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November 14, 2000 - November 15, 2000

Charges framed against Union minister, Bhatt Wednesday, November 15, 2000

AHMEDABAD: Charges have been framed against state health minister Ashok Bhatt and Union minister of state for defence (production) Harin Pathak and others in the city civil and sessions court for unlawful assembly, injury to policemen on duty, attempt to murder and murder during the communal riots on April 22, 1985.

According to details of the case, following complaints against the police a writ petition was filed and the Gujarat High Court appointed a commission to inquire into the matter. Orders were issued by the commission preventing some of the police officers, including RK Vashishtha from entering the Raipur area.

It has been charged that while the commission was inquiring into the matter, a police constable Laxman Jabbabhai Desai was attacked and killed by a mob with sharp-edged weapons while another Ratiram Yadav, was injured.

Apart from the ministers, charges were also framed against BJP corporator Mayur Dave, former corporator Ghanshyam Mehta, and BJP workers Kiran Shah, Nansha Thakore, Babubhai Mehtabsingh Thakore, Dhruvkumar Vyas, Madhukar Vyas, Paresh Dhanadekar and Vijay Shah, alias 'Laambo', have been accused of provoking a mob leading to the attack on policemen and Home Guard personnel on duty. They were charged with making provocative speeches in the Pakhali ni pol area of Raipur.

Some of the offences registered against them include unlawful assembly, rioting involving use of lethal weapons, voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter public servants from their duty, provoking a mob, attempting to murder and murder.

After police carried out investigations and a complaint was filed by the then deputy commissioner of police J Mahapatra against them, were the charges framed on Tuesday in the court of additional city civil and sessions judge Sonia Gokani.

When asked by the court whether the charges read out against them were correct or not, they replied in the negative. Now the evidences will be presented in the court when the next hearing takes place on November 23.

Public prosecutor in charge L H Patel appeared on behalf of the state government. The court, however, dismissed an application filed by advocate B M Gupta to join in the case as the third party. Gupta had appealed that seeing the larger public interest in the case he wanted to join in it, which the court refused as not having locus standi.

Lifting prohibition for Narmada's sake Wednesday, November 15, 2000

AHMEDABAD: It's a tough job that the Gujarat government has on its hand. A sum of nearly Rs 9,000 crore will have to be raised by the government to complete the Narmada project, which will be the crucial lifeline of the state.

Chief minister Keshubhai Patel and Narmada minister Jaynarayan Vyas exude confidence that funds will not be a problem and they assert that the state will manage to generate the funds required through borrowals and other sources.

Yet, in the heart of their hearts, these two gentlemen surely know that the task will not be so easy. And really innovative schemes would have to be devised by the state government to raise funds of this magnitude.

Sometime ago, the finance department of the state government had done some informal calculations. Based on certain parameters, the calculations showed that the state exchequer could be richer by Rs 1,800 crore annually, if prohibition is lifted and sale of liquor were to become a legitimate business.

That's a large amount considering that the revised estimates for tax revenue of Gujarat for 1999-2000 crore (including its share in central taxes) was about Rs 10,383 crore and the budget estimates for 2000-1 is Rs 12,188 crore. And at the rate of Rs 1,800 crore, five years of no prohibition would mean Rs 9,000 crore. That is the amount required to complete the Narmada project.

So instead of going to the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank with a begging bowl or trying to cajole finance companies to part with loans for the Narmada cause, why does the government not lift prohibition? As is well known, the lifting of prohibition would have a positive impact on the investment climate of the state too, especially at a time when it is trying to promote IT industries in a big way. So why not kill two birds with one stone?

In a sense, prohibition is non-existent in Gujarat. Liquor may not be openly available in the state, but those who want their drink do not have to labour much to source it. In the process, they pay a premium which goes to line the private pockets of bootleggers. So instead of the bootleggers making money, why should the state not earn legitimate tax revenues by lifting prohibition?

It is not that in Gandhiji's state, prohibition can be lifted without a whimper. Opposition there will be, but the point is that this is the most opportune time to legalise something which anyway is happening. If prohibition is lifted in the name of a good cause like Narmada, even those who oppose it will be on the backfoot.

