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Rhetoric and Reality of Post-disaster Rehabilitation after the Latur Earthquake of 1993: A Rejoinder by Krishna S. Vatsa [1]
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[This piece is a 'rejoinder' to the paper by Rohit Jigyasu, also posted on this site, and another by Alex Salazar which can be found at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GUJARATDEVELOPMENT/message/64]

In the earthquake reconstruction program that has just commenced in Gujarat in the wake of the Bhuj earthquake (2001), housing is the largest and most important component. Though the scale of reconstruction in Gujarat is much larger, the housing program has a precedent in the Maharashtra Emergency Earthquake Rehabilitation Program (MEERP). The reconstruction program after the Andhra Pradesh cyclone (1996) did not include housing; instead, restoration of infrastructure was its main objective. State governments in India, which have the primary responsibility of relief and rehabilitation, did not undertake reconstruction on a large scale after the Uttarkashi (1991), Jabalpur (1997), and Chamoli (1999) earthquakes.

When housing is included as a program component, households become stakeholders. The program is evaluated in terms of provision of housing to the people rendered homeless. Housing also creates permanent assets at the household level, and reduces physical vulnerability. It is in this context that a discussion of the housing strategy in a post-disaster situation becomes important. I recently read two contributions on the Maharashtra Emergency Earthquake Rehabilitation Program (MEERP), one by Rohit Jigyasu (2001) [2], and the other by Alex Salazar (1998) [3] on the Internet. Both authors have raised a number of issues from their own perspectives. In view of the long-term impact of the reconstruction program in India and other developing countries, it is important to join these issues critically.

This rejoinder advances the proposition that design and implementation of a post-disaster reconstruction program is a dynamic and flexible process. It must reflect people's priorities and aspirations, and seek a balance between conflicting pulls of affordability, technical feasibility and quality of life. It must also recognize the participants as active stakeholders, aware and conscious of their entitlements and priorities, rather than passive recipients, who need to be educated. Further, the received wisdom is most often inadequate in dealing with the extremely complex human and spatial problems in the wake of a disaster. Actual experiences of recovery and rehabilitation may be very different from the textbook prescriptions. An objective assessment of these experiences therefore enhances our understanding of the processes that characterize decision-making, implementation and participation in a post-disaster situation.

The Maharashtra Emergency Earthquake Rehabilitation Program (MEERP): The Scheme of Rehabilitation

The Government of Maharashtra implemented the shelter component of the rehabilitation program from 1994 to 1999, with three categories of assistance to the earthquake-affected people, which are as follows:

  • Relocation of 52 completely devastated villages including reconstruction at new sites;
  • Reconstruction of houses and basic amenities in another 22 severely damaged villages; and
  • In-situ reconstruction, repairs and strengthening in over 2000 affected villages spread over 13 districts in Maharashtra.

Earthquake Rehabilitation Policy: The earthquake rehabilitation policy (GOM, 1994A) prepared by the Government of Maharashtra (GOM) laid the criteria for these three categories of assistance. According to the policy, Category 'A' villages in which more than 70 percent of houses suffered damages of category IV and V (collapse and severe structural damage), and where the depth of black cotton soil was more than 2 meters, would be relocated and reconstructed on a new site. Category 'B' included those 22 villages in which more than 70 percent of houses suffered category IV and V damage, but were situated in black cotton soil of less than 2 meters depth. These villages were to be rehabilitated in-situ, but finally they were all relocated. The 'C' category included all the remaining villages, where the GOM provided two packages of assistance, depending upon the severity of damages for in-situ reconstruction, repairs and strengthening. The categorization of villages was related to the degree of structural damage, and had no relationship with the number of deaths as stated by Jigyasu [4]. The shelter component had a scope of approximately 228,500 houses, which included 28,000 houses from the Category 'A', 10,500 houses from Category 'B' and 190,000 houses from Category 'C'.

