NRI Gujaratis rally to help relatives
Atal appeal for aid
Students in quake zone put parents on edge
Gadgets boost survivor search
Berlin, Paris hug English to woo Indians
State revives squad to thwart Naxalites
Left seeks PWG ban
Buddha orders char fence
14 killed in picnic mishap
Uproar over twin deaths

London, Jan. 28: 
Britain’s large Gujarati community, which numbers 300,000 plus, has reacted with exemplary speed and efficiency to the plight of relatives and friends whose lives have been devastated by the earthquake.

Gujarati organisations and temples began collecting funds within hours of learning of the quake while many businessmen used their own resources and networks to mobilise shipment of medicines and other essentials.

C.B. Patel, editor of Gujarat Samachar and a central figure in Britain’s Gujarati community, said it was a growing practice for elderly first-generation immigrants to escape the harsh winter by spending between 10 weeks and three months in Gujarat.

Despite disrupted communications, British Gujaratis were learning of the fate of their relatives. Often the news was tragic, he said.

Patel disclosed that the children and grandchildren in one family in Willesden, north London, had learnt that their elderly parents — “the mother is 67, the father 72” — who had gone to India for the winter had perished when their house in Kutch district had collapsed.

“There were other relatives in the house as well. The house had been built up from two storeys to five,” Patel added.

A leading organisation involved in the fund-raising is Sewa International, which has a developed nationwide network linking Gujaratis in London, Leicester, Birmingham, Manchester and other cities.

Its spokesman Shantilal Mistry announced: “Our target is to raise £2 million within three to four weeks for rehousing and redevelopment.”

Fund-raising is already taking place at temples, where people have gathered for prayers. “Individuals can give from £5 to £100.”

He pledged that “100 per cent” of the money raised would be channelled to the earthquake victims through Sewa International’s sister organisations in India. The administrative costs would be recovered through tax benefits.

“We are contacting other organisations in Britain, such as Patel Samaj and Sanatan Mandir in order to coordinate our efforts.”

Like thousands of others, Mistry had tried to contact his relatives. “My in-laws are in Bilimore, south of Surat. We can’t get in touch.”

Some are not waiting for communications to improve. One businessman, Arjan Vekaria, who runs a construction firm, flew yesterday from London to organise help from Mumbai. His elder brother, Shashikant Vekaria, said in London that the family was trying to organise shipment of medical supplies to affected areas in Kutch. “There are 20,000 people in the UK who come from villages within a 21-mile radius of Bhuj. People need warm clothes, blankets, tents, but also orthopaedic equipment as there are a large number of fractures.”

Vekaria revealed that his mother, Virbai, aged 73, was living two km from Bhuj. “We don’t know her situation,” he said.


New Delhi, Jan. 28: 
Dubbing the killer quake the worst in the history of Independent India, A.B. Vajpayee today appealed to all citizens to contribute generously to the Prime Minister’s relief fund as they had done during the devastating supercyclone in Orissa last year.

The Prime Minister will leave for quake-ravaged Ahmedabad tomorrow for a survey of the ground situation. Railway minister Mamata Banerjee will accompany him.

Vajpayee was today briefed over phone by L.K. Advani and chief minister Keshubhai Patel. He has requested finance minister Yashwant Sinha to think up ways of rehabilitating the homeless.

The crisis management group, headed by the Cabinet secretary, has been taking ad hoc relief decisions based on the minimal information trickling in. It is handicapped as it does not have the means to assess the volume of damage and is dependent on data provided by the Gujarat government and the Ahmedabad administration.

The state government does not yet have proper communication links with the areas closest to the epicentre of Friday’s earthquake like Bhuj, Anjar and Bhachau.

Vajpayee in his message said that the Centre would release funds from existing schemes but that amount would be too sparse given the massive scale of death and destruction. He appealed to the people: “You can help meet the shortage by contributing money, no matter how small the amount to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.”


Lucknow, Jan. 28: 
The tremors in Gujarat may have subsided, but 24 families here remain in shock. A day before the earthquake hit Bhuj, the families had wished luck to their children, 24 students of the Geology department in Lucknow University, who were on their way to Matanumadh, about 80 km away from the quake’s epicentre.

“Our children had gone on a field trip to Bhuj,” said a worried Shakuntala Saxena, whose daughter Anju was part of the university team. “There is still no news of them.”

K.P. Singh has been trying to get through to Professor M.P. Singh, who had accompanied the students to Bhuj. “It is impossible to get in touch with him,” he said, adding: “The helplines are of no use.”

