One year of trauma

Updated: Jan 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is in a self-congratulatory mood. He is pleased with the progress achieved in rebuilding the earthquake-affected areas in the state. In the Capital to make a presentation to the prime minister, he went poetic to describe Gujarat’s recovery as an ode to his people. The chief minister has given a lot of statistics of the work done and they are impressive. But reports from the field that this newspaper has been carrying are not all that confidence-inspiring. People are still struggling to come to terms with the trauma that left their life in tatters. True, the government is not lying when it says thousands of new houses have been built in the state and people have started living in them. But it is also true that there are thousands more who still live in tents or in temporary accommodation and for whom relief and rehabilitation are empty words that convey precious little.

If Gujarat’s is a story of the grit and determination of its people, it is also a story of neglect and broken promises. It is not the government machinery alone that has failed. There are countless non-governmental organisations who in their initial enthusiasm made tall promises but only to break them at the first available opportunity. Many of them adopted villages and disappeared from the scene within days of the adoption. Of course, one has to be wary of generalisation, particularly when there are many voluntary agencies who have been leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to help make a new beginning in the lives of the unfortunate people. Not all of them are cash-rich organisations. Among them was a group of women from Latur in Maharashtra who know how an earthquake affects human lives from their own personal experience.

Unlike other disaster areas, money has never been a limiting factor and this itself should have ended in better results. As is well known, the enormity of the death and destruction caused by the earthquake was primarily because the buildings were not quake-proof. Even if this lesson was learnt, it is indeed doubtful whether proper anti-quake technology is being used in the construction of new buildings. There are reports that corruption that allowed private builders to pay scant regard to norms in building multi-storied residential colonies still plays a similar role in the rebuilding activity the state witnesses, needless to say, with dangerous consequences. Governmental lethargy seems to be at the root of the delay in starting many of the infrastructural projects that alone can metamorphose the area. Hence Modi would have done well to get these projects cracking in Gujarat, instead of patting his own back in New Delhi.

This editorial from The Indian Express