In addition to the shelter component, the MEERP included infrastructure, economic rehabilitation, social and community rehabilitation, technical assistance and disaster management. The MEERP, which commenced in July 1994, when the World Bank component became effective, and concluded in December 1998, though some work continued up to mid-1999. The total implementation cost of the program was US$358 million (for details, visit web site www.maharashtra.gov.in/english/meerp/profile.htm).

These two papers have raised a number of issues regarding the MEERP. In this rejoinder I will like to respond to each of these issues in a sequence. Since both the papers focus on similar issues, their common concerns have been clubbed together, sometimes reproducing them verbatim. The issued raised in these papers have been discussed under different sub-heads with a view to present a comprehensive picture of the program.

Relocation in "A' Category Villages

There are a number of concerns regarding the relocation of 52 villages in Latur and Osmanabad districts in both the papers. Jigyasu and Salazar contend that the official logic behind relocation had no scientific basis. According to them, wrong signals were sent out through relocation. It created misperceptions among the people about the safety of their sites. It encouraged Local Panchayats (village councils) and advocates to raise the rhetoric that their villages should be included in the relocation program.

As a matter of fact, relocation of 52 villages, which were completely destroyed in the earthquake, was a well-considered decision. Several factors worked behind the GOM's relocation strategy, which we explain here. The Latur earthquake came as a big shock to the villagers. It was shocking even for the seismologists and earthquake engineers in the country. The Marathwada region, which comprises Latur, Osmanabad and five other districts of southwest Maharashtra, is part of the Stable Continental Region (SCR), known for low seismic risk. According to the seismic hazard map prepared by the Bureau of Indian Standards, the region is in seismic zone I, the lowest risk zone.

High Level of Mortality: Despite the fact that it was an earthquake of moderate magnitude (6.3), the number of deaths was very high. In other earthquakes of comparable magnitude in India, Uttarkashi, 1999 (6.6), Jabalpur, 1997 (6.0) and Chamoli, 1999 (6.9), the number of deaths was much lower compared to Latur. Though the Latur earthquake affected a large geographical region, its worst impact was felt in a small area comprising about 52 villages in Latur and Osmanabad districts. About 8,000 people died in these villages. It was a severe trauma for the villagers. There were mass cremations and burials in these villages, which had a deep psychological impact on the people.

Sub-standard Old Construction: The inferior quality of construction and degradation in stone masonry construction practices were the reasons for the large-scale collapse of houses during the earthquake. Failure of stone masonry walls and collapse of earthen roofs supported by stone walls produced most of the fatalities (Momin, Nikolic-Brzev, and Bajoria, 1996). Consequently, the earthquake-affected people developed a strong distrust of the traditional building practices in the region. They preferred modern building technology for their new houses.

The GOM conducted a baseline survey of the most affected 67 villages through the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a social work institution based in Mumbai, with a rural campus in Osmanabad district. The survey brought out the community's overwhelming preference for relocation. The communities also considered relocation as an opportunity to get "well-planned and neatly laid out new villages at new sites" (GOM, 1993).

There were other reasons that also supported the case of relocation. First, all these 52 villages had been reduced to rubble, and it would have been very difficult to remove the debris and rebuild on the old site. Second, since most of the families in these most affected villages had lost their kin, they were in a state of shock and, therefore, not in a position to undertake construction immediately with their own efforts, and it was the GOM's responsibility to construct houses in these villages. It thus became a mass housing construction program to be driven by the government. Such a government-driven program necessitated construction of standardized houses that would not have been possible on the old foundations of irregular size. Third, an expanded layout of the village was required to accommodate the increase in size of households in every village. Fourth, all these villages were proposed to relocate to the most proximate site, only a few kilometers away, which would not cause social or cultural dislocation. Therefore, the GOM considered relocation as the most feasible alternative in respect of these 52 villages. Due to the reasons above, it met the villagers' demand and facilitated rapid rehabilitation of the villages.

