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February 14, 2001 - February 14, 2001

Quake proof colonies in Gujarat mooted Wednesday, February 14, 2001

RAJKOT: Union rural development minster Venaiya Naidu said here on Tuesday that the central government was thinking of constructing quake-proof housing colonies in the rural areas of Gujarat. He said the quake had played havoc with the houses in the rural areas.

Talking to reporters here before his tour to una and kodinar area, Mr Naidu said that he would take up this issue during his meeting with the chief minister mr Keshubhai Patel after which a final decision wouild be taken.

When asked if the quake could be declared a national disaster the central minister said that the issue would be put before the forthcoming budget session of Parliament and if all the parties agrees to it, t here was no problem in declaring the quake as a national disaster. However the releif work that was going on was no less than what isdone in a national disaster, he opined.

The BJP leader said that the worst affected places were the rural areas where houses have been razed to the ground, water supples have been disrupted and roads breached, and in such a situation the rural development ministry has drawn up an extensive plan to rehabilitate these affected people. And one of the options was to provide these people quake-proof houses.

All houses which have fallen down would be reconstructed. All water supply lines which have been damaged would be repaired and supply started immediately. So far as rural roads were concerned, Mr Naidu said that a survey would be done and the extent of damage ascertained after which the work would be assigned to agencies. He said that for speedy implementation of these schemes, secretary and joint secretaries in the ministry would visit the quake affetced areas soon.

Assuring the people of Gujarat that no project would be shelved for want of funds, the union minister said that some of the grants allcoated to other states would be diverted to gUjarat for rebuilding the quake affected areas.

When aksed to comment on the failure of the Keshubhai patel minister in mobilising relief machinery in time, Mr naidu said " no government is powerful like God. So far as the state government was concerned, it had tackled the situation in the best it could and there was no truth in the talks that there was no coordination between variuos agencis."

"There is no move at present to change the leadership in state", Mr Naidu said in reply to a question. He said " I am a member of the election committee and am in constant touch with the central leadership and the party highcommand and this topic was not brushed up even once".

Majority of quake-hit in Rajkot yet to receive compensation Wednesday, February 14, 2001

RAJKOT: There have been complaints galore in entire Rajkot district that the next of kin of those killed in the quake have so far not received the aid promised by the state government.

As man as 422 people had died in Rajkot district and more than half of the people are yet to receive a penny from the government authorities.

The state government had promised immediate help of Rs one lakh to the next of kin of those killed in the January 26 quake.

Sources in the district administration told The Times of India on Tuesday that so far just 143 people had got the aid. The sources were not sure when the remaining people would be given the aid.

Meanwhile, residents of Sorathiya plot, Navyugpara and Navi Gachiwad have, in a letter to collector A K Rakesh, said that a large number of houses in these three areas have collapsed or were badly damaged in the quake. They have demanded immediate help from the administration.

Adoption of quake-orphaned children not now Wednesday, February 14, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Orphanages and non-governmental organisations in Ahmedabad are inundated with queries from people wishing to adopt children orphaned by the earthquake, little realising that the process is both legal and time-consuming. With the identification process of orphans in the affected areas still on, it will take at least four months, before the formal procedure of adoption is initiated.

"It's an admirable gesture that so many people are coming forward to adopt, but not a single orphan child from the quake-affected areas has been brought to our institution," says a worried superintendent of the Ahmedabad-based Mahitpatram Rupram Ashram, Vijay Pandit. "We are having a tough time convincing people that no orphan child has been brought to the institution. And for the time being at least, relatives are looking after those children whose parents are no more," adds Pandit, who has toured the quake-affected areas of Kutch.

Echoing similar opinions, Chaya Joshi of child helpline (Childine) says: "We are flooded with calls from couples and even single parents wanting to adopt child victims of the earthquake. Since we do not deal with adoption, we are trying to direct the calls to NGOs and institutions dealing with it."

Maintains the convenor of Voluntary Coordinating Agency (VCA) for adoption, Gujarat, Natubhai Patel: "It's quite premature at this stage to declare a child as an orphan. A large number of these children may have surviving relatives or even parents who might have been temporarily separated from them due to the earthquake and the displacement following the calamity." Besides a No Objection Certificate from the police and the VCA, the permission of juvenile court is also essential "which may take a long time," states Pandit, whose institution has been receiving queries for adoption from Spain to Netherlands, besides Indian states.

The central government has clarified that adoption of orphan children in Gujarat will not be considered for at least three to four months. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in a recent statement said that adoption was a legal process and is to be resorted to rehabilitate a child only after ensuing that it has no one to take care of him or her.

"It will take a couple of months to get a fair picture of those children orphaned in the earthquake. At present, we are in the process of identifying and locating such children and they are being sent to the 150 shelter rooms established in the quake-affected areas," informs a senior official from the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment. A recently-set-up centralised coordination system for adoption in Ahmedabad is registering the names of couples and organisations interested in adopting or sponsoring victimised orphaned Children.

Four adoption agencies approved by the Centre Mahitpatram Rupram Ashram, Ahmedabad; Nirasrut Balashram, Rajkot; Kasturba Stri Vikas Griha, Jamnagar and Trust, Junagarh besides some agencies by the state government will also register the names of parents interested in adopting children.

The government has also plans of rehabilitating the orphaned children as far as possible in Kutch or Gujarat itself. "Though a large number of people from abroad and Indian states have evinced interest to adopt such children, we'll try our best to rehabilitate them in a atmosphere familiar to them," the state government official reveals.

Cautioning against haste in this matter, both Patel and Pandit say: "Adopting a child involves legal, emotional and social connotations and it cannot be agreed upon within a short span of time. Moreover, reuniting the children with the family members if they have any should be the foundation of the efforts to rehabilitate them."

