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February 21, 2001 - February 22, 2001

Kandla port chief struggles against mounting odds Thursday, February 22, 2001

GANDHIDHAM: Achal Kumar Joti is a harried man. He has been so since January 26. First the 47-year-old chairman of the Kandla Port Trust (KPT) was accused of sending off his heavy equipment - like cranes, dumpers and excavators - 60 km away to Bhuj when they were needed for rescue work in adjoining Gandhidham.

Then, even as the port has become operational, the chairman is faced with labour shortage with workers having fled the town in the aftermath of the earthquake or sitting idle at home with food and at the rest being provided at various relief centres that have come up everywhere. To top it all now Joti has been told that his organisation would have to remove the debris from Gandhidham and then rebuild the infrastructure of the city.

"What could I do the situation was more acute in Bhuj, so 514 pieces of our equipment had to be diverted to that place. Actually this was done legally with the mamlatdar requisitioning them," says Joti. Nothing unwarranted, except that denizens of Gandhidham are cribbing. According to official figures, some 700 people perished in Gandhidham as many buildings collapsed and their residents got trapped inside. "If only these cranes were deployed in this city, many more lives could have been saved," says Vikas Arora , a city executive.

The immediate problem is to get the port up and running. Actually it has been operational since February 3, but the problem is that there is an acute shortage of labour. "Our township is still 20-30 per cent empty, there is labour shortage to a similar degree,"concedes Joti ,but exporters think this is an underestimate. "We are short of labour by 40-50 percent, this is hampering operations," says Manoj Mansukhani, one of the largest operators in port. He adds: "Our biggest problem is that trucks are being taken away by force for distribution of relief material. Our company has 60 trucks ,but only 20 are working for us."

"With relief camps everywhere, you get everything. So many are not inclined to work; if you want people to work then then relief has to be reduced," points out Ashok Kumar, a citizen of the town. On top of this, the port trust is now engaged in clearing debris from the city. This has provided employment for many.

Virtually all the land in Gandhidham is owned by Kandla Port Trust. Therefore it is not surprising that the job of reconstructing the town has fallen on the Trust. Designed in the fifties for a population of 25,000 people ,Gandhidham has now 1,50,000 denizens. Little wonder that the town is dirty and squalid. Minister for Surface Transport, Arun Jaitley has told the Trust to upgrade the drainage system, repair the damaged roads and initiate "greening of the city". The trust will also allocate land to earthquake victims and apparently the Sadhu Vaswani group has agreed to build 600 houses for the affected persons. Now Jaitley is believed to be busy persuading the other major port trusts across the country for the Kandla relief fund.

In all this din, Joti has also to take care of the damage of the port. A figure of Rs 50 crore is being put to the port damage. The buildings of the Trust have cracked and the piles on which five of Kandla's ten jetties rest have developed fractures. But the navigation channel is safe. Even as it will take two odd months to repair the damage, load restrictions have been put. This will mean that less cargo can move out of or into Kandla. Also things like timber and steel coils cannot be stored at the wharf. Overall this will mean that the annual freight target of the port will fall short of targets.

RSS to collect Rs 75 crore for state quake-affected Thursday, February 22, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Prant Karyavah of the state chapter of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Pravin Maniar, on Tuesday, announced that branches of the organisation in the country and abroad would collect around Rs 75 crore for earthquake victims of Kutch and Saurashtra.

Speaking to reporters here, Maniar said the sangh workers all over the state were among the first to launch rescue and relief operations in Bhuj and Ahmedabad on the Republic Day. Even now more than 25,000 workers were actively assisting authorities in relief and rehabilitation in Bhuj, Bhachau,Anjar and Rapar besides other places in Jamnagar, Surendranagar and Rajkot districts.

The Sangh has approved designs of small houses to be built out of Rs 3 crore collected from workers in Gujarat and other states. small houses will be constructed in 25 villages to be adopted by the RSS in Kutch and Saurashtra.

The sangh has plans to construct community halls in 100 villages and set up primary schools in 50 villages. The medical unit of the sangh will soon press into service eight mobile dispensaries in the quake-hit areas.

Volunteers of Kutch district have been asked to set up a make-shift hospital with 30 beds in Bhachau. This hospital will be run for about five months. The workers have also offered to provide free boarding and lodging to those students of the SSC and HSC who have lost their houses.

Some teams of the RSS workers have reached interiors of the quake-hit areas where they will organise cultural programmes and sports to entertain people living in a state of trauma.

The sangh has received tremendous response from shakhas in Maharashtra and Rajasthan as several workers have offered services in rehabilitation of the 229 villages destroyed in the earthquake.

Yagna to control nature's fury Wednesday, February 21, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Brahmins in Saurashtra have started performing yagna to please Goddess Bhuvaneshvari who, according to ancient scriptures, could prevail over nature's fury like earthquake.

A group of vedic experts led by Appasaheb Kulkarni of Nasik, after Navchandi, performed yagna aimed at pleasing Bhuvaneshvari, who is a goddess of land and her puja could stop tremors shaking parts of Kutch and Saurashtra region. The ceremony has to be in accordance with chapters of "Shri Sukan Samhita" as mentioned in our vedas.

