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April 30, 2001 - April 30, 2001

Special traffic signals for the physically challenged in Ahmedabad Monday, April 30, 2001

Ahmedabad: To Ahmedabad goes the distinction of installing the country's first voice-enabled traffic signal to facilitate movement of the visually impaired and physically challenged persons.

The traffic signals are working at the crossing next to the Blind Men's Association (BMA) office. The location was chosen for its proximity to the BMA that is frequented by 300 to 400 sightless persons everyday, The Times of India reported here.

There is a voice warning suggesting vehicles to keep behind the stop line "as blind men are crossing the road". The mode continues for 20 seconds following that the vehicular traffic flow is restored after a warning beep lasting for five seconds. The signal will also be helpful for physically challenged people, other than visually impaired, who also come to the BMA to attend classes for different training programs offered by the institute.

The signal has a complete cycle, which can be altered with the traffic intensity to a maximum period of two minutes. After the routine signaling cycle for all the four roads at the crossing is over the signal goes red for traffic from all direction.

The project which was thought about two years back, was set up at the cost of Rs.550,000, according to BMA executive director Bhushan Purani. The project, however, was possible due to the efforts of Aarti Parishar, a volunteer in the BMA, who visualized the project.

According to traffic assistant commissioner G.S. Ahuja, it is possible to make all traffic signals user friendly for the physically challenged at the expense of just Rs.45,000.

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Gujarat reduces rehabilitation package for quake-hit areas Monday, April 30, 2001

By Ashraf Sayed, India Abroad News Service

Gandhinagar, Apr 29 - Financial and other constraints have forced the Gujarat government to radically reduce the rehabilitation and resettlement (R and R) package for the quake-affected areas from the original Rs. 175 billion to Rs. 116 billion, according to official sources. The government has also extended the R and R period from 18 months to at least three years, the sources said. Despite Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel's frequent assertions that finances would not be a problem and that the R and R of the quake-hit people would be completed in less than two years, the realization has now downed upon the administration that it would be a gigantic task not only to raise enough resources but also to observe the time limit set by the chief minister. When Patel submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and later to the global lending agencies, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the state had estimated an expenditure of Rs. 175 billion. But now, top bureaucrats in the finance department have put the total cost at Rs. 116 billion and that too spread over to three and more years. Initially, the state government has decided not only to relocate the four worst hit towns of Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar but also to construct at least 800,000 houses for the quake-affected people in Kutch, Saurashtra and north Gujarat at a cost of Rs. 175 billion. As weeks and months passed since the January 26 earthquake, the Patel government washed its hands off the construction of houses. Instead, it decided to provide financial support to the quake-affected people by giving cash compensation, supplying building materials at subsidized rates and providing soft loans. Thus, its financial liability has now been reduced by at least Rs. 60 Billion, the sources said. While Patel and Finance Minister Vajubhai Vala claim that massive assistance from the World Bank, the ADB and the Central government will help Gujarat scrape through the financial crisis, senior officials in the finance department maintain that most of the funds would be coming in the form of loans, requiring repayment. "We will need at least three years to raise and spend the amount as well as to adjust our annual budgets," the officials say. Apart from giving financial assistance of around Rs. 22 billion to the quake-devastated industrial units and another Rs. 4.34 billion to agriculturists, the state government has to incur an expenditure of Rs. 20 billion in tackling the drought situation in 13,313 villages of the state. As more than two million people have already been employed on various relief works in the state, Vala has estimated a daily wage bill of Rs. 60 million. This would entail a total expenditure of Rs. 7.2 billion by the end of June, apart from spending a huge amount on tackling the drinking water and fodder problems. While the new package announced by the chief minister for Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar will cost the state exchequer Rs. 12.79 billion, officials in the finance department have estimated that housing and infrastructure facilities in rural areas and other urban centers like Ahmedabad, Surat and Morbi would cost anywhere between Rs. 65 billion and Rs. 70 billion. In addition, the state administration would have to spare funds for carrying out repairs of various irrigation projects that were seriously damaged in the quake, before the onset of the monsoon. Senior officials in the chief minister's office point out that the economy of the state had suffered a serious setback owing to twin natural calamities of earthquake and two consecutive droughts. In the last two years, the agricultural sector alone has suffered staggering losses of Rs. 121 billion, while the quake has created havoc on all fronts, damaging public and private properties to the tune of Rs. 208 billion. This has naturally affected revenue inflows from various sources, including sales tax. So far, the state government has received Rs. 14 billion and spent around Rs. 7 billion. It has received $80 million (about Rs. 3.70 billion) from the ADB and the World Bank and Rs. 8.33 billion from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF). It has also received around Rs. 2.5 billion from different state governments and central ministries. The ADB is likely to pay another installment of $100 million (Rs. 4.62 billion) within a week, said a top finance department official. He said that the state was hoping to secure a whopping $1.8 billion (Rs. 80 billion) from the ADB and the World Bank and Rs. 20 billion from the NCCF. In addition, he said that the National Housing Bank (NHB) had committed Rs. 10 billion and another installment of Rs. 6 billion from various central ministries was also likely to come soon. However, he explained that most of these funds would be coming in the form of loans, and the state government would have to repay this in installments. As such, he said, financial wisdom requires that the inflows be spread over a period of three to four years so that the state did not suffer a financial crisis. "We have to cut our coat according to the size of the cloth," he said and added that this was bound to affect the R and R of the quake-hit people to some extent, requiring three to four years to finish it completely.

