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August 4, 2001 - August 4, 2001

Jaspal leaves BJP on tenterhooks Saturday, August 4, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: Two days before Phoolan Devi's murder, the bell rang at a suite in Gujarat Bhavan, New Delhi where jail and rural housing minister Jaspal Singh was staying. The door opened and the attendant ushered in a surprise visitor - Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh.

Obviously, the meeting created a flutter at the government guest house where several other dignitaries from Gujarat were also staying. The one-hour meeting behind closed doors set tongues wagging. As if this was not enough, the two Singhs then drove away to meet SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.

What is Jaspal up to? Confronted with the question, he gave an evasive "no comments". But the developments should be read in the context of two interviews Jaspal gave to local television channels in Vadodara last week. The cassettes are now in possession of some BJP leaders here who see him as a pain in the party's neck.

A four-time MLA from Sayajiganj in Vadodara, Jaspal was asked why he was being neglected by the party and never consulted on important issues even by the ruling caucus in the BJP-controlled Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC). "Probably because they still think I am an outsider," he replied.

Asked whether his position in the BJP was like that of the Mohajirs in Pakistan, Jaspal replied in the affirmative.

Though Jaspal is not revealing his cards as of now, sources say ever since the Gujarat Assembly session started last week, he has started building bridges with not only known dissidents within the BJP, like culture minister Mahendra Trivedi and former Narmada minister Jaynarayan Vyas, but also leaders of smaller parties like Chotubhai Vasava (Janata Dal) and Pravinsinh Jadeja (Samata Party).
Apparently, Jaspal is convinced that the BJP is on a suicidal course in Gujarat with Keshubhai Patel at the helm and even the central leadership seems to have thrown in the towel.

On a more personal level, Jaspal bears a grudge against the BJP that it never gave him his due. Way back in 1984, when Jaspal had just resigned from the IPS, the BJP went back on its promise to give him a ticket to contest the Vadodara Lok Sabha seat.

Subsequently, Jaspal joined the Janata Dal but refused to become part of the Chimanbhai Patel-led JD (Gujarat) and preferred to make a re-entry into the BJP (he was enrolled into the BJP in 1984 by none other than then BJP president Vajpayee).

He was 'punished' a year back when Keshubhai stripped him off the high-profile food and civil supplies portfolio and saddled him with the insignificant jails and rural housing.
Jaspal also resents the fact that the party did not consult him while giving tickets to candidates for contesting last year's VMC elections even within his Sayajiganj constituency, which has 35 civic seats.

There may, of course, be other reasons for Jaspal to look for alternatives, a fact which he admitted during the television interviews. There is a feeling that he may be denied a ticket to re-contest from Sayajiganj when polls are held 18 months from now. Instead of being caught on the wrong foot at the last moment, he would like to explore other options and, possibly, build a 'third force' rather than join the Congress with which he has a history of conflict.

While speculation is rife that Jaspal may drop a bombshell, possibly after the by-elections to the Sabarmati (Assembly) and Sabarkantha (Lok Sabha) seats, doubts remain over his organisational capabilities.

The former cop may have a clean image and a bit of his earlier charisma, but he can't strike a rapport with the village folk because of his limited understanding of Gujarati.
Besides, the Samajwadi Party would not like to put all its eggs in one basket. There are reports that it has also made overtures to Congress leaders Madhavsinh Solanki and Shankersinh Vaghela. If any of those deals come.

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

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Bill on two-child norm to go in tandem with ICPD Saturday, August 4, 2001

The Times of India News Service
GANDHINAGAR: The Gujarat Cabinet's No 2 Suresh Mehta declared on the floor of the state assembly on Thursday that the bill on two-child norm he plans to come up with would fully comply by the norms set by the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994, to which India is a signatory.

"Compulsions have never helped stabilise population", he said intervening in a debate on the state's population growth. "Even Gujarat experimented but failed there", he added. "The bill will be brought in this assembly session or next."

Making his first official statement in a house that overwhelmingly demanded, cutting across party lines, disincentives and punishments to those families that produced more than two children, Mehta said, "Coercive measures cannot be taken. Parliament has refused to consider them. They could not be included in the directive principle of state policy, too. Afterall, the child that comes in this world is an equal citizen of the country. He or she cannot be denied the constitional rights."

