A GREAT NATURAL CALAMITY ‘THE GUJARAT EARTHQUAKE’
“Saare jahan se accha” was silenced within a moment. There was no hue and cry – just a rumbling – the earth shook violently devouring 400 girls and boys who were marching towards the Town Hall in Anjar at 8.46 to celebrate the Republic Day on 26th January 2001 – The first Republic Day of the millennium. It was a festive occasion. There was fun, enjoyment, a general sense of well being and patriotism in the town. Students led the rally with teachers from various schools happily following them. Old men, young men, women and traders waved at the rally. Within a second all perished –three generations were under the huge debris. Three storied houses fell like nine pins. There was none to save the young ones – the blooming flowers of the nation. Nature offered them a mass grave- buried them with parents of many. The whole town of anjar 50 kms from Bhuj having a population of 65,000 known for its vegetable dyes and knives was now a mass grave. No house was served from the fury of nature. The death toll was estimated not less than 25,000.Even after the fifth day at least 1,000 people lay buried under the rubble. Some who survived extricated a few living but mostly dead who were offered to the mass funeral pyres. But a large number of the dead remained under the huge pile of debris – not to be counted- not to be recognized- vanished unmourned.The commercial hub of old anjar resembled another Pompeii.
Republic Day claimed its ‘martyrs’ in Rapper too –a smaller town where 15 school children were killed when the wall of an old fort crumbled while they were on their way to a parade. The death role was comparatively low in this town of 15,000.But Bachau- a town of 35,000,as a national paper writes a macabre ‘Ardh Kumbh’.No house was saved from the cruel hands of the earthquake that shattered-no-not the hopes-but the very existence of the people. The V.H.P Amd Bharatiya Jain Sangathan were the first to offer medical and other help to the survivors who would sleep in the open as no roof could be saved from crumbling within seconds.
The picture at Bhuj, the headquarters of Kutch district was horrible. Although it is an earth quake prone area, people had taken a fancy to build multistoried buildings that gave way with the first shock. The city having a population of one lakh fifty thousand was reduced to a huge pile of dust, bricks, cement slabs and concerete.90 per cent of the buildings fell down burying a large number of people. Within a couple of days RSS activists and army jawans picked up more than 6,500 dead bodies. They were given mass cremation. But a very large number of dead bodies could be extricated from thousands of tons of debris that lay over them. Although government underestimated the number.
According to government estimate ten days after the devastating quake 16,403 people died and 68,478 were injured while 12,250 cattle died. But George Fernandes the Defense Minister who was first to take round of Kutch and Ahmadabad put the toll to one lakh. It seems a reality now. In all – 21 districts, 171 talukas and 8,792 villages were affected. In most of these at least 50 percent or more houses fell. The industrial loss in the Kutch region was quite heavy. It is the area that contributes 70 percent of the salt of the country. The production losses were 10 lakh tones. The state’s handloom and handicrafts industry found its backbone fractured. It lost a few thousand artisans. The loss to industries in Ahmadabad, Morbi and some other towns was so much that the Gujarat government sought a help of 32,000 crore from the centre. It expected to have a help of equal amount from NRIs and NGOs and the general public. The question remains can the loss of a lakh lives be compensated with money- rupees or dollars.