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April 17, 2001 - April 18, 2001

Bank robber lands in CBI net(Bullion scam case) Wednesday, April 18, 2001

AHMEDABAD: In a major breakthrough in the bullion scam case, the CBI on Monday arrested chairman of Classic Co-operative Bank Suresh V Gadecha and handed him over to an agency team from Mumbai investigating the case.

Gadecha, who is related to Assembly Speaker Dhirubhai Shah, was produced in court which remanded him in CBI custody till April 20, agency sources confirmed.

He was later taken to Mumbai for interrogation.

Meanwhile, the CBI again took into custody Naresh Keshavlal Choksi and his son Prashant of the KL Choksi bullion trading firm in connection with the Punjab National Bank case.

The duo was in judicial custody following their arrest in Mumbai on April 4, in connection with the SBI pay-order scam case.

Naresh and Prashant will be produced before court on Tuesday.

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Gujarat Vidyapeeth without chancellor Wednesday, April 18, 2001

AHMEDABAD: It has been more than three months since the last chancellor of the Gujarat Vidhyapeeth Dr Sushila Nayyar expired. And yet there has been no attempt to replace her. Being headless, however, is not new for the country's only Gandhian university. With Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Morarji Desai as its past chancellors, it had spent more than a year mired in controversy and without a chancellor until veteran Gandhian Dr Nayyar was appointed on August 18 last year.

Since her death on January 3 this year, the deemed university is again experiencing that same old feeling as the Mandal (governing body) has not been able to find a replacement.

Vice-Chancellor Jitendra Desai prefers to remain silent on the issue, saying only that they will make an announcement when the right time comes. He refuses to set any deadline for the appointment or if any particular person's name has been suggested.

One of the most prominent names doing the rounds is that of Vice President of the country Krishan Kant to ensure that there is no politicking among Mandal members. "Many feel this would be ideal for the institution as it would build stronger ties with New Delhi apart from keeping out internal wranglings," an observer close to the Mandal told The Times of India. "Apart from that he comes from a family of freedom fighters." Kant was himself known as the Young Turk in his heydays.

Although still as the level of informal discussions, Kant's name has come up because there are few Gandhians left who can stand up in stature to the past chancellors. Many also feel the University needs fresh blood and do not prefer octogenarians for the post. Dr Nayyar, for instance, was 84 when she was appointed and did not even complete an year in office.

Among other prominent names doing the rounds are that of the two holding trustees of the Mandal; Navinchandra Barot, known more his days as a union leader, and former state education minister Naval Shah. The names of Narayanbhai Desai, son of Mahatma Gandhi's trusted personal secretary Mahadev Desai, and one of the last surviving Gandhian educationists, writer Manubhai Pancholi have also come up.

Observers feel that perhaps the Mandal does not want to step on any unexpected political land mines, which may blow up into yet another controversy. This is especially true since Barot and Shah are believed to be eyeing the post and may pull the Mandal in separate directions if any one is appointed.

Shah, however, feels there is no disagreement between them. "It is always dangerous to delay such decisions," he says. "It gives people the chance to make false assumptions. I am ready to accept any decision that the Mandal takes."

Interestingly, the position is more that of a figure head as all the executive powers are with the vice chancellor. The chancellor is expected to provide vision to the institution instead of taking critical decisions, a responsibility many feel Manubhai Pancholi can handle best. Even Mahatma Gandhi is believed to have listed to Pancholi when it came to education matters. However, both age and health are against him, something Mandal members may take exception to.

Controversy sparked off in July 1998 when the then chancellor Ramlal Parikh and four of his followers walked out of a Mandal meeting protesting against the appointment of Vinod Tripathi as pro-vice chancellor. After much mud-slinging, an arbitration committee was set up which declared illegal the appointments of Raval and Tripathi.

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NGOs take students back to school in quake-hit Gujarat Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Kutch (Gujarat), Apr 17 - The cameras that panned the earthquake-ravaged Kutch region of Gujarat during former U.S. president Bill Clinton's high profile visit failed to capture them. Nor did they figure in any of the meetings the former president had with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working for rehabilitation of earthquake victims.

