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March 8, 2001 - March 8, 2001

Areas facing water problem to get Narmada water: CM Thursday, March 8, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel on Wednesday said areas facing acute shortage of drinking water for the second consecutive year in the state would be provided with water to be pumped from the river Narmada.

Addressing a press conference here, Patel said an action plan has been drawn up by experts which envisages pumping of water from Narmada to be subsequently supplied through a network of canals and pipelines to the parched areas of Vadodara, Ahmedabad and Saurashtra region from March 15.

To a question, he said the Narmada water would definitely reach the water-starved Kutch district sooner or later. The department concerned have recently advertised for awarding of contracts for laying of canals and pipelines and once the entire project is completed, parched areas including Kutch would get water, he added.

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Hearing adjourned in PIL on builder-politician nexus Thursday, March 8, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Hearing on a public interest litigation (PIL), alleging that a high-risk building in the city, rendered unsafe for living after the earthquake, was not being demolished fully due to builder's nexus with "influential people like Gujarat's finance minister Vajubhai Vala, was adjourned to March 14 by the High Court on Wednesday.

A division bench comprising Chief Justice D N Dharmadhikari and Justice P B Majmudar had in February issued notices to Vala, Gujarat government, Ahmedabad municipal corporation, Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority and Chiman Agarwal, builder of the building, 'Shivalik' multistoreyed complex.

Petitioner Subhash Ramani submitted that initially it was decided by the authorities to demolish the entire 'Shivalik' building, but the decision was subsequently changed.

During the hearing, Yatin Oza appearing for the petitioner sought court's permission to make certain amendments in the petition, but it was objected to by the counsel for the respondents which included the minister on the ground that they should be done through an affidavit.

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Kutch Chambers protest slow pace of rehabilitation Thursday, March 8, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The Kutch Chambers of Commerce and Industry has threatened to take out a rally in Bhuj next Monday to protest against the slow pace of rehabilitation and political favouritism in delivering aid to the quake-affected persons.

Speaking to The Times of India, chamber president Arvind H Thakkar said people were very unhappy with the way in which the government was handling the situation and that they had no recourse but to take to streets. There was no respite for the people even 40 days after the quake, he said.

The government had still not made it clear as to where the quake-victims will be relocated and whether they will rebuild the towns at the same place.

As far as immediate relief was concerned, people first witnessed siphoning away of tents and blankets by the rich and the connected, and now they find that electricity has been provided only in areas like Chchpalia, Gerwadi ni Vandi and Hatkesh complex which are believed to be vote banks of BJP MLA Mukesh Jhaveri and former district president and Suresh Mehta supporter Arun Vachhrajani.

While people have lost everything they have, political parties cannot think beyond political equations, says Indian Medical Association's state unit vice-president Dr Gyaneshwar Rao. He said patients were still complaining to him about shortage of tents and blankets.

All eyes are now on Wednesday's cabinet meeting in Gandhinagar and if the government does not come up with answers and a programme of rehabilitation, people are going to lose their cool, said Thakkar. In fact apart from Suresh Mehta, most BJP leaders are of the view that they should leave it to the people as to where they want to rebuild their homes.

While the trading community, who held the clout and controlled the up-market areas of city centres are not willing to relocate for obvious reasons, the government is only talking of allowing people to decide and not starting any actual work.

On the other hand, survey and a compensation package of Gandhidham, like Ahmedabad, has been announced while other towns and villages, including Bhuj, Bhachau and Anjar are not sure what they will get.

Similarly a trade package with soft loans and subsidies for shop owners and industries affected by the earthquake has also not been announced. People have nothing left and they need money to start earning but that is not happening, he added.

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Can animals sense an approaching quake? Thursday, March 8, 2001

AHMEDABAD: On January 26, Ashok felt the earth beneath him shaky at Kankaria zoo, a few minutes before everyone else did. The fourteen year old elephant, a favourite with children at the city zoo, apparently decided his four 'pillars' will give way and squatted on the ground.

