Special Report — April 17, 2001

Earthquake Coverage
by the
Times of India

This report presents a selection of the coverage of the Gujarat Earthquake of Friday, January 26, 2001 by The Times Of India. I think that these excerpts from TOI stories present an interesting picture of the issues and concerns that accompanied the earthquake relief effort during the three-week period following the quake. I have placed my comments in curly braces {}.

Saturday, 27 January 2001


Around 4,000 feared killed - Bhuj razed - 70 A’Bad {Ahmedabad} highrises collapse

AHMEDABAD: Gujarat was cruelly jolted awake on Republic Day by a monster earthquake measuring a whopping 7.9 on the Richter scale.

The temblor wrought unbelievable destruction all around and is believed to have left around 3,000 people dead in Bhuj, its epicentre, even as Kutch got delinked from the rest of the country. Parts of Bhuj town, district headquarters of Kutch, disappeared from the face of the earth in the quake’s aftermath.

Reports of large-scale destruction and deaths have been reported from Morbi, Maliya and Navlakhi regions. Kotda Nayani village in Wankaner taluka {a taluka is a subdivision of a district} has been completely razed. As many as 125 people were reportedly killed in Morbi and Maliya regions, 40 in Wankaner, 87 in Jamnagar, 10 in Rajkot, 55 in Surendranagar, 76 in Junagadh and five in Porbander. The dome of the famous Wankaner palace gave way as did the central portion of the Darbargarh in Rajkot.

The Surajbari bridge, the only link between the border district of Kutch and the rest of the state, has collapsed.

Around 70 buildings collapsed like a pack of cards in Ahmedabad, mostly in the Maninagar, Satellite and Ambawadi areas. Screams rent the air as people were caught unawares and their homes came crashing.

There was a mass exodus from the cities as people fled to relatively safer places with their money and valuables.

Phone lines went phut immediately after the earthquake and a power shut-down threw the state completely out of gear.


Govt gears up for the gigantic task ahead

AHMEDABAD: The state government has declared a state of alert to deal with the unprecedented situation arising out of the heavy loss of life and property due to severest earthquake that shook the state on Friday.

After reviewing the situation with senior officials, Chief Minister {of the state of Gujarat} Keshubhai Patel announced that the entire government machinery would, during this period of emergency, undertake rescue and relief operations in the affected areas for two weeks.

No official functions would be held during the ‘alert’ period. The state government has asked the officials and other employees who were on leave to immediately report for duty.


Victims pour in by the minute at city hospitals

AHMEDABAD: With every passing 10 minutes, a stretcher trolley carrying a body rolled into the corridor adjacent to the casualty ward of the city’s centrally located V S Hospital. Till 5 pm., the casualty ward reported more than 500 cases of severe injuries with the number of dead crossing the 250-mark.

Of these brought to the V S Hospital, 70 died even before treatment. Children and women were the most affected in the quake. Bodies drenched in blood were being stacked up, even as more continued to pour amidst shrieks of relatives.


Natural disasters abound, but there’s still no crisis-management plan

NEW DELHI: Gujarat has seen it all - cyclones, drought, earthquakes. It is, in fact, in the grip of a severe drought. Friday’s earthquake just spilled more misery on the people of that state, believed by some officials to be one of the states better prepared than others to tackle a disaster.

It didn’t seem so, at least initially - but they may well turn out to be right. But what is fairly clear and has been, disaster after disaster, is that the Centre {Indian government} and most states just haven’t been able to get their act together. It was all too obvious during the supercyclone that hit Orissa in 1999. It has been all too obvious in the responses of half a dozen or more states facing what seems to be an endless drought. And, it was fairly obvious when some of the states suffered their share of floods recently.

Disaster management plans seem to be missing on the ground - though they are supposed to be there in paper. Action plans, monitoring, relief manuals - they are all talked about. The Union government went to the trouble, a few years ago, of compiling a Vulnerability Atlas of India on floods, cyclones and earthquakes since - as one expert put it - "India suffers from these three disasters year after year in one part of the country or the other."

But more than a year after the supercyclone, officials are still discussing systems and cyclone shelters for Orissa.


Power grid collapse averted

NEW DELHI: The quake almost let to a major power grid collapse in the western region. When the earthquake hit at 8:46 am, Gujarat’s power plants tripped - Wanakbori, Gandinager, Dhuvaran, Panendro, Sikka, Gandhar and AECO were out of action. But emergency services were not affected and the western region load dispatch centre, it is said, took prompt action to prevent a collapse and the tripping of nuclear units at the Kakrapar and Tarapur atomic power stations.


The worst earthquake in 180 years

NEW DELHI: The widespread earthquake which rocked the country early on Friday with Bhuj as its epicentre is the second most powerful quake in the last 50 years and one of the worst to have occurred in the country during the last 180 years for which seismological records available.

