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January 2, 2001 - January 4, 2001

Saurashtrians enraged over water crisis Thursday, January 4, 2001

RAJKOT: Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel was welcomed with black flags at Bhuj on December 31, 60 people arrested

The same day, Keshubhai faces angry crowd of farmers raising slogans against him at Morbi

A group of 600 women gherao finance minister Vajubhai Vala at a function in Rajkot on December 30 demanding water; he beats a hasty retreat

The above incidents give an indication of the volatile mood of the people of Saurashtra, who are bracing up for the second consecutive drought.

By all indications, it is only a matter of time before the angry protests take an ugly turn and the public begin targeting other ministerial colleagues of Keshubhai.

While problems are aplenty in the region, not many solutions are in sight. However, this is not preventing ministers and other official functionaries from making tall promises.

The biggest issue is, of course, shortage of drinking water and fodder. And next on the minds of people, especially farmers, is the non-disbursal of the remaining amount towards crop insurance.

However, instead of setting a time-frame for solving the problems, the two senior BJP leaders, who hail from Saurashtra and on whom the public were pinning their faith, offered nothing more than mere assurances.

While there is no sign of the situation brought about by the water shortage easing in the near future, the farmers have lost hope of laying their hands on the insurance money in time.

In short, the people of Saurashtra are being driven to the wall by the vagaries of nature on the one hand and an apathetic administration on the other.

Consequences of such a situation have not been pleasant in the past. People have still not forgotten the Navnirman agitation that had cost then chief minister Chimanbhai Patel his post. He was also forced to go into political oblivion for almost two decades.

The drinking water supply position in the region is worsening by the day, notwithstanding the tall promises made by Keshubhai and Vala. Ninety per cent of the dams in the region have gone dry.

The quantity of water being supplied to the people is highly inadequate and it has high fluoride and magnesium content.

The CM is the target of public ire for the simple reason that he hails from Rajkot and is well aware of the magnitude of the problem. The general feeling is that he has knowingly neglected Rajkot city and the Saurashtra region as a whole.

Last year, Keshubhai had announced from all public fora that "this is the last year of drought for the people of Saurashtra". He had also made the grand announcement while inaugurating an industrial show in Rajkot that "Narmada waters will soon arrive at every house in Saurashtra and go right up to Kutch... the area will be converted into Nandanvan".

To add to the agony of Saurashtrians, Narmada development minister Jainarayan Vyas has been shown the door.

Now the talk is of bringing the Mahi waters to Saurashtra. This again, will remain just a promise because the Mahi waters can be taken only up to Amreli and Bhavnagar, considering the capacity of the water pipelines.

Narmada canal labourers deprived of wages Thursday, January 4, 2001

VADODARA: More than 50 daily wage labourers, who had worked on a portion of the Narmada canal, were deprived of their wages totalling Rs 1.80 lakh. The labourers lodged a complaint with the labour commissionerate here against the contract company owned by one Harish Chandra. The labourers had worked for around three months, between October and December 2000.

"We are contemplating legal action against the contract company. Our office has already served notice on Harish Chandra. The sub-contractor Suresh Patel is also likely to be served with a notice," assistant labour commissioner K S Gill said. He said his office had summoned Chandra here on Monday, but the latter did not turn up.

"The contractor seems to be evading scrutiny. We will now serve notices under contract labour regulation, Abolition Act and Minimum Wages Act," Gill said. He said if Chandra did not respond, his licence might be cancelled. Further, a notice could also be served on SSP executive engineer G G Shaikh. Gill said of the total payment due to the labourers, the contractor had paid only Rs 48,000.

Social worker and tribal activist Kanu Brahmbhatt, who has taken up the case with the labour commissionerate, said the contractors were exploiting the labourers. "These people are illiterate. They are an exploited lot. If the agreement is for Rs 70 a day, the labourers are paid hardly Rs 40. Such contractors need to be punished severely," Brahmbhatt said.

State to step up work on Narmada dam Tuesday, January 2, 2001

BHUJ: With the Supreme Court delivering a favourable judgement, the Gujarat government would accelerate the work on the Narmada project so that drinking water could be made available to the people in the shortest possible time.

This was stated by Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel while inaugurating the Rs 8-crore medical check-up cum research centre run by a private trust in Bhuj on Sunday. He said that work up to height of 90 metres had already been completed. The CM claimed that Narmada water would be available to Rapar, Anjar, Gandhidham, Mandvi, Mundra and Bhuj by March 2002.

Keshubhai also assured that the state government would accord its sanction to any proposal relating to setting up of a medical college or information technology engineering college in Bhuj. Stressing the need for eradication of illiteracy, he said Gujarat had a higher per capita income but its literacy rate was just 68 per cent. State government would spend Rs 48,000 crore for providing better infrastructural facilities, particularly in the field of education, health and roads, he added.

He expressed his concern over low average life span of Gujaratis which stands at 61. State industry minister Suresh Mehta, RSS leader Pravin Maniar, state assembly speaker Dhirubhai Shah, Anant Dave and Puspadan Gadhvi also spoke on the occasion.

Later, the chief minister performed the Bhoomi Pujan of Rs 72-lakh water sump to be constructed by the Bhuj municipality near Dholawa on Bhujodi highway.

Narmada water will reach Kutch in 15 months: CM Tuesday, January 2, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Narmada water will reach all villages of Kutch in the next 15 months, said Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel.

He was speaking at the inauguration of an underground water storage tank at Dholava near Bhuj. The tank has a capacity to store 10 lakh litres of water.

The chief minister assured the gathering that necessary measures would be taken to ensure that 16,000 villages received water through various drinking-water projects in the next three months. This is expected to cost the state Rs 4,700 crore, he added.

Police rattled over series of robberies Tuesday, January 2, 2001

VADODARA: A series of daring robberies, reportedly committed by a single gang between Nadiad and Bharuch over the last three years, has rattled the state police which is now drawing up an elaborate plan to contain the menace.

State director-general of police CP Singh called an emergent meeting of crime branch officers here on Sunday. Sources revealed that Singh took serious note of the recent murder of a businessman and attempted robbery by two unidentified assailants at Chhani, reportedly the latest attempt by a gang operating between Nadiad and Bharuch. The meeting, attended by police inspectors of the detection of crime branch (DCB) of Vadodara, Anand, Kheda and Bharuch districts, was called to take stock of the happenings and draw up an action plan.

A businessman was gunned down and two others seriously injured at Chhani after two members of a gang fired on a Mitsubishi Lancer belonging to a company dealing in the finance business. The DCB, which has been investigating the Channi shoot-out, revealed a common feature between the incident and similar incidents taking place in various places between Nadiad and Bharuch over the last three years.

"Two unidentified assailants had fired upon the businessmen at Chhani. Though the assailants managed to flee, the shoot-out provided a vital lead - the modus operandi of this gang was similar to those operating elsewhere in this belt," said a police officer under condition of anonymity.

Officials revealed that empty cartridges belonging to pistols of 7.65 bore, recovered from the shoot-out spot in Chhani, were used in all the robberies. "This cartridge is used in foreign-made pistols and it seems pistols of the same make have been used for the other robberies also. The targets too have been the same everywhere - financiers or money-lenders. And, the gang has shown a certain ruthlessness by resorting to gunning down people whenever they felt threatened," sources said.

"The robberies taking place between Nadiad and Bharuch show a number of similarities, including the type of pistol used and the motif which seems to be loot," says deputy commissioner of police (north) VJ Gautam.

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