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February 6, 2001 - February 7, 2001

Survivors want to go back home Wednesday, February 7, 2001

RAJKOT: Where is home, wonder many survivors of the killer quake. They want to go back home, but what were once their dream homes have been razed, and they have nowhere to go. Survivors from Bhachau and Anjar, being treated at the Rajkot Civil Hospital, look askance when asked, "Where will you go after being discharged from here?".

Looking listlessly at you they seem to be asking, "Where am I supposed to go, I have lost everything."

Many of them have decided to stay back in the hospital till some alternative arrangements are made. Relatives of survivors are also in a quandary as to where to take them. While some patients have their limbs cast in plasters, others have stitches and need constant dressing. Relocation of survivors is also becoming a major hassle. Though a number of survivors have their relatives in other areas, they prefer being nearer to where their homes used to be.

The condition in Bhachau and Anjar is far from satisfactory even 10 days after the quake struck. In such conditions, people have decided to stay put at hospitals or their kin's homes.

Manohar Joshi to urge PSUs to adopt quake-hit villages Wednesday, February 7, 2001

RAJKOT: Union industries minister Manohar Joshi has said that rehabilitation of quake-affected people must be taken up on a war footing adding that Latur-type rehabilitation would be the best in the given circumstances.

Stating this after a visit to the quake-affected areas, Joshi said the damage was large-scale. He said survivors had complained of inadequate tents and urged him to take up the issue with the authorities in Delhi.

Joshi said he would urge public sector undertakings to adopt more villages for faster rehabilitation. Out of the 48 PSUs in the country, 15 to 16 had come forward to help send relief material, he said. The industries ministry had also collected Rs 7 crore, of which Rs 5 crore was in cash and Rs 2 crore by way of material help. This would be sent to the quake-affected people of the state. He said heavy machinery like cranes, dumpers etc. would also be sent in by the PSUs.

Stating that the loss to the tiles industry in Morbi was substantial, he said most industrial units were not insured against earthquakes and hence were in deep trouble. A large number of owners of tiles units had also approached the union minister to give financial assistance and relief. Joshi said there were 50 such tiles manufacturing units in Morbi and each had suffered a loss of around Rs 25 lakh. These units used to provide employment to around 300 local workers, who have also been rendered jobless.

Asked if he saw a lack of co-ordination among various agencies involved in the rescue operations, Joshi said relief operations were on expected lines. The damage was large-scale and hence it would some time to organise things.

Probe against builders may be a non-starter Tuesday, February 6, 2001

AHMEDABAD: It is a cruel irony of fate. The killers might be saved by those killed. Even as debris of the tumbling towers was removed last week in a bid to find survivors and recover bodies, it now seems that the police will have very little to base their investigations on because soon there will be nothing more than the foundation plinth to look at.

``This is akin to investigating a murder without looking at the body,'' admits a police officer.

The police have to speed up investigations on the 32 FIRs registered in the building collapse cases till Sunday evening. This is not possible right now because only two small teams are on the job and more FIRs are likely.

Preliminary investigations in not more than two buildings a day are being carried out. The teams comprise not only police officers, but also representatives from forensic science laboratories and the state government's road and buildings department.

After the preliminary investigations, the team has to look at the building plans and whether there was any deviation, besides the quality of the construction material used. Thereafter, witnesses have to be examined. ``It is a long tortuous course,'' the officer concedes.

Even as police commissioner P.C. Pandey, who is taking personal interest in the case, exudes confidence that the culprits will be booked, skeletons have begun tumbling out of the cupboard.

The investigating team has found that the three buildings which crashed in Maninagar were built by a former town development officer attached to the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA), Rajesh Shah.

Shah is now absconding. The police have also found that one of the buildings that fell under the impact of the January 26 quake had a four-feet-deep foundation plinth instead of the minimum eight feet recommended for a four-storeyed building. Another building had fewer beams and columns compared to those shown in the plan.

In the case of Sundaram Apartments in Ranip, the police have been told that its building plan itself did not find place among the AUDA documents.

The team has found that there were buildings which had been sanctioned overhead water tanks with a capacity of 4,000 litres, but had tanks constructed with a capacity of upto 20,000 litres.

Moreover, buildings where it was necessary to have 16 columns were found to have 14 or even a lesser number of columns.

Gujarat Institute of Engineers and Architects' technical services cell chairman Vijay Shah says problems could also have arisen in some buildings which had ``local architects of world class''.

``We have received over 10,000 complaints, many of them of serious damage, and we have been able to visit only 1,700 buildings so far,'' he adds.

Plea to change building laws Tuesday, February 6, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat high court on Monday issued notices to the state government on a petition seeking changes in building bylaws to incorporate the Bureau of Indian Standards' (BIS) norms.

Hearing a public interest litigation filed by Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari and Justice P.V. Majumdar asked the government to file its reply by February 19.

JSM, a civil rights organisation, contended that the government and concerned authorities should include such code, provided under the National Building Code (NBC) or that formed by the BIS, in the building bylaws to make the structures earthquake resistant.

