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February 17, 2001 - February 19, 2001

AMC to give away 1,811 slum quarters for free Monday, February 19, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has decided to give out 1,811 quarters which have been lying unsold and vacant in 24 slum colonies across the city to poverty-stricken slum dwellers, who had not been able to furnish even the nominal amounts for these quarters.

Some of these flats, which are to be given out free of cost and are amongst the 7,327 quarters built in the different slums, have been damaged by the devastating earthquake that shook Gujarat on January 26. These flats for free for the poor are situated in areas like Asarwa, Chamanpura, Behrampura, Dani Limda, Uttamnagar, Shahalam, Dariyakhan Ghummat, Jamalpur, Shahpur, Sukhramnagar, Amraiwadi, Khokra-Mehamdabad.

The corporation is also dwelling on how to get these damaged houses repaired before handing them over to the owners. For the Congress however it's a dream come true after 13 years of waiting in the wings. "We had planned to sell off these unused slum quarters when we were in power at AMC 13 years back. Now that we are in a position to take decisions, we have chosen to give these houses free of cost to the poorest of the poor," said Badruddin Sheikh, chairman of the standing committee of AMC.

Balaji Gold fell before it learnt to stand Monday, February 19, 2001

AHMEDABAD: It was a typical recipe-A dream home at affordable prices. Couple that with the mouth-watering ingredients-a lift in a three-storeyed apartment, a covered parking area with a six-metre wide road around the complex complete with street lights, a large common utility plot, away from the maddening crowd in the rustic Bopal and it sold like hot cakes.

People from the service sector flocked to book flats a couple of years back at Balaji Gold.Today, like the rest of the dreams in Bopal, their dreams too have turned into rubble as Block G with eight quarters crumbled to pieces seconds after the Republic Day quake. What's more, its 20 days since the temblor and nobody has removed the debris where the first floor sank deep under the ground.

"The rest of the four blocks have tilted", says resident Francis D'Souza.

Yet after all this, the fear of the builder and the "I have got to stay here and work" syndrome has not deserted many of the residents.

"I had spent Rs 5.75 lakh to buy a house on the top floor of Block G in Balaji Gold and then invested another Rs 3.5 lakh on furnishing the house. I have lost all my earnings of last 15 years in seconds," says a resident pleading anonymity whose 10-year-old son got trapped under the debris before being rescued by neighbours.

The boy was among the three persons who were trapped and subsequently rescued. And this, feel many Balaji Gold residents, has not turned any attention to the debris which still has a Maruti Zen and two two-wheelers buried under it.

"Household goods and valuables that still lie buried with barely any work being done to help us salvage whatever we can," said Alkesh Patel who has filed a complaint against builders Manubhai J Hirpara and Dhinubhai J Hirpara of Balaji Developers at the Sarkhej police station.

Patel and his neighbours now stay in the unfinished tenements which were being constructed by Hirpara opposite Balaji Gold-another con-job by the builder who was to build 12 blocks, but built only four and converted the rest to tenements calling them by a different name.

The worst is that apart from the Bopal gram panchayat and the Daskroi taluka panchayat which barely have a say in development issues, there is hardly any check on this area.

Much before the earthquake shook Balaji Gold, alarm bells had been ringing since December, 2000 when cracks appeared and plaster peeled off from two pillars in the rear of Block G. On repeated complaints, later the builder agreed to begin work on January 16, which he did by jacketing the pillars with a fresh layer of concrete.

But Block G was perhaps destined to crumble. "We may have been hasty in choosing an economic flat but the samples collected by the police in our presence prove that the builder was careless while choosing the site for Balaji Gold," said Suresh K Pillai who used to stay in Block E.

"When the police dug up the ground near the base of Block G, three feet below we came across wet soil which proves that land-filling was not proper, causing land subsidence", observes Pillai.

Their complaints about the gradual exposure of bases of column too fell on deaf ears. At first sight the columns appear too 'slim' for the load they bear and residents also note that the lift well is a masonry brick-work instead of RCC. Residents also pointed out that during last year's monsoon, water seeped into houses from terrace and walls of the building, which once again points towards the use of sub-standard construction material.

Woes of Balaji Gold, which was the only concrete structure to have collapsed in Bopal, do not end here as the builder after failing on many counts has yet to hand over the co-operative society looking after maintenance and other amenities of the housing complex.

"The builder has violated the original building plan by constructing an extra floor in many of the buildings and by constructing tenements where four-storeyed blocks were meant to be. Now that we are with most of the blocks unsafe to stay Manubhai is being elusive", says Pillai.

