5000-year scourge haunts Kutch
Israel gives a chance to Israela
Epidemic is not possible: CM
Slack state lets down samaritans
Delhi keeps Hasina waiting
Damaged homes pulled down
Court rejects Hindujas’ travel plea
Inter-state bike racket busted
Robbery burst in terror belt
Undertrial children flee home

Kutch, Feb. 1: 
“What do I care for what happened to a place that died 5,000 years ago?” asks RSS worker Arun Gawande, who is driving to Bhuj from Rapar, 80 km from Dholavira, where remnants of the Harappan civilisation continue to mystify tourists and archaeologists.

“Maybe this is what happened to it too.”

Rapar, 150 km from Bhuj on the edge of the Rann, is all rubble. The main market is now pile after pile of mortars, crowbars and stones.

Gawande’s four-storeyed house tilts to one side. His family is out in the open as is most of Kutch’s surviving six lakh population.

“I have seen and helped extricate 25 bodies myself. My guess is that at least 100 people died in the main market itself,” he says.

Gawande, clad in the RSS’ trademark khaki shorts and black cap, takes a road through Bhachau. “I’m told that in Khabra (80 km north of Bhuj towards the Pakistan border), the scene is horrifying. Kuram, India’s last village, is buried.”

The scale of devastation in Kutch is such that every settlement looks bombed out.

But it is in Bhuj, Kutch’s largest city with a population of 150,000, that the havoc is most visible. In the once-upmarket Vijayanagar locality, Kalpataru, a sprawling three-storey apartment complex, has been buried along with no one knows how many of its inhabitants.

Nilesh Thakkar, who lived across the road in Satyam Towers, says that so far they’ve seen the body of just one 12-year-old boy being pulled out.

“I knew the family,” says Preeti Thakkar, Nilesh’s neighbour. The boy’s mother had gone for a morning jog when the earth shook. She survived. Her son didn’t.

At Waniwad in the walled city, where Col. Rohit Chowdhury of 1 Engineers is supervising the clearing of debris, a shopkeeper comes and asks him if the building that housed his garment store Sajan is fit for moving in.

“Not a chance,” says the colonel. In fact, 95 per cent of the buildings have to be demolished.”

His men are clearing the roads that criss-cross the walled city. People are carting away stuff from buildings perhaps never to be inhabited again.

The salvage teams are taking household items and keeping them on one side. There have been reports that at night, some people attempted to loot the area. Local residents say the army opened fire to scare away potential looters.

Relief workers said they don’t fear any major outbreak of diseases because the survivors were given plenty of water to drink to stave off possible diarrhoea.

However, the government warned that some parts face the threat of an epidemic as local residents, clutching onto slender hope, are resisting the removal of decomposed bodies.

Chief minister Keshubhai Patel said people in many places are preventing relief workers from bringing in heavy machinery for removal of bodies as they still expect their family and friends to be alive.

Patel warned that unless the people cooperate, an epidemic could break out. According to officials, bodies of only half of the estimated killed have been extricated.

“In such situations, there is a threat of epidemic because lots of bodies are still lying under the debris,” state home minister Haren Pandya said.

The completely paralysed sanitation systems has added to the worries. “There’s a risk people can get diarrhoeal diseases such as gastroenteritis and water contaminated with bacteria can also cause typhoid and cholera,” a Red Cross official said. Some cases of diarrhoea have already surfaced.

The government is now concentrating on providing relief and rehabilitation to the affected people. “We are distributing chlorine tablets, sprinkling DDT and spraying deodorant (on the debris),” Pandya said.

Patel announced that a cash dole of Rs 10 per day is being given to each survivor. Besides, the state has sanctioned one lakh household kits, foodgrain, onions and tomatoes.

But people complained that they were being frustrated in efforts to secure food and relief material, despite large volumes of aid flowing into the region. “A lot of things are coming in but I don’t know where they are going,” Madhobhai Maheshwari, who worked as a driver in Bhuj, said.

