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2001 Gujarat Earthquake Survivors Still Await Ownership of Govt-Allotted Homes

Two decades on, story of a village in Kutch, still trying to recover from the shock of the 2001 earthquake.

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On the morning of 26 January 2001, Kaiyanbhai Patel, who was 53 years old at the time, sat on a cot outside his house in Adhoi -- a village in Gujarat's Kutch district, 97 km from the city of Bhuj -- when he heard a loud thud.

"At first, I thought the Pakistani army had dropped a bomb near our area. But soon the earth cracked open and within seconds, everything was gone," recalled Kaiyanbhai.

It was an earthquake, the Bhuj earthquake of 2001 that killed thousands and injured lakhs. The memories of the 2001 earthquake are still fresh in Kaiyanbhai's mind.

It was an earthquake of magnitude 7.7 which hit the state of Gujarat, and had been called the Bhuj earthquake, as the town was the epicentre. As per the state government data, the tragedy killed between 13,805 and 20,023 people, injured another 1,67,000 and destroyed nearly 3,40,000 buildings.
Two decades on, story of a village in Kutch, still trying to recover from the shock of the 2001 earthquake.

Kainyabhai Patel was 53-year-old when the 2001 earthquake hit the state of Gujarat.

In the run-up to the 2022 Gujarat Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 28 August inaugurated the Smriti Van memorial in Bhuj district to celebrate the resilience shown by people during the devastating earthquake.

Kaiyanbhai is indifferent to the memorial.

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"I haven't seen the memorial. I don't want to see it either. What will we make of it? We have one in our village which we built 10 years ago," he said.

In the years following the earthquake, Kaiyanbhai set up a handloom unit in his house. "The government didn't help us. Compensation offered wasn't enough. So, we refused it altogether and worked things up from scratch," said the 74-year-old.

When the earth tumbled on the morning of 26 January 2001, many in Adhoi village were children at that time. Now they are either first or second time voters and the inauguration of the Smriti Van has brought back the horrific memories of the earthquake, and the struggle to rebuild their lives.

'Still Don't Own House Which Were Allotted to Us'

Most of the family members of Ranchodbhai Patel, 65, a resident of Adhoi, now live in Mumbai. "Even I want to leave," he told The Quint. He, however, cannot. "To relocate to a new city and purchase a house there, I will need money. For that, I will have to sell this house but that can't happen because even though I have the possession of this house, the registry is not in my name. This makes it impossible for me to sell it," Ranchodbhai explained.

In the earthquake, Ranchodbhai lost his house and three members of his family.

Two decades on, story of a village in Kutch, still trying to recover from the shock of the 2001 earthquake.

Ranchodbhai Patel outside the house allotted to him by the Maharashtra government.

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

Many people in the village had similar complaints. The Quint spoke to former village sarpanch, Vankarbhai who said that after the earthquake, the Maharashtra government, run by the Congress party at the time, came to help those devastated by the tragedy.
"The Congress government in Maharashtra built around 1,500-2,000 houses for the survivors of the quake. It's been 22 years now but the problem is that these houses have not been registered at the Sub-Registrar's Office which falls under the Gujarat government. As a result, people do not fully own this property and cannot sell it."
Vankarbhai, Former Sarpanch of Adhoi

According to Vankarbhai, people in the village had an option of choosing between the Rs 90,000 compensation being offered by the Gujarat government and houses which were allotted by the Maharashtra government.

"People had to choose between the compensation being offered by the Gujarat state government and the houses which the Maharashtra government was going to build. Even those who took the compensation didn't get the whole of it. Some received Rs 60,000 while others only got Rs 30,000-Rs 40,000," he said.

Vankarbhai and subsequent sarpanch have written to the Gujarat government multiple times but he said that nothing ever comes out of it, "We've gone to Gandhinagar so many times over the years but the issue never gets resolved," he said.

  • 01/03

    A house destroyed during the 2001 earthquake.

    (Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

  • 02/03

    A building damaged during the earthquake.

    (Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

  • 03/03

    Inside a house in Adhoi devastated during the 2001 earthquake.

    (Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

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'We Could Never Recover from The Shock'

Devi, 42, a farm labourer, has been living in Adhoi for 26 years. Only five year after they got married, she lost her husband Kanhaiya Lal in the 2001 earthquake. "We took the compensation that the government offered. They promised Rs 90,000 but we haven't received the money in entirety. I think we've received only half of what was promised," she told The Quint.

Devi did not opt for the accommodation offered by the Maharashtra government because she said that the houses, built outside the village "had no space for her cattle."

She added that her family of six could never recover from the financial shock of the earthquake as they now live in a dilapidated two-room house that they were able to build with the money they got from the government.

Two decades on, story of a village in Kutch, still trying to recover from the shock of the 2001 earthquake.

Devi and her family took the compensation offered by the Gujarat government. 

(Photo: Himanshi Dahiya/The Quint)

"We were able to build this house slowly over the years. Whenever a chunk of the compensation would come, we would start the construction. First, we built one room, then a toilet, and only after that we were able to build the second room."
Devi, farm labourer

'Who Will Go to the Smriti Van?'

Devi had no clue about the inauguration of the Smriti Van. When asked if she'd like to visit it someday, she said, "I don't know what that is but if I go to Bhuj to see this memorial, who will go to work that day? What will we eat?" she asked.

Both Ranchodbhai and Kaiyanbhai, having read about the inauguration in the newspaper weren't willing to go either. "If they want to do something for the victims, they should ensure that we own the houses we've been living in for years now," Ranchodbhai said.

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