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March 4, 2001 - March 5, 2001

Quake awareness programs at different places Monday, March 5, 2001

BHAVNAGAR: A score of college boys and girls did a commendable job by taking the scientific concept of the earthquake to the people by performing a street play Jagran (awakening).

The play, written and directed by Rajiv and Niren Bhatt, impressively demonstrated the precautions that need to be taken to prevent lives. It also explained that it is not possible to forecast earthquakes.

Beating of a dhol along with the recitation of a folk stanza 'Danko vagyo gurjarvasio jaggo re..., Loko jaggo re pan na bhagjo re...' (awake the people of Gujarat, the drum is beating but do not run with panic in case of earthquake) attracted large crowds. The follow-up presentation of a rangla rushing out with a bunch of clothes on his head was a perfect demonstration of fearfulness for educating disillusioned and confused people.

The college students also collected woollens, clothes and other relief material worth Rs 35,000 for the victims of earthquake.

Quake in verse

BHAVNAGAR: Ishwargiri Goswami (16), who suffered a compounded misery of loosing a brother in the killer earthquake, his father loosing a leg and he himself having a fractured right hand, has showed great degree of resilience and grit.

He was here to present his poem at the prayer meeting organised by the theosophical lodge for paying homage to those killed in the earthquake.

Although having education up to class two and earning livelihood by tailoring at village Chobari near Bhuj, Ishwargiri often writes touching poems.

The following stanza aptly reflects the unbearable loss of family members and properties suffered by the Kutchis:

'Ame Kutchma hata karata lila lehr,

Ochintano bhukamp aavyo ne vartavyo kalo ker,

Gher ghaer thaya ruden, kon kare teni vaat,

Vaat kare Ishar bhukampni sambhalje Bhagvan.'

(We were quite happy in Kutch when sudenly came a killer earthquake. Every house was wailing for loss of kith and kin, and oh God, I convey their agony to you through my poem)

Ishwargiri was brought to Bhavnagar by Nandakuwerba High School NSS girl volunteers, who worked at a makeshift hospital in Bhuj.

"Our girls were helping the injured women and children in their daily activities but no sooner they completed the work they used to sit with an uneducated poet to listen his traditional rhymes," NSS co-ordinator Elaben Gohil said.

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Water woes / Animal Cry for Help Monday, March 5, 2001

NADIAD: Nar village in Anand district, having a population of 10,000, has been experiencing great deal of hardships due to dual problem of drinking water and roads, thanks to apathy shown by the state government.

According to the sarpanch of Nar village, for the past three years the villagers have been buying drinking water at Rs 3 for five litres as the supply from the village bore is not fit for drinking, as revealed by the test report.

Though, following representation made by the villagers in 1998, the Gujarat State Water Supply Board had said that an action plan for supplying drinking water from Pandoli village near Nar had been prepared, it remained only on paper.

"It is surprising that when efforts are being made to provide drinking water from Kheda and Anand districts to parts of Saurashtra, our village is deprived of it," the sarpanch said.

Animals cry for help

PALANPUR: Rajapur panjrapole in Deesa once again grabbed headlines (last year it was due to alleged murder of its worker Prakash Shah) this week with the taking out of a procession of over 5,000 animals to highlight the plight of the panjrapoles and to demand subsidies and funds from the government.

The main bazaar of Deesa presented a rare scene as the long procession of animals and about a hundred owners wounded its way on Thursday. According to a local trustee, Bharat Kothari, "The Rajapur panjrapole has been the asylum of the cattle and other disabled animals since last several years. Besides, almost all disputed animals are sent to this panjrapole by the court from Banaskantha."

Apart from regular liabilities as many as 50 tribals along with about 2000 of their animals have sought shelter here following the closure of the dhorwadas in Danta and other places of the district, he added.

He said so far the panjrapole had been running with the donations from Mumbai based Jain diamond traders, originally from Banaskantha, and government assistance. However, the flow of donations had slowed down this year as most of it was being diverted to the relief operations in the quake-affected areas of Kutch, Patan and Banaskantha districts.

The crisis further aggravated with government's volte-face in providing the regular subsidy, putting the panjrapole in an unprecedented trouble, he said.

