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May 7, 2001 - May 8, 2001

Trees warm cockles of the Barodian's heart Tuesday, May 8, 2001

VADODARA: Residents of the Banyan City are undergoing a change in attitude towards trees. They are going green. Just a few years ago efforts by NGOs to grow more trees in city areas met with either a cold shoulder or resistance from residents. But now things are changing for the better, say environmentalists.

"There is a distinct change in attitude amongst citizens in Vadodara. Many have started helping city-based environment organisations and officials of the social forestry division in planting more trees near their homes," says Baroda Beautiful Council director RO Shah.

According to him citizens of Vadodara, especially those who are more aware, have started helping them in taking care of saplings that are grown near their homes.

"This is a distinct change in attitude. In early 90s when we tried growing trees in their societies most residents disliked the idea. When we planted trees in some of the old city areas near the Leharipura gate we were asked by the residents to go away. Some would uproot them saying trees would robbers climb into their homes. Still others were under the misconception that trees would aid proliferation of mosquitoes and insects," he says.

The Vadodara social forestry division conservator of forests RM Patel says the change in attitude is due to the van mahotsavs and the awareness drives by NGOs.

According to him the period just before monsoon is suitable for growing more trees, but lack of adequate supply of water is hindering efforts. "This is best time to plant saplings, but in absence of water it is not possible to plant now. But the efforts by the schools, housing societies and the panchayats in various parts of the Vadodara district has helped increasing new trees," he says.

Shah says the concern for environment and the beneficial effects of having trees near homes has led many citizens to start helping them in their efforts. "At many places even without our asking them to do so, residents have started watering the trees and covered them with gunny sacks to prevent cattle from eating them," says Shah.

Tree Lovers Education and Research Foundation TLERF president Ishwar Krishikar says change in attitude is purely due to the alarming rate of de-forestation that has already taken place here. "The effort to grow more trees is a move in the right direction. But it will take many more years to revert back to Vadodara as it used to be once- a city of banyan trees. Today there are many banyan saplings on the Jail Road and other areas this is a good move," he says.

"Now that citizens have started taking an active interest in growing more trees they should now concentrate their effort to beautify the city by growing more trees that are indigenous here. Neem and Banyan trees are a must. As in Chandigarh efforts should be made here to combine different flowering trees in the same stretch of street or road so that Vadodara can be colourful too," says Krushikar.

According to him Vadodara has a better percentage of forest cover almost 10.35 of its total area, unlike Ahmedabad which has merely 1.32 per cent. "Vadodara has more greenery than Ahmedabad but compared to how it used to be once upon a time, it is still lagging behind," says Krushikar.

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Red tape claims life Tuesday, May 8, 2001

VADODARA: The brutal killing of Sombhai Vasava, a tribal farm labourer who was done to death by his employer in Mokse village here on Saturday, has raised serious questions over the authoritative functioning of a section of policemen and district administration officials.

Vasava was beaten to death by his employer Harshad alias Munna Patel, Subhash Patel and Kalubhai Solanki around 4 pm on Saturday. It took the police some 13 hours to lodge an offence while the district administration doctors delayed autopsy, performing it well after 18 hours of the incident!

The Vasava family, who had to run from pillar to post to get the body for cremation and final rites, finally cremated Somabhai on Monday morning.

Sources allege that had the policemen, whom Vasava's wife Shakuben contacted at 2 am on Sunday at the Bhadrava police station, acted in time a profusely bleeding Vasava may have been saved. However, what was destined for Vasava was a long ordeal, a slow and painful death and a troubled journey before he could finally rest in peace.

After being seriously injured, a bleeding Vasava was left in the farm in the ravines of Mahi river. An eye witness of the incident informed Vasava's wife, Shakuben, made desperate attempts to inform the police and get her husband treated. When Shakuben finally managed to reach the Bhadarva police station after trekking 8 km at 2 am on Sunday the police station officer Salam Singh asked her to get a certificate from a hospital.

Shakuben was told that the police sub inspector was not present and an offence could only be lodged if the area hospital sends intimation about the incident. Shakuben was reverted to the Dodka outpost. When she finally reached the Dodka outpost in the thick of the night the solitary constable Arvindsinh Fatehsinh was missing. By this time it was 4 am on Sunday and Shakhuben's husband Somabhai's Vasava's heart beats had stopped.

On Sunday morning district superintendent of police Keshav Kumar was informed about the incident by an anonymous caller. "I called the DySP SC/ST and asked him to visit the village and simultaneously informed the Bhadarva police station to take the complaint," Kumar told TOI.

What followed after the police complaint, however, was another long ordeal for the Vasavas. According to legal stipulation an autopsy had to be performed to find out the exact cause of death. As the offence was committed in Bhadarva jurisdiction, Vasava's body was taken to the local community health centre (CHC). However, on reaching the CHC it was learnt that the doctor was on leave. Police then took the body to the nearby Savli CHC.

