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April 29, 2001 - April 30, 2001

NGOs rethink on adoption of quake-devastated villages? Monday, April 30, 2001

Bhuj, Apr 29 - Caste conflicts, entrenched interests and bureaucratic red tape are apparently forcing some non-government agencies to either drop or rethink their plans to adopt quake-devastated villages in Kutch district of Gujarat.

The Kutch Mitra newspaper here said caste conflicts forced the Chicago-based Midwest Business Community (MBC) to stop the reconstruction of Kalyanpur. While Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers Ltd. might shelve its plan to rebuild Khambhra in Anjar sub-district, the Anand Marg Universal has dropped its idea of reconstructing Satapar village in the same sub-district.

The MBC had adopted Kalyanpur village and committed Rs. 40 million for its reconstruction. The MBC built a few model houses, which, the newspaper says were rejected by the locals at the behest of what it termed vested interests. Opinion was divided in the village and things came to a pass that the two groups almost clashed.

Apparently, a section of the population was against building identical houses for every family, the newspaper said. This section wanted the caste hierarchy to be respected while building houses in the village. The MBC, following the conflict, thought it prudent to halt the works.

The Anand Marg Universal has reportedly put off the idea of rebuilding Satapar because of bureaucratic red tape involved in adopting a village. "We are fed up with the government policies and style of functioning. We have shelved the idea of adopting Satapar," the newspaper quoted Anand Marg global secretary Nigamanandji Avdhoot as saying.

Some top corporate houses, too, have given up their plans to adopt villages. Petrochemical giant Reliance Industries, for reasons undisclosed, gave up Anjar town while the Thapar Group dropped its plan to rebuild Khavda village near the India-Pakistan border.

Similarly, reconstruction of Bocha village by the Kutch Yuva Sangh, of Khari Godpar village by the Seva Bharati and that of Dudhai village by the Rashtriya Swabhiman Trust headed by former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Varma has come to a halt.

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NGOs rethink on adoption of quake-devastated villages? Monday, April 30, 2001

Bhuj, Apr 29 - Caste conflicts, entrenched interests and bureaucratic red tape are apparently forcing some non-government agencies to either drop or rethink their plans to adopt quake-devastated villages in Kutch district of Gujarat.

The Kutch Mitra newspaper here said caste conflicts forced the Chicago-based Midwest Business Community (MBC) to stop the reconstruction of Kalyanpur. While Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers Ltd. might shelve its plan to rebuild Khambhra in Anjar sub-district, the Anand Marg Universal has dropped its idea of reconstructing Satapar village in the same sub-district.

The MBC had adopted Kalyanpur village and committed Rs. 40 million for its reconstruction. The MBC built a few model houses, which, the newspaper says were rejected by the locals at the behest of what it termed vested interests. Opinion was divided in the village and things came to a pass that the two groups almost clashed.

Apparently, a section of the population was against building identical houses for every family, the newspaper said. This section wanted the caste hierarchy to be respected while building houses in the village. The MBC, following the conflict, thought it prudent to halt the works.

The Anand Marg Universal has reportedly put off the idea of rebuilding Satapar because of bureaucratic red tape involved in adopting a village. "We are fed up with the government policies and style of functioning. We have shelved the idea of adopting Satapar," the newspaper quoted Anand Marg global secretary Nigamanandji Avdhoot as saying.

Some top corporate houses, too, have given up their plans to adopt villages. Petrochemical giant Reliance Industries, for reasons undisclosed, gave up Anjar town while the Thapar Group dropped its plan to rebuild Khavda village near the India-Pakistan border.

Similarly, reconstruction of Bocha village by the Kutch Yuva Sangh, of Khari Godpar village by the Seva Bharati and that of Dudhai village by the Rashtriya Swabhiman Trust headed by former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Varma has come to a halt.

