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July 3, 2001 - July 3, 2001

NHRC chief given details of rehab work Tuesday, July 3, 2001

The Times of India News Service
GANDHINAGAR: National Human Rights Commission chairman Justice J S Verma was given a detailed presentation by the state government of the relief and rehabilitation works carried out in the earthquake-affected areas during his visit to Gujarat.

Justice Verma held discussions with the officials, including chief secretary G Subba Rao and others. Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA) CEO P K Misra highlighted the magnitude of damage and devastation, which was the worst calamity in recent times. The state government said it had mobilised thousands of personnel, equipment and material to cope with the challenges of rescue and relief. It also brought out the role played by the NGOs, other state governments, the Central government and the international community.

The presentation showed how a number of packages for reconstruction of houses and economic revival had been announced within a short time. About 2.3 lakh families (against about 2 lakh whose houses have collapsed) have been covered by the above measures.

Intensive efforts have been made to restored economic infrastructure like water supply, electricity and communication. A number of packages have been announced to ensure revival of the economic activity. These include agriculture, salt workers and small and cottage industries, other industries etc. It was pointed out that in order to facilitate construction work and to ensure earthquake resistant design, over 3700 engineers have been trained and over 24,000 masons have been trained and provided with tool kits.

So far the first instalment of housing has been paid to about 8.5 lakh families, the amount being about Rs 500 crore.

An official spokesman said, "It was pointed out that what has been achieved in five months has no parallel anywhere in the country or elsewhere." The spokesman said the NHRC chairman expressed his satisfaction about the performance by the state government agencies.

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

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Amdavadis paying power bills through their nose Tuesday, July 3, 2001

By Praveena Sharma, Times of India News Service
AHMEDABAD: Electricity in Ahmedabad is fast becoming an expensive commodity. Though other cities in Gujarat have also seen some rise in power bills, the impact on consumers in Ahmedabad seems to be higher than in any other part of the state, leave alone other states where power is much cheaper.

A comparative study carried by the infrastructure consultancy firm, Nayan Parikh & Consultants, a year ago showed that Ahmedabad Electricity Company's charges per unit of electricity was higher than Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) and Surat Electricity Company (SEC), the other two entities that distribute power in the state. The reason for this is the difference in 'fuel adjustment costs' which are charged by the GEB, SEC and AEC.

A rough calculation done by some consumer organisations in the state shows that a consumer in Ahmedabad would be paying at least 25 per cent more than a consumer in Vadodara or Rajkot. But if a new, high-precision meter has been installed, the bills can go up by another 25 per cent.

AEC has installed more than three lakh new single-phase meters and 65,000 new poly-phase meters in the last three years. AEC officials say that rise in the income due to installation of new meters is negligible.

A random survey conducted by TOI shows that while a consumer with essential appliances (TV, refrigerator, computer and washing machine) in Ahmedabad pays an average of Rs 1,500 every two-month billing cycle while a consumer in Vadodara shells out around Rs 1,000.

Sonal Bakshi, who works for an NGO in Vadodara, gets a bill ranging between Rs 1,300 to Rs 1,500. She says this is on the higher side as she uses a electric water pump which is operated for about three to four hours in a day. Sunita Kaul, a resident of Ahmedabad who owns the same electrical appliances as Bakshi (minus water pump), was thrust a bill of Rs 1,900 for March-April. Surprised by the exorbitant billing she lodged a complaint with the AEC. She was told that her old meter was running fast and needed to be replaced. On installation of new meter, her bill jumped up to a whopping Rs 2,400.

AEC officials confess that the billing goes up after installation of new meters. "Our old meters had gradually started running slower. It had started running slower by 7 to 12 per cent, so we decided to replace them with meters, which do give a higher billing to the consumers," says AEC vice president (personnel and administration) Babubhai Patel.

The cost per unit, calculated by Nayan Parikh on the basis of his electricity bills, was Rs 6.89 per unit for March-April, which shot up to Rs 7.42 per unit in May-June. This rise is defended by the AEC officials, who say that the new electronic meters which register even the smallest of power loads are precision meters. To this, an electrical experts argue if that was the case then the increase in the new meter reading should be, at the most, by 10 units, but the actual increase after installation of new meters was of 50 to 100 units.

Consumers are also mystified with the new billing system. Kaul's bill factors a fuel surcharge, which is a whopping Rs 1,140 for a billing of Rs 2,400. "Since electricity companies have the liberty to fix their own fuel surcharge, many costs which cannot be factored in anywhere else gets loaded on to the fuel surcharge," says Parikh.

Patel says that such fuel cost adjustment is permissible. "We are doing what is permitted under the government rules to us as licensee," says Patel. The fuel cost charges, which was 12 paise per unit in the early eighties, have shot up to Rs 2.12 per unit. According to a Consumer Education and Research Society (CERS) member Jaganath Sharma, this has had a major impact on the electricity tariff.

"The quality of the coal is of inferior standard. Instead of trying to recover losses due to this from Coal India Limited and Indian Railways, power utilities find it easier to pass on these burden to the consumers," says Sharma.

And the recent rise in bills is not the end of the consumer's woes. An AEC proposal for another tariff revision is lying with the Gujarat Electricity Regulatory Commission (GERC) and a decision is likely to be delivered shortly. But if this proposal is approved the burden on the consumers even more back-breaking.

