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April 26, 2001 - April 26, 2001

Demolish dangerous buildings, say Ahmedabad's residents Thursday, April 26, 2001

THE newly developed Rani Jhansi Park in the upmarket Satellite area looks like a campsite. Parents are sitting and children playing in the open. But it is no picnic.

They are among a large number of families who have been living virtually without a roof over their heads since the January 26 earthquake devastated Gujarat, leaving some 25,000 people dead.

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Focus: Gujarat's Killer Quake

The quake flattened entire towns and villages and rendered tens of thousands homeless across the state. Many of the victims are still struggling to get back what they had always taken for granted -- shelter.

These are summer months, and the heat can be scorching in this part of India. The busiest of roads look deserted during the day because people prefer to stay within the cooler confines of their homes and offices.

Those residing at the Rani Jhansi Park are former residents of the high-rise Shikhar Complex, a part of which crashed in the quake, killing 98 residents. To the survivors, it is a do or die situation.

"It is better to die of sunstroke than to live in an apartment block you don't know when will crash," says Viren Shah.

"The pillars, the walls and the staircase are all damaged. There are huge cracks. Any extra weight or a small shake-up

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Quake-hit people reject Gujarat government's rehabilitation package Thursday, April 26, 2001

Ahmedabad, Apr 25 - The Gujarat government's resettlement and rehabilitation package for the quake-hit people of four major towns of Kutch district has few takers.

"It is a cruel joke on us. We reject the resettlement and rehabilitation package. We have sought a meeting with the chief minister Thursday and we will decide the course of action depending on the outcome of our talks," Anjar Group-2001 leader Shyam Sunder told IANS.

"The package is misleading. First the government said it would build houses, now it says it will only provide building material," he added.

"It is hogwash, the government simply does not want us to relocate themselves. Though thousands of acres of land is available around the town, the government is offering each family a mere 100 square meters," Sunder said.

Anjar is one of the four major towns of Kutch district that bore the brunt of the January 26 quake in which 25,000 people died and which left tens of thousands homeless.

Congress Party legislator Udesinh Baria echoed Sunder's views. "The package has been designed in such a way that people will reject it, giving government the excuse to wriggle out of its obligation of rehabilitating the quake-afflicted people," he said.

The Gujarat government announced the resettlement and rehabilitation package for the four towns of Kutch -- Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar -- Tuesday night following a three-month-long controversy over the shifting of quake-devastated towns and villages.

The delay forced residents of Kutch to undertake a marathon march from Anjar to state capital Gandhinagar this month to pressurize the Keshubhai Patel government to end agonizing "uncertainties" over the rehabilitation program.

Anjar Group-2001 had led the long march that was called off on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, about 30 km from Gandhinagar, after the chief minister vowed to take their concern into account while finalizing a resettlement and rehabilitation scheme.

According to the Rs. 12.79-billion package, the old Anjar town will be shifted to a new site and Rapar will be rehabilitated at its original place. The people of Bhuj and Bhachau will be give time-bound options for resettlement and rehabilitation.

Going back on his earlier announcement of building more than 800,000 one-room houses and relocating the four towns, Patel said his government would assist the quake-affected people in cash and kind to rebuild their houses.

The package provides for 100 square meters of land to those who had less than that before the quake and 125 square meters to those who had more than 100 square meters.

"Most of the affected people belonged to the middle class. Under the new construction norms, we will not be able to build structures on more than 60 percent of the land. Do you think you can build houses on just about 60-70 square meters?" asked Sunder.

He charged the government with trying to help the builder-developers. "It is natural people will reject the package and then they will be forced to buy land from the builders-developers outside the town limits at an exorbitant price."

The package envisages setting up a separate urban area development authority for the four towns. They will each be allocated Rs.5 million for town planning and to provide modern urban facilities in consultation with experts.

Official figures put the number of houses completely destroyed at 25,805 and the number of partially destroyed houses at more than 19,000 in the four towns.

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Ministers hint at special package for professionals Thursday, April 26, 2001

RAJKOT: A separate package for traders, doctors and advocates would be announced soon, four state ministers Nitin Patel, Narottam Patel, Babu Bokhiriya and Mulu Bera said here on Wednesday. The ministers were reviewing the administrative functioning in Rajkot and Jamnagar districts for the quake-affected people.

Nitin Patel said the aim of the meeting was to streamline the relief package and to tone up the administration which was involved in relief and rehabilitation process in the quake-ravaged areas. Rajkot district collector P N Patel and Jamnagar collector Rohit Pathak also participated in the meeting held at the collector's office here.

The ministers heard the problems faced by the district administration in speedy rehabilitation and issued orders to streamline the work so that more people were provided succour. The ministers also called upon voluntary organisations to give in a helping hand in the massive task. The ministers told the officials the government had, on its part, committed its entire machinery to the cause.

According to the ministers, the state government would announce a separate package for professionals which also included small-time traders.

