C H A N D I G A R H   S T O R I E S

UT administration ignored warning
Akash Ghai
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
The Chandigarh administration failed to pay heed to the numerous representations made by different market associations regarding the weakening structure of the concrete shed, which collapsed in the grain market, Sector 26, here today.

Mahesh, son of an arhitya, who was rescued after over two hours under the structure, said: “We had made representations in writing to the administration with regard to the structure in the past, but to no avail.”

“I don’t remember if the deputy commissioner ever visited the market in the recent past to listen to the grievances of those working in the area.”

Mahesh was trapped in the rubble when he called the Subzi Mandi Arhitya Association president for help. When cranes failed to remove the collapsed shed initially, the officers requisitioned the services of JCBs, he said.

The JCB machines began removing the rubble in no time. Army personnel of the 2 Sikh resorted to physical cleaning up of the place, apparently the best option at the time, a senior army officer said.

Subzi Mandi Arhtiya Association president Digvivay Kapoor said the concrete structure had been leaking for some time and they had reported the matter to the higher authorities on several occasions.

“Even representations in writing were submitted to the authorities,” he added.



Tragedy waiting to happen
Akash Ghai/Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
It was a tragedy waiting to happen. Structural safety of the massive concrete structure - resting on brick columns - was apparently never reviewed by the Chandigarh administration in spite of representations of the Subzi Mandi Arhtiya Association to repair the structure, which leaked during rains.

Eyewitness account

Around 4 pm, an employee of an arhtiya was seen trying to drill a hole in a column in shop No. 1 to fix a cash box. While hitting the “column No. 13, a brick came off, thereby bringing down the structure. When the corner column collapsed, other adjoining columns up to shop No. 9 also gave way”. A person, identified as Khan, alerted those around, giving some of them time to escape.

Ironically, the administration earns crores of rupee as market fee from the market.

The role of arhtiyas in ignoring the safety parameters and damaging the columns during loading and offloading of vegetables has also come under the scanner.

Adding to the indifference was the way the administration began its rescue operation. Cranes and JCBs were initially used but these had to be put aside fearing more injuries to those trapped under the rubble.

The authorities looked ill-prepared for a disaster.

Though the officials claimed that the disaster management teams - including the police, engineering department and the civil administration - reached the scene with machinery, they did not have a blue print of the building to chalk out a strategy to execute a rescue plan.

Instead, they were forced to rely on hit-and-trial method.

As the rescue operation, spearheaded by the 2 Sikh Regiment of the Army and jawans of the para-military forces gained pace, telltale signs of the apparent reasons of the collapse became visible.

“It appears that the brick columns had weakened over the passage of time, either due to pigeon holes or stacking of sacks of vegetable against these,” said an official during inspection.

Former MP Satya Pal Jain said it was a case of official negligence and wanted suitable action.

Union minister for tourism Ambika Soni and MP Pawan Kumar Bansal, who were at the scene, said priority was being given to the rescue operation and the reasons of the calamity would be looked into later.

Though officially there was no confirmation whether the structure had been declared unsafe, secretary agriculture-cum-home secretary Krishna Mohan said a probe was being marked to find out the fault.

He said it was a serious matter and the area had been cordoned off. “We will carry out a survey of entire area to find out such structures so that action could be taken,” he said. He added that timely action by the administration helped save several lives.

The magnitude of today’s calamity could have been more severe had the structure collapsed during the morning hours, when the business to sell vegetables kicks off and hundreds of buyers and sellers come down to negotiate prices for commodities.



Army speeds up rescue
Ramanjit Singh Sidhu
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
It was the joint efforts of the local administration, Army officials and civilians that helped accomplish the rescue operation at the grain market, Sector 26, this evening.

The administration wound up the operation at 9.45 pm when a dog squad of the Army confirmed that there were no more persons trapped under the rubble.

Leaving nothing to chance, the rescuers did a double check by looking under the debris with flashlights.

“The rescue operation speeded up only after the intervention of the Army. Though the local administration made efforts to evacuate the victims, they lacked coordination. They lost precious time arranging for the JCB machines, that broke the concrete roof, making air ventilators for victims buried under the debris”, said an eyewitness.

The Army officials made way by clearing a heap of vegetables blocking the way. Crushed vegetables made the surface slippery, which adversely affected the rescue operation.

Local traders and a city-based nongovernmental organisation supplied cold water, tea and food to the rescuers.

Meanwhile, deputy superintendent of police (east) Davinder Singh Thakur told the TNS that 13 persons were buried under the debris.

Two of them died, while two others were admitted to the hospital. The remaining eight were discharged after being administered medical aid.

