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February 15, 2001 - February 16, 2001

Power restored to affected villages, towns in Kutch Friday, February 16, 2001

VADODARA: With work on restoring power to all the 925 quake-affected villages and nine towns of Kutch coming to an end, Gujarat Electricity Board employees have launched a unique "kar sewa" to clear debris from sites where GEB's 45 electric substations and residential colonies had been destroyed, GEB chief Nalin Bhatt told 'The Times of India' on Tuesday night.

For the task on hand, the GEB will seek help from the Government of Gujarat, Union power ministry, NTPC, Power Grid Corporation of India, Power Finance Corporation and other central agencies, Bhatt said.

Talking about the power restoration work in Kutch, the GEB chairman said all the 255 power feeders had been recharged and 45 electric substations had been re-commissioned. Demand for power had reached near peak level - it was 267 MW on January 26, while today it stood at 251 MW.

Bhatt said around 50,000 GEB employees were waiting to help the state government and NGOs working in quake-ravaged towns of Kutch. GEB teams were equipped with all necessary implements, he said.

Bhatt has appealed to his employees to join in the programme. The GEB employees in Saurashtra have, however, been excluded from the 'kar sewa'.

Quake rumours making life difficult in Gujarat Friday, February 16, 2001

Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya Thursday appealed to the people in the state to ignore astrological predictions and rumours about another major earthquake in the state.

Tension gripped the city as reports of high-magnitude tremors in El Salvador, Indonesia and Greece trickled in. And to make matters worse, some astrologers predicted a major jolt on Thursday.

Pandya told PTI that government agencies, including the police, were trying to convince people that rumours and astrological predictions have no "scientific base" and should not be heeded.

The minister admitted that the fear of an earthquake had resulted in thin attendance at offices.

Many schools that reopened on Thursday sent the students back after calling the roll.

Meanwhile, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation has suspended the licences of 90 civil engineers for allowing illegal constructions that suffered heavy damage in the January 26 quake.

4 town development officials facing axe Thursday, February 15, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Devastation wrought by the January 26 quake, which saw about 100 buildings, most of them high-rises, crumble in the city, has thrown up the first list of 'fall guys'.

In the line of fire is the Town Development Office of the AMC which is responsible for clearing building plans and inspecting the structures while under construction and even after work is completed.

At least four TDO officials face suspension for gross neglect of duties which enabled builders to flout norms and deviate from the original plan.

Initial AMC investigations have revealed that some TDO personnel have amassed wealth. The example of a senior official, who has built a huge bungalow, is being showcased by the investigators.

"One of the 25 best bungalows in Ahmedabad," quipped a senior bureaucrat, adding, "While builders flouted norms at every level of the construction, such corrupt officials did not do their duty and focussed on amassing wealth instead."

The statement comes as a shift in stand by the AMC which hitherto was trying to wash its hands off with statements like "we are only responsible for passing of building plans and not for going into the nitty-gritty's like whether a structure has the correct mixture of cement and sand".

AMC sources revealed that a departmental enquiry focusing on the role of supervisory officials - especially those in the worst-hit south and west zones -in the rank of deputy town development officers and others is being carried out to ascertain their level of involvement.

Suggested municipal commissioner Kailashnathan, "Top level officials of the TDO should be experts in the field of structural and civil engineering. Future recruitment to the department should be made keeping this in mind. Professionals and experts from the national arena should be recruited."

Kailashnathan made it clear that no TDO official will be allowed to resign at this juncture.

Meanwhile, licences of 90 construction, civil and structural engineers as well as architects of the city have been cancelled. The AMC's vigilance department has also sealed files of all new and under-construction buildings "to ensure there's no tampering with the original building plans".

Construction work on all buildings within the corporation limits will also come to a stop with immediate effect. The AMC will not clear any building plans "till the state government publishes the new building code with special emphasis on seismic compatibility".

Builders don't influence decisions: Pandya Thursday, February 15, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: Minister of state for home Haren Pandya is as busy as a bee- well- he was till Tuesday, and all efforts by TOI to contact him went in vain. On Wednesday, he finally kept his date, but a little differently.

In a not-so-exclusive interview (since the minister decided to fortify his camp with Additional Chief Secretary VVR Subbarao, home secretary K Nityanandam and police commissioner PC Pande), Pandya talked to TOI about the investigations on the collapsed buildings and the ubiquitous builder-politician nexus (with technical inputs from the officials).

Excerpts:

Q Do you think that the builder-driven government of Gujarat has been pressurised to compromise on laws in the construction industry?