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Not all is lost for cooperative bank depositors Monday, April 30, 2001

Ahmedabad: The depositors dreamt of big returns, the banker dreamt of fast money, and the broker just jumped into the fast lane. A crash was the foregone conclusion.

The crash of the Gujarat-headquartered Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank (MMCB) spells deep trouble for the country's cooperative banking industry. The Rs.10.3- billion scandal that its directors led the MMCB into threatens the very confidence of people in cooperative banks.

Cooperative banks generally offer returns on term deposits more than what nationalized banks offer. This is often their unique selling point for mobilizing resources. Depositors too don't mind taking small risks for that extra money.

Today the depositors with the MMCB are ruing their decision to place their faith and money with the bank whose chairman and managing director allegedly flouted every lending rule in the book to fund the sly operations of Bombay Stock Exchange broker Ketan Parekh.

Parekh sank, and with him the bank. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has taken some corrective steps like appointing an administrator with the brief to revive the bank. Administrator S. Ramchandran, in turn, has appointed two committees and two chartered accountants to help him do so.

The MMCB, as it turned out, extended more than Rs.10.3 billion to about a dozen and a half companies directly or indirectly controlled by Parekh even as the bank's dealing had been capped at Rs.2.99 billion.

Ketan Parekh, bank chairman Ramesh Parekh and chief executive officer Devendra Pandya have since been arrested and booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

The proverbial silver lining in the cloud for the depositors is Ramchandran's statement before the Gujarat High Court that deposits to the tune of Rs.6.83 billion are insured with the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation. So all is not lost for the depositors, it seems.

While the small investors can afford to nurse some hope of recovering their hard earned money, the quake-struck people of Kutch and Saurashtra are still struggling for a basic necessity of life-shelter.

First Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel announced that the state government would build 800,000 one-room houses in about two-and-a-half months so that the affected people would get shelter before the monsoon sets in late in June. He later retracted his words and said instead of building houses, the government would provide building material for the people to get their houses built.

The monsoon is due in less than two months and the "building material banks" are yet to be set up at all the affected places. What is going to happen once the monsoon sets in is anybody's guess.

In the interim, after keeping the people of the four major towns of Kutch - Bhuj, Anjar, Bhachau and Rapar - waiting, the government announced a rehabilitation package, which has the developer-builder lobby drooling at the prospect of making a killing.

The people of Anjar, who had marched nearly 300 km to get a satisfactory package, are enraged because the government has not kept its promise, made after they called off their march on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, some 30 km before state capital Gandhinagar. Now they have threatened to march all the way to the national capital to press for their demand for a better rehabilitation package.

Aware of the discontent among the people, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even planned "kar seva" or voluntary work by its cadre to help the quake-affected people rebuild their houses. But the cadre has not shown much interest.

Though international agencies have praised the government efforts on the relief and rehabilitation front, the affected people are so disillusioned that the demand for a separate state of Kutch or granting it Union Territory status is gaining popularity.

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Memories of the Mahatma a burden for us? Sunday, April 29, 2001

AHMEDABAD: At a time when the world is turning to the East's apostles of peace, the Mahatma is facing the apathy of the administrators running his Sabarmati Ashram. The Khadi Gramodyog Prayog Samiti, a trust associated with the Ashram here, has decided to sell off a chunk of land associated with the Mahatma.

The samiti says the 4,350 square metres of land has become unmanageable. Alarmed by the move, the associated trusts of Sabarmati Ashram are contemplating action against the decision.

The decision to sell the land, other Gandhian trusts claim, was reached without taking them into confidence. This is the second such sale of prime property by the Prayog Samiti, say sources.

The members of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust (SAPMT) and the Harijan Ashram Trust (HAT) 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."

More importantly, the base price quoted for the property in the Ranip area, is a mere Rs 95 lakh, when the current market value of this land could easily be Rs 1.5 crore.