In a democracy, the government must respond to the dictates of the situation. In the wake of such a devastating earthquake, if the GOM agreed to reconstruct new houses on new sites for the most affected villages in accordance with their preference, what was the "wrong signal" being sent? If the GOM had opposed relocation and insisted upon in-situ reconstruction for all these villages, would that have sent a right signal? If the people affected by an immense tragedy decided to have a new setting for their village, should we call it a misperception? Is relocation being dubbed a "wrong signal" or "misperception" simply because relocation is construed to be politically incorrect, and there is an inconsistency between 'our' perceptions and 'theirs'! When a local Panchayat (Village Council) asks for relocation, supported by a plenary village meeting, is it not a representative demand through a legitimate democratic process? Can this be called raising the "rhetoric of relocation"! These arguments presume that we will set the standards that they must conform to, or else they are engaging in rhetoric, or worse, they have a cognitive problem.

It is important to make a distinction between relocation in the case of big industrial complex and dams and the present case. Relocation has justifiably been criticized in the case of large industrial projects and dams, where people have been resettled in distant places almost forcibly, disconnected from their landscape and sources of livelihood. The people in those relocated places became dispossessed and marginalized. However, the MEERP presents a very different case. First, the villages themselves opted for it. Second, the new site for relocation was decided in consultation with the villagers. Finally, these villages were relocated, just one to five kilometers away from their original location. So the villagers continued to live in the same area, retain their community ties and maintain their sources of livelihoods.

Urbanization and Social Alienation of New Settlements

Jigyasu and Salazar argue that the spatial plans for the relocated villages were totally incompatible with the villagers' way of life. The house designs were very urban with no link with their traditional life-style. The 'city-like' villages have eliminated extended family and community ties through removal of vernacular house layout and spatial patterns. It also led to the marginalization of local artisans and local building skills. It completely destroyed the traditional social system based on 'neighborhood units' and dependencies that ensured mutual sustainability. It did not meet specific needs of many occupational groups in the village.

A brief perspective on the social and historical context of Marathwada will be helpful in explaining the layout and design of houses in these relocated villages. It is now well understood that the spatial patterns and architectural features of housing are reflection of social order and cultural practices. It is also influenced by the levels of income in the region, availability of local building materials and skills, and climatic factors.

Predominant Feudal Character of the Human Settlements: The Marathwada region comprises the districts of Aurangabad, Beed, Parbhani, Jalana, Latur and Osmanabad. The region was integrated into the state of Maharashtra in 1956. Earlier, Marathwada was part of the Hyderabad state, ruled by the Nizams, the princely rulers. The Nizam's rule was notorious for exploitation and tyranny, establishing a regressive feudal order in the region. The social reform movement that influenced Western Maharashtra in the 19th and early 20th centuries escaped Marathwada completely. The region is characterized by lower rate of literacy and economic development, higher level of poverty, and regressive social attitude towards women and depressed classes (Dalits). The latter was evident during the riots in Marathwada in the wake of a strong movement for the renaming of Marathwada University after Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, which took serious anti-Dalit overtones. Patriarchy is still very strong in the region. After the earthquake, most of the men who lost their wives got remarried to young women, while the widows could not remarry. There still are instances of men taking more than one wife despite this being illegal. The GOM also recognizes the regional backwardness of Marathwada, and makes special allocations to this region for removing the development backlog.

The "traditional settlements and vernacular architecture" in these villages reflected the feudal social order in Marathwada. There were a number of Gadhis in many of these villages, which are fort-like structures built on elevated lands. These Gadhis belonged to the rulers for a cluster of villages. Then there were Wadas, which generally belonged to the Deshmukhs or Patils (from the upper caste Marathas), which also used very high plinths and thick walls, giving them a monumental appearance. The thicker the wall, the more impressive was the structure. Wadas thus conveyed the preeminent social status of the upper caste landlords. It has been difficult to maintain these Gadhis and Wadas, and most of them are in a state of disrepair.