"Given such a framework, the state would have to press upon the Centre to devolve some of its powers to us to come up with a statutory provision on population, even while ensuring that it is moral, positive and dynamic. Disincentives will not, however, work", he said. The only other MLA who supported Mehta's soft approach to population was one of his best political supporters in the BJP, Purshottam Rupala, a well-known liberal. Rupala emphasised, disincentives would be "counter-productive."

Starting the discussion on the issue, Dr Maya Kodnani, a BJP MLA from Naroda, read out a statement handed over to her by hardline party bosses which said, "A family that does not adopt a population control policy should be punished by law and the family members be disallowed to participate in elections or take government job." Kodnani, a gynaechologist, wanted the statement to be passed by the state assembly.

BJP general secretary Gordhan Zadaphia said, such a bill was needed to "prosper and grow", adding, he sharply disagreed with "so-called rational intellectuals who say that it would lead to female feoticide." Former Congress minister Ramsinh Parmar said, Muslims and tribals were poorer and more uneducated "because they proliferate more than others and do not agree to population control, considering is against religion. There are more instances of them participating among illegal activities because of that."

A similar view was taken by nearly half-a-dozen other MLAs participating in the debate. Taking a relatively more balanced view, however, former health minister Ashok Bhatt said, though he supported the population control law, the emphasis should be on "how to strengthen the social system to reduce the infant mortaility rate and birth rate. "It would be wrong to say that there has been no success of family welfare programmes. If these were not there, the state's population would be six crore instead of five."

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

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Gujarat govt should not be flouting its IT gains: Amarsinh Saturday, August 4, 2001

The Times of India News Service
GANDHINAGAR: Leader of the Opposition Amarsinh Chaudhary sprung a surprise in the Gujarat Assembly on Thursday remarking that implementation of information technology had not been accepted by the people even in Andhra Pradesh, which was showcasing its achievements in the field.

Chaudhary said the Gujarat government should not be flouting its modest gains in the IT sector.

The wordy duel between the Opposition and the treasury benches began when IT minister Bimal Shah claimed that in the last two years, Gujarat had achieved tremendous progress in the IT sector, that, too, when the earlier Congress regime had failed to realise the importance IT would assume in the modern world.

Shah lashed out at the Congress members for raising a hue and cry over Mumbai-based share broker Ketan Parekh being a partner in one of the firms listed by the government for IT projects and asserted that Parekh has nothing to do with the company.

Industries minister Suresh Mehta tried to corner Chaudhary asking, "What is the stand of the Congress on information technology? Is it for or against it?

Chaudhary replied that the Congress policy would not be haphazard like that of the BJP. It would be decided in accordance with other priorities. He alleged that the BJP had evolved the IT policy at the cost of other sectors and hence it had to taste defeat in the panchayat elections.

Another minister, Nitin Patel, also assailed the stand of Chaudhary and quipped, "Former chief minister Amarsinhbhai was next to former Bihar CM Laloo Prasad Yadav in opposing the advent of information technology in the country."

Senior Congress members Naresh Rawal, Udesinh Baria and others said they were not ready to accept Bimal Shah's claim. They alleged large-scale irregularities in the award of contracts to IT firms and pointed out that nothing concrete had emerged so far.
Shah contested the allegation and said so far more than 1.5 lakh students had been trained in IT courses and a majority of them absorbed by software firms and other training institutes.

Shah said after Chief Minister Keshubhai's tour of the US, a high-level delegation of leading IT companies had expressed

Shah claimed that Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka had developed the IT industry in one or two major cities while in Gujarat the activities were spread across the cities and even taluka towns.Impressed by the state's progress, leading industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani, who hails from the state, had decided to set up an IT institute of international standard in Gandhinagar. Some of the faculties of the institute would start functioning from this academic year.

Shah disclosed that the software exports from the state had increased to Rs 105 crore from a meagre Rs 6 crore over the last two years. There are 2,00,000 internet users in the state which has more than 65,000 internet connections, he added.

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

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AMC seeks more time for installing fire safety measures. Saturday, August 4, 2001

The Times of India News Service
AHMEDABAD: The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has sought more time from Gujarat High Court in a suo motu (contempt) notice to ensure installation of fire safety measures in high-rise buildings falling under its jurisdiction.

