Rebuilding concerns

Print edition : January 19, 2002

ONE of the more encouraging aspects of the post-earthquake scene is the steady progress of rehabilitation in the affected districts of Rao, Surendranagar, Jamnagar and Patan and in Ahmedabad city. Rural Kutch has also benefited to some degree (areas that have lost out so far are the Kutch towns of Bhachau, Bhuj, Anjar and Rapar).

A makeshift school near Halvad in Surendranagar district.-LYLA BAVADAM

Perhaps the most heartening factor is the realisation that only a small number of villages and towns need to be relocated. Dr. P.K. Mishra, Chief Executive Officer of the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA), recreates the post-earthquake situation: "The scale of devastation was so overwhelming that many people thought that relocation was the best alternative for most of the villages. At that time, people also wanted to move away from the scene of destruction. But, as the months went by, we realised that things were not that bad. Once rubble clearance began on full scale, a different perspective began to emerge." About 52.52 lakh tonnes of debris was removed from the affected areas. The GSDMA initially estimated that the relocation of 230 villages would be necessary. "Now we realise that only 10 to 12 villages need to be relocated," Mishra said. There is no doubt that housing was given top priority in the rehabilitation process. Reconstruction of homes and public buildings and the reinstatement of public utilities and facilities are under way in the other affected districts of Rajkot, Surendranagar, Jamnagar and Patan and in the city of Ahmedabad.

According to the government's progress report (for the period until the first week of December 2001), of a total number of 45,000 houses that needed to be rebuilt in Rajkot district, about 24,000 are at various stages of completion. In Surendranagar district, from a total of 26,151 houses that needed to be rebuilt, 9,137 are nearing completion. In Jamnagar district, where 16,886 houses were destroyed, 12,295 have already been built. And in Patan, 1,777 of 3,185 houses have been constructed.

The approach to housing is community-driven, with the government playing the role of a facilitator. Cash is paid to the affected families and cement and tin sheets are provided at subsidised rates. According to Mishra, the first instalment of cash compensation has been given to every family. As far as infrastructure is concerned, repair work has begun on a length of 185 km of roads and bridges. "The tendering and bidding process is still on," said Mishra. For works relating to water supply, the government has spent Rs.13.88 crores so far.

The principal sources of livelihood in the affected districts are industry and agriculture. The Gujarat State Finance Corporation has given about Rs.13 crores as loans to medium-sized units and about Rs.48 crores as subsidy assistance to small industrial units. About 13,100 small shop-owners have received altogether Rs.1.08 crores as cash assistance. Morvi town in Rajkot district is well known for two industries - porcelain sanitaryware and time pieces. Dhanubhai Shah, a small-scale industrialist who owns a sanitaryware company, estimates having sustained a loss of Rs.12 lakhs in his business. "Most of the loss is structure-related, he said. "My warehouse was not affected but a part of my factory wall and chimney are in a dangerous condition." Shah said he had received some compensation, though he declined to mention the amount.

Farmers have received assistance in the form of cash, tool kits and irrigation assets.

"Restarting schools was one of our top priorities," said Mishra, adding, "we have received a great deal of help from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for this." Mishra says that by June 15, 2001 all schools had restarted regardless of the condition of their structures. "UNICEF provided 7,000 tents and we built 2,400 temporary classrooms."

One of the reasons for the rapid progress has been the high level of cooperation between NGOs and the GSDMA, so much so that the need for NGO intervention has dropped drastically. As M. Sahu, Additional CEO of the GSDMA, said, "Immediately after the quake, there were 141 NGOs working in 441 villages. The numbers have now dropped to 75 NGOs and 271 villages."

In Ahmedabad city, the NGOs' role was played by the Home Losers Service Association of Ahmedabad (HOLSAA) and its sister organisation the Ahmedabad Study Action Group (ASAG). Both played a purely advisory role and largely tried to band affected people together so that they had a stronger voice. Deepak Patel is one of the home owners who benefited from being a member of HOLSAA. Patel's family and 15 other families which lived in Vishram Apartments in Ahmedabad decided to rebuild their homes with the compensation money. "We have to put in large amounts ourselves since we have decided to make this building earthquake safe. So if we need to use two bags of cement in place of the normal quota of one bag, we will do it. The subsidy is a big help. Cement is sold to us at Rs.100 a bag instead of the market rate of Rs.145." Pointing to the steel rods emerging from the foundation, Patel said that the builder had initially used 6 rods a column. "We are using 12 rods a column," he said.

According to Kirtee Shah, architect and one of the founders of HOLSAA, Vishram Apartments is largely representative of the reconstruction in Ahmedabad.

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