Of course, without lifting prohibition too, the state government can find ways to raise funds for Narmada. One way could be to impose a special Narmada surcharge on sales tax. But the revenue yield will be far less than what it would be if prohibition is lifted. According to the budgetary estimates for 2000-1, Rs 3,675 crore will be raised through state sales tax collections during the year. A 10 per cent cess would mean only Rs 367.5 crore. Even this 10 per cent rate would be on the higher side and could lead to a distortion of trade at a time when industry is passing through a slow down.

The other way is to sell off state public sector companies like GNFC and GSFC. But those who have watched the public sector disinvestment programme at the centre (on since 1992) will know the pitfalls of the process. Till date, the central government has been able to sell off only one company - Modern Bread. So this is going to be a time consuming , cumbersome process.

There is also the option of raising funds through bonds. But the state government has already raised a lot of money through this route. Moreover, interest has to be paid on bonds and the first repayment schedule is to begin in 2002.

So all in all, it seems that the easiest option would be to lift prohibition.

Medha's anti-dam tirade courting trouble! Wednesday, November 15, 2000

AHMEDABAD: It isn't much of a revelation that Medha Patkar's unending tirade against the Supreme Court's decision on Sardar Sarovar Project falls well within the ambit of Contempt Of Court. A string of contemptuous remarks about the apex court's decree, almost on a daily basis, are outrageous to say the least. What's even more appalling is that she gets away with it time and again!

Medha Patkar's first livid outburst following the court decision to the effect that "we will give and take lives", indubitably tantamount to contempt. However, the Supreme Court chose to ignore the activist's fiery reaction. Indian courts are known to exercise much prudence with regard to sensationalism. Occasions when they react to petty sensational moves are a mere handful. And, when they do, they're swift and rather lethal.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan's plea for an urgent review of the apex court decision, too, has been dismissed and that remains a fact. It is rather unfortunate that a court decision is laid bare before highly-opinionated bodies that go scot-free running down judgments as soon they arrive. In the absence of timely intervention and punitive measures as a rule, the trend - however appalling - would continue to persist. The state does possess an element of authority owing to its basic democratic origin; the legal system's prowess is derived from a constitutional immunity. Both authorities insist on exercising their beef in a manner extremely pusillanimous, leading to a situation that borders almost on a bastardised form of free will.

By urging non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the people of the state to buffer any moves made by NBA, the state government has undermined its own position. Shouldn't any move to resist a Supreme Court decision, in itself, be struck down by the law of the land? NGOs or the people of the land possess the will to oppose anti-dam moves; the court's decision is all binding. And, the option to interpret NBA activists' versions rests solely upon private individuals. Lauding Arundhati Roy's tirade in print against the dam or flaying it depends entirely on us. Highly-opinionated masses would persist with their passionate arguments based on falsehood spread through print or word-of-mouth.

A decision on the Sardar Sarovar Project was long overdue. Perhaps, the sheer belated end to the Narmada imbroglio, effected by the Supreme Court decision, sparked the overwhelming response. Prudence in examination of the viability of the project was replaced by a surge of cheap sensationalism, generated over years. Gujarat's only available "lifesaver" would inadvertently displace thousands of project affected persons (PAPs), claimed rebellious activists even before the state actually erred.

Dams are known to displace. Dams are also known to irrigate, even fetch water to parched masses. Any reprisal should, in mature understanding, be preceded by some amount of inaction; and not mere postulation. Sadly, while Gujarat continues to find itself in the limelight whenever an activist chooses to run down the SSP, fact remains that most of the PAPs belong to Madhya Pradesh and not Gujarat.

Even as the Supreme Court judgment on the Sardar Sarovar Project was received with tumultuous celebrations by larger sections, there were those few evidently discontent with the apex court move. Predictably, swift to capitalise on the decree was Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, his council of ministers even Amarsinh Chaudhary of the Opposition. And, the very media that played up Medha Patkar, novice activist Nandita Sen and, author-turned-socialist Arundhati Roy each time they flayed the state for its move to effect the dam height increase, did their own turn-about. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stood vindicated. Iron Man's dream comes true, finally, they said.

