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February 28, 2001 - February 28, 2001

People gear up for more belt-tightening Wednesday, February 28, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Repeatedly hit by harsh budgets, eroding their buying power and escalating cost of living, the average Indian has conditioned himself to curb spending and make the most of whatever is available. He has denied himself the many little comforts, which are taken for granted in the more developed and robust western economy.

And the tightening of the purse strings is not something which is restricted to a certain segment of the society. It runs through the very fibre of our economic fabric. The haves and have-nots are equally bearing the brunt of the slow-down in the economic growth rate. A cross-section of people talk on their condition and how they are faring today. Praveena Sharma reports:

Tushar S Trivedi, director, Adval Consultants

He has been fighting recession since past five years, when he set up his consultancy firm in Ahmedabad (1996), but to no avail. In the first two years, his annual income was barely Rs two lakh, which covered his basic requirements, and stretching himself beyond this would mean tampering with his budget. He paid an income tax of Rs 5,000 in the first two years. The subsequent year 1998-99 and 1999-2000 were not good years financially speaking, so he did not file any income tax returns in those years. But just when things were looking up for him this year, he has been hit by the quake. "I had invested Rs 10 lakh in the flat I had just bought. It has collapsed and now I will have to start all over again," says Trivedi. He had been planning to buy a mobile since a very long time. He has, now, post-postponed that. "Our economy has taken a severe beating over the last four years and, since we have been so engrossed in trying to eke out a living that we don't have time to think of anything else".

Restaurateur Herman Scott of Cafe Natarani

Watching him run his business, you would think he doesn't have a worry in the world. But when he talks about his finances, you realise that he too has not been able to keep out of the economic web of disaster that the government has woven over the past few years. In spite of three sources of income - his wife, Dinese Scott, works with Eveready and son is with Pizza Hut - he has to juggle money to plan a decent holiday. His wife gets home an income of Rs 9,000 after various deductions such as provident fund, contribution to the co-operative society and others.

As a huge portion of their income is ploughed back into the restaurant, so the Scotts are left with very little savings, except for some forced investments in insurance, tax-saving bonds and fixed deposits. "Even though all of us fend for ourselves, the rising cost of living does not permit us even one decent holiday in a year," says Herman Scott.

Seema Majumdar, dancer and singer

Being an artist, economic realities are distant from her. But the way costs have shot up in the past few years, they have touched the periphery of even people with minimum requirements. Seema's requirements are few as she is single and lives with her parents. But despite this, even before the month begins, she dreads the money crunch that awaits her at the end of the month. "I have a shortfall every month. I would like to buy silk but I settle down for simple, cotton clothes. Going out for a movie or eating out has also become very expensive. Spending Rs 100 on cinema tickets pinches me," says Seema. However, whatever drudgery that financial crunch brings into Seema's life is compensated for with a vibrant social life that she has at the Academy. "I cannot go out on a holiday, so I keep in touch with people who visit the Academy from across the world through the Internet, which costs me just Rs 30 per hour," she says.

Tejabhai Haribhai, chowkidar from Patan.

It is the sorts of Tejabhai, who are the worst-hit. They live their lives on debts, which mount to huge proportions over the years, and providing education to their children is also a luxury for them. Tejabhai earns a monthly income of Rs 1,200 while his monthly expenses are close to Rs 5,000. The grains that come from his village offer some relief in terms of lowering his expenses on food bills.

Out of his six children (four daughters and two sons), he is able to educate only three of them as he cannot bear the cost of education for others. "My children are studying in Rajkot and at the beginning of every month I have to send Rs 2,500 for their educational expenses. Things have worsened over the past few years due to the drought. We are not even able to get grains from our village," says Tejabhai.

But despite mounting debts, he wants to educate his children so that they are able to emerge out of poverty that he is in today.

Anant Naik, Dena Bank official

Naik has gone in for the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) and plans to take it easy in the coming years. But considering the way things stand today, this would be a far-fetched dream for Naik. Even on a monthly salary of Rs 17,000, of which he takes home Rs 10,000, his wife has to chip in by taking extra-curricular and tuition classes. It is this extra income which permits them such indulgence as going for a movie and eating out every week.

And Naik resents such shoe-string budget existence as being a banker, he knows exactly whom to blame for the pathetic plight of an average Indian. "The government has to cut down its expenditure. VVIP's security and defence costs are draining the country's resources. Over and above this, the government has also been increasing its liability by going in for huge debts and we bear the brunt of all this," says Naik.

