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March 28, 2001 - March 29, 2001

Clogged with effluents, river Tapi raises a stink Thursday, March 29, 2001

SURAT: For four-year-old Meghana, her nursery school on the banks of river Tapi never meant a place of boundless playing and learning. With doors and windows of the classrooms shut to prevent stinking smell emanating from the riverbed to enter, the play group school appears to be a fortified structure for her, a disliking so profound that at times she behaves like a problematic child with her parents.

Just upto four years ago, the river Tapi - once a lifeline of the city - was a sight to rejoice and the full moon nights were occasions for the city residents to rejunevate and celebrate on the banks. Tapi, which flows into the Arabian sea just few kilometres from the city, has been treated like a goddess by the Surtis over ages and has also helped the city to develop to its modern state.

But, with the growth across the city coupled with lack of foresight for a vision for the city on the part of the civic agencies, the flow of water with changing course along with the ebb and tide of the sea is a thing of the past. As such, several tonnes of domestic effluents dumped into the river get silted daily and the water level being so low that the exposed garbage stinks beyond human tolerance.

Sources in the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) informed that domestic effluents from Rander and Adajan area, with a population of over seven lakh, are being brought into the river through the storm water drains from 17 places in that part of the city.

Till 1997, the effluents used to be carried to the sea with the high tides raising the water level of the river too and the river used to be cleaned of dumped garbage several times during the day. But, with the construction of the weir-cum-causeway at Singapori village near Rander - just two km upstream from the river - in 1997, the tides no longer flow into the river and neither raised levels of water due to tides in the Tapi follow the natural physical science that water seeks its own level.

The causeway with a purpose to store water for the city and the industries in Hazira complex has fulfilled the aim of providing plenty of water in Surat but had the causeway been at a place located some 10 km from the city, the free play of ebb and tides of the Arabian sea would have remained, keeping the river full with water to carry back the domestic wastes back into the sea, thus providing a clean and pollution-free environment in the city, according to Sobhagchand Choksi. Choksi, 75, is an avid swimmer and crusader for restoration of past glory of Tapi.

With no rational town planning resulting into no gutters in the area like Adajan and Rander, which in the last decade has developed into a cosmopolitan township, the effluents from residential complexes are being allowed to be carried through storm water drains, meant for pumping rain water from the city into the river.

Sources in the corporation informed that the storm water drains, developed with the World Bank aid in 1992, were to be operational as per the original plan from the onset of monsoon upto October 16 every year when the rainy season ends normally. But these drains are not made operational, as lack of gutters in parts of the city would lead into piles of garbage in the city itself. In connivance with the civic officials, builders were allowed to use these drains instead of any other effective means, said one official on condition of anonymity.

Last week only, city mayor and the SMC commissioner did an inspection of the river for an assessment of the reported faults in the causeway, SMC sources stated.

However, despite several representations and protests by many associations in the last decade, the SMC has failed to get its acts together for the needful. Desperate for redressal measures led many bodies like Sailors Club, Surat District Bar Association, Surat Medical Association, Swimming and Boating Club and Chowpatti Swimmers Club to file a special civil application in the Gujarat High Court in 1996.

After several hearings, the High Court directed all the industries in the city to adhere to measures for a pollution-free environment, though in the petition industries were not made a party for causing pollution in the river but civic corporation for their plans to have storm water drains as a carrier of domestic effluents, said Choksi. The next hearing is due shortly, he added.

But, for now, the river Tapi looks like a swallow water stream and the river water touching in majesty both the sides of the banks on full moon are just embedded in memory of the residents. The cool breeze flowing over the Tapi no longer appears fresh to the mind and the body of lakhs of Surtis.

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Cong to meet Narayanan on Bhandari's removal Wednesday, March 28, 2001

VADODARA: State Congress MLAs will meet President KR Narayanan soon in New Delhi to demand the removal of Governor SS Bhandari for his "irrational and partial behaviour".

Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly Amarsinh Chaudhary on Monday alleged that "Bhandari had snubbed the Opposition leaders on Friday by refusing to meet them".

"We had sought an appointment with him to protest against the summary suspension of the entire Opposition from the Assembly on Thursday. But he refused to meet us though we are elected representatives. You can't expect the constitutional head to behave in such an irresponsible manner," said Chaudhary said here on Monday.

The Congress alleged that the state government has failed to handle any crisis, may it be drought or earthquake. "We are silenced by the Speaker Dhirubhai Shah the moment we try to raise issues like relief work being carried out by the government in the quake-affected areas especially Bhuj, Bhachau, Rapar and Anjar. They even refuse to inform us about the distribution of materials received from other countries. We have been facing such treatment since last two years. Now, the Governor too is supporting the corrupt," said Chaudhary.

The Congress will also launch a state-wide protest against the NDA from March 31 to April 10, seeking Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's removal. Congress members will organise rallies, burn Vajpayee's effigy and would also lock the mamlatdar and collector's offices in protest against corruption in the Vajpayee government. Youth Congress members will stop any Union minister from entering the state.

"Tehelka.com has exposed former BJP leader Bangaru Laxman and Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitley involvement in corrupt activities. Moreover, Laxman was heard on the videotapes referring to Vajpayee's principal secretary and national security adviser Brajesh Mishra as the ones who swing defence deals and his foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya. It's the Prime Minister's moral duty to resign under such circumstances and this will be our way of telling the government to put a stop to corruption," said Chaudhary.

The Mahila Congress will hold demonstrations to press for Vajpayee's resignation. NSUI members will organise street-plays in various districts and talukas in the state, revealing the corruption in the state government. Seva Dal members will sell books and pamphlets detailing the irregularities in the BJP government. The protests will end on April 11, with a massive Congress rally in Ahmedabad.

"We also plan to organise a 'Samantar Vidhan Sabha' at Ahmedabad on Wednesday, wherein we will reveal all details regarding the corruption in the state BJP government," said Chaudhary.

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State Congress draws up stir plan Wednesday, March 28, 2001

RAJKOT: The Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) has drawn up the first phase of its agitation programme against the Central as well as the state governments. The programme would be launched from April 1 to 10.

Talking to reporters here, general secretary of the GPCC Hasmukh Patel said the aim of the programme was to seek the resignation of the Central and state governments. While the Central government was trying to play down the Tahelka tapes and were protecting former defence minister George Fernandes, the state government must go for its action in the state assembly and its failure to provide succour to the quake-affected people.

Patel said a parallel state assembly named as "people's assembly" would be held in Town Hall, Ahmedabad, on March 28 where a chargesheet would be submitted against the corrupt BJP government headed by Keshubhai Patel. A rally would be taken out from Pathik Ashram in Gandhinagar on Tuesday where all legislators, MPs, district and taluka panchayat presidents would participate. The rally would give a memorandum to state governor Sundar Singh Bhandari.

All the four wings of the Congress-the Mahila Morcha, National Students Union of India, Seva Dal and the Youth Congress-would join the agitation programme. Patel said the Congress would not rest till the Central government was forced to go on charges of corruption. The Mahila Congress workers would organise picketing programmes in front of all Central government offices.

Speaking about corruption in the Central government vis-a-vis Tahelka tapes, Patel said that not a single first information report has been filed anywhere in Delhi against any people named in the tapes. After revelations in the tapes, the Vajpayee government has no moral right to continue in power.

The Congress leader was severe on George Fernandes and his allegd links with terrorist outfits. The joint parliamentary probe or any other probe was not welcomed by the Congress as this kind of probe does not serve any useful purpose. Citing an example, the GPCC leader said that Kargil probe was more damaging but no action was taken against any leader in the government, especially Fernandes. Measures taken by the Vajpayee government were seen as just to save Fernandes, he said.

