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February 26, 2001 - February 26, 2001

Did the moving earth help trees flower early? Monday, February 26, 2001

AHMEDABAD:
#While lakhs of buildings collapsed like houses of cards in the earthquake, none of the trees fell.

#Raw mangoes were available in the market from December, months before summer.

#Flowering occurred in Mahuda trees at many places in the state, nearly three months before the usual season.

A month before the earthquake, reports about raw mangoes flooding the market in December-end had left everybody surprised but clueless about the phenomenon.

Markets, vegetable shops and even push-carts were selling small sized raw mangoes in the middle of winter.

Mango orchard owners in Saurashtra and at a few places in North Gujarat were taken aback when they found mango trees flowering in November-end.

Tribals in Bakor, a small village located in Panchmahals district, had told this correspondent on January 14 about unseasonal flowering in Mahuda trees. "We have never seen flowering in these trees so early," said Natubha, who manages the Nature Education Centre.

Scientists of Gujarat Agriculture University had said that there was nothing unusual about this phenomenon.

It took an earthquake for people to start relating this phenomenon with the earth's movement. The Chinese experts, soon after the earthquake, had drawn attention towards non-seasonal flowering and fruiting of trees prior to earthquake. This is one of the methods the Chinese rely on predicting about earthquakes.

"This is perhaps because in case of impending danger, trees start behaving in a very odd fashion and flowers produce seeds so as to ensure more propagation. However, not much is known about its relation to the earthquake," says a city-based botanist.

Yet another recognisable characteristic of trees has fascinated the scientist-none of them, bigger or small-fell during the earthquake.

Besides, the damage and impact of the earthquake was minimal in thickly-afforested areas like Gir forest and in villages, towns and cities.

"Even in cities like Ahmedabad, you can see trees rooted firmly in front of buildings which have been reduced to rubble," says plant ecologist Ravi Jadhav, who travelled in Junagadh district after the earthquake. He was surprised to find that though many places in the state were badly damaged, Gir forest and its adjoining areas hardly suffered any damage.

There are many others who link tree behaviour with the earthquake. Soumitra Mukherjee of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, has expressed opinion on these lines, linking non-seasonal flowering of mango trees with seismic activity.

However, expert botanists hold a different view. "Flowring of plants and trees depends on light hours and temperatures. Length of light hours, temperatures and other climatic factors can cause early flowering in trees," says Alaknanda Vyas of Gujarat University.

"There are no theories suggesting link between early flowering of trees and earthquakes," she says.

Most botanists believe that in-depth research is required for finding direct relationship between early flowering and fruiting of trees and earthquakes. They agree that trees have been able to withstand the impact of earthquakes.

No seizure of building files were made Monday, February 26, 2001

AHMEDABAD: So, who is to blame for the files of buildings which are suddenly starting to disappear from offices of AUDA? The fire that broke out in 1991 and did not allow the authorities to re-establish the records room for 10 years, or officials of the district collectorate who have not done their job methodically?

Town planning department authorities of the AMC and AUDA are under fire. They have even been refused permission to quit their jobs before the inquiry into the collapsed structures, which killed 700 people, is complete.

And the district administration now says they only asked these erring officials to "submit'' the files relating to buildings where police complaints have been filed. There was no seizure, they insist. This, says a high-ranking police official, is "like asking the murderer to hand over the weapon".

District collector K Srininivas told TOI, "We have acted as conduits where we were asked to collect the files and hand them over to the police, so we asked the AMC and AUDA to give us all the files, especially those where police complaints had been lodged". And they did.

As investigations in lapses on part of the construction industry began, the first blow to the process was delivered by the hasty removal of debris (which was of course necessary to look for survivors) leaving little evidence on ground to back up prosecution in the court of law.

Much depended on the documents that go with each building, like the engineering and architectural plans as also the progress reports signed by civil engineers and officials of the town planning department of the AUDA, said a high-ranking police official connected with investigations.

So the police teams started collecting samples with help from engineers of the Roads and Buildings Department and the Forensic Science Laboratory. But the first question marks over the authenticity of the efforts were raised when there was confusion as to who will test these samples.

Even as the details as to who would do the tests and where, officials of the district collectorate went about their task of collecting files relating to various buildings in the city. They gathered all the files which the AMC and AUDA's town planning departments had to offer, rather than rummaging through the records themselves and seizing them methodically. The evidence in black and white was since kept in the custody of the district collector.

But Satellite police inspector, and subsequently other investigating officers, discovered that crucial files like that of Shikhar, where over 90 people died, were missing.

The fact that some important files were missing from the AUDA record room was not reported by the collectorate (because they were just blindly collecting documents) but by the police which went through the records two weeks later.

Says a high-ranking police official, the district administration had ``collected'' whatever was handed over to them. It is possible that the files went missing just before the collectorate officials moved in or the files went amiss from the office of the collector. "Anything is possible with such high stakes," suspects a policeman.

Firstly, there is no uniformity in the number and type of documents that go with each building. The collectorate officials should have methodically documented the papers that have been seized and a proper panchnama made to make sure that all the relevant documents were seized, the police feel.

