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May 9, 2001 - May 9, 2001

Gujarat to lay railway line link between Kutch, north India Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Gandhinagar: Keen to take advantage of federal government rules that allow up to 67 percent "outside" investment with India's Railway Board, Gujarat has decided to lay broad gauge railway lines between the state's industrially backward district of Kutch and parts of northern India.

The state government has taken a decision to float a new company called the Gujarat Railways Infrastructure Development Company (GRIDC) that will have the primary task of linking the ports of Kutch and Saurashtra.

The proposed GRIDC will be investing around Rs.6.4 billion with the help of the private sector to broad gauge several major railway lines to provide the much needed direct corridor for transporting cargo from the Mundra and Kandla ports to north India.

A committee headed by L. Mansingh, the Gujarat government's principal secretary (industry), has given the green signal to form the GRIDC with the Adanis industrial group, which developed the privately owned Mundra port. The Kandla Port Trust, situated near Gandhidham, about 400 km from Gandhinagar, has also decided to have a stake in the new venture.

According to Ravi Saxena, CEO of the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board (GIDB), the special purpose company would be set up by the year-end and would undertake work for the 307-km-long Gandhidham-Bhildi-Palanpur railway route at a cost of Rs.3.6 billion. Broad gauge line work on the 120-km-long Rs.1.5 billion Bhildi-Ranawada and the Rs.1.3 billion Bhildi-Patan-Mehsana railway routes will also be taken up simultaneously, he added.

Saxena said the new railway link would not only connect the Kutch seacoast with north India, but also provide business opportunities to the three earthquake- devastated towns of Anjar, Rapar and Bhachau. The Gandhidham-Bhildi-Palanpur route passing through these towns will provide a direct link to the cities of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Delhi and Bhatinda in Punjab.

At present, the broad gauge railway link for north India is available on two different routes - one via Vadodara and Ratlam and the other via Ahmedabad and Palanpur.

The GRIDC will invite private investment under the build-operate-lease-transfer (BOLT) basis as per the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board Act, said Saxena. A memorandum of understanding between the GIDB and the Indian Railway Board is being drafted and would be sent to the Central Railway Ministry for final approval, he added.

Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel and Industries Minister Suresh Mehta have approved the build-operate-lease-transfer proposal, as Central assistance for the development of the railway network in Gujarat has been poor for the last several years.

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Two cooperative bank officers held under PASA, jailed Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Ahmedabad: Two men accused in the cooperative bank-stock market scam have been jailed under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), which bars them from getting bail.

Ramesh Parikh and Devendra Pandya have been sent to the Porbandar and Jamnagar Central Jails respectively. Both were arrested late last month.

Parikh was the former chairman of the Madhavpura Mercantile Co-operative Bank (MMCB) and Pandya its former chief executive officer. After the arrests, Parikh got himself admitted to a hospital for treatment.

Both have been charged with flouting the Reserve Bank of India's lending rules and advancing Rs. 12.3 billion to Bombay Stock Market broker Ketan Parikh, the prime suspect in the scam which has almost ruined the MMCB.

The PASA orders follow a criminal complaint filed by the bank's administrator, S. Ramchandran, on April 21 against Parikh, Pandya and the bank's Mumbai branch manager, Jagdish Pandya. The three have been accused of cheating, forgery and breach of trust under the Indian Penal Code and Banking Regulation Act.

The MMCB has denied payment of mature term deposits to hundreds of small depositors following a liquidity crunch. Ramchandran has appointed chartered accountants to look into the prospect of reviving the sinking bank.

In the interim, depositors can withdraw only up to Rs. 1,000 at a time. The scam has shaken the confidence of people in cooperative banks in Gujarat.

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As days pass by the quake toll keeps falling Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Bhuj: Hundred days after the killer quake, the death toll is still being revised. If it is any consolation, there is no likelihood of the toll going up. In fact, it has come down in the last few weeks with instances of duplication in registration of deaths coming to light from towns including Anjar, Bhachau and Bhuj which bore the brunt of the temblor.

The official death toll now stands at 20,086 and about 300 persons are still being categorised as ‘‘missing’’. A few weeks ago, official statistics had put the toll at 20,786, 700 more than the current figure.

Both the figures are wide off the claims made by former Defence Minister George Fernandes who, after a surveillance of the quake affected areas, had said the toll would cross one lakh and the state Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel who said it could be about 35,000.

C.K. Koshy, Revenue Secretary, who is also in charge of Kutch, says the toll figures have come down because several persons had registered duplicate claims. There were instances in which entire families were wiped out and close relatives had filled in separate claims. ‘‘We are undertaking a vigorous checking of the claims and are eliminating duplication of claims,’’ he said.