The university teachers met the chief minister, asking him to send a rescue team to Bhuj but to no avail. “We want to know if the teachers and students are okay and in what condition they are. What is worrying us is that the professor, who accompanied the students, is diabetic,” said Professor Prabha Singh:

S.S. Bisht whose daughter Deepti is also in Bhuj, said the past two days have been the most agonising of his life. Terror writ large in his voice, he said: “At around 8.30 am on January 26, she called up from Bhuj to wish me happy birthday. Later, I heard in the news that the earthquake had struck minutes later.”

Today, however, one of the parents received a call from Gujarat saying all the students were safe, but there were no further details.


Ahmedabad, Jan. 28: 
Toni Frisch had no time to waste. Refusing food and accommodation lined up by a grateful Gujarat government, the Swiss rescue team leader headed straight to the mangled carcass of Mansi complex.

Within a few hours, the Swiss team had pulled seven survivors out of the rubble.

For the Gujarat government — struggling to marshall enough hands as the long weekend holiday had sent several employees out of Ahmedabd — foreign rescuers like Frisch had come as a godsend.

“This is my profession. I am in this (rescue operation) for 25 years,” said Frisch, whose team has 52 members, including nine doctors.

Frisch has brought with him not just the no-nonsense approach. The team has landed with sophisticated cameras, sensors and mikes, and nine sniffer dogs trained to locate people trapped under the debris.

Gone were the age-old gas-cutters used by local teams to cut through the debris and the cranes used to lift the rubble. The Swiss team used the dogs to smell out the exact location of the survivors and drilled small holes to rescue them.

This ruled out chances of the heavy rubble slipping from the cranes and injuring or flattening the survivors, as commonly happens with Indian rescue teams. This is the first time that such sophisticated rescue methods are being used in India. The team is scheduled to visit 50 other locations in the city.

In Bhuj, a specialist British team began searching under collapsed buildings. The 70-strong team of firemen and international rescue workers used thermal imaging cameras, special vibrophones, which can detect the tiniest movement, and mini-cameras as they began sifting through the rubble in the devastated town.

“It’s too early to say if there are people still trapped. We’ve come 48 hours after the incident,” team leader Mike Thomas from the Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue said. “We will know soon if people are still alive.”

Other foreign help groups have also landed. Chief minister Keshubhai Patel’s adviser, S.K. Shelar, said a 69-member team from the UK, a 20-man team from Russia and a 75-strong team from Turkey have already started work. A team from the US is on its way.

France, Japan and Canada announced aid in cash and kind. France is sending two field hospitals with 46 people (two medical teams) by French Air Force Aircraft C135.

The US is sending $1 million in emergency supplies. Canada will give $1 million, a Canadian high commission statement said.

An additional $200,000 will be given to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for emergency supplies like blankets, shelters, medical supplies and water purification equipment. About $800,000 will be channelled through Canadian and local NGOs.

Japan announced aid of Rs 3.94 crore, a part of which will be given to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund, emergency relief goods and equipment, including blankets, tents and medicines worth Rs 1.14 crore.


New Delhi, Jan. 28: 
Germany and France have found a way to make friends and influence people — by catching them young. Both countries have been trying to open up higher education for Indian students.

A couple of months ago, DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) held its first education fair in India. In April, the French embassy will start seven new desks of Edufrance, a students’ advisory service, in the metropolitan cities.

Germans have been converting to a dual language policy in teaching. Management, technical and science courses are increasingly being taught in English, especially in the initial stages. Advanced courses are taught both in English and German.

The course duration has also been decreased. For example, a degree that would earlier take five years is now being broken up into modules of three plus two.

German officials point out that education is wholly subsidised by the government and, therefore, free for foreign students. This offers a comparative advantage to the promotions carried out by the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. Students from abroad offer Australia one of its highest streams of revenue.

The German effort has yielded results. From a near-zero base, more than 800 students were admitted in German universities, B-schools and technical institutes a couple of years ago. While this is a tiny fraction of the 8,000 students from China and 5,000 students from Korea, the authorities feel that changing to English as a teaching medium will attract more Indian students.

Hannelore Bossmann, director of the regional office of DAAD, said: “We are hoping to double or triple our admissions by 2005.” She adds that 9,000 courses are being offered by 300 universities and institutes.

France is offering similar facilities for post-graduate education. Though intensely proud of their language and culture, the French are also offering bilingual options. Higher education is free but students have to pay an admis- sion fee.

