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April 19, 2001 - April 20, 2001

After quake, drought stares in Gujarat's face Friday, April 20, 2001

By Ashraf Sayed, India Abroad News Service

Gandhinagar, Apr 19 - Like the cycle of seasons, natural calamities have also become a regular phenomenon in Gujarat with as many as 13,133 villages of 23 districts in the state facing an acute scarcity of water for the second consecutive year.

Immediately after the cyclone ravaged the coastal areas of Kutch and Saurashtra in 1999, southern Gujarat witnessed heavy floods and last year as many as 9,449 villages were severely affected by drought. The drought in 2000 had forced the state government to spend more than Rs.8.84 billion for providing the needy with employment and making arrangements for drinking water.

After the devastating January 26 earthquake that killed some 25,000 people, the government is grappling with the impending drought that involves providing relief to 29.10 million people hit directly and indirectly by nature's fury.

The administration has various water supply schemes, including transporting water from the Mahi and the Narmada rivers through pipelines to far-flung areas in the Saurashtra region at a cost of Rs.11.86 billion. Yet as many as 11,539 villages, 61 urban centers and two major cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara are facing acute drinking water shortages.

According to Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, the state administration has launched a drive to provide employment to 1.55 million people on various relief works in mid-April. The government is spending Rs.60 million daily on wages alone.

Moreover, he said, the government has distributed 44 million kg of grass and 3 million kg of cattle feed in a bid to save 10.7 million heads of cattle in the state. The government also plans to create a buffer stock of 200 million kg of fodder by purchasing it from other states.

So far as many as 504 cattle camps have been set up to provide shelter to more than 300,000 heads of cattle and subsidized voluntary organizations taking care of abandoned cattle to the tune of Rs.130 million, Patel said.

The Gujarat administration has prepared a master plan to deal with the ever-worsening drought situation at a time when the state machinery is already spread thin rehabilitating quake victims.

Patel has ruled out the possibility of "starvation deaths" in the drought-affected areas saying the government has been distributing 20 kg of wheat at Rs.2 a kg and 5 kg of rice, also at a highly subsidized rate, to those working at relief sites. Besides, it is also distributing cash doles to 118,000 people.

A record 30 million people were employed for relief work this April as against 20 million people who were provided with employment at the height of the drought in mid-May last year, he said.

According C.K. Koshi, additional chief secretary in-charge of the revenue department, the situation is particularly bad in districts like the Panchmahals and Dohad, along the Gujarat-Madhya Pradesh border, where a record number of 450,000 people, mostly tribespersons, have been employed in drought relief works. Neither the Narmada canal network nor the Saurashtra pipeline project, which have brought some relief to several parched areas of Saurashtra, reach these two districts, he said.

Unfortunately, said Koshi, almost 75 percent of the 16 million quake-affected people in Kutch, Surendranagar, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Amreli, Patan, Sabarkantha and Banaskantha districts are now facing the grim prospect of another drought.

According to Minister for Water Supply Narottam Patel, the government has implemented various schemes, including the prestigious Saurashtra pipeline project, on a war footing to avoid "water riots" in the state.

He said nearly 2,146 villages were being supplied water through tankers with the government pressing a record number of 1,648 tankers to ferry water and running special water trains to Rajula and Jaffrabad towns of Amreli district in Saurashtra. The minister said many more water trains would be run throughout summer after convincing the railway minister to provide more wagons in the coming months as the situation is likely to worsen in Saurashtra.

Narottam Patel said the government had prepared a master plan for providing drinking water at a cost of Rs.2.05 billion to the worst hit areas of the northern region and Ahmedabad district. In addition, he said, three different water supply schemes are being implemented to cover nearly 597 villages and seven towns in Mehsana, Banaskantha and Patan districts of north Gujarat. He said the government had also started various other water supply schemes in north Gujarat and Saurashtra to lessen the miseries of the people.

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Sinha rejects demand for tax holiday by people of quake-affected area Thursday, April 19, 2001

SURENDRANAGAR: Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha has turned down the demand for a tax holiday by the quake-affected trade and industries of the region.

A delegation of Saurashtra-Kutch trade and industry members led by chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee Sharad Pawar and former state finance minister Sanat Mehta, who called on Sinha at Delhi on Monday, requested him to grant a tax holiday for revival of industries in Saurashtra. The delegation urged a tax holiday on the pattern of those granted for revival of trade and industry in north-eastern states.

According to Navin Jobanputra, secretary of the Surendranagar District Industries Association, despite Pawar and Mehta's insistence on a tax holiday for the quake-hit industries, Sinha firmly rejected the demand. Jobanputra said it was now up to the state government to utilise its good offices and pressurise the central government to accept their demand.

He said the Federation of Saurashtra-Kutch Industries and Trade Associations had intimated the Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel of the rejection of their demand.

Jobanputra added that the finance minister had, however, agreed to consider the delegation's demand for low interest finance by urban co-operative banks to small units, traders and craftsmen, finance for rebuilding residential houses and exemption from central excise and customs duty on equipment for affected units, farm sector and smaller and marginal units.

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Sinha rejects demand for tax holiday by people of quake-affected area Thursday, April 19, 2001

SURENDRANAGAR: Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha has turned down the demand for a tax holiday by the quake-affected trade and industries of the region.

