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February 5, 2001 - February 6, 2001

Raising Gujarat from the rubble Tuesday, February 6, 2001

AHMEDABAD: They have boxed the problem into four slots -- Rescue, relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction. The 4R formula looks neat on paper. But on the ground buried under the rubble, the challenge seems awesome.

`` The scale is mind-boggling,'' says K V Bhanujan, pulled out of retirement to head a state government task-force for rebuilding Gujarat's devastated swathe.

Soon after the big earthquake, the state government presented a damage estimate of Rs 10,000 crore to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Now they are asking for Rs 22,000 crore, most of it for reconstruction. And like the tectonic plates under Kutch that are yet to settle down - that explains the continuing aftershocks - the property damage figure, it seems, is yet to stabilise.

Much of the cash is needed for rebuilding houses, mostly in Kutch. According to one set of government figures, nearly 75,000 houses have been "completely" damaged, over 1.4 lakh "partially" damaged. Some places are so badly hit that the government is considering shifting people into settlements built from scratch. ``The people of Bhachau think that Bhachau cannot be salvaged,'' says Bhanujan.

Still occupied with the job of giving short and medium term relief, the state government is yet to come out with a reconstruction "policy". But it has promised a ``comprehensive package'' for destroyed buildings by February 10. Bhanujan, chairman of the rehabilitation and reconstruction task force, hints that the government would rather come out with something ``effective'' than something quick. ``Rehabilitation is not like rescue, where speed is important,'' he argues.

And as the government deliberates, there are people who are keeping their fingers crossed. Yogendra Alagh, former minister at the Centre and now with Ahmedabad's Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, stresses the need for transparency when the government begins reconstruction.

He says the government should create an institutional system which involves planners, architects, non governmental organisations and local communities. Second, even the NGO's with which the govern-ment collaborates should be exposed to strict auditing. ``If they don't do this, this money (released for reconstruction) will go waste.''

Alagh, however, feels that if the "counterbalances" are brought into play, Gujarat could do a reasonable job of rebuilding itself. There are possibilities of funds being pilfered, but the state is better placed than, say Delhi, which has ``a bunch of rascals and crooks'' as real estate developers. And Ahmedabad, he says, is also home to ``some of the best architects in the world.''

Achyut Yagnik of the Centre of Social Knowledge and Action points out that the Panchayati Raj in Gujarat is on firmer ground than in many other states. Like Alagh, he recommends involving local communities.

His prescription: use local material and local skills wherever possible and be sensitive to local traditions. When disbursing funds, give preference to local community-based NGOs, rather than volunteer agencies from outside who will work in a few villages, for a few months. And then pack up. The gov-ernment and the NGO's will do better if they prepare the local people instead for greater involvement in the rebuilding challenge.

Yagnik and Alagh agree that the government has to take the lead. ``No NGO can take care of even a single block (of villages),'' Yagnik says. And while speaking of lack of co-ordination in the government machinery, he admits that the NGOs too could co-ordinate better.

The state government itself is keen on collaborations, particularly with the corporate world. The big industrial houses like Reliance have already got into the act. P K Lahiri, principal secretary to the chief minister, told The Times of India Online that the state had so far got 120 offers from the private sector, mostly for "adopting" crumbled villages in Kutch.

Confederation of Indian Industry is naturally being wooed. On Sunday, the Chief Minister loaned an aircraft for a CII delegation to fly out to Bhuj. The confederation has started ``assessing'' the scale of the work ahead, which its president Arun Bharat Ram described as ``monumental, Hercu-lean.''

The CII won't put a figure on the help the government can expect from it. As an organisation, it says, it can rope in member-companies which may not be in a position to take on rehabilitation and recon-struction work on their own. But whatever job the CII takes up, it will do well, promises Bharat Ram. ``So that the people know that here was an organisation which changed the face of this place.''

The Gujarat industry itself has taken heavy losses. But they are mostly production losses. The fac-tories went dead because the quake hit the lives of people who work in them. The infrastructure by and large is intact. Industries Commissioner K N Shelat estimates asset losses at a modest Rs 22 crore. But Ratan Prakash Gupta, president of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says the production losses amounted initially to Rs 750 crore a day.

Gujarat has been promised big money. The Prime Minister announced a grant of Rs 500 crore; the human resource development ministry Rs 150 crore to rebuild schools. Thirty four countries have pledged money adding upto to over Rs 400 crore, says S K Shelat, economic adviser to the Chief Min-ister. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank will send a stocktaking team on February 12. Already, they have promised a total of Rs 750 crore in loans and grants, mostly diverted from other schemes in India.

But to rise from the rubble in Kutch, Gujarat may need more.