He reminisces how easy it was, 25 years back, to subsist on an income of Rs 300-odd and also save more than Rs 50. He complains that with rising inflation, value of rupee has been depreciating. "The government has to do something to improve the purchasing power of the rupee," says Naik.

Mehrubhai Bharwad, partner in a petrol pump and gas agency

Bharwad shells out an annual Income-Tax ranging between Rs 15,000 to Rs 18,000, but nonetheless, he wishes the people would have better purchasing power so as dormant market demand the would actually result in economic transactions.

He has set up his business and expects his children to join him, but he is not very sure whether the market of the future would prove to be sufficient for all of them. He says, today, the desire for products is there, but there are no takers.

He measures the rate of inflation by the price rise that has occurred in petrol over the last 20 years. "One litre petrol cost just Rs 1.66 in the 70's, it costs Rs 31 per litre today. The burden is back-breaking for us and I also know of many who have to borrow at exorbitant rates at the end of every month," says Bharwad.

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GCCI welcomes state's industrial package Wednesday, February 28, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) has welcomed the industrial package unveiled by the state government for aiding the speedy rehabilitation of the trade and industry in the earthquake-affected areas.

A GCCI spokesman said the relief granted by the government with respect to revival of economic activities in the quake-hit areas are indeed appreciable as they will help industries resume their operations rapidly.

However, the GCCI stated that all the economic activities in the quake-hit areas have come to a halt, and it would be quite a while before a long-term package to revive the affected industries could be worked out. The state government should aim for continuation of the interest subsidy on loans granted for a minimum period of five years to the quake-hit areas of Kutch, Saurashtra and Ahmedabad.

Moreover, a moratorium on the payment of instalments of existing loans taken by the industrial units should also be considered for a period of two years as the industries have suffered a major loss due to this natural calamity with many of them still not operational and significant man-days lost in the rehabilitation process.

GCCI president Ratanprakash Gupta also strongly urged the state government to seek long-term relief measures for Gujarat in the form of sales tax incentives and special relief in the form of tax holiday on taxes levied by the Central government like income tax, service tax and central excise duties in view of the unprecedented devastation wrought by the earthquake in Gujarat.

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Non-Gujaratis disappointed with rail budget Wednesday, February 28, 2001

VADODARA: The Union rail budget has come as a big disappointment to non-Gujarati settlers here, especially those hailing from the South and the North-East.

Most of the non-Gujarati community associations had made representations to the railway ministry for increasing frequency of trains, or introducing new trains connecting Gujarat to their homelands. Almost all such associations said that a 'political and populist' rail budget had ignored their genuine demands.

"There is only one train connecting Gujarat to Coimbatore which is an important centre of Tamil Nadu. Similarly, there is no train connectivity other important towns like Erode and Salem. They think Tamil Nadu is Chennai," said Baroda Tamil Sangam executive committee member Ravi Krishnan.

He said that there was only one train to Coimbatore which is always overcrowded due to rush from Kerala-bound passengers. "Coimbatore is about 40 km from Palakkad so many people from Kerala board Rajkot-Coimbatore Express, making reservation difficult for Coimbatore passengers," Krishnan said.

Karnataka Sangh president Jairam Shetty also said the rail budget had disappointed them. "There are about 10,000 Kannadigas here. We need more trains to the South, or, at least, the frequency should be increased. We had made several representations, but in vain. This time also we have been left out," Shetty said.

"We had met Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee last month. She had assured us that she would put one extra train that would shuttle between Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram via Vadodara. The fate of this train is still hanging fire," said Baroda Kerala Samajam executive committee member Girish Kumar.

City police commissioner J Mahapatra, who hails from Oriya, said trains to the North-East originating from Gujarat could help get states like Orissa more tourists. "People of Gujarat are fond of touring. Orissa is a good tourist spot. An extra train to Puri could have been a great help," Mahapatra said.

Laxmidevi Sharma, belonging to Haryana, said the frequency of trains to Haryana and Punjab should have been increased. Students from Manipur, Assam and West Bengal too felt that the rail budget should have had few more trains connecting Gujarat to the North-East.

"There is too much rush during vacation. They should have a students' reservation quota and increase the frequency of trains," said Sujata Mitra of Assam. Incidentally, the MSU has a sizeable number of students from the North-East.

Additional burden on GEB

The 2 per cent increase in rate of railway freight proposed in the rail budget will put an additional burden of Rs 30 crore on the Gujarat Electricity Board (GEB), chairman Nalin Bhatt said on Monday.