A delegation of Saurashtra-Kutch trade and industry members led by chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee Sharad Pawar and former state finance minister Sanat Mehta, who called on Sinha at Delhi on Monday, requested him to grant a tax holiday for revival of industries in Saurashtra. The delegation urged a tax holiday on the pattern of those granted for revival of trade and industry in north-eastern states.

According to Navin Jobanputra, secretary of the Surendranagar District Industries Association, despite Pawar and Mehta's insistence on a tax holiday for the quake-hit industries, Sinha firmly rejected the demand. Jobanputra said it was now up to the state government to utilise its good offices and pressurise the central government to accept their demand.

He said the Federation of Saurashtra-Kutch Industries and Trade Associations had intimated the Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel of the rejection of their demand.

Jobanputra added that the finance minister had, however, agreed to consider the delegation's demand for low interest finance by urban co-operative banks to small units, traders and craftsmen, finance for rebuilding residential houses and exemption from central excise and customs duty on equipment for affected units, farm sector and smaller and marginal units.

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Sarpanch killed in clash with police at Mekhda Thursday, April 19, 2001

RAJKOT: A bloody scene was witnessed at Mekhda village near Savarkundla on Wednesday when villagers clashed with a Mumbai police party. In the ensuing chaos, the village sarpanch was killed in police firing, while and a PSI was killed and three policemen from Mumbai seriously injured in retaliatory attack by the villagers.

The incident occurred at around 3 am on Wednesday morning after a police party from Mumbai reached the village to seize diamonds looted in Mumbai some time ago. The sarpanch, Dilubhai Dhandhal (38), was killed in police firing when he tried to shield the accused.

Irritated at the murder of the sarpanch, villagers launched an attack on the police, with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on, in which three constables were seriously injured. Amreli DSP Manoj Shridhar immediately rushed to the site of the clash. Adequate police bandobast was also rushed at the village, the situation where was tense. According to the DSP, the Mumbai police was informed of the clash and senior police officers were reaching Amreli from Mumbai.

The DSP told TOINS that on April 15 last year, a youth from Saurashtra, identified as Jaideep Khuman, was arrested by the Mumbai police for his alleged role in the diamond heist of Rs 8.33 lakh. The Mumbai police had brought him to his hometown Mekda where the police believe he had kept the looted diamonds.

Malad (east) police inspector Nandkumar and three constables had brought the accused to the village. As their car entered the village, the sarpanch stopped the vehicle seeing a local youth in it, and inquired why he was arrested. The police in turn told the sarpanch of the entire incident. The sarpanch was not ready to believe that the youth was involved in any loot and prevented the police from entering the village. He also sought the immediate release of the accused. A heated argument followed. As matters went out of hand, the police inspector pulled out his service revolver and opened fire, killing the sarpanch on the spot.

The irritated villagers then attacked the police, resulting in the killing of the police inspector. The Amreli police was informed, who rushed to the spot and shifted the injured constables to a Savarkundla hospital, from where they were later shifted to Rajkot.

DSP Manoj Shridhar has started investigations. Senior police officers of the state have also been informed of the incident.

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Sarpanch killed in clash with police at Mekhda Thursday, April 19, 2001

RAJKOT: A bloody scene was witnessed at Mekhda village near Savarkundla on Wednesday when villagers clashed with a Mumbai police party. In the ensuing chaos, the village sarpanch was killed in police firing, while and a PSI was killed and three policemen from Mumbai seriously injured in retaliatory attack by the villagers.

The incident occurred at around 3 am on Wednesday morning after a police party from Mumbai reached the village to seize diamonds looted in Mumbai some time ago. The sarpanch, Dilubhai Dhandhal (38), was killed in police firing when he tried to shield the accused.

Irritated at the murder of the sarpanch, villagers launched an attack on the police, with whatever weapons they could lay their hands on, in which three constables were seriously injured. Amreli DSP Manoj Shridhar immediately rushed to the site of the clash. Adequate police bandobast was also rushed at the village, the situation where was tense. According to the DSP, the Mumbai police was informed of the clash and senior police officers were reaching Amreli from Mumbai.

The DSP told TOINS that on April 15 last year, a youth from Saurashtra, identified as Jaideep Khuman, was arrested by the Mumbai police for his alleged role in the diamond heist of Rs 8.33 lakh. The Mumbai police had brought him to his hometown Mekda where the police believe he had kept the looted diamonds.

Malad (east) police inspector Nandkumar and three constables had brought the accused to the village. As their car entered the village, the sarpanch stopped the vehicle seeing a local youth in it, and inquired why he was arrested. The police in turn told the sarpanch of the entire incident. The sarpanch was not ready to believe that the youth was involved in any loot and prevented the police from entering the village. He also sought the immediate release of the accused. A heated argument followed. As matters went out of hand, the police inspector pulled out his service revolver and opened fire, killing the sarpanch on the spot.

The irritated villagers then attacked the police, resulting in the killing of the police inspector. The Amreli police was informed, who rushed to the spot and shifted the injured constables to a Savarkundla hospital, from where they were later shifted to Rajkot.

DSP Manoj Shridhar has started investigations. Senior police officers of the state have also been informed of the incident.

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