Business bright spark in gloom of destruction
Oil cradles escape with minor wounds
PM signs Rs 10-crore cheque
Rush to revive dead lines
Aftershock sends ripples in Calcutta, mild tremors
Far from home, relatives keep fingers crossed
Special trains from metros
Orissa relief
BJP cut up over Ayub parallel
Welfare yes, state no

 
 
BUSINESS BRIGHT SPARK IN GLOOM OF DESTRUCTION 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Jan. 27: 
Ajit Rathod, a 15-year-old student of Swaminarayan Higher Secondary School, had told his father on Friday that he would be back by 12.30 pm.

But at noon, when Rajnibhai Rathod was expecting his son, one of his neighbours informed him that the school had collapsed in the earthquake that rocked the state on Republic Day.

Rajnibhai, who lives barely 3 km from the school, rushed there only to find that the four-storeyed school building had been razed to the ground. All four floors were flattened into a tangle of concrete and iron.

The students of Class XI had gone to school on the national holiday for a special Science practical class. They were now trapped in the debris.

Though nobody is able to tell exactly how many students were in the school when the building caved in, it is believed that some 60 children had come for the special class. Of the trapped students, 32 have been pulled out by the rescue team. Only four were alive and another student is in an “unconscious condition” and his chances of survival are very slim, said Madhav Kutty, who stays close to the school.

Kutty had run out of his house when he saw the school building collapse. He immediately rushed to an RSS camp in the vicinity, where a Republic Day function was on.

Even though the RSS volunteers claimed to have reached the spot within 20 minutes, only five lives could be saved. At least 20 students are still believed to be buried in the debris.

Their anxious parents are waiting with a prayer on their lips for the rescue team to pull out their children. Like Rajnibhai, who has not moved from the spot since he reached last afternoon.

Rescue workers said six students managed to run out before the building collapsed. Ashutosh Dave, an RSS volunteer, said most of the children were trapped in the stairwell as they tried to rush out of the building.

Kutty informed everyone he knew about the mishap and asked for help. “We had to arrange for cranes and gas-cutters ourselves to remove the debris. It took us nearly two hours to get the cranes and gas-cutters. Till then volunteers removed the debris with bare hands,’’ Kutty said, slamming the government for its slow reaction .

Till 10 pm yesterday, rescue workers heard screams from under the debris. But hope was fading fast as the 17 boys pulled out today were dead.

   

 
 
OIL CRADLES ESCAPE WITH MINOR WOUNDS 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Jan. 27: 
Fears of a major oil slick spreading along the Kandla coast in the aftermath of yesterday’s earthquake receded after officials from the Indian Oil Corporation, the country’s biggest oil refinery and sole oil canalising agency, said the damage to their foreshore oil terminals was minor.

Earlier, news emanating from the Kandla Port said the picture was disturbing. A TV network which undertook an aerial survey said oil spillage was noticed near the coast. However, refinery officials said the damage was minor. Some cracks were noticed in the piping and manifolds in the terminal that connects the Kandla-Bhatinda pipeline, resulting in oil spillage.

IOC officials said at the time of the quake two oil tankers were under discharge, but no untoward incident was reported at the site. Earlier reports suggested that the oil spillage could have come from the tankers.

Kandla is one of the key ports on the western coast for crude oil imports and Indian Oil has several terminals supplying crude to adjoining refineries, including its own Koyali refinery.

Company officials said four to five casualties were reported among their ranks in Bhuj. It was later learnt that two housewives and a child of IOC personnel succumbed to their injuries.

Officials from Reliance and Essar group declared their mega complexes in Jamnagar and Hazira have come out relatively unscathed from the earthquake.

Reliance Petroleum has Asia’s largest refinery complex in Jamnagar, close to the quake epicentre. The 27 million-tonne capacity refinery shut off automatically and is being restored.

Reliance Industries has their main petro-chemical hub in Jamnagar and Hazira. The Ruias have their 2-million tonne hot-rolled steel coil plant in Hazira.

Our plants and our people are safe, a Reliance spokesperson said. “Our plants at Jamnagar and Hazira would be activated in a phased manner and we expect to be fully operational in a few days,” he added.

The Essar group today issued a statement saying: “There has been no damage to Essar Steel’s facilities at Hazira nor the Essar refinery construction site at Jamnagar. The operations and production at the steel plant were not effected and are normal.”