A typical village in these districts has a medieval urban form: the so-called gaothans (village residential sections) are compact and densely built and they frequently feature monumental, arched gateways. The abutting stone masonry walls of houses delineate narrow, winding streets, rarely wider than 3 meters, just enough to allow for the passage of bullock carts. The majority of the houses are single story buildings consisting of several small rooms with small door openings and no window openings. The house fronts have very few openings for security reasons and for keeping the womenfolk out of view. The houses are thus inward-oriented (Nikolic-Brzev, et. al, 1999). There is little concept of hygiene and sanitation, as the kitchen and the place for keeping cattle would be in adjacent spaces inside the house. Houses did not have toilets or bathrooms. As families expanded, it led to improvised construction and creation of additional spaces. Extended families thus occupied crowded houses, with little privacy.

We may compare the spatial and architectural features of Marathwada with the other parts of Maharashtra, which were under the Ryotwari system during the British rule, and did not have a well-entrenched class of feudal overlords. In the Konkan division and Satara district, particularly, the villages have more equitous and uncluttered spatial patterns. The architecture, design and dimension of houses in most of these villages show much less disparity. Also, people do not keep cattle within their houses, and the level of hygiene and cleanliness is much better. So it is easier to appreciate that in Satara [5], when the people reconstructed after this earthquake , they maintained the traditional architectural features, which included use of timber frame and Mangalore tiles for roofing.

Preference for Modern Spatial Features: When the earthquake struck Latur and Osmanabad districts, it also dealt a blow to the feudal character of spatial and architectural features in the region. Destroyed villages symbolized the old way of life, which people realized was not sustainable. Except among the older males, there was little nostalgia for the old feudal order. Earthquake rehabilitation was a watershed event for the entire region: it represented the beginning of modernity for the people. Outsiders may not understand this yearning for 'modernity', but it is rooted in the people's historical experiences. People had strong aspirations for urban life and the accompanying civic amenities. This explains the public pressure for relocation and new planned resettlements in the entire region and a strong demand for modern houses. When the GOM commenced the program, it planned to construct 23,000 houses in 'A' category villages; it finally ended up constructing 28,000 houses due to the increased demand.

It is rather na´ve to suggest that the villagers carried a false "notion of modernity". The people in these villages were very aware and conscious of their rights, and they secured their entitlements with confidence. They had a sharp understanding of all the issues involving reconstruction. There was considerable debate among the villagers if there should be load bearing or reinforced concrete constructions, or if hollow concrete blocks or bricks should be used in these houses. The villagers were also shrewd at negotiating with the government and NGOs in respect of the built-up area of their houses and civic infrastructure. When the GOM suggested Shahabadi stone flooring for their houses, they agitated for cement flooring and secured it.

Some may call it "dependency syndrome", that the people looked up to the GOM, NGOs and donors for all kind of help and support. This is a mistaken view. The earthquake presented a situation, in which the people could get direct transfer of resources from the government and other sources, which in normal circumstances are not available. The villagers recognized the political compulsion of the situation and utilized it to their maximum benefit. What was very striking is that the people were well conversant with all the democratic processes that helped them to secure their entitlements. They used political representatives, courts, and even protest modes very effectively to get most of their demands met.

Preservation of Social Network and Reciprocity: Did the new construction destroy the traditional social system based on 'neighborhood units'? When the GOM planned to relocate the villages that were destroyed, it proposed that there would be no segregated compartments for different castes and communities. The NGOs also took the same view. However, this strategy simply did not work. The villagers insisted upon distinct geographical clusters for every community in the village. In many villages they even fought among themselves over areas to be occupied by different communities. Individual families of a large kinship chose to live close to each other. These villages demonstrated social solidarity in other ways too. On many occasions, even after the new village was completed, the entire village would decide not to move into these new houses until the some of their demands were met. Thus these villages carried their social organization as in the old gaothan (settlement) into the new village.

In many of these villages, the Lamans known for their nomadic lifestyle lived in separate settlements called Tandas, settled outside the village. The GOM proposed to include these Tandas in the new settlement. The Lamans refused to move and integrate with the new villages. Hence new houses were constructed for the Lamans in-situ. It against showed the how the communities stood together in taking their decision.