Mahavat Shankarbhai thought this behaviour was abnormal and reported this immediately to the head animal keeper, Ranjitsinh Jadeja. As the two were examining the pachyderm, the earthquake struck. The zoo superintendent Dr R K Sahu is convinced that Ashok's sensory perceptions gave him an early warning about the earthquake. "Animals who live beneath the ground in burrows , like rats and snakes , do feel the vibrations much before anybody else, but animals on the ground too felt these tremors coming minutes before the earthquake actually came", says Sahu.

However , wildlife experts and those specialising in handling of domestic animals aren't convinced. The state forest department has even denied news reports that the animals in the Gir National Park had started behaving abnormally just before the earthquake. "There was nothing of this sort , we have checked up these reports with all our officers in Gir and found there was no indication that the animals had sensed the vibrations before the humans did", said G A Patel, chief conservator of forests(Wild Life).

Ahmedabad Kennel Club secretary Loken Kharawala, who has a keen interest in studying canine behaviour, brushes aside any theory of animals acting as alarms for earthquakes. "There is no direct evidence that animals come to know of earthquakes beforehand," he says. "I have not come across a scientific study which proves that animals have a sixth sense in these matters. If reptiles come out of their burrows during a tremor, it is understandable as vibration is the only sense they have."

Veterinarian Chirag Dave too believes there is little chance of pet animals coming to know of tremors early. "If anything, there is a higher possibility of animals in the wild becoming uneasy during sudden changes in their environment," he says. "Alertness is what keeps them alive." Pet animals having such high alertness is out of the question for him. "My dog fetched his ball to play when he saw all of us running out! This obviously cannot be interpreted as premonition."

But there are people who believe that animals do behave strangely. According to an aquarium dealer Avinash Surti, "fish behave very oddly before a quake. They swim in panic and then just when it is going to occur, they lie quietly on the surface," adding that after the quake, even those communities who scorned at the idea of keeping pets in captivity are purchasing fish from him. However, Shuchi Mohatta of Matsyam, another dealer in aquariums does not agree with him as they did not register any noticeable increase in their sales.

The debate continues on whether animals can be observed to develop some early warning system which can forewarn human beings about an impending earthquake. Dr Sahu has not given up. He says even the crocodiles in the zoo, which were basking in the sun, suddenly jumped into the water just before the earthquake. When the earth really started shaking violently, then again came out on dry ground, scared.

The zoo director has flashed e-mail messages two days back to zoos all over the world to find out if any studies on animal behaviour before earthquakes had been undertaken. He says he was hopeful of a positive reply, especially from the world-renowned Gerall-Durell Wildlife Conservation Trust in UK which keeps tabs on animal behavioural studies world wide." We hear China has undertaken some studies of this sort, we hope to hear soon on this, I am convinced that close monitoring of animal behaviour can help in developing an early warning system," says Sahu.

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BJP determined to refurbish its image through public contact programmes. Thursday, March 8, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has in view of the increasing criticism of the state government's handling of the rescue and rehabilitation work, determined to refurbish its image through public contact programmes.

The party has decided to take up shramdaan for reconstruction of houses ravaged by the quake in 7000 villages of Kutch and Saurashtra.

Senior leaders of the party and functionaries from the district units, who assembled in presence of national vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy at Rajkot last week, have resolved to devote seven days in assisting the government in rehabilitation work by March 25 when the reconstruction of collapsed houses will commence.

Partymen have now been asked to go to the masses and help them in the true Jan Sangh spirit through a resolution passed at the two-day meeting of the state executive committee held in Rajkot.

Contrary to what was predicted about the government's dismal performance and the strong possibility of attack on the state leadership by moderates, nothing untoward happened at the meeting, which passed off without any fireworks.

Keshubhai Patel seems to have survived again as none of his opponents dared raise their voice against him. The moderates led by Suresh Mehta and Kashiram Rana have left the issue of change of leadership to fate. Political observers feel that the BJP will not make any hasty move till they were sure of a credible alternative to the veteran leader.

As expected, Suresh Mehta was conspicuous by his absence at the important meeting while Kashiram Rana did not remain present on second day saying he had an urgent meeting to attend in New Delhi.

Undeterred by adverse media reports, the BJP has decided to go ahead with its rehabilitation work. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has already announced its plan for adoption of 25 villages and construction of 100 community halls and a equal number of primary schools in quake-affected Kutch and Saurashtra.

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