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March 9, 2001 - March 9, 2001

These unsung heroines believe in self-help Friday, March 9, 2001

AHMEDABAD: They are what you would call the salt of the earth; unfeted but daring, these are women who don't feature in the media columns for the umpteenth time on Women's Day, but who with quiet determination look towards self-help in improving their lot.

A couple of hundred kilometres away from Ahmedabad, in Ishadara village, an all-women five-member team runs the show, without the attendant fanfare, of managing the group water supply scheme for the adjoining four villages of the water-starved Surendranagar district.

Under the aegis of the Surendranagar Mahila aur Bal Vikas Sanstha, these women in the 25-35 age group, were trained for six months by the Gujarat Water Supply Board, right from handling the traditional linesman's job (or lineswoman, corrects a Sanstha member with a giggle), manning (or womanning) the main water pumping station to maintenance of related infrastructure.

And when the quake damaged the pipe connecting the overhead water storage tank, of 4.5 lakh litres capacity, it were these women, along with SEWA members (mostly salt workers), who mustered the courage of climbing atop the structure and repaired the damage. "The mason simply fled and refused to do anything as there were frequent tremors," recalls Beena Trivedi, local co-ordinator of the Sanstha.

And no, it wasn't an easy fight to do something as proactive and basic as controlling the much-needed water resources, which women in these areas are known to treat as more precious than anything else for survival.

"There were the usual sniggers from the men, but after umpteen Gram Sabhas and discussions, the idea was gradually accepted. While earlier villagers used to face the usual indifference of the government staffers, corrective measures take place much earlier now," adds Truptiben, district co-ordinator.

Having worked on their own since the last three months, this group of women has redefined self-reliance on its own terms and what better timing than the new millennium, of ushering in Perestroika of this kind.

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Absence of tie beams at ground level led to collapse: Investigators Friday, March 9, 2001

AHMEDABAD: * Builders, structural engineers, architects, civic bodies turn the needle of suspicion towards each other and disown responsibility for crumbled multi-storeyed apartments. * A day-long symposium at the Usmanpura office of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation on Wednesday saw renowned structural and civil engineers from across the country discussing ideal building practices in a seismic zone III city, namely Ahmedabad.

While the accused launch on to a sinister pass the buck game and analysts get busy devising a capacity building programme for civil, structural and construction engineers of Ahmedabad, independent investigations carried out by a team of structural engineers from Indore give the answer to an often asked question: How did the low-rise and high-rise buildings turned into a mass of debris ?

And, prima facie evidence holds the builder-politician-civic body nexus responsible for gross flouting of norms which caused the buildings to cave in.

Structural engineers of Kutumbale Consultants and Engineers Private Ltd from Indore (who are advisors to the AMC on ideal building practices in Ahmedabad) have found "concrete evidence" on how most of the concrete jungles at Bhuj, Anjar, Gandhidham, Bhachau and Ahmedabad were reduced to rubbles.

The team of "concrete investigators" have deduced: Buildings in places like Ahmedabad and Bhuj were not designed as per seismic forces specific to seismal zones like five for Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Gandhidham and three at Ahmedabad. They also set aside an often cited excuse that soft floor (open parking space) at ground level was primarily responsible for collapse of maximum number of three or four-storeyed RCC and load bearing structures.

After inspecting, a number of collapsed buildings found a unique failure pattern. Most of the RCC and load bearing structures which had crumbled during the earthquake had no ground beams or tie beams at ground level.

This fact was confirmed by digging trenches to uncover ground beams at two collapsed building sites. The team which spend 15 days in these quake-affected zones, often working 12 hours every day, clicked over 700 photographs to document the reasons behind collapse of high and low-rise structures. The team from Indore have also summarised that the columns were extending from foundation to the bottom of first floor without any tie beams thus turning into "long columns" which buckled under seismic forces resulting in "total collapse."

