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May 2, 2001 - May 2, 2001

Four decades on, they talk in different voices Wednesday, May 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Four decades after they fought for a separate state of Gujarat to be carved out of Bombay in one voice, the three Mahagujarat movement leaders today talk at cross-purposes.

Rajya Sabha MP and author of 'Mahagujarat Le Ke Rahenge' Brahmkumar Bhatt believes Central Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal is "wasting his time" with Hariprasad Vyas, another founder, by frequently visiting the National Institute of Leadership and Public Administration (run by Vyas).

The third leader Harihar Khambholja believes Bhatt has twisted and doctored the history of the movement in his book to make it appear that he was the main force behind the andolan.

And, Vyas himself is pained after 40 years because he thinks Mahagujarat was a mistake. He says the state reconstruction commission should be abolished before it makes more mistakes like Uttaranchal and Jharkhand.

This is may come as bad news for those nostalgic about the movement that created the separate state of Gujarat and established the Gujarati's identity.

The trio along with Prabodh Raval, former Gujarat Congress chief who died recently, and led by Indulal Yagnik, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, fought for five years and elevated a student uprising in the mid-1950s to the level of a full-fledged people's movement, encompassing all corners of what is Gujarat today.

By May 1, 1960, when Gujarat's first Vidhan Sabha was sworn in, the police had shot dead 14 martyrs, injured 79 in firing and jailed hundreds of others till the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to accede to the demand for the creation of a separate state.

Today, says Bhatt, "We have achieved a lot. There is so much progress. We consume more power per capita (an indicator of progress) than Maharashtra and we have more per capita investment than Maharashtra".

"Of course, the present government has allowed that position to deteriorate," the Congress MP hastens to add.

On the other hand, Khambholja, whose political career began with the movement, is furious with Bhatt. He believes large areas of the state have continued to languish without any change. He cites the case of the tribals and Bakshipanch communities along the coast.

Khambholja says Bhatt's book is "an exercise in self-glorification" and cannot be taken as an authentic historical document. "Bhatt should have been more modest about himself and should have spoken about the thousands of people who made sacrifices too."

Khambholja says he has decided to re-write and document the movement. "I will make sure that everyone who made a sacrifice gets his due credit," he adds.

Vyas, however, is disenchanted and remorseful. Claiming he is often haunted by memories of the movement, he says "I regret having been associated with such a foolish and shameful andolan.''

"At a time when we should be growing bigger and becoming more powerful, both in size and wealth, we are shrinking. Four decades down the line I think I allowed myself to work with the wrong people for the wrong cause."

Vyas says with the help of social activists like Anna Hazare and GM Khairnar he intends to begin a "grass-roots movement" to set up "larger and more powerful states".

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No pension for Gujarat lawmakers, says former legislator Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Ahmedabad: A former legislator marked the 41st foundation day of the state of Gujarat Tuesday by launching a "protest fast unto death" to oppose a state government plan to introduce a pension scheme for legislators.

Mahendra Desai, a legislative Assembly member of the erstwhile Mumbai state from 1957-62, began his fast on the footpath outside the Sabarmati Ashram here with the support of several Gandhian leaders and tribespersons. The ashram is where Mahatma Gandhi spent most of his life.

"Common people slog for 30 years in government service then they get pension. How can legislators who have served a term of only five years and attend the Assembly for hardly 200 days get the same benefit?" Desai told IANS.

Desai said that he had protested the proposed pension scheme in the past too, saying that on one occasion he fasted for 23 days. "This time I am determined to die if the government goes ahead with the implementation of the scheme," he asserted.

The Gujarat Assembly had recently passed a bill providing a pension of Rs. 300 to all legislators who had completed a minimum of five years. The implementation of the Pension Act was put off then following the intervention of former chief minister Babubhai Jasbhai Patel, minister Babubhai Vasnavala and lawmaker Dinsha Patel.

Desai said state Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel had recently told him the government would implement the Act if he (Desai) gave up his opposition. "I told him that legislators are elected to serve the people. Millions of people live below poverty line in our country. They require state assistance more than the legislators," Desai said.

Conceding that the amount to be paid as pension as per the Act was small, he, however, said: "How long will it take the legislators to get the Act amended and have the pension raised?"

Veteran Gandhian leader Chunibhai Vaidya, who was present at the venue, said ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was once opposed to giving pension to legislators. "They were with us on this issue a few years ago. But now that they are in power, they have changed their stand," he said.