Although the exact toll may never be known, there is little possibility of any abnormal variations. A top government official on condition of anonymity said the official toll may have to be further revised on the lesser side. He said deaths could still be registered in the respective police stations, but the administration did not expect any more claims.

Former district collector Anil Mukim said the administration had adopted a very liberal policy in the beginning and registered deaths on being notified by voluntary and non-government organisations.

During the first few days of the tragedy, many volunteers engaged in rescue operations cremated decomposed bodies without informing authorities. This had led to confusion as proper records were not kept. Also, some of the injured persons evacuated by voluntary organisations were not accounted for and were categorised as ‘‘missing’’.

Three months after the tragedy, most of the missing persons have been accounted for. Shyam Sunder of ‘‘Group 2001, Anjar’’ said in Anjar the toll was going down as deaths were registered at more than one place. Convenor of Bhuj Punarvasan Samiti Ratnakar Dholakia said the official toll figures are now expected to remain static and there were no further instances of deaths not registered.

Explaining the mystery shrouding ‘‘about 300 missing persons’’ officials said the debris had still not been cleared from certain areas and some of the bodies may still be lying buried. These people cannot be categorised as dead till there was a confirmation about the deaths.

The tragedy in Anjar epitomises the confusion about the toll. For long the media and the administration speculated that the number of school children who perished in the narrow lane between Datar Chowk and Khatri chowk could be between 350 and 400. A month later, the toll was revised to 166.

It’s another matter that a memorial Bill Clinton was supposed to unveil in memory of the children put the number at 200; more than a month after the official toll was announced as 166.

The plaque was removed as the memorial stood over a disputed piece of land or else the confusion would have remained etched in stone.

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Bank manager held for siphoning off Rs.120 million Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Ahmedabad: Police have arrested a senior bank manager after he was found to have siphoned off Rs.120 million from one of the bank's branches and deposited it in the accounts of his relatives.

Rohit Mehta, a senior branch manager of the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) in Surat, about 255 km from here, was arrested by police on charges of siphoning Rs.120 million from the bank's branch in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's principal city.

O.N. Majumdar, a police inspector of the city's Navarangpura area, said Monday that Mehta was charged with transferring money from a general account to the accounts of his wife and uncle. Entries recorded between July 18, 2000, and April 30, 2001, aroused suspicion. The bank eventually realized the money had been siphoned off from interest payable accounts on which Mehta was the final authority. Pramod Vaidya, the regional head of IDBI, lodged the complaint against Mehta.

According to the complaint, Mehta used to transfer the amount credited against the interest on the deposits into the accounts of his wife and uncle. He used to withdraw the amount later.

Mehta, however, told police that he had lost most of his money in the share market and this had tempted him to commit the crime.

The scandal is the second involving a bank in Gujarat. Earlier, hundreds of depositors burnt their fingers when the Ahmedabad-based Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank (MMCB) closed operations after suffering losses of more than Rs.12 billion after its chairman Ramesh Parikh had illegally extended a loan to stock broker Ketan Parekh, the prime accused in a major stock market scandal that took place in March.

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Pension Act for Gujarat legislators scrapped Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat government has decided to scrap an act to provide pension to members of the state Assembly following protests by a former legislator. "It is the victory of the people of Gujarat. I am thankful to them for the tremendous support I got from all over the state," said Mahendra Desai, 87, a former member of the erstwhile Mumbai state Assembly after he received a letter from state Irrigation Minister Nitin Patel that pledged to scrap the Pension Act.

Patel said the state government would do the needful in the next Assembly session to have the Pension Act annulled.

Desai, who was a Mumbai state Assembly member from 1957 to 1962, had launched a "protest fast unto death" over the issue in front of the Sabarmati Ashram here on May 1, the state's foundation day. He ended his fast Sunday evening after Patel handed him the letter on behalf of the state government.

The Gujarat Assembly had passed a bill in 1984 providing Rs.300 as pension to all legislators who had completed a minimum of five years. On an earlier occasion, Desai had staged a fast for 23 days forcing the state government to put off implementation of the act. Former chief minister Babubhai Jasbhai Patel, minister Babubhai Vasnavala and lawmaker Dinsha Patel also put pressure on the government.

Nitin Patel said that a Congress Party-led government had introduced the bill in the House, adding that it was passed, but never implemented. "We had to start the process of its implementation after the high court gave a ruling on a litigation by a former legislator. But, now we will take measures to have the act rescinded."

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