Builders arrested in collapse backlash
Anger eludes numb Kutch
Out of work and hungry, but not eligible for aid
Sangh cites toll to explain ‘bias’
Secular govt only option: Atal
Relief clouded by remorse
Artist at gallery helm after a decade
Fast-track cell to calm jute jitters
Close shave for Rajdhani
Left drive to woo minorities

Ahmedabad, Feb. 2: 
Nine builders in the city were arrested today after residents filed complaints blaming them for faulty construction which led to the collapse of high-rises during the earthquake. However, engineers are sceptical whether these cases will hold water in court.

Police said cases have been filed against builders of seven apartment buildings —- including Surbhi, Maruti, Vidyalaxmi and Sundarvan —- all of which crumbled when the quake struck on Republic day.

City police commissioner P.C. Pande said the builders had been booked under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and Section 420 (cheating). The first of these sentences can carry a 10-year sentence.

“As of now we have arrested those linked to more than one collapsed building,” Pande said. He added that the age of the buildings has also been taken into account. “If a building has collapsed 30 years after construction, one cannot blame the builders,” he said.

However, the engineers said if cases cannot be established in court as the Gujarat Institute of Civil Engineers and Architects fears, residents will legally not be in a position to force the builders reconstruct the high-rises.

Free technical service cell chairman Vijay Shah said it would be difficult to establish that inferior materials —- not the quake —- had led to the collapse.

The builders are certain to cite the disparities in magnitude announced by various agencies. Within the country itself, scientists have differed on the magnitude, some putting it at 6.9 on the Richter scale and others at 7.9. Most foreign seismological centres have pegged it at 7.9.

Since there are few legal precedents for such claims, non-government organisations are also thinking twice before throwing their weight behind a court battle.Given this, the best option would be to go in for cost-sharing, Shah said. “The ideal way would be to split the cost of construction between the builder, residents and the government,” he suggested.

Shah, who is coordinating the survey of damaged buildings, said top builders would be able to fork out their share of money, but smaller ones were likely to flee as such a scheme would make them bankrupt. Most private builders here have gone underground, fearing action by the authorities and the wrath of the victims.

Some rumblings could be heard against the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority also, both of which are involved with construction.

The architects’ association has urged the government to ensure that only technically-qualified people are allowed entry into the construction business.


Kutch, Feb. 2: 
Night comes to Bhuj on the wings of droning aircraft. It engulfs the low hills on the outskirts and by the time it settles over the town, Bhuj’s glassy-eyed inhabitants are huddling around small fires.

Seven nights on, homeless and desolate, they are still not seasoned by the chill. Nights in Kutch get very cold very fast.

At Mahadev, one of five gates that lead into the walled city, Dharamsinh Chavda tries to peep over the rubble, worrying whether to go and look for his brother. He has come this evening from Rajkot.

Shankar, the brother, lost his livelihood when his “pan cabin”, a hole in one of the centuries-old walls from where he sold cigarettes, betel leaf and tobacco, went down.

Inside, the army is on guard. Dharamsinh has been warned against venturing into the walled city after dusk. A soldier might open fire, suspecting him to be a looter.

In the event it is Shankar who finds Dharamsinh...

“Nothing. Only stones and bad smell,” he says without greeting, without emotion, his eyes blank.

Dharamsinh says he has come to take Shankar to Rajkot. Shankar had sent his wife and child there three days ago. He does not reply. He doesn’t know what to do.

Bhuj at night is full of muffled male wails. Those who could, have sent away their women and children. The men who have stayed back are numbed with shock. Inert almost, too frozen to do anything that is loud, like a full-throated wail, a shout, a cry or a show of anger.

In Bhachau and Anjar, where they are angrier, there are probably more families among the survivors who have stayed on. Fathers and husbands get angry when mothers and wives and children don’t have the bare minimum to eat. Where families have been separated by death, anger is more muted.

Tales of looters running amok across Kutch’s ravaged towns are a mockery of the sombre mood in the region. The incidents of that kind are isolated, took place mostly on the night of the quake and certainly not overwhelming.