The doctor here, Sushil Anand, however, flatly refused to perform the post-mortem as the case was not of Savli but Bhadarva jurisdiction. PSI MV Patel informed Kumar about the adamant doctor. Kumar had to call up district collector Bhagyesh Jha in order to get the doctor do his job.

"At 5.50 pm the Savli doctor was somehow convinced to perform the autopsy but he said a panel was required to do the job", Kumar said.

This brought district development office D Thara in the picture. Thara issued orders asking Desar CHC doctor Vaishali Parmar to rush to Savli. Parmar reached Savli at 6.45 pm on Sunday. At 7.30 pm Kumar got another phone call from his PSI who said the doctors refused to perform the post-mortem saying that the 'lights were not enough'. All this while the Vasava family was wailing and waiting to the get the body for cremation.

"The autopsy could have performed when the body was first brought to the CHC. They deliberately delayed and then said lights were not enough", Kumar said. He spoke to Jha on the incident. Both, Kumar and Jha, reached Savli. Ultimately at 9 pm the two doctors took the body in for autopsy. The Vasava family got the body at midnight.

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Where was the epicenter, Gujarat mulls 100 days after quake Monday, May 7, 2001

By Pradeep Mallik, India Abroad News Service

Ahmedabad, May 6 - More than 100 days after a killer quake hit Gujarat, the state government can't make up its mind where the epicenter of the temblor lay.

The meteorological department has filed an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court saying the epicenter of the January 26 quake lay at Bandhdi village in Kutch. This village is some 70 away from Lodai, which, according to the state government, was the epicenter.

Given the magnitude of the tragedy - 25,000 people were killed and tens of thousands rendered homeless - it's not just a question of a couple of kilometers. Says a scientist of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO): "There is dispute over the epicenter and the location of the fault line. How can you rebuild a village which might be sitting atop epicenter or shift a village to a site without knowing if the fault line passes underneath?"

The scientist highlighted this when the prime minister's scientific adviser A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was in Ahmedabad recently for an interactive session on the quake.

The scientist had assisted the Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), a non-government organization, in locating the epicenter. The JSM got into the act because the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had initially placed the epicenter at Lodai (23.6 north and 69.8 east), while the United States Geological Survey (USGS) insisted it was at 23.4 north and 70.32 east.

The meteorological department corrected itself in its affidavit before the High Court.

According to Mukul Sinha of JSM, knowing the exact epicenter was vital for carrying out micro zoning that would help in the proper reconstruction and rehabilitation of the affected villages. Sinha was a scientist with the physical research laboratory earlier.

What is even more frightening is the JSM contention that the January 26 quake has "activated" the Katrol Hill main fault line that was responsible for the earthquake that devastated Old Anjar town in 1956.

"Another hypocenter exists quite apart from the hypocenter that was responsible for the primary jolt on January 26. This we say because according to USGS data, there is a bunching of aftershocks measuring more than 4.0 on the Richter scale in two regions. The first region of roughly 24x36 square km is between 23.4 - 23.6 north and 70.3 - 70.4 east. The second region is 23.0 - 23.2 north and 70.2 - 70.4 east," the ISRO scientist said.

But then, this is not the only issue on which confusion prevails in the state. The Gujarat government of Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel had raised the expectations of the people by promising to build 800,000 one-room houses before the monsoon arrived in about two months, distribute galvanized sheets to tens of thousands of families for temporary shelters, and set up building material banks in the quake-hit areas.

None of the promises have been kept, leading to growing frustration among the people. It was this frustration that prompted the residents of Anjar to write a letter in blood to President K.R. Narayanan to seek redress of their grievances. The same people marched 250 km to Ahmedabad, but even this failed to move the government.

What the government has apparently chosen to ignore is that its relief and rehabilitation package has hardly benefited anyone. For instance, not a single building material bank is functional in Kutch and Saurashtra. And voluntary organizations helping the people of the region rebuild their houses are finding it extremely difficult to come by cement and steel rods.

In the midst of all this, newspaper offices are flooded with statements from leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, "complimenting" Patel for unveiling a relief and rehabilitation package for the quake-affected people.

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Where was the epicenter, Gujarat mulls 100 days after quake Monday, May 7, 2001

By Pradeep Mallik, India Abroad News Service

Ahmedabad, May 6 - More than 100 days after a killer quake hit Gujarat, the state government can't make up its mind where the epicenter of the temblor lay.

The meteorological department has filed an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court saying the epicenter of the January 26 quake lay at Bandhdi village in Kutch. This village is some 70 away from Lodai, which, according to the state government, was the epicenter.