A We must understand that legality of the buildings and quality of construction are two different things. What damage has happened in Gujarat is mostly because of quality of construction more than their legal status. There was hardly any awareness about earthquake resistant constructions despite the fact that Gujarat figures in seismic zone III. Buildings here were designed for vertical forces and there was no horizontal reinforcement done for earthquakes. In fact it is not just in Gujarat but in the entire country, even in Delhi that there is no awareness about this and I feel that this disaster has been an eye-opener.

Q How do you view the fact that at least half the ministry in the government are involved with builders in some way or the other and hence influence the decision-making process?

A This is totally wrong. They have not been able to influence even one decision. I don't deny that certain people may have individual and personal relations with builders but I tell you, this is all hear-say. The construction industry will remain and politicians are bound to be associated with it. But this has had zero-percent influence on the decision.

Q Then what do you call the decision on the impact fee?

A The decision on impact fees does not compromise on any structural design. There are no compromises on multi-storeyed structures but only on minor designs like balcony cover which is not critical.

Q After what happened to Ahmedabad during the earthquake, what is your government's stance on the issue of the builder nexus? In fact, even you have been linked to a builder...

A Like I said, construction activity will go on, there is no stopping that. We will abide by the laws and see that not only quality but even quantity of construction is maintained. We will see that there are no undue favours arising out if this relationship. We have never tolerated it and we will never tolerate it.

Q There is a lot of controversy about the investigations against the collapsed buildings, how are you going to go about it?

A There were many trends we saw in this earthquake which decided that what happened in Ahmedabad - I'm not talking about other cities - was a man-made disaster. One among ten buildings in an area fell, low rise buildings fell more than high-rise, old buildings stood the quake and more than one building of a particular builder fell, which indicate that this was not just a natural disaster.

This is the first time in the country that the IPC section 304 has been applied so extensively with 120B. We are also in the process of booking them for cheating under section 420. We have also identified a few national-level institutions like Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee, IIT Mumbai and Delhi and the National Council for Cement and Building Materials where the samples will be inspected, since they are credible institutions. They will do the tests and the site inspections. We also have CEPT which is rating each building in five categories.

Q What corrective measures have been taken since the quake?

A We have stalled schemes of those builders whose more than one building have collapsed, the quality of construction is being scrutinised, from now on builders will have to follow the seismic zone code for earthquake resistance. Dangerous buildings are being demolished.

Q Then why was Shivalik spared? Is it because a minister in your cabinet is a partner in this company?

A Shivalik was not dangerous. Yes, we felt that way in the beginning and the road was cordoned off but after inspection the building was cleared - the municipal commissioner cleared it.

Q Is there any process of black-listing such builders?

A Yes, temporarily. Right now there are two such builders whose more than one building collapsed, Rakesh Shah and Nirav Shah of Maninagar.

Q What about those who approved these plans - like civic officials?

A We have asked the collector to seize all the files of AMC and AUDA, they will be scrutinized and whoever is responsible will be booked.

Q The fact that 99 per cent of buildings in Ahmedabad don't have building use permission should be evidence enough about the authorities?

A A building may not have been given permission because of minor deviations from the bye-laws but that does not mean that the building is unsafe for residing since there is water, drainage and electricity connection.

Q Why is it that politicians have to depend on builders for election-fund raising?

A (Nods his head and looks down) Yes, this is not completely far from the truth, we have to depend on certain business communities, but we don't let this influence government decisions. You can ask the Ahmedabad police commissioner if he received any call from politicians since the investigations. We have learnt a lesson, but I can assure you that the investigation will be complete an all those who are behind this will not be spared. If the builders have escaped, they will be declared absconders and their properties will be seized.

Anna Hazare appointed quake relief coordinator Thursday, February 15, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The Centre on Wednesday announced a three-member panel comprising noted social worker from Maharashtra Anna Hazare, to coordinate relief and reconstruction work being undertaken by various non-government organisations (NGOs) for the quake-hit people in Gujarat.

The proposed committee would be activated by the Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) with a provision of Rs five crore, Union rural development minister M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters here.

Anil Gachke of Swadesh Jagaran Manch and a secretary of the rural development department would be the other two members of the committee.

Naidu said Hazare was a well known crusader against corruption at all levels and Gachke had worked in relief projects for earthquake affected in Latur in Maharashtra.

Hazare who transformed an arid village of Ralegan-Siddhi in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra into a self-sufficient unit with soil and water conservation techniques, has been in the forefront of various movements against graft.

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