Patel said while Bangaru Laxman was shown as taking money, why was he not arrested and tapes given a documentary proof? So long such corrupt government remains in power, a fair and impartial investigation is not possible.

Speaking about the action of the state government to suspend the Congress leaders including leader of the opposition Amarsinh Chaudhary and senior Congress leader Manoharsinh Jadeja, Patel said it only reflected the internal fight between the two ministers. Ths act of the state government in suspending the Congress members was unjustified and unparliamentary, he said.

When asked about behaviour of the governor in not giving an audience to the Congress members, he shot back: "He too must go." The present agitation was not only against the Central government on the issue of Tahelka tapes but also against the state government which had failed in tackling earthquake and drought.

The government was not keen on a discussion on any issue in the assembly as it feared that its inaction would be brought before the entire state through the assembly proceedings, said Patel.

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BJP delegation meets Governor Wednesday, March 28, 2001

AHMEDABAD: A five-member delegation of BJP legislators headed by party's chief whip Vadibhai Patel on Monday met Governor Sundar Singh Bhandari and assured him that they would continue their positive stance and help maintain decorum of the august House in the ongoing session of the Assembly.

Referring to the ransacking of Speaker Dhirubhai Shah's office after suspension of Leader of Opposition Amarsinh Chaudhary and other Congress MLAs by the House for their misbehaviour, the delegation told Bhandari that though the Congress party had plans to organise rallies and meetings, such programmes would not get any support from the people.

Despite an understanding between the ruling party and the Opposition that the House would discuss the serious situation arising out of drought in 12,000 villages and the severest earthquake that claimed over 20,000 lives, the Congress members indulged in violence which tarnished the image of Gujarat. Not only that, they stormed into Speaker's chamber and destroyed a computer and TV set. The Speaker had to run to escape from the possible attack.

While speaking to reporters here, Vadibhai Patel and state BJP general secretary Gordhan Zadaphia said there was no question of the ruling party withdrawing its decision of Chaudhary's suspension. "The sergeant of the Assembly had filed a criminal complaint against those who indulged in violence and obviously law would take its own course," they said, adding it was their duty to apprise the governor of the incident.

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CBI takes K Lal's sons for questioning Wednesday, March 28, 2001

AHMEDABAD: A Central Bureau of Investigation team from Mumbai has reportedly picked up two senior functionaries of the bullion firm K Lal in connection with the Classic Co-operative Bank's (CCB) pay-order scam. The two, Prashant Choksi and Jignesh Choksi, are sons of the owner of the bullion firm.

CBI sources were not available to comment on whether the duo had been formally arrested or not. One report said the two had been whisked away to Mumbai for further interrogation on Sunday afternoon.

The family is still tight-lipped about the whereabouts of Kantilal Choksi , the owner of the bullion firm.

The CBI had on Sunday arrested an officer of Punjab National Bank in connection with the scam. The official, S R Khataukar, who was manager of the Muskati Market branch, was given a three-day CBI remand by the court on Monday.

The CBI also broke into the locked residence of CCB chairman Suresh Garecha and seized some documents.

CCB, according to a senior official of the bank, has also decided to serve a legal notice on K Lal for failing to make the payment against which the pay-orders totalling nearly Rs 70 crore were issued to State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, Bank of India and Standard Chartered bank.

"Our dispute is with K L Choksi, and not with the banks. In our notice, we have asked Choksi to pay in the amount of the cheques (deposited by Choksi) drawn on Co-operative Bank of Ahmedabad and Bank of Rajasthan, which amount to Rs 28.10 crore," says a CCB official.

According to sources, with this action, the bank is preparing the ground for filing a civil suit against the defaulting bullion merchant in the scam. "Based on his response to the notice, we will be proceeding with our action in the civil court," says a senior official in the bank.

This, however, as per the Reserve Bank of India guideline, does not absolve the CCB of its liability of honouring the payment guarantee, which is intrinsic in the banker's cheque issued by a bank.

The final responsibility of payment of the defaulted amount would still vest with the CCB.

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