Laurent Gillard, director, Bureau de Cooperation Linguistique et Educative, said: “We are keen on attracting Indian students. They are extremely bright. The results of our best B-Schools show that among the top 10 students, there is likely to be at least one Indian.”

Bossmann says the German government would like to send 20 per cent students for education abroad and wants foreign students to take up 10 per cent seats in Germany. Only seven per cent students are from foreign countries at present.

Germany is an export-oriented country and it needs to streng- then its profile among the decision-makers of tomorrow, Bossmann said.

Echoing her, Gillard says: “It is essential for us to internationalise our education. It is more a political investment for building better relations between two countries.”

But both Bossmann and Gillard stress that Germany and France are not interested in encouraging brain drain as it helps them more if the students return to their own countries.

Indian students in Germany have been showing a growing interest in environmental engineering and green technology followed by computer studies.

Management studies is popular with the Indians in France. There are also enquiries about fashion, fine arts and architecture.

Bossmann said there are some obstacle for German students to study in Indian universities but the matter is being taken up in the Association of Indian Universities meet soon.


Calcutta, Jan. 28: 
Concerned over the re-emergence of armed Naxalite groups, particularly when the Assembly elections are round the corner, the state government has decided to revive its anti-Naxalite cell.

The cell was formed in 1972 during the chief ministership of Siddhartha Shankar Ray to check the activities of the then Naxalite outfit, CPI(ML).

After the Left Front came to power in 1977, the cell fell into disuse and the government granted amnesty to political prisoners leading to the release of a number of Naxalite leaders. By then the CPI(ML) had split and its activities were subdued.

Two of its factions, the Indian Peoples Front and Communist Revolutionary League of India gave up armed struggle and entered mainstream politics.

Other factions like the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), Second Central Committee and Peoples’ War Group (PWG) still adhere to the doctrine of armed uprisings and are active in Bankura, Midnapore, Hooghly, Nadia, Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts.

“We apprehend they (Naxalite groups) will create a major law and order problem during the elections. To resist them, we have found it necessary to revive the anti-Naxalite cell,” said Dipak Sanyal, the director-general of police.

“Wherever the Naxalites will be found involved in any violent activities, the cell will swing into action to tackle the situation. It will have full authority to utilise force or arms to tackle Naxalite violence,’’ said a senior police officer at Writers’ Buildings.

Police sources said the cell will be led by a senior IPS officer of the rank of a deputy inspector-general and will be equipped with a contingent of specially trained police, Rapid Action Force, and experienced officers from the Criminal Investigation Department and the Intelligence Branch.

“We are concerned over the sudden rise of the PWG, MCC and the Second CC in Midnapore, Hooghly and Nadia districts. Particularly the PWG has been continuing largescale violence in many areas of these districts,” Sanyal said.

Police said the re-emergence of the Naxalites had become a major headache for the administration. The incidents of violence in Chhoto Angaria and Jhapur in Midnapore forced the state to take measures to tackle the rebels.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee held a meeting with chief secretary Manish Gupta, home secretary S.N. Roy, and the DG to chalk out a blue print to combat the Naxalites.

“The main problem is that the PWG or MCC do not come in the open. They operate covertly and under the cover of darkness. After an act of violence, they flee to their hideouts. Though the party is not banned in Bengal, they are wanted in many cases in the three districts. The police will arrest the leaders when and where they are seen,’’Sanyal said.

The intelligence branch, which is engaged in the search of Naxalite hideouts, confirm that hardcore PWG activists have set up camps in the dense forests of Bankura and Midnapore and run arms training camps there.


Chinsura (Hooghly), Jan. 28: 
The CPM leadership in Hooghly district today called upon the state government to impose a ban on the activities of Naxalite factions in Bengal.

CPM leaders emphasised the need for a special crackdown on Naxalite hideouts in the jungle-infested areas of Arambagh subdivision to avert major pre-election violence at Arambagh, Khanakul, Goghat and Pursurah.

“We have come to know about the PWG’s presence in the villages of Salampur, Baharasol and Badanganj bordering Midnapore,” Arambagh MP Anil Basu said today. According to him, PWG workers are also active at Kishorepur, on the border of Khanakul (Hooghly) and Ghatal (Midnapore).

Hooghly superintendent of police N. Ramesh Babu said the district police had beefed up surveillance in the Hooghly areas bordering Bankura and Midnapore. Besides reinforcement in police stations, special camps of security forces had been set up at Salampur in Goghat, Baharasol, at Paschim Thakurani Chawk in Khanakul and at Kishorepur.