Ironically, water - the very pith of the entire cacophony - once again fetched mayhem. On October 31, during the much-touted resumption ceremony of the SSP, two lakh enthusiasts ran amok. In the absence of proper arrangements for water and food, the chaos was but predictable. As minister of state for home Haren Pandya conceded, "We didn't expect such a large crowd," the onus was shifted squarely on the state government.

Yes, if the state managed to yank the entire state's bus services to cater to the Kevadia celebrations solely to display, in a manner albeit outlandish, their achievement, they would have to bear the discredit for anything untoward.

Perhaps, the state government ought to acquaint people with the intricacies of the subject; evolve a mechanism to inform masses of the viability of the SSP; even brief them on the exigency of the issue. Where off-the-cuff remarks on the subject are concerned, the Supreme Court could step in and pull up anybody contemptuous of its decision. Anyway, it's but a matter of time before a caution-laced lull creeps in among anti-dam sections who'll wait in the wings for the state to botch up during the five-year project when they'll go to town with their "We told you so," lines.

For starters, allowing the state to perform what it has pledged could be a mature beginning. When they do fumble, the onus would fall solely on the state government: The feasibility of the SSP would, even then, not be open to re-examination.

WB chief visit enthralls SEWA; WDR unveiled. Wednesday, November 15, 2000

AHMEDABAD: No commitments, warm assurances and zestful participation marked the visit of World Bank president James Wolfensohn to the city on Tuesday. In an impressive show, Self Employed Women's Association gathered its women folk for an interaction with him at a programme organised with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation at Bhikhabhai Jivabhai Garden.

The World Bank president, who acknowledged that he had learnt lessons in partnership from SEWA, at the end of his speech came forward with the hint of help saying, "What we can do is be a good partner. Together, we can make not just India stronger, but your individual lives stronger."

The highlight of this programme, replete with cultural interaction, an insight into the Indian rural woman's plight and bureaucratic wrangling, was undoubtedly the presentation and unveiling of the world development report (WDR) of the World Bank at the hands of a SEWA member, Basrabai of Mohadi village in Kutch.

This honour was bestowed upon the country as Basrabai's is the first story to appear in the segment 'Voices of Poor' in the report.

Speaking to The Times of India, Managing Director of Shri Mahila SEWA Sahakari Bank Jayashree Vyas said the intention of the programme was not to put any specific proposal for finance before the World Bank chief.

"The aim was to initiate a dialogue and show him what the poor can do." The focus, however, was on two projects despite their not being translated into statistical proposals. These were the facilitation of the International Trade Centre for marketing embroidery and slum networking project in collaboration with the AMC.

Vyas said the project had taken off in 20 slums. Earlier, Elaine Wolfensohn, wife of the World Bank president, visited the Sinheshwarinagar slum. She showed equal interest in the proceedings, narration of the women and their handicraft products.

Wolfensohn said that when he took the reins five years ago, he thought the object was charity to poor people. However, he acknowledges as having realised that, "Charity is not the issue. The issue is to work with people in charity. It is a fight against poverty."

In an interesting personal interaction with the women with the help of an interpreter, Wolfensohn asked women in the audience to come forward and describe how SEWA has made a difference to their lives. On a personal request, he also asked one of the rural women to speak of the image of Mahatma Gandhi in the minds of Indians today. The woman obliged to the request and described it quite articulately.

Earlier, Mayor of AMC Himmatsinh Patel welcomed Wolfensohn and presented a replica of the Siddi Sayed Mosque filigree work by him.

On the occasion, AMC Commissioner K Kailashnathan spoke of the development of the city and its emergence as a role model for other corporations in the country. He said the AMC was in the stage of chalking out a core investment plan.

Founder of SEWA Ela Bhatt spoke of the struggle as one for economic liberation on one side of the Sabarmati just as Gandhiji had on the other side of the river years ago.

She summed up the interaction saying, "He is a banker, we are a bank too. His clients are governments of countries, our's poor women."

