Global effort to ease relief flow
Bullets fly before Buddha visit
Heat on Mamata budget
Scramble to screen cracked houses
Tremors topple minister
Calcutta Weather

 
 
GLOBAL EFFORT TO EASE RELIEF FLOW 
 
 
FROM K.P. NAYAR & SUJAN DUTTA
 
Washington & Ahmedabad, Jan. 31: 
Six pairs of hands offer medicines, cotton wool, injections and anaesthetic as doctors prepare to amputate Jyotsnaben Gandhi’s legs. Minutes ago, she was rescued from the debris of Shraddha Apartments in Ahmedabad and brought to the hospital. She was missing for 117 hours, almost given up for dead.

Even yesterday, many paramedical staff would fumble to find the right medicine at the right time, if available.

Today, Ahmedabad and Bhuj, Anjar and Rapar, nearly all of stricken Gujarat, have stocks of medicine and emergency relief and doctors can take quick decisions. Tens of hundreds of international rescue teams have made this possible.

If the Gujarat earthquake is the biggest single natural calamity for the country, the state is also the first real beneficiary of globalised relief.

Following India’s unprecedented decision to open its arms to unrestricted foreign assistance and relief personnel to cope with the earthquake, international agencies with decades of experience in disaster management have mounted an operation which can only be compared to a war effort. In meticulousness, detail and planning, the massive mobilisation worldwide has all the shades and appearances of an Operation Desert Storm or a Normandy landing in preparation.

It is also in stark contrast with the absence in India of a credible central mechanism to identify critical areas or track the flow of relief. The loophole ensured that the aid flow was initially restricted to high-profile disaster zones like Ahmedabad and Bhuj. Even now, several remote villagers are cut off from the relief channel.

The Gujarat administration, used to juggling scarce resources, cannot cope with a problem of plenty. International rescuers complain that Indian bureaucratic requirements delay their arrival in Gujarat. On Monday, a team was asked to go to Bhachau only to find that it had already been covered by two earlier squads.

Since this morning, however, a lumbering administration has brought in professional help: faculty from the country’s top B-school, IIM Ahmedabad, is now advising and directing relief teams and timing their visit.

Global agencies have also started monitoring the management of relief supplies and identifying logistics challenges. For instance, the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in Washington has precise information that 40 railway stations in the quake-hit region have been damaged.

A key element in the international relief effort is the link between supplies and the needs of the affected people. This crucial correlation is often found missing in domestic efforts to aid victims of natural disasters, especially when the drive is organised by state agencies. The lacuna results in enormous waste, and worse, relief does not often get to the needy.

The Bureau for Humanitarian Response at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), along with OFDA, has a 24-hour response management team tracking and monitoring Washington’s response to the tragedy.

It is in constant contact with an eight-member US Disaster Assistance Response Team (Dart) which is on the ground in India. The leader of the Dart team reached Bhuj as early as on Sunday.

At the 24-hour response management team’s location in Washington, precise information is available on the scale of the Indian government’s relief mobilisation: as of yesterday, the “lead coordinating agency for the disaster” in India had deployed 9,500 search and rescue personnel and 871 medical teams even as it moved 8,210 tents and 92,000 blankets into the affected zone.

One action that the round-the-clock team will be tracking today is the airlift of nine 3,000-gallon collapsible water tanks, 900 rolls of plastic sheeting and two water purification kits from Pisa in Italy to India. The operation is expected to take 10 hours.

One agency through which the USAID has been distributing assistance is Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Since Monday, CRS has been entrusted with 500 metric tonnes of emergency food aid, according to logs maintained here, and USAID has worked out that this will take care of 100,000 daily rations to displaced persons.

Passenger flights to Ahmedabad got delayed today because there wasn’t enough space in the parking bay on the tarmac: it was choc-a-bloc with aircraft bringing in relief from the US, the European countries, Pakistan and Israel, planes chartered by voluntary international missions, and defence aircraft.

Agencies as far removed as in Tokyo and in Toronto have started keeping track of one another’s efforts and coordinating these so that the requirements on the ground are met as far as possible.