Had that been done, the whistle on the builders would have been blown much earlier as the lacunae, the case of missing documents, would have been discovered by the collectorate officials themselves and not left to the police to find out a fortnight down the line.

When asked to comment if the district administration had seized the files methodically, kept a checklist of all the documents seized or not found, police commissioner P C Pande said he would not comment on it. However, he admitted that seizure checklists would have exposed this much earlier than when inspector Gohil found out.

'Signs were visible in Kutch before quake' Monday, February 26, 2001

AHMEDABAD: There were many a tell-tale signs that preceded the January 26 earthquake that ravaged Kutch, Ahmedabad and many parts of Gujarat.

Some of the changes were observed by noted geologist Prof KS Valdiya of the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research who travelled in Kutch, a week prior to the quake.

Delivering a talk on 'Earthquake in the tectonically resurgent Kutch' organised by the Physical Research Laboratory here on Saturday, he presented his observations and opinions about the quake in a jam-packed AMA auditorium.

"Why did the earthquake occur and what happened there geologically" quizzed Valdiya stressing on the need to develop knowledge to read signs of changes in earth and what we can do by reading those signs.

Valdiya, who has authored a book on the lost river Saraswati and has significantly contributed in understanding of the Himalyan geology, believes that "it must have been an earthquake of very high magnitude that caused collapse of Harappa, Dholavira and caused Dwarka to go under the sea".

The basis of his theory lies in 3,400 years old specimen recovered from the Mahi basin near Vadodara and relating evidences of similar nature found elsewhere. Quoting research on the sunken Dwarka, he said that according to researchers Dwarka too had vanished at around that time.

He found land at Dholavira slightly slumpy.

The geologist has observed that the rocks of Kutch were similar to those found in the Himalayas and reflected same tectonic movement and history. "Kutch also tells us that it has the same fate as that of the Himalayas, and what happened there is likely to happen here too".

He said that Himalayas are being pushed northwards since the last 65 million years ago and has created a 1,300 miles long fault line. The whole of Indian plateau is moving at the rate of 55 mm per year towards north-north-east direction and will continue to push the Himalayas too.

He said the Kutch land is tectonically restless and a part of the land is under tectonic distress. Referring to 360 metres high hills in the central Kutch shows "as if they have been squeezed up".

Prof Valdiya has found hills around Bhachau as a "very young" in geological jargon as there are no gullies or burrows carved by the rain to give passage to the water. "They are so recent that the rains have not been able to carve burrows on them", he observed. Even in Rapar, a rain deficient area, he found small gullies on the land as if they were formed by water flow.

BJP distributes pamphlets on relief steps Monday, February 26, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Baffled by increasing criticism of the Keshubhai Patel government for its alleged failure in handling the rescue and relief operations in the earthquake-ravaged Kutch and Saurashtra region, the BJP has published four-page leaflets listing the measures the government has taken after the quake.

These are being dispatched to taluka and district committees of the party to educate workers as the party fears that inaction on part of the administration could lead to resentment against the BJP government.

It has come under heavy attack by political parties and leading NGOs for mismanagement and utter confusion prevailing in the corridors of power.

The decision to distribute leaflets has been taken by the state leadership perhaps at the behest of the Central BJP leaders like home minister LK Advani, party president Bangaru Laxman and Jana Krishnamurthy, who had undertaken extenstive tours of the earthquake-affected areas.

Ahmedabad Muncipal Corporation plans fresh bonds issue Monday, February 26, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Encouraged by the success of its non-convertible debentures launched in 1997, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation plans to go in for a fresh bond issue of Rs 100 crore to be directed at post-quake re-building of the city, municipal commissioner K Kailashnathan told TOI on Monday.

While the exact parameters of the issue are yet to be decided, Kailashnathan said if the government announced 100 per cent tax relief, then the AMC could issue the bonds at a 9-9.75 per cent rate of interest for a minimum of seven years.

"The money derived from these issues would be directed purely at urban infrastructure projects in the city," he added.

According to deputy municipal commissioner (finance) Devendra Makwana, "The AMC had planned to launch the bonds much before the quake but the scenario changed after that."

The AMC was the first municipal corporation in South Asia to have gone in for a credit rating and then to have launched municipal bonds which were oversubscribed by Rs 3 crore.

The corporation still enjoys a credit rating of AA by CRISIL, though the bonds were put under 'watch' last year when the state government announced the abolition of octroi.

Reacting to Union urban development minister Jagmohan's announcement of the guidelines for tax-free bonds up to Rs 50 crore, Kailashnathan said "the final shape of the bonds will depend on the Union Budget".

The AMC, which had earlier decided that the money from the bonds would be used for capital projects, has, after the quake, started thinking of using it for urban infrastructure, Makwana said.

When launched, the bonds will once again be NCDs for a period of seven years with the tax-free status as the prime incentive for investors, said Makwana.

The last municipal bonds of Rs 100 crore launched in 1997 at 14 per cent rate of interest are due to mature in 2002. The money from these bonds was used partially to fund the Rs 110-crore Raska water project and for other water and drainage projects in the city.

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