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TDO just a tip of the corrupted AMC iceberg Monday, March 5, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Six town development office staff suspended, ACB to investigate into the background of 39 TDO staffers, transfers and changes in TDO and showcause to 12 employees of the TDO.

These are the actions initiated by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation in the aftermath of the Republic Day quake. Rampant malpractices, links with builders and a number of other ills have led the AMC to initiate an unprecedented clean up drive that would have one opinion that its town development officers were the only black sheep in an otherwise clean set-up.

But, think again as investigations reveal the links of certain other departments which have been working in close association with the TDO. Consider estate and vigilance departments for starters and throw in some officials of the legal services wing too and even then you have got only a few pieces left in the jigsaw puzzle pointing towards a large picture. A picture that has some senior officials of AMC looking the other way, while certain other junior staff made hay.

Consider these examples:

* In a complete reversal of roles a senior official of the vigilance department of AMC was caught blackmailing certain TDO staff. This senior official had knowledge of the happenings (as did many others in the vigilance department) in TDO and was using it to his advantage to keep it "off the record."

* Names of officials in AMC's estate department and also of TDO figure as consultants in pamphlets circulated by builders. Investigations of TOI have revealed that in most cases AMC employees had used names of their wives or adopted fictitious identities for helping out builder-friends. However, the telephone numbers printed on the pamphlets lead back to staffers of the AMC.

* In yet another instance, sleuths conducting independent enquiry into the builder-AMC staff nexus spied on a staff of the estate department owning a thriving consultancy firm with clientele like top builders and promoters alike. The employee (who is said to have political clout) was apparently providing insights on how to expedite the passing of building plans and on ways to "utilise" the existing rules and regulation to their advantage.

According to sources in the AMC, the vigilance department which went through some reshuffling (four of its officials were replaced by staff of the engineering department recently) has also got its quota of rotten apples. "It is surprising that in all these years only a few of the thousands of complaints that were lodged with the vigilance department were allowed to filter through to the correct channels. A majority of the prospective cases for investigations were relegated to dusty stacks of files," said a senior AMC official.

The source further added that this practice had led to a huge number of pending cases which were attempted to be cleared at a go by a certain official (who has ever since been transferred to a different department). But files pertaining to cases dating back to early 1990s and beyond were difficult to investigate with little or no proof of alleged malpractices against the accused officials.

As per procedure, after completion of investigations, the vigilance department submits a report to the authorities of AMC and then the files are transferred to the department for industrial relations. However, TOI investigations have revealed that on an average only about 15 to 20 files pertaining to complaints of malpractices were forwarded to the IR department while hundreds of others went a begging for reasons best known to the officials concerned. Officials reveal, "certain cases with the vigilance department are against the investigators themselves."

However, municipal commissioner K Kailashnathan clarifies that the rot mainly stemmed from the TDO and certain staff of the TDO who had been shifted to the vigilance. In order to check the rampant malpractices, the AMC has begun shifting in staff of the engineering department into both vigilance and town development office.

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Cobweb of statistics blurs quake-damage estimates Sunday, March 4, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, while unveiling the quake rehabilitation packages recently, had laid stress on the fact that they had been prepared in "record time". Now consider this. The package for Latur, where the area of damage did not go beyond a few kilometres, was prepared in two years. It took the Japanese government two months to offer a 10-year rehabilitation plan for Kobe which was devastated by a quake some years back. But Gujarat came out with a package covering all the rural areas in just 20 days!

To compound matters, there seems to be no realisation that by doing things in haste - without lining up finances or even completing basic data survey - all the government has managed to do is create confusion all around.

Things are going awry with all sorts of statistics flying around. The bureaucracy's task is getting even more tough with the CM dishing out his own figures - like building 8 lakh temporary houses by June 31.

As for the toll, the official figure put out on Saturday was 19,903. A fortnight ago, the CM had said it was "nearly 30,000". Before that, Union defence minister George Fernandes had come out with his "nearly 1 lakh" statement.

And things are no different when it comes to estimating the number of affected villages, damaged houses, even financial losses.

Finance minister Vajubhai Vala estimated on March 2 that the number of quake-affected villages was 7,633. But the 'Factsheet on earthquake' sent to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank had mentioned 8,792. An Information Department note dated February 26 had pegged it at 7,904.

