The Indian Express | 2 days ago | 22-09-2022 | 05:50 pm
Written by Mona G MehtaA political storm is brewing in Gujarat led by a community of pastoralists, the Maldharis. Why is a rural community of cattle herders making news in one of India’s most urbanised states? The question flags a fascinating puzzle underlying Gujarat’s urbanisation. Maldhari — keepers (dhari) of livestock (mal) — have been increasingly squeezed out of their traditional occupations in the face of pastoral lands being depleted as a result of rapid urban expansion. The community has been at loggerheads with the state government over a new piece of legislation to control stray cattle on the streets in Gujarat’s cities. In April, the Gujarat assembly passed the Cattle Control (Keeping and Movement) in Urban Areas Bill, which requires cattle owners to obtain licenses for their animals and restricts their movement on urban roads. After stiff opposition, the Bill was withdrawn earlier this week.The Maldharis, who own most of the cattle in urban Gujarat, had reacted sharply to the proposed law, calling the law a “Black Act” (kaalo kaaydo) and staging public agitations. They had demanded that the law be rolled back till viable alternatives for grazing cattle are found. The mobilisation of the community across Gujarat put the government on the back foot, at a time when assembly elections are around the corner.What can we learn about Gujarat’s urbanisation by critically examining the proposed cattle control law and the Maldhari agitation against it?For the urban middle class, stray cattle symbolise a longstanding nuisance that obstructs the smooth flow of traffic, undermines road safety and tarnishes their desired image of a global city. The image of cows waddling through cities in the backdrop of flyovers has cemented a dominant narrative of rustic Maldharis clashing with the modernist zeal of urbanising Gujarat. This simplistic narrative obscures an untold story of urbanisation in post-liberalisation Gujarat — one that is relevant for India at large.Influenced by western notions of urbanisation, Indian policymakers have tended to assume two things. First, urbanisation involves a physical break between the city and the village. In this view, the urban and the rural are mutually exclusive domains consisting of opposite physical forms in which the former is associated with industrialisation and the latter is related to agrarian underdevelopment. Second, urbanisation entails the dilution of community identity and the weakening of caste and community networks. Seen from this perspective, cattle on city streets obstruct urbanisation and can only be addressed through stringent laws.The story of Maldhari migration to urban spaces challenges these commonly-held assumptions about urbanisation at multiple levels and reveals the limitations of such tough legislation. First, the Maldhari presence in urban Gujarat is itself a product of urbanisation, rather than an impediment to it. Many cities such as Ahmedabad expanded by incorporating existing villages. Some of them had a substantial Maldhari population that owned cattle and survived by supplying milk to the expanding city. The urban expansion also meant that gauchar and other lands officially designated for cattle grazing were encroached upon to build urban infrastructure. Over time, many Maldharis migrated from rural north Gujarat to Ahmedabad and turned to new occupations that they could easily pursue with limited education and economic capital. Far from being helpless victims of urbanisation, they have honed their skills to pursue new occupations in the city, displaying a sharp grasp of the inner workings of the neoliberal state.Second, Maldharis have shown that urbanisation in Gujarat — indeed in the non-western world — is not about the absence of the rural. It is, rather, best understood as a complex process of a socio-spatial continuum. The city Maldhari’s capacity to successfully navigate the urban economy, whether in cattle rearing or newer occupations in the informal economy, depends on maintaining strong rural networks. When state authorities decided to crack down on cattle owners, arresting and fining Maldharis whose cattle were found roaming on city streets, newspapers carried stories about the puzzling inability of the authorities to “capture” stray cattle. Maldharis used digital networks to warn fellow community members to clear their cattle off the roads when a collection van was on the way. So efficient are these community networks that thousands of cattle were shifted out of Ahmedabad overnight and sent off to rural safe-havens.Third, the Maldhari political mobilisation has rallied around a strong community identity that cuts across sub-caste groups and rural-urban frontiers. Even Maldharis who no longer have connections to cattle rearing are pledging support to the agitation. This reveals that the urban is invariably built on what we assume to be rural social relations and the city is constituted by deep linkages between caste, community and urban space. The Maldhari identity in the city, then, is not an anachronism but the very basis to survive and thrive in the urban neoliberal economy.The Maldharis are not arguing that stray cattle are desirable on city roads. What they are bargaining for is a viable and empathetic solution to their cattle predicament. Coercive legislation based on stereotypical assumptions about urban problems will not work. Much can be gained by appreciating our collective stake in coming up with humane solutions to the challenges of urbanisation.The writer is an associate professor in the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University
