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March 16, 2001 - March 16, 2001

Did foreign relief supplies really reach those in need? Friday, March 16, 2001

BHUJ: Now that the flow of international relief material at Bhuj airport has dwindled arises the big question. Did the relief provide relief and reach those for whom it was meant?
According to official records, a total of 14,46,130 kg relief material were unloaded from 106 foreign aircraft at the airport in 25 days following the quake. They were "certified as distributed" by the district administration.

However, sources say no documents like the pilot's manifest or airway bills required by Customs Department are available till date for the international cargo that reached Bhuj. These documents give details of the cargo, the consigner and the consignee.

"International flights had started arriving from January 27. However, we were informed only on February 6 and have so far not got airway bills for the period from January 27 to February 5 from the district administration despite numberous reminders. We do not know to regularise these imports without them," an official source told this newspaper.

The source also added that the certificate of utilisation of imported relief material issued by the District Collector last week did not have full details. As per notification number 7 of 2001 issued under Customs Act, 1962, the utilisation certificate should give details of beneficiaries to claim exemption from customs duty.

Meanwhile, people disbelieve the administration claim. "How can the administration certify that the relief has actually reached the poor when many items of the international cargo has gone to other people? Some have even been reportedly sold in markets in Kutch and outside," Mahesh Mulchandani, chairman of Gandhidham-based NGO Kutch Vikas Manch, said.

He said despite four days of hunger strike by him and his volunteers in front of the Collectorate last week on this issue, they failed to get any information. "We have no way except to complain to the UN office at Delhi and other world bodies. Our delegation will leave for Delhi on Friday for this," he added.

Insiders at the airport reveal that from January 27 to January 30 it was a free-for-all at Bhuj airport. No record of any kind was maintained regarding relief material. However, when the irregularities came to the notice of higher officials, orders for maintaining records were issued.

An official record was maintained from January 31 onwards as the computer sheet of list of material received at airport showed. Dr Ketan Shukla, director in the Ministry of External Affairs, who was specially sent here to prepare a report, has said in his report that relief material in ``mind-boggling" scale was received from 25 countries.

He, however, does not specify the quantity of material received in all cases. And where he has given specific quantity, that is in kg and not numbers. For example, he says 3,17,282 kg tents, 3,15,445 kg blankets, 128,023 kg polysheets and 600 kg generators were received. The fact that there is some link missing is apparent. Shukla reports receipt of 21,000 kg dates from Libya, 523 kg biscuits from Singapore, 153 boxes of fruits from Ukraine, 28 tonnes of dry food from Red Cross Iran, unspecified quantity of biscuits from private donors in Great Britain and Kenya.

However, no one knows where these items have gone. The district administration is still wondering where "600 kg of generators have gone." When this reporter inquired from the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB), it denied having received the generators.

While Shukla has devoted 16 pages to receipt of relief material, he has devoted only one small paragraph to the administration. He admits that "there was some difficulty in clearing relief material in initial stages and that it was a Herculean task to establish the distribution system as a large number of aircraft were landing at Bhuj."

He said, "30 trucks were distributed in the initial stage by voluntary organisations like Akshar Purshottam, Abhiyan, Ashram Bapu Trust and Kachchhi Leuva Patel Samaj.'' But on February 3 ``it was decided that the distribution be made through State Government officials," he said.

But a press release of Sant Aharamji Ashram claims that what it distributed was its own relief material that it had brought from its Ahmedabad Ashram.

When contacted, Relief Commissioner and Kutch Collector Anil Mukim declined to comment, only saying that "record of both receipt and distribution of relief material was maintained whereever it was possible."

Source - Indian Express

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Customers cry foul as bank remains shut Friday, March 16, 2001

RAJKOT: For the second consecutive day, shutters of the Madhavpura Mercantile Co-operative Bank (MMCB) remained shut, leaving several thousand customers in the lurch. Anxious customers from all over the Saurashtra came to the bank with the hope of withdrawing their deposits, but had to go back disappointed.
Meanwhile, the MMCB Management had advertised that the bank was not able to function due to financial crisis. The management, according to the advertisement, was making efforts to being solve the crisis.

However, the customers cry foul and say they have been cheated by the bank management. Meanwhile, the Madhavpura Mercantile Bank Deposits and Account Holder Association, which consulted DCP Narsinh Komar on Tuesday, had organised a meeting at MMCB premises to decide on further action. The leaders asked the DCP about the legal measures they could take.

According to association president Upendrabhai Modi, the association has the support of Rajkot MLA Rameshbhai Rupapara. Modi said their protest will continue till MMCB returns deposits of all customers.

The customers decided to meet Police Commissioner Sudhir Sinha and file complaints against the MMCB Chairman and Board of Directors. The association has also decided to take legal action after consulting Anil Desai, the public prosecutor. Modi said the Association would take legal action under Consumer Forum Act and would file civil as well as criminal cases against the management.

Meanwhile, the Rajkot Shaher and Jilla Grahak Suraksha Mandal has extended suppot to MMCB customers. The mandal has announced that it will provide free legal consultancy to customers.