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Gujarat reduces rehabilitation package for quake-hit areas Monday, April 30, 2001

By Ashraf Sayed, India Abroad News Service

Gandhinagar, Apr 29 - Financial and other constraints have forced the Gujarat government to radically reduce the rehabilitation and resettlement (R and R) package for the quake-affected areas from the original Rs. 175 billion to Rs. 116 billion, according to official sources. The government has also extended the R and R period from 18 months to at least three years, the sources said. Despite Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel's frequent assertions that finances would not be a problem and that the R and R of the quake-hit people would be completed in less than two years, the realization has now downed upon the administration that it would be a gigantic task not only to raise enough resources but also to observe the time limit set by the chief minister. When Patel submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and later to the global lending agencies, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the state had estimated an expenditure of Rs. 175 billion. But now, top bureaucrats in the finance department have put the total cost at Rs. 116 billion and that too spread over to three and more years. Initially, the state government has decided not only to relocate the four worst hit towns of Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar but also to construct at least 800,000 houses for the quake-affected people in Kutch, Saurashtra and north Gujarat at a cost of Rs. 175 billion. As weeks and months passed since the January 26 earthquake, the Patel government washed its hands off the construction of houses. Instead, it decided to provide financial support to the quake-affected people by giving cash compensation, supplying building materials at subsidized rates and providing soft loans. Thus, its financial liability has now been reduced by at least Rs. 60 Billion, the sources said. While Patel and Finance Minister Vajubhai Vala claim that massive assistance from the World Bank, the ADB and the Central government will help Gujarat scrape through the financial crisis, senior officials in the finance department maintain that most of the funds would be coming in the form of loans, requiring repayment. "We will need at least three years to raise and spend the amount as well as to adjust our annual budgets," the officials say. Apart from giving financial assistance of around Rs. 22 billion to the quake-devastated industrial units and another Rs. 4.34 billion to agriculturists, the state government has to incur an expenditure of Rs. 20 billion in tackling the drought situation in 13,313 villages of the state. As more than two million people have already been employed on various relief works in the state, Vala has estimated a daily wage bill of Rs. 60 million. This would entail a total expenditure of Rs. 7.2 billion by the end of June, apart from spending a huge amount on tackling the drinking water and fodder problems. While the new package announced by the chief minister for Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar will cost the state exchequer Rs. 12.79 billion, officials in the finance department have estimated that housing and infrastructure facilities in rural areas and other urban centers like Ahmedabad, Surat and Morbi would cost anywhere between Rs. 65 billion and Rs. 70 billion. In addition, the state administration would have to spare funds for carrying out repairs of various irrigation projects that were seriously damaged in the quake, before the onset of the monsoon. Senior officials in the chief minister's office point out that the economy of the state had suffered a serious setback owing to twin natural calamities of earthquake and two consecutive droughts. In the last two years, the agricultural sector alone has suffered staggering losses of Rs. 121 billion, while the quake has created havoc on all fronts, damaging public and private properties to the tune of Rs. 208 billion. This has naturally affected revenue inflows from various sources, including sales tax. So far, the state government has received Rs. 14 billion and spent around Rs. 7 billion. It has received $80 million (about Rs. 3.70 billion) from the ADB and the World Bank and Rs. 8.33 billion from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF). It has also received around Rs. 2.5 billion from different state governments and central ministries. The ADB is likely to pay another installment of $100 million (Rs. 4.62 billion) within a week, said a top finance department official. He said that the state was hoping to secure a whopping $1.8 billion (Rs. 80 billion) from the ADB and the World Bank and Rs. 20 billion from the NCCF. In addition, he said that the National Housing Bank (NHB) had committed Rs. 10 billion and another installment of Rs. 6 billion from various central ministries was also likely to come soon. However, he explained that most of these funds would be coming in the form of loans, and the state government would have to repay this in installments. As such, he said, financial wisdom requires that the inflows be spread over a period of three to four years so that the state did not suffer a financial crisis. "We have to cut our coat according to the size of the cloth," he said and added that this was bound to affect the R and R of the quake-hit people to some extent, requiring three to four years to finish it completely.

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Gandhi followers protest sale of ‘khadi land’ Monday, April 30, 2001

Ahmedabad: Followers of Mahatma Gandhi in Gujarat are enraged by the move of a government-run body that promotes "khadi", the hand woven cloth popularized by him, to sell off a chunk of its land.