Today, the Pentagon will join the US relief effort when it airlifts two forklifts specially designed for inhospitable terrain, two trailers each with a capacity to transport 400 gallons of drinking water, 92 large tents, 10,000 sleeping bags and 10,000 blankets.

Two logistics experts from the defence attache’s office at the US embassy in New Delhi will also join the Dart team today.

A telephone conversation between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee yesterday has been followed by a bi-partisan resolution in the House of Representatives and the Senate urging Bush to use his influence with international lending institutions to provide money for rehabilitation in Gujarat.

   

 
 
BULLETS FLY BEFORE BUDDHA VISIT 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Midnapore, Jan. 31: 
Barely hours before chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s public meeting at Pingla, violence returned to stalk Midnapore’s most volatile flashpoint after a top local CPM functionary was shot at and wounded by motorcycle-borne gunmen early this morning.

Tapan Das, the CPM Pingla committee secretary, was shot thrice in the chest and abdomen by two unidentified assailants who rode up to his house at Chohat village, called him out and opened fire as soon as he came near. His wife Kajal, who too had come out, was shot in the arm.

“The incident occurred around 6 am when the Das’ were preparing for their morning cup of tea. So far we have no clue about the identity of the gunmen. But we think we will be able to round them up soon,” said S.S. Panda, the additional superintendent of police.

An unsubstantiated report said nearly half-a-dozen masked gunmen broke open the main door of the house and fired at the couple. The couple has been admitted to Midnapore Sadar Hospital where their condition is said to be critical.

Chohat village lies in the vicinity of the Dakbungalow grounds, the venue of the chief minister’s Thursday meeting. Das is one of the key organisers of the rally.

Tension began to mount in Pingla as CPM district secretary Deepak Sarkar alleged that the gunmen were loyal to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress. The Trinamul, he said, was “disturbed at the high level of interest” the meeting has generated in the area. “We have reasons to believe that Trinamul’s hitmen targeted Tapan to scare the people so that they do not attend tomorrow’s meeting,” Sarkar said.

Gaur Ghorui, Trinamul’s Pingla committee secretary, rebutted the allegation, saying the strike was the result of either intra-CPM rivalry or popular resistance to forcible collection of subscription by the cadre.

“There is no point blaming us because all these villages are under the thumb of the CPM. So it is nothing but their internal strife which is responsible for the incident,” he said.

Of all the flashpoints in Midnapore, Pingla stands out in comparison with Keshpur and Garbeta in terms of the spread of violence. Eight skeletons — all believed to be victims of political bloodspill — have been recovered from different parts of Pingla in the past six months.

Police have also unearthed huge quantities of arms and ammunition and bundles of black hoods. Till recently, gun-toting criminals, enjoying political patronage, were seen roaming the streets of Pingla on their motorcycles.

   

 
 
HEAT ON MAMATA BUDGET 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Lucknow, Jan. 31: 
A day after asking the nation to prepare for fresh taxes, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today raised the possibility of an increase in railway fares and freight charges.

“The hike in rail fares will be effected only if it becomes very essential in the wake of natural calamities like drought, floods and now the earthquake,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister’s hint of a harsh railway budget came in the presence of railway minister Mamata Banerjee, who had set her face against a hike and was determined to unwrap a populist package ahead of the Bengal Assembly elections.

Mamata was so determined to go ahead with her “people-friendly” budget that she had said the railways would absorb the additional cost of about Rs 275 crore arising from the increase in petroleum prices in September.

In the last budget, too, Mamata had staved off an increase in passenger fares by loading a five per cent hike in freight rates on all commodities, barring essential items.

Mamata today took the blow to her plans with equanimity. She handed over a cheque of Rs 15 crore to the Prime Minister for relief at a railway function here.

Mamata, whom Vajpayee addressed as “hurricane minister” amid peals of laughter from the crowd, announced special trains from Kumbh to Ahmedabad to take back Gujarati pilgrims to their homes and families.

She said her ministry was done with the first major task of assessing the total damage to railway lines in Gujarat and had now moved on to restoring connectivity. She promised that trains would be back on track much before expected.