The ministers said they would ensure that the material bank proposed by the state government to supply rehabilitation material functioned at top gear.

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Urban authorities term new rules 'illegal' Thursday, April 26, 2001

AHMEDABAD: While the state government is poised to clear the development plan for Ahmedabad and Surat, the Gujarat Urban Development Authorities Association (GUDAA) has questioned the legitimacy of the post-quake Development Control Regulations announced by the government, on the grounds that it violated the Gujarat Town Planning and Urban Development Act 1976, which governed the authorities.

A 'workshop' of the officials of the six municipal corporations and seven urban development authorities held on April 12, a fortnight after the state government declared the DCRs for structural safety, raised several objections to the DCRs which was drafted with specific compliance measures directed against natural hazards especially seismic compliance.

A copy of the proceedings of the GUDAA meeting made available to TOI not only criticises the provisions of the DCRs declared on March 27, calling them at times, "unreasonable" and times "repetitive", but also state that the government had not conducted the necessary procedures for drafting such rules as directed in rule 19(1) of the Town Planning Act "and hence it would be inappropriate and illegal to implement these rules at this point of time", GUDAA concluded.

Sources in the Urban Development department say that Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) chairman Surendra Patel, in a letter to urban development minister Parmanand Khattar dated April 16, 2001, sought clarifications on the points raised, at the earliest.

But, when asked, Patel declined to comment on the letter saying, "it is confidential and not for the public". Asked who all were present at the meeting of the urban local bodies, he said, "only a few officers were present".

Further, GUDAA has sought clarifications on several aspects, regarding issues about sharing of responsibilities and credentials of the persons slated as 'experts' in the DCRs for structural safety. The general feeling at the meeting, according to an official, "was that the government had shirked off all responsibility in the new DCRs and was not even willing to equip us with the required staff for its implementation".

Without mincing any words, the GUDAA members have suggested that the government take up a part of the responsibility of ensuring the compliance of these DCRs. For instance, it notes that structural design, soil testing, quality control and such aspects do not come under the jurisdiction of the urban local bodies as per the town planning act, "and hence the state government form a special cell which could ensure the regulation of the these tests".

Further, they have pointed out that since, ensuring structural safety required a constant scrutiny, the government take up this task because the urban local bodies were not equipped for it, staffwise.

"It is not clear as to what action should be taken, and on who should the responsibility be affixed, if at any point, a deficiency is noticed in the building", GUDAA members pointed out. Some of the issues raised at the workshop were: If there is a difference of opinion among the experts, structural engineers etc whose opinion should be upheld? And if determined that the designated experts have failed in their duty, what action should be taken?

They have also demanded that the definition of an 'unsafe' building be made clear and since the urban local bodies were ill-equipped in finances, the state government should do something about the staff strength, in order to help gauge the exact responsibility of the urban bodies.

When contacted, Khattar denied that the document published by the state government in a hurry to overcome the post-quake agitation, "was illegal". "Everything is being worked out with the experts", he told TOI, but did not hint at any amendments being made in the DCRs after the consultations.

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Withdrawal spree at co-op banks in Rajkot, Saurashtra Thursday, April 26, 2001

RAJKOT: As a direct fallout of the Madhavpura bank crisis, depositors in most of the co-operative banks in Rajkot and Saurashtra have been facing a lack of confidence of people in the working of these co-operative banks. Saurashtra has been a sound base for co-operative banking which seems eroded after the Madhavpura crisis.

The worst affected bank which has lost the peoples confidence are the Nagrik banks. There has been a run on Nagrik banks with people wanting to withdraw their deposits.

Lack of people's confidence in these Nagrik banks was evident on Tuesday with withdrawal from the Dhoraji branch of Nagrik bank where people flocked to the bank to withdraw their deposits. The situation was such that the bank had to remain open till late in the evening to clear the rush. When contacted, the bank officials said that there was no need to panic and the financial position of the bank was sound.

On the other hand, Rajkot Nagrik Bank chairman Chandrakant Pavagadhi said, "The act of mass withdrawal in Dhoraji and Jetpur was triggered at the instance of some political rivals. The aim of the rivals was to create panic among the depositors. Pavagadhi said, "The bank has gold worth Rs 25 crore besides Rs 300 crore on hand to make payments, and hence there was no need to panic." The people are, however, not ready to take this assurance on its face value and there was panic among the depositors.

Residents of Dhoraji withdrew more than Rs 1.25 crore on Tuesday. And the rush would continue in Thursday when the bank opens after a day's holiday on Wednesday. The Dhoraji branch of Nagrik bank has deposits worth Rs 26 crore. Giving figures of the withdrawal, the bank officials at Dhoraji said that if Rs 15 lakh were withdrawn last Friday, Rs 18 lakh were deposited. However, on Monday, Rs 1.30 crore were withdrawn and on Tuesday Rs 1.25 crore, which created a scare among the people.

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