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June 9, 2001 - June 10, 2001

Amarsinh Chaudhary appointed GPCC president Sunday, June 10, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Opposition leader in Gujarat assembly Amarsinh Chaudhary was today appointed the president of state Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC).

In a fax message to Chaudhary, Kamal Nath, congress general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, said 'I am glad to inform you that congress president Sonia Gandhi has appointed you as the president of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee. You are requested to take immediate charge'.

The post of GPCC president fell vacant following the death of incumbent C D Patel about four months ago.

Senior congress leaders including former Union Minister Urmilaben Patel and former Gujarat minister Manoharsinh Jadeja were in the race for the post.

However, Amarsinh Chaudhary, a tribal and former chief minister of Gujarat, was chosen for the post, since besides his credentials, he also enjoyed the backing of various factions within the state unit.

Kamal Nath had visited Ahmedabad last month to elicit opinion of partymen on the ideal candidate for the post.(PTI)

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


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Collectorate fire raises a cloud of suspicion Sunday, June 10, 2001

The Times of India
AHMEDABAD: A smoking rooftop, charred furniture, ashes of property documents and stink of a possible foul play. These were the remains of the mysterious fire that engulfed a portion of the Ahmedabad district collectorate in the wee hours of Friday, destroying invaluable property documents of many city areas.

Collectorate sources disclosed that restoration of the destroyed documents that contained valuable data of ownership of property, their size and location, will take no less than six months. Till then, legal disputes, loans, mortgaging of property will have to wait.

Offices of the city survey superintendent (3) and additional city survey superintendent were gutted in the fire that destroyed 77,000 property cards and documents relating to ownership of land in areas like Khadia, Jamalpur, Raikhad, Railwaypura, Asarwa, Jehangirpura, Bhavanipura and Raghunathpura. Kalupur, Saraspur, Rakhial, Rajpur-Hirpur, Gomtipur and Amraiwadi are also among the 'affected' areas.

Officially, the cause of the fire is not known but the fact that the 90-year-old building contained only property documents has led to suspicions of foul play.

Officials investigating the fire said fuses and electric wiring of the Ahmedabad Electricity Company (AEC) were intact. "Power supply has not even been disrupted. There is very little possibility of a short-circuit having caused the fire," revealed sources.

According to the fire brigade personnel, the call from the 'nayak mamlatdar' at the collectorate's round-the-clock control room was received at 12.40 am. By the time fire tenders rushed to the spot, manoeuvring through the narrow lane leading to the collectorate in the Kalupur area, the inferno was raging. It took five fire tenders three hours to put out the fire.

In the year 1991 a similar fire at the AUDA office had destroyed many building files, ramifications of which were felt in the aftermath of the quake. The fire had broken out in the record room of the AUDA office at a time when riots had broken out in the city.

In that case, too, many files containing building plans, including some related to 12 buildings that crumbled in the quake were destroyed. This had hampered police investigations against the builders.

District collector K Srinivas has lodged an FIR with the local police informing about the loss of public property.

"Though prima facie there is no proof of foul play, anybody who benefits from a complete wipe-out of these documents may be involved. A legal tangle regarding property rights could be a probable cause," speculated a collectorate official.

Srinivas said conclusive evidence as to what had happened could be obtained only after officials of the forensic science laboratory complete their investigations.

However, fire brigade personnel say "there is nothing left to investigate". They point out, "Everything (including electric wires) in the first floor of the single-storey building has been destroyed. It will be very difficult to ascertain whether or not this was sabotage."

Immediately after the fire the principal secretary of the revenue department C K Koshy and settlement commissioner Arun Sutharia inspected the buildings.

Koshi said the government would utilise the opportunity to fully computerise the records system. "We won't have too much difficulty in re-constructing the documents," he claimed.

A special task force under the settlement commissioner has been constituted to suggest a fast, viable method for re-creating the records. "We are drawing up a list of state-of-the-art fire-fighting equipment and alarms to be fitted at the collectorate," said Koshy.

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


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Harvard confers honorary doctorate on SEWA's Elaben Sunday, June 10, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Elaben Bhatt, founder of Self-employed Women's Organisation (SEWA) has been conferred with an honorary doctorate by the Harvard University, USA.

Bhatt was honoured on June seven for her efforts in bringing the "worlds of action and knowledge closer over the past three decades," a SEWA release said here on Saturday.

Apart from Bhatt, Charles hard townes (physicist), Robert Rubin (ex-treasury secretary of the United States), Arthur Schlesinger (historical writer) and John Lawrence Ashbery (America's leading poet) also received honorary doctorate degrees from the university, it said.

Elaben founded SEWA in 1972 and over the decades has created a movement of institutions-banks, federations, cooperatives, academies, institutes, schools and trading houses that promote and serve poor self-employed women, it added. (PTI)

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


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GPCC restless as Sonia delays chief's appointment Saturday, June 9, 2001

The Times of India
AHMEDABAD, June 8: The Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee members are a restless lot now, with the central leadership still dilly-dallying over the appointment of its president, even after AICC general secretary Kamal Nath promised on his May 25 visit that the announcement would be made within a week.