He added that a case of causing death due to negligence has been registered against unidentified persons in this connection.



Patients make room for injured
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
Anticipating the arrival of more injured from the vegetable market in Sector 26, which witnessed a roof collapse today, city hospitals shifted most of their patients undergoing treatment in emergency ward to general wards and even nearby verandahs.

Also, stretchers were kept ready at emergency ward entrances to avoid delay in shifting the injured to the ward.

The relatives of Harbans Lal (85), a resident of Sector 27 who was admitted to the emergency of Government Multi-Speciality Hospital, Sector 16, said he had been asked to be shifted to another building to accommodate the injured from the vegetable market.

Medical superintendent, Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32, Harsh Mohan said the available staff had been put on duty and appropriate arrangements to accommodate more injured had been made in the emergency.

Meanwhile, one person was declared brought dead at the GMCH.

The deceased was identified as Dev Karan, a labourer working at shop No. 8 of the market.

By evening, nine persons were brought to the GMSH, Sector 16, with various degrees of injuries.

One of them, Jarnial Singh, was admitted to the hospital, while others, including a woman, were discharged after being given medical aid.

A home guard volunteer, Paramjeet, who got injured after an iron rod pierced his thigh during rescue operation, was admitted to the GMCH.

Two of the injured, Naresh, with fractures in legs, and Jaswinder were admitted to the PGI.

Those discharged after being administered medical aid at the GMSH are: Hanuman Dass, Ram Avtar, Ashok, Mukesh, Surinder, Ram Chander, Kanti and Tinku. 



Soni, Bansal express sympathy

Chandgarh, June 10
Ambika Soni, union minister for tourism and culture and Pawan Kumar Bansal, local MP and minister of state for finance, have expressed sorrow over the loss of human life and property in the collapse of the vegetable auction sheds in Grain Market, here

Soni and Bansal rushed to the spot immediately after the learning about the tragedy and remained there while the rescue operation was on. They expressed satisfaction the way the Police and the Engineering Department immediately got into action without any loss of time. — TNS



He ran for life
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
Ram Chander Madal, a palledar (porter), literally ran for his life today. He saved himself by running from under the collapsing roof. “I managed to escape unharmed but my fellow labourers were not so lucky,” said Mandal.

“I was talking to other labourers, when the roof of the platform at vegetable market started coming down. I rushed towards the open space on the road but my friend Ram Chander Paswan got seriously injured as he was lying down after off loading the onion bags at the platforms,” added Mandal. Paswan suffered head injury in the incident.

There were hundreds of people, including labourers, farmers and commission agents present on the spot. 



It was business as usual
Akash Ghai
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
Unfazed by the incident, people went about the business of selling and buying fruit and vegetables as usual.

Baring the immediate vicinity of the site, where several persons lay buried beneath the rubble of concrete and iron, many hawkers and vendors paid scant regard to the ongoing relief and rescue operation and lured buyers in their usual garrulous manner.

“I went to the scene with other vendors to help in the rescue operation but the police pushed us away. We thought we might as well carry on with our business to earn our livelihood,” said Raj Bahadur, a migrant vendor.

Since “ground zero” was out of bounds and visitors to the mandi were not allowed to flock around the place, they had nothing to do but buy their stuff and move out. Things appeared normal in areas away form the police cordon.

Shopkeepers sat behind their counters and customers trickled in and out of shops. Buyers flocked around carts and haggled with vendors.

“I came to know about the incident after reaching the market, but there was little for me to do,” said Dr Jatinder Sharma, Sector-15 resident.

“I thought it best to keep out of the way and do my purchases,” he added.

Traffic was by and large normal on the inter-sector roads around the market.

“I saw a number of vehicles around the market while returning home to Panchkula. It appeared to be some kind of protest or demonstration, as vehicles moved at snail’s pace,” said Simran Malhotra.



Pvt players fudge ban on milk powder exports
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
The ban on export of skimmed milk powder (SMP) to contain the rising prices of milk has failed to serve its purpose. The private players have found a way to flout the ban by converting the SMP into casein (a milk protein manufactured by coagulating SMP which can be reconstituted into SMP) and then exporting it.

Sources in the dairy industry informed TNS that in spite of the ban on exports of SMP, there is a shortage of milk in the market as milk is being diverted to be converted to casein. As a result, the prices of milk and milk products have gone up substantially.

Dairy owners in the region said the casein producers were wooing milk producers in the state by offering them highest ever prices of milk. While the state milk cooperatives in Punjab and Haryana are offering milk producers anything between Rs 210 to 230 per kg fat, the private dairy owners are offering Rs 260 per kg fat. Comparatively, the casein producers are offering prices as high as Rs 280 per kg fat, and hence are able to get a major portion of the milk leaving a shortage of milk in the market.
* Private players flout the ban by converting the SMP into casein and then exporting it.