The country has seen 21 major earthquakes since the first recorded earthquake in 1819, which also occurred on June 16 in Gujarat at Kutch and had an intensity of 8 on the Richter scale. All these earthquakes had a intensity of more than six on the scale.

The magnitude of Friday’s quake, recorded as 7.9 on the Richter scale by the National Geophysical Research Institute stands next only to a similar calamity in Assam in 1950 with a magnitude of 8.6.


Monday, 29 January 2001

Fresh jolt further shatters morale

Relief continues to pour in; Keshubhai hints toll could cross 20,000 mark

AHMEDABAD: The quake-ravaged state was once again shaken by an aftershock measuring 5.9 on the Richter scale around 6:40 a.m. on Sunday, sparking a fresh bout of panic among the people.

The government, however, still seems to be groping for answers as far as the magnitude of the disaster is concerned with the Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel admitting for the first time that the toll could be as high as 20,000.


State may peg quake loss as Rs 10,000 cr {about $2.2 billion}

GANDHINAGAR: The Gujarat government is expected to hand over a comprehensive note putting the losses suffered in Friday’s earthquake at Rs 10,000 crore to Prime Minister Vajpayee during his visit to the affected areas on Monday.


Dreaded criminals escape from ruined jail

AHMEDABAD: A serious security problem has arisen following the escape of 188 hardcore criminals from Bhuj jail in the wake of the earthquake. Being a border district, the jail housed not only small-time law-breakers but also infiltrators from Pakistan and smugglers charged with peddling drugs, weapons, and RDX.


11 come out of debris alive

With the help of foreign teams assisting in rescue operations, at least 11 persons were extricated alive from collapsed structures on Sunday, over 48 hours after the quake.


Fear grips residents as tremors rock Rajkot again

RAJKOT: The city was once again rocked on Sunday morning at around 6:40 am. The quake measured 5.9 on the Richter scale. People started screaming and ran out in the open. No further damage has been reported from anywhere but the fear psychosis is clearly evident.


Tuesday, 30 January 2001

Truth still lies buried under the debris

Govt estimates way off mark; toll may touch 50,000

BHUJ/AHMEDABAD: The state government and it’s agencies may have got it all wrong. Friday’s earthquake is now known to have caused a much wider devastation that what was hitherto believed.

As reports of the trail of death left by nature’s fury in the towns and villages of Kutch continue to trickle in, there are definite indications that the toll could go up to 50,000 or more.


Desperate survivors loot relief vehicles

AHMEDABAD: Having gone without food and water for four days after the earthquake struck, survivors of the devastation in Kutch district have started looting vehicles carrying food packets and other relief material, even as the over-stretched administration was yet to come to terms with the magnitude of the disaster

Officials in the earthquake control rooms in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar said there was utter chaos on the roads leading to Bhuj, Bachhau, Rapar, and Anjar in Kutch district where the earthquake victims where pouncing upon vehicles arriving with relief material.


No hope of finding more survivors

AHMEDABAD: With stench of decomposed bodies emanating from most of the building debris sites four days after the quake, the administration has now given up efforts to find survivors in these collapsed structures and has decided to speed up the removal of the rubble in Ahmedabad.


Thursday, 1 February 2001

Epidemic could play the next giant-killer in state

Decomposing bodies, sanitation breakdown may increase toll

AHMEDABAD: Death could be rearing its ugly head again from deep beneath the debris of collapsed structures. Six days since the tragedy, the stench from building debris all over earthquake-ravaged Gujarat is becoming unbearable. The treat of an epidemic stares the state in the face.

A non-existent sanitation system makes the state a virtual sitting duck for diseases. Medical teams suspect an outbreak of diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, gastroenteritis, hepatitis, and tetanus. It could be a double-blow which the survivors of the worst ever earthquake may find difficult to tide over.


Day 6 and yet another survivor

AHMEDABAD: Seems miracles, like aftershocks, are going to continue for some time. On Wednesday morning, firemen rescued 50-year-old Jyotsna V. Gandhi with severe injuries including fractured legs and a smashed left hand, from the debris of Shraddha Apartments in Paldi. She was admitted to VS Hospital where her legs were amputated and she was reported to be in serious condition.


Fleeing Kutchis flood A’Bad railway station

AHMEDABAD: The Ahmedabad railway station resembles a virtual refugee centre with trains from Gandhidham bring in more homeless, injured and shell-shocked each day.

Relief is clearly seen on the faces of the victims. "For 4 days we were lying in the open, the nights were worse as we had no blankets and the earth kept moving under our feet at regular intervals. I am relieved that we have escaped that", says Akbar Ali, a factory worker from Bhachau.