Several of Desai's supporters will sit on a symbolic fast each day this time around. On Tuesday, about 50 tribespersons hailing from Gujarat's Sabarkantha district took part in the fast.

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Police seek Ketan Parekh's transfer from Mumbai Wednesday, May 2, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: The city police have sought the transfer of 'Big Bull' Ketan Parekh from Mumbai to Ahmedabad to enable them to get to the bottom of the scam that has ruined the second largest co-operative bank in Gujarat. At present, Parekh is in CBI custody in the metropolis.

Significantly, the police now do not rule out the possibility of the arrest of some Reserve Bank of India officials, who allegedly overlooked the massive transfer of funds from the bank to the stock market.

"I do not rule out the possibility," home minister Haren Pandya told reporters here on Monday when asked whether some RBI officials who had failed to prevent the scam could be booked or not.

After arresting Devendra Pandya, CEO of Madhavpura Mercantile Co-operative Bank (MMCB) last week, the police detained bank chairman Ramesh Parikh after he was admitted to a private nursing home here complaining of chest pain on Sunday night. Both Pandya and Parikh are likely to be booked under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act shortly.

The home minister told mediapersons that a team of doctors from the government hospital had been sent to the nursing home to check whether Parikh was genuinely unwell or was in hospital just to avoid arrest and interrogation in connection with the Rs 1,030 crore scam.

The police also sought transfer warrants for the arrest of Mumbai-based share broker Ketan Parekh and MMCB's Mandvi branch manager Jagdish Pandya in connivance with whom Ramesh Parikh had allegedly transferred deposits to 19 firms owned by Ketan Parekh for investment in shares of IT firms.

Armed policemen have been posted in the medical ward where Parikh was undergoing treatment. The special task force of economic offences has intensified its investigations into the assets of both Parikh and Pandya. The team has learnt that Parikh was also having some bank accounts in Europe.

The investigating officials have seized some fake documents prepared by the bank chairman and presented to the RBI officials while diverting the bank deposits to Mumbai. The police have registered an offence under Sections 468 and 471 of the IPC against Parikh and Pandya for furnishing bogus documents.

The home minister said the bank had appointed Akhilesh Desai as public prosecutor for all criminal cases filed against Ramesh Parikh and Devendra Pandya. If need be the government would also start interrogations of the other directors of the bank in the coming days.

Senior officials of the state CID were in touch with the CBI officials in Mumbai as Parikh had been released on bail after being arrested by the CBI in connection with the cheating case.

He said the process of arresting both Parikh as well as Pandya under the PASA was on and within the next few days they would be sent to jail.

He did not rule out the possibility of arresting some officials of the RBI and that of the MMCB as police officials had started close scrutiny of documents seized during Pandya's arrest last week. Some vital clues related with the scam had been collected during the searches on the bank premises, he added.

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Intensity of drought baffles officialdom Wednesday, May 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: A staggering 25 lakh people out of the 5-crore population of Gujarat are currently employed at drought relief works across the state, according to latest figures compiled by the government.

This is more than five times the number of persons engaged in relief works as on May 1 last year.

Figures of relief works from the 23 drought-affected districts which poured in on Monday surprised officials in Gandhinagar as it has become evident that the intensity of the drought is worse than anticipated.

"We had expected the 25-lakh figure only by the middle of May, but it seems more and more people are in search of work," remarks a senior revenue department official.

As many as 25,50,808 persons were engaged in 4620 drought relief works in 23 districts as on May 1. The number is expected to go up with a long summer ahead.

Compare the figure with those of May 1, 2000 and the intensity of the drought becomes evident. At this point of time last year, only 4.87 lakh persons were engaged in 1650 drought relief works in 9449 villages. The number of drought affected villages this year is 13133.

Only Valsad and the Dangs districts have not been declared 'drought affected' this year. The situation is not that bad in Navsari where two villages in a taluka have been declared drought hit.

However, the situation in the tribal belt extending from the north to the east has never been so bad. In the predominantly tribal Dahod district, out of a total population of 11.40 lakh, 4.30 lakh are engaged in drought relief work.

"Almost every able-bodied adult in the district seems to be working at a relief site while the elderly destitutes, children and pregnant women are getting doles," says an official.

The increase in the number of persons seeking work at relief sites this year has been attributed to the lack of construction activity in the wake of the quake.

