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May 1, 2001 - May 2, 2001

Girl's death: Police clueless still Wednesday, May 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: It is ten days since Nidhi Shah's body was found on the Virar highway and still there is no clue as to who had murdered her and why.

Nidhi's family members firmly believe her fiance Puneet Sancheti is involved, but are unable to suggest a motive. "The Shahs may be concealing more than they are revealing," says Deputy Commissioner of Police V M Parghi.

"Right from April 16, when Nidhi went missing, they have been insisting that Puneet is behind the murder, but no one has hinted at a motive," says the officer, who appeared to be foxed by the family's role in the episode.

More intriguing is the fact that not a single photograph of the engagement ceremony is available with the family. "Such a major function in the family and no photographs; it is a little uncanny," he remarks.

But Puneet continues to remain a suspect and is now 'untraceable'.

The family feels "Nidhi had probably got to know something about her fiance during the course of her long telephonic conversations, which could have been detrimental to his interests".

Why did the killer choose the Mumbai highway for the job? Why didn't anybody from Puneet's family attend Nidhi's 'besna' on Monday? (they conveyed their condolence over phone) are some of the questions haunting the family.

Nidhi's closest friend Janvi, who she spent five hours with her on April 15, dates back her depression back to her engagement. She remembers that Nidhi rarely spoke about her family or Puneet.

"In the few references of him, she remarked that he was too ambitious and wanted to make a name for himself," recalls Janvi. But she was very possessive about him.

Asked if Nidhi was 'secretive', Janvi replies, "Now I think she was!"

The girl remembers vividly that on April 15, Nidhi was unusually happy. "She called me at 9.30 am and said that she would give me a treat, which was unusual, because she was never the 'going-out' type," remarks Janvi.

The girls went out for a bite and Nidhi stayed on at Janvi's place till 9.45 pm after which she went home. Janvi noticed nothing unusual except, "it was the first time that I saw her happy after her engagement".

Nidhi's other friend Rakhee who had spotted her walking briskly on the read near Kothawala flats on April 18 around 7 pm, remembers "she was tensed and in a tearing hurry".

Rakhee, who knew Nidhi from her company secretaryship course days, did not know that Nidhi was engaged and "if I had known that she was missing, I would have surely stopped her..."

At the Internet education centre where Nidhi spent a major part of her time, people remember her as an introvert, but a very 'normal' person. "She was very good at her work, but she would talk only if you talked to her," says a fellow student.

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Protest against Gujarat rehabilitation package growing Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Ahmedabad: Discontent over the government's rehabilitation plans and their tardy implementation is growing among the quake-hit people of Gujarat's Kutch district.

After the people of Anjar rejected the state government's rehabilitation package and threatened to march to New Delhi to lodge their protest, the people of Gandhidham, a major marine trade town in the region, are up in arms against the government.

Alleging government negligence in rehabilitation of the small and medium industries and trade, delay in sanctioning of loan to build houses and the banks' apathy toward processing of loan papers, the people of Gandhidham and neighboring Adipur, some 50 km southeast of Kutch's main town of Bhuj, took out a massive protest rally Monday.

The protesters walked past the thoroughfares of Gandhidham under the banner of the Gandhidham Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). The march culminated in a "relay fast" at Jhanda Chowk, the town's main square.

"The state government has always neglected Gandhiham-Kandla-Adipur even though these towns are the biggest revenue earners in the region. The state government kept us out of the rehabilitation package announced for the four towns of Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar. It announced a rehabilitation package for big industries but overlooked small and medium industries which thrived in this region," GCCI executive committee member Anil Jain told India Abroad News Service on the telephone from Gandhidham.

Gandhidham is adjacent to the country's top port of Kandla in the Gulf of Kutch. It is an all-year, all-weather port with a natural harbor and is strategically connected to Western, Central and Northern India, serving a productive hinterland of about a million square kilometers. It is also the nearest Indian port to the Middle East and Europe.

The port handled a record 38.9 million tons of cargo during fiscal 1997-98 while maintaining the lowest cost per ton of cargo handled. Small and medium traders with offices in Gandhidham handle much of this cargo.

There are at least 2,000 small and medium businessmen and entrepreneurs who have suffered extensive losses, said GCCI secretary Mahesh Tirthani, but the government has not done anything for them.

Besides, the government has said it would release money in installments to the common people to build their houses. "Number one, people need money upfront to build a house, number two, there is inordinate delay in disbursement of aid. What will people do when the monsoon sets in?" Tirthani asked.

"Despite a big announcement of setting up building materials banks, nothing has been done for these towns. Not one bag of cement is available under the government's scheme," Jain alleged.

The GCCI, Jain said, would intensify its agitation in the coming days. "I was getting in touch with Anjar Group-2001 to explore joint agitation for a proper rehabilitation package," he said.

The quake-affected people of Anjar town are planning to march to New Delhi under the banner of Anjar Group-2001 to press their demand for a better rehabilitation package. The group is trying to garner support from all towns and villages in the district.

About 1,200 people from Anjar town had earlier undertaken a nearly 300 km-long march to the state's main city of Ahmedabad under the Anjar Group-2001 banner to press for a rehabilitation package. The march was called off on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, just about 30 km from capital Gandhinagar, after Chief Minister assured the marchers that their concerns would be taken into consideration when finalizing the rehabilitation package.

The state government last Tuesday announced a package for the four main towns of Kutch - Bhuj, Anjar, Bhachau and Rapar - but Anjar Group-2001 rejected it as "a cruel joke" and said the package would only help the builders' lobby.

