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November 21, 2001 - November 21, 2001

Big holes in 'Total Rural Employment Scheme' Wednesday, November 21, 2001

TIMES NEWS NETWORK
The Vajpayee regime's daydreams can hardly be counted upon. Central fiats are floated like paper boats day in and day out. The last one floated in September 2001 was a 'Total Rural Employment Scheme' with a central largesse of Rs 10,000 crore a year. Saurashtra-Gujarat is surely going to rupture like a rubber balloon in this respect, as this scheme is not likely to work here.

On the one hand, we do not see any radical scheme to fill up a huge gap in basic fields like primary education and health-family planning. For instance, Surendranagar district of Saurashtra has recorded 37.57 per cent illiteracy! The total number of illiterate individuals in Saurashtra comes to about 51 lakh, and total literacy comes to 62 per cent.

In the same way, the total number of women giving birth to more than three children is 43 per cent in Bhavnagar and Jamnagar districts, and in the rest of the five districts it is 35 per cent. The question then is how would the new scheme of 'total employment' be implemented? Fifty per cent of the Centre's Rs 10,000-crore allotment will come in the form of foodgrain, while the rest 50 per cent "will be shared by the states in cash!" A total of one crore man-days (countrywide) of rural unemployed will thus be created. It does seem nice on paper. The Gujarat government has not yet come out with its contribution. But it could be a pretty large sum. It is supposed to pay Rs 50 per day to at least one member of the unemployed family, the number of such families running into lakhs in Saurashtra alone.

The Centre hopes to build such basic infrastructure as classrooms, water tanks, approach roads and health centres with such new employment schemes. The other half of the payment in kind will be made from the Centre's 5 kg foodgrain to each of such newly-employed person. It is forgotten that at least 30 per cent of the public distribution system's foodgrains are sold in black-market. Can Gujarat do it with its present precarious financial condition? It is highly doubtful, unless the state cuts down heavily its huge non-plan expenditure and halts all the government recruitment by not filling any position _ from peon to secretary _ whenever he or she retires. Ministers too need to cut down their uncontrolled allowances.

The other day, I happened to see a report about a drastic chopping in Gujarat's planned expenditure, induced by the high cost of two droughts, flood and earthquake. Narendra Modi had honestly declared when he took over on October 7 that "we have not changed the driver but only a gear!!" It meant he had no plans to change the conventional administrative policies. He would just speed up or slow down or put his machine in reverse gear. That's all.

Compared to last year, the current year's planned expenses have been slashed as follows: Rural development will get Rs 243.20 crore against 441 crore last year; power sector from 847.05 crore to 796.40 crore; general services from 360.55 crore to 246.45 crore; irrigation and flood control coming down from 1895.86 to 1476.65 crore; industries and mines from 461.50 to 375 crore and roads and communication down to 438.80 crore from 582.10 crore!!

How can one talk about a share of a few crores for "total rural employment" in such a messy situation? Can Narendra Modi give a new colour to the current annual plan, which has only six months left now? In most probability, he cannot. Besides, Gujarat is facing a huge debt of Rs 12,439.27 crore.

Not surprisingly, Planning Commission deputy chairman K C Pant has expressed his anxiety over the state's aggregate plan resources and the state's dwindling revenue. He is also reported to have told the CM to do something quick about the increasing non-plan expenditure. Keshubhai Patel or the CMs before him never really took up this problem by its horns. Can our RSS pracharak-turned-chief minister do it now?

Further, these days we hear a lot about Narendra Modi declaring the villages as Samras, with social harmony as its theme. Grants from Rs 5,000 to 1,00,000 to such villages, depending upon its population, will not, of course, cover the scheme of 'total employment'. Neither Gokul Gram nor Samras touch upon such a basic problem as widespread unemployment or improving the life of the landless and the poor.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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Is the changing habitat making Gir unsuitable for lions? Wednesday, November 21, 2001

BY SHYAM PAREKH, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
AHMEDABAD: It's not just the controversial temples and mosques, encroachments or opening of roads that is affecting the Asiatic lion in its only abode - the Gir forests.

Surprisingly, environmental changes at Gir like increasing density due to tall vegetation and thickening of forests is making it unsuitable for the king of the jungle to lead a normal life, believe experts.

The changes are quite shocking _ the phenomenon has affected the group structure of the lions which is shrinking in size. Experts believe that now there are lesser lions living together in a group than before! And it is feared that the phenomenon is also likely to change the hunting patterns of the lions.

"Very dense forests in Gir are not conducive for lions, though it may be good for tigers. Hunting behaviour of lions is not like that of tigers' as they cannot move very fast, and will be forced to change their habits or evolve as per the needs of the new surroundings," believes Gujarat Ecological Education and Research Foundation (GEER) director H S Singh.

Singh notes yet another significant change in the Gir. "There is a perceptible increase in the population of lions in the Gir-east (Amreli) area as compared to the Gir-west (Sasan-Junagadh) area." Forests officials believe that the sparser vegetation in the eastern Gir, besides presence of more cattle are responsible for this phenomenon.