Many joint families who had married adult children became entitled to more than one house. Though it led to nuclear families, it has a positive side as well. Families got more living space and privacy. They still lived in the same area of the village. It was also expected that people would build further, improvise and adapt in the new surroundings. In all the villages, adjustment and adaptation has been a continuous process. People have erected tin sheds, expanded living spaces, constructed boundary walls, planted trees and made many other improvements. The social and community character of life in the village has sustained itself on the basis of organization and reciprocity that survived the process of adjusting and building a new life.

Boost for Local Artisans and Building Industry: Did it lead to marginalization of local artisans and local building skills? On the contrary, the reconstruction program created a huge demand for local artisans, which included masons and carpenters. Under the project, a large number of training programs for masons were organized. In the period from November 1995 to February 1997, approximately 4,000 traditional masons were trained in the Latur and Osmanabad districts. Most of these trained masons also participated in the Repair, Reconstruction and Strengthening (RRS) program. There was an obvious improvement in the quality of masonry construction in the villages where trained masons were doing construction (Nikolic-Brzev, et.al., 1999). These trained masons were in demand in the neighboring districts as well, which led to more training programs for masons. A large number of women masons were also trained and they actually participated in the program. Due to large-scale demand, the wage level of these artisans also went up. It also activated local brick kilns. Thus the local artisans and local industry got an unprecedented boost through this program.

Rise of New Economic Disparities

The program has been criticized for developing the criteria of house allocation on the basis of landholdings. The critics have argued that this criterion has created new 'economic disparities'.

While planning new settlements, the main consideration was the need of a predominantly agricultural community, which dominated the occupational categories and provided 73 percent of the households' total income (CSSS, 1999). The size of landholdings decides the magnitude of agricultural operations and the need for working space. The scheme of three different categories of house and plot size was laid out on this basis. It was decided to provide all households a core house and a minimum plot size to all the households free of cost. It constituted the 'A' category of houses. The cost of additional area and built space that was provided in the 'B' and 'C' category houses was to be recovered from the owners of these houses in installments. All the house owners signed an agreement with the GOM to pay this amount. However, it is likely that these households may agitate for the exemption of these payments. So though the rehabilitation policy intended to provide equal benefits to all the participants, it also recognized varying rehabilitation needs for different categories of cultivators.

While constructing different categories of houses in these new villages may not be an ideal arrangement, constructing identical core house for all the families irrespective of their actual needs was also not the best alternative. Devising these three categories was an attempt to strike a balance between standardization in mass construction and varying housing needs of the people.

Comparison of House Ownership by Income-groups between Old and New Villages: However, the issue of creating economic disparity in these relocated villages needs to be looked at more carefully. The following table is based on a census of the relocated villages conducted by the Centre of Studies in Social Sciences in 1999:

Table 1: Comparison of the Area of Houses Occupied by families in Old and New Villages

Sr. No Area Percent in old villages Percent in New Villages
1 Up to 250 sq. ft. 15.47 49.71
2 Up to 400 sq. ft.  18.20 43.06
3 401 sq. ft. or more 66.34 7.23

It clearly shows that the 92 percent of families are living in 250 and 400 square feet houses. Compared to the old villages, the majority of families are living in smaller houses. The difference between poor and better-off households has therefore decreased in the relocated villages. The census also gives information about the income profile of participating families (CSSS, 1999). According to the census, the landless households constituted 41 percent of the program beneficiaries, while 33 percent had landholding up to 2 hectares. About 70 percent of the families had an annual income of less than Rs. 25,000. It shows that the major part of the program benefits went to low-income families.

According to the census, almost 37 percent households reported that they were living in huts or tin sheds during the pre-earthquake period, but now they have pucca (engineered) constructed houses. In fact, 27 percent households who were staying in huts or tinsheds during the pre-earthquake period now occupy "B" and "C" type of houses with areas of 450 sq. ft. and 750 sq. ft. respectively. This clearly indicates improvements in the housing facilities for the weaker sections in the post-earthquake period (CSSS, 1999).