The recent quake rendered many multi-storeyed buildings unfit for staying even as the authorities started to crack the whip against the errant builders.

Petitioner's counsel Mukul Sinha said the government should form a high-level committee consisting of building research experts, geologists, members of the BIS and town planners to investigate and assess the extent of damage caused to life and property due to the earthquake and recommend compensation.

JSM has also pleaded to the court to restrain the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority from granting permission for building any structure in Zone IV and V, and not beyond two floors in Zone I-III of the state without taking into account NBC's provisions of earthquake-resistant structures.

Raising Gujarat from the rubble Tuesday, February 6, 2001

AHMEDABAD: They have boxed the problem into four slots -- Rescue, relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction. The 4R formula looks neat on paper. But on the ground buried under the rubble, the challenge seems awesome.

`` The scale is mind-boggling,'' says K V Bhanujan, pulled out of retirement to head a state government task-force for rebuilding Gujarat's devastated swathe.

Soon after the big earthquake, the state government presented a damage estimate of Rs 10,000 crore to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Now they are asking for Rs 22,000 crore, most of it for reconstruction. And like the tectonic plates under Kutch that are yet to settle down - that explains the continuing aftershocks - the property damage figure, it seems, is yet to stabilise.

Much of the cash is needed for rebuilding houses, mostly in Kutch. According to one set of government figures, nearly 75,000 houses have been "completely" damaged, over 1.4 lakh "partially" damaged. Some places are so badly hit that the government is considering shifting people into settlements built from scratch. ``The people of Bhachau think that Bhachau cannot be salvaged,'' says Bhanujan.

Still occupied with the job of giving short and medium term relief, the state government is yet to come out with a reconstruction "policy". But it has promised a ``comprehensive package'' for destroyed buildings by February 10. Bhanujan, chairman of the rehabilitation and reconstruction task force, hints that the government would rather come out with something ``effective'' than something quick. ``Rehabilitation is not like rescue, where speed is important,'' he argues.

And as the government deliberates, there are people who are keeping their fingers crossed. Yogendra Alagh, former minister at the Centre and now with Ahmedabad's Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, stresses the need for transparency when the government begins reconstruction.

He says the government should create an institutional system which involves planners, architects, non governmental organisations and local communities. Second, even the NGO's with which the govern-ment collaborates should be exposed to strict auditing. ``If they don't do this, this money (released for reconstruction) will go waste.''

Alagh, however, feels that if the "counterbalances" are brought into play, Gujarat could do a reasonable job of rebuilding itself. There are possibilities of funds being pilfered, but the state is better placed than, say Delhi, which has ``a bunch of rascals and crooks'' as real estate developers. And Ahmedabad, he says, is also home to ``some of the best architects in the world.''

Achyut Yagnik of the Centre of Social Knowledge and Action points out that the Panchayati Raj in Gujarat is on firmer ground than in many other states. Like Alagh, he recommends involving local communities.

His prescription: use local material and local skills wherever possible and be sensitive to local traditions. When disbursing funds, give preference to local community-based NGOs, rather than volunteer agencies from outside who will work in a few villages, for a few months. And then pack up. The gov-ernment and the NGO's will do better if they prepare the local people instead for greater involvement in the rebuilding challenge.

Yagnik and Alagh agree that the government has to take the lead. ``No NGO can take care of even a single block (of villages),'' Yagnik says. And while speaking of lack of co-ordination in the government machinery, he admits that the NGOs too could co-ordinate better.

The state government itself is keen on collaborations, particularly with the corporate world. The big industrial houses like Reliance have already got into the act. P K Lahiri, principal secretary to the chief minister, told The Times of India Online that the state had so far got 120 offers from the private sector, mostly for "adopting" crumbled villages in Kutch.

Confederation of Indian Industry is naturally being wooed. On Sunday, the Chief Minister loaned an aircraft for a CII delegation to fly out to Bhuj. The confederation has started ``assessing'' the scale of the work ahead, which its president Arun Bharat Ram described as ``monumental, Hercu-lean.''

The CII won't put a figure on the help the government can expect from it. As an organisation, it says, it can rope in member-companies which may not be in a position to take on rehabilitation and recon-struction work on their own. But whatever job the CII takes up, it will do well, promises Bharat Ram. ``So that the people know that here was an organisation which changed the face of this place.''

The Gujarat industry itself has taken heavy losses. But they are mostly production losses. The fac-tories went dead because the quake hit the lives of people who work in them. The infrastructure by and large is intact. Industries Commissioner K N Shelat estimates asset losses at a modest Rs 22 crore. But Ratan Prakash Gupta, president of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says the production losses amounted initially to Rs 750 crore a day.

Gujarat has been promised big money. The Prime Minister announced a grant of Rs 500 crore; the human resource development ministry Rs 150 crore to rebuild schools. Thirty four countries have pledged money adding upto to over Rs 400 crore, says S K Shelat, economic adviser to the Chief Min-ister. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank will send a stocktaking team on February 12. Already, they have promised a total of Rs 750 crore in loans and grants, mostly diverted from other schemes in India.

But to rise from the rubble in Kutch, Gujarat may need more.

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