A preliminary survey had said that 2.45 lakh houses were destroyed in the worst-affected Bhuj, Bhachau, Rapar and Anjar talukas. But on March 2 Vala said 30,000 new houses would have to be recontructed in the four towns and another 1.7 lakh in the rural areas of Kutch district, the total coming to two lakh houses.

Estimates of villages with 70 per cent or more damage also vary from 229 to 450!

The damage estimates, too, have shown sharp variation. The CM, in his letter to the PM on January 29 put it at Rs 10,000 crore, and sought Central assistance of Rs 13,500 crore.

But the WB-ADB team was told that the damage was to the tune of Rs 20,875 crore. Two other estimates doing the rounds are of Rs 20,000 crore and Rs 21,250 crore. The memorandum to the Government of India in mid-February had claimed Rs 14,454-crore damage, while demanding Rs 8,318 crore as immediate assistance and additional Rs 2,775 crore by March 31.

But what takes the cake is the estimate of loss to trade and commerce. It was mentioned as Rs 5,000 crore (industrial units) and Rs 3,000 crore (commercial enterprises), in the first memorandum to the WB-ADB. The first letter to the PM on January 29 as also an Industries Commission document a fortnight later estimated the overall loss (both damage and loss on account of production) at Rs 2,000 crore.

Surprisingly, the CM's letter to the Union finance minister on February 23 scaled down the capital loss to Rs 310 crore and tagged on Rs 850 crore as "monthly shortfall/loss". It stated that the estimated capital loss to Kutch district alone was around Rs 195 crore.

In sharp contrast, the "estimated loss" to industries in the memorandum to the Centre put the figure at a mere Rs 180 crore! The assistance sought from the Centre was even less - Rs 70 crore immediately and Rs 50 crore by March 31.

The Industries Commission document put the damage to the small scale industries all over the state at Rs 172.62 crore, but said, if the damage to the machinery was also included, it would touch Rs 250 crore.

It said the amount required to revive industries by putting fresh infrastructure in place would be Rs 880 crore with another Rs 810 crore needed for repairing the existing infrastructure. At the same time, the package announced by the state for industry is for a mere Rs 1,000 crore.

Significantly, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy has estimated Gujarat's trade and commerce losses at Rs 8000 crore.

Similar confusion prevails on the number of quake orphans. Education minister Anandiben Patel asserts the quake has thrown up 197 orphans while sources in the social justice and empowerment department put the figure at 400!

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Govt unveils rehabilitation package for farmers Sunday, March 4, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: The government on Friday announced a Rs 434.65-crore scheme to rehabilitate farmers affected in the earthquake.

The scheme includes a Rs 181.25-crore rehabilitation package, a Rs 117.5-crore package to rebuild destroyed farm infrastructure facilities and a Rs 135.9-crore package to provide agricultural equipment.

Announcing the scheme after Cabinet approval, agriculture minister Becharbhai Bhadani admitted, "We have no separate data for Kutch. The scheme is meant for Gujarat. Survey is still on. We would know the share of Kutch some time later." The scheme does not include the animal husbandry package, crucial for Kutch's rural population. Most farmers of the district are dependent on cattle breeding as a major source of income.

The "Memorandum on the Quake Damage in Gujarat" submitted to the Centre last month had underlined that "animal husbandry is an important economic activity in the affected areas", suggesting "it is necessary to sustain the animal husbandry infrastructure and ensure that the health of the animal population does not deteriorate".

About 18,600 head of cattle have perished in the quake. The memorandum had worked out a Rs 40-crore scheme for milk production enhancement of dairy animals, and a Rs 5.3 crore scheme for better sheep and goat breeding.

Estimating that in all 1,45,000 farmers have suffered in the quake, the scheme approved on Friday announced Rs 10,000 for the small and marginal farmer and Rs 15,000 for other farmers. To rebuild farm facilities destroyed in the quake, those that have suffered complete loss would be given Rs 10,000 each, while others Rs 2,500.

The farmers whose oil engines and electric motors have been totally destroyed would be given Rs 18,000 and while Rs 21,000 would be given against totally destroyed tubewells, wells and pipelines. Others would be given one-third the amount.

This apart, the small and marginal farmers would be given 60 per cent of up to Rs 1 lakh loan for rebuilding their farms. Other farmers would be given a 50 per cent subsidy. The loan would be provided by the Gujarat State Water Resources Corporation.

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