Concerned by similar factors affecting lions and their environment, a 10-year Biodiversity Conservation Plan for Gir 1996-2005 (BCPG) was formulated by Singh and R D Kamboj. A mid-term review of the same was held recently to consider how it was doing, and experts then felt that the Gir forests should be thinned down, at least on an experimental basis in some patches.

Suggestions like old teakwood plantations _ which are no good for herbivores _ be removed to make way for more growth of grass and for movement of spotted deer, also came along.

"We are seriously considering this aspect and will implement it soon. Experiments will be carried out in some teak patches," says principal chief conservator of forests Sanat Chavan.

Experts believe that there is a need for strengthening the satellite population areas of lions.

Reviewers also found that the Asiatic lions are now dispersed into their old territories, prior to 1900 AD, and have adapted themselves. Hence, they saw a need for unified management system to manage spread of lions everywhere.

Constructing water-holes on the corridors connecting different forest areas like Gir, Girnar, Mitiyala and on migration routes, regional planning considering meta-population of lions beyond Gir, and providing connectivity to different isolated population groups in these areas, are some of the issues under consideration.

However, it will take some time before any action takes place on the front. Chief conservator of forests (wildlife) G A Patel agrees that there is overgrowth at certain places in Gir which is not good for lions. He says, "Before taking any steps like thinning it down, we decided to consult the Wildlife Institute of India and have been advised by experts to wait for a year till studies are completed for reaching a conclusion."

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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Is the changing habitat making Gir unsuitable for lions? Wednesday, November 21, 2001

BY SHYAM PAREKH, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
AHMEDABAD: It's not just the controversial temples and mosques, encroachments or opening of roads that is affecting the Asiatic lion in its only abode - the Gir forests.

Surprisingly, environmental changes at Gir like increasing density due to tall vegetation and thickening of forests is making it unsuitable for the king of the jungle to lead a normal life, believe experts.

The changes are quite shocking _ the phenomenon has affected the group structure of the lions which is shrinking in size. Experts believe that now there are lesser lions living together in a group than before! And it is feared that the phenomenon is also likely to change the hunting patterns of the lions.

"Very dense forests in Gir are not conducive for lions, though it may be good for tigers. Hunting behaviour of lions is not like that of tigers' as they cannot move very fast, and will be forced to change their habits or evolve as per the needs of the new surroundings," believes Gujarat Ecological Education and Research Foundation (GEER) director H S Singh.

Singh notes yet another significant change in the Gir. "There is a perceptible increase in the population of lions in the Gir-east (Amreli) area as compared to the Gir-west (Sasan-Junagadh) area." Forests officials believe that the sparser vegetation in the eastern Gir, besides presence of more cattle are responsible for this phenomenon.

Concerned by similar factors affecting lions and their environment, a 10-year Biodiversity Conservation Plan for Gir 1996-2005 (BCPG) was formulated by Singh and R D Kamboj. A mid-term review of the same was held recently to consider how it was doing, and experts then felt that the Gir forests should be thinned down, at least on an experimental basis in some patches.

Suggestions like old teakwood plantations _ which are no good for herbivores _ be removed to make way for more growth of grass and for movement of spotted deer, also came along.

"We are seriously considering this aspect and will implement it soon. Experiments will be carried out in some teak patches," says principal chief conservator of forests Sanat Chavan.

Experts believe that there is a need for strengthening the satellite population areas of lions.

Reviewers also found that the Asiatic lions are now dispersed into their old territories, prior to 1900 AD, and have adapted themselves. Hence, they saw a need for unified management system to manage spread of lions everywhere.

Constructing water-holes on the corridors connecting different forest areas like Gir, Girnar, Mitiyala and on migration routes, regional planning considering meta-population of lions beyond Gir, and providing connectivity to different isolated population groups in these areas, are some of the issues under consideration.

However, it will take some time before any action takes place on the front. Chief conservator of forests (wildlife) G A Patel agrees that there is overgrowth at certain places in Gir which is not good for lions. He says, "Before taking any steps like thinning it down, we decided to consult the Wildlife Institute of India and have been advised by experts to wait for a year till studies are completed for reaching a conclusion."

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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It's time to bridge the widening gap between Surtis and migrants Wednesday, November 21, 2001

TIMES NEWS NETWORK
SURAT: Prosperity is generally said to be accommodative. And it has proved so in the case of this silk-cum-diamond city as its social order with diverse cultural expressions, thanks to the migrant populace outnumbering the original locals, have remained largely peaceful so far.

But of late emerging social trends, in the wake of the economic slowdown and growing conflicts for dominance (read vested political and economic interests), seem to be slowly dismantling the city's accommodative aspect of 'live and let live'. And the adverse undercurrents at times threaten to spill over.

Issues which could otherwise have disturbed the social cohesiveness in the city remained in oblivion so far and at the most have created a subjective anxiety among the marginalised sections, having basis in the cosmopolitan evolution of a unified societal stream, according to sociologists.

