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January 22, 2001 - January 24, 2001

Govt well within its rights to set up gas grid, Keshubhai tells Ram Naik Wednesday, January 24, 2001

GANDHINAGAR: Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel has told Union petroleum minister Ram Naik in clear terms that Gujarat is "well within its rights" to come up with the controversial ordinance cleared by Governor S S Bhandari recently, allowing the state government to have monopoly rights on distributing and regulating liquefied natural gas by having a gas grid across the state.

In his reply to the central minister's letter dated January 1, which had raised serious objections to the decision, the CM has said the matter comes under the "state list entry number 25". A copy of the ordinance has been attached with the letter "as the central minister had not read it", an official revealed.

Top Secretariat sources told The Times of India that the letter was sent to "clear misapprehensions at the central level on this score", pointing out, "The Centre's jurisdiction is confined to the production and exploration of gas, not beyond". For several days, the CM did not reply back as he did not know what to do with the fresh objections to the ordinance.

The sources said, "While coming up with the ordinance, the state government was guided by the fact that already three laws exist that make gas distribution and regulation a state subject. To none of these the Centre ever objected". The first law suggesting that it is a state subject is the pre-independence Bombay Gas Act. The second is the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board Act passed in 1999 which considers gas distribution as the state's infrastructure requirement. And the third one is the Right of Way Act passed last year, allowing the state government to lay pipeline across the state for gas and water.

The reply was sent sometime last week, after a wait for more than two weeks.

While a copy of the letter could not be obtained, a senior bureaucrat conceded that "it is a stinking reply to Ram Naik, particularly in view of the fact he had wanted clarification from the state on the basis of press reports on the ordinance. The minister did not wait for getting a copy of the ordinance to study the matter before writing to the state".

Suggesting that the state's reply was "logical enough", the bureaucrat said, "Investors are curious to know what are the government plans for laying the pipeline and who would be responsible for its regulation". Already, two multinational companies - Shell and British Gas - have expressed their interest in investing up to 11 per cent each in the Rs 2,500-crore project.

The state government was perturbed by the fact that first it was the Raj Bhawan which delayed clearance to the ordinance. Then it was the Centre which started raising objections.

Bhandari had refused to clear the ordinance for about a month last year, asking the state to explain why was it so urgent to come up with it when the state assembly was to meet in mid-February, 2001.

Bhandari met state petroleum minister Kaushik Patel at least twice before putting his stamp of approval on the ordinance. Kaushik explained to Bhandari that the state had taken up the gas grid project and it needed a monopoly right to ensure that there was no duplication while laying down the network.

Samata may emerge as third force Wednesday, January 24, 2001

VADODARA: The Samata Party will soon emerge as the third force in the city following the BJP and the Congress, the party's president in Vadodara and deputy mayor in the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) Shailesh Sotta Mehta said on Tuesday.

Mehta said that being the alliance partner of the BJP in the VMC, it has been playing the role of a watchdog body and was keeping a check on corruption. However, he claimed that Samata would now grow into a bigger force tom reckon with along with other national parties in the state.

Sotta said that the party's objective has been to ensure supply of water from Narmada river, pipeline for domestic gas for residents in the eastern part of the city and implementation of town planning schemes in the area.

"Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel has promised that the city will get water from Narmada by March 2001," says Mehta. He says that the new budget is an indication that the demands of the people will soon be met with.

"There are also plans to construct overhead water tanks in Ajwa Road area, Makarpura and Manjalpur," said Mehta.

State's apathy to water misuse surprises official Wednesday, January 24, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The Central Ground Water Board while refuting charges that it was turning a blind eye to misuse of ground water for purposes other than drinking, expressed surprise that the state government continued to neglect such a vital issue.

Board chairman D K Chadha, who was in the city on Tuesday to hand over possession of 70 tube-wells to the state government, told The Times of India: "After notifying Gandhinagar district, we now plan to notify Jamnagar, Rajkot, Mehsana and Surendranagar districts, where there is an acute drinking water problem; besides Vapi, because of pollution; and the area north of the Tapti in Surat district".

Dr Chadha expressed surprise that though Gujarat faced acute water problems and relied heavily on ground-water resources, the government had not taken any initiative to seek the CGWB's help. "We are offering help on our own initiative," he said.

He also refuted charges that the ground-water exploitation in Mehsana district had reached alarming proportions due to the "near mining" situation, thanks to political pressure. "We had received a letter from the water resources secretary, but we wanted to act only after collecting sufficient data and generating awareness among the people."

The situation may have come to such a pass also because the state government did not have the experts and professionals who could understand the gravity of the situation and act accordingly, he said.

"We have undertaken three water recharging projects in the state -- at the Gujarat High Court premises, at PRL campus and at the IFFCO, Kasturinagar, premises and we are ready to fully finance and take up 20 to 30 more such projects in Gujarat, if the state government shows interest," Dr Chadha said.

He wondered why people did not come forward and pressurise the government to prevent pollution and depletion of ground-water resources if they felt the state government was not doing enoughin this connection. "...after all its the people who are going to be affected", he observed.

Pollution control board issues notice to RMC Wednesday, January 24, 2001

RAJKOT: Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) authorities have issued a notice to the Rajkot Municipal Corporation amounting to Rs 1 crore for not paying water cess. GPCB sources said the civic body had not paid water cess from 1977 onwards on treatment of polluted water at its Madhapar plant.

Of the total amount payable, the break-up was Rs 34.36 lakh as outstanding amount, Rs 5.48 lakh as current year's charge and the rest as interest payable from 1977 onwards.

The GPCB charges three paise as cess on 1000 litres of polluted water. The sewarage treatment plant at Madhapar, with a capacity to treat 4.5 million gallons of water per day, has been operational since 1994. However, the polluted water is stolen by agriculturists of Popatpara and surrounding areas and very little of it reaches the plant. RMC sources say that the treatment plant machinery gets rusted with disuse but despite this the civic body has been asked to pay the money.

RMC sources further said that GPCB had increased cess from one paise to three paise without notice. The civic body had asked for relief in this regard but it was not accepted.

"Sadhana" circular condemned Monday, January 22, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Expressing shock at the state government's circular directing schools to subscribe to Sadhana, a weekly magazine, a group of prominent citizens and civil rights activists has, in a memorandum, urged the state governor to inquire into the matter and immediately revoke the circular.

Denouncing Sadhana, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh mouthpiece for the last 45 years, as "notorious for fanning anti-minority views and spreading communal venom in the Gujarati society", the group, including noted human rights activist Girish Patel and Justice A P Ravani among others, expressed surprise as to how the educationists in the government could ascribe value to it.

The circular had "blatantly and viciously attacked minorities and other vulnerable groups", the group said.

Among other signatories to the memorandum are professor D N Pathak, Indukumar Jani, Saroop Dhruv, Ashoke Chatterjee, Wilfred D'Costa, Manish Jani, Prakash Shah, Gautam Thakkar, Hiren Gandhi , Fr Cedric Prakash and Sophia Khan.

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