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April 10, 2001 - April 11, 2001

VMC yet to begin computer courses at its schools Wednesday, April 11, 2001

VADODARA: Lack of infrastructure and trained staff has made the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) schools' bid to turn their students computer-savvy a distant dream.

Nearly one year has passed since the state government gave VMC 400 computers worth Rs 1.37 crore to be distributed in 131 schools run by it. Each school has been provided four PCs along with Multimedia kit and a desk jet printer. There was also a proposal to provide computer education by October 25 last year.

"Though it had been clearly mentioned that the state government would provide the computers and the VMC would provide the furniture and do the wiring needed to install a computer, the VMC failed to do the same even during my tenure," said former VMC schools chairman Kishen Sheth.

Moreover, even the course content is not clear. Though the state government has assigned the task to teach computers to the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET), it's yet to decide on the course. "We have been asked to train teachers of VMC-run schools in computers during the vacations, but we have not yet received the course content," said a teacher at DIET on condition of anonymity.

Even the VMC school staff finds themselves in a helpless situation. "We have the computers and we plan to start computer education from this academic year, provided they wire all the schools and give us 400 tables as promised," said VMC schools administrative officer Jitendra Joshi.

Congress leaders in the VMC allege that there has not been any development in VMC schools in the last few years and the standard of education has been badly affected.

"Students of standard V of VMC schools can't read or write in Gujarati, their mother tongue. I bet they won't be able to write simple words in Gujarati, leave alone the very idea of making them computer-savvy," said Congress leader Chandrakant Srivastav. "Moreover, a one needs to appoint a special computer teacher in each VMC ward, if not in each school to ensure that the students get proper computer education. The present set of teachers is not really competent enough to teach computers," added Srivastav.

The Congress alleged that the government was trying to lure the students with mid-day meal schemes, uniforms, computers and free education to these schools. According to them, even this has not attracted the students and the strength of students in these schools has reduced tremendously.

"The administration is to be blamed for the poor state of affairs in VMC Schools. The teachers are asked to go for Census-counting, prepare the voters list and take out rallies, when their duty is to ensure that they teach the students and complete the course on time," said Congress leader Gita Desai.

The Opposition leaders allege that the claim that the VMC School teachers would be trained in computers during this vacation is a farce. "Most schools don't have basic amenities like electric wiring, a switchboard or furniture leave alone a dust-free air-conditioned room. For the past one year VMC has been making tall claims of providing the equipment required starting computers in these schools. Till date they have done nothing in this regard," said Congress leader Chirag Zaveri.

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Govt mulls new act for building maintenance Tuesday, April 10, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: In view of poor maintenance of flats and high-rise buildings, the state government is considering a proposal to enact a new law for proper maintenance of buildings in big cities such as Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar.

Senior officials of the Urban Development Department have started exploring the feasibility for the proposed act on the lines of one already implemented by the Maharashtra government, reliable sources in the department have hinted.

In absence of any rules and regulations regarding maintenance of housing colonies, flats and high-rise buildings, the state and other government agencies were finding it difficult to take action against the occupants.

The government might make provisions for imposing fine on defaulters for violating regulations pertaining to maintenance of buildings in municipal corporation and urban development authority limits.

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VMC to issue tax-free municipal bonds Tuesday, April 10, 2001

VADODARA: The Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) will soon issue tax-free municipal bonds in order to achieve the development plans in the 'Budget 2001-2002' and also gather money for its plan to draw water from the Narmada Dam on a regular basis.

According to reliable sources in VMC, municipal commissioner Vilasani Ramchandran has placed a proposal before the standing committee to release tax-free municipal bonds. In her letter, Ramchandran has said that the Centre has released Rs 200 crore bonds for this year. The purchase of bonds is on first-come-first-serve basis. So the commissioner has insisted the members of elected wing to pass the proposal at the earliest.

"Any municipal corporation in India can take 33.50 per cent of its project income or Rs 50 crore, whichever is less and release tax-free municipal bonds and collect money from the market," sources in VMC said.

The Central government has inserted a new clause in the 'Income Tax Act 1961', whereby interest income from bonds issued by local authorities are exempted from income-tax.

