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April 2, 2001 - April 2, 2001

Sabeer Bhatia, Deepak Chopra to accompany Bill Clinton Monday, April 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Security personnel in charge of the safety of former United States President Bill Clinton were in the city on Friday to ensure that there are no security lapses during Clinton's stay in the city on April 4 and 5.
According to sources, Clinton is scheduled to visit the Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati and the Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar during his stay in the city.

Clinton, along with a delegation of the American India Foundation, will arrive at Ahmedabad airport at noon on April 4 in a special Indian Air Force plane from Mumbai, officials here stated. However, until Friday evening, there was no confirmation on whether the former US president will visit earthquake-affected persons in Ahmedabad.

"Officials in charge of Bill Clinton's security were in the city on Thursday," confirmed a top police officer, who added that an inspection of the routes that he is likely to take was also done. Security personnel in charge of the former president's visit have still not provided a complete itinerary of his visits in the city to the authorities here.

Raju Bhatt, Gujarat convener of the American India Foundation, said Clinton will head straight for the Taj Ummed Residency, where the State Government will host a lunch for the guest. "He will meet the Chief Minister, Cabinet ministers and other dignitaries at the hotel during lunch," Bhatt said.

The official also added that Clinton will meet representatives of various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) during supper at the hotel, primarily those who have been involved in relief and rehabilitation of quake victims. Bhatt further added that the delegation will leave for Kutch in an Indian Air Force plane around 10 am the next day.

A delegation from the American India Foundation (AIF) will also accompany Clinton on his visit to the State. Prominent among those who will be part of the delegation are Sabeer Bhatia, Anil Bhandari, P C Chatterjee, Vikram Chatwal, Deepak Chopra, Mike Patel, Gururaj Deshpande, Bhimsen Rao and others. Prominent Indo Americans have come together to provide technical and financial assistance for the earthquake-hit areas of the state. Vipul Shukla of the AIF said on Friday that in the long run, the foundation will replicate the Gujarat initiatives in other parts of the country as well with the assistance of NGOs.

A prominent part of the AIF is the Asia American Hotel Owners' Association (AAHOA), which has contributed around $5 million towards relief and rehabilitation so far. The AAHOA plans to rebuild a number of villages in quake-affected areas.

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In Behrampura, every family has a TB patient Monday, April 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: It's fashionable to talk about AIDS prevention, sport red ribbons and organise charity events. But in all this fuss, another disease tuberculosis has been all but forgotten. Except by residents of Behrampura and Jamalpur areas of Ahmedabad who have lost many loved ones to the disease. Or by 45-year-old Roshanbhai Ahmedbhai who gasps for air after just a few steps. Suffering from tuberculosis for over a year now, this resident of Behrampura is waiting quietly for death.
The figures are even scarier than Roshanbhai's plight. Every single family of this area has lost at least one member to TB. Every single household in these areas has at least one member suffering from tuberculosis. While one may be the minimum number, it can go as high as five to six! This stark reality was confirmed by even standing committee chairman of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation Badruddin Shaikh a few weeks back.

The percentage of TB patients in Gujarat is the maximum in Ahmedabad with 7,000 patients. Of this, almost 450 are from the South Zone, that is Behrampura and Jamalpur, says District TB officer Dr Jeetendra Adhia. "These are the official numbers that we have. There may be a huge number of patients who have TB whom we don't know of," adds Adhia. Roshanbhai of Behrampura lost his daughters from TB and is a patient himself. "A lot of people have been dying of TB in our areas for the past many years and almost every household has lost loved ones to this disease,'' says Roshanbhai.

He blames the AMC-run TB hospital in the area for "spreading germs all around". Another resident of the area agrees. ``I have lost my in-laws, brother-in-law and husband to TB over the years. Earlier, during Ashok Bhatt's regime, he had promised to shift the hospital to the suburbs as it was spreading a lot of germs. But that has not happened," says Bhanabi, a social worker living in Behrampura.

District TB officer Dr Jeetendra Adhia says that this is a misconception. "Having a TB hospital in the vicinity does not spread TB as much as is found in these areas. The actual reasons are ignorance and apathy at all levels. The people are not educated, there is a lot of pollution and congestion and the people are very poor," says Adhia.

Moreover, with a number of textile mills around the area, some people were already suffering from bysionossis, a killer disease that spreads because of the cotton flying around. "After the mills closed, unemployed workers began drinking and this caused the TB to worsen," explains Adhia.

Social worker Usmangani A Pipadwala of Chhipa welfare General hospital has been crusading against TB since 1971. He says the areas are highly congested and almost 10-12 people live in a tiny space. "The germs spread easily due to this. Moreover, they are illiterate and very poor,'' says Pipadwala, though he feeels that the TB hospital in the area may have a role to play in the spread of the disease. Presently, AMC is distributing free medicines under its New Revised Programme, funding for which comes from the World Bank.

"There is no awareness generated for TB while for other diseases, there's much hue and cry. Even the attitude of the administration is such that the staff is sent to a TB hospital as a sort of punishment," says Adhia.

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Registrar for action against Classic bank Monday, April 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Co-operatives' district registrar has recommended to the State Registrar of Co-operatives to take action against the crisis-ridden Classic Co-operative Bank Ltd (CCBL), whose dirty dealings with bullion trader Naresh K Chowksi has landed several nationalised banks in a soup.
After the financial crunch, the district registrar initiated a probe on instruction from the State Registrar of Co-operatives. After finding prima facie involvement of the CCBL management in the episode, the State Registrar has been recommeded to take action against the bank's management. The State Registrar is soon likely to take action in the matter. Sources reveal that the board of directors may be superceded shortly.

