Adoption by corporates remains a dream for most quake-hit Gujaratis

Updated: Jan 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
After the earthquake of January 26, 2001 in Gujarat, it was said that anyone and everyone wanted “a piece of the quake”. Whether it was the glamourous bahus of conscience-stricken corporate India shedding copious tears for the benefit of scores of TV cameras positioned at vantage points amidst the mounds of debris , or the grubby hands of those who were suddenly rendered destitute, or the greedy hands of those who saw the disaster as a windfall–– everyone wanted a share of the tragedy.

Exactly one year down the line, however, with the dust all but settled and the crowds having thinned, there are very few who would want to stand up and be counted among those who actually did their bit to alleviate the misery and suffering of those who lost their all in one of the worst instances of nature’s fury. “Interestingly, while several corporate houses announced grand plans of adopting many of the quake-ravaged villages, very few of these plans have actually fructified,” concedes a top state government official, who has been overseeing the rehabilitation work.

Barring active participation in the immediate relief work, most corporates have long since abandoned their wards. In fact, the company spokesperson of one of the largest corporate houses, which had adopted Anjar, one of the worst affected towns following the quake amidst much fanfare and sound bites, went to great lengths to explain how the word “adopted” was actually a misnomer. “All we meant by adoption at that time was helping with the initial rescue and relief work,” he said.

And while all the corporates who jumped into the post-quake fray professed to do so ostensibly “for a noble cause” and with scant regard for profits or bottomlines, the fact that this helped them earn much-wanted brownie points not to mention the free publicity and image-cum-brand building cannot be minimised. And it is this constant endeavour to be associated with social causes that is prompting many of these corporates to issue copious press releases and organise junkets for media hounds for every little office or shopping complex which they are constructing even one year down the line.

Having said that, however, there are some corporates who have actually taken some tangible initiatives on the ground which are there for all to see. For example, the Ahmedabad-based Torrent group has set up a well-equipped 60-bed hospital at Bhachau in Kutch, a town which was virtually demolished and where thousands are reported to have lost their lives. The hospital, which was established in close collaboration with the National Medicos Organisation, in March is not only catering to the medical needs of Bhachau town but is also providing latest mobile facilities to at least 70 small villages around the town. A relatively low-profile media-shy group which also runs the Ahmedabad and Surat Electricity Companies, Torrent also chipped in post-quake to assist the state-owned Gujarat Electricity Board to restore power supply to over 120 villages worst affected by the quake. Subsequently, the group has helped repair and restart operations of mangled substations.

The Reliance group, too, has tried to contribute and following its assistance in immediate rescue and relief operations in its “adopted” village of Anjar, the group has been engaged in setting up various community and government buildings in several quake-ravaged towns. For instance, the group has already constructed the offices of the Area Development Authorities for Bhuj, Bhachau, Rapar and Anjar and is now engaged in constructing government offices in Bhachau, Mandvi and Mundra which are expected to be ready to coincide with the first anniversary of the quake. But for all of Reliance’s contribution, pegged by company officials at “about Rs 5 crore for these constructions”, it is widely felt that the group promised more than it has actually delivered. Peeved residents of Anjar, in particular, spew venom at Reliance. “They just adopted our town for publicity and then abandoned it the minute the TV cameras left,” says a bitter Anjar citizen.

Similarly, the Essar group adopted the devastated Balambha village in Jodia taluka of Jamnagar district, drawing up plans of rehabilitating 500 families by providing quake-resistant pucca houses. Unfortunately, this is yet to be translated into reality as company officials privately concede the work is too “mired in red tape and a tug of war with the authorities”. Several corporates are, in fact, taking refuge behind this argument to justify their non-performance.

To some extent, state government officials admit that this is true. “Several villages saw the quake as an opportunity to wrangle the best deals for themselves from the corporates as well as the state government and the NGOs with the net result that many of them are left with no one at all now,” he says. Of the 207 villages and towns in Kutch which have been “adopted” by corporates and NGOs for rehabilitation and reconstruction, there are unfortunately very few where actual work on the ground has commenced.

Small wonder then, that the Narendra Modi-run state government is patting itself publicly on the back and claiming credit for almost “98 per cent” of the post-quake rehabilitation and reconstruction work. u