"Apart from non-compliance with building bylaws effective in seismal active zones, most of the structures did not have tie beams connecting, strengthening parking level columns. Without this support the columns behaved as long column and buckled," said N Y Choudhary, director of Kutumbale Consultants Private Ltd.

The concrete investigators also pointed out that some buildings (in the same location) collapsed, some exhibited different levels of problems while others remained completely unharmed.

"Strange contrasting behaviour of buildings may be attributed to insufficient sections for deadload or liveload conditions, use of poor quality of building material. Add to that negligence in supervision at various stages of construction, defective or insufficient detailing of reinforcement and you have got the perfect recipe for disaster," said Choudhary.

The investigators have recommended that the structures should be properly planned for uniformity of strength in all directions (which was lacking in most collapsed buildings), structures should be adequately designed to handle seismic forces and that proper attention should be given to detailing of reinforcement and supervision during different stages of construction. That apart, the study holds the failure mechanism of structural element, particularly columns (through physical evidences) as the main cause behind buildings turning into death traps.

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Residents continue to delay govt relocation plan Friday, March 9, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: Stalemate on the number of quake-hit towns and villages that wished to be relocated still continues in the corridors of power. A crucial Cabinet meeting on Wednesday put off the decision to relocate the towns and villages with voluntary agencies' help to another date as "no final word from the locals has been received". Plans for relocation have been ready for over a fortnight, yet a final package has not been put out because the local viewpoint is "still awaited".

Having announced its decision to provide one-room GI sheet temporary accommodation to each family in the ravaged areas, the government washed its hands of constructing fresh permanent houses. Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel told news persons post-Cabinet, "We have received proposals from 40 voluntary agencies to adopt 203 villages, of a total of 360 now on the list of those that have suffered more than 70 per cent destruction. Half of them are from business houses. We hope, all the villages will be covered."

The CM said, "The NGO contribution as also the 50 per cent government money would all be utilised by the voluntary agencies. We would only monitor work, that's all." However, he underlined, the final picture of how many villages wish to shift would emerge after March 10. "These decisions take time," he said. Of the 203 villages to be taken up by NGOs, 143 belong to Kutch, 24 Patan, 12 Surendranagar and 15 Rajkot district.

Cabinet's No 2 Suresh Mehta, who belongs to Kutch, and several senior officials have doubted the NGOs' ability to take up all the villages, with government wishing to standby and watch the reconstruction. Mehta and officials are of the view that the NGOs' contribution in the total reconstruction work cannot go beyond 10 per cent.

Without pointing out how much would it cost, the CM suggested, the Rehabilitation Package II was likely to be applied to towns and villages that wished to be relocated. The package, meant for talukas and towns already declared worst affected and lying in Zone 4 and 5, envisages Rs 40,000 for a damaged hut, up to Rs 90,000 for totally damaged houses, and up to Rs 30,000 for partially damaged houses.

The package also allows a loan of up to Rs 1 lakh at a "reasonable rate as decided by banks", and the payments would be given in instalment after an assessment a team of technical people and NGOs. The CM said it would take about a year for the full relocation to complete for an average of 200 houses. "It might take more time for others", he added. Yet, there was no alternative package for the towns and villages unwilling to shift.

Reports from Kutch suggested that three of the four towns worst affected by the quake -- Bhuj, Bhachau and Rapar -- appeared unwilling to be relocated. Yet, the CM declared that the state Cabinet, here in session on Wednesday for two-and-a-half hours, weighed heavily in favour of shifting all the four destroyed towns and 360 villages. Anjar is the only town which has so far expressed its formal approval to shift.

The CM said, "We would wait for another few days to allow the residents of each of these towns to decide in favour of shifting. We would want people to live in a new place. But if they decide otherwise, we would have to see what we would do." He did not say that people would be forcibly shifted to a new place, nor did he underline that the quake-hit people would be allowed to live at the old place of living.