Maheshwari was among a large number of people waiting outside the collector’s office in the hope of receiving some food and sheltering material.

“We are being kicked around like a football,” he said. “I have come here four times for sheets, water and rations. They are sending us from place to place.”

Anger and resentment bubbled to the surface as parents worried over how to feed and house their children.


Bhuj, Feb. 1: 
She weighs 900 gm and is called Israela, a name given by the doctors at the field hospital set by the Israeli defence force here.

Her mother is Gomti; her father Trikam Karsan Ahir, 27, is a marginal farmer from arid Kutch. They no longer have a home — all 150 houses in Habay village, 30 km from Bhuj, were flattened.

Trikam had taken his four-year-old son to school for a Republic Day function when the earth shook.

“We saw the school building vanish in a cloud of dust when the earth tilted. Thankfully, we were in the playground. We ran home, my wife was trapped in rubble but the house was a kuchcha one. Mercifully, she was unhurt,” Trikam said.

“Last noon, my wife felt uneasy. We trekked to the highway and got a lift from a truck-driver till Dhaneto, a larger village with doctors and a pharmacy. There were no medicines, but the pharmacy had a car in which we were driven to Bhuj around 3.30 pm.

“An hour later, my wife delivered. She had been carrying for just five months.”

Israela is now in an incubator, tiny and red, the snipped umbilical cord bloody and sore. Inside her glass cage, Israela, a tube going through her nose, moves her small legs.

The doctors say chances of her survival are dim if she remains here.

Lt. Gen. Kuint Jacob, who is in charge of the camp, marvelled: “She pulled through the night and she has more than 95 per cent chances of survival if she is transferred to a neo-natal hospital by tonight.”

This morning, defence minister George Fernandes visited the hospital and promised to move “heaven and earth” to do just that. This evening, five helicopters were on their way to the Israeli hospital to move the baby to either Ahmedabad or Mumbai in an incubator.

The Israeli team, that includes 30 doctors and an equal number of nurses, reached Bhuj yesterday in six aircraft — two Boeing 707s and four Hercules’.

The camp, comprising 14 tents, was set up in two hours and is equipped to deal with gynaecology, paediatrics and even has an ICU unit.

The doctors said they were ready to come by the evening of January 26 but were delayed by bureaucratic hurdles.

Next to Israela, another child lies in an incubator. The doctors said the baby was born before the camp was set up and suspect the delivery was made in the seventh month.

The hospital can admit 80 patients and treat 1000 people daily.


Kutch, Feb. 1: 
Chief minister Keshubhai Patel, facing the toughest test of his political career, promised quick relief and rehabilitation. Patel spoke to Sujan Dutta at the collectorate office in Kutch.

The Telegraph: There have been reports that relief is stuck in towns and is not reaching the interior pockets. Is it true?

Patel: There is no place in Kutch where relief has not reached. I have driven through four tehsils and seen for myself.

TT: People are looting shops, heckling relief officials.

Patel: There is no trouble anywhere. The area is absolutely peaceful. You can go anywhere and check.

TT: Is there a possibility of an epidemic breaking out?

Patel: Officials had a meeting this morning with a team from Delhi’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases that has been here for the past three days. They said there is no possibility of an epidemic breaking out.

TT: Have you got enough relief material?

Patel: What we need we have asked for: mainly tarpaulins and plastic sheets. Around 50,000 of these are expected to land tonight.

TT: What about medical treatment?

Patel: More than 60,000 patients have been treated so far.

TT: International agencies are complaining of bureaucratic delays in setting up relief camps.

Patel: The charge is not true at all. An Israeli team came yesterday. Within two hours, their hospital was operational.

TT: How long before the debris is cleared?

Patel: In Anjar and Bhachau, 65 per cent of the work is over. Only 5 to 10 per cent of the work remains in villages.

TT: There have been conflicting reports on the toll. What is the bodycount so far?