Ship-breakers change rules of the game

AHMEDABAD: What demolition experts from the army and fire brigade achieved in four days, a team of sturdy ship-breakers from Alang have demonstrated overnight. Five days after the first hammers and cranes moved in at the half-collapsed Mansi apartments, only a quarter of the work was done. In came 45 illiterate, poor, but nevertheless strong demolition men who have changed the rules of the game.

Says Ramesh Tiwari of Gorakhpur, "We work for Rs 100 and live away from our families for months on end, we die in gas blasts in ships, the shethias are indifferent to our lives and struggles but we know one thing, we can survive by demolishing and that is what we are doing here."


Friday, 2 February, 2001

Gov’t inertia adds to chaos

Relief efforts botched up; exodus figures inflated to underplay toll

AHMEDABAD: The situation may not be as bad as in Orissa where the chief secretary flew to the US to meet his daughter barely five days after the supercyclone, but the way things are moving, the Gujarat government may soon match its Orissa counterpart in maladministration.

Sample this: Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel on Wednesday decided to have a cabinet meeting at the control room set up at the state capital, sending the officials coordinating relief work into a tizzy.

Little wonder that an estimated one lakh {100,000} people have fled Kutch in the past six days, even as the district has become a veritable hell hole. An estimated 70,000 people have perished in Kutch with 30,000 in Bhuj city alone.


Builders, architects, civic officials booked for collapses

AHMEDABAD: Six offenses were lodged by the city police against builders, architects, plan engineers, and officials of the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation involved in the construction of those buildings that collapsed in last week’s earthquake. They have been booked for culpable homicide and criminal conspiracy.


Bhuj pampered, hinterland cries for help

BHUJ: Kutchis in Bhuj have stopped crying for the dead. They are now crying for those who have survived. Six days after the devastating quake killed thousands, those who escaped death are struggling - for food and water. At places they are even fighting to get hold of water pouches and food packets - thrown from trucks scurrying on the streets of Bhuj.

Lack of co-ordination in relief work has left many in the lurch. While food, water, and medicines are stacked in camps near the general hospital, those living on the outskirts of the city (towards airport) and in small open pockets near Chandchowk and outside the ‘kot vistar’ have to literally fight to obtain their ration


Saturday, 3 February, 2001

After rocking foundations, Nature gives glimpse of bounty

AHMEDABAD: In the wake of last Friday’s earthquake, Gujarat is witnessing numerous changes in its water table as well as its topography even as reports of the hot muddy oozes keep pouring in from almost all quake-affected regions. In Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar, the Automatic Water Level Recorder (peiso-metres) fitted by the Central Ground Water Board showed an increase in the water level to the tune of 2.5 cm after the earthquake.


Is Indus changing course?

RAJKOT: Has the Sindhu (Indus) changed course? While this may sound far-fetched, locals have brought to the Kutch district collector’s notice a gush in the Rann. This development has been noticed over the last two days, and people there are convinced that the earthquake may have caused the river to change course.


Denied blankets for curling up, docs go on strike

AHMEDABAD: In these extremely trying conditions, some 100-odd resident doctors of L G Hospital went on a flash strike on Thursday night leaving unattended over 70 critically injured quake victims for almost 6 hours. And all this because they had no blankets to snuggle into for the night.

Apparently a nurse, after locking the room where the blankets for doctors were stored, had forgotten to deposit the keys with the hospital matron. On discovering that there might be no blankets in the special rooms where the doctors have been put up, they reportedly gheraoed the matron and assistant matron and showered them with choicest abuses for the mistake committed by the concerned nurse.


Monday, 5 February, 2001

Food aplenty, but hungry still going without it

Pampered few have more than they need, thanks to politicians; officials insist on ration cards in some villages

BHUJ: Amidst decomposed bodies, rubble and the overpowering stench of rotting flesh, politicking and bureaucratic wrangles throw relief operations (even in Bhuj and its fringes) out of gear.

NGOs {Non-Governmental Organizations; private charitable groups like Ramakrishna Ashram} like the Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyan, which was coordinating the distribution of relief material in Bhuj and Kutch, have withdrawn from the operation due to frequent "string-pulling and political interference".

"We washed our hands of relief because political pressure took material to areas where help had already reached," said a member of the NGO Coordination Centre.

The misery of the quake-affected is compounded by the unrealistic approach of government officials. The state civil supplies department, which has been distributing relief material, prefers to stick to the rulebook even in such difficult times.

Take the case of Desalpar village, 20 km from Bhuj and one of the badly affected villages. The civil supplies department has decreed that only those with ration cards would be given relief supplies. The village folk virtually beg to be given some grain as their cards lie buried under debris. But alas, the officials remain unmoved.