Meanwhile, Visnagar Nagrik Sahakari Bank, whose image was tarnished in the CCBL case, has issued a notice to the latter to discontinue as its clearing agent and has asked to make some alternative arrangement.

It may be noted that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which is investigating into the case, has questioned CCBL on its decision to issue pay orders without checking the cash in the client's account. The matter came to the knowledge of the RBI officials on March 15, when the cheques issued by Chowksi bounced as they showed an adverse balance in the name of the drawer.

Interestingly, these pay orders were issued `across the shelf' to Chowksi against cheques drawn on three major nationalised banks. Chowksi had drawn Rs 41 crore on the State Bank of India (Service branch), Rs 7 crore on the Punjab National Bank (Maskati market branch) and Rs 5 crore on the Bank of India (Bhadra branch), during March 12-14. The pay orders were in turn presented for purchase of gold from the State Bank of India.

Such was the goodwill commanded by Chowksi that the authorities of Classic Co-operative did not find it necessary to even check his financial standing while issuing pay orders of such a high amount. On sending the cheques for clearance it was revealed that they are not in a position to be encashed. Even the nationalised banks do not provide advances of such a high amount without checking the authenticity of the party.

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HSD scam -- two HPCL officials held Monday, April 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Stepping up its investigation into the multi-crore high-speed diesel (HSD) scam after a brief lull, the Central Bureau of Investigation, Gandhinagar, has arrested five persons, including two officials of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL) and one of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL).
Since the investigation began last April, this is the first time the investigating agency has arrested HPCL officials. Most of those arrested so far are officials of the IOCL, besides traders and middlemen.

Those arrested include H M Dhapodkar, executive sales officer (retail), HPCL, Rajkot; B R Desai, marketing manager (direct sales) HPCL, Surat; and Vivek Gupta, deputy manager (sales), IOCL, Indore. The other two are businessmen. It may noted that the CBI has been investigating into the HSD scam for almost an year. However, it was only after a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed with the Gujarat High Court that the investigation picked up speed. The PIL had alleged that though the CBI had filed a case against several persons, the investigation was not speeding up.

The PIL claimed that the scam runs into at least Rs 1,000 crore involving allocation of HSD to often non-existing firms and diverting it to open market. Besides misuse of the scheme in which HSD is given at a concessional rate, the scam also involves evasion of sales tax.

Senior IOCL officials, including general manager (Uttal Pradesh) Rajiv Shastri, were avoiding appearing before the investigating agency despite repeated notices to them. Shastri did not turn up before the CBI even though the Gujarat High Court had directed him to do so. The investigation has spanned to Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, too, with hundreds of trucks carrying diverted HSD passing into these States.

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Nagarpalikas in debt zone fighting to stay alive Monday, April 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The nagarpalikas have been at the receiving end all this time. Ever wondered why? For one, in all the ten nagarpalikas, the coffers are fast drying up.
The `dry' spell begans with hefy electricity bills the nagarpalikas have to pay the Ahmedabad Electricity Company (AEC), but can't due to lack of funds. Till date, all the ten Nagarpalikas falling in the AUDA area of the city collectively owe the AEC Rs 23 crore in electricity dues.

For six years now, these amounts varying from Rs 33 lakh to Rs 5 crore for each nagarpalika have been pending. And with the summer here, the AEC authorities fear the amounts would add up thanks to pumps connected to borewells which use up most of the electricity, followed by street lights and other amenities.

"The AUDA keeps providing us street lights, generator sets, and other such public amenities, but the burden of maintaining them falls on us. We have a limited source of income which is insufficient to settle huge bills. Even the regular payments are made with utmost difficuties," claims an official from Chandlodhiya nagarpalika.

Several attempts have been made by AEC officials to disconnect power, but invariably it had to be restored within a couple of days. "People approach the political bigwigs in Gandhinagar and they force us to restore power. At the same time we have to show passion on the grounds that essentials like water would not be provided if we were strict," claims another AEC official.

There is one common reason that put these nagarpalikas in such dire states. In 1994, overnight, all nagar panchayats were converted into nagarpalikas. With this conversion, they lost out on a number of subsidies the biggest among them was the State Government stopped paying their electricity bills. So, while the income, which was mainly from residential taxes remained the same, the bills for all the power they use had to be paid.

"Our areas do not even fall in the octroi limits or we could have collected some more money. Back then we used to pay only 20-25 paisa per unit of electricity. Now, we pay the full rate and due to this we owe more than Rs 4 crore to the AEC. We want to make the pending payment, but do not know how," says Chief Officer of Vejalpur nagarpalika R B Patel.

Similar stance is taken by Chief Officer of Memnagar nagarpalika N Karandhikar: "We recently were able to pay Rs 6.5 lakh but the rest, more than Rs 20 lakh, we don't know from where to get to get the money from. In the past 20 years the electricity rates have increased drastically and at the same time, taxes haven't registered an iota of growth." Karandhikar adds: "Even the cleaning up operation which involves tractors and paying the labourers is an expensive job. We have an income of about Rs 40-50 lakh which is absorbed in staff salaries and maintainence. This summer, we have seven new borewells. It is difficult to break even, forget about paying up."

Another thing the nagarpalikas have to cope with is the rapid growth in the city in terms of new infrastructure like laying roads, street lights etc. "We have an outstanding debt of Rs 80 lakh. Only paying bills for borewells is eating into our meagre resources. Each bore consumes about Rs 50,000 worth of electricity, and there are 11 such borewells," claims C J Christain Chief Officer of Jodhpur nagarpalika. "Take this simple case. Our income from taxes is about Rs 50 lakh and our expenses are Rs 60 lakh. Then how can we pay more than 4 crore in dues," says an official of Ranip nagarpalika.

With no Government help coming in the near future, the debts, it seems for the nagarpalikas, are here to stay.

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