Further, there is no authority that has bothered to examine this site and inform the residents as to what should be the future course of action. Hirpara, according to Pillai, "has sent feelers that he would begin reconstruction only if the residents withdrew the criminal complaints". However, all efforts made by The Times of India to contact the elusive builders went in vain.

Quake-hit GHB residents still groping in the dark Saturday, February 17, 2001

BHAVNAGAR: A series of tremors rocking the city since September last has left occupants of about 7000 flats constructed by the Gujarat Housing Board at Bharatnagar in the horns of a dilemma.

The board has now declared that the heavily damaged 96 houses of Adarshnagar, 36 of Akashganga Society and 24 units of Amardeep Society are not fit for occupation.

Occupants of more than 50 societies belonging to low, middle, and high income groups have submitted a memorandum to collector K A Patel and warned that if no action is forthcoming within three days, they would intensify their ongoing agitation.

They allegedly that the houses had not been built according to specifications and substandard building material had been used. They demanded the state government institute a special committee to investigate the structural defects of the houses.

GHB Societies Federation representatives further claimed that the GHB had reaped a Rs 10-crore profit from the schemes by way of transfer fees and management charges. Despite this the board had not taken any action so far. Most of the residents are forced to sleep out in the open near their buildings.

A retired official M S Bhatt (77), one of the 96 occupants of Adarshnagar, said soon after the first round of tremors in September they had reported the matter to the GHB.

Though a board team visited the houses, it did nothing until the January 26 quake when walls of many houses collapsed. "The damage was total, forcing the board to temporarily house us in some new units lacking basic facilities... Many of us still sleep in the open to guard the household items lying in damaged units.

Similarly, occupants of Akashganga apartments, a higher income group scheme, have also been placed in a miserable condition. Many of them have been forced to take up rented accommodation.

An annoyed occupant I R Rajyaguru (53) said utter confusion was prevailing. The G H B had asked them to move into single-room units without any facilities.

"That means that we have to leave behind all furniture, TV, refrigerator and other expensive items in already damaged flats. Tension sparked by the situation is not allowing us to even concentrate in our office work or business," Rajyaguru lamented. Meanwhile, Bhavnagar municipal commissioner P D Vaghela on Tuesday imposed a total ban on new constructions with immediate effect. He said the order was issued in the light of the fact that the state government was seriously considering framing new building bylaws based on the National Building Code.

The order says that the ongoing construction works should be stopped immediately and the BMC would not consider new applications.

18,000 jawans deployed for relief work Saturday, February 17, 2001

BHUJ: As many as 18,000 jawans of the Indian Army have been deployed here, rendering relentless service in about 39 different relief camps. The jawans are currently occupied in re-establishing educational institutes, particularly primary schools in the worst-hit areas.

The US Army has offered tents in which village schools have been shifted, furnitures like benches, tables, chairs are being lifted from the debris for repairs so that such furnitures can be reused, said Colonel Konnor.

Units from Nashirabad, Bhatinda, Pune and Jodhpur have been camping in Kutch, providing medical assistance, recovering valuables, clearing roads and other relief works in quake-hit Bhuj, Rapar and Bhachau. Hitherto the Army has cleared about 45 km of roads.

BHUJ: Though the Swaminarayan temple at Pareshwar chowk in Bhuj have almost collapsed in the January 26 killer quake, it still has not deterred the saints and the disciples of the sect to render service for the quake victims.

The temple presently have been shifted to an open place at the Swaminarayan High School where the daily temple activities and rituals including puja and satsang are going on as per the tradition.

Meanwhile, the sect is currently occupied in providing shelters ( 10 x 14 feet houses) to quake affected in Sukhpuar village, 7 km away from Bhuj. The first house completed with galvanised sheets ceiling has been allotted to one Amarbhi Khetani, a widow.

According to Swami Akshar Prakashdasji, each house costs Rs 27,500. The sect would construct over 4,500 such houses at Sukhpar, Rapar and Bhachau for the quake victims.

Separate PF code numbers for contract employers Saturday, February 17, 2001

AHMEDABAD: In a major decision, the Employee's Provident Fund Organisation has decided to allot separate code numbers to employers who employ on a contract basis.

In an official release, regional PF commissioner A K Chandok said all such employers with 20 or more employees shall be allotted separate code numbers, provided they are identifiable entities and have a Permanent Account Number from the Income Tax department or are registered as a shop.

In the event of such employers failing to discharge their obligation, compliance will continue to be ensured through the principal employers, the release said.

In order to issue the code numbers within three days, it has been decided to receive all applications on all working days between 10 am to 1 pm at all offices in the state.

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