Rail link restored

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


Substandard relief material turned down

RAJKOT: The Ramakrishna Ashram here on Saturday rejected a truckload of relief material which was of substandard quality. The truck was sent back to the donor with "thanks".

Sources in the Ramakrishna Mission told The Times of India, "The quake affected people are not second-class citizens. They too have a heart which is crying and they must be given new material for use".

Swami Jitatmanandji of the Ramakrishna Mission said they had rejected the material as it was of substandard quality. He was also against giving old clothes as they could spread infection.

He said the Ramakrishna Mission had distributed relief material worth 50 lakh and more material worth almost the same amount would be distributed.

A relief kit of 11 items was also being prepared to be given to the people, the swami said adding a quake resistant village would soon come up at the expense of the Ashram at Dhuneti village near Bhuj.


Quake a natural phenomenon but the scale of death is government-made

NEW DELHI: Nothing can be more maddening than what has happened in Bhuj. An earthquake is a natural phenomenon but the scale of death is definitely not. It is purely a government-made disaster.

Regulation and disaster management is the job of the government. It is its responsibility, for instance, to ensure that buildings in seismic regions are made in a way that they are earthquake resistant. Since there is no dearth of knowledge in this field, why doesn’t this happen? One key reason is technical incompetence. Government agencies are run by generalist administrators from the Indian Administration Service who cannot differentiate between the front end and back end of science and therefore cannot integrate scientific and technical competence into their decision-making. There is no public pressure on the politicians either to deliver. One so called natural disaster takes place after another but nothing changes. Add to this heady cocktail the curse of corruption, rampant especially in construction-related activities, and we have a perpetual disaster on our hands.

My own personal experience has repeatedly shown me that the scientific capacities of agencies like irrigation departments, environment departments, pollution control boards or urban development authorities is absolutely appalling.

It is hard to think of any country’s government that is so incapable of dealing with its own realities, unless of course we include the now defunct Soviet Union.


Tuesday, 6 February, 2001

Skeletons begin tumbling out of builders’ cupboards

Swift debris clearance may serve to let errant developers go scot-free

AHMEDABAD: It is a cruel irony of fate. The killers might be saved by those killed. Even as debris of the tumbling towers was removed last week in a bid to find survivors and recover bodies, it now seems that the police will have very little to base their investigations on because soon there will be nothing more than the foundation plinth to look at.

"This is akin to investigating a murder without looking at the body," admits a police official.

The investigating teams have found that the three buildings which crashed in Maninagar were built by a former town development officer attached to Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority, Rajesh Shah.

Shah is now absconding. The police have also found that one of the buildings that fell under the impact of the January 26 quake had a 4-foot-deep foundation plinth instead of the minimum 8-foot-deep plinth recommended for a four-storeyed building. Another building had fewer beams and columns compared to those shown in the plan.


For Ahmedabad’s shaking minarets, this is their second fall

For the shaking minarets of Ahmedabad this is the second fall after 182 years, Old ASI reports point to damage of the structure in 1819 earthquake of Kutch.

ASI’s superintending archaeologist D R Gehlot says that efforts are on to restore the all the heritage structures damaged in the earthquake.


No ‘room’ for VIPs in Bhuj

BHUJ: "One good thing about this town is that there is not a single structure standing where a VIP can stay overnight", says a senior bureaucrat now at the helm of the relief operation. Given the pressure-cooker environment in which the officials are now putting in 20 hours of work every day, there is unanimity that visits by VIPs was something completely avoidable.


Baby extricated alive from debris after seven days

PALANPUR: In what could be described only as a miracle, a 11-month-old baby was extricated alive from the debris after a week of the killer earthquake on January 26.

The baby was extricated from the rubble in Palaswa village of Radhanpur taluka leaving everyone gaping all over.

The parents had virtually abandoned her for dead and performed the post death rituals too.


Wednesday, 7 February, 2001

Hospitals more hospitable than homes-turned-tombs

AHMEDABAD: Days after the killer quake rendered lakhs {hundreds of thousands} homeless and thousands injured, it is time for a few ‘lucky’ ones, with fractured limbs set right under coats of plaster, to leave the depressing hospital wards and go back home ... but where is home?

"There are some patients from Bhuj, Anjar, and other devastated Kutch areas everyday who have recovered enough to be discharged now, but I don’t know where to send them," says Dr. Naik.

His dilemma is shared by the patients, almost all of whom know that their homes have turned into tombs. They too are groping for answers to the same question - where next?


‘Bhuj prison inmates were shouting there was a jailbreak’

BHUJ: The Indian flag flutters proudly over the crumbled central jail here. Ten days after the earthquake, no one has the heart to climb up the building and bring it down.