But, then, as Shantilal Muttha says, "it is ultimately our work that should speak for us."

And it does. Even as the state government scrambles to put together its rehabilitation policy, hundreds of children across Kutch have been able to take their secondary school examinations and thousands more will be able to attend school from June - all thanks to the efforts of two voluntary groups.

Pune-based Bharatiya Jain Sangathana (BJS) and the Jalgaon-Khandesh Bhukamph Sahayata Trust led by former Maharashtra minister Suresh Dada Jain have joined hands to restore 614 schools in 297 villages across four districts of Gujarat -- Kutch, Rajkot, Surendranagar and Jamnagar. The project, which involves the construction of roughly 1,500 rooms, is expected to be complete by June 15, benefiting nearly 132,000 students.

The restoration is being done through the construction of classrooms, each measuring 380 square feet with a capacity to accommodate 50 students. Based on a firm cement-concrete plinth, the walls are made of lightweight prefabricated polycarbonate sheets, which have been affixed on an iron structure. These prefabricated frames and celuka sheets are filled with a foam that reduces heat absorption by almost 70 percent. They are also cyclone, earthquake and fire-resistant.

Muttha, who rehabilitated nearly 1,000 children orphaned by the 1993 Latur earthquake in Maharashtra, told India Abroad News Service: "These schools will work in two shifts and the total project cost is roughly Rs. 150 million. The Jalgaon-Khandesh Bhukamp Sahayata Trust has already raised Rs. 75 million and in fact Suresh Dada has personally contributed Rs. 15 million."

But why focus on schools and not on other aspects of rehabilitation? Says Muttha, "Addressing children's psychology in the aftermath of an earthquake is very important...Physical injuries can be healed but what about the psychological and emotional scars that these disasters leave on a child who sees collapsed houses, dead bodies and grief all around? We want to bring them out of this atmosphere and divert their attention."

Besides, Muttha says, "We felt that if schools do not start now, 70 percent students will drop out. It will be generational disaster."

Hence, the team of BJS volunteers, which initially focused on providing relief, speeded up work on the school project. The first school was ready at Samkhyari on the 13th day after the January 26 quake. Since then there has been no looking back and now villagers have started approaching them to build schools.

Of course, this was no easy task. For a family that has lost everything in an earthquake, classrooms would be the last consideration. Hence, Muttha and the students from Pune's Wagholi Rehabilitation Center (where children from Latur are housed) conducted meetings with parents, teachers and the children themselves to press the import of schooling. This was followed by an elaborate survey on the number of schools that were functional in the affected areas, the student and teacher strength before and after the quake.

Compiling the survey and getting land for the school itself took at least 10 visits to the village. The two NGOs decided not to build schools on government land and focused instead on village land because getting government land is a time consuming process. "Since we had motivated villagers, they were themselves interested in starting schools and gave us the common land," says Muttha.

Volunteers have been pouring in from BJS branches across India, but Maharashtra continues to be the backbone. And among them the most visible is the strong contingent of boys from the Wagholi Rehabilitation Center. Taking turns to visit Gujarat since January, these boys have been spending over a month here doing various kinds of jobs.

As Kishore Prathale says, "We have experienced the same pain -- of losing everything we had. We know what it feels like and the fact that we have survived will hopefully send positive signals."

But the road ahead is a tough one. "We have yet to begin work on 464 school rooms as we are running short of funds. Each room costs about Rs. 100,000 and we are trying to mop additional funds," Muttha says, adding, however, "I am sure we will be able to accomplish our task."

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NGOs take students back to school in quake-hit Gujarat Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Kutch (Gujarat), Apr 17 - The cameras that panned the earthquake-ravaged Kutch region of Gujarat during former U.S. president Bill Clinton's high profile visit failed to capture them. Nor did they figure in any of the meetings the former president had with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working for rehabilitation of earthquake victims.

But, then, as Shantilal Muttha says, "it is ultimately our work that should speak for us."

And it does. Even as the state government scrambles to put together its rehabilitation policy, hundreds of children across Kutch have been able to take their secondary school examinations and thousands more will be able to attend school from June - all thanks to the efforts of two voluntary groups.