The earthquake happened seven days ago but it is still too early for people to come to terms with such loss. It took only a hundred seconds to undo hundreds of years.

“We have lost the ability to think,” says Bhupendra Rawal, sub-registrar at Anjar. “All this,” he points to the devastation around, “and in a jiffy?”

Shama Abdul Sattar, a factory worker in Bhachau, has no time to talk. He is in a hurry to get to the relief camp, set up two days ago. His three-year-old son is hungry and crying. “Aaj tak to bach rahen hain” (at least we are alive).

People marvel at their own survival. In Bhuj, where Keshubhai Patel is explaining to officers “now that rescue and relief are in full swing, we must embark on reconstruction”, the administration’s staff wonder if he is aware of how much needs to be done.

“He comes and gives instructions and attends meetings after meetings. But the government has practically folded up here. Its own people — like me — have seen our houses reduced to rubble, families getting killed. If it were not for the voluntary agencies and international aid, god knows what might have happened,” says a junior officer at the collectorate.

The small mercy is that there is no outbreak of an epidemic yet. Aid workers say this is largely because the first bit of relief to really spread out was drinking water in polythene pouches.

“When we first went to Anjar, we saw mounds of debris uncleared but many of the local people trying to rummage through the piles for signs of life had these water packets,” said a member of a French team.

But this is no guarantee. There are hundreds of villages in arid Kutch — of which 279 have been listed as “severely affected” — where adequate rations do not reach in the best of times. For the last two years, the zone has been reeling under a drought that all its non-resident deposits in the prosperous Patel villages could do little to ameliorate.

To expect relief to reach in the worst of times is asking for the impossible. Villages such as Sukhpur and towns like Bhachau need earthquakes, if cyclones — like the one two years ago — do not force them into the national consciousness.

Had the people here not been so shock-absorbent, had they risen in protest earlier, it might have been a different story.


Ahmedabad, Feb. 2: 
An old lorry dumps a mountain of debris by the roadside in Ahmedabad’s Memnagar. Immediately, a group of unkempt men and women pounce on the rubble — the remains of razed houses — and start sifting through the mound. A few pieces of jagged metal, twisted wires and small blocks of wood — that’s all the debris yields.

But they don’t give up hope, this band of urban poor, digging deeper into the debris, often fighting with each other over the ownership of even the humblest of the catch.

These are the earthquake’s unofficial victims, those whose houses have been spared, but not their source of livelihood. With their losses hardly visible, they are neither categorised as those affected by the tremors nor entitled to any relief. No packets of food for them. No sympathetic mention in the briefings. No nothing.

Gujarat officials believe that the urban poor has not been affected by the earthquake. “They are not getting any aid because they have not suffered much. They are not on the priority list,” says S.K. Nanda, secretary, in charge of rescue and relief operations, Ahmedabad.

Ask city mayor Himmat Singh Patel about their plight and he says: “It is the duty of the district collector to make a survey and find out who all suffered because of the earthquake. Help should be given accordingly.”

Unlike the upscale multistorey apartments that came crashing down, the earthquake did not raze any shanty. With construction work grinding to a halt in the past one week, most of Ahmedabad’s slum-dwellers and migrant labourers are finding it hard to eke out even a measly daily existence.

“Like the rich, we also cannot sleep these days. Not because of fear, but because of hunger,” says Kishore Walji.

He watches helplessly as the young lot runs away with whatever it has salvaged from the debris, leaving nothing for him. He is too old to fight for the ‘treasure’, worth Rs 3 per kg at the scrap dealer’s a few hundred yards away.

Hunger has made them desperate and angry. More so, perhaps, because there is no helping hand, no words of sympathy. “Nobody writes about us. Nobody even comes to talk to us. The rich have lost their homes. But they are getting aid, shelter, food. Does anybody care to go to a jhoparpatti and find out how the earthquake affected us?” asks Kishen Soma, a 25-year-old tribal.