The 177 prisoners of Bhuj Central Jail who escaped from the prison on January 26 must be the only people in Kutch thanking Mother Nature for giving them a new lease on life.

Jailers G S Sonar and R C Adruja are still in a daze. They are being asked to explain how so many prisoners managed to scale the 25-feet high walls of the prison which are still intact.

The answer lies in the knotted nylon rope hanging from the rear wall of the prison which was used by the prisoners to flee to freedom. Freedom not only from the trembling buildings but for good. But from the various accounts that are now being pieced together by not only the police, but also the jail authorities, it is now obvious that the jail officials had bungled in locking all the prisoners inside while fleeing for their own safety. And all this while the prisoners who didn’t want to escape had been shouting at the highest possible pitch trying to alert the officials outside that there was a jailbreak.

But there was nobody to listen and one by one, all but 71 prisoners escaped by scaling the back wall.


Thursday, 8 February, 2001

Sand beneath may have brought on collapses

AHMEDABAD: It was not shoddy construction alone that brought on the building collapses in the January 26 quake in the city, but rather their location on a two-three-km-deep sandy basin, base rocks, and a 70 km-long fault line which ruptured and sunk by a few metres, believe researchers.

A preliminary analysis of the pattern of collapsed, partially collapsed and damaged buildings in Ahmedabad has led to scientists here believing that there may be many more factors , mainly geological, that need to considered while analyzing a collapse or constructing buildings afresh.


Govt admits to tent shortage

GANDHINAGAR: The state government on Wednesday admitted that even 13 days after the quake, there was a shortage of tents in affected areas, particularly Kutch.

Talking to reporters, state relief commissioner P Paneervel said the state had so far supplied a mere 64,272 tents while 27,800 were in the pipeline. The total requirement of tents in Kutch, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Surendranagar comes to 2,69,000 Paneervel said.


Undertrial has change of heart after quake

AHMEDABAD: Radhusinh Lakhadhir Koli would have been just another prisoner at the Rapar jail, but for the earthquake.

According to Vadodara range DSP Keshav Kumar, camping in Rapar, the undertrial accused of murdering his wife has had a change of heart after the quake. Instead of seeking a safe haven for himself after the jail collapsed, Radhusinh rushed to the police lines and rescued family members of policemen trapped in the debris. He was among the four prisoners who had escaped initially but who returned to rescue the policemen’s relatives.


Epicentre, magnitude of quake still confound experts

AHMEDABAD: Nearly 2 weeks after the devastating earthquake of January 26, the seismologists, geologists and earth scientists are still debating over the intensity of the earthquake and its epicentre.

Was it 6.9, 7.6, 7.7, 7.9, 8.0 or 8.1? Everyday there are new theories and findings. There are also fresh claims from never-heard-of-villages in Kutch which want to be the epicentre of the earthquake and thus in the centre of the relief activity.

The India Meteorology Department which has a seismograph at Bhuj, claimed that the magnitude was 6.9 on the Richter scale, the Geological Survey of India recorded at its Jabalpur observatory that the same was 7.6. The US Geological Survey which has the largest network and satellites to its disposal claimed it was 7.9, but later revised it to 7.7.

However, the scientists of the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad, have come up with theories that the magnitude was of 8.1 on the Richter scale.

It is only the time of the earthquake that the scientists agree upon - 8:46 am.

Initial reports from the IMD on the 26th, suggested that the epicentre was 23.6 degrees North (Latitude) and 69.8 degrees East (Longitude) which is near village Lodai, located some 20 to 25 km north-northeast of Bhuj.

But the GSI puts the epicentre at 23.31 N and 70.41 E and some 76 km east of Bhuj or 100 km NNE of Jamnagar.

However, the USGS claimed that the epicentre was located at 23.4 N and 70.32 E and 110 km NNE of Jamnagar.

This was followed by claims from village Ratnal, Dhrang-Lodai and the latest one is Dhori that the epicentre was there and there were large eruptions and cracks in the ground.


Kutch statehood demand may rise from the rubble

BHUJ: Can geology change geography? Ask Maharao Pragmulji, the former ruler of Kutch, and he will reply in the affirmative. And no, we are not talking about the Allahbund (the dam built by God) in Kutch, which is said to be a creation of the 1819 earthquake. Pragmulji is talking about the demand for a separate state of Kutch rising from the rubble of the January 26 earthquake. He says right from the day Gujarat was carved out of the erstwhile Bombay state in the linguistic reorganization of states, he has been crying ‘foul’. He talks about the years of neglect at the hands of Gujarat and the need for a separate Kutchi identity.

