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February 23, 2001 - February 24, 2001

Jetpur residents threaten bandh over water supply Saturday, February 24, 2001

RAJKOT: Residents of Jetpur and Navagadh have threatened bandh on Sunday if the water supply is not regularised by then. With the Bhadar dam going completely dry, residents have no source of water.

The people have said that unless the Jetalsar bore project was not completed till the eveningof February 24, people would observe a complete bandh on Sunday and launch an agitation against the non-supply of water.

Almost 1.5 lakh population were without any temporary or permanent water supply scheme and have to run from one post to other to get a pot of water. As it is they were getting water on every fifth day.

When contacted the Water Supply Board office here, the officials said that they were hopeful that the Jetalsar project would be completed and testing would starty within in a day. As many as 12 gangs of workers were working round the clock to complete the work on time.

Meanwile Chittal village in Amreli district observed bandh on Saturday as they were not supplied water for the third day in a row. The water supply could not be done as the electricity cables were stolen and there was no way to run the pumps.

The 18,000 population were being supplied water through a bore near Giriya village. However as the submersible pumps were damaged and no repairs undertaken the villagers were not supplied water.

Case registered against Gujarat Finance Minister's son Friday, February 23, 2001

RAJKOT: Criminal cases have been registered against Ketan Vajubhai Vala -- son of state finance minister Vajubhai Vala -- along with three other builders, for poor construction of Race Course residential complex here, by the police on Wednesday.

According to the police control room, the cases were registered under the articles 406, 420 and 114 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on a complaint alleging that flats in the complex had developed cracks during the January 26 earthquake, rendering the building 'dangerous' to live in.

Confirming the registration of the criminal cases against the builders, Rajkot police commissioner Sudhir Sinha said though none of the buildings in the complex had collapsed, cracks had developed in two of the blocks. The cases registered against the builders were for "cheating and use of poor quality building materials", Sinha said.

The other three builders are Dilsukh Sheth, Atul Sheth and Nazabhai Patel.

Meanwhile, six persons, including a woman architect, were arrested on Tuesday by the Navsari district police in connection with the collapse of two multi-storeyed apartments in Bilimora, police sources.

Ten persons were killed when Jalaram and Suryakiran apartments collapsed on January 26.

Those arrested have been identified as Bhogilal Patel, Chandubhai Ardesana (both builders), Sumanbhai Mistry and Mamta Sanjay Shah (architects), Bhaumik Shah and Utpal Sanpat Desai (civil engineers).

In Ahmedabad, six more builders were arrested on Wednesday for allegedly using sub-standard material in their projects.

Maninagar police, which had mainatined a vigil on the railway station, nabbed Hasmukh Kalidas Choksi, Bhagwan Kalidas Shah, Jayantilal Kalidas Shah and Bharat Jayantilal Shah when they returned from their hideout.

They have been held responsible for the death of eight people, killed in the collapse of Vishwadarshan Apartments in Maninagar. Incidentally, the residents had earlier filed a suit in the Consumer Disputes Redressal court against the builders.

Tulsidas Pranjivan Sanghvi and son Hiten, builders of Giriraj Avenue, were arrested and produced before the Vejalpur police brought for interrogation, police sources said.

Airports easy exit point for faceless builders Friday, February 23, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The investigations on the missing builders may turn into a nought with the immigration authorities finding themselves ill-equipped - information-wise - to keep a tab on the builders, as not a sin of the accused has been provided to them as of now.

An alert has been sounded at all international airports and immigration check posts across the country about the 50-odd notorious builders of Ahmedabad, presently on the "look out" list following pendency of criminal complaints against them.

It is suspected that the builders responsible for the death of hundreds due to poor construction quality, may try to leave the country if they haven't done so already.

But immigration authorities manning these gateway points, in and out of the country, are in a quandary. They have no idea as to whom to nab and whom to let go.

The reason is - they have no photographs of any of the accused and secondly they do not have enough information to verify the identity of the individual. The immigration department does not rule out the fact that many of them might have already sneaked out of the country to a much secure refuge abroad soon after the quake.

Although the Ahmedabad police department have alerted the Foreigners' Regional Registration Offices, its officers and immigration authorities, about 60 individuals with their names and offences registered against them police station-wise, immigration authorities claim that "as of now most of the information is of no use."

A senior immigration official asserted that apart from the photographs, many of the names of builders provided were incomplete which makes identification difficult. "Various other particulars like the father's name and in some cases authentic addresses were not available, besides pin-pointing a person just by the name is not possible," a senior officer pointed out.

"In some cases only the first name has been provided by the police which may be shared by five different persons and the actual individual can be identified only with antecedents in the absence of photograph", says this official.

The immigration department has now approached the Regional Passport Office of Ahmedabad to get the "rough information" refined so as to make the monitoring more effective for the investigation.

"With the inadequate information, a vigil on the accused would be difficult till the RPO provides us with the information," an immigration officer said. The immigration department will be able to take charge only once the RPO provides them with the accurate data. "In case of a common name shared by many in the RPO list, we have asked for details of all those persons, to zero down on the person", the officer added.

