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March 15, 2001 - March 15, 2001

Rs 3 crore recovered from GEB defaulters Thursday, March 15, 2001

: In a state-wide crackdown on defaulters, the vigilance wing of the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) collected about Rs 3 crore as fine in the last fortnight.
Giving this information here a Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) spokesman said that about 48,000 electric connections were inspected in the drive which began on March 1. Agricultural, industrial and residential connections were checked under the drive undertaken by GEB's vigilance wing.

The drive brought out about 1300 cases of electricity theft and 406 cases of other irregularities. Besides these 480 dead meters were also detected by the teams. ``In all, about 2695 cases of violations were detected by the GEB teams,'' the spokesman added.

The board levied a fine of 2.30 crore against those who found to be indulging in power theft.

The Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB) spokesman further said that Rs 38 lakh was realised through fine from those indulged in other irregularities while more than 8 lakh was recovered from those consumers who had defunct meters.

The spokesman said that the crackdown on violators would continue.

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City Police finally arrest Rakesh Shah Thursday, March 15, 2001

The builder of three high-rises which collapsed in Maninagar area following the devastating quake, Rakesh Shah, was arrested by the police on Wednesday morning. Shah, who was absconding since one-and-half months, was nabbed from his residence at Ashirwad Bungalows in Gordhanwadi Tekra. Shah, the builder of Jalasmriti Apartments, Utsav Apartments and Pujal Apartments, will be produced before the Sessions Court on Thursday.
After his remand in Maninagar police custody for further investigations in the cases, he will be sent to a district jail as a PASA detainee. The PASA order was issued by Commissioner of Police P C Pande on February 16 and has been lying unserved since then. On Tuesday, Nirav Shah, Rakesh's partner and financer, was sent to Porbandar district jail as a PASA detainee. Nirav is accused in the cases registered by Maninagar police following collapse of Utsav Apartments and Jalasmriti Apartments.

It may be recalled that on January 26 morning, all three buildings collapsed causing death of ten residents. "Six residents of Jalasmriti and four residents of Pujal Apartments died while few residents of Utsav Apartment sustained injuries," Deputy Commissioner (Zone-VI) B S Jebaliya, who has been supervising all these cases, said on Wednesday.

Following the collapses, Maninagar police registered three criminal cases against Rakesh and his associates along with concerned officials of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). "While searching for him in the primary stage, we received information that he might have left the country. Later, we verified with appropriate authorities, including airport officials and confirmed that he was very much within the State," Jebaliya told Express Newsline while talking about the delays in his arrest.

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Consumers in city more conscious about rights Thursday, March 15, 2001

A man filed a case against the Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service (AMTS) after he was not refunded an amount of 75 paise. After fighting the case for several months, the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum (CDRF) ordered AMTS to pay him Rs 100, including the said amount as well as cost of litigation and other expenditure.

A senior citizen approached the CDRF to file a case against a shoe shop-owner, who sold him a poor quality rubber chappal for Rs 100. Luckily, the shop-owner approached the court and coughed up the Rs 100 even before the judge pronounced judgment.
When it comes to consumer rights awareness, citizens of the city are becoming more and more conscious a fact proved by the large number of consumer court cases being filed every month. With over 150 cases being filed every month by consumers against insurance companies, railways, public utility goods and household equipment companies, municipal corporation, medical companies, doctors and others, Amdavadis seem to have become discerning consumers aware of their rights and willing to go through the tough court grind to get them.

The maximum number of cases filed are against insurance companies regarding life insurance, medical and property claims. "We file almost 15-20 cases per month and almost 250 cases every year against insurance companies under various policies," CDRF secretary Pinakin Pancholi says.

"After insurance companies, cases against Fixed Deposits (FDs) and builders are in a huge number. Apart from these, we have cases against shopkeepers, departmental stores, electical goods companies, AMTS, railways and airlines," he adds.

K D Desai, president of CDRF, feels that awareness is increasing, slowly but steadily. "Consumer awareness is definitely increasing, thanks to the media. The consumer is well-versed with his or her rights and the city also has many consumer protection organisations that spread awareness and are fighting for consumer rights," he says. Member Malaybhai Kantharia agrees that awareness is increasing. "Due to consumer rights awareness, we have seen that banks, insurance companies, electronic goods companies and others have become alert and try to sort out grievances before they become cases," Kantharia says.

Even though the pressure on CDRF is manifold it being the only consumer court catering to a highly populated A-grade city the court passes judgment in as many as 1,800 cases every year. "Hyderabad, which is another A-grade city has four courts while Bangalore, recently classified as A-1, has almost seven consumer courts. Ahmedabad, however, has only one court and so the pressure is naturally more," says Pancholi.

People are also quick to point out how particular they have become. "I am very particular about what my rights are as a consumer when I go to buy something. I make sure my rights are not manipulated," says Sudarshan Patel, a bank employee.

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Drought overwhelmed by tumult of quake Thursday, March 15, 2001

Article by Batuk Vora

It's hard for a rationalist like me to place ancient Aryan 'deities' like Indra (rain god) and Prithvi (earth goddess) in the book of facts, though I love them as mythical characters.

But I wonder why can't they be selective in gushing out their wrath? Why do they crush indiscriminately instead of only the criminals and callous?

Indra was the first to plunge Gujarat into second year of drought. Prithvi was the next to split its sides.