"What the hell is Gujarat", his anger swells up, "Gujarat is just an upstart, it has no mention in our historical texts whereas Kutch’s history dates back several thousands of years". He still fails to understand why the Government of India, in all its wisdom, decided to include Kutch in Gujarat when Kutch has a separate language and identity. He says Kutch losing its identity to Gujarat "was something like a father getting the name of his adopted son."


Friday, 9 February, 2001

Disasters just waiting to happen

AHMEDABAD: Evidence gathered from the sites of collapsed buildings, experts admit, point to the fact that they were all man-made disasters waiting to happen. A building-by-building account unearths similar reasons for the destruction - poor construction and builders’ apathy. A quake of lesser intensity could also have brought down the teetering buildings, they opine.


Quake springs a surprise river

AHMEDABAD: Imagine a 100-km-long, 80-km-wide river springing to life al of a sudden in a stretch of barren land. Well, you don’t really have to tax your grey cells as a river, buried until now, seems to have surfaced after the January 26 quake in the Great Rann of Kutch.

This river is clearly visible in images taken by the Indian remote sensing satellite IRS-ID. Besides the river, there are dozens of small and large palaeo channels (underground river) that have surfaced too.

The new rivers - some of which have dried up since the images were taken - and others might have salty or fresh water and could be a part of either the Saraswati river network or that of the Hakra that disappeared in the 14th century AD.


Saturday, 10 February, 2001

Relief material stolen from Morbi storage

RAJKOT: Expensive imported items like tents and other relief materials, stored in the godown {warehouse} of a private industrialist in Morbi, have reportedly been stolen. The godown, had a bumper stock of relief material including medicines, clothes, blankets, shawls, household goods and tents. However, the Chinese tents which were large enough to house a school or an office, and could be packed into a small briefcase were found to be missing.

Voluntary organizations working in Morbi have drawn the attention of the state government towards this. They have alleged the involvement of local leaders and officials overseeing the relief operations.

Meanwhile, Ramakrishna Mission officials have brought such irregularities in Bhuj to light, where relief material worth Rs 40 lakh were stolen. The president of the Rajkot mission has called for a probe into the incident.


It took just a hammer to turn column to dust

AHMEDABAD: While the issue of choosing the right laboratory for testing samples from the damaged buildings still remains undecided, the teams investigating the sites of collapsed buildings have found gross disproportion in the materials used in construction and tie beams missing in most buildings.

At a Maninagar building, the teams discovered that a stroke of a simple hammer turned the columns supporting the building to dust.


Compensation disbursement yet to begin in Kutch district

GANDHINAGAR: Of the above 14,930 people, officially-declared dead in Kutch as on Thursday, not one family in the district has so far received the Rs 1-lakh {about $2,200} compensation against each dead announced by the Gujarat government. Informing this, state revenue secretary C K Koshy told newspersons this was because of the nagging "identification problem".

However, he added at other places, 835 people had been given the Rs 1-lakh compensation, out of which 443 were in Ahmedabad district alone. The total number of those declared dead has reached 18,354 on Thursday, 750 of them in Ahmedabad.


Sunday, 11 February, 2001

CM fails to entice NGOs into ‘adopting’ quake-hit villages

GANDHINAGAR: Even as Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel announced his government’s preliminary plan to shift the population of the 250 worst-affected villages and rebuild them from scratch at a cost of Rs 750 crore {about $160 million} before top voluntary organizations involved in relief activity in the quake-hit Kutch district, he failed to get any commitment from them on how many villages they would ‘adopt’ for reconstruction.

In all, nearly 1,000 villages have been identified that would need to be reconstructed at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore to Rs 3,500 crore {$650 to $700 million}.


Dist admn planning ‘quake relief work’ for Kutch

BHUJ: With majority of the houses damaged following the killer quake, the district administration is planning to start ‘quake relief work’ on the lines of drought relief work, very soon. This employment generation activity should enable the poor to earn and re-build their homes in addition to the housing assistance to be provided to the affected. District collector Anil Mukim told The Times of India that given the lack of livelihood opportunities in the region, starting relief work is essential.

In village after village, the quake victims are demanding relief work as the only viable cash-earning means in the short run. "We want work," was the refrain in village Ukhada, an hour’s drive from Nakhatrana. "Our houses are broken and our belongings lie in the open. We cannot leave our homes to work elsewhere and send money home. We are also scared to leave our families behind as the quakes continue. Relief work in the area is the only solution," said Lakmanbana Danger, sarpanch {mayor} of village Lodai, 32 km south-west {actually it is north-east} of Bhuj and the epicentre of the quake.


