It was the worst natural calamity that independent India has ever been with unfathomable human misery and destruction all around as one of the most progressive States of India, Gujarat was hit by a massive earthquake, on Jan. 26, 2001, part of the Ahmadabad and most of the towns and villages in the Kutch District were razed to the ground.
High rise buildings collapsed like a pack of cards trapping upon hundreds over thousands of people, with a few lucky ones scrambling to safety and a few rescued by civilians, defense service personnel and relief personnel from foreign countries.
The number of dead is said to be more than 35,000, but one would never know the exact number as few can estimate as too many lay dead under the collapsed concrete structure.
At least one Indian leader made a guess that the dead could be in the range of 1, 00,000- and nobody has challenged him, for everybody knew that not all the bodies could be recovered. And the number of injured must be running into lakhs.
The entire country and the world rose like a one man to extent a helping hand to all those affected by the gruesome tragedy. Relief supplies came by road, by rail, and by air from all over the world.
Medical teams and specialists pitched their tents at the affected cities, towns and villages. The Prime Minister, The Home Minister and the Defense Minister were among those who rushed to the scene of devastation and expressed their solidarity with those affected.
Thousands of operations were conducted in the makeshift, open air hospitals. Numberless were those who became orthopedically handicapped. Many states were quick to sent their own medical teams.
Ham radio service came handy when the regular communications went haywire. Despite help from all quarters, there was chaos and it was bound to be, for India has not seen the like of it and was least prepared for a disaster of such devilish proportions. People complaint of lack of coordination and lamented that even such basic items like drinking water, clothing and blankets were not available.
Shocked out of their wits by a series of aftershocks and after seeing the hazards of living in high-rise buildings many residents in Ahmadabad preferred to stay and sleep in the open for days together.
Several traumatized citizens left their home and hearth for supposedly safer places. For most of the affected the loss was unbearable; loss of dear ones, deprivation of sweet home and the gnawing misery of living further with nothing and none to call their own.
For both the Government of Gujarat and the Government of India, the Gujarat earthquake was a ‘wake-up-call’. Enough of ad hock measures to deal with the calamities that turn the clock back in the wink of a moment and destroy hard-won gains in fleeting seconds.
The Prime Minister and his colleagues were closeted with the Opposition in order to draw a long-term blueprint for dealing with Gujarat-type of disasters.
It became clear that few States and few cities are fully prepared to meet another Gujarat type of eventuality. The builders and the building contractors were on for substandard contractors were on fire for substandard construction in most of these cities.
Can we take the geologists at their world with regard to areas which are subject to quakes and the areas which are not?
One thing became absolutely clear; from now on all buildings should conform to foolproof building specifications and should be inevitably earthquake proof. No city can take any chances.
Ahead of India is the long term rehabilitation of the victims of the Gujarat earthquake victims who need social, psychological and economic rehabilitation. It is estimated that the economic loss would around Rs. 21, 00 crores and the nation would need huge funds to put the shattered economy and lives of the people of Gujarat on the right track.
For this, we need the help of every citizens and institution from India and the abroad. For social rehabilitation we have to involve the community and NGOs. The big business houses and corporate too have to join in the Herculean task of rehabilitation.
Huge cracks in the buildings have made the authorities to raze unsafe buildings to the ground. Yawing cracks have appeared on many asphalt roads and mud roads. Let not such cracks appear in any of the full-fledged Disaster Management Plans India might frame to ward of the repetition of ‘Gujarat’ elsewhere in the country. India can ill afford to have another ‘Gujarat’.