Related Stories:
Gujarat reduces rehabilitation package for quake-hit areas

NGOs rethink on adoption of quake-devastated villages?

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Gujarat government guesthouses turn vegetarian Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Gandhinagar: Circuit houses and guesthouses owned by the Gujarat government turned vegetarian for a year Tuesday to commemorate the 2,600th birth anniversary of Lord Mahavira, the founder of the Jain religion.

All circuit houses and guesthouses in the state have also been forbidden to cook or serve non-vegetarian dishes, including eggs. May 1 is also the foundation day of the state.

Issued by the government of Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, the order will also cover the state's circuit house at the Mount Abu resort in neighboring Rajasthan and Gujarat Bhavan in New Delhi, H.P. Jamdar, secretary roads and buildings, told India Abroad News Service. A majority of Gujarat's population is vegetarian.

The roads and buildings department is responsible for maintaining these guesthouses.

"We have instructed managers of all government guesthouses not to cook non- vegetarian food for a year. This is a symbolic gesture towards a great saint of the Jain community, Mahavir Swami," said Jamdar.

Ministers from Central and other state governments and foreign dignitaries visiting Gujarat will have to do without non-vegetarian food if they stay at these guesthouses and circuit houses. "We will not serve even eggs at breakfast," Jamdar said.

No guest would be allowed to bring non-vegetarian food inside these buildings, he added.

According to M.B. Balala, a chief engineer with the state government's public works department, there are 26 circuit houses and 76 Pathik Ashrams or tourist and rest houses in Gujarat.

He said all other guesthouses owned or managed by the irrigation or energy departments have also been covered by the government directive.

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Builders say fee to regularize unauthorized construction is too steep Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat government's latest ordinance legalizing unauthorized construction has left the builders and the flat owners, who say that the fee is too steep, bewildered.

Besides, it is not clear who will have to pay up, they say. The state government has promulgated the ordinance on regularization of structures built in contravention of the building bylaws.

The ordinance provides for getting unauthorized construction legalized by paying a penalty, termed as "impact fee." The ordinance also makes it mandatory for builders or owners to produce stability certificate for the building in view of the collapse of several high rises in the January 26 quake that killed about 25,000 people and left millions homeless.

The earlier ordinance on regularizing such structures had lapsed, as the state Assembly could not ratify it during the budget session. According to the ordinance, the impact fee to regularize such buildings in which floor-space index (FSI) has been violated will be Rs.700 to Rs.2,000.

Said Harnish Shah, a builder whose project is coming up in the Paldi area, "The new ordinance is similar to the old one. But the impact fee is too steep for the owners of the flats to pay. Normally middle class people live in flats in multistoried buildings. It is not proper on the part of the government to impose such a big financial burden on them."

Harshadbhai Patel, also a builder in the satellite area, said that the need for impact fee arose because the builders covered the balcony after the construction was completed. "Why not make it mandatory for the builders to show in the plan that balcony is covered," he suggested.

While the builders' association is organizing a meeting in the next couple of days to discuss the implications of the ordinance, owners of flats are at a loss. The prospect of paying huge fee looms large, though it is yet to be made clear as to who will pay the fee, the builders or the owners.

For margins and setbacks for residential premises, the impact fee is Rs.600 to Rs.1,200 a square meter, according to the ordinance. For covered projections of the buildings, the impact fee will be between Rs.400 and Rs.1,100 a square meter, the same as that for those who changed the use of buildings from residential to commercial. For the violation of height, the impact fee would range from Rs.600 to Rs.1200.

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Builders say fee to regularize unauthorized construction is too steep Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Ahmedabad: The Gujarat government's latest ordinance legalizing unauthorized construction has left the builders and the flat owners, who say that the fee is too steep, bewildered.

Besides, it is not clear who will have to pay up, they say. The state government has promulgated the ordinance on regularization of structures built in contravention of the building bylaws.

The ordinance provides for getting unauthorized construction legalized by paying a penalty, termed as "impact fee." The ordinance also makes it mandatory for builders or owners to produce stability certificate for the building in view of the collapse of several high rises in the January 26 quake that killed about 25,000 people and left millions homeless.

The earlier ordinance on regularizing such structures had lapsed, as the state Assembly could not ratify it during the budget session. According to the ordinance, the impact fee to regularize such buildings in which floor-space index (FSI) has been violated will be Rs.700 to Rs.2,000.

Said Harnish Shah, a builder whose project is coming up in the Paldi area, "The new ordinance is similar to the old one. But the impact fee is too steep for the owners of the flats to pay. Normally middle class people live in flats in multistoried buildings. It is not proper on the part of the government to impose such a big financial burden on them."

Harshadbhai Patel, also a builder in the satellite area, said that the need for impact fee arose because the builders covered the balcony after the construction was completed. "Why not make it mandatory for the builders to show in the plan that balcony is covered," he suggested.

While the builders' association is organizing a meeting in the next couple of days to discuss the implications of the ordinance, owners of flats are at a loss. The prospect of paying huge fee looms large, though it is yet to be made clear as to who will pay the fee, the builders or the owners.

For margins and setbacks for residential premises, the impact fee is Rs.600 to Rs.1,200 a square meter, according to the ordinance. For covered projections of the buildings, the impact fee will be between Rs.400 and Rs.1,100 a square meter, the same as that for those who changed the use of buildings from residential to commercial. For the violation of height, the impact fee would range from Rs.600 to Rs.1200.

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