Monday, 12 February, 2001

Words of reassurance in times of despair

"Kutchis are a resilient lot. A desert breed, they are used to hardships and unfazed by calamities. They have survived in hostile conditions. Kutchis are community oriented with networks and links all across the region. This helps them fight back. Besides their lifestyle is simple. They don’t believe in ostentation. They are also a pragmatic community, don’t brood over the past and reorganize quickly".
    --MSU Vadodara sociology department head N Rajaram

"I have seen so many disasters, most of them far less in magnitude, but the people here are so tranquil, gentle, appreciative and calm that it makes all the difference for rescue and relief teams. In a situation like this in the US, there would be riots, thefts, killings, and violence of all kinds. The reaction of people in several other countries where I have been to, were also very different from what I have seen here".
    --Douglas Copp, rescue team leader from American Rescue Team International.

"There is tremendous resilience among the people here. And the upsurge of sympathy and assistance from all over the country is quite heartening. I have no doubt that we will be able to overcome this crisis. We have shown the world that India is united, I am proud today as a Gujarati and as an Indian".
    --Reliance Industries Limited vice-chairman Mukesh Ambani

"Those who live in the deserts adapt to hardships. This is even true for animal species. Human beings are no exception. People in Kutch will be able to come out of the quake much faster than those residing in cities".
    --MSU zoologist Bonny Pilo


Tuesday, 13 February, 2001

Only 10 of Ahmedabad’s 1,000 high-rises have BU permission

AHMEDABAD: It is said that if one strictly goes by the rule-book, only about a dozen high-rise residential buildings in Ahmedabad would be fit for occupation, claim official sources. But the ‘rule’ that was followed till 26 January was "pay and get around laws". Random surveys conducted recently reveal that of the 1,000 odd high-rise buildings in the city, only about 10 residential buildings had permission for occupancy, or what is commonly called building use (BU) permission.

Thus, it was not just the earthquake, but conscious negligence and compromises made to appease the powerful builder lobby also that took its toll on Ahmedabad buildings.


Idiot box at the receiving end

AHMEDABAD: The mass frenzy exhibited by a section of Muslims in the city who are smashing their TV sets, blaming it for corrupting society leading to the quake two weeks back, has spread to Surat where 400 TV sets have been similarly destroyed.

Abdulbhai Gulawala, who owns a shop in the Dhalgarwad area, took his television set atop the Teen Darwaja and, as thousands watched, flung it on the road last Friday.

Gulawala had been all charged up ever since a cleric, Mufti Imtiaz, identified the TV as the root cause of the quake and proclaimed that poisoning of minds by it had made the Almighty angry.


50 high-rises collapsed in Bhuj: Survey

RAJKOT: Sources in the Bhuj collectorate told TOINS {Times Of India News Service}on Monday that there were 225 three-storeyed or more buildings here before the Black Friday. Out of these 50 building have been reduced to rubble while the other 175 have been declared unsafe for human dwelling by the structural engineers.

Almost all the remaining 175 buildings have developed large cracks and the condition has only worsened due to the frequent aftershocks.


Govt opens 3,646 ration shops

AHMEDABAD: The state civil supplies department has opened as many as 3,646 ration shops in Kutch, Surendranagar, Jamnagar, Rajkot and Ahmedabad districts to facilitate smooth distribution of foodgrains and other essential commodities in the quake-hit areas.

A government spokesperson on Sunday said the department has so far distributed more than 1,40,679 free kits containing 50 kg flour, 3 kg vegetables and other essential commodities.


Wednesday, 14 February, 2001

Was it worse than it need have been?

When earthquake strikes and lives are lost on a terrible scale, a middle way must be found between two kinds of false consolation. One is to imagine that nobody was to blame, to say that natural disasters cannot be prevented, and can only be endured. The other is to say that the deaths were all the fault of the system and the people who run it, that everything would have been all right if only the building regulations had been adequate, if the inspectors had not been corrupt, if the rescue services had been properly equipped and prepared, and so forth. The truth is, an earthquake in a country as poor as India is always going to be an unspeakable tragedy. At the same time, there are things that even poor countries can do to save lives in these circumstances - things that they often neglect to do.

At the epicentre of the Indian earthquake, some buildings remain intact surrounded by others that have collapsed, demonstrating, as the Turkish earthquake of 1999 also showed, that the design and quality of buildings are crucial. That is the main reason why earthquakes in rich countries kill fewer people than earthquakes in poor ones. The Kobe earthquake of 1995 occurred in one of the most densely populated areas on earth, but still killed only 6,400 people, rather than the 20,000 or more being estimated this week to have lost their lives in a remote and relatively unpopulated area of India.

Even though Gujarat is one of India’s four richest states, with a large middle-class population, poverty at the bottom runs wide and deep. Estimates say that making new buildings earthquake-resistant adds 10-25 per cent to the cost. Because there has been no catastrophic quake in India for 50 years, the problem has been easy for politicians to ignore. No longer. Properly enforced rules are needed, and maybe now will be forthcoming.