A division bench had issued contempt notices to the AMC as well as the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority on July 2, 2001 for not implementing its orders on installation of fire safety measures in high-rise buildings in Ahmedabad, delivered four times on 24-12-1997, 12-2-1998, 17-2-2000 and last time on 25-7-2000.

Appearing before a division bench comprising Justice J M panchal and Justice H H Mehta, the AMC counsel Amit M Panchal said on Thursday that after a personal inspection by the AMC commissioner in 1997, when it was found that of the 268 high-rise buildings in the corporation area only two of them had fire safety measures installed, a publc notice was issued on 14-01-1998 warning the builders concerned and the occupants, but it had little effect.

So to educate the builders, architects and occupants of high-rise buildings, which were not equipped with fire-safety measures, the AMC needed some more time, Panchal submitted.

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

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Multiplex business: Too many, too soon Saturday, August 4, 2001

By PRAVEENA SHARMA, The Times of India News Service
AHMEDABAD: Multiplexes may be mushrooming in the city, but signs of financial strain due to intense competition are beginning to appear in what is dubbed by some as the 'multiplex capital of India'.

City Pulse Media (I) Pvt Limited, the first to set up a multiplex in the city, has missed a few instalments of its Gujarat State Finance Corporation (GSFC) loan after a fire on its premise in February.

Not very confident of meeting its loan commitment on schedule, City Pulse has requested the GSFC for a reschedulment of its loan repayment period. Confirming this, company's managing director Ashok Purohit said, "Our loan schedule was disturbed by the fire, so we have requested for a reschedulment."

But Purohit does not see the reschedulement disturbing the company's pay-back period, which was fixed at six years at the beginning of the project. City Pulse's total investment in the multiplex is around Rs 10 crore, of which it has raised Rs 2.4 crore from GSFC at an interest rate of 17 per cent and Rs 1.3 crore from Gujarat Industrial Investment Corporation (GIIC). Since the project was developed in phases, a major portion of the project cost was funded from returns during the first phase, which were very good.

Analysts are, however, predicting the returns in this business to dip as competition in this sector is building up. Many are already feeling the heat of this as ticket prices move down with every new multiplex in the city.

This is leaving the older players with no other option but to slash their prices to retain their business. City Pulse recently reduced its ticket prices from the Rs 80 to Rs 60 on weekdays to match the prices of R-World. Tickets at the Fun Republic would cost around Rs 60 (day show) and around Rs 70 (night show). R World's and City Pulse's ticket price on weekends is Rs 100. Such price trends are likely to disturb their projections about earnings from multiplexes.

In the emerging scenario, financial corporations like GSFC have stopped considering loans for multiplexes in the metro city of the state. They are now concentrating on smaller towns.

GSFC has uptill now disbursed loans to multiplexes in Palanpur (Rs 2 crore), Anand (Rs 1.5 crore), Surat (Rs 4 crore), Rajkot (Rs 4 crore) and Jamnagar (Rs 4 crore) - the last one being developed by the film producer and director Mehul Kumar.

"When we began disbursing loans to multiplexes, it was a conscious diversification on our part from chemical and textile industry. Due to the various incentive available to the industry, multiplexes made a very viable business even at 50 per cent capacity utilisation in the initial period. They also had a very good debt servicing capacity with a debt service coverage ratio of 1.80 times and an internal rate of return (IRR) of 22 per cent," says GSFC general manager - development bank - J P Joshipura.

But all this is likely to change as the market gets crowded. Any move by multiplexes to cut ticket prices to beat competition will affect both its debt servicing and IRR, and could push them into a financial quagmire unless they also consider other sources of revenue like retailing, games, events and others which is what the new entrants like City Gold and Fun Republic have ensured.

But Purohit, pioneer of multiplex in the state, disagrees with the view that the city has more than required multiplexes. "At present, we have a collective capacity of 7,000 to 8,000 in the multiplexes in the city, which is far below what we had 25 years ago in Ahmedabad's 58 cinema halls," he says.

But Purohit forgets that those 58 cinema halls were targeting the masses, while the new-breed multiplexes are targeting only the higher middle-class and the rich, which is not very huge segment of the total consumer-base in the city.

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

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