However, he admitted that communication lines to their Hazira complex have been affected and added that: “Whatever communication we could manage was through our V-Sat lines which are currently irregular.”

Sanjay Grover, spokesperson for Hindustan Petroleum, said their retail network and oil depots were safe. Officials revealed that oil firms were in touch with the oil coordination committee.

Indian Oil operates a fuel station for the air force in Bhuj. IOC has also rushed in senior personnel from the western region, including their managing director and executive director in charge of the western region, the official said.

BSE help desk

The Bombay stock exchange has set up a special help desk to co-ordinate with its members in quake affected Bhuj and Ahmedabad areas, adds UNI.

bse vice-president Deena Mehta said there are about 300 Bolt terminals in the quake affected Bhuj and its nearby areas. Efforts were being made to establish connectivity to their terminals and carry out weekly badla trading sessions, she said.

   

 
 
PM SIGNS RS 10-CRORE CHEQUE 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 27: 
Atal Bihari Vajpayee today released a cheque for Rs 10 crore from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. He will be visiting the quake-affected areas on Monday.

There is, however, no proposal to declare the earthquake, the worst to have hit the country after Independence, as a “national calamity”.

A government spokesman said there was “no provision for declaring this tragedy as a national calamity. However, the government is putting in a national effort and whatever needs to be done is being done. But the effort has to be pretty big.”

Briefing reporters after a meeting of the Crisis Management Group headed by Cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad, agriculture secretary Bhaskar Barua said the amount will be handed over to the Gujarat government.

The Prime Minister, who attended the cremation of BJP leader Vijaya Raje Scindia in Gwalior this evening, has also assured the beleaguered Keshubhai Patel government that scarcity will not stand in the way of rescue and relief operations which got underway on a warfooting since this morning.

Vajpayee has directed the Indian Air Force (IAF), which is flying in relief material to the state, to airlift injured persons in all the affected parts of the state to hospitals in Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai.

Several public sector undertakings have also been asked to provide essential supplies and heavy equipment for relief work.

The Centre’s focus is on Bhuj, the worst-affected district in Gujarat. Essential supplies are being moved to Bhuj by land. Barua said trucks with relief goods have begun moving on national highway-8A. Though the movement of the trucks is slow, Barua said the “progress has been encouraging”.

Several thousand blankets and tents have reached Bhuj and more will be despatched tonight along with 16 Inmarsat sets.

While Rajasthan is sending heavy equipment, Haryana and Punjab are contributing blankets. A team of 50 doctors along with medical supplies have left Mumbai for Bhuj.

The army mounted a massive relief and rescue operation with over 4,700 army personnel fanning out in the quake-hit areas. Additional surgical and medical teams with mobile operation theatre facilities and engineering equipment, including heavy duty power generators and trench-digging machines have reached Bhuj, an army spokesman said today.

Four surgical teams from Pune and a field ambulance from Bhatinda are working in Bhuj. Special arrangements for the treatment and admission of the injured have been made in all military hospitals in the area. Ninety beds have been provided for the quake victims at Bhuj military hospital whereas 250 beds are available at Ahmedabad military hospital.

The CMG also decided and accordingly directed some PSUs like the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) to supply generator sets and gas-powered cutting equipment which the state government needs desperately. Food Corporation of India has been asked to prepare and purchase food packets.

Indian Railways has been asked to move heavy equipment like bulldozers, earth-movers and cranes. Transport aircraft of the IAF have also carried heavy equipment. Indian Airlines is operating additional flights between Delhi and Ahmedabad and Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Both Indian Airlines and Alliance Air will carry relief material free of cost.

   

 
 
RUSH TO REVIVE DEAD LINES 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 27: 
The communications ministry rushed 20 Inmarsat terminals and 20 power generators to Kutch to restore the telecommunications network after the earthquake flattened all telephone exchanges in the Gujarat district.

“All telephone exchanges in Kutch and Bhuj have been destroyed. As an immediate measure eight hotlines using Inmarsat to connect Delhi and Ahmedabad and Delhi and Gandhinagar have been put up,” communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan said.

“A 2,000-line C-DoT exchange for Bhuj and 20 exchanges of 256 lines have started from Mumbai to Ahmedabad by road which will reach tomorrow,” Paswan added.

The government is also planning to provide special exchanges and more gateways for cellular operators Fascel and Birla AT&T to ease the traffic flow.

Seven BSNL employees died while on duty at the exchanges in Kutch. “Paswan said this is the initial report, we expect the number of casualties to increase,” an official stated.