Soldiers find 2 quake survivors after 10 days Tuesday, February 6, 2001

BHUJ: Soldiers dug out two survivors from the rubble of their home on Monday, more than 10 days after it was destroyed by the Gujarat earthquake, Border Security Force deputy commandant Diwakar Kumar said.

"The two, a brother and a sister in their late forties, were rescued from what remained of their home this morning at around 11:00 am (0530 GMT)," Kumar said.

"It seems they managed to survive so long on water and crackers," he added.

The two survivors were found by a BSF contingent on a routine search mission in the old section of Bhuj, one of the town's worst hit by the January 26 quake which killed an estimated 30,000 people.

Immediately after their rescue the two were taken to Bhuj's Civil Hospital where they were recovering.

Quake damages Lord Krishna's palace Tuesday, February 6, 2001

BYET, Jamnagar: Lord Krishna's seat of power at Dwarka, now considered one of the four sacred dhams, and his residence at Byet have suffered severe damage from the deadly shocks unleashed in by the earthquake.

The 5,000-year-old Dwarka temple, a 150-ft tall multi-storeyed complex, has suffered huge longitudinal cracks in the main temple while the adjacent temple, dedicated to Krishna's son Pradyumna, suffered a major damage.

What is worrying is that the huge stone slabs which distributed the weight of the temple on its pillars, have cracked in the middle putting a question mark on the stability of the complex, says a top official of Dwarakadhish Dewosthan Samiti.

Climbing slowly up the narrow staircase, which ultimately leads up to the flagpost at the top of temple, he pointed at each of those cracks and every time touched his forehead with folded hands.

"If the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) does not undertake a major renovation work of the temple immediately, nobody knows whether it will survive another quake," he says.

And at Byet, all the six residential houses of the six queens of Lord Krishna called Ranivas, if one goes by the mythology, have been almost razed to the ground except the one used by Rukmini.

Choosy Earthquake! Monday, February 5, 2001

SAPEDA, Kutch: Located exactly midway on the sixteen kilometre stretch between devastated Ratnal and Anjar, this village on the Bhuj-Bhachau road stands out. Seen from the highway at least, it seems the village has been spared by the great quake. Even a mud wall stands intact.

As we pass that way again at night, a group of people huddled around a fire assert there has been damage here as well. ``It looks good from the road, but many houses in the village have been damaged,'' a resident says. But after dusk, the villagers say, the village interior is off-bounds: the Army guarding the abandoned houses against theft will let in only those who carry tokens issued by them.

But unlike in adjoining places, lives have been spared. Out of the tens of thousands feared dead in Kutch, Sapeda accounts for just one. Two other Sapeda people died, but they happened to be out that day, visiting places where the earth shook more. A man draws a wave in the air with his hand, tracing the path of the earthquake. Sapeda fell in the ``gap'' between ``waves, '' he explains.

Nakhtrana, 50 kilometres beyond Bhuj towards the Pakistan border, too escaped with cracks in some houses. ``Nature has been kind to us,'' an advocate admits. ``There has been no lose of life.'' And unlike any place on the road from Bhachau-120 kms away-Nakhtrana shows near normalcy.

Tea-stalls in the main market are actually open.

But aftershocks, which continue to stir Kutch, mar the scene in Nakhtrana too. People in the town's Harijan neighbourhood were preparing to spend another night in a small camp by the main road. Their tenements are intact, but they don't want to take a chance. The fear of another big one is everywhere, of course. As you drive down to Gandhidham, bonfires dot the road-even in villages and towns which have been spared major damage.

Things like the way the houses have been built and the type of soil they stand on do matter, but at first glance at least nature seems to have struck in an arbitrary, random manner. In Ahmedabad, for example, what makes one block of flats collapse while another in the same housing estate remains intact? At a time when builders shy away from the media-they will get nothing but bad press-one man who has built three multi-storey buildings in Bhuj sought this reporter out. ``All my buildings are intact,'' he wanted to say.

In Bhachau, the ground floor of a commercial complex has sunk into the earth. And an adjoining building is now just rubble. But barring a few cracks on the base on which it set, the bust of B R Ambedkar is intact. Unmoved from his pedestal, the Dalit leader surveys the destruction around him.

Rail link between Gandhidham, Bhuj restored Monday, February 5, 2001

Railway engineers on Sunday completely restored the link between Gandhidham and Bhuj, the two towns severely affected by the devastating earthquake on January 26.

The route was made operational when the engineers repaired the Bridge no. 48 between Kukma and Madhupur, which was damaged due to the quake, railway sources said.

"A trial train was run in the morning on the route and now it has been cleared for the day-time operations. The trains can run at the speed of 30 km per hour," he said.

This site is dedicated to our friend Younus M, who passed away on 28th Sept 00, and left on us an indelible memories !
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