Thursday, 15 February, 2001

Chronicle of a miscalculation foretold

AHMEDABAD: Call it a hangover from the past, governments across the world have a tendency to conceal more information than they actually reveal. Combine this with a ‘conservative’ chief minister at the helm of affairs and you will know why the Gujarat government insists the toll of Republic Day’s killer quake is just about 19,000.

But that is a gross underestimation and everybody, including Keshubhai Patel {the chief minister of Gujarat}, knows it. Last fortnight, even as defense minister, George Fernandes claimed 100,000 people had perished, Keshubhai grudgingly conceded that 30,000-35,000 people could have lost their lives.

Now, more than a fortnight later, the government has stopped talking of even 30,000-35,000 deaths. The official figure is 18,753 - the number of bodies recovered till midday Wednesday (18253) plus those missing (500).

The number of missing has been arrived at by the government after placing a number of advertisements in local papers, inviting respondents to register the names of relatives who are missing and presumed dead. But the point to note is that in some cases entire families have been wiped off and, therefore, there may not be anyone to file the name of missing relatives.


Friday, 16 February, 2001

Beggars turn hoarders, jettison pilgrim towns for freebies

State IB reports large-scale influx of ‘Hindi-speaking people’ into Kutch towns

AHMEDABAD: Huge armies of beggars, many from as far away as north Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, have laid siege to Kutch district, particularly Bhuj, Anjar and Bhachau, where relief supplies are being sent. In fact, the state Intelligence Bureau has alerted the government about the massive influx of "Hindi-speaking people" from North India, especially Rajasthan.

An IB official says: "This army of beggars is siphoning away all that is being sent with noble intentions for the hapless Kutchis from all over the world". Teams of IB officials have surveyed the region and reported that non-Kutchi and non-Gujarati speaking people are swarming relief trucks even before they enter the towns.

They are reportedly hoarding relief supplies, including shelter material, while the original inhabitants are forced to sleep out in the chill.


Muslim outfit says government underplaying deaths, damage

AHMEDABAD: A four-member delegation of the All India Milli Council, a Muslim NGO, after surveying the quake-affected areas, has accused the government of giving a wrong picture of the number of deaths. "According to our estimate, the death toll must be somewhere between one and one-and-a-half lakh {100,000 to 150,000} and the damage to property must be around 30 to 40 thousand crores," {6.5 to 7 billion dollars} said executive member of the All India Milli Council, Maulana Sajjad Naumani.


Saturday, 17 February, 2001

Absconding builders booked under PASA

AHMEDABAD: The city police on Friday booked absconding builders Rakesh Shah and Nirav Shah under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities (PASA) Act whose three multi-storeyed buildings collapsed in the January 26 quake.

The builders have been at large and the police hope the provisions of PASA would enable them to detain the absconders the moment they are traced.


Sunday, 18 February, 2001

Quake fails to move caste-ridden society

Proposals for adopting orphans resemble matrimonial ads!

AHMEDABAD: Caste is casting its shadow over the long-term rehabilitation of the quake survivors. Not only are families coming forth to adopt a boy or a girl of a particular caste, but officials say they are facing problems with rehabilitation of affected villages at one location because persons belonging to different castes would not like to stay in a community. Some of the proposals received by the government from childless couples sound strangely like matrimonial ads. "Preferred, a Patel boy in the age group of 1 to 2 years," says one. Another proposal states, "Boy up to 2 years, preferably Jain." Similar preferences have been made for Brahmin boys.

Officials say it is striking that "while all caste-based preferences have come from upper caste families, none of the families which want to adopt a girl have indicated caste preferences".

"It would not have mattered so much to us, but the child will get greater acceptance in our extended family and community if he is of our caste," explains a man who has two daughters and wants to adopt a boy. He did not want to be identified.


Wednesday, 21 February, 2001

Eight lakh houses in 130 days a pipe dream?

RAJKOT: Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel and his government may well set a record if the objective of building eight lakh houses by June 30, announce by the chief minister on Monday, is achieved. How this humongous target will be met is the question uppermost in everyone’s minds.

Consider this. Going by the mathematics the chief minister has 130 days beginning February 21 till his deadline of June 30. According to calculations, he would have to construct 6,154 houses per day if he has to reach the figure of eight lakh houses. Unless the government has in mind pre-fabricated structures, and even that looks like a tall order, the target appears to be too lofty to be attained.

To begin with, the issue of whether devastated towns and villages are to be relocated is as yet undecided.

Where would he get the water needed to construct the houses, many wonder. With Kutch facing an acute drought, the government does not really have the water to divert for construction activities.


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