AHMEDABAD: Truck transporters are demanding that the government reduce the toll charged for roads where the concession period has ended, or costs have been recovered, in accordance with the rules. The All India Motor Transport Congress has said that six toll roads between Ahmedabad and Mumbai are in the category where the toll must now be only 40% according to the rules, but 100% is still being charged. The association said they will take a decision on an agitation in a meeting on October 10. Akhil Gujarat Truck Transport Association executive president Mukesh Dave said, "Earlier, toll made up were about 3% of our costs but has increased to between 12% and 20% for the past few years. In 2013, the central government announced that any concessionaire who has built roads on Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model, will give the road back to the government once its concession period is over and from then only maintenance cost will be charged, which will be 40% of the original toll. However, on the Vadodara-Mumbai national highway, there are six toll roads, whose concession period is over, and the developer has handed over the roads to the government but there is still no reduction in the toll tax." He said that a truck currently pays about Rs 5,500 in toll for a return trip between Ahmedabad and Mumbai and if the government follows the 40% rule, the cost will come down to Rs 2,000. The association has written to various authorities, the Union highways minister Nitin Gadkari and the Gujarat chief minister's office, also the issue has not been resolved. According to the association, the private concessionaire of the Halol-Vadodara and Adalaj-Mehsana roads spent a total of Rs 513 crore on these roads and collected around Rs 2,200 crore and sold its stake for around Rs 760 crore and still wants to extend the toll collection duration by 10 years. All India Motor Transport Congress president Amritlal Madan said there are several highways across the country where higher toll is being paid despite the concession period having ended. "We are going to hold a meeting on October 10 in Mumbai to decide our course of action. If our demands are not fulfilled, we will stop our trucks at toll plazas with the demand to pay only 40% of the toll," he said.
India has told Japan that tenders for electrical and signalling systems, as well as the rolling stock, for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor should be floated without delay as land issues faced by the project appear to have been resolved.Sources said that Japan and India have agreed to put a cap on the cost of the systems and rolling stock, and that if the prices for these quoted by Japanese companies go beyond that cap, the balance will be footed by the Japanese side, outside the scope of the loan agreement for the project.This puts to rest a longstanding impasse that the project has faced, with prices for many of the critical items to be supplied by Japanese companies indicated to be up to 90 per cent higher than project consultants’ estimates.The Japanese government’s Japan International Cooperation Agency is covering 80 per cent of the cost of the bullet train project with a soft loan to India that compels the project to source critical components only from Japanese suppliers. The project is expected to cost Rs 1.6 lakh crore.Officials estimate that the Gujarat portion of the corridor will be fully operational by 2027, followed by the Maharashtra portion by 2029.“Since there is a cap agreed by both parties, and since civil works are now being executed at a fast pace, there is no roadblock to floating the systems tenders for the Japanese firms,” a source said.In the sixth meeting of the Joint Working Group for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Project, the Indian side communicated to their Japanese counterparts that the tenders for the systems, especially the electricals and signalling, should be awarded by December-March, it was learnt.The meeting, held earlier this month, was co-chaired by V K Tripathi, the chairman and CEO of the Railway Board, and Satoshi Suzuki, the Japanese ambassador.In a major sign that the project may finally be able to put its land-related troubles in Maharashtra behind it, the National High Speed Rail Corporation, the implementing agency of the project, on Friday floated the tender for the 21-km tunnel in the state. Seven kilometres of the tunnel will be under the sea.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxThe Indian Express had last month reported that the project was getting its land-acquisition issues sorted out under the new government in Maharashtra.The tunnel is the most complex piece of civil engineering work in the 502-km corridor. The tender for the tunnel is open to global competition, with both Japanese and Indian companies allowed to tie up with other international players to make bids.Another area of concern for the project was the procurement of the rolling stock — the actual train sets. As per Japan, only Kawasaki and Hitachi are eligible to supply the rolling stock. Sources said the Indian side had wanted to avoid a situation where both the companies jointly submit a bid, which could raise the price.However, with a price cap being agreed by both sides, this concern has been alleviated.
AHMEDABAD: The city on Saturday reported 54 new Covid cases, taking the number of active cases to 238. Across Gujarat, 140 new cases were recorded, and active cases reached 1,002. Gandhinagar district recorded one Covi death. Two patients are on ventilators. Of the 33 districts, five have no active cases. Gujarat in 24 hours administered 544 first doses and 1,572 second doses of vaccines.
