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April 9, 2001 - April 10, 2001

NIIT ties up with Swinburne Tuesday, April 10, 2001

AHMEDABAD: NIIT, Ahmedabad has signed a memorandum of understanding with Swinburne University of Technology, Australia.

The agreement allows an NIIT, Ahmedabad student with a bachelor's degree in any discipline and a DNIIT certificate to complete Swinburne's masters in information technology programme in just one year instead of two.

A standard XII student on the other hand can complete the bachelors in information technology degree in one-and-a-half years.

The MoU was signed between NIIT - Ahmedabad Jay Singhani and the school administration manager of the School of Information Technology at Swinburne Bruce Tudball. Planet Educational Consultants, a company that specialises in sending students to Australia was also part of the MoU.

Speaking to reporters after signing the MoU, Tudball told reporters that they decided to take a look at NIIT, Ahmedabad as many of their students who came to the University, had already received some of the basics that were being taught. "Our survey and analysis showed that there were many common things in each others curriculum, apart from a few extra points that NIIT covered," he said. "That led us to signing the MoU."

Singhania said that he expected to send about 100 students to the Melbourne-based University next year. "In fact I have already one student who will be coming to the University soon," Tudball added. Costing about US $ 7,000 a year, the basic criteria is that a student should have at least 70 per cent marks as a DNIIT student.

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Road encroachments causing Pathargate inconvenience Tuesday, April 10, 2001

VADODARA: Located in the heart of the city, Pathargate's woes originate from the main road that runs across the area. It's one of the busiest roads with city buses, four-wheelers and two-wheelers cramping it day in and out.

Shopkeepers, hawkers and rickshaw drivers encroach upon the footpath, spilling over onto the road.

'Bhajiya', 'chai', fruit and other stall owners, who have encroached upon roads and footpath at Pathargate do good business and they have refused requests from the Vadodara Municipal Corporation's (VMC) encroachment department to vacate the area. It is alleged that shopkeepers and rickshaw drivers who encroach upon the area bribe authorities or use political influence to ensure that their business runs smoothly.

And along with the problem of encroachment is traffic congestion and chaos. Compared to the flow of vehicle in the area, the roads are narrow. "There is heavy traffic throughout the day. During peak hours it's difficult for a person to even cross roads," complains a resident Ravilal Parikh.

"Those coming to Nyay Mandir often park their vehicles in the area, if they are not able to find a parking space," said Satish Shah, another resident.

Not only this, hawkers and rickshaw drivers take up half of the space on these roads. Despite a footpath there no space for people to walk on. "Even shopkeepers are a nuisance for residents and commuters. Most of them have encroached upon the footpath and roads near their shops. Some shopkeepers purposefully lay their wares on footpaths to attract customers," says a resident on condition of anonymity.

It's difficult for a person to even walk on the overcrowded footpath. "Complaints to the traffic policemen and the VMC encroachment department have not yielded any results," says a shopkeeper.

Besides this, air and noise pollution and accidents also plague the area. Some roads in the area have not been repaired since long. "Accidents have become almost a regular occurrence here. Though we have tried to draw attention of the authorities, no one has cared to look into our request," says a resident Manish Vyas.

He says accidents have increased despite presence of traffic policemen. "Unfortunately the traffic policemen in the area are not strict, and, so, those who break law and drive recklessly go scot-free," he adds.

People complain that traffic policemen have also failed to take any action against rickshaw drivers who encroach on the road and footpath. Nor do they punish those who don't follow traffic rules. "Accidents are frequent, but as people don't want to get into trouble with the police, they make up and part ways," say residents.

"Due to constant flow of traffic, there is noise and air pollution. One can't stand in the open for long. Summers are really bad here. Add to congestion and pollution, the scorching heat which is unbearable," says Mahesh Dwivedi.

Besides, like the rest of the city, the residents here also complain of water crisis. In some areas, the residents don't get water regularly from the VMC water pipeline. "Scarcity of water is and has always been a major problem in the area. Residents of some area get water regularly while others don't," complain residents.

"Pathargate has seen lot of changes in the last few years. From a completely calm and serene residential area to an area adorned with shops, constant flow of vehicles and noise population, Pathargate in the present scenario is one of the worst residential areas," says a resident on condition of anonymity.

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Quake victims threaten to intensify protests Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Gandhinagar, Apr 9 - The residents of Gujarat's quake-ravaged areas, angered by the state government's perceived failure to implement rehabilitation and resettlement packages, are threatening to intensify protests against the authorities.

