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March 19, 2001 - March 20, 2001

Quake affects Ahmedabad Muncipal Corporation's revenue Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Revenue collection of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) seems to have been thrown out of gear by the earthquake that hit the city on January 26. The two major sources of income for the civic body -- octroi and property tax -- are likely to be well below the expected collection for the year 2000-01.
On the other hand, the earthquake has also put an additional cost burden on the civic body, as it will require crores of rupees to repair a large number of its buildings that have been damaged in the earthquake. Worst affected are the premises of the fire brigade, municipal schools and the E block of the main AMC building, which has to be demolished.

As far as octroi, one of the major sources of income for the civic body is concerned, the AMC expects the octroi revenue collection to be around 15 crore lesser than the expected revenue. Deputy Municipal Commissioner T G Zalavadia, who is in charge of octroi said the expected revenue this year was 365 crore, but this could come down by around 15 crore. Further, the strike by the textile industry against provisions made in the union budget, will further reduce the income, he said.

Octroi committee chairman Kishansinh Tomar said since the quake occurred, the department has ``adopted a slightly lenient posture'' as far as octroi is concerned. He said in a case where property worth crores of rupees is lost, the department can not afford to be very strict. ``But the octroi collection is still higher compared to other cities in Gujarat,'' he added.

Property tax too is set to register the steepest decline in the past decade. According to officials in the department, the collection this year is not likely to cross the 100 crore mark, while the collection last year was 119.50 crore. While the quake has contributed to this on one hand, the announcement by the ruling Congress in this year's budget that the 18 per cent interest will not be charged, has also encouraged people not to pay property tax.

AMC will recover less than half of the vehicle tax it recovered last year, primarily because of the quake and the fact that most employees were also involved in census work during the past month.With less than a fortnight remaining for the present financial year to end, just Rs 3.5 crore have been collected by AMC as vehicle tax.

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Students fear question papers will be tough Tuesday, March 20, 2001

AHMEDABAD, MARCH 18: The Academic Council of the Gujarat University (GU) finally met and got the process underway. And probably out of nowhere the students have begun to worry that the ensuing examination question papers would be set difficult.
This fear has gripped the GU students, who had resumed studies after a long gap. This fear was sparked by the fact that the GU had ruled out the conducting of internal examinations and has also conceded the demand for general option in the final examinations commencing from April 19.

Dismissing such a claim as baseless, one of the chief committee member for setting examination papers said,``Never has a decision like this been taken in the history of the university. Nor can such a decision be taken. These rumours are fuelled by elements who do not want the examinations to be conducted smoothly.'' All the university authorities are in unison on this matter.

They claim that university would work in the interest of the students and not against them. The examination committee too had met earlier on Saturday and approved the panels for setting of papers. Earlier, it was alleged by senior officials of the university that the delay in setting up of panels and appointing paper setters would affect the exams. However, with the commencement of this process, these fears have been put to rest.

Meanwhile, the students have reacted sharply to these rumours. "We only hope that the university is not vindictive simply because some student leaders armtwisted them into giving us general option," claims Sameer Shah, a SY BA student. ''Even the internal examinations have been abolished.

This left us students with not much opportunity to face any exams before the final one. So the fear could be justified, that the university conduct one exam, and that one would be a real tough one," says Rajvi Patel, a FY BSc student of R G Science College. "I am not paying heed to such rumours. But can not guarantee the same for other students. I would not be surprised if many other students panic in a similar fashion," claims Jayant Parmar, a FY BSc student. "I remember my brother's batch of 1993 when the general option was last declared. Back then only certain papers were prepared difficult. But then one never knows how these officials react," says Kalpit Sharma, a final year Physics student.

The examination committee formed by the deans of the faculties and other members of the Academic Council have gotten underway to complete the task of the examination for the year 2000-2001. But finally, in the words of an eminent academician, "The students may put to rest the fears that question papers will be difficult. They do not make teachers like they did back then. The teachers are hardly interested in giving competitive questions to the students. General option or not, the questions papers would appear, as they have always, stale and repetitive, without any kind of research going into preparing them." Some consolation in confusing times.

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Social Organisation Protest against Taliban act Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Responding to what has been termed as a mindless demolition of history by the Taliban in Afghanistan, a number of social organisations took out a silent rally in Ahmedabad on Sunday. They were demanding an end to the demolition of 1,700-year-old statues by the Taliban in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
The rally was led by the Gujarat Buddha Academy (GBA) and a number of Dalit organisations and a few Muslim organisations took part in it. All these organisations have formed a committee Taliban Buddha Statue Desecration Opposition Committee (TBSDOC). The rally commenced from the Ambedkar statue in Sarangpur and ended at J P Chowk opposite Roopalee cinema.

"We deplore the gruesome act by the Taliban and want an end to it. The entire world is against this, but nobody is taking the first step. Through this peaceful rally we want to convey to the people that based on Gautam Buddha's principles there should be peace and love everywhere and not violence," says secretary of GBA Milind Priyadarshi.