While Rapar has formally conveyed to the state that it would not shift, "a similar sentiment is strong in Bhuj and Bhachau", an official conceded. As for the villages, those wanting to be shifted would be "immediately given 10 hectares of land". Relocation would be done while taking a simultaneous undertaking from the local people not to claim their earlier landed property.

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Gujarat Cabinet gives disaster mgt panel more power Friday, March 9, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: The state Cabinet on Wednesday decided that the Gujarat Disaster Management Authority (GDMA), formed in the wake of the earthquake, would be empowered to take all Cabinet-level policy decisions on relief and rehabilitation of the ravaged areas. The CM chairs the Authority, which has under it senior ministers and top officials.

The Cabinet on Wednesday decided that the authority's decisions would be implemented by all departments concerned as also the regional network of the officialdom. It would not only formulate programmes and policies on relief and rehabilitation but also work out long-term plans, organise finances from the Centre, international financial institutes such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, besides other donors.

Acting as the nodal agency and empowered to raise funds, it would control finance, administration, investment and reinvestment of money collected from the sale of land, building, equipment, infrastructure.

It would also monitor the implementation of projects such as health and sanitation, welfare of the affected, preservation of environment and other activities.

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Temblor was last straw for Godaapar villagers Friday, March 9, 2001

BHUJ: The Republic Day quake was the final nail in the coffin for 48 Harijan families of the border village of Godaapar, some 80 km from here. Although frequent droughts over the years were part of life for them and their forebears, the killer quake helped them make up their mind: they decided to leave their village and settle elsewhere.
For the past 11 days now, these families have been camping near Kukma village. ``This is our new home, our new village, whatever you call it. We have settled here permanently and hope for a happy life as surroundings here are greener than where we lived earlier,'' leader Phanta Gangu Harijan said to Express Newsline on Wednesday. He said they were already consulting their Gor Maharaj (community priest) for naming the new settlement.

Their ancestral village in Pachham area is mainly inhabitated by two communities, Muslims and Harijans. ``We have such cordial relations with the Muslim community in our former village that they were not ready to let us leave.

And a few days after we came here, a high-level delegation of Muslim leaders led by former village sarpanch Kalbai Alana and village leader Haji Allan came and urged us to return to Godaapar,'' Phanta Gangu said.

A talk with migrant Harijan families revealed that the women and children were haunted by memories of the quake and did not want their children to live a hard and uncertain life. ``Our men always came to work at Bhuj, Kandla, Gandhidham as casual labour as Khavda did not offer them much work. On January 26, no men were there at home and our women and children lived through the nightmare all alone,'' Rana Bhura, another leader said.

Bhura said all their houses had collapsed and no one had reached their village for a week. The quake had turned their wells dry and they were now dependent on water tankers, which came once in a while. ``We can live without food, but how we can live without water. I used drinking water like oil, giving only a few drops to my children, a very pathetic scene'', Bhachiben said.

But Namori Neta finds happy contrasts at the new place. ``We have lots of water here for us and our animals. We have farms nearby where owners have not only offered us employment, but are already giving green fodder to our animals. I do not remember when our bovines last ate green fodder,'' Namori said.

Their women, he said, are ace artisans, but had no work since the last two years. He said they did receive cash doles, tarpaulin blankets and 15 kg rice per family at their Pachham village, but here they were provided with tents by Gems and Jewllery Foundation of Mumbai through the VHP.

Cooked food was daily provided to them. ``Today, however, is last day to get food as the langar is being shut down. But we are not worried as we are going to start working in farms and fields at the new place,'' Namori said.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Harijan residents of nine more villages in the Pachhan-Khavda area are planning to leave their villages permanently for the same reasons. Harijan families from Dinara and Dhrobana villages had in fact already shifted to a site near Rundramata dam, 14 km from here.

The first ever mass migration in recent times has caused serious concern in various quarters. For, the bordering Banni and Pachham areas are highly sensitive and notorious for trans-border crimes.

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