* In spite of the ban on exports of SMP, there is a shortage of milk in the market as milk is being diverted to be converted to casein.

* Casein producers are offering prices as high as Rs 280 per kg fat luring a number of private dairy manufacturers in North India to start manufacturing casein.

* Questionmark on the logic behind allowing the export of casein. Dairy manufacturers want the ban on export to be extended to casein also

Casein is used extensively in USA and Europe for making pizza cheese and is thus exported to these countries. It is learnt that there is a global shortage of casein, leading to a sharp hike in its international price, from Rs 280 per kg to Rs 400 per kg now. This hike in prices is now attracting a number of private dairy manufacturers in North India to start manufacturing casein. As many as four of these manufacturers have started casein production this year.

A private dairy manufacturer in Punjab, on condition of anonymity, said, “The Centre’s decision to completely ban milk powder exports, while still allowing shipments of casein has created an anomalous situation within the dairy industry. Private dairy manufacturers are now questioning the government’s logic behind allowing the export of casein. They said it was high time that the ban on export is extended to casein also in order to maintain the prices of milk, as well as making milk available to consumers during summer months.



UNAIDS alarmed by massive injecting drug use in region
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

Denis Bround, UNAIDS country coordinator, has a drink at CITCO’s condom bar, during his visit to Chandigarh
Denis Bround, UNAIDS country coordinator, has a drink at CITCO’s condom bar, during his visit to Chandigarh. —Tribune photo by Pradeep Tewari

Chandigarh, June 10
Neglected in the early phases of HIV awareness campaigns, the so-called low prevalence regions of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh are now demanding urgent attention. Immediate concern for organisations combating HIV is the rising population of injecting drug users (IDUs) in these regions north of Delhi.

In Chandigarh to review the strategies being adopted to help IDUs fight HIV infection, Denis Bround, country coordinator, UNAIDS said the group was highly vulnerable and very much at risk. “We are more worried about the protection of IDUs in this region than we are in the northeast,” he said.

In an exclusive interview, Bround also informed the Tribune that the region was home to over one lakh injecting drug users, who do not yet have access to proper treatment and care. The HIV prevalence in this group is as high as 20 per cent in the three regions under study, as against HIV prevalence of less than one per cent for the general population of India, Bround said.

In the process of compiling data on IDUs, HIV prevalence among them and existing HIV combat strategies, UNAIDS recommends at least one HIV targeted intervention project for IDUs in every district of Punjab and Haryana. At present, Punjab has negligible intervention for the group, known to be highly vulnerable to infection, said Bround. IDUs, commercial sex workers and men having sex with men have been recognised as core groups for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

Bround, who met directors of Punjab and Haryana state AIDS control societies, said they were committed to the cause. “With support from National AIDS Control Organisation, the target can be achieved. But we have to start now if we have to halt the virus in its tracks,” he said.

It may be mentioned that injecting drug use is the second most effective route of HIV transmission, blood route being the most effective. Studies show that out of every two times that an IDU shares a syringe, he gets infected once. Hence the concern of Bround, who said the increasing population of IDUs had roots in strong economic growth of India, weak mechanisms for social equity and changing sexual habits.

“The stress of local AIDS control societies has to be on provision of clean syringes, promotion of oral substitution, wound management and effective networking with local law enforcing agencies,” said Bround, adding that repeated discrimination against of AIDS orphans is another area of concern for UNAIDS. “We hope the Indian judiciary will pass judgments to secure the rights of AIDS orphans, who are being denied access to schools. In Kerala, this has been a major issue for redressal for us.



Better bylaws for safer buildings, say experts
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
Several cities of Haryana and large parts of Punjab, the Kandi area and several cities like Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar and Chandigarh fall in zone IV of seismic activity. A committee of experts has suggested changes in building bylaws in the two states to strengthen buildings to minimise damage during earthquakes.

The building materials and technology promotion council (BMTPC) set-up by the union ministry of housing sent a team of experts to interact with architects, engineers and planners working in the government as well as private sector to suggest changes. The Punjab Urban Development Authority (PUDA) facilitated the interaction here yesterday in which several pertinent questions were raised by as zone IV denotes “high damage high risk zone”.

J.K Prasad of the BMTPC said the two states “must amend the bylaws immediately to provide for safer construction”. With the advent of multi-storeyed residential as well as offices complexes a change in bylaws is needed, he said and added that progress is slow in amending bylaws.

