South Gujarat in troubled waters

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Gaurav Raghuvanshi

THE movement of goods in South Gujarat, one of the major industrial belts in the country, has been hit severely by the floods caused by incessant rains in the last five days. While the roads network in the entire State has been hit hard, rail and port infrastructure largely escaped physical damage. In terms of loss due to non-movement of people and goods, the damage is high.

The National Expressway Number 1, that connects Ahmedabad with Vadodara, has been damaged in several areas. The Expressway, which normally has heavy passenger movement, has been shut down and traffic has been diverted to the old National Highway Number 8 that connects the two cities.

Further South, several parts of the NH-8, which passes through the industrial towns of Surat, Vapi and Ankleswar en route Mumbai, have been washed away and the movement of goods has been affected. The NH-8 forms part of the Golden Quadrilateral and connects Mumbai with New Delhi.

The Railways' schedule was thrown off-gear with flood waters inundating the tracks in several areas. It has, however, managed to restore traffic on the Mumbai-Delhi route through Vadodara after the waters receded. The tracks were found to be largely intact and traffic could resume after minor repairs.

The Railway traffic between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, however, had to be suspended. "Railway traffic has resumed on the Delhi-Mumbai route through Surat, Vadodara and Godhra. We are giving priority to passenger trains to clear the stranded passengers. Goods movement is also expected to resume soon," said the Chief Public Relations Officer of Western Railways, Mr Shailendra Kumar.

Mr Kumar said that all the 400 passengers of the Indore-Gandhinagar Shanti Express had managed to wade through several feet of water and reach makeshift shelter camps after the waters receded on Saturday morning.

The train was engulfed by water near Dakor, about 100 km from Ahmedabad, and the passengers had to wait for over 36 hours without any assistance, until the waters receded. Rescue workers could not reach the train as the swirling waters made it impossible to come near the site and boats were not immediately available.

The inland container depot at Ahmedabad and the container freight station at Vadodara were affected as cargo could not be evacuated from ports in South Gujarat. While Kandla, the only major port in the State, and the Adanis-owned Mundra port have escaped the flood fury, ports in South Gujarat, including Pipavav, Magdalla and Dahej, have suspended evacuation of cargo as their links with the hinterland have been severed.

"While there have been no reports of damage to port infrastructure, operations in some of our ports in South Gujarat have been suspended due to the floods," a spokesperson of the Gujarat Maritime Board, the nodal agency for the 41 minor ports in the State, told Business Line.

Both Kandla and Mundra largely cater to central and northern parts of the country, where the transport links were intact. The Vadodara airport, which too had closed for traffic, was reopened on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has pressed 16 transport helicopters into service for relief and rescue operations.

While a dozen MI-17 choppers have already been flying relief equipment and rescuing marooned people, four more choppers were set to join from Sarsawa and Hindon Air Force bases in North India, IAF spokesperson, Squadron Leader, Mahesh Upasani, said.

In addition, the IAF air-lifted 10 tonnes of bleaching powder from Chennai for sanitation and dis-infection in the affected areas. IAF has already dropped nearly 15 tonnes of food packets to the marooned people.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 4, 2005)
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