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April 4, 2001 - April 5, 2001

Security tightened in Surat for Muharram Thursday, April 5, 2001

SURAT: With Muharram just two days away, police have tightened bandobast in the city, to ensure that nothing untoward happens. Several anti-social elements have been rounded up by the police as a preventive measure.

Security has been tightened in sensitive areas and places of worship. City police commissioner Vineet Kumar Gupta said additional police force has been requisitioned from outside. This would comprise four companies of SRP and RAF. In all, 467 sensitive points have been identified in the city and extra forces deployed there. Gupta said a stern watch would be kept on possible trouble-makers. A flag march was also held in the sensitive areas of the city on Tuesday.

To ensure that tazia processions move without any hitch, there will be round-the-clock patrolling by 150 police vehicles fitted with wireless sets and 215 police officials with walkie-talkies. Binoculars will also be used by the police personnel to keep a watch on the processions. Four hundred and sixty tazias are to be taken out in the city.

Vehicles on the procession route will be banned and carrying of arms has been prohibited with immediate effect. Several videographers have been requisitioned to move along with the police patrolling teams in the city to help identify mischief makers in case of any trouble.

Apart from the additional commissioners of police, five deputy commissioners, 55 inspectors and 141 sub-inspectors from the city police, two deputy commissioners and 25 inspectors from outside have been assigned to keep a strict watch, Gupta stated.

Women constables in civil dress alongwith judo-karate experts from SRP and RAF would keep an eye on eve-teasers on the occasion, the commissioner said.

Senior police officials on Tuesday held a series of meetings with members of the peace committee and tazia procession organising committee to discuss all related matters, Gupta said.

In other parts of the district too, the rural police have made extensive police bandobast in the wake of the Muharram. Vyara, Bardoli, Kosamba, Kamrej, Ukai and other sensitive areas in the district have been put under maximum security.

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Clinton arrives 'to look, listen, learn' amid chaos Thursday, April 5, 2001

ANJAR, Gujarat: Hours before former US President Bill Clinton arrived on Wednesday in this earthquake-smashed town, workers stood waist-deep in sewage, trying to clear a blocked open drain, while others used rubble to cover ponds of garbage. A plaque Clinton was to unveil, remembering hundreds of children buried by toppled buildings, was removed at the last minute, because authorities did not get permission from the shop owner who owns the land.

Officials promised Hanif Khatri that they would remove the plaque a couple of days after Clinton's visit, but he refused to let it remain even an hour.

The memorial, and Clinton's visit, generated mixed reactions in Anjar, where some people felt it would bring aid, but worried that it would not reach the needy thousands, still living in tents in the city of rubble.

Instead of unveiling the memorial, Clinton held the hands of two of the surviving children and they placed red roses on the empty pedestal. He stood silently, his head bowed, for a moment, then walked toward a crowd of 3,000 people being held back by police.

Shouting, "Clinton, Clinton," the crowd broke through the rope and wooden barricades and rushed toward the former president, while police tried to beat them back with bamboo canes.

Clinton is popular in India since his March 2000 visit - the first by a US president in 22 years - warmed up relations between the world's largest democracies after strains from the Cold War.

"I'll be coming back to India for the rest of my life," Clinton shouted before he was whisked into his limousine, which zoomed off.

His seven-day visit to Gujarat, Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata is sponsored by the American India Foundation, a group of US-based business people of Indian descent, who aim to raise $20 million to rebuild 40 villages.

The chaos in Anjar in anticipation of Clinton's visit was reminiscent of the disjointed official reaction to the 7.7 magnitude earthquake on January 26, when an estimated 30,000 were killed and 1 million made homeless.

"Two months and they haven't even cleared the rubble," said Ranjit Khatri, among hundreds of survivors waiting to see Clinton.

The former president was also running late. His chartered Indian Airlines jet landed an hour behind schedule at the Bhuj airport. Wearing a dark T-shirt and khaki trousers, Clinton waved and bowed as he took off in an armoured blue Cherokee jeep convoy of 27 cars and buses for the village of Ratnal.