However, a senior intelligence official who was formerly with the district anti-Naxalite cell said: “Enough time has already been wasted in complacence and it would be hard to tackle Naxalite factions like the People’s War Group, Revolutionary Youth League of India and the Maoist Communist Centre with conventional police machinery.”

Before Naxalite factions could spread their tentacles in other parts of Bengal, the state government should take bold steps in flushing them out of the jungles of Hooghly, Bankura and Midnapore, intelligence officials felt.

This, however, required a specially trained force equipped with sophisticated weapons and communications support system, they said. “PWG activists possess AK-47 guns and they move on motorcycles. How can the police armed with only rifles belonging to the period of the Second World War and riding on a vehicle of the 1950s tackle them?” they asked.

The officials have suggested formation of a special force trained in handling sophisticated weapons, erection of watch-towers with powerful illumination device in forest areas, supply of night-vision binoculars, powerful radio telephones instead of conventional ones, and Armada jeeps or Tata 407 vans.


Farakka, Jan. 28: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today asked the district magistrate to erect fences on char lands on the Ganga, if necessary, to prevent clashes among farmers from Malda and Murshidabad districts.

Bhattacharjee’s directive follows reports of mounting clashes among farmers from the districts over cultivation rights on the char land during dry season.

Char lands are islands formed in the middle of the river when it dries up during winter.

During his visit to Farakka today, the chief minister went on a tour of the char land that lies west of the Farakka barrage.


Siliguri, Jan. 28: 
Little did five-year-old Kesang Thendup Bhutia know during her boat ride on Mirik Lake that her happiest day would soon turn into her saddest. She and two others had a miraculous escape while 14 persons, including Kesang’s parents, were killed as the jeep in which they were returning to Gangtok from Darjeeling on the night of January 26 plunged into a 1,000-ft gorge.

Kesang’s parents and 22 fellow villagers from Bara Pathing in east Sikkim had hired two Commander jeeps on January 25 to go on a two-day picnic to Darjeeling and Mirik. On their way back the next day, one of the jeeps fell into a gorge around 11 pm. Fourteen passengers, including the driver, died on the spot.

Kesang, who was sitting on her mother’s lap, escaped unhurt and was rescued on Saturday morning. Two other survivors, Bhaichung Bhutia, 20, and Lahm Dorjee Bhutia, 19, were flung on to trees as the jeep hurtled down.

East Sikkim superintendent of police Akshay Sachdeva said: “It was a sheer miracle that saved Kesang. As she was sitting on her mother’s lap, her fall must have been cushioned. Bhaichung and Lham, who were apparently asleep at the back of the vehicle, were flung out and clung to two trees.”

The police officer said a combination of fatigue and alcohol could possibly have been the cause of the tragedy. The driver, who was driving continuously since Thursday morning, may have taken a few drinks at Pakyong, the officer said. “We rule out any mechanical faults as the vehicle was only a month old,” he added.

Bhaichung was the first to inform the Bara Pathing police outpost. He had scrambled up from his perch and trekked to seek help. Lham trekked to Bara Pathing and asked about the whereabouts of the passengers. Only then he realised how lucky he had been.

A police search party and local villagers found the wreckage early next morning. Kesang was weeping on the lap of her lifeless mother.


Siliguri, Jan. 28: 
The recovery of two disfigured bodies from the jungles of Kalimpong sub-division in the Darjeeling hills has created a controversy over the past two days.

Police maintain that the death of the youths resulted from a drunken brawl. Political observers, however, feel their could be a political motive as the deaths took place in the dense jungles of Nimbong, the hub of the Chhattray Subba-led militant outfit, the Gorkhaland Liberation Organisation (GLO).

Shyam Rai, 21, and Krishna Karki, 27, from Lower Bong Busty on the outskirts of Kalimpong, had gone to play cricket at Sinjey near Nimbong on January 22. While their team-mates returned the same evening, they decided to stay back for a “marriage”.

“They got drunk and gatecrashed into one Tshreing Tamang’s daughter’s wedding. The inebriated youths allegedly teased and tried to molest women there. This infuriated local youths who dragged them to a nearby jungle, chopped off their ears and nose and killed them,” a senior police official said.

“We learnt of the killing after a woodcutter spotted the disfigured bodies on the morning of January 26. The remoteness of the area further delayed the transportation of bodies to Kalimpong for post mortem,” the official added.

No one has been arrested yet as those involved in the killing are said to be absconding.

Though the police were initially rattled with the dual killing in what they called a “sensitive” area they discounted any political hand.


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