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate Phase-1 of the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar Metro rail on September 30, the Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety (CMRS) has asked for a third party audit — apart from 90 other conditions to be met — to attest the structural strength and quality of tunnel segments and viaduct and piers of elevated section in the routes to be inaugurated. The CMRS also sought a technical audit of the Tunnel Ventilation System in the underground section of the Metro. It pointed out “deficiencies” such as lack of safeguard to piers against possible train derailment in a section that flies over a railway line, and expressed concern over the time taken in the underground section for evacuation of passengers, during mock drills.During inspections in August and September 2022, CMRS had spotted a number of “deficiencies” that have a direct bearing on the safety of operations and had asked the Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation (GMRC) to take “rectification measures”.The GMRC responded in September 14-15 saying the issues were sorted and that the project was safe for operations. However, the authorisation letter provided to GMRC earlier this week for the opening of Ahmedabad Metro gave a conditional authorisation, including restricting speed to as low as 45 kilometre per hour (kmph) in certain sections. The maximum speed of a metro rail is 80 kmph.Authorisation to operate the Metro to ferry people has been given separately for fully elevated North-South corridor and the East-West corridor that has both elevated and underground sections. A 6.5-kilometre route of the Ahmedabad Metro has been operational on East-West Corridor from March 2019. The PM will inaugurate the remaining 13.3-km stretch of Phase-1 connecting Thaltej and Vastral on the East-West corridor and the 18.83-km stretch on the APMC-Motera route that is part of the North-South corridor. The Gujarat government announced Saturday that both routes would be thrown open to public two days after the inauguration, which would coincide with Gandhi Jayanti. The CMRS authorisation letter, which was seen by The Indian Express, states that the North-South Corridor passes through a “vulnerable zone” adjacent to an Indian Railway line (that connects Ahmedabad to Bhavnagar), and “no special protection” has been provided to safe-guard metro piers from the impact of a possible derailment that might occur on railway lines below. Imposing a speed restriction of 60 kmph between Paldi and Old High Court stations, CMRS stated that “Metro should take needful safety measures such as suitably designed protection wall for piers and guard rail on railway track after carrying out risk analysis through NIT/IIT to ensure safety of metro trains on priority”.The CMRS pointed out that during inspection of the North-South corridor on September 2-3, it had noticed “deficiencies”, including “cracks” in piers and viaducts. “For long term stability and safety, it is advised to confirm adequacy of structural strength and quality of viaduct and piers by getting a third party audit done from IIT in three months time,” the authorisation letter stated.In the East-West Corridor, the CMRS pointed out that apart from Vodafone, there was no mobile network coverage inside the tunnel and the underground stations. “There should be continuous communication in the train inside the tunnel,” it has said.It also sought a third party audit for steel girders, for validating the design and quality of work. CMRS observed that “steel girders of non-standard span” were used at a number of locations on the metro route and “some bolts were seen missing or loose in splice and bracings”.The safety body also observed quality issues on the Sabarmati OWG (Open Web Girder) bridge and said Metro should get the deficiencies rectified and get it certified from RITES within a month. Till then, a speed limit of 60 kmph has been imposed on this bridge that passes over seven railway tracks of Indian Railways.The body also pointed out that Sabarmati Metro station was not offered for inspection and the sanction for this needed to be taken separately before opening it to public use. CMRS directed the station to be permanently closed and asked the trains to skip the station. This is an important station as it will connect metro passengers to the under construction multi-modal hub at Sabarmati which will serve passengers of bullet train, Indian Railways and BRTS.It also pointed out malfunctioning Platform Screen Doors or PSD doors at metro stations and asked director systems to certify the quality of the items. It also pointed out that some of the signalling equipment were old as it was of 2018 built-date. “This is not acceptable in new metro works and should be replaced,” the letter stated.In the East-West corridor, the CMRS noted “hair-breath cracks in tunnel segments and seepage marks” in the underground section, besides cracks, exposed reinforcements, casting errors, etc., in piers, viaducts and Sabarmati bridge.A speed limit of 60 kmph has been imposed on Sabarmati bridge, which CMRS stated has casting errors in six spans and other issues. “These shall be rectified in one month and a third party audit done through RITES to confirm structural safety,” stated the stiplulations.For the East-West Corridor, CMRS stated the Tunnel Ventilation System for the underground section needed improvement/upgradation. It sought a technical audit of the tunnel ventilation system and a fire safety clearance from the fire department. CMRS also advised a third party quality audit to confirm structural strength and quality of viaduct, piers and tunnel segments in three months’ time.CMRS inspected this corridor between Apparel Park and Thaltej stations on August 20-22 and September 4. The 6.5-kilometre stretch between Vastral Gam to Apparel Park is already operational. During the inspection, it noticed a “leaning” of one of the piers at Commerce Six roads-Gujarat University section. Imposing a 45-kmph speed restriction on this segment, the GMRC has advised remedial measures and a third party audit for examining the safety and certification of the pier.Like the Sabarmati station, the underground Kankaria East station was not offered for inspection and CMRS has asked trains to skip this station as well.CMRS also asked the GMRC to rectify malfunctioning lifts and PSD doors and install branded water coolers. The groundwork for Ahmedabad Metro — for which DPRs were drawn and redrawn since 2005 — began in March 2015. After seven years of construction, the Phase-1 of the project consisting of a little over 40 kilometres will be fully launched for commercial operations later this month.SS Rathore, Managing Director of GMRC, which is a joint venture of the Gujarat government and Government of India, said, “Every authorisation letter from CMRS is with clauses. Every Metro project gets it with conditions. They are directions and standard conditions that are put. These are standard procedures.”Not willing to discuss the conditions laid out by CMRS, Rathore said,“Some of these conditions are security related and I won’t be able to discuss it with you.” When asked about the third-party audits for reassessing the safety and structural quality of the elevated and underground corridors, Rathore said, “They had sought it even for the first 6.5 kilometres and we had done an audit through IIT three months after the operations began.” The second phase of the Metro project will connect the state capital Gandhinagar with Ahmedabad, which will essentially be the expansion of the first phase. This phase will have two corridors, including 22.8 km from Motera Stadium to Mahatma Mandir, having 20 stations and a 5.4-km route from the Gujarat National Law University to GIFT City having two stations. The entire Phase-II will be on an elevated route.