It has been hard for him to keep the home fires burning since the earthquake rocked Ahmedabad last Friday. He hawks vegetables in a cart in the plush Satellite Road area. But with many having gone away from the area, Soma’s business is in the dumps.

He might not yet be contemplating going back to his village for good, but others already are. Kamlesh Lalubai, a migrant labourer from Rajasthan, says: “I came here in search of work. But there is no work. Nobody is picking up daily labourers. And it doesn’t look like improving in the next one month.” He has no money to last out for that long in the city.

This might well be his last struggle to survive the odds and remain in the city for some time more. He digs into the rubble even more furiously. Will it yield something? Will competition get there before him? He has no time to talk. Suddenly, his face breaks into a smile. He pulls out a small iron bar. His eyes are bright with excitement. He may yet survive, thanks to the rubble.


New Delhi, Feb. 2: 
The BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have come out in support of George Fernandes’ assessment that one lakh people have perished in the Gujarat earthquake.

For the Sangh parivar, the magnitude of casualties has apparently proved handy to justify its whole-hearted involvement with relief and rehabilitation in stark contrast to its studied indifference to other recent calamities.

When Orissa was wrecked by the supercyclone or vast areas of Bengal went under water in last year’s floods, the Sangh’s only response, day after day, was scathing criticism and the demand for resignation of the chief ministers and imposition of Central rule.

Now, every constituent of the Sangh — the various BJP units, the VHP and the RSS — has become a hub of activity from the day the killer quake ravaged one of the country’s most prosperous states.

The BJP’s explanation for the different yardsticks for the disasters was the quake’s “far greater scale and range of destruction”. But observers said there political compulsions behind the flurry of activity.

Gujarat, a traditional BJP stronghold, is the only state where it is ruling with a majority of its own. And with Assembly elections due next year, party sources admitted that the BJP would do anything to retrieve the political ground it has lost to the Congress in the recent civic and panchayat polls.

The BJP has set up a central committee, headed by senior leader J.P. Mathur, to coordinate relief work with various state units as well as the RSS.

Veterans like vice-president and in-charge of Gujarat Jana Krishnamurthy and Narendra Modi are camping in the state. Home minister L.K. Advani, who is also MP from Gandhinagar, is shuttling back and forth.

It was Krishnamurthy’s presence in Ahmedabad that helped the state unit overcome the initial trauma and get its act together. BJP sources said it was also thanks to Advani’s prodding that chief minister Keshubhai Patel finally came out of his Gandhinagar shell and left for Kutch to oversee relief work.

VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore returned last night after a quick reconnaissance of Kutch and claimed that his outfit’s camps have become home to nearly 2000 displaced people.

Asked why the Sangh had been so indifferent to Orissa and Bengal, Kishore said: “The scale of the calamities was not so big. Here the death estimate is over a lakh.”


New Delhi, Feb. 2: 
A month after his Kumarakom musings, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee asserted today that only a secular leadership can provide good governance to a nation as diverse as India.

Through the Kumarakom musings, Vajpayee had tried to correct the impression conveyed by his winter session statement in Parliament that the Ayodhya issue reflected nationalist sentiments. Today , the Prime Minister said any government that tried to tread a non-secular path would find very limited acceptance.

It was obvious that the Prime Minister wanted to ram home what he had already written in his two-part article, which was published in a number of dailies. Vajpayee has already had his way with hardliners within the party and the Sangh Parivar. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad had put off its decision to go ahead with the Ayodhya construction for a year.

“If any leadership works, it will be only a secular leadership. Or else, the leadership will have limited appeal and will not be able to reach out to the entire country,” said Vajpayee while launching the magazine Secular Qayadat.

This, however, did not mean governments should indulge in vote-bank politics, the Prime Minister said. “Such electoral considerations should not be carried beyond a point,” he asserted.

The Prime Minister has not forgotten that newspapers had carried headlines like “Vajpayee unmasked” after his winter session statement on Ayodhya. He said he was sure his remarks would be construed as another example of the mukhauta he was wearing. He described the “mask” he was supposedly wearing as a myth.