Medha's tirade could mean courting trouble Tuesday, November 14, 2000

AHMEDABAD: It isn't much of a revelation that Medha Patkar's unending tirade against the Supreme Court's decision on Sardar Sarovar Project falls well within the ambit of contempt of court. A string of contemptuous remarks about the apex court's decree, almost on a daily basis, are outrageous to say the least. And she gets away with it time and again.

Medha Patkar's first livid outburst following the court decision to the effect that "we will give and take lives", tantamounts to contempt. However, the Supreme Court chose to ignore the activist's fiery reaction. Indian courts are known to exercise much prudence with regard to sensationalism. Occasions when they react to petty sensational moves are a mere handful. And, when they do, they're swift and rather lethal.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan's plea for an urgent review of the apex court decision, too, has been dismissed and that remains a fact. It is rather unfortunate that a court decision is laid bare before highly-opinionated bodies that go scot-free running down judgments as soon they arrive. In the absence of timely intervention and punitive measures as a rule, the trend - however appalling - would continue to persist. The state does possess an element of authority owing to its basic democratic origin; the legal system's prowess is derived from a constitutional immunity. Both authorities insist on exercising their beef in a manner extremely pusillanimous, leading to a situation that borders almost on a bastardised form of free will.

By urging non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the people of the state to buffer any moves made by NBA, the state government has undermined its own position. Shouldn't any move to resist a Supreme Court decision, in itself, be struck down by the law of the land? NGOs or the people of the land possess the will to oppose anti-dam moves; the court's decision is all binding. And, the option to interpret NBA activists' versions rests solely upon private individuals. Lauding Arundhati Roy's tirade in print against the dam or flaying it depends entirely on us. Highly-opinionated masses would persist with their passionate arguments based on falsehood spread through print or word-of-mouth.

A decision on the Sardar Sarovar Project was long overdue. Perhaps, the sheer belated end to the Narmada imbroglio, effected by the Supreme Court decision, sparked the overwhelming response. Prudence in examination of the viability of the project was replaced by a surge of cheap sensationalism, generated over years. Gujarat's only available "lifesaver" would inadvertently displace thousands of project affected persons (PAPs), claimed rebellious activists even before the state actually erred.

Dams are known to displace. Dams are also known to irrigate, even fetch water to parched masses. Any reprisal should, in mature understanding, be preceded by some amount of inaction; and not mere postulation. Sadly, while Gujarat continues to find itself in the limelight whenever an activist chooses to run down the SSP, fact remains that most of the PAPs belong to Madhya Pradesh and not Gujarat.

Even as the Supreme Court judgment on the Sardar Sarovar Project was received with tumultuous celebrations by larger sections, there were those few evidently discontent with the apex court move. Predictably, swift to capitalise on the decree was Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, his council of ministers even Amarsinh Chaudhary of the Opposition. And, the very media that played up Medha Patkar, novice activist Nandita Sen and, author-turned-socialist Arundhati Roy each time they flayed the state for its move to effect the dam height increase, did their own turn-about. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stood vindicated. Iron Man's dream comes true, finally, they said.

Ironically, water - the very pith of the entire cacophony - once again fetched mayhem. On October 31, during the much-touted resumption ceremony of the SSP, two lakh enthusiasts ran amok. In the absence of proper arrangements for water and food, the chaos was but predictable. As minister of state for home Haren Pandya conceded, "We didn't expect such a large crowd," the onus was shifted squarely on the state government.

Yes, if the state managed to yank the entire state's bus services to cater to the Kevadia celebrations solely to display, in a manner albeit outlandish, their achievement, they would have to bear the discredit for anything untoward.

Perhaps, the state government ought to acquaint people with the intricacies of the subject; evolve a mechanism to inform masses of the viability of the SSP; even brief them on the exigency of the issue. Where off-the-cuff remarks on the subject are concerned, the Supreme Court could step in and pull up anybody contemptuous of its decision. Anyway, it's but a matter of time before a caution-laced lull creeps in among anti-dam sections who'll wait in the wings for the state to botch up during the five-year project when they'll go to town with their "We told you so," lines.

For starters, allowing the state to perform what it has pledged could be a mature beginning. When they do fumble, the onus would fall solely on the state government: The feasibility of the SSP would, even then, not be open to re-examination.

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