DoT secretary Shyamal Ghosh said: “It would take one month to construct the exchanges, but normalcy will be restored within a week. The Inmarsat terminals and C-DoT exchanges will be connected by microwave and we hope to bring back communication facilities to all taluks soon.”

The power situation is critical in Gujarat. National Thermal Power Corporation has restored generation with a 106 MW gas turbine and a 110.5 MW steam turbine in Kawas and a 255-MW steam turbine at Gandhar.

But the transmission lines in the region are yet to be restored.

   

 
 
AFTERSHOCK SENDS RIPPLES IN CALCUTTA, MILD TREMORS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
One moment, the outdoor pool looked placid at the Tollygunge Club yesterday morning. Then, suddenly and without any warning, the water built up in small waves and splashed outside the pool.

Stunned members did not then know that this was the result of the “aftershocks” of the massive earthquake that devastated Gujarat.

“We wondered what was going on,” a bewildered member told The Telegraph.

“It was very strange,” said club CEO Michael Robertson. “There was this isolated turbulence in the pool but otherwise no other similar incident was reported by any member.”

But Tollygunge Club members were not the only ones to get a feel of the Gujarat earthquake. Residents in many parts of the city too said they had felt mild tremors yesterday morning, some even today.

In fact, Calcutta will feel mild tremors for the next few days as aftershocks from Friday’s Gujarat earthquake continue.

The Alipore weather office recorded two tremors this morning. One measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale hit the city at 10.12 am. Its epicentre lay 1,229 kilometres to the city’s west. This was preceded by one, barely readable by the seismographs, at 9.30 am.

R.N. Goldar, the director of the weather office, said the severity of the aftershocks would depend on whether people in the city could feel them or not. “But though we shall continue to feel the tremors in the coming days, gradually the severity will reduce,” he said.

According to Goldar, many people in the city, especially those residing in high-rise buildings, felt the tremor around 8.55 am yesterday morning. “I received many calls and one of them was from a panicky resident of a 10-storeyed building,” Goldar said.

Renuka Singh, a resident of Dover Lane, said suddenly yesterday morning she heard the windows rattle mildly. “I knew then it was an earthquake and learnt only later of the massive one in Gujarat,” she said. “My god, it was really frightening.”

Gourishankar Ghosh, a geologist and secretary-general of the United Nation’s Water Council, was an eyewitness to the Gujarat earthquake. Ghosh, who returned from Ahmedabad during the day, said poor structural quality of the buildings in towns like Ahmedabad and Rajkot was the main reason behind the loss of lives there.

He, however, said that as Calcutta did not have many high-rise buildings, it made the city safer in case of earthquakes. “Most houses in Salt Lake are built on platforms that virtually float on the soil making them safe in case of earthquakes,” Ghosh pointed out.

In any case, the geologist said, Calcutta was far away from active plate (earth’s crust) movements, minimising chances of severe earthquakes. “Gujarat falls within very active seismic zones and is prone to quakes emanating from the movement in the Narmada fault and the Indus fault to the northwest,” Ghosh pointed out.

He said seismologists had plotted the possible tremors that were bound to come earlier but its exact time of occurrence was not known. “The whole of western India is an earthquake-prone area and there is a pattern of quakes hitting the area every five to 10 years,” Ghosh said.

   

 
 
FAR FROM HOME, RELATIVES KEEP FINGERS CROSSED 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
As the toll in the devastating Gujarat earthquake mounted every hour, heart-rending scenes were witnessed as hundreds of Gujarati families in the city anxiously waited for news about their dear ones from the quake-hit areas.

Representatives from Gujarati communities in the city have called an emergency meeting tomorrow at 10.30 am at Bhawanipore Education Society College to make arrangements for rushing relief material to the affected areas.

Vineeta Devi of Bhawanipore has been crying ever since she heard about the disaster on Friday. Her relatives here have still not told her that Varsha Dave, Vineeta’s only daughter, and her two children in Ahmedabad have been killed.

Seventy-five year old Cooverji Bhai Shah cannot believe that his ancestral house in Bidada in Bhuj is almost flattened. He still does not know the fate of his brother’s family who lived in the house. “I can understand clearly by the television pictures that no one is alive in my village. I came back to Calcutta from my home only a few months ago. I cannot believe that I will never be able to see my home any more,” wept Cooverji, the founder of the Calcutta Kutchi Samaj who had settled in the city 53 years ago.