While the police confirms that atleast two of the builders may have gone abroad, they add that this was much before the quake. There were reports that Maninagar builders Rakesh and Nirav Shah whose three buildings collapsed in the quake might have left the country.

Even the city police commissioner P C Pande admits the possibility of some of them slipping out. "We agree but the number of builders who might have slipped out would be very small."

Also agreeing to the fact that information provided to the department in some cases might be inadequate, Pande said, "We have provided the immigration department with whatever information we have."

"Even then if someone slips out it won't be a problem, although it may take us a bit long to catch them," the city police commissioner asserted. "We can always get them extradited once we get their whereabouts", said a senior police official.

So far out of the cases registered against 60 individuals of the builder fraternity, 12 have been arrested. Most of them have been evading the law and exploring possibilities to escape the legal noose, while some of them have also applied for anticipatory bail.

But the police like to believe that since the builders have a lot of stake here in real-estate business, they would return. "Some of them are just waiting and watching what happens to their fellow-builders who have been arrested", says this senior police official.

Govt issues guidelines on rebuilding Friday, February 23, 2001

AHMEDABAD:The Gujarat government on Wednesday approved specific guidelines for voluntary organisations, industrial houses and public institutions desiring to take part in the reconstruction of earthquake-hit villages of Gujarat.

The guidelines were approved at a meeting of Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority here presided over by Chief minister Keshubhai Patel here , who presided over the meeting.

It was decided at the meeting to allow voluntary agencies to take up reconstruction work in 250 villages, which have suffered more than 70 per cent damages. The state government would bear 50 per cent of expenses in the reconstruction of these villages, it said.

To ensure time-bound implementation of rehabilitation programme, announcements were made regarding setting up of rehabilitation advisory committees at state and district level.

A disaster preparedness task force has also been constituted, to be headed by Dr P K Mishra, principal secretary to the state government, to coordinate relief and rescue operations in the event of natural calamities. Voluntary agencies' help would be sought in rehabilitating orphans and displaced people, Patel said.

He said at present there were 295 orphans who needed to be rehabilitated and added the Centre has accorded permission for setting up of 100 shelter homes for the quake-rendered orphans and displaced.

Meanwhile, the proposal of radhaswami satsang beas, a voluntary organisation, to reconstruct all schools destoryed in a taluka of north Gujarat district has been accepted, the release added.

Govt's new found love for NGOs a political game Friday, February 23, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Last week, during a meeting of the Cabinet ministers, Keshubhai Patel was unveiling one plan after another for the rebuilding of Kutch, when one of the ministers sitting in a meeting hall commented "kuch bhi kar lo, ab vote to nahin milega" (do whatever you want, but you will never get the votes).

Several ministers turned at the spot where this whisper had come from and the concerned minister had a sheepish smile for having been heard. But other ministers also seemed to agree with his sentiments and gave out a collective chuckle. For the BJP the earthquake has shaken the very foundations on which its political support lies. Or is it so?

A member of the 35-strong delegation from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, USAID and the US Embassy, which has been camping in Gujarat for the last one week, had a very pointed observation at a common thread which ran through his discussions with almost every government functionary. "NGO is the key word here, for the government any organisation which is not linked with the government is an NGO, be it a corporate house, a voluntary agency or a religious outfit and they seem to be very keen to hand over almost everything to these NGOs".

The delegate remarked that there seems to be an overwhelming agreement among all government officials, including politicians, that most of the rebuilding work should actually be handed over to the NGOs. It would not only ensure more involvement of the people and the representatives in the decision making, execution and monitoring but would also ensure that transparency is ensured in the system.

But why is there this new-found appreciation in the abilities of the NGOs? The answer perhaps lies more in political ground realities than the government's own willingness to hand over most of the rebuilding activities to these agencies which are now pouring in to Kutch. With the state assembly elections due two years from now - which is about the time when the rebuilding process would be completed- the BJP leadership perhaps wants to distance itself from most of the activities in order to escape the blame for things which may go awry.

And there is already signs of rumbling within the government which say that while it may be relevant to involve the people and their representatives in this decision making process, it may not be possible to take tough decisions - like relocation of towns and villages - under the proposed system. Besides, the government cannot really abdicate its responsibility and accountability by just passing the buck to the grass-roots. Also, there is the question of which NGOs, out of the army of outfits currently camping in Kutch, to select.

Gagan Sethi, who is now associated with the Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan, one of the better known and credible groups, says "those organisations which already have a relationship with the people have a crucial role in this, others can play a supportive role with specific inputs in terms of finances, competence and skills or just play the watch-dog". He says the Abhiyan has also approached the chartered accountants association to examine all the spending so as to ensure transparency.

Transparency and involvement of people in the decision making are two issues which all the big lenders like the World Bank and ADB are emphasising on at the government level. Besides, some NGOs like Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) are getting direct funding from foreign organisations and even governments who are more comfortable with financing reputed outfits rather than governments.

The Kutch district collector Anil Mukim says "I see a big role for the NGOs in the coming days, the people's shall be supreme provided it does not compromise on the aspect of safety for the community". Officials said a detailed draft on the modalities of implementation of the rebuilding activity, with specific roles for the government, NGOs and people's representatives, had been sent to Gandhinagar by the Kutch administration and was awaiting clearance any time now.

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