This increase comes on the heels of Coal India Limited's (CIL) decision to hike coal prices, effective from February 1.

Talking to 'The Times of India' on Monday, Bhatt said he has been studying the budget proposals. The rail budget has also proposed 1 per cent hike in rate of furnace oil transportation. The increase in freight rates coupled with revision in prices of coal will put an additional financial burden of Rs 114 crore per annum on the GEB. This is sure to make generation of power costlier in the state, he added.

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VHP to renovate Bet Dwarka; to cost Rs 5.5 cr Wednesday, February 28, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The main temple of Lord Krishna at Bet Dwarka, located on the island opposite the ancient Dwarkadhishpeeth, which was badly damaged in the earthquake, will be renovated jointly by the temple trust and Vishwa Hindu Parishad at a cost of Rs 5.5 crore.

Not only the main temple but as many as 22 other temples on the island were razed to ground under the impact of the earthquake. More than 200 houses of the local people, including those belonging to Muslims, which had caved in would be reconstructed by the VHP in collaboration with the trust. Donations that were pouring in from various places would be used for the purpose.

The plan for renovation and reconstruction of the temple will be taken up on the advice of archaeological experts and other sculptors who will be entrusted with the task of re-constructing more than 3,000 temples.

The VHP has agreed to bear at least Rs 2 crore of the total project cost. The decision was taken at the end of a two-day visit of Bet Dwarka by VHP leader K K Shashtri.

VHP's international general secretary Pravin Togadia, who has been shuttling between Ahmedabad and Bhuj supervising relief operations said that "renovation work of the 1200-year-old temple of Lord Krishna would commence shortly as we have other plans to create more facilities for the pilgrims on the island".

The preliminary survey of damages caused to the temple and other structures is complete.

According to him , seven `dharamashalas' will be also constructed as per the plan worked out by the VHP as existing buildings had either collapsed or were about to crash.

A new yatri nivas modern hostel for pilgrims will be constructed to accommodate 3,000 pilgrims in the proposed 200-room building on the island.

Following complaints by locals about inadequate internal transportation on the island, he said, "We have plans to introduce auto-rickshaws instead of the traditional chhakadas". The VHP will get at least Rs 10 crore in donations for renovation of the temples which required more than Rs 20 crore.

While unfolding other rehabilitation plans for the earthquake affected areas, the VHP leader said, "We will open ekal vidayalayas in 300 villages of quake-affected Kutch and Banaskantha district bordering Pakistan."

The VHP, at present, is running 6,300 such schools in tribal pockets of the north-east and in the tribal belt of the state stretching from Shamalaji to Vapi.

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Vadodara's entertainment business hit by quake fear Wednesday, February 28, 2001

VADODARA: Though the city has been 'virtually untouched' by the killer quake, rumours of another quake scares people even a month after the disaster struck. All this has drastically affected the entertainment business, as very prefer to watch movies inside the confines of a theatre.

"The killer quake that hit the region on Republic Day has badly affected the entertainment business which is going through a lean phase. Also majority of films have flopped at the box-office. To add to it,the fear psychosis that has gripped the city after the earthquake has compounded the problem," says Narendra Doshi of Aradhana Talkies. He adds that since last month the theatre is almost empty with hardly 10 to 15 people coming to watch movies.

Cinema theatre owners feel that generally during this time of the year the business is sparse because of exams. But never have exams affected the business so adversely. "Very few come to watch movies after the killer quake last month. Even our regular customers are now scared to come and watch movies in the theatre. They fear for their lives," says Sadhna Talkies accountant Jayanti Gandhi. He adds that though they run three shows everyday, they don't get more than 60 customers in a day.

"Earthquake, exams and no new releases in the last few months have led to a slack phase for the cinema houses. Generally, the business is bad from March to mid April, but later on it picks up. But this year due to the killer quake, people are scared to come to the theatre. But I am confident that after the final exams the situation will change," says Alpana Talkies manager N Kadakia.

"The earthquake on Republic Day and the rumours of an recurring earthquake has adversely affected our business. People are scared to come to the theatres along with their families," says Dilip Shah of Rajshree Talkies.

On the other hand, people say that they avoid going to the theatres because they fear for the lives of their near and dear ones. "Few days ago, I went to watch Zubeida, and every time there was a rumbling noise from the projector room I felt the ceiling would cave in. I actually shifted my seat next to the exit so that I could run if quake struck," says Revati Ramanan.

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