The ceremony was organised on February 14 at the residence of senior BJP leader Sooryakant Acharya which was attended by religious leaders including some from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Acharya told TOINs that lone temple of Bhuvaneshvari peeth in Gujarat is located at Gondal in Rajkot district. "Mata Bhuvaneshvari is the goddess of nature. The prayer-cum-yagna ceremony to please the goddess has yielded the desired result," he said.

Vedic experts, who had come all the way from Nasik to Junagadh, claimed that if puja is performed as mentioned in our vedas, tremors won't be reported in at least 25 km radius from venue of the yagna. Puja was performed in some villages and towns in Maharashtra after earthquake shook Latur in 1973.

Acharya said some seismologists had confirmed that aftershocks reduced significantly at places where pujas were performed in Nasik region of Maharashtra. Vedic experts had come from Swami Samrath Sewa and Adhaytmik Kendra of Dindoli, situated near Nasik.

Looking for a fugitive builder in Ahmedabad. Wednesday, February 21, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Satish Nyalchand Shah is a man on the run. Wanted by the Satellite police, wanted by the surviving residents of Shikhar Apartment, Shah, who has a PASA warrant issued against him, is running for his life.

The mail and newspapers fluttering about in the breeze in his posh Pushpadhwani bungalow in Thaltej show that Shah and his family have not visited their home since January 26 when one of his luxurious schemes came down like a pack of cards, killing 98 people.

When the TOI team visited Pushpadhwani, the security men posted outside Shah's home appeared to know little about the occupants of the bungalows. All that they knew is that the family disappeared on Republic Day without leaving a forwarding address.

Shah has been elusive, more so since he was booked under PASA. "He would have been arrested, but for PASA", admits a senior police official. Interestingly, PASA, invoked at the behest of minister of state for home Haren Pandya, has been a great consolation for the public affected by the collapse of these buildings but it appears to have delayed the arrests of the accused. Officials admit that "the fear of being booked under PASA Act, which was hitherto used for 'dangerous criminals' and as the acronym suggests 'anti-social' elements, is likely to make them more elusive".

Interestingly, Shah, who has been 'communicating' with Shikhar residents either by notes pasted on the locked office of SN Developers at SN house on CG Roador through missives sent through office-bearers of Popular Builders, has gone underground since the first week of February when he met the residents briefly.

The latest missive dates back to February 16 where a notice on SN House read, "The promissory note being talked about in the papers is not from the builder. Some members came to us with such an affidavit of which we made copies for convenience of the members. There has been no pressure to sign and all those who want flats booked in Yash Towers are free to do so without any pre-conditions."

The residents beg to differ. "The language used in the affidavit is very technical and could not have been ours," they say. Further, "We have been told to pay Rs 11,000 in cash for booking this flat, plus a soft loan of Rs 3 lakh, which is compulsory, and Rs 70,000 towards maintenance corpus," says Dimple Mehta.

The residents are irritated and confused. "Fifteen technical teams have been here to examine this building, some from abroad but none has submitted a report. We don't know whether the building should be demolished or can be repaired," says Mrugeshbhai.

They are more upset about the fact that Shah has never once visited the site and "he continues to send messages through chartered accountant Jayesh Shah or Natubhai Dadhi and Mohit Koya of Popular Builders," says Rahulbhai, a resident. Sources say that Shah's son is engaged to the daughter of one of the partners of Popular Builders.

While there are reports that Shah was trying hard to flee the country, nobody knows his whereabouts. There is suspicion that he could be hiding at Dhananjay Towers in Satellite, where he has a relative or could also be in Vadodara where his nephew Ronak stays. Apparently, Ronak is the chairman of the Geratpur Bhagyalaxmi Co-operative housing society which ran the administration of Shikhar Apartment.

People who have been watching the police frequent Pushpadhwani bungalows have retreated into their homes and are afraid to talk to those making inquiries about the Shahs.

The residents allege that Shah tried everything to break the unity of the residents who had organised under the banner of 'Shikhar Bhukamp-pidith Members' Association'.

Rajkot Muncipal Corp. to attach 1,771 houses for non-payment of taxes Wednesday, February 21, 2001

RAJKOT: The Rajkot Municipal Corporation has decided to attach as many as 1,771 house whose outstanding taxes amount to more than Rs 1 lakh.

Owners of these houses have been served notices asking them to pay taxes immediately, or else, apartments would be auctioned and dues recovered.

Highly-placed sources in the civic body told TOINS on Tuesday that dues of 364 houses were more than Rs 1 lakh. Dues of the remaining 1,407 houses were more than Rs 50,000 but less than Rs 1 lakh.

Earlier, the civic authorities had auctioned the house of Ravibhai Bhanubhai Dave situated along Bhaktinagar Road. He had not paid taxes for the past 12 years. The auction fetched Rs 5 lakh out of which Rs 2.5 lakh was realised as tax.

The owner of another house on Kalawad Road had to clear Rs 1.13 lakh. The auction was scheduled for Monday. As he paid the amount by evening, the auction was stopped.

The civic authorites have fixed the auction of another house for February 26. His outstanding amount is Rs 1.61 lakh. The authorities have disconnected the water connection of 10 houses whose owners have not paid taxes.

When authorities started getting tough over collection of house taxes, as many as 44 owners paid up Rs 33 lakh within 15 days.

The tough talking had a telling effect in ward number seven where 15 residents paid Rs 3.12 lakh. The least affected was ward number one where just one person paid Rs 1 lakh as dues.

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