The Prime Minister, who insisted that fundamentalists on all sides should be kept in check, said his government was not against Urdu. The word secular had become quite confusing these days with people attaching so many connotations to it and trying to interpret in differently, Vajpayee said.

There was, however, reason for concern for Vajpayee because he had forgotten the name of Union minister of state for sports and youth affairs Shahnawaz Hussain. As Hussain is already disgruntled and feels he has been forgotten and left with nothing to do, the Prime Minister’s sudden amnesia might hurt him badly.


Jamshedpur, Feb. 2: 
The Bagdigi mine accident, which comes nearly six years after the Gaslitand disaster of September 26, 1995, in which 70 coal miners were killed, has left the Dhanbad coal belt shattered.

S.N. Tiwary, an HDL machine operator, who had just step-ped out after a tiring session inside the mine to chew tobacco, has no words to express his feelings. When persuaded to speak over telephone, he broke down and said: “Bhagwan bacha leeya (God has saved me). I had just come out of the mine for khaini (tobacco). Jako raake Saiyan maar sake na koi (He whom God protects can never be harmed). A few seconds after I had surfaced, I heard the explosion and then realised that air was gushing out of the pit head. I was sure that it was a mishap. I began trembling and started shouting for help. But within a few minutes the entire mine was submerged.”

Another worker, Ajay Sharma, who had interchanged shifts with A.K. Mandal, does not thank his lucky stars. “I had some guests coming to my house today. So I requested Mandal to change shifts with me. Without any hesitation he complied with my request. It is because of me that he could be dead. How will I face his wife and children?” agonised Sharma, an overman at the mine.

Scores of women and children have gathered at the entrance of the mines, some weeping, others tugging at officials for news of their husbands and fathers. They still believe that rescue teams will succeed in their efforts and their near and dear ones would emerge safe and sound.

While the BCCL authorities are yet to provide a detailed list of those inside, sources said colliery manager A.K. Upadhayay, assistant colliery manager P.R. Singh, foreman in-charge R.P. Yadav, Arvind Kumar Singh, Swaminath, Bhura, Salim Ansari, Brij Mohan Singh, Abul Hamid, Ram Awad and Gulzar are trapped.

Those who made it to safety include Ashok Paswan and Inzamamul Khan.

Some of the trade union leaders who spoke to The Telegraph, said the map inside the mine did not mention the risks involved in carrying out mining activities near the water bed.

“It is only to achieve production targets that the officials carry out haphazard mining, flouting the norms laid down by the directorate-general of mines safety.

“Even after the Gaslitand mine disaster, the authorities are yet to take lessons for adopting safety measures. I do not know how many more coal miners will have to die till the officials start adhering to safety norms,” said Satyendra Chau-han, a trade union leader associated with the Rashtriya Colliery Mazdoor Sangh.


New Delhi, Feb. 2: 
After almost 10 long years, the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) will get an artist as a director. Painter Rajeev Lochan, a reader at the Delhi College of Art, has been selected for the post by the UPSC.

His appointment awaits the stamp of approval from Union minister of culture and tourism Ananth Kumar.

Art circles are welcoming the move. According to Arpita Singh, “it is a good step”. She feels Lochan is the right person to head the gallery, the premier institution of contemporary art in the country.

Apart from his long teaching experience, Lochan is also credited with the improvement of the Delhi College of Art library. Some in the art world believe that an artist would be in a better position to showcase imaginatively the wealth that the gallery possesses.

Moreover, Lochan is fairly independent and does not represent the interests of any particular group or coterie, they add.

There are others in the art world, however, who feel that an artist will not make any difference to the institution. Former director Anjali Sen, who was an administrator by training, was raised in this context.

The gallery had held some excellent exhibitions during her tenure and her relationship with the art world was warm.

Senior artist Ram Kumar says: “It is unimportant whether the person heading NGMA is an artist or an administrator.