The residents of Anjar, which was among the towns in the Kutch district most affected by the January 26 quake, launched a 270-km-long arduous "people's march" and have threatened to stage a "sit-in" in the state capital to pressure the government to speed up rehabilitation programs.

Some 25,000 people were killed in the temblor, which left tens of thousands injured or homeless.

Mavjibhai Sorathia, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) councilor of Anjar municipality, said the protest marchers, after reaching Gandhinagar, would wait for some positive response from the state government. "Otherwise, we will march to Delhi to ventilate our grievances to the (Prime Minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and the National Human Rights Commission."

The 1,000-odd marchers, including quake victims from several quake-affected towns and villages of the Kutch district, began their trek last Friday from Surajbari, on the border of Kutch-Surendranagar districts. They have been covering 15 to 20 km everyday and are expected to reach the state capital later this week.

Sorathia was part of a five-member delegation representing the marchers that reached the state capital Saturday. The delegation told reporters that the government had promised to construct 800,000 houses for quake-affected families by June 15 but even basic shelters had not been provided to the people more than two months after the quake.

The delegation, which arrived in Gandhinagar ahead of the other marchers to hand over a memorandum to Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, were disappointed when the chief minister did not keep an appointment to meet them as he was out of the state capital.

The marchers want the Patel government to publish a "white paper" on funds and material received from different national and international agencies and how the government had utilized these. "What is claimed to be done for the rehabilitation of the quake-hit people has remained only on paper and nothing has been translated into physical implementation," Sorathia said.

Refuting the state government's contention that residents of Anjar were reluctant to shift to a new town proposed to be set up by the administration, he said: "We have already agreed in principle to shift to a new site." He, however, said people wanted the government to set up a team of experts to take a highly objective decision on a new site for the town.

Gujarat Minister for Roads and Building Nitin Patel told reporters the government had decided to remove five million tons of debris from Anjar, Bhachau, Bhuj and Rapar towns by June 15 to facilitate the rehabilitation of quake-hit people.

Patel claimed the road and building department had already removed nearly 900,000 tons of debris from the main streets of these towns and contracts would be given to private parties to undertake the remaining work on a war footing. The removal of debris alone would cost more than Rs.200 million to the state exchequer, and this would be part of the complete rehabilitation package.

"But funds are not going to be any constraint for us," Patel said. Survey teams deployed by the government had already completed the work of assessing damage to more than 500,000 residential buildings and other structures. The government will announce new packages for the rehabilitation and resettlement of Anjar, Bhachau, Bhuj and Rapar within the next 10 days, he stated.

According to a note submitted to the state cabinet last week, the government has purchased 14,133 tents and 89,950 tarpaulin sheets, costing more than Rs.200 million, for distribution among the quake victims. The delegation from Anjar, however, denied the distribution of such material among the people.

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Quake victims threaten to intensify protests Monday, April 9, 2001

Gandhinagar, Apr 9 - The residents of Gujarat's quake-ravaged areas, angered by the state government's perceived failure to implement rehabilitation and resettlement packages, are threatening to intensify protests against the authorities.

The residents of Anjar, which was among the towns in the Kutch district most affected by the January 26 quake, launched a 270-km-long arduous "people's march" and have threatened to stage a "sit-in" in the state capital to pressure the government to speed up rehabilitation programs.

Some 25,000 people were killed in the temblor, which left tens of thousands injured or homeless.

Mavjibhai Sorathia, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) councilor of Anjar municipality, said the protest marchers, after reaching Gandhinagar, would wait for some positive response from the state government. "Otherwise, we will march to Delhi to ventilate our grievances to the (Prime Minister) Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and the National Human Rights Commission."

The 1,000-odd marchers, including quake victims from several quake-affected towns and villages of the Kutch district, began their trek last Friday from Surajbari, on the border of Kutch-Surendranagar districts. They have been covering 15 to 20 km everyday and are expected to reach the state capital later this week.

Sorathia was part of a five-member delegation representing the marchers that reached the state capital Saturday. The delegation told reporters that the government had promised to construct 800,000 houses for quake-affected families by June 15 but even basic shelters had not been provided to the people more than two months after the quake.

The delegation, which arrived in Gandhinagar ahead of the other marchers to hand over a memorandum to Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, were disappointed when the chief minister did not keep an appointment to meet them as he was out of the state capital.