There he was greeted by two dozen young women wearing embroidered dresses with pieces of glass sewn into them, and with copper pitches holding coconuts atop their heads. The women tossed rice at Clinton, children threw flower petals, and an old woman placed a dot of red powder and water on his forehead, in a sign of blessing and welcome.

"Today I have come to look, listen, learn, ask questions, see what we can do to help," Clinton said, after walking though an earthquake-proof hut erected by a relief organisation. Around him were wrecked stone houses. "The people of this place have lived through an unimaginable tragedy," Clinton said. "The most important thing is to see whether this can be rebuilt."

In Anjar, the main stop on his Gujarat visit, Clinton was to have walked along the dusty lane where hundreds of parading schoolchildren were killed on Jan. 26, when buildings toppled onto them from both sides of the narrow street. They were participating in a Republic Day parade on the national holiday.

Authorities realised Tuesday morning that the pedestal they had erected for Clinton to unveil the memorial plaque was 10 feet from ponds of sewage that had overflowed from the drain, blocked for the past two months by rubble.

The stench of rotting garbage was everywhere, and some workers tried to cover the smell by putting rocks and dirt in the ponds.

Clinton gave a brief speech, saying, "We will raise funds to help the people of Anjar to face their loss. We have a plan to see if money can be given to people to rebuild their lives. We are interested in seeing results."

N K Desai, chief information officer for the Anjar City Council, explained that no rubble had been cleared in the town because, "the money spent in removing the debris can be better utilised in building new homes once the government announces its decision to shift. Anjar has a major quake once every 50 years. It only makes sense to rebuild this devastated town on safer ground."

"People have forgotten us. It's good he is coming. Maybe now we'll get some help," said Ameerabehn Chavda, who has made a home by stringing up a plastic sheet across two iron girders.

Chamanlal Deusi, a tailor, said Clinton's visit will make no difference. "He'll give money, but who will get it?" Deusi said, saying he had received only Rs 2,000 of the Rs 50,000 the state has promised in rehabilitation money. "I want to know, where has that money gone?"

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Bill Clinton arrives in Gujarat Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Former US President Bill Clinton has arrived in Gujarat. A year after his official visit to India he is now back as an Ambassador for the American India Foundation. His mission is to witness first hand in Bhuj, Anjar and Ahmedabad the devastation after the earthquake two months ago and focus the world's attention to the plight of the people of Gujarat.

Mr Clinton left for Gujarat one hour behind schedule on a specially chartered Indian Airlines A-320, clearly a climb down from the elaborate presidential Air Force One plane. This is a trip he has undertaken as the President of the America India Foundation, an umbrella organization of Indians across the United States.

The foundation was brought together in February by successful and powerful NRIs and Indian Americans after the devastating Gujarat quake and by bringing Mr Clinton on board have managed to secure $50 million in funds and are aiming to double that to rebuild more than 100 villages flattened by the disaster. Rajat Gupta, Vice President America India Foundation elaborates, "The main purpose of this trip is to understand first hand the need to engage the NGOs who we can effectively channel these resources, to mobilize a group in India who can advise on who best to disburse and utilize the funds -- that is the objective of this trip."

First on Mr Clinton's agenda is a walk through Ratnal village in Kutch, he will then lay a memorial stone for more than 200 children who died during the quake in Anjar and then a visit to the makeshift hospital in Bhuj -- the nerve centre for all medical aid in the district.

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Tragic lessons of Gujarat's Quake Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Many lives could have been saved in the Gujarat earthquake if building codes had been enforced and cheap protection measures carried out, Indian scientists say.

A new study concludes that much of the damage to relatively new multi-storey buildings happened because regulations for building in high earthquake-risk areas were ignored.

Building codes must be strictly enforced and existing buildings strengthened to prepare the country for any future quakes, say experts at the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad.

At least 30,000 people were killed when the earthquake struck the Kutch region of Gujarat in western India on the morning of 26 January.

Metre-wide cracks

The research by Harsh Gupta and colleagues, published in the journal Science, reveals that cracks up to a metre (three feet) wide appeared in the ground close to the epicentre of the quake. Buildings not engineered to withstand earthquakes collapsed entirely.