Though the city lost its 'jari' and silk art expertise -- pursued by original Surti artisans after the evolution of the textile industry -- its economic development has so far proved to be a comforting realisation among the locals rather than having any ill-feelings for migrant entrepreneurs, says psychiatrist Mukul Choksi.

The peaceful co-existence could be attributed to the fact that Surtis have long been exposed to outside cultures and have learnt to live along for mutual prosperity, Choksi forwards.

Not only is the city a second home for lakhs of new settlers, it has also accommodated them with their regional identities intact. Though new cultural waves marginalised the original way of life to a certain extent it did not leave any space for confrontation, say sociologists.

Superintendent of New Civil Hospital Dr Shailendra Bajpayee, a non-Gujarati having been in the medical profession here for the last 23 years, feels that sometimes those with vested interests try to take advantage of wrongly perceived conflicts between outsiders and locals, which in fact does not exist.

It is a fact that many outsiders who settled here have successfully tuned themselves to the local way of life and are even identified as Gujaratis, says Harish Viramani, proprietor of Parag Sarees.

"Had it not been such, the growth of this silk city would not have been to the extent of it being the commercial hub of the state," said C R Patil, former chairman of GIDC and chairman of Gujarat Alkalis & Chemicals Ltd. Patil had migrated here from Maharashtra long back.

"Where else would anyone find such a perfect amalgamation of various cultures from across the country and its contribution to the city's development," said mayor Ajay Choksi.

However, politicians with vested interests seem to have divided the populace. Even in matters like the size of swimming pools to be constructed in particular areas take political overtones among corporators and discrimination on the basis of locals versus outsiders are found to be rampant, added Choksi.

Besides this, a large section of migrants have not been able to associate themselves with the Surti way of life and feels rootless, a reason enough to push them into indulging in anti-social activities in pursuit of dominance, according to sociologists.

Though the conflict between the migrants and locals is not yet out in the open, its undercurrents could be easily felt, say police officials. Resentment at times run high among the locals for outsiders who consider the city fit for committing crimes.

"But anti-social elements are the by-product of the urbanisation process and to put the blame entirely on outsiders would not be fair," said Choksi.

What is more disturbing is the settlement patterns in the city's slum pockets. If the administration fails to take note of it, conflicts among the new settlers and the locals might take an ugly shape, he warned.

The Oriya migrants settled in Katargram area, Khandesis (Maharashtrians) in Udhana and Limbayat, those from Andhra Pradesh in Hari Nagar and north Indians in Palanpur Patia are fast becoming huge vote banks for politicians and the widening gulf between the locals and migrants is quite a disturbing factor, opine sociologists.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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State to apply brakes on issuing tax-free quake bonds Wednesday, November 21, 2001

BY RAJIV SHAH, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
GANDHINAGAR: Close on the heels of the state government scaling down its loan requirement from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for quake reconstruction work by $550 million, the plan to issue Rs 2,000-crore worth tax-free bonds to fight the calamity is set to meet with a similar fate.

The government has realised that huge loans and bonds would put the exchequer under pressure in the long run.

Finance minister Nitin Patel told 'The Times of India' on Tuesday that the government didn't need to raise tax-free bonds on the scale sanctioned by the Centre last year.

So far, of the Rs 700 crore sanctioned as bonds for the year 2001-02, the state has raised Rs 450 crore. Top Secretariat sources revealed that the figure would not be allowed to cross Rs 500 crore.

As for the rest of the amount, "a decision on the matter will be taken over the next two years in accordance with fresh requirements", said a senior official.

Explained Nitin Patel, "The WB-ADB loan given to the state bears an interest rate of about eight per cent over a period of several decades with the Centre taking care of the exchange rate fluctuation. Hence, the loan is our first preference."

And the Centre is seriously thinking of considering the state's request to convert 70% of the WB-ADB loan into grant instead of the prevailing system of treating 30% of the loan amount as grant.

The bonds on the other carry an interest rate of 9.6% and have to be repaid within a decade.

Meanwhile, top government sources have revealed that enough reasons exist to downsize quake-related expenses. Till now, the total money sanctioned by the state finance department for different quake-related activities comes to Rs 2,650 crore _ Rs 950 crore for the last three months of financial year 2000-01 and Rs 1,700 crore till October in financial year 2001-02.

Out of this, so far Rs 1,200 crore has been sanctioned for the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority which handles all major quake-related activities on behalf of the government. The rest is being handled by different departments, including education, irrigation, industry, health, agriculture and rural development.

However, GSDMA has spent a mere Rs 750 crore. Not without reason, the ADB and the WB together have not disbursed any money after the initial amount of Rs 850 crore handed over to GSDMA through the state finance department.

There are indications that the ADB, realising that Gujarat's loan needs would go down, may divert funds to voluntary agencies involved in quake reconstruction.

A senior official said the ADB may deal "directly with the voluntary agencies".

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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