Sokhda Saved From Going Into Oblivion

Updated: May 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
Before the dust even settled down properly, 800-odd people in Sokhda village in Gujarat found that they had survived the earthquake of January 26, 2001, but that it had left them with no shelter. Their village was now a mass of debris. About four kilometres interior from National Highway 8A, the last village of Rajkot district would have faded into oblivion had the Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers Company (GNFC) not been there.

The Bharuch based company took on the job of re-constructing the village at a new site in cooperation with the state government and, in 10 months’ time, had prepared new concrete homes for the villagers of Sokhda, which, unlike their earlier houses, were designed to be tremblor proof and conformed to the seismic zone IV norms of IS-1893 and cyclone forces along the coastal area.

“The village Sokhda was one of the worst affected (100 per cent destroyed) villages in the state,” says Pradipsinh Jadeja, chairman, GNFC. He adds, “This is also evident from the Gujarat government’s appeal to private corporates to adopt and reconstruct completely ravaged villages, including Sokhda, under the Public-Private Partnership Program Package of Scheme-I.”

But the fact that it was the last village in Rajkot district and remote (30 kilometres from Morbi on the Morbi-Malia route) meant that Sokhda never caught any eye, not even that of NGOs. “The NGOs had not approached the village even for initial relief or reconstruction,” reveals Mr Jadeja.

Till GNFC adopted the village and reconstructed it. But GNFC had other reasons, too, in choosing Sokhda over any other quake devastated village. “After the catastrophe, we surveyed various areas of Saurashtra and Kutch, taking into consideration the size of the village to be adopted, so that its reconstruction cost could be covered by the funds available with us and those provided by the state government,” Mr Jadeja says.

GNFC undertook the reconstruction of Sokhda village through the Narmadanagar Rural Development Society (NARDES), an NGO set up by the company in 1980 with the voluntary membership of the employees of the company and their family members to promote the underprivileged in the economically backward and tribal villages of Gujarat.

Explains Mr Jadeja, “In cooperation with the Gujarat state government, NARDES constructed 127 seismic resistant houses in four different categories. In addition to this, nine houses were built under the Sardar Awas Yojana and 12 common amenity buildings for the village.” In rebuilding Sokhda, GNFC spent about Rs 1.9 crore from its own coffer; another Rs 95 lakh was contributed by Gujarat government. By April this year, GNFC had handed over all the houses to the villagers and most of the villagers have already shifted to their new houses.

Sokhda now stands a few kilometres from its original location. Mr Jadeja explains, “The original village was located on land that was not technically sound for building earthquake proof foundations for construction. The condition of soil up to two metres in depth was studied and black soil was found to be present. It was necessary to lay the foundation below the two metres depth. But the plot of land available at the old site was not sufficient either in area or in shape for a systematic layout of the village with all the required common amenities. So, a new location was chosen.”

The new location was available with the Sokhda Gram Panchayat as gochar (grazing) land. “No extra expenditure was incurred on land purchase, which made the option of a new location more suitable,” says Mr Jadeja.

The reconstructed village has a school building, a panchayat office, talati quarters, anganwadi, chora (the village square), havada, four teachers’ quarters, water supply system, including underground pumps (50,000 litres), overhead tank (25,000 litres), 6,000 square metre artillery road, one rain water collection tank in each house (4,500 litre capacity), a pit in each house for disposal of used water, a crematorium and a solar street lighting system, among other things.

GNFC doesn’t want to stop here. “After studying how the villagers in the new village react to their changed social status and living pattern, we shall try to identify certain social activities and implement them,” says Mr Jadeja. He adds that the company had already undertaken reconstruction of two primary schools, the Bahadurgarh and Khakhrala taluka schools in Morbi taluka.

Survivors of quake hit Sokhda will never find life the same again, but GNFC has improved it for them considerably in one aspect at least.