"We have to choose between violence and peace. What is Taliban achieving by destroying those valuable statues? Good sense must prevail and they should put down their weapons. The entire world wants it, so does the UNO, but they are not listening. Through this rally, we are expressing our solidarity with the rest of the world, "says Niranjan Ghosh, member of GBA. There are about 50,000 Buddhists living in Ahmedabad, he added.

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RMC readies to crack whip on tax defaulters Monday, March 19, 2001

It's that time of the year when the cash-strapped Rajkot Municipal Corporation, fighting to meet its tax collection target, wakes up to remember its property tax defaulters.
From November to March every year, the tax department in the RMC is buzzing with activity, sending reminders to defaulters, warning letters to some and possible auction notices to others. With some, the letters do the trick and they respond positively. But with most private property owners, the letters fail to create the necessary tension, say corporation sources.

The process comes to an end in March. And by April, the defaulters too tend to forget the issue unless there is a legal battle that keeps reminding them of the same.

But then they aren't to be blamed for the simple reason that once the new financial year begins, the RMC itself forgets these defaulters and the list prepared with much pain by the department gathers dust on the Corporation shelves.

The RMC has an outstanding property taxes of nearly Rs 75 crore as of date. Out of this, Rs 22 crore is of the current financial year. This year the corporation has decided to auction properties of nine big tax defaulters in the posh areas of the city. This includes the property which houses the United Bank of India and the Indian Oil Corporation offices.

Says Assistant Manager of the tax department at the RMC Harshad Patel: "The defaulters will be given a time limit till March 21 before their property is auctioned."

Property tax ranging from a mere 12 per cent to a maximum of 30 per cent, 10 per cent education sales tax and 4 per cent conservancy tax will be collected. Education sales tax ranging from 3 per cent to 20 per cent will also be collected by the RMC. From April, this year all commercial buildings and residential buildings more than 15 metres high will have to pay fire tax.

Meanwhile, property owners in the new Corporation area of 45 sq kms will get a breather from paying tax up to November this year. However, those who wish to avail of fresh water connection will have to pay away the tax along with the dues. Following water scarcity and the resultant inability to provide water connection to applicants of certain areas, the RMC has decided to go slow with the collection of taxes in these areas. Property owners in these areas will have to, however, pay pending tax with a fine of 18 per cent interest.

Says RMC Tax Officer H K Kagathra: "This year the total property tax collected till now is Rs 24 crore. We are sure to reach the target of Rs 30 crore."

Among the defaulters are: The Railways with Rs 12 crore due - it has not paid ever since the formation of the state, Postal Department has an outstanding amount of Rs 25 lakh and some of the Central Government offices, who are major defaulters, are fighting their case at the High Court. The property taxes fixed under the Bombay Provincial Municipal Corporation Act are supposed to be reviewed every four years. But the Rajkot Municipal Corporation has not gone in for a review for the past six years. The reason the officers cite is the staff crunch.

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No respite yet for inmates of juvenile home Monday, March 19, 2001

Life, which was uncertain, for these 13-odd kids became all the more uncertain after the January 26 earthquake. The quake forced these children at the Juvenile Rehabilation-cum-Observation Home at Gondal Road in Rajkot to shift to an adjacent building after their building developed major cracks. The Juvenile Court, housed in the Home, was also shifted to an annexe building.
The good news is that the Public Works Department, after certifying the building unsafe for use, has prepared a plan for a new building at an estimated expenditure of Rs 46 lakh.

"The new building will have a main structure at an estimated cost of Rs 39 lakh and staff quarters of an estimated Rs 7.5 lakh. The plan will require around 5,000 sq mts of land while the present building occupies is around 3,000 sq mts of land," explained A K Makwana, the Executive Engineer at the Public Works Department here.

But, the bad news is the building and the premises under the Social Welfare Department is disputed and the matter sub judice. A case is being fought between the State Government and Sayyad Bin Abdullah (the complainant), since 1999 at the Gujarat High Court regarding the property's ownership.

The building had been given to the State Government for use by the complainant's ancestor. It was with the State till 1989 when the complainant decided to demand its possession.

Based on his claim, the Gujarat HC had passed a verdict that the land, being his ancestral property and given for the State Government's use as early as 1948, needs to be returned to him. Following this the State Government filed an LPA (Latent Patent Appeal) at the High Court.

The court case has left the inmates of the Home in a lurch. The children come into the Home either when they are orphans or if they are kept under observation. The kids, whose cases are pending at the Juvenile ,Court are kept here till they are granted bail.

On an average some thirty cases are heard at the Juvenile Court every Friday. All civil and criminal cases dealing with boys under the age of 16 and girls under the age of 18 are dealt with the Juvenile court. Many of these cases go on for as many as ten years and often the verdict is pronounced long after the the accused becomes adult.

But, the proposal for a new building will have to wait till the High Court gives its verdict. The disputed building too will have to wait for the verdict before it can be demolished and till then the Juvenile Court and the Rehabilitation Home will have to function at the annexe building.

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