Patel: You will be surprised to learn that the toll is much less than many people expected at first. In Kutch, the toll so far is 6532. Anjar, Bhachau and Bhuj are the worst-hit with 2,341, 1,499 and 1, 450 deaths.


Bhuj, Feb. 1: 
The devastating quake brought out the best in Gujaratis and the worst in the Gujarat government.

People from all nooks and corners of the state came rushing to the aid of the affected. But it took more than 48 hours for the Keshubhai Patel administration to launch a rescue operation when a quick response would have saved many more lives.

Brijesh Pandya, a computer hardware engineer from Ahmedabad, was having breakfast when the puris on his plate began to move. He thought “my head was spinning, but then the entire apartment began to sway”.

Luckily for Pandya and his parents, nothing happened to the building. Like all Ahmedavadis, his family panicked. But the youth did not let fear deter him from rushing to Bhachau, 90 km from here, with a charity.

Pandya was taking turns cooking and distributing food to whoever came by their open air stall by National Highway 8A. Around him was a sea of rubble that the houses, shops and hotels in bustling Bhachau had been reduced to.

Rapid Action Force personnel were trying to pull out a man from under the debris of what was a hotel. Two legs, in a pair of blue jeans and rugged boots, were peeking out, the man presumed dead. The skeleton of a Tata Indica parked nearby indicated the man had stopped for tea or breakfast; only to have his journey ended there.

Pandya and his friends were offering subji and sweets but the takers were not quake victims but motorists. The effort was well-intended, albeit misdirected for the government’s failure to coordinate with relief agencies.

“It is amazing how quickly these people responded to the calamity but those in real need of the relief are not getting much,” Samir Narayan Choudhury of Goal International said. “It is such a big waste of resources.”

Choudhury, with his colleagues, was among the first physicians to reach Bhuj from Calcutta with Rs 1 lakh worth of medicine. He handed over the supply to N.K. Patel, the additional medical director of Gujarat. Patel welcomed the medicine while turning away a group of doctors from Udaipur.

The orthopaedics and neurosurgeons were disappointed when told their services were not needed as “we have a flood of doctors”. “We don’t have light, water or an operation theatre here. So what will you do?” Patel asked.

But residents of many villages did not see any government doctor in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Not one of the 280 patients, including 20 children, admitted to the hospital made it out alive.

The hospital is a stone’s throw from the collectorate, but till Monday no effort had been made to find survivors under the rubble.

“We are short of bulldozers, excavators and other lifting equipment, but now they have started coming,” Bhuj collector Kamal Dayani said on Sunday. By Monday afternoon, a long line of excavators and dumper trucks were standing by the main road with none ordered to move in.

“It’s criminal. The equipment is there but is not being put to use,” fumed a plastic surgeon from Vadodara.

“My uncle and his four children could have been saved had a crane arrived here to lift the fallen concrete,” Ranjit Jadeja, working alone to trace his family at Srijanand Tower, said.

Bhuj’s streets were crawling with social workers. But a lack of coordination defeated the purpose. “Take as many blankets as you want to get through the chilly night in the open,” Prakash Joshi, managing a relief camp, said on Sunday. Unused blankets were lying in a heap at the camp while hundreds of homeless shivered.


New Delhi, Feb. 1: 
South Block is yet to give the go-ahead to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s proposal that she would like to visit quake-devastated Gujarat.

Though leaders from all over the world have rallied behind India, with some calling up Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee, she is, perhaps, the first who wanted to visit Gujarat.

Delhi appreciated Dhaka’s gesture of solidarity, but has politely asked Hasina to wait for some time before undertaking her visit, particularly to the stricken state.

“We have extended an open invitation to the Bangladesh Prime Minister to visit India,” foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said. But he refused to say whether the invitation was extended after Hasina expressed her desire to visit Gujarat.

“We are trying to work out a mutually convenient date,” a senior Bangladeshi diplomat said. He revealed that discussions were on between the two sides as to when Hasina could come to India and visit the areas laid waste by the convulsing earth.