The marchers want the Patel government to publish a "white paper" on funds and material received from different national and international agencies and how the government had utilized these. "What is claimed to be done for the rehabilitation of the quake-hit people has remained only on paper and nothing has been translated into physical implementation," Sorathia said.

Refuting the state government's contention that residents of Anjar were reluctant to shift to a new town proposed to be set up by the administration, he said: "We have already agreed in principle to shift to a new site." He, however, said people wanted the government to set up a team of experts to take a highly objective decision on a new site for the town.

Gujarat Minister for Roads and Building Nitin Patel told reporters the government had decided to remove five million tons of debris from Anjar, Bhachau, Bhuj and Rapar towns by June 15 to facilitate the rehabilitation of quake-hit people.

Patel claimed the road and building department had already removed nearly 900,000 tons of debris from the main streets of these towns and contracts would be given to private parties to undertake the remaining work on a war footing. The removal of debris alone would cost more than Rs.200 million to the state exchequer, and this would be part of the complete rehabilitation package.

"But funds are not going to be any constraint for us," Patel said. Survey teams deployed by the government had already completed the work of assessing damage to more than 500,000 residential buildings and other structures. The government will announce new packages for the rehabilitation and resettlement of Anjar, Bhachau, Bhuj and Rapar within the next 10 days, he stated.

According to a note submitted to the state cabinet last week, the government has purchased 14,133 tents and 89,950 tarpaulin sheets, costing more than Rs.200 million, for distribution among the quake victims. The delegation from Anjar, however, denied the distribution of such material among the people.

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Clinton visit spotlights anger of Indian quake victims Monday, April 9, 2001

BHUJ, April 8- The visit by former US president Bill Clinton to India's quake-devastated Gujarat state last week spotlighted the problems still faced by victims more than two months after the catastrophe.

With national and international attention having waned, the survivors of the January 26 quake complain of delays in disbursing financial aid promised for building permanent houses, scarcity of drinking water, a lack of electricity and poor sanitation.

"We were promised quick aid by every one of the politicians who had come," said Jitender (Eds: one name), who once owned "the biggest grocery store" in Anjar township, one of the areas worst affected by the quake.

"But even now, we are still waiting for them to fulfill their promises," he said.

The quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale killed an estimated 25,000 people and left more than 1.25 million homeless.

A visit to Bachau, Anjar and Ratnal -- some of the areas worst affected by the disaster -- reveals piles of debris still strewn over what were once bustling townships.

"We are still living in squalor and dirt. The debris still hasn't been removed and we don't have any permanent place to stay," said Ishwar Nathani, a government school teacher.

According to Rajendra Sarvaiya, a senior district official in Anjar town, the focus has been on emergency relief rather than the clearance of rubble.

"We will be issuing tender notices in a day or two, calling private contractors to remove the debris," Sarvaiya said.

Birendra Shekhawat, a contractor from neighbouring Rajasthan state, said the clear-up would take another five or six months.

Many quake victims are suspicious as to the whereabouts of all the money and relief materials that poured into Gujarat in the weeks immediately following the quake.

"What has happened to all the money that the governments from abroad sent for rehabilitation?" asked an angry Bahgubhai Patel, a truck driver from the township of Ratnal.

"As no one even comes here, we cannot ask them. Ask the local authorities, they say they have no clue. All the money is with the government," he complained.

People are also sore about the way they say relief material has been distributed.

"The majority of the people were given aid. But we have to admit some of this was distributed along caste lines," N.K. Desai, the chief officer of Anjar municipality, told AFP.

A few shops, housed in wooden sheds and selling groceries, clothes, vegetables and food, have sprung up along the main road that runs through Anjar.

"I found some of the money we had kept in the house for emergency purposes and opened this shop," said grocer Mansabhen Shah.

"But business is extremely slow as most of the men here are unemployed," she said.

The only business that seems to be flourishing is the collection of scrap metal.

Men, women and children armed with hammers daily break through piles of concrete to gather the scrap -- one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of which would earn them five rupees (about 10 US cents).

"This is the only thing which gets us some money in the evening," said Ramesh Rama, a 16-year-old high school student.

According to Bahgubhai Patel, what is most urgently required now is employment opportunities.

"Most people lost everything they owned in the quake. We do not want handouts but some way to earn some money to build our lives back," he said.

"Gujaratis are a very self respecting lot," said Satya Ahuja, a US-based Indian doctor who visited several affected towns in the state with Clinton.

"By giving them handouts, we are taking away their dignity. What they need is an opportunity to restart their lives," Ahuja said.

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