Given the magnitude of the tragedy - 25,000 people were killed and tens of thousands rendered homeless - it's not just a question of a couple of kilometers. Says a scientist of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO): "There is dispute over the epicenter and the location of the fault line. How can you rebuild a village which might be sitting atop epicenter or shift a village to a site without knowing if the fault line passes underneath?"

The scientist highlighted this when the prime minister's scientific adviser A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was in Ahmedabad recently for an interactive session on the quake.

The scientist had assisted the Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), a non-government organization, in locating the epicenter. The JSM got into the act because the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) had initially placed the epicenter at Lodai (23.6 north and 69.8 east), while the United States Geological Survey (USGS) insisted it was at 23.4 north and 70.32 east.

The meteorological department corrected itself in its affidavit before the High Court.

According to Mukul Sinha of JSM, knowing the exact epicenter was vital for carrying out micro zoning that would help in the proper reconstruction and rehabilitation of the affected villages. Sinha was a scientist with the physical research laboratory earlier.

What is even more frightening is the JSM contention that the January 26 quake has "activated" the Katrol Hill main fault line that was responsible for the earthquake that devastated Old Anjar town in 1956.

"Another hypocenter exists quite apart from the hypocenter that was responsible for the primary jolt on January 26. This we say because according to USGS data, there is a bunching of aftershocks measuring more than 4.0 on the Richter scale in two regions. The first region of roughly 24x36 square km is between 23.4 - 23.6 north and 70.3 - 70.4 east. The second region is 23.0 - 23.2 north and 70.2 - 70.4 east," the ISRO scientist said.

But then, this is not the only issue on which confusion prevails in the state. The Gujarat government of Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel had raised the expectations of the people by promising to build 800,000 one-room houses before the monsoon arrived in about two months, distribute galvanized sheets to tens of thousands of families for temporary shelters, and set up building material banks in the quake-hit areas.

None of the promises have been kept, leading to growing frustration among the people. It was this frustration that prompted the residents of Anjar to write a letter in blood to President K.R. Narayanan to seek redress of their grievances. The same people marched 250 km to Ahmedabad, but even this failed to move the government.

What the government has apparently chosen to ignore is that its relief and rehabilitation package has hardly benefited anyone. For instance, not a single building material bank is functional in Kutch and Saurashtra. And voluntary organizations helping the people of the region rebuild their houses are finding it extremely difficult to come by cement and steel rods.

In the midst of all this, newspaper offices are flooded with statements from leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, "complimenting" Patel for unveiling a relief and rehabilitation package for the quake-affected people.

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Flourspar project faces permanent closure Monday, May 7, 2001

KADIPANI: The largest flourspar project of Asia, which has been closed down for the last two months on pollution grounds, has been facing the grim prospects of permanent closure. Increased import of flourspar from China coupled with the increased cost of production, has made it difficult for the state run Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation (GMDC) to run the project profitably. GMDC, which has realized the serious nature of the problem, has geared up for technological up-gradation, and is currently negotiating with McNally Bharat Limited.

While talking to ET, Mr Ashok Narayan, MD, GMDC said GMDC is committed to run the flourspar project and make it viable. We have roped in McNally Bharat, which has supplied the plant way back in seventies. Technological up-gradation would help cut the production cost believes GMDC and make project competitive.

However, leasing rights for the mining area and a problem related to dumping of waste material have become major hurdle for the project, which has estimated deposits of 11.3 million tons. In mid ninties, when previous lease rights expired, GMDC had applied for the new mining rights for 53 hectares of land but the new lease was granted only for 31 hectares of mining area. Following new rules & regulations of the forest department, GMDC has been directed to provide double the land applied for, for a-forestation in the close vicinity. According to Mr G M Dadabhai, GM, Flourspar project, GMDC has agreed to comply with the rule and offered land, which will soon be released in favour of the forest department.

However, the problem related to dumping of waste has remained unresolved and if the solution is not found on time it may turn out to be a last nail in the coffin. Forest department has directed GMDC to dump additional soil waste, coming out while mining, out side the forest area. Which practically means, GMDC has to carry tones of additional soil waste around forty km away out side the forest limit every day, while mining the flourspar. For the Flourspar project, which is already burdened with many problems, this could make its cost soaring high and project completely nonviable.

GMDC has been making presentations to the forest advisory committee in the union ministry of forest and environment for the last two years, hoping that the officials in the state and center will understand the crisis like situation and do the needful. Project has 600 employees and at least 3000 others directly or indirectly dependent on it. 36 years old flourspar project is situated in the heart of the tribal belt and almost ninety per cent of the total employees are local tribal with no other alternative means of livelihood.

If steps are not taken on time than GMDC may not be able to sustain losses for long and close down the operations. Which means the largest flourspar deposits in the world may remained buried forever and GMDC's three decade long efforts may go in vain.

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