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March 1, 2001 - March 1, 2001

Damage assessment work may be delayed Thursday, March 1, 2001

RAJKOT: The survey launched by 475 engineers of the Sardar Sarovar Nigam to assess damage to property in Rajkot district is likely to be delayed as engineers are unable to get 'talati mantris' and photographers to help in the survey.

Highly placed sources in the district administration said the panchayat had done the initial survey but that was not acceptable to the state government; hence, they had asked Sardar Sarovar engineers to carry out a fresh survey.

The first survey of the four quake-affected talukas of Rajkot district was carried out on February 21 by 200 engineers in Morbi, 80 in Maliya, 100 in Tankara and 75 in Padhadhari. The surveyors have been given forms which include filling up details like survey number of the plot and other revenue records for which a talati mantri's help is needed.

However, due to shortage of such talati mantris, the entire work was likely to be delayed. The teams and officials had not even been provided with photographs of houses and shops. This made the work of the surveyor all the more time consuming.

In Morbi, as against 200 engineers there are just 35 talati mantris. The people are also unhappy with the inexperienced staff that have been involved in surveying work. The task, in fact, should have been assigned to the buildings department.

As the survey work has yet to be completed, the process of rehabilitation was also likely to be delayed, which would only add to the woes of the quake-affected people. The people were hoping for some respite during summer and monsoon months.

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Ahmed Patel flays state govt on disaster management failure Thursday, March 1, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Congress member of the Rajya Sabha Ahmed Patel has criticised the state government for its failure on three vital aspects of disaster management rescue, relief and rehabilitation.

Patel, who participated in a debate on the earthquake in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, said that even after five days of tragedy which struck various parts of Gujarat on the Republic Day, the state could not move its machinery despite claim that it had faced the situation on a war footing.

According to a press release, Patel cited instances of failure and inhuman attitute of the state administration. Even after a month, the state has not been able to provide relief to thousands of people who are living under open sky.

He doubted whether the state government would be able to construct eight lakh houses in coming four months as claimed by the chief minister. When the state administration has failed to provide enough tents to the affected people, how will it provide houses to them, he wondered.

The state administration, he said, has not been able to remove debris forcing the affected people to keep vigil since their assets are still buried. He cited the example of Kandla Port Trust authorities who not only removed debris in its area but also at many other places. The state administration could have done the same. The government has neither political will nor imagination and co-ordination.

Patel accused the state government of deliberately underestimating the loss of human lives to avoid giving compensation to the bereaved families. Despite the chief minister's assurance, the administration is asking the affected people to produce copies of post-mortem reports before their claims could be settled. In some cases, people have been asked to provide ration cards, he said.

Patel praised the role of Army and para-military forces who were in the forefront of rescue operations right from the beginning. The Congress workers, several Congress-ruled states and the NGOs had arranged treatment of the affected people and provided relief materials, he added.

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CEPT gives, 619 buildings, safety certificates Thursday, March 1, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The Centre for Environment Planning and Training (CEPT), which has been requisitioned by the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) to certify about the safety of buildings issued certificates to 619 buildings on Tuesday.

Of this, 72 buildings have been categorised as G1 (no damage), 339 in G1(thin cracks in plaster), and 208 in G2 (damage to non-structural parts). All these three categories are considered safe for occupation.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for AUDA said the building clearance to Mansi Apartments had been during the Congress regime and to Shikhar Apartments during the RJP rule.

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Shaky schools continue to scare children, parents Thursday, March 1, 2001

AHMEDABAD: A "ghost school". This is how Amraiwadi Municipality Shala number 2 and 4 is referred to these days. The school has a registered strength of 1,400 odd students and a staff of about 35 to 40 teachers, but not a soul to be seen ever since the killer quake brought down the parapet wall of the three-storeyed building, killing 10 students and leaving more than 40 injured as they stood in queues singing the national anthem on the Republic Day.

Just a lone mother, who refuses to come to terms with the fact that both her son Amit (6) and daughter Sapna (7) were buried under the school debris, comes there on and off to take her children back home. And the bunch of equally traumatised teachers who say that if it was not for the job, they would never come back to school after all the helplessness and misery they have witnessed.

"Do you see this? There were about thousand children running like crazy, crying, falling over each other", says a teacher pointing at the scattered pairs of slippers across the playground.

Teaching has come to a grinding halt, as no aid has reached them so far. The building obviously stands badly damaged with wide cracks running through its structure. They have a huge playground but the corporation has not provided them any tents, any aid, nothing at all.

Parents are baying for Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation's blood as they have decided to gherao officials whenever they dare visit the school next. "We will give them Rs 2 lakh and ask them to admit their children in this school to die", fumed an agitated parent at a recently held condolence meeting.

Amraiwadi school is not an isolated case. Gopalnagar Prathmik Shala, Shahpur Municipality Shala... the list is endless. Its back to basics for teachers and students of the nearly 30 municipal school buildings which collapsed during the January 26 quake. With no relief reaching these sites, classrooms are being held under trees and open spaces. The 567 municipal schools which were packed into 262 buildings with around 2.24 lakh students, most are functioning in buildings with heavy structural damage.