Pune-based Bharatiya Jain Sangathana (BJS) and the Jalgaon-Khandesh Bhukamph Sahayata Trust led by former Maharashtra minister Suresh Dada Jain have joined hands to restore 614 schools in 297 villages across four districts of Gujarat -- Kutch, Rajkot, Surendranagar and Jamnagar. The project, which involves the construction of roughly 1,500 rooms, is expected to be complete by June 15, benefiting nearly 132,000 students.

The restoration is being done through the construction of classrooms, each measuring 380 square feet with a capacity to accommodate 50 students. Based on a firm cement-concrete plinth, the walls are made of lightweight prefabricated polycarbonate sheets, which have been affixed on an iron structure. These prefabricated frames and celuka sheets are filled with a foam that reduces heat absorption by almost 70 percent. They are also cyclone, earthquake and fire-resistant.

Muttha, who rehabilitated nearly 1,000 children orphaned by the 1993 Latur earthquake in Maharashtra, told India Abroad News Service: "These schools will work in two shifts and the total project cost is roughly Rs. 150 million. The Jalgaon-Khandesh Bhukamp Sahayata Trust has already raised Rs. 75 million and in fact Suresh Dada has personally contributed Rs. 15 million."

But why focus on schools and not on other aspects of rehabilitation? Says Muttha, "Addressing children's psychology in the aftermath of an earthquake is very important...Physical injuries can be healed but what about the psychological and emotional scars that these disasters leave on a child who sees collapsed houses, dead bodies and grief all around? We want to bring them out of this atmosphere and divert their attention."

Besides, Muttha says, "We felt that if schools do not start now, 70 percent students will drop out. It will be generational disaster."

Hence, the team of BJS volunteers, which initially focused on providing relief, speeded up work on the school project. The first school was ready at Samkhyari on the 13th day after the January 26 quake. Since then there has been no looking back and now villagers have started approaching them to build schools.

Of course, this was no easy task. For a family that has lost everything in an earthquake, classrooms would be the last consideration. Hence, Muttha and the students from Pune's Wagholi Rehabilitation Center (where children from Latur are housed) conducted meetings with parents, teachers and the children themselves to press the import of schooling. This was followed by an elaborate survey on the number of schools that were functional in the affected areas, the student and teacher strength before and after the quake.

Compiling the survey and getting land for the school itself took at least 10 visits to the village. The two NGOs decided not to build schools on government land and focused instead on village land because getting government land is a time consuming process. "Since we had motivated villagers, they were themselves interested in starting schools and gave us the common land," says Muttha.

Volunteers have been pouring in from BJS branches across India, but Maharashtra continues to be the backbone. And among them the most visible is the strong contingent of boys from the Wagholi Rehabilitation Center. Taking turns to visit Gujarat since January, these boys have been spending over a month here doing various kinds of jobs.

As Kishore Prathale says, "We have experienced the same pain -- of losing everything we had. We know what it feels like and the fact that we have survived will hopefully send positive signals."

But the road ahead is a tough one. "We have yet to begin work on 464 school rooms as we are running short of funds. Each room costs about Rs. 100,000 and we are trying to mop additional funds," Muttha says, adding, however, "I am sure we will be able to accomplish our task."

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Gujarat's water woes return with summer's onset Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Gandhinagar: WITH the onset of scorching summer, water riots have gradually started breaking out in many parts of Gujarat, especially the dry areas of Saurashtra, the north region and Kutch.

Almost all irrigation dams in these regions, which have now been linked to drinking water supply schemes, have gone bone dry, forcing the state administration not only to supply water from the Narmada river by the Saurashtra Pipeline Project but also to run special water trains to meet the shortage.

The day Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel pressed a switch to mark the release of the Narmada waters to parts of Rajkot district, water riots were witnessed in Dhoraji town of the district where women clashed with the police, who were forced to use their batons and fire teargas shells to disperse angry citizens. The town residents then observed a strike to protest the police action.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said a senior officer in the state police control room. "We have received as many as 1,124 cases of major and minor incidents of violence from various parts of north Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kutch in the last two months. The situation is becoming alarmingly grave. We are fearing the worst in the next two months."