The national seismic adviser, A.S Arya, said Gujarat had done commendable work in amending the existing bylaws. He said existing buildings can be retrofitted to make them safer and less prone to damage in case of an earthquake. 



Mercury drops slightly
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
After touching a record high of 45°C yesterday, the mercury began its much-awaited ascent today. For the first time in six days, the day temperature recorded a fall. As against a high of 45°C, the midday temperature dropped to 43.8°C, recording a fall of 1.2 degree. The small, but significant drop reduced the intensity of heat during the day, offering respite from the searing sun.

The night temperature, however, remained unrelenting even today. It rose to 30.4°C, an increase of 0.4 °C.

Heat wave claims another life

The scorching heat wave prevailing in the region for the last two weeks claimed the life of a farmer of Palheri village of Mohali district here today. The deceased Tarlochan Singh (45) was declared brought dead by the doctors at Government Multi-Speciality Hospital, Sector 16.

According to his relatives of the diseased he was not feeling well since morning. He fell unconscious in the evening and the doctors declared him brought dead, said a brother of Tarlochan. 



Mohali Market Fire
Shopkeepers get relief
Tribune News Service

Mohali, June 10
Jasjit Singh Bunny, son of Punjab minister Captain Kanwaljit Singh, today announced an interim relief of Rs 25,000 to the victims of the fire that had razed the Phase 3B-1 Janta market 10 days ago.

Jasjit Singh had visited the site almost a week ago and had assured the victims that interim relief would be announced in a day. Faced with an angry crowd at the site today, Jasjit again there for a visit, however, was forced to meet their demands on the spot.

He promised that the victims would be given cheques by tomorrow evening.

The victims led by Davinder Singh, have been camping at the site of the fire for the past 10 days. The Ramgarhia Gurdwara and the Sacha Dhan Gurdwara, along with members of the Punjab Property Consultants Association have started a free langar service for the victims.

The government, however, seems to have tuned a blind eye to the victims.

One of the shopkeepers, who is member of the 11-member team of the market representatives, said other than adequate compensation the victims wanted that the government should get the market reconstructed as soon as possible.

The victims explained that PUDA (now GMADA) had conducted a survey of the shop owners in 1998, which was outdated.

A fresh survey was needed since many shops had exchanged hands since then, they added. 



SEZ Sizzle
Farmers’ interests should not be sacrificed: Dogra
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
Presenting an analysis of a study carried out by a fact-finding committee into the Nandigram episode, former Punjab Director General of Police P.C Dogra raised several issues of national concern such as provision of alternate land and statutory guarantee of a job on acquisition of fertile land.

He said the committee found that the farmers in Nandigram own less than a bigha of land which is used to cultivate vegetables, rice and fish for the poor families. The land to be acquired for an Indonesian firm for setting up a chemical unit was very fertile and the move was pushing farmers towards becoming landless, homeless and jobless.

Dogra was part of the fact-finding committee which toured Nandigram and the study was discussed at a Colloquium on “Upheaval in Nandigram - Disturbing implications” organised by the Indian Media Centre (IMC) here today. The committee included former judges and social activists. The colloquium also marked the launch of the Chandigarh chapter of IMC.

Cooperation Minister, Punjab, Capt Kanwaljit Singh, said laws of the land and administrative systems should suit the needs and aspirations of the people. He added that the 9.4 per cent growth rate had no meaning for the poor who were struggling to make both ends meet. Their interests should be watched while setting up Special Economic Zones (SEZ).

Minister of state for finance Pawan Kumar Bansal said the Nandigram happenings proved that shortfalls exist in the present system of governance. He revealed that two groups of ministers had been formed to look into the reforms that could be undertaken in the Land Acquisition Act. He said the interests of farmers could not be ignored in the name of SEZ.

Chairman, Punjab Mandi Board, Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, said he was not against acquiring land for SEZ and IT Parks but stressed that share of benefit should equitably be given to the affected farmers.



Senior BJP leaders join Cong
Pradeep Sharma
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 10
In a major political development that may have implications in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, several senior leaders of the BJP, including chairman of the market committee Harbhajan Singh, today joined the Congress, delivering a severe jolt to the party in the UT’s rural areas.

In fact, it is a shot in the arm for Pawan Bansal, union minister of state for finance, who is at the receiving end of a controversy regarding the alleged diversion of Rs 8 lakh for the protection wall of the Chamunda Devi temple in Kangra district out of his MPLAD funds.

The defection of senior leaders from the BJP is sure to ring alarm bells for the party, which had apparently not fared well in the rural areas except Mani Majra in last year’s municipal corporation elections.