What is important is that it should be a person who can bring new ideas and new concepts to make the NGMA a lively, happening place like Museum of Modern Art in New York, instead of the graveyard that it is today.” Art historians also point out the need for developing art managers or administrators that we lack today.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
Rattled by the violence that rocked Baranagar Jute Mills last month, the state government has set up a special cell under the commerce and industry department to sort out problems plaguing the jute sector.

Announcing this, commerce and industry minister Bansagopal Chowdhury said at Writers’ Buildings today that the director of industry will be in charge of the cell.

“The cell will look after all problems and disputes afflicting the jute industry and will take necessary steps to sort them out. If the situation goes beyond their control, the cell will bring the matter to the notice of the government for further action,” Chowdhury said.

Besides, the minister added, the cell will assess the condition of the industry and collect data from all 59 jute mills in the state.

“One of the major reasons behind worker agitation is that mill-owners do not pay their statutory dues like ESI and provident fund. The cell will take up the matter and do the needful so that the workers get their dues,” Chowdhury said.

Last month’s violence had sent shockwaves through the government as it realised that the incident could be a blot on the already bleak industrial scenario in the state. Jute mill workers had beaten up and set on fire two officers after one of them had shot dead an employee who had led a protest delegation to their office.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had deputed home secretary S.N. Roy to investigate the incident and submit a report within 45 days. The CID was also asked to conduct a separate inquiry.

Realising that the incident could scare away prospective investors, Bhattacharjee met the jute mill owners and assured them all help, including security, in running their units. The chief minister also made it clear to labour leaders that the government would not tolerate violent trade unionism.

“The Baranagar incident has opened our eyes. The jute industry can be called an industry with lot of problems. So, we found it necessary to create a special cell in the commerce and industry department to look after their problems,” Chowdhury said.

Chowdhury added that the chief minister is determined to ensure a friendly industrial climate. “We shall not tolerate any incident which pollutes the industrial atmosphere,” he said.

Chowdhury said three mega growth centres will be developed at Jalpaiguri, Malda and Birbhum.

Rubber cultivation

The state government has decided to cultivate rubber in stead of cinchona in Darjeeling.

Chowdhury said there was no market for chincona. There was a need to manufacture quinine because the medicine companies prefer chemical quinine.


Siliguri, Feb. 2: 
A “live” grenade was found on the railway track between New Jalpaiguri and Ambari-Falakata station this afternoon, barely an hour before the Guwahati-bound Rajdhani Express was to have passed the area.

Superintendent of Railway Police Siddeshwar Gupta said the grenade, manufactured by the ordnance factory, was recovered by a rag-picker near the tracks, around 12.30 pm.

“It was a lucky escape for the Rajdhani which was scheduled to pass through the area an hour later,” Gupta said.


Calcutta, Feb. 2: 
In an effort to counter the Trinamul Congress’ allegation that the minorities in West Bengal have been denied opportunities enjoyed by others, the state government has decided to provide financial assistance to 10,000 unemployed youths from the minority community for self-employment within three months.

The CPM has decided to organise a statewide campaign to send the message to the minorities that they are safe in the Left Front regime and their rights are well protected.

The Left Front is trying to rope in intellectuals from all over the country to take part in seminars to be organised in districts such as Murshidabad, Malda and South 24-Parganas where there are sizeable Muslim populations.

The financial assistance will be provided by the West Bengal Minority Development and Finance Corporation (WBMDFC) and includes a long-term loan ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2 lakh and a subsidy, depending upon the project. The money will be given for starting any manufacturing unit, servicing centres or opening any shop.

The financial institution will also assist the beneficiaries in marketing of goods, technical knowhow and purchase of machinery.

With Assembly elections round the corner, all political parties have started their campaigns to woo the minorities, who comprise nearly 26 per cent of the electorate in the state.

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee has already raised the demand for reservation of jobs for the minorities.

Kalimuddin Shams, a Forward Block nominee in Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s Cabinet, had earned the wrath of the Left Front by asking for a separate quota in educational institutions and jobs for Muslims. The demand was turned down by the government as it is unconstitutional.


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