However, Chief Minister Patel and Minister for Water Supply Narottam Patel have been claiming that the government has implemented various water supply schemes on a war footing to tackle this "grave situation" because the "rain god has failed to shower his mercies for the second successive year".

They said the government had implemented the Saurashtra Pipeline Project to cover as many as 8,215 villages and 135 urban centers, including Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, Rajkot and Jamnagar cities and their surrounding areas. In the second phase of this project, Mehsana and Banaskantha districts in north Gujarat and the Panchmahals and Junagadh districts would be covered.

Despite these tall claims, reports pouring in from various parts of the state suggest that frustrated people are resorting to various modes of agitation, including road blockades, sit-ins, picketing of government offices, strikes and processions to air their grievances.

Ironically, successive state governments have over the last four decades spent at least Rs.117 billion to solve water supply problems. This amount is apart from the billions of rupees spent on building irrigation dams. According to officials in the irrigation department, the government has spent at least Rs.199.7 billion on various irrigation projects, which now have only "ornamental value" as farmers have been denied water for their crops owing to tremendous pressure from the people for supply of drinking water.

Over the years, the situation on the drinking water front has been deteriorating. In 1966-67, the then Hitendra Desai government had estimated there were 3,700 no-source villages in the state. But the figure shot up to 7,600 in 1981-82 and now nearly 11,000 villages are facing acute drinking water shortage.

People are now asking questions as to what happened to the billions of rupees spent on ambitious projects? Why is Gujarat facing recurring droughts and consequent acute drinking water shortages? Critics of the government attribute this to rampant corruption in the administration as well as execution of certain schemes only on paper.

Moreover, many state government schemes become redundant within a year or two. In stark contrast, a scheme that the Netherlands implemented a decade ago at a cost of Rs.100 million in the drought-prone Banaskantha district in north Gujarat is still operational, covering far-flung villages along the border with Pakistan.

Experts in the Physical Research Laboratory and the Indian Space Research Organization in Ahmedabad say haphazard and unscientific mining of underground water in many parts of north Gujarat and Saurashtra have led to this scarcity of mind- boggling dimensions. They say exploitation was so heavy that at many places it is "ancient water" that the people are drinking. This is a health hazard.

The twin cities of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar are classic cases of haphazard implementation of water supply schemes. First these two cities used to be supplied water by boring tube wells in the bed of the Sabarmati river. As the situation started deteriorating, the state government constructed a dam across the Sabarmati at Dharoi in Sabarkantha in north Gujarat and started feeding these two cities. As the Dharoi dam went dry last year, the government embarked upon yet another "ambitious project" of supplying water from the Mahi river and also secured water from Rajasthan. And now it has started pumping water from the Narmada.

Perturbed at the ever-worsening potable water supply problem, the Keshubhai Patel government has also chalked out long-term and short-term strategies. For the long term it has prepared the "Water-Vision 2010 action plan" to increase supply from the present 1,695 million cubic meters (MCM) to 1,937 MCM at a cost of Rs.178.26 billion. It has already submitted another Rs.47 billion water supply project to the World Bank for financial assistance.

In addition, the government implemented 412 group water supply schemes for 5,417 villages, but most of them have now become redundant owing to failure of the monsoon for the second successive year. As many as 174 medium and small dams in Saurashtra and north Gujarat also dried up by the end of March.

As a result, trading in water has become a booming business not only in urban centers like Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Amreli and Junagadh but also in remote villages where agriculturists have converted their tractors into tankers to ferry water from private bores. The situation has become so grave that the Keshod municipality in Junagadh district began rationing water in the town.

The water crisis has a cascading effect. With water level going alarmingly low in Ukai, Kadana, Karjan, Damanganga and many other reservoirs, the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) has been forced to cut down production of power. Two major plants at Ukai and Kadana have stopped functioning, forcing the GEB to buy power from the central grid to meet the requirement of the agricultural sector. The GEB has also cut supply to the farm sector from 10-12 hours to seven to eight hours.

The failure of the monsoon in the last two years had resulted in agricultural production losses to the tune of Rs.137 billion. The industrial sector has also suffered staggering losses because of frequent power cuts, water shortage and the general recession in the market.
News Source - India Abroad News Service

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