A telephone rang around 2.30 p.m. at the house of an affected family in south Calcutta. It was a call from a distant relative from Bangalore. The caller was the mother of a child who is on a school excursion from Bangalore to Anjar —- one of the worst hit places in Gujarat.

The caller wanted to know whether the latest information about the missing excursion team would be available from Calcutta.

Gloomy scenes were also witnessed at Howrah station as grief-stricken relatives left in a special train to Ahmedabad.

A large number of Gujaratis from the districts in Bengal, too, contacted their friends in the city.

As most city-based newspapers were closed yesterday for Republic Day, phone calls flooded the office of Halchal, a Gujarati magazine that is published from Calcutta.

“We are receiving plenty of donations from the community as well as other welfare centres,” Cooverji said, adding that steps are being taken to ensure that the relief material are sent in an organised manner and distributed properly.

Soon after the announcement of the news in television, hundreds of Gujaratis had been desperately contacting each other. Members of the community were crowded around television sets as this was the only source of news till this evening.

Soon after the quake, telecommunication links between the city and various parts of Gujarat was disrupted, worsening the crisis. With no telephone links with Surat, Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot, Jamnagar, the only option left was to contact their friends and relatives within the city.

“There are about 1,000 Kutchi families only in Calcutta, ” said Trinamul Congress secretary Dinesh Trivedi.

“We are helplessly contacting whoever we can over phone in the city and all over the country hoping to get some information about our close ones in Gujarat,” said Ramesh Doshi.

Doshi is also in the dark about the whereabouts of his two brothers-in-law in Bhuj.

Vinay Gandhi, a resident of Ballygunge Circular Road, wept as he had no news of his sister.

   

 
 
SPECIAL TRAINS FROM METROS 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 27: 
West Bengal today announced an emergency relief of Rs 2 crore for the earthquake victims.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the money will be paid in cash and not in kind as “it will take time to send relief material to a far-flung state like Gujarat”.

Apart from the state government, other non-government agencies have also come forward to send relief to the affected areas.

Dasgupta said a group of officers will be sent to Gujarat by Tuesday to help coordinate search operations for Bengalis, a large number of whom have settled in Gujarat for jobs. “West Bengal has a sizable population in Ahmedabad and other areas in Gujarat. They need our help,” the minister said.

Twenty-four-hour control rooms have been set up at Writers’ Buildings and Lalbazar police headquarters.

South Eastern Railway sources said a special train will ply between Howrah and Ahmedabad, carrying friends and relatives of the earthquake victims free of charge. The train with 17 coaches will stop at all major stations. The first train from Howrah is scheduled to leave at 4 p.m. today.

Five more trains, one each from Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi and Bangalore apart from a “designated special train”, have been rushed to the spot with NGOs wanting to engage in relief work, said Gujarat railway minister O. Rajagopal, who held a news conference in Delhi in the absence of Mamata Banerjee who is in Siliguri.

Three medical relief trains will also run from Ahmedabad, Udana and Palanpur, he said.

When asked why Mamata was not present at Bhuj and when she would visit the affected zone, Rajagopal said it was not for him to answer but the railway minister was in touch with the developments.

Train services were disrupted in Bhavnagar, Ajmer, Ahmedabad and Vadodara divisions. The special trains will bring back the stranded passengers.

“Communication has been severely affected and we are unable to make an assessment of the entire damage,” Rajagopal said.

Eight hundred men over and above the usual railway staff, army and other relief personnel have been deployed for the relief work, he added.

The general manager South Eastern Railway has appealed to all staff and officers to donate a day’s salary for the victims.

Railway sources said for booking relief materials, details can be obtained from station managers of Shalimar (Calcutta), Bokaro, Burnpur Kharagpur, Tatanagar, Rourkela and Bhilai.

Sources at Swaminarayan Sanstha, a welfare organisation, said a largescale fund-raising operation was launched in Calcutta today.

The organisation has already begun relief operations in the quake-hit areas.

Calcutta Kutchi Samaj officials said many Gujaratis in the city have agreed to offer donations to send relief to the victims.

   

 
 
ORISSA RELIEF 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bhubaneswar, Jan 27: 
Orissa today announced an adhoc assistance of Rs 1 crore from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for the earthquake victims of Gujarat.