'Orphans can be adopted, not villages' Wednesday, February 14, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Mihir Bhatt, director of the city-based Disaster Mitigation Institute(DMI), has been involved in the review of rehabilitation of earthquake victims in Latur in Maharashtra and Kobe in Japan. Bhatt had a detailed discussion with a group of representatives of NGOs in the presence of Michael Caillouet, Ambassador-head of delegation of the European Union, on rehabilitating people rendered homeless in Gujarat.

Excerpts:

Q: What is the greatest challenge to Gujarat in moving from relief to rehabilitation?

A: There are two challenges. One, we need to get priorities right, that is, first focus on work and livelihood. Second, focus on water and community infrastructure. And third, focus on shelter and services. Shelter without water and shelter without work makes limited sense. We must find ways to address the needs of the Kutch villages with more than 70 per cent damages as well as the villages in and towns in other seven districts of Gujarat which have been damaged. Damage and deaths are only two of the many important considerations on which rehabilitation must be planned. Over emphasis on Kutch is neither useful for Kutch nor for the rehabilitation efforts in Gujarat.

Should Gujarat follow the Latur model?

Latur model can only be a starting point for Gujarat. Gujarat model must be far more progressive on social front, cost effective on economic front, and safer on physical construction front. Let us not mix up a baseline with endline.

But how can we achieve this?

Gujarat has what is called Vision 2010 that has detailed out social infrastructure needs of the poor in the state. Why this vision cannot act as a basis for rehabilitation plan? In fact such an effort will reduce the distance between Gujarat's disaster rehabilitation and mainstream development efforts. Similarly, village planning can be based on Gokul Gram Yojana which converges services and starts with work.

And what do you suggest for relocation?

This is a difficult area. Latur has much to teach. First, relocation should be decided by the affected villagers or victims. Do they want to move? Do the poor and Dalits among them want to move? Second, need for relocation changes from week to week as psychological impact of the shock changes over passage of time. Often people find that they want to go back to their damaged buildings. Third, relocation means cost of land as well as community infrastructure of water, light road, school etc. This cost will be different for each village. Can equity be maintained in such circumstances? Fourth, relocation may mean safer location, but that does not mean safer buildings. These are only some of the issues that came out from Latur and Uttarkashi rehabilitation efforts. Work undertaken by the people from the Science Institute and Dasholi Gram Swaraj Sangh in Uttarkashi and Chamoli point in the same direction. Even in Kobe, after two years, relocation remained a charged issue.

And how do you view the village adoption scheme?

Orphans are adopted. The victims villages are neither orphans nor helpless. From what we see from the NGOs and also government experience, the victims are recovering with great energy and efforts. Instead of adopting, we must find ways to see how these efforts and energies can be enhanced - by providing resources, support and technical assistance where needed. As soon as we can. It is surprising that the private sector is so unimaginative and lacks creativity in their response to relief and rehabilitation. Why are they not a source for new and better ideas of partnership to replace the 'adoption schemes'. Some NGOs have creative and realistic ideas, but lack resources.

How should we judge the rehabilitation plans?

The best ways will be to see how well the plans seek our opportunities - social and economic - of reducing vulnerability of the poor. If the poor in the affected areas remain vulnerable, rehabilitation has very limited meaning. This is crucial.

Interview/Mihir Bhatt

Earthquake puts together broken home Wednesday, February 14, 2001

AHMEDABAD: When Gujarat broke into incessant wails mourning thousands left dead by the killer quake, Sulochana Mudliyar suddenly found herself smiling.

No sadist she, but what else could a wife do when her husband, presumed dead for almost last five years, appeared out of the blue and started making desperate inquiries about his estranged family!

Ramchandra had deserted 28-year-old Sulochana six years back when he simply walked out of his house and her life, leaving behind two daughters, aged one and three years and his young wife to fend for themselves.

Even as Sulochana rummaged through cities like mad, showing his pictures to strangers at railway stations in almost all cities across the state, Ramchandra stealthily moved from once place to another before he finally settled in a job as a fabricator in Vapi. But never ever did he try to get in touch with his family-no phones, no letters, nothing. This until the earthquake happened.

"There was this live coverage of 40 children trapped under the debris of the Sacred Flower School in Ghodasar near Maninagar on a television news network. That was the turning point when I decided I will have to go back. What if my girls were studying in that ill-fated school? What if they were amongst those trapped under the rubble? I could not control myself ... If not for my wife, I had to come back for my daughters", says Ramchandra rather sheepishly as he tries in vain to draw his daughters, named Revathi and Shobhana after the famous Tamil actresses, closer to him.

Elder one, Revathi faintly recognises his father but younger Shobhana treats him like any other stranger. She does not speak to him and will not let him anywhere near her!

Ramchandra knew Sulochana was staying with her parents at Railwaynagar Colony in Maninagar and feared she might have admitted his daughters in Sacred Flower, hence the special concern after watching the collapsed school on TV.

Sulochana, however, does not seem to be bothered if it was love for her or that for his daughters that pulled Ramchandra back home. What matters to Sulochana is that she has unexpectedly got her husband back. "I was stunned to see him ... I was so happy, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so I did both", she reminisces of the second happiest moment of her life after her marriage.

Like a good Indian wife, Sulochana has already forgiven her husband and feels the chapter is best forgotten. "He told me he wanted to return back but feared his family would scold him ... also he thought I might have married again ... but all that is past, we want to begin a fresh life. He will look for a job and we have also planned to shift into a new house with our family", she informs, face glowing with her new-founded happiness.

But what if earthquake strikes again? "Nothing will happen ... I have complete faith in Him," says Sulochana, one of the lucky-few in state for whom killer-quake has come as a self-confessed `blessing in disguise'.

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