic movement.

News Source : Times Of India News Service [ Lightning News ]

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Study picks holes in census literacy figures Thursday, August 9, 2001

AHMEDABAD: At least half of Gujarat's population could well be made up of illiterates. At least that is what initial figures from a study conducted by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad go to prove, blowing away the euphoria surrounding Gujarat's image as a progressive state all set to embrace the emerging knowledge-based economy.

The study conducted by Ravi Mathai Institute for Innovation in Education suggests that the literacy rate in Gujarat could well be a shade above 50% instead of the 69.6% touted by the 2001 census. If this is true, the study could have major ramifications for policy-makers who would have to redefine strategy nationally, once these figures are accepted.

Spearheaded by Prof. Brij Kothari, the study also suggests that nearly 47% of the literates are only neo-literates, who are at risk of losing their skill if it is not reinforced repeatedly.

The survey was conducted in six villages, four of which fall in Ahmedabad district, considered the second most literate after Gandhinagar district. In four villages there was a 10% drop in the literacy rate compared with the 1991 census figures.

"The census sees literacy in black and white," remarks Kothari. "It completely ignores the different gradations that exist. According to this method, Arundhati Roy is as literate as someone in a village in Sabarkantha, who has just learnt to read!"

The difference, in fact, is the strength of the study as it brings out in sharp focus the various shades of grey. It measures the number of neo-literates (those who have only recently become literate), semi-literates (those who can barely read) and functional literates (those who can read newspapers and fill forms).

Kothari completely discarded the method used in the census where the head of the household tells the surveyor how many persons are literate in the family. Instead, he distributed a form with three sections. The first section had only alphabets, the second 20 words with two syllables while the third had 20 words with three syllables.

To Kothari's surprise there were a number of persons who could read only the syllables while there were others who could read only words. Of the 51.1% literates in the six villages the neo and semi-literates together constituted 47.5% in the villages, while 16.2% were identified as functionally literate. Only 2.7% are, as Kothari calls them, practically illiterate.

"The neo and the semi-literates, who together could be termed the early literates, are at a very high risk of skill erosion and relapse into illiteracy unless we devise a methods to check that," Kothari says. "No one can deny that the National Literacy Mission did a great job in creating 100 million literates in the last 10 years. Its biggest flaw, however, was that it did not have a mechanism to check a relapse. They should have incorporated it as one of their aims."

Director of Census, Ahmedabad, Jayant Parimal, however, disagrees that the census method of measuring is too black and white. "We train our enumerators to account for only those who are more than seven years old and can read, write and understand; those who can read a newspaper or fill a form," he says. "Yes, the surveyor speaks only to the head of the household, but these are mainly primary teachers who are familiar with the level of literacy in the region and ensure there is very little fudging."

The authorities also conduct a post-enumeration survey to measure their accuracy and have found negligible variance.

Kothari, on his part, accepts that the census is too massive an operation to get into intricate details but says his method could at least be used in one village in each district. "Even that will give us a better picture of how many people are in the grey area."

Kothari's insistence, however, is that more and more complex aspects are being taken into account to measure issues like illiteracy. India will have to find better ways of measuring complex issues.

Gujarat's literacy rate (2001 Census): 69.96 %
(80.5% male and 58.6% female; 62.1% rural and 82.6% urban)

News Source : Times Of India News Service [ Lightning News ]

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BJP MLAs on the offensive in Assembly Wednesday, August 8, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: The simmering dissatisfaction within the Bharatiya Janata Party came to the surface in the state Assembly on Monday when a member, Arvind Patel, hurled an accusation at Speaker Dhirubhai Shah sending shock waves in the House, and subsequently the House had to be adjourned for 15 minutes as the heated exchange continued.

Patel's outburst came during Question Hour when finance minister Vajubhai Vala was being grilled by Subhash Shelat of the Congress followed by Jay Narayan Vyas of BJP who demanded a categorical statement from the government as to why the sales tax target was revised.

Vala maintained that the government had to revise the target as the revenue from sales tax had dropped considerably due to general recession in the market added with severe drought conditions. He said as against the revised target was fixed at Rs 5,880 and the actual recovery was around Rs 5,963 crore. As per the budget of 2000-2001, the sales tax receipts had been estimated at Rs 6,325 crore.

Despite this, MLAs continued their attack alleging that the revision had to be made as the government had failed to recover the tax as per the original target of Rs 6,325 crore. And at one stage even before Speaker asked Patel to raise his query, the angry member shouted "I am being victimised and ignored in the House".

Stunned at the charge directly hinted at him , the Speaker said "This is not proper". Shah said he has been trying his best to accommodate almost all the supplementary questions from both sides and even after such efforts if such a nasty comment was made by a ruling party member, it was not possible for him to conduct the House.

The Speaker then drew the attention of parliamentary affairs minister Suresh Mehta as Arvind Patel did not tender any apology, as was expected. However, Mehta apologised on behalf of the member. Mehta contended that even if Patel wanted to express his wrath, the manner in which it was done was definitely against propriety.

At this stage the Opposition Congress members again started criticising Vala for not giving proper reply to their queries and this led to heated exchange of words.

The Speaker, who was already perturbed by the adverse comment made to him by Patel, adjourned the House for 15 minutes saying it was not possible to run the House in such a chaos.

Immediately after the House was adjourned, Suresh Mehta rushed to Arvind Patel and tried to pacify him. Other senior members like Jay Narayan Vyas and Gordhanbhai Zadaphia were also seen persuading Patel not to go on the offensive.

As if this showdown was not enough another BJP member Jethabhai Bharvad challenged the social justice minister's reply regarding the financial help given to widows and old people by the state government. Even after Fakirbhai Vaghela gave details of the amount paid to the beneficiaries, Bharvad joined the Opposition and alleged that the beneficiaries were taken for a ride by the middle men who were operating in all the districts. He said it was unfortunate that the government was not aware of the racket going on in the scheme.

Vaghela had earlier disclosed that the government has raised the compensation for widows and aged persons. In all a sum of Rs 78 crore has been paid to widows this year as against Rs 54 crore last year.

News Source : Times Of India News Service [ Lightning News ]

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