According to a Central government notification, the eligible issuers of tax-free municipal bonds are local self-governments, public sector companies or local authorities duly constituted under an Act of Parliament or state legislature. Further, the funds raised shall be used only for capital investments in urban infrastructure for providing one or more potable water supply, sewage or sanitation, drainage, solid waste management, construction of roads, bridges and fly-overs and urban transport.

"It will take some time for the VMC to release its tax-free municipal bonds for its development works. First, it has to be approved by the members of the elected wing of the VMC and then corporation needs to seek permission from the Central government through the state government," said a highly placed VMC official.

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Heat wave sweeps Saurashtra Tuesday, April 10, 2001

RAJKOT: A severe heat wave is presently sweeping Saurashtra region with the mercury touching 41 degree Celsius on Monday while Amreli recorded the highest temperature of 42 degree.

The heat wave, accompanied by strong winds, forced people to stay indoors. Most city roads wore a deserted look. Even the highway traffic was affected. However students taking their SSC and HSC exams found no respite as they had to commute in the severe heat.

A reporter from Anjar said two students writing their exams under the tin tents took ill on account of the heat. Doctors were rushed to help these students.

Roadside water vendors, ice-cream and watermelon sellers however, did brisk business.

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Experts' reports trickle in on quake buildings Tuesday, April 10, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The forensic reports are in place, the reports from experts in Hyderabad have started trickling in, lapses on the part of civic officials have been established, yet the police is in a quandary over filing chargesheets against the accused.

Two months after the January 26 quake, and the gusto with which the Ahmedabad police took up the investigations into the collapsed buildings has sagged. There is a lull after the arrest of Nandlal Agrawal, the brother of Chiman Aggrawal in the Shikhar building case late last month.

There were promises and promises of booking civic officials, but after 74 arrests of builders accused of culpable homicide in 44 of the 60 cases, the police is now loaded with excuses against taking action on them. "They are languishing in jail awaiting trial and that should be punishment enough for people who have been used to plush AC offices", comes the remark from an official.

Interestingly, the National Council for Cement and Building Material (NCCBM), it was learnt, has sent the reports of the investigations on Shikhar, Mansi and few other buildings whose collapse caused the maximum casualties "but it is all so technical that we need someone to interpret them", confesses a senior police official. So till the experts come in, nothing much can be done.

Police commissioner PC Pande says that only in 10 per cent of the cases, arrests of builders are pending while in cases pertaining to wall collapses and old structures have been shelved for the time being.

The police claims to have tried everything - detain relatives to put pressure on the builders' families, keep tabs on them - but nothing worked, they add.

"The builders saw that all the bail applications of the builders have been rejected, so they are being elusive", says a senior official. But Pande is optimistic, "the investigations are coming to a close", he says tacitly.

Moreover, "In buildings that are very old, one cannot hold the builders solely responsible", says Pande citing maintenance problems as being the other likely reason for their collapse.

Thus, is the case of the Amraiwadi municipal school where 22 children perished, but there was no official complaint. "We cannot be gunning for people like that, so we took up cases where buildings built recently, had collapsed and there was an element of negligence", explains Joint commissioner of police (sector II) MK Tandon.

This apart, there is now a debate in the police circles about when to chargesheet the accused. "We are debating on whether to stick to the deadline of 60 or 90 days for filing the chargesheets, because we want to be doubly sure of facts to be on the safe side", says a top official from the city commissionerate.

Preliminary investigations by the Forensic Science Laboratory, proved that the standard norms had been heavily compromised upon. They also proved, in cases like Mansi, that buildings had collapsed due to overload which were enough to turn down the bail pleas of the builders.

Officials admit that most of the investigation was under pressure of public wrath let loose on politicians. Ironically in these cases which have no precedent yet, the evidence had to be collected from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority, whose officials also figure in the list of the accused, which obviously made it difficult to nail them.

Incidentally, none of them have been identified and the blame generally rests on the town planning officials of both bodies. "If we start booking AMC and AUDA officials, it will have an adverse impact on the investigations and their functioning as well", a senior police official points out.

What remains to be seen is whether the likes of Satish Nyalchand Shah will actually be proven guilty of homicide of 98 innocent persons.

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