"There is mass migration every year during the summer months from districts like Dahod and the Panchmahals. These people look for employment at construction sites in the cities. Our reports suggest they are not getting jobs this year," says B R Patel, director of relief.

The Panchmahals district administration has engaged 3.90 lakh persons at drought relief sites, Bhavnagar 3.80 lakh, Rajkot 2.25 lakh, Sabarkantha 2.12 lakh, Surendranagar 1.84 lakh, Junagadh 1.18 lakh and Jamnagar 1.03 lakh.

The figures show that the drought is well spread out all over central and north Gujarat and Saurashtra. In Kutch district, the worst affected by the drought, only 40,000 people have been engaged in drought relief work but the reason for the low figure is that many people are engaged in the work for removal of the debris.

The government is spending Rs 10 crore for paying wages to the workers at relief sites at the rate of Rs 40 per day and this is likely to increase in the coming days as the scheduled arrival of monsoon all over Gujarat is anywhere between June 10 to June 30.

Which means that there are at least 40 days of drought still to be tackled by the state government. "Our initial projection was than 10 crore mandays of work would be needed this summer, we have already crossed the 6 crore mandays figure," informs an official.

As many as 1942 tankers have been pressed into service to supply water to 2538 affected villages. Nearly 1.19 lakh persons are being given doles (Rs 5 for children, Rs 10 for elderly people and Rs 20 for pregnant women) and Rs 7.29 crore has already been disbursed. And its not just a human problem for the government. Nearly 3.43 lakh cattle have been kept in 373 panjrapoles and 165 temporary camps run by NGOs who are paid Rs 10 a day for feeding the cattle. The maximum number of cattle are in camps in Banaskantha, Kutch, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Patan and Bhavnagar districts.

Then and now

May 1, 2001 May 1, 2000

Relief works 4620 1650

Persons at relief sites 25.50 lakh 4.87 lakh

Daily wage expense Rs 10 crore Rs 1.9 crore

Affected villages 13,133 9449

Affected talukas 199 155

Affected districts 23 17

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Spread of fake Rs 100 notes headache for banks Wednesday, May 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Hardly has the Madhavpura bank scam issue shown signs of settling down in Gujarat, the bank officials in the city have expressed concern over another burgeoning problem -- forged Rs 100 currency notes.

The numbers may not be alarming as yet, but officials of both nationalised and private banks feel this may be the beginning of yet another crisis. "We found at least five forged notes of Rs 100 among our bundles in the last month," an official of a major nationalised bank told The Times of India. "Normally, you don't get more than one or two, which is making us worry."

Deputy general manager and currency officer of the Reserve Bank of India, Ahmedabad, Kiran Trivedi, however, refutes the claim saying he has not come across any such case. "We know that there are some forged notes of Rs 500 in circulation, but not of Rs 100," he says. "We have not received any complaint.

Superintendent of police at the crime branch Subhash Trivedi also maintains the same stand. "There have been such notes in the market because of the proxy war by Pakistan, but we have not come across any increase," he says. "There is no cause for concern."

Banks, however, are reluctant to approach either the police or the RBI, as they get the notes from long-standing customers, whose honesty they don't question. Approaching the authorities would mean revealing the identity of the customer and elongated legal hassles. "The customers request us not to stretch the issue," a private bank official said. "Besides, our integrity would be questioned, as they would ask us for the sources of the notes. Instead, it is better not to accept these notes and if you do receive them, then burn them."

These officials feel the forged Rs 100 notes are being added to the distribution channel very slowly. If they are accepted, then more would be pumped in to destabilise the economy. As a manager of a co-operative bank puts it, "Our feeling is that the source is the angadia-hawala route. Dealers of forged notes bribe angadia operators, who insert a couple of notes in between originals. Businessmen who accept the money have no way of checking each and every note, as transactions are large."

People have already become weary of the forged Rs 500 notes and no one accepts the old green ones any more. Some banks even maintain a register of these notes, with the name of the person and his account number. If the notes are returned by the State Bank of India or the RBI, then the person has to take them back.

However, the officials add that there is a way of identifying the forged notes if people are a little careful. For one, the number panel is much thicker than an original one. The security strip has been cut into smaller strips which don't show on the front in fake notes when seen against light, besides the paper is also much thicker.

The banks feel, the RBI should take action immediately before the problem goes out of hand.

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