Vajpayee said the country had to come together to ensure that the economic progress made in the last two years was not reduced to naught. “We should not allow the process to be set back by this tragedy,” he said.

Finance minister Yashwant Sinha, too, echoed the Prime Minister’s warnings of a harsh budget. “The people of the country should and have to bear some of the burden,” Sinha said in Ranchi.

   

 
 
SCRAMBLE TO SCREEN CRACKED HOUSES 
 
 
FROM BASANT RAWAT
 
Ahmedabad, Jan. 31: 
The city today took the first halting step in the long march home with thousands of residents approaching the municipal corporation and the Gujarat Institute of Civil Engineers and Architects Association to certify whether their houses were fit for living.

The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation received 3,000-odd applications while the association was flooded with 8,000 appeals. The architects’ organisation is rendering free service to residents of highrises who want to know if their buildings are safe and whether they can withstand tremors in future.

The survey of unsafe buildings in the corporation and Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority areas started with experts arriving from Delhi, Surat and Vadodara. The process is expected to be completed within 10 days, said architects’ association president Vijay Shah.

The association has formed 20 teams — each comprising a structural engineer, two civil engineers and one architect — to inspect buildings. With more structural engineers expected to assist the association and the civic bodies, 10 more teams will be formed to expedite the survey.

Municipal deputy commissioner H.J. Hingarajia said: “The preliminary survey is being done by the corporation engineers. Our engineers will first identify unsafe buildings, which will then be inspected by experts. They will suggest whether the damage can be repaired.”

Ahmedabad district collector K. Srinivasan has set up a separate four-member expert team consisting of professors from LD Engineering College and Polytechnic. The buildings they declare unsafe will be pulled down. This evening, civic authorities issued a list of 24 unsafe buildings.

Interestingly, the architects’ association teams have not found any building unsafe even after surveying more than 1,000 highrises.

“I surveyed 15 buildings. And none of them needs to be demolished,” the association president said. Hingarajia, however, confirmed that the buildings certified as “dangerous for living” will be pulled down.

The association has asked the occupants of the buildings it surveyed to return to their flats. The clearance came as a relief to the hundreds of terrified residents of highrises who were sleeping in the open since the Friday quake.

Rashmi Saxena, a resident of Indraprastha Apartment in an upmarket locality, said: “Though we are living in fear, we cannot do without entering our flat. I have no relative in the city. So I have to enter my flat to cook.”

Occupants of some of the apartments which were not severely damaged have begun sleeping in their flats. Meenal Kothari, a resident of Ambavadi, moved into her flat on Monday. “It is not that we do not fear, but then how many nights can one spend in the open?” she asked.

Asked if the association would recommend action against the architects of buildings which collapsed, Shah said it would not act without investigation. “We will have to keep in mind that only 100 out of 2.5 lakh buildings (barring the old city) had collapsed. All the building in the corporation limits were built as per the norms.”

Municipal commissioner K. Kailashnathan refused to comment on whether he planned to take action against the builders if faulty design was found to be the reason behind the collapse.

The commissioner, however, admitted the need for designs which can withstand tremors. “In view of the quake, we need to decide whether certain building designs should be allowed at all,” he said.

   

 
 
TREMORS TOPPLE MINISTER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Bangalore, Jan. 31: 
A Karnataka minister today resigned after saying that the earthquake that devastated Gujarat was divine retribution for ill-treatment of Christians there, reports our correspondent.

“Whatever I said yesterday has embarrassed the government. I am resigning to avoid any further controversy to the government and to the Congress, which believes in secular principles,” T. John, minister of infrastructure and civil aviation, told reporters.

John said in a speech televised yesterday that “the catastrophe that has struck Gujarat is God’s way of punishing people there for ill-treating Christians and other minorities”.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 29.1°C (+1)
Minimum: 17.2°C (+2)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative Humidity

Max: 100%
Min: 49%

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of morning mist. Minimum temperature likely to be around 18°C.
Sunrise: 6.21 am
Sunset: 5.20 pm
   
 

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