For many schools the status is that of "no work" until retrofitting and seismic strengthening is carried out. Widening cracks with aftershocks and tremors has kept both teachers and students away.

Officials of the municipal school board expressed fear that the next monsoon would further damage these quake-hit buildings triggering off unprecedented drop-out rates in the municipality schools.

Says Ganpat Parmar, the chairman of the municipal school board, "On February 1, I asked the corporation to verify the condition of school buildings but till date there has been no action. The state government too has simply ignored my requests for tents to run the schools in. Teachers and students are forced to hold classes in extreme weather conditions or from cracked up buildings."

Parmar has now turned to the UNICEF for 5,600 tents as temporary arrangement to hold classes. "We will require atleast Rs 31 crore for repair, reconstruction and retrofitting of school buildings but nobody seems to care," added Parmar.

The scenario is much the same in private schools across the city. With memories of the 32 deaths in the Swaminarayan school still fresh in the mind, sights of cracked buildings have left parents jittery and are extremely wary in entrusting their children to the shaken temples of knowledge. The Times of India has been flooded with complaints from worried parents pointing at how their children are being forced into damaged schools.

"The school is badly damaged and can pose serious risk in case tremor strikes again. But the school authorities just refuse to understand", complained the mother of a student of Army School in Cantonment, the first to resume classes after the killer quake.

On Tuesday, a group of agitated parents protested the decision of Best Higher Secondary School management's decision to seat primary students in classes on the first floor of a new building with two badly damaged columns. "How can they knowingly push our children into the jaws of death?", complained a worried mother over phone to TOI.

A certificate issued by a US-qualified structural engineer is pasted outside the building stating that damage has been repaired and the building is safe. "But how do we believe it? We don't know whether the structural engineer is a certified one or not", refrained the mother. "All parents want their children to be seated under tents, but they don't realise that this is physically not possible", conceded a harried official of Best School on conditions of anonymity.

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Now college students want relief in exams Thursday, March 1, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Even as student parties and academicians remain divided over the issue, pressure is mounting on the state government to declare 'general option' in the forthcoming Gujarat University examinations scheduled to be held from April 19 onwards.

While the two main political student parties are still at cross-purposes, speculation is rife after the lenient approach favoured by school education minister Anandiben Patel in declaring mass promotion for school students except those appearing in board exams. "College students cannot be discriminated against by the government. It will have to extend its policy of leniency adopted in schools to the universities as well," goes the popular refrain.

Presently, GU offers internal option where students are required to answer five questions on one-or-one basis. General option will give them a wider option of choosing five questions out of ten, making exams a lot easier to handle.

More than for the good of students, lobbying for general option is an easy tool in the hands of student parties to earn instant goodwill and make their presence felt in the university corridors. The first to jump at this opportunity was National Students Union of India (NSUI) who also staged a noisy dharna in the GU premises to press their demand for general option with a view to ease things for quake-devastated students. NSUI has threatened to intensify the agitation if the demand is not met at the earliest.

Curiously here, while Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), student wing allied with BJP and arch-NSUI rival, has vehemently opposed general option, BJP city youth wing has endorsed the demand citing it essential to bring out students from under the pressure of examinations in the hour of calamity.

ABVP has demanded that government conduct separate exams for the quake affected after one month. For the others, GU should conduct exams as per schedule only.

Taking a diametrically opposite stance from ABVP, BJP city youth wing president Amit Thaker said that pushing back preliminary examinations and final University examinations is no solace for college students reeling under the devastating impact of killer quake. "A large number of students have either lost their relations or are forced on the streets because of severe damage to their houses. Here, while the students are under such intense mental stress, GU should strive to take care of their mental health by providing some relief in the examination pattern," urged youth wing president Amit Thaker.

GU authorities conceded that they are open to the idea of general option but chose to remain tight lipped about whether or not it will be actually adopted. "The issue has taken a political colour now. Decisions are being made at government level and we will follow any stance taken by it in favour of students," refrained a high-level official on condition of anonymity. GU vice chancellor Naresh Ved when contacted informed that no decision had been taken so far on the issue, demand for which is getting louder and louder in the GU corridors.

Meanwhile, academic fraternity too seems divided over the issue of general option. Anti-general option group feels that it will not augur well for students, especially while applying for jobs or for higher studies abroad. "As it is, education at GU is considered weak. GU degree does not command much value and will be regarded with more negativity if general option is declared," observed a principal and renowned academician, on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, those favouring multiple option felt that it was nothing akin to mass promotion and will not have any negative impact on the future course of students.

Similar feelings were echoed by students. Says Ujali Shah of LJ College, "Quake has left students numb. The mental pressure is too much. Declaring general option will do good for students to ease off examination pressure.

On the other hand, students like Rakesh Sharma of HK Arts College feel that declaring general option will be unjust to bright students. "Only weak students who are generally not interested in studying will benefit.... students who study hard will actually lose out".

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