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

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All not well with Gujarat cities: CMAG report Tuesday, July 3, 2001

By a Civic Reporter, The Times of India News Service
AHMEDABAD: Surat is Khubsurat, but not its slums. Ahmedabad has good slum-networking and has high per-capita income, but is bogged down by mounting tax arrears. Vadodara Municipal Corporation has a very high non-tax income, but is plagued by poor people to water and drainage networking ration.

The municipal corporation at Bhavnagar is in the red and so is Bharuch municipality with at least 40 per cent of its total water supplied falling prey to illegal water tappers and thefts. Rajkot Municipal Corporation on the other hand has no water to give to its citizens...

Thus went the first-ever report card for six municipal corporations and four class I municipalities of Gujarat. The report was presented as a performance measurement report drawn up by researchers of City Managers' Association, Gujarat (CMAG), a fraternity of civic bodies and NGOs. Data on per-capita income, self-sufficiency in finance, growth of civic bodies' income, rate of property tax collection were used to rank them in a scale of seven.

The maiden performance assessment, however, did not go down too well with the civic bodies. Many civic body officials were found asking for a change in method of ranking and grading the civic facilities.

Take for instance the response of an official from the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC). As soon as the programme co-ordinator talked of poor civic amenities for the huge slum population of Surat and presented a bar graph comparing it to Ahmedabad, the official immediately rebutted: "I have data to prove otherwise. SMC has made significant contribution to upgrade civic facilities in slums."

The principal secretary of the state's urban development department, Manjula Subramanium, promptly stepped to bring some perspective back into the CMAG's urban indicators aiming to provide the civic authorities an analytical tool for better planning with special focus on performance assessment.

Subramanium reasoned: "The data presented (mostly in form of bar graphs and pictorial dipictions) is not accusatory in nature and should be taken in the correct spirit. This is the first opportunity for municipal corporations and municipalities for self-introspection."

Her advice held true when the executive director of CMAG, Yashesh Anantani, unfurled the organisation's plans to turn the UIPM project into a catalyst for bringing positive changes in civic administration in Gujarat. CMAG also inaugurated its website The website, within a month's time, promises to contain all UIPM data.

"In Saturday's programme, we presented data on urban indicators in 10 cities of Gujarat and its analysis before representatives from the six municipal corporations and four municipalities. This is a pilot project. Based on the feedback and consequent improvisations CMAG proposes to continue this programme for 10 cities in the next couple of years," said Anantani.

Deputy municipal commissioner (west zone) of AMC, Pinakin Dixit, "After the initial fine tunings are in place the website will be accessible to all, especially the civic bodies. We can exchange notes, look at our short comings in a tabulated form and even compare it to other municipal corporations that have achieved expertise in that arena. UIPM on the Web will be the ideal catalyst required to better civic services in Gujarat. This might also be used by the state government to regulate civic evolution in the state."

But, for now, UIPM data has to go through some changes as Saturday's presentation has left many a civic body gasping with surprise.

Comments like: "I did not understand the nature of data required when the survey was on. Responsibility of misrepresentation, if any, in the pictorial depiction is due to usual difference in standards of civic bodies in their data management. Efficient data management system in all municipal corporations with an uniform accounts' code to facilitate effective analysis is necessary now," from a senior official from the accounts department of VMC echoed the feeling of many participants.

CMAG promises to bring changes in its process of marking or ranking the civic bodies taking into account issues like availability of resources, density of population and even location of the place for better interpretation of urban problems and arriving at solutions thereof.

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

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VTD GM Babu transferred Tuesday, July 3, 2001

The Times of India News Service
VADODARA, July 1: Vadodara Telecom District general manager Rakesh Babu has been transferred to Junagadh. Babu will be replaced by A K Bhandari who was with the Jodhpur telecom district in Rajasthan.

Telecom sources said that the transfer is linked with the recent expose of multi-crore ISD scam where the top BSNL official in VTD is being morally held responsible. It was also alleged that some senior officials were hand in glove with kingpin R T Sharma and his accomplices. Sharma had been known for lavishly gifting senior officers in VTD and throwing parties to felicitate and welcome them. Sharma along with Shailesh Chandpure and Kiran Rana is still absconding.

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

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Homeopathic students cry foul over low result Tuesday, July 3, 2001

By Education Correspondent, The Times of India News Service
AHMEDABAD, July 1: The students of homeopathic faculty of North-Gujarat University (NGU) expressed their ire at the record low result declared this year.

The university has declared 19 per cent result for first year Bachelor of Homeopathy Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) followed by 40 per cent for second year, 43 per cent for third year and 47 per cent for fourth year BHMS.

The BHMS students said that homeopathic colleges in Mehsana, Godhra, Vadodara and Ahmedabad affiliated with the NGU have been posting an average result of 70 per cent every year. "Such a low result is outrageous and is ample indicator of the extent of injustice that has been done to students," said an agitated student.

The students have alleged that the university ignored all central regulations and appointed ineligible examiners, which is the main cause for such a poor result. "The university and the state government should immediately look into the matter or else we will be forced to go on an indefinite strike," the students threatened.

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

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