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Cops to police cyber cafes, `protect' kids Friday, March 16, 2001

Young boys and girls beware. The Rajkot police is STALKING you. All in a good cause, of course. The Rajkot police is making an attempt to prevent school-going children from visiting pornographic sites. It decided to carry out a survey of all cyber cafes that offer total privacy while surfing on the Net, and the survey is almost at an end now.
Sub-Inspector R R Gohil of the Anti-Romeo said based on a tip-off from youngsters, the police had carried out an investigation and found that in several cyber cafes there were cabins that provided total privacy. It was difficult to watch what was going on inside from the outside. He said during his talk with some students, he was told that boys and girls during breaks or after bunking classes sit inside the cabins and watch these sites.

In several cases, these youngsters also visited chatrooms and indulged in "vulgar chats." To prevent such activity, Police Commissioner Sudhir Sinha has asked the Anti-Romeo Squad to survey such cyber cafes. He said the survey was almost complete and the final list would be handed over to the Commissioner of Police by the end of this week.

Gohil said according to primary information such cyber cafes were present on the posh Kalawad Road and Yagnik Road and also on the University Road. These roads have the maximum traffic of school-going students. He said to prevent any untoward incident, the police can force owners to demolish such cabins.

The Anti-Romeo Squad was formed by the Commissioner of Police late last year to protect girls from sexual harassment. The squad was asked to remain present on the roads at seven in the morning and in the afternoon when girls go back to their homes.

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Medical college to start PG course Friday, March 16, 2001

RAJKOT: The Rajkot Medical College is all set to start post-graduate (PG) courses as soon as the internship of the first batch of graduates gets over this year. An inspection team from the Medical Council of India (MCI) will visit the college shortly, said Medical College dean H H Agrawat.
The dean admitted that non-availability of professors is a problem. Though arrangements have been made to hire people on a temporary basis and also to call in the services of retired professors, certain subjects like gynecology, surgery and ENT may have to wait for more time before qualified staff could be arranged.

Agrawat said,``Once the team completes inspection, reports would be submitted to the MCI. After studying the reports the council will grant permission for starting the relevant courses. The college had earlier filed an application for approval of the PG courses in the clinical and non clinical categories.

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Come summer, and there's water, water nowhere Friday, March 16, 2001

RAJKOT: The quake might have pushed the water issue into the background for some time, but it is back in the limelight. Protests have begun all over Saurashtra as the State Government has failed to make any relief provisions and has also no alternate drinking water provision to offer.
Gondal town was totally ``closed'' after the authorities failed to supply water for 12 days in succession. And in the midst of it, political parties continued their game of one-upmanship. Tension gripped the town as both, the BJP and the Congress, had made the bandh a prestige issue Congress leaders gave the call for the bandh, while the BJP asked people not to heed the bandh call as ``Narmada water would reach them shortly.''

However, nearly 1,000 people gathered in Gondal as Congress leaders handed over a memorandum to the mamlatdar, demanding regular drinking water supply. The Rajkot district police kept strict vigil, but insisted that the bandh was partial.

In Amreli district, residents of Bagasara have called for a bandh on Friday. Women in the village have to walk a huge distance to get water. The residents also claim that the water supplied once in a week by the civic body was not good enough and are demanding adequate supply.

The water woes are everywhere. In Dedan, residents have demanded a probe into the ``racket of supplying drinking water.'' People claim that 10 tankers are supplying water to the area daily, but that was only on paper. The residents of Maliya Hati also met the mamlatdar on Tuesday and handed him a memorandum seeking adequate water supply.

In Wankaner in Rajkot district, residents of Jinpara and Vispara staged a rally on Monday and damaged property in the mamlatdar's office. The residents took out the procession in an attempt to pressure the administration to supply them with enough drinking water. According to reports, the people even threatened officers on duty with dire consequences if their demands were not met.

Reports of protests are coming in from all over Saurashtra, which is undergoing a severe drought for the second consecutive year. With virtually no rain in the region, major water sources have dried up and the region is undergoing a severe water crisis.

Meanwhile, Congress leaders have threatened to launch a fast unto death if relief work was not started in all parts of Rajkot district. Congress spokesperson Valji Bagda said Lodhika and Kotda Sanghani talukas were undergoing a severe water crisis. He said if the relief operations were not started immediately, Congress members would stage dharnas and also launch a fast unto death.

The leaders have demanded that water tankers should be pressed into service immediately and the Government should also pay pending dues to tanker owners. Congress leader and former MLA Shantaben Chavda led a delegation to the Collector's office on Monday evening and made representations that about 200 villages in the district were undergoing a severe drought. She said there was a need for cattle pounds in the district and added that the tankers being used were not enough. The number of agitations regarding water are on the rise. And it is not April yet.

The local administration is now depending heavily on underground water or the Mahi water as promised by the State Government. This, according to an estimate, is likely to cover Junagadh, Rajkot, Amreli and Bhavnagar by March.

According to Irrigation Department officials in the region, the situation is grim and major dams are dry. Those dams which have water will also go dry soon. Of the 113 major and minor dams in the region nearly 95 per cent have gone dry and the remaining have only dead water storage, which will be exhausted by the end of this month. Of the total 2,228 million cubic feet storage capacity, the existing stock is not more than three per cent. Amreli district officials said areas of Rajula, Amreli, Savarkundla and Dhari among others are facing a severe drinking water crisis. There is no water source in the area except for the Datarwadi and Khodiyar dams, which have only dead water.

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