Dr Gopal Madabhushi of the University of Cambridge, UK, says that when he visited the area with a British team after the quake, he drew similar conclusions:

"Indian building codes, even though they are old, do have some earthquake resistance measures.

"But on the ground we found no implementation at all. Even the basic things had not been done correctly," he told BBC News Online.

'Pile of rubble'

Buildings in Bhuj, close to the epicentre, are usually built from local sandstone and covered with a clay mixture called adobe.

Some use regular sandstone blocks, but the cheapest buildings use irregular blocks held together with mortar.

"We found that the regular blocks offered quite good earthquake protection but with the irregular blocks, when the earthquake starts, the mortar cracks and they just turn into a pile of rubble," Dr Madabhushi explained.

Encouraging local builders to use regular blocks would save lives in any future quake, he said.

History of destruction

January's earthquake in Gujarat was unusual in that it took place in the middle of a tectonic plate.

Earthquakes usually happen at the edges of tectonic plates when tension caused by them rubbing together is released.

But the Bhuj earthquake was by no means the first in the region.

The Hyderabad team detail a series of serious quakes in the area in centuries past:

  • In 1668, all 30,000 houses in the town of Samaji on the Indus delta reportedly sank into the ground.
  • In 1819, 2,000 people were killed in Ahmedabad and Kutch and a 90 km (56 mile) long scarp up to nine metres (30 feet) high was formed.
  • In 1956, 115 people were killed in a magnitude seven quake in

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For Ramesh Parikh, ambition was the spice of life Wednesday, April 4, 2001

It has almost been a rags-to-riches story for Ramesh Parikh, chairman of the Madhavpura Mercantile Co-operative Bank Ltd (MMCB) who has been running rings around the authorities lately.

From a kirana merchant-cum-commission agent in turmeric to owner of a spice factory to a banker to chairman of a group of companies, Parikh’s career graph shows a phenomenal rise.

Hailing from Bhavnagar, Parikh started business from his relative’s spice firms, Thakarshi Chunilal and Thakarshi Babulal, in Madhupura Market in the mid ‘60s.

An ambitious Commerce graduate, Parikh was not content with being a kirana merchant-cum-commission agent though he stuck with this for about a decade. Soon he set up Gujarat Spices in Naroda area on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

He had to stick to the spice business as his experiments with gutkha manufacture failed. His gutkha product could not compete with the established brands and the project had to be abandoned.

But that didn’t prove a deterrent. Over time, he earned considerable clout in the Spice Merchants’ Association ‘and by 1970, he became instrumental in the setting up of a co-operative bank named Madhavpura Mercantile Co-operative Bank Ltd (MMCB), a bank for and of spice and grocery merchants. Parikh as founder director of MMCB was made its managing director with veteran spice merchant Babubhai Manilal Gandhi founder chairman. Devendra Pandya, who is now the chief executive officer of this bank, was then its general manager.

After Babubhai Gandhi’s death in 1989, Parikh took charge of the bank as its chairman, the post he has been holding till date. When he became chairman, he did not forget his Old Faithful Devendra Pandya whom he made chief executive officer. According to a member of thenMMCB’s credit committee, consultations with other directors in the bank are a rarity to this date as most of decisions are taken by the Parikh-Pandya duo.

Within a short time of assuming charge as chairman of MMCB, Parikh became president of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce & Industry in the early 1990s. This added to his goodwill in the market and established him further as captain of trade and industry. Setting his sights higher, he launched a public limited company Madhur Food Products Ltd and brought out a public issue.

This was followed by launch of Madhur Securities as his interest in the capital market grew with time and his speculative nature only fuelled his ambitions. His son Vinit helped him fulfil those ambitions.

Parikh used to stay at a posh bungalow located, at Stadium Circle which later turned became his corporate office. He shifted residence to Satellite area from where he ultimately moved to Bopal. He also set up a supermarket in the basement of his corporate office. Named Madhur Super Market, this supermarket had to be closed down later. Today, the MMCB has 27 branches and more branches were in the pipeline at Bhuj and Jamnagar but now a pall of uncertainty looms over its future amid reports of possible liquidation. Parikh, meanwhile, is absconding.

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