Her gesture is not uncommon among Saarc leaders. When a cyclone had ravaged Bangladesh, Rajiv Gandhi, who was Prime Mi-nister at the time, along with then Sri Lankan President J. Jayawardane, visited Urir Char, the worst affected island in the country.


Ahmedabad, Feb. 1: 
Sunil Shah was spared by the killer quake on Friday. But he lost his home today as the authorities tore down Shraddha Apartments.

An engineer, Shah, however, knew there was no other way. The four-storey building in posh Paldi was no longer fit for living.

After six days of rescue operations, civic authorities today started pulling down “dangerous buildings” in the city.

The municipal corporation yesterday blacklisted 29 buildings after inspection by experts. Of these, it started demolishing 14 buildings without much resistance from the occupants. The remaining structures will be gradually pulled down.

The operation will continue till all 29 buildings — the number may increase as the inspection is still on — are pulled down. “We may have to pull down another 20 buildings,” municipal commissioner K. Kailashnathan said.

While supervising the demolition at the severely-damaged Shraddha Apartments, a senior civic official said there was no resistance from the people. “In fact, the situation was the other way round. The occupants of this building had requested us to demolish it as it was not fit for living any more,” said deputy municipal commissioner P.K. Dixit.

Shah, however, painted a different picture. “Initially, the occupants of our building did resist, but after they were allowed to take out their valuables and important belongings, they relented,” he said.

The operation is proving to be tricky as the apartment is hemmed in by buildings on both sides. Even though heavy machinery like a 180-tonne crane has been pressed into service, the demolition has to be slow and meticulous.

Another four-storeye building, Sajni Apartment in Pritam Nagar, has met with the same fate. But the liftwell left standing after Friday’s tremors is proving to be a challenge to the team of engineers. A corporation official supervising the efforts said: “I do not know how the liftwell will be brought down without causing damage to the adjoining buildings.”

Pravin Shah, Rameshbhai and Rutesh Munshi, once proud occupants of this upmarket apartment where they claimed to have bought flats for Rs 9 lakh each, have been left without a roof over their heads.

While the government has offered free housing to those whose houses have collapsed, Pravin Shah and his neighbours have no idea when a new building will come up in place of their apartment. Even the corporation has not promised anything.


New Delhi, Feb. 1: 
Raising doubts on whether the Hinduja brothers would return to India if they were allowed to travel abroad, the Bofors special court today refused to allow the three tycoons to leave the country.

“I have dismissed the application of the accused, who, if allowed to go out of India, might not come back to face trial,” special judge Ajit Bharihoke said.

He was delivering his verdict on a plea by the Hindujas to leave the country after more than a week of questioning by the CBI.

The bureau has accused the billionaire brothers — the London-based Srichand and Gopichand and Geneva-based Prakash — of receiving 81 million Swedish kroners as kickbacks from the now-defunct AB Bofors in the 1986 howitzer deal.

The CBI had asked the special court to reject the Hindujas’ plea to leave the country on the grounds that they may not return. Earlier, the court had given the investigating agency an eight-day deadline till January 31 to question the brothers.

The Hindujas were not present in the courtroom today.

A team of lawyers for Win Chadha, another accused in the case, was also waiting to move similar applications in case the Hindujas were allowed to travel abroad.

Chadha had filed a similar application earlier which, too, had been rejected by the trial court. His subsequent appeals to Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court were turned down.

“In case the Hindujas were allowed we could have also sought the same relief, as the law cannot be different to different individuals,” one of the lawyers for Chadha said.

Anticipating that the high court and the Supreme Court might take the same view for their clients, the Hindujas’ counsel declined to move the upper courts.

“What is the hurry? In any case, the high court will not hear our appeal today,” Arvind Nigam, one of the lawyers representing the brothers, said. The Hindujas may move the high court tomorrow.