The state government also opened a 24-hour control room at the labour commissioner’s office here where information is available at 0674-400260. A fax number (0674-402540) has also been provided.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik issued an appeal to state government employees, requesting them to contribute a day’s salary to the relief fund.

   

 
 
BJP CUT UP OVER AYUB PARALLEL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Jan. 27: 
The BJP came out strongly against President K.R. Narayanan for his comments against the system of indirect elections in his Republic Day eve address and accused him of echoing the Opposition’s views and making “unwarranted parallels” between India and Pakistan.

Reacting to Narayanan’s comparison of those mooting the idea of a fixed tenure for Parliament and indirect elections with Field Marshal Ayub Khan, who founded military dictatorship in Pakistan, the BJP spokesman, Jana Krishnamurthy in a statement asserted: “The BJP can assure the President that India will never take the road which Pakistan has been taking. India can give birth only to Atal Bihari Vajpayees and not to Ayub Khans.”

The party’s view was that Krishnamurthy’s statement was the “mildest possible” in the present circumstances. A section even felt that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee — at whom the Ayub Khan comparison was directed because he had broached the idea of a fixed term for Parliament during the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Election Commission last week—would have given a “befitting” reply in his address to the joint session of Parliament slated to be held today. The sitting has been deferred because of the Gujarat earthquake.

“In his inimitable style, Atalji would have clarified the whole picture by explaining that the idea of a fixed term was his own and did not reflect the government’s position. He would have then added that it would not materialise unless ratified by both Houses of Parliament. And his punchline would have been directed straight at the President. He would have pointed out that the President himself is an integral part of Parliament and, therefore, nothing can be done without his assent,” said sources.

Sources said the Prime Minister would not rake up the matter during the joint session as and when it is held. “It is best given a quiet burial,” they said.

Krishnamurthy, in his statement, pointed out that the founding fathers of the Constitution had provided for indirect elections for the President, the Rajya Sabha and the state councils. He added that no responsible political party had demanded that indirect elections should be held to the Lok Sabha and state legislatures. Even the panel set up to review the Constitution, while releasing its discussion papers, had made it clear that the proposals being circulated were not its own, Krishnamurthy said.

He went on to say that comparing the proposal with Ayub Khan’s efforts to usher in “guided democracy is something which defies one’s comprehension”.

Although Vajpayee’s suggestion was supported by the RSS and some leaders of the NDA like Ram Vilas Paswan, sections of the BJP had reservations against it and claimed if it was put to vote within the party it would be “defeated”. One view was that a fixed five-year term would encourage “political corruption” and give “a disproportionately large manouvering space to smaller parties who have no ideology or principles”.

It was also felt that as long as the BJP was in the saddle, the idea was “fine”. “But if the shoe is on the other foot and if say, somebody like Laloo Yadav becomes Prime Minister, an uninterrupted five-year rule would be disastrous for the country,” stressed sources.

   

 
 
WELFARE YES, STATE NO 
 
 
BY PROBIR PRAMANIK
 
Siliguri, Jan. 27: 
Striking where it would hit home, Mamata Banerjee today said the Kamtapuri demand for the development of North Bengal was genuine and her party was ready to support it.

“The Kamtapuris have a right to demand constitutional recognition of their language,” the Trinamul Congress chief told a huge rally here at Baghajatin park. “I welcome the Kamtapuri leaders to approach us regarding their genuine demands.”

Mamata, however, made it clear that her party was against any separatist movement. “We will not let any further division of Bengal or India,” she said, but added in the same breath that the Trinamul did not see the Kamtapuris as separatist or anti-national elements. “How can we call them separatists when they hoist the national flag and celebrate Republic Day? No agitation is illegal or secessionist. We cannot identify them as separatists just because the CPM does not subscribe to their demands,” Mamata said.

Special attention would be paid to the region’s development if the Trinamul came to power, she said. “We have special plans for North Bengal. We plan to establish a separate secretariat for the region,” she told the gathering.

Mamata also slammed the Left Front government for neglecting the Darjeeling hills. “The hill people witnessed a lot of blood-letting. While the 28-month agitation still haunts them, the CPM government carries on depriving them of any development work. The government has been fooling them for far too long,” she told supporters who had trekked from Kurseong to hand over a vikas jyoti (torch).

Mamata’s usual tirade against the Marxists was tempered by the tragedy in Gujarat. “I could have related scores of atrocities being committed on the people of Bengal by the CPM-ruled front,” she said. “But today the nation is faced with a devastating natural calamity.”

   
 

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