The Khadi Gramodyog Prayog Trust (KGPT) in Gujarat has decided to sell off 4,350 sq meters of land in the fast developing Ranip area of the city at a throwaway price.

The KGPT has said it is selling the land because it has become "unmanageable". The trust is associated with the famed Sabarmati Ashram, which Gandhi set up in 1917 and from where he gave direction to India's freedom struggle until the early 1930s.

Leading the opposition to the proposed sale is Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT) chief trustee Amrut Modi. "We learnt about the sale after reading an advertisement in a newspaper. We oppose the sale of land because it should be used for what it was procured more than 50 years ago - to carry out experiments related to khadi and village industries. It cannot be used to book profit simply because the prices of land have gone up now," Modi told India Abroad News Service.

The land was purchased more than 50 years ago at a token price of Rs.3. But some say the KGPT never put it to use.

The Gandhians, as the followers of the Mahatma are known, see ulterior motives behind the sale. "Why is it not put to use for the purpose it was bought in the first place? Besides, why is it being offered at a price lower than the prevailing market price?" asks the former vice chancellor of Saurashtra University Devavrat Pathak.

The base price quoted for the massive property is a mere Rs.9.5 million even as the current market value of this land could easily be Rs.150 million.

"We are upset to learn of the proposed sale. We are writing a letter to the charity commissioner objecting to the decision," said Modi.

As the land has been lying vacant since the pre-independence days, it does not have any heritage value. Still the SAPMT and the Harijan Ashram Trust have objected to it on the grounds that "whatever purpose the buyer of this property might use it for may be detrimental to the very ideals of Gandhianism and could hamper the sanctity of the ashram".

Incidentally, two years ago, the ashram trustees had raised a similar protest over the sale of the Lal Bungla, a heritage property used by Mahatma Gandhi. The property was nevertheless sold off to a builder who built a multi-storied building in its place.

A newspaper report pointed out some 30 years ago the KGPT had sold off another plot, where the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) office stands today. "We had done that to sustain the trust since it was on the brink of winding up," the report quoted Biharilal Shah, a KGPT trustee, as saying.

"This time the sale decision has been taken because we really cannot manage so much property. Constructing a building would mean more expenditure," Shah said.

But he claims the land has "no connection" with the original Satyagraha Ashram. "We bought it at a nominal rate of Rs.3 from a private party, much before independence and it has been lying vacant since then," Shah added.

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Gandhi followers protest sale of ‘khadi land’ Monday, April 30, 2001

Ahmedabad: Followers of Mahatma Gandhi in Gujarat are enraged by the move of a government-run body that promotes "khadi", the hand woven cloth popularized by him, to sell off a chunk of its land.

The Khadi Gramodyog Prayog Trust (KGPT) in Gujarat has decided to sell off 4,350 sq meters of land in the fast developing Ranip area of the city at a throwaway price.

The KGPT has said it is selling the land because it has become "unmanageable". The trust is associated with the famed Sabarmati Ashram, which Gandhi set up in 1917 and from where he gave direction to India's freedom struggle until the early 1930s.

Leading the opposition to the proposed sale is Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT) chief trustee Amrut Modi. "We learnt about the sale after reading an advertisement in a newspaper. We oppose the sale of land because it should be used for what it was procured more than 50 years ago - to carry out experiments related to khadi and village industries. It cannot be used to book profit simply because the prices of land have gone up now," Modi told India Abroad News Service.

The land was purchased more than 50 years ago at a token price of Rs.3. But some say the KGPT never put it to use.

The Gandhians, as the followers of the Mahatma are known, see ulterior motives behind the sale. "Why is it not put to use for the purpose it was bought in the first place? Besides, why is it being offered at a price lower than the prevailing market price?" asks the former vice chancellor of Saurashtra University Devavrat Pathak.

The base price quoted for the massive property is a mere Rs.9.5 million even as the current market value of this land could easily be Rs.150 million.

"We are upset to learn of the proposed sale. We are writing a letter to the charity commissioner objecting to the decision," said Modi.

As the land has been lying vacant since the pre-independence days, it does not have any heritage value. Still the SAPMT and the Harijan Ashram Trust have objected to it on the grounds that "whatever purpose the buyer of this property might use it for may be detrimental to the very ideals of Gandhianism and could hamper the sanctity of the ashram".

Incidentally, two years ago, the ashram trustees had raised a similar protest over the sale of the Lal Bungla, a heritage property used by Mahatma Gandhi. The property was nevertheless sold off to a builder who built a multi-storied building in its place.

A newspaper report pointed out some 30 years ago the KGPT had sold off another plot, where the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) office stands today. "We had done that to sustain the trust since it was on the brink of winding up," the report quoted Biharilal Shah, a KGPT trustee, as saying.

"This time the sale decision has been taken because we really cannot manage so much property. Constructing a building would mean more expenditure," Shah said.

But he claims the land has "no connection" with the original Satyagraha Ashram. "We bought it at a nominal rate of Rs.3 from a private party, much before independence and it has been lying vacant since then," Shah added.

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