Some officials hardly remember that drought permeated everything before the quake.

The "Relief Manual" has been totally forgotten at a time when it could have been drastically amended to meet the new situation.

Just look at this small outlying village of Jamnagar district, called Keradi. Like any other village, its 1,300 residents went through the crushing temblor. The entire village needs to be rebuilt. Digjam company has even adopted it.

But the old problem of water scarcity has made their life even more miserable.

Five days after the quake, they received water through tankers. But where would they conserve it? There was no overhead tank nor any other facility. One plastic tank could never be enough. The result: Water is being collected in a common water pool (Avedo), from where both humans and cattle drink water!

With only one JCB machine engaged in removing the debris, Keradi has almost become a ghost village. No TDO or relief commission people are to be seen here, as they take the village as being "adopted", on paper at least. The adopting company has not launched any work of rehabilitation.

Go to another village-Paliad of Bhavnagar district. People had to squat on the highway and stop vehicles to demand water. In Chittal village of Amreli district, villagers destroyed the entire panchayat office while demanding water. At Maliya-Miyana, a barrel of water is sold for Rs 50. The story is endless.

Water in Kalubhar river of Amreli district was finished off in January. Mahi pipeline could provide water only after March-end-How could the people survive meanwhile?

It's not true to say that people gaze only at Gandhinagar for relief. One of the charity institutions has opened a cattle camp on Gandhinagar-Sarkhej highway and people from far away villages bring their cattle to the camp. But they can't accept all the hungry and thirsty cattle there. Rest of them must die.

Problem of fodder and water is relegated to the background amidst the din and noise of rehabilitation. God Indra is not going to pour the rain off-season. Twenty-two out of 26 districts are facing worst ever drought.

What is needed is a crash programme of all-round relief "yagna", joined by the government machinery, NGOs and rural mass themselves. At present, all the three work indifferently to each other. Meetings at Gandhinagar should be banned. All of those power wielders should meet in villages. Piecemeal charities or a few tankers or a rare visit of a top official would not mean much.

Perhaps, people need another God. The scriptures ordained that at the end of each century, Indra would be superseded as king by some other god, or even by Man. We must find this Man.

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BSNL is allegedly busy benefiting contractors rather than customers. Thursday, March 15, 2001

VADODARA: If the critical information furnished by senior telecom sources is anything to go by, BSNL is allegedly busy benefiting contractors rather than customers.

Documents in possession of 'The Times of India' suggests that many contracts awarded for optical fibre laying, under ground cable work and horizontal drilling awarded in VTD and a few other telecom districts are of dubious nature. Under all the three said categories of cable work, there is a rate disparity not only between two telecom districts but also within the same city.

For instance for horizontal drilling in 4, 6 and 8 inches circumference category, the VTD has awarded contracts that has three different prices. For 4 inch category of horizontal drilling the three prices per meter are -- Rs 1300, Rs 1500 and Rs 1700 per metre. For 6 inches it is Rs 1600, Rs 1750 and Rs 2000 and for 8 inches the price is Rs 1850, Rs 2000 and Rs 2250. Whereas same type of work in Palanpur was awarded for Rs 358.75, Rs 410 and Rs 512 per metre rate for 4, 6 and 8 inches respectively.

"There is not much difference in the nature and skill of work for horizontal drilling in VTD and Palanpur. But despite this there is a gross difference of rates", said a highly placed sources in BSNL state circle office. He alleged that a certain section of senior officers were hand in glove with contractors creating circumstances were contracts were awarded at higher rates.

"In Palanpur the rates for 4 and 6 inches category horizontal drilling last year was Rs 2200 and Rs 2300. When somebody informed the vigilance about the alleged nexus of a senior officer and the contractor, this year the rates have come down in the range of Rs 300 to Rs 500", the source said.

"In VTD too there is a design to give contracts at high rates. After allegations that the VTD was unduly favouring one particular contractor, the administration came up with this brilliant idea of zoning the city. That means instead of one contractor benefiting now there are five", the source alleged. Interestingly the BSNL Chief Auditor General (CAG) had informed the state circle about the said irregularities but apparently no strict action was taken against errant offices.

"This nexus between some senior telecom officers and the contractors has resulted in BSNL's revenue loss to the tune of crores of rupees in false billings. Moreover, the inquiry ordered in VTD case has turned futile as the contractor indicted for wrong doing continues to be favoured by the administration", sources allege.

BSNL Gujarat circle vigilance officer Vidyabhushan Raina when informed about the alleged irregularities said that 'action has been taken against errant officers'. "There were few complaints and action has been taken in those cases. As far as the recent tendering process is concerned, according to us it has been done correctly. For rates disparity we understand that different rates for drilling and other works are charged according to the type of soil in that particular district", Raina said. Sources, however, point out that the BSNL has no soil analysts.

Raina, nonetheless, insists that besides soil type the cost also depends on the type of machinery and skill to be employed by contractors in horizontal drilling, OFC and underground cable laying work. Raina also said that M V Omni Enterprises was about to be black listed.

"It was to be black listed but I am not aware whether that has been done or not", he said.

BSNL Gujarat circle chief general manager P K Chanda was not available for comment. The CGM office in Ahmedabad said Chanda was out of station.

Related News - Dubious deals cost BSNL crores

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