DESCRIBING A petition challenging the remission of sentence granted by the Gujarat government to him after 15 years in jail as “speculative and politically motivated”, one of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case has questioned the locus standi of the petitioners, saying “none of” them “are related whatsoever to the said case and only happens to be either a political activist or a third party stranger”.In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court through Advocate Rishi Malhotra, convict Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah referred to cases in which the apex court “has consistently held in clear terms that a third party who is a total stranger to the prosecution has no ‘locus standi’ in criminal matters and has no right whatsoever in filing a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution”.He said that to entertain such petitions “would” therefore “not only unsettle the settled position of law but would also open flood gates and would be an open invitation for any member of the public to jump in any criminal matter before any court of law”.Shah was among 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case of gangrape and murder who were released by the Gujarat government on August 15 under its 1992 remission and premature release policy for life-term convicts after he moved the Supreme Court. Deciding his plea, the Supreme Court had ruled that although the trial in the case took place in Maharashtra, the Gujarat government would be the appropriate authority to grant remission based on the 1992 policy.Since their release, the Supreme Court has issued notices on two petitions — one filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and academician Roop Rekha Verma, and another by TMC MP Mahua Moitra — challenging their release. Shah’s petition referred to the plea by Ali and others.Bilkis was gangraped and her three-year-old daughter Saleha was among 14 killed by a mob on March 3, 2002, in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district, during the post-Godhra riots. Bilkis was pregnant at the time. The Gujarat government cited a “unanimous” recommendation of the Jail Advisory Committee (JAC) to grant remission to the convicts on grounds of “good behaviour”.In his affidavit, Shah referred to another case and pointed out that similar questions had been raised when the conviction of some accused under the TADA Act was sought to be challenged under Article 32 of the Constitution by Akali Dal (M) president Simranjit Singh Mann.The Supreme Court, however, held that a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution can only be made for enforcing a fundamental right. “The Supreme Court rightly addressed the issue that the writ petitioner therein did not seek to enforce any of his fundamental rights nor did he complain that any of his fundamental rights is violated,” Shah’s petition stated.Similarly, the petition stated, in the 2013 ruling in Subramanian Swamy vs Raju matter, the Supreme Court “further reiterated the settled position of law that the jurisprudence that has evolved over the decades has assigned the primary role and responsibility at both stages to the State though…in certain exceptional situations there is a recognition of limited right in a victim or his family members to take part in the process, particularly, at the stage of the trial”.“…the law, however, frowns upon and prohibits any abdication by the State of its role at each of the stages and, in fact, does not recognise the right of a third party/ stranger to participate or even to come to the aid of the State at any of the stages,” the petition said.In this matter, the Supreme Court had dismissed Swamy’s appeal against a Delhi High Court order rejecting his prayer to be made a party before the Juvenile Justice Board in proceedings against the minor accused in the Nirbhaya gangrape case.Referring to his release under the 1992 policy, Shah’s affidavit pointed out that the Supreme Court had in a 2010 decision stated that the policy that will apply for remission is the one applicable at the time of conviction by the trial court and not a subsequent policy at the time of consideration.It submitted that in 2010, the “Court went a step further and held that in case there were two policies for premature release existing at the time of consideration, a policy which can be construed liberally in favour of a convict be applied in a case of convict”.