What has disturbed the likely contenders for the party leadership is former Rajya Sabha MP Urmila Patel. Her recent representation before a section of the media, staking claim to the post of the GPCC president, had got other contenders suspicious about the move.

While Urmilaben believes that she was the more suitable candidate if the party went by the '33 per cent reservation for women' formula, others are wondering why she did it since she had, before Kamal Nath, withdrawn her candidature in favour of Congress Legislature Party leader Amarsinh Chaudhary.

She too was in the list of candidates for whom representations were made to Kamal Nath.

Chaudhary, this time around, is very keen on taking over the party reigns and is virtually functioning like the party leader, leading delegations, rallies and presiding over meetings.

Sounding confused over the delayed announcement, Chaudhary, when contacted, offered an explanation saying that Kamal Nath was out of town and hence the deliberations must have been deferred.

Sources close to Chaudhary say he was indeed upset by Urmilaben's contention in her favour. "My credentials are stronger, having been a Union minister, former Rajya Sabha member and politically very active," she told TOI.

She added that if the party wished 33 per cent of the women to head the PCCs then she should be a favourable candidate. Urmilaben also feels that her leadership would win back a chunk of support from the Patel lobby for the Congress. "They are socio-politically and economically the most powerful lobby," she says.

The one person who is waiting and watching the leg-pulling and in-fighting within the Congress is its newest leadership candidate - former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela.

Least seen and heard since the Madhavsinh Solanki-Ahmed Patel faction divide gained ground in Gujarat, Vaghela, who has just returned from a tour, says, "I'm not interested in this kind of name-dropping, when Sonia Gandhi asks me for my opinion, I'll give it!"

While certain leaders believe that Gandhi will pronounce her verdict before her tour to Europe, others feel that the GPCC president issue is likely to hang fire for at least a fortnight.

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


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Ambiguity over quake figures flustered PM Saturday, June 9, 2001

The Times of India
GANDHINAGAR, June 8: Statistical confusion over the number of dead, houses damaged and compensation paid is believed to have perturbed Prime Minister AB Vajpayee.

Officials confirm that during his June 3-4 visit to Kutch, he had asked Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel to look into the reasons for the "considerable delay" in paying out compensation to families of the dead.

He reacted to the large number of complaints he had received in his meeting with voluntary agencies and the Opposition Congress. Officials here suggested that the reason for the PM to get perturbed is not far to seek.

Indeed, the Gujarat government has suddenly woken up to the fact that the number of dead it had reported was not as high as it was believed to be till the PM reached Kutch. Reported deaths till June 1, 2001, were 20,078. After "checking and rechecking" all official records on government computers with the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA), the figure was found "incorrect".

The new figure, quietly put out a week ago, is about 3,000 less -- 17,103.

Besides, of the 17,103 "finally declared dead", compensation has been paid in 12,596 cases.

Senior DSDMA official P Paneervel told TOI on Thursday, "In as many as 3,776 cases, no applications have yet been filed by the relatives of the dead. Most of them, it seems, belong to the upper middle class families. They have shifted to their relatives in Mumbai, Pune and elsewhere. We are writing letters to them. In another 874 cases, legal disputes are pending; the cases have been referred to the legal aid committee formed by the High Court."

Explaining the reason for the sudden fall in the death-toll, senior minister Nitin Patel, who co-ordinates relief and reconstruction in Kutch, told TOI, "In a large number of cases, the names of the dead were registered simultaneously with the police, the municipality and the local panchayat official. We, therefore, decided to tally all names on computers all over again. In about 3,000 cases, duplication was found. All such duplications were struck off."

Paneervel said, "Most of the cases-more than 1,500-were in Bhachau and Anjar taluka. One of the dead, Ahmed Mohommad Khan's name occurred 15 times in municipality, police and other records. After checking records, we found that there were only two persons of the same name."

He claimed that the list of 17,103 dead is "final". It has in it "two bodies found in debris last week, and is unlikely to be revised drastically again".

Yet another major issue raised by the PM related to early completion of re-survey of damaged houses all over the state. "Whatever the PM said about re-survey should be taken up at the earliest so that compensation is paid out quickly", said Nitin Patel.

"About 200 engineers are currently doing the job, visiting each and every affected taluka. Lakhs of houses have to be covered. Re-survey would take about a month to complete," he added.

Indeed, the PM does not seem to have overlooked the confusion on this score, too. Official figures show that if till May-end the number of "totally destroyed houses", both pucca and kuccha, was 3,70,000, However, early June, the figure was considerably revised downwards -- to exactly 1,97,206. Significantly, in March-end, the figure was 3,38,654.

When asked why the PM was not so appreciative of the work done by the state government while he praised NGO, the CM told newspersons on Wednesday that the PM was just encouraging the NGOs".

As for government work, the "appreciation would follow only after the work is over", the CM asserted.

Meanwhile, a senior official has told TOI, "Union home minister LK Advani was more forthright in his praises for the administration. He said we have done a tremendous job and had undergone unprecedented hardships."

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


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