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Sunday, June 03, 2001

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Gujarat's sops for quake victims

By Manas Dasgupta

BHUJ (Kutch), JUNE 2. In a bid to appease the earthquake victims of Kutch who have planned to greet the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, with a protest ``bandh,'' the Gujarat Government has announced a series of concessions.

The Government has conceded most of the major demands of the victims in the urban areas for which the citizens' committees had been agitating and had sent written appeals to the Prime Minister.

The Government has agreed to increase the size of the plots for reconstruction of houses, reduce development charges, raise the limit of construction assistance and incorporate private RCC bungalows for construction aids as per the rates applicable for low-rise buildings.

However, unaware of the Government's belated announcement on the revised reconstruction package, the leaders of the Citizens' committees have decided to go ahead with their plans for ``bandh'' during Mr. Vajpayee's two-day visit to the district tomorrow.

The collector, Mr. H.N. Chibber, said the size of plots in the four worst-hit towns of Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar and Rapar, which was earlier decided at 100 and 125 square metres and was opposed by the Citizen's committees, has been raised to 150 and 200 square metres. The beneficiaries would be required to pay for the additional areas.

The development charges, which was fixed at an astronomical Rs. 300 a square metre, has been reduced to Rs. 100 a square metre, while the construction aids has been raised from Rs. 3,000 for the four towns to Rs. 3,500 per square metre as sanctioned for the rest of the earthquake-affected areas in the State.

The ``Group 2001'' formed by the prominent citizens of Anjar town, the Bhuj Rehabilitation Committee and the Citizens committees of Bhachau and Rapar towns had earlier accused the Government of formulating the reconstruction package only to satisfy the builders' lobby.

They said the Government has deliberately kept the size of plots smaller despite the availability of land only to force the people to approach private builders, who have cornered prime lands, for bigger houses. According to the Group 2001 convener, Dr. Shyam Sunder, even a Rs. 100 a square metre development charge was on the high side, considering that the private builders charge it at the rate of Rs. 30 a square metre in Anjar.

The Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel, however, claimed that the agitation by the Kutch townsmen would not have any impact on Mr. Vajpayee's visit which was intended to share the grief of the victims and reassure them about the administration's support to their cause. The Prime Minister's visit was not to assess the Government's performance in the rehabilitation and reconstruction activities, he said.

The district authorities, who are in touch with the Prime Minister's office through Gandhinagar, were continuing with the hectic preparations for Mr. Vajpayee's visit on the belief that his scheduled programme would remain unchanged despite the Nepal developments. Mr. Vajpayee's scheduled night halt in the district, where not many buildings have remained safe for occupation, has put tremendous stress on the authorities.

Many of the damaged buildings in Bhuj, the district headquarters and nearby towns, including the circuit house, have undergone major repairs on a war-footing to accommodate the Prime Minister's entourage while Mr. Vajpayee himself would be staying in a two-storeyed guest house of a State-owned corporation outside Bhuj.

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