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April 16, 2001 - April 16, 2001

Caste differences hamper aid in quake-hit Gujarat Monday, April 16, 2001

AHMEDABAD - Caste differences are stalling efforts to rehouse millions of homeless in quake-ravaged Gujarat state, officials said on Monday.

Authorities have failed to win agreement from people in the four worst-hit towns in the Kutch district on whether to rebuild the communities at the same site or to relocate them, they said.

The four towns -- Bhuj, Rapar, Bhachau and Anjar -- were flattened in the quake in late January that measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and claimed more than 30,000 lives.

Now, a new package for these towns will be announced on April 23. "It's a democracy and we can't force anything on the people," Gujarat's chief relief commissioner P. Pannirvel said.

He told Reuters in an interview the state government was trying to get quake victims to agree on the future of their towns and the final decision would be left to the people.

The opposition to relocation of the towns to new areas stemmed from strong social divisions among people based on caste practices and commercial concerns, officials said.

People fear the relocation will blur traditional segregated caste-based living arrangements and force upper and lower castes to live together, officials said.

"The caste system is one major reason for the opposition of the survivors to relocating the townships," Pannirvel said.

"We've made tangible progress in rehabilitating people in other areas like Jamnagar, Surendranagar and Rajkot" but work has been stalled in Kutch because of lack of agreement, he said.


FAVOUR NEW TOWNS

While people belonging to higher castes favoured building new towns, those from the lower caste opposed the plan.

"In a society which has strong caste undercurrents, it's hard for authorities to get unanimity even when people are faced with calamities of such enormity," said a voluntary group worker.

People also want assurance from government that the towns to be relocated have the same structure that protects the business community's interests.

The state government has so far disbursed about 1.4 billion rupees in over 400 villages as the first installment for building houses, Pannirvel said. Officials said the government would help to construct 428,000 new houses in quake-hit areas and to repair 850,000-900,000 partially damaged houses.

But the slow pace of rehabilitation work in the Kutch region has angered some locals.

"Group 2001", a group of quake-hit people from Anjar, marched 300 km (190 miles) from Anjar in Kutch district last week to the state capital, Gandhinagar, to demand faster action.

With no recovery plan yet in place for the worst-affected towns, the rubble of collapsed buildings is still strewn around. "We will start debris clearance as soon as a decision on the rehabilitation strategy is taken," Pannirvel said.

Officials said, however, the clean-up was progressing quickly in rural areas and debris clearance tenders would be awarded soon to private contractors in urban areas.

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Caste differences hamper aid in quake-hit Gujarat Monday, April 16, 2001

AHMEDABAD - Caste differences are stalling efforts to rehouse millions of homeless in quake-ravaged Gujarat state, officials said on Monday.

Authorities have failed to win agreement from people in the four worst-hit towns in the Kutch district on whether to rebuild the communities at the same site or to relocate them, they said.

The four towns -- Bhuj, Rapar, Bhachau and Anjar -- were flattened in the quake in late January that measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and claimed more than 30,000 lives.

Now, a new package for these towns will be announced on April 23. "It's a democracy and we can't force anything on the people," Gujarat's chief relief commissioner P. Pannirvel said.

He told Reuters in an interview the state government was trying to get quake victims to agree on the future of their towns and the final decision would be left to the people.

The opposition to relocation of the towns to new areas stemmed from strong social divisions among people based on caste practices and commercial concerns, officials said.

People fear the relocation will blur traditional segregated caste-based living arrangements and force upper and lower castes to live together, officials said.

"The caste system is one major reason for the opposition of the survivors to relocating the townships," Pannirvel said.

"We've made tangible progress in rehabilitating people in other areas like Jamnagar, Surendranagar and Rajkot" but work has been stalled in Kutch because of lack of agreement, he said.


FAVOUR NEW TOWNS

While people belonging to higher castes favoured building new towns, those from the lower caste opposed the plan.

"In a society which has strong caste undercurrents, it's hard for authorities to get unanimity even when people are faced with calamities of such enormity," said a voluntary group worker.

People also want assurance from government that the towns to be relocated have the same structure that protects the business community's interests.

The state government has so far disbursed about 1.4 billion rupees in over 400 villages as the first installment for building houses, Pannirvel said. Officials said the government would help to construct 428,000 new houses in quake-hit areas and to repair 850,000-900,000 partially damaged houses.

But the slow pace of rehabilitation work in the Kutch region has angered some locals.

"Group 2001", a group of quake-hit people from Anjar, marched 300 km (190 miles) from Anjar in Kutch district last week to the state capital, Gandhinagar, to demand faster action.

With no recovery plan yet in place for the worst-affected towns, the rubble of collapsed buildings is still strewn around. "We will start debris clearance as soon as a decision on the rehabilitation strategy is taken," Pannirvel said.

Officials said, however, the clean-up was progressing quickly in rural areas and debris clearance tenders would be awarded soon to private contractors in urban areas.

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Trade unions called bandh on 16/4/2001 Monday, April 16, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The Association of Trade Unions has called a Gujarat bandh on Monday to protest against the state government's attitude towards natural calamities.