Ujjawal Rana, another counsel, said the order “detaining” and “confining” them in India was “unexpected”.


Asansol, Feb. 1: 
Police have busted an inter-state motorcycle hijacking racket in Jemari with the arrest of Salauddin, a key operative, and two of his associates.

The gang, operating from Jemari under the Salanpur police station, was creating havoc in Asansol and adjoining areas in Bihar and Jharkhand.

“Acting on a tip-off, we conducted a joint raid with the Kulti police. We had information that Salauddin was hiding in Jemari. Mohit Mondol and Goutam Nath, two of his associates, are also in our net,” Ramen Talukder, officer-in-charge of Salanpur police station, said.

Talukder confirmed that one new Kawasaki Bajaj and a Hero Honda with false number plates were seized from the gang. He said the three confessed during interrogation that they had been operating in the belt for the past three years with Babu Khan, a crime lord in Chas in Bihar.

Asansol police got in touch with its counterpart in Chas. But though Khan’s house was raided, he managed to escape.

Police are also looking for Arun Pal, a muhuri of Asansol court, who allegedly used to procure false number plates.


Baruipur, Feb. 1: 
An armed gang attacked 12 houses at Arjuna village in Baruipur last night and looted cash and ornaments worth Rs 1.5 lakh. Nine persons, including three women, were injured when they tried to chase the 30 raiders.

According to the villagers, police came to the spot 12 hours after the incident even though a complaint was lodged the same night.

Eight houses were looted similarly in October last year and the police is yet to arrest a single miscreant, they alleged.

Ananda Sardar, whose house was raided last night, told The Telegraph that around 1 am the gang, some of whose members were wearing masks, knocked on his door. They said they were policemen and were searching for a criminal.

As soon as Ananda opened the door, a miscreant put a pipe gun to his head and said: “Yes, we have got the criminal.” Other members of the gang than started beating him and his wife, Latika. They took away cash and ornaments from his house.

While six or seven men were busy at Ananda’s house, the other robbers attacked another 11 houses of the area and looted the valuables. Bhutnath Sardar, Sadanda Sardar and others, who tried to chase the gang, were mercilessly beaten by them.

According to eye-witnesses, the robbers hurled bombs and fired from pipeguns while fleeing. They came from the direction of Belgachi in Canning and went back the same way.

The villagers are scared as the miscreants have threatened to come back. Jatin Sardar, another victim, said they first went to Canning police station, only five km away. “But they refused to hear us out as the village comes under Baruipur police station, which is 15 km away,” he added.

Madan Naskar, a villager, said: “Most of the youth of the village were watching video in a house after immersing the image of goddess Saraswati, and the miscreants took this opportunity.”

He said most of the raiders were known by the villagers, which is why they used masks last night.

South 24-Parganas police superintendent A.K. Maliawal said he was not aware of the details of the incident.

Samir Chakraborty, district Trinamul leader, has demanded the immediate arrest of the dacoits.


Berhampore, Feb. 1: 
Four juvenile undertrials have fled from Ananda Ashram, a state government-run home for destitute children and a reform centre.

The undertrials, who are 10-14 years old, have been identified as Suman Biswas, Saiful Islam, Durjadhan Singh and Totan Biswas. While Suman and Saiful are Bangladeshi nationals, Durjadhan is from Malda and Totan from North 24 Parganas.

The boys escaped by scaling the boundary walls of the home, after forcing apart the window grills of the room in which they were kept.

Though the boys were missing from the home since Saturday, the incident came to light this morning after ashram superintendent Sukriti Kalthia lodged a complaint with the local police. In her statement, Kalthia said the boys had fled after midnight, escaping the notice of the night watchman.

The incident, however, has sparked severe resentment among the inmates. They alleged poor security at the ashram led to the incident. Another undertrial had fled the ashram a few months ago.

The ashram was meant for destitute children. Though it was later converted into a reform centre for juvenile undertrials, adequate security was provided.


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