SAPMT trustee Kartikeya Sarabhai says he's not aware of the decision. "I feel that all such decisions should be taken in the context of the overall plan for the Gandhi Ashram which has a significant place in India's history," says Sarabhai.

Incidentally, the land adjacent to Abhay Ghat, the memorial of former prime minister Morarji Desai, is an open plot and the Prayog Samiti, established by Gandhiji's nephew Krishnalal Gandhi, has not been able to put it to any use in the past 50-odd years.

Two years ago, the Ashram trustees had raised a similar protest over the sale of the Lal Bungla, a heritage property used by Gandhiji, to a builder who erected a multi-storeyed building in its place.

"We wrote several letters to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, but since it was under private ownership, nothing could be done," rues a HAT trustee.

Some 30 years ago, the samiti had traded off another plot of land on which now stands the RBI quarters. "We had done that to sustain the trust since it was on the brink of winding up," admits Biharilal Shah, a trustee of the samiti.

"This time the sale decision has been taken because we really cannot manage so much property. Constructing a building would mean more expenditure," says Shah candidly. According to him, the activities of the samiti are very limited and do not require so much property.

But he claims that 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," he adds.

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Video-conferencing to get fillip in state Sunday, April 29, 2001

VADODARA: Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited's Gujarat Telecom Circle is planning to give a major boost to 'video-aided telecommunication' commonly known as video-conferencing.

This mode of communication enables two callers to watch each other on a computer screen while talking. The facility is availed via ISDN lines with subscriber having to pay Rs 2.40 per three minutes of video-conferencing.

Though the initial response to this hi-tech facility, offered keeping in mind the corporate clientele of BSNL, was at best dull, the Gujarat Telecom Circle (GTC) has decided to further this latest product in its service kitty.

"In three months' time video-conferencing will be available in 71 cities and towns of Gujarat", GTC chief general manager PK Chanda told 'The Times of India'. Chanda was here on Wednesday to launch the Childline project - a 24-hour free telephone service for children in distress.

"We will be increasing our ISDN spread. Already ISDN connections are available in 37 cities and towns. This tally will double by July", Chanda said. He observed that the facility could be a great advantage of business houses.

"Only the initial investment for the video-conferencing equipment is costly. The monthly rental and per call charges are cheap like for telephone calls", Chanda remarked.

For video-conferencing a special gadget comprising a small camera, speakers and headphone is to be attached to the computer system. While the camera cost varies between Rs 40,000 and Rs 70,000, other technical paraphernalia costs less. Approximately a video-conferencing equipment can cost a customer Rs 85,000 to Rs 1 lakh which also the covers the computer price.

Chanda implied that the video-conferencing service had an appeal and is likely to draw customers. "It has an inherent appeal. Sooner or later customers will be turned on to this facility. This is the reason why we are increasing the reach of this service", Chanda said.

Vadodara Telecom District (VTD) general manager Rakesh Babu seconds Chanda's views. "The video-conferencing service in itself is attractive. It will become popular in course of time. The customers can by video-conferencing kits from the market and plug in to talk live", Babu said.

He, however, did not rule out that the VTD or for that matter the GTC would not hesitate to market its product and services aggressively in absence of the expected response. "For instance we would be launching the cellular services from December this year. We will be giving 17,000 lines. If we feel that an additional push is required we would market aggressively. Same holds true for other services and products", Babu said.

Asked about Reliance's offer of all services (telephone, internet, cable TV) through one duct, Chanda said that BSNL had a larger and better infrastructure. "Just laying pipes does not mean that you will get customers. Let them get into our territory we will sell the same services and products at half of Reliance's price, or, for that matter, of any other private operator's," Chanda said.

* Video-conferencing facility to be made available in 71 cities and towns of Gujarat by July

* Gujarat Telecom Circle targets corporate clientele for video-conferencing

* Expects services to become popular

* Says, if need be, Gujarat Telecom Circle will market the service aggressively

* CGM PK Chanda confident of beating Reliance in Gujarat

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