Welcoming the leaders to the congress fold, Bansal reiterated the commitment of the Congress-led UPA government to the uplift of the villages. B.B. Bahl, president of the Chandigarh Territorial Congress Committee (CTCC), assured full respect to the leaders in the party.

Harbhajan Singh said they were leaving the “communal” party to join the Congress as the BJP had done nothing much for the development of the rural areas in the country.

Besides Harbhajan Singh, prominent among those who joined the Congress included Anand Singh, former market committee chairman, Darshan Singh, former Zila Parishad chairman, Gurdip Singh, former market committee director, Mohinder Kaur, Behlana sarpanch, Sarinder Kaur, Dhanas sarpanch, and Jai Chand, senior BJP leader.

Bhupinder Singh Badheri, CTCC general secretary, and Manmohan Singh, president of the district congress committee (rural), termed the mass resignations from the BJP as a result of “pro-people” approach of the Congress in general and Bansal in particular. The joining of the BJP leaders would go a long way in strengthening the mass base of the party in UT’s villages, the leaders hoped. 



All’s not well within BJP
Geetanjali Gayatri
Tribune News Service

Panchkula, June 10
The expulsion of the media in charge of the district unit of the BJP, Varinder Garg, has opened a Pandora box and infighting within the top brass of the unit has come to the fore.

While agitated workers of the BJP today laid siege at the party office in Sector 2 to protest against the unconstitutional manner in which Garg was expelled, the workers also alleged of caste-based division within the local unit.

District president of the party Ravinder Sehgal had expelled Garg from the party for six years. He was expelled for creating indiscipline and hooliganism in the party office. When contacted, Sehgal maintained that the orders had been signed by him and that nobody had the right to create indiscipline in the office premises and get away scot-free.

In response to the expulsion, party workers who arrived at the office said polarisation had gradually crept into the party ever since Atam Prakash Manchanda had taken over as the president of the state unit. Maintaining that there was a growing feeling among party workers that Punjabis were being given top positions at the cost of other castes, they demanded removal of Sehgal from his post.

Earlier, Sehgal had landed himself in a controversy by dissolving the district unit a month back even though it had been formed only a few months back after the new president had taken over.

Manchanda admitted that Sehgal had gone beyond his authority in expelling Garg while adding that dissolving the district unit, too, was beyond his preview. “Sehgal has done wrong. We are holding an inquiry into the dissolution of the unit and I have asked a report on the matter of expulsion in writing. I am not in favour of Punjabis or against anybody and don’t believe in casteism,” he stated.

General secretary of the BJP and in charge of the district Kanwar Pal, who was in the city and at the party office since morning, said Sehgal’s action was unconstitutional and had no meaning.

“When he is not authorised to expel anybody, his statement on Garg has no significance. I have not met him so far because he is out of station but I think he will have a lot of explaining to do for his action. If he was dissatisfied with the working of any member of the unit, at the most he could have written to the president expressing his annoyance,” Kanwar Pal said.

Meanwhile, Sehgal, in another move, declared the new district unit of the party wherein four vice-presidents and secretaries each were announced in the evening. The vice-presidents include Pawan Dhiman, Dharam Pal Rana, Sucha Singh and Surinder Sharma, general secretary Paramjeet Singh Verma, cashier M.L. Garg, secretaries Vijay Kalia, Prem Dhiman, Rohtash and Anshu Aggarwal, office-in-charge P.N. Kanwar. 



So insensitive

How can we be so insensitive to the tragedy which has occurred at the Sector 26 vegetable market? While many persons are still trapped in the building, City Channel is running a movie full of songs while flashing the news of the tragedy. An ex-MP has started the blame game.

He should have reached the spot with so-called party workers for the rescue operation. To add to this, a mediaperson from a TV channel, who was talking to an official of the market, asked for the contact numbers of those trapped.

Do we need to remind people that in such situations our prime concern should be to help in the rescue operation directly or indirectly and be with them at least morally and not play politics or seek publicity.

R.K. Garg

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Double Murder
Police recovers stolen goods
Tribune News Service

Panchkula, June 10
The police has recovered goods stolen from the residence of Maj-Gen K.C. Dhingra by prime accused Anand Kindo and his accomplice Rajan Gond after committing two murders in Sector 25 around a fortnight ago.

The goods recovered from the two are 70 grams gold, one laptop, six necklaces, Rs 40,000 in cash, $ 886, three mobile phones, two suitcases, two silver rings, two bags of utensils and two bags of clothes.

Police sources said a team had been sent to Delhi to nab the third accused, Ajit Khakha, who is still at large.




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