The decision taken at the meeting of Association of Trade Unions held recently, where the unions criticised the state government for the inadequate relief provided to those affected by drought, water scarcity and the earthquake.

They have called upon the unions to join the bandh.
News Source - The times of India

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Sales tax reforms needed: FICCI chief Monday, April 16, 2001

VADODARA: There is an urgent need to bring about sale-tax reforms at the state level to safeguard the interest of the domestic industries and businessmen in the wake of liberalisation under the WTO pact.

This was the opinion expressed by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) president and chairman of Alembic laboratories, Chirayu R Amin, while speaking at the installation of newly elected team of office-bearers of the Federation of Gujarat Industries.

"The level of reforms were inadequate, as far as our kind of closed economy is concerned, and it would be difficult for us to cope with the global market once complete liberalisation takes place under the WTO guidelines," Amin said.

He opined with barely two years remaining now, when all norms of WTO has to be complied with by 2003, the tax structures, tariff rates and labour policies appear unfavourable for the Indian market, as far as international competition was concerned.

The FICCI chief said despite the fact that the awareness is there at the centre, bottles-necks still continue to pose hurdles on the path of reform implementation.

He said it was quite 'frustrating' at times to note no reforms were coming up at the state level. He said when the countdown has began, to talk about trade on global terms, states were embarking on plans to go back to levying taxes like octroi to enhance revenue earnings. "The approach should be to downsize the state expenditures to save the earned revenue," he said.

Commenting on the role of the industries and business associations at the state level, Amin said it is now the duty of such bodies to lobby for reforms with the state governments to get the economy prepared for the 2003 deadline.

At the national level the federation was organising regular forums with Parliamentarians to moot reform ideas. But evolving of ideas was not enough as the ideas require to be implemented at the state level, a task which needs to be pushed forward by the state business houses and industrialists, the FICCI chief said.

Expressing the mood of the domestic market, Amin said the business houses in the country are under tremendous stress in view of the 2003 deadline, especially after more than 700 remaining items of import were taken off the list of quantitative restrictions.

On the issue of allowing Chinese goods into India, Amin said Indian competitors are afraid only because of an absence of a level-playing field. For this, he said, set-ups such as 'inspector raj' need to be done away with. Interest rates need to be lowered, power tariffs, sale tax structures, labour policies, value-added taxes, labour laws, all need to be reshaped and re-framed with reference to the WTO deadline.

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Nanak Wadi Gurudwara coming up in Vadodara Monday, April 16, 2001

VADODARA: The Nanak Wadi Gurudwara, that is currently being constructed in the heart of the congested city area near Khanderao market, is historic in importance in addition to being considered sacred by the Sikh community of Vadodara.

For them the newly constructed gurudwara is a labour of love and devotion, a place which was blessed by Guru Nanak himself when he came to Vadodara in the year 1514.

The entire four-year process of construction of this historic gurudwara has been accomplished with help of voluntary labour offered by Sikh community members be they doctors, engineers, lawyers, factory owners, entrepreneurs or construction workers.

"All gurudwara are constructed in a similar fashion. Everybody contributes construction materials and even offers labour," says Sahib Singh Modi of the Nanak Wadi Sikh Sabha (NSS).

Out of the total labour used so far, 90 per cent came voluntarily from ordinary people. This is keeping with our religious teachings, which stress on equality. Only ten percent of the labour comprised skilled artisans, who were called from Punjab.

The historic importance of the gurudwara comes from the fact that when Guru Nanak came to Vadodara he stayed with Srichand Udasi Sant who lived in the ancient Shiva temple that still stands next to the Nanak Wadi Gurudwara. The gurudwara came into existence much later in the 1920s after it was sanctioned by the then Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad, says Mahendra Singhji secretary of the NSS.

"This is the place where Guru Nanak stayed when he came to Vadodara in 1514. At that time there was nothing here except the Shiva temple. This temple still stands next to the gurudwara. It was in the early 1900s that many Sikhs came to the then Baroda State to work for the railways that was introduce by the Maharaja. When they came across the Granth Sahib which was brought here, they explained to the Maharaja its importance. The Maharaja sanctioned a land. That's how the first gurudwara of Vadodara came into existence," says Modi.

The architecture of the Nanak Wadi Gurudwara is similar to those in all traditional gurudwara found in Punjab. Sant Baba Lakha Singji who has helped construct gurudwara in Bharuch, Lakhtar (Kutch), Ahmedabad, Kota and Hanuman Gash in Rajasthan has helped here too, he informs.

Under Lakha Singh's guidance, architect Avneet Puri has helped in making the designs of the gurudwara.

Puri says the biggest challenge in designing the gurudwara was the space constraints here.

"There were shops on the opposite side of the Khanderao market and a few tenants in the area. Through peaceful means we were able to get their co-operation and that is how the new gurudwara came into existence" he says.

"Normally all historical gurudwara have gold platting. This project is in its first phase and all funds are being used to complete construction. But in the second phase we hope to get more funds to have the dome platted in gold," he says.

According to Modi, in future a dispensary for the poor and a library too would be constructed.

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