Lack of Consultation and Community Participation

Jigyasu states that the village plans were prepared by engineers in the local Town Planning office. Salazar makes a similar, but different, contention that the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) designed and detailed a set of construction documents within three weeks of the quake-a process that normally takes several months-and incorporated spatial relationships commonly found in suburban areas. The relocation plans were supposed to be prepared in consultation with the villagers. However, in practice, there was no consultation, rather there were just shown to the local Gram Sabha and sought their consent for the namesake.

The relocation villages was planned and constructed over a period of five years. Immediately after the earthquake, the GOM invited the donors and NGOs to participate in the relocation. While the GOM set up the project, developed the rehabilitation policy and negotiated with the World Bank, the donors and NGOs stepped in and began the construction of houses. In this initial stage, when the emphasis was on speedy construction and rehabilitation, the importance of community participation was not strongly recognized. The GOM soon intervened and insisted upon community participation as one of the most important process underlying the implementation.

The GOM started implementing the reconstruction program after June 1994, when the World Bank credit became effective. As part of its reconstruction program, it appointed six firms as engineering consultants for design, preparation of technical bids, construction and supervision. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was appointed as the community participation consultant for the relocation villages. Later the GOM also appointed Technical Audit and Quality Assurance consultants to monitor the quality of construction.

Setting up a Process of Community Participation: Community participation was introduced as a well-defined process in the project implementation. As the project progressed, community participation was widely accepted as an important mechanism for taking decisions related to the implementation: the preparation of the list of program beneficiaries; selection of sites and layouts of the new villages; finalization of the design of houses; and allocation of individual plots and houses. The certification of community participation consultants was essential before the bidding process for the construction commenced.

Community participation was a strongly contested process, and a consensus was always difficult to obtain. There were serious problems in finalizing the list of beneficiaries. A number of villages decided to relocate on more than one site. The layout of village changed many times before it could be firmed up. For instance, in one village, the village layout was changed as many as six times.

Role of Engineering Consultants: The engineering consultants appointed for the village prepared the layout and design of houses. There was no local town planning office involved in this exercise as stated in one of the papers. These consultants engaged the services of rural resettlement planners. The engineering consultants presented the village layout and design of houses in the village council in the presence of community participation consultants, and the village approved them. A number of such meetings were conducted in every village.

Once the actual construction began, the scope of community participation was smaller. A representative committee of the village supervised the construction. The relocation component did not have owner-driven construction, where the actual construction was undertaken and guided by all the participant families. In a mass construction program, the opportunity for community participation is thus characteristically limited to the planning decisions. One of the negative consequences of the contractor-managed construction was that the beneficiaries did not get practical experience of the earthquake-resistant technology. This was in sharp contrast to the repairs and strengthening program, where the owners themselves participated in the actual construction, and learnt to use earthquake-resistant technology.

The most significant outcome of the process of community participation was that the villagers became well informed about the component they participated in and the project implementation set-up. They could easily access the Taluka, district and state level administration, popularly referred as the PMU (Project Management Unit) to convey their demands and redress their grievances. A strong informal process of community participation soon supplanted the formal mechanisms. Community participation as an established process of decision-making thus emerged as one of the most important features of the MEERP.

Excessive Scale and Huge Infrastructure of Relocated Villages

An important criticism in both the papers is about the excessive scale and huge infrastructure of relocated villages. Some of the villages are many-fold larger in area than the old ones. It has led to the loss of agricultural lands. The infrastructure provided in these villages is far too extensive. According to Salazar, "rather than build as few roads and open sewers as possible, infrastructure (including piped water and electricity) has been provided throughout the new village sites". Jigyasu argues that "what was not thought of was the lack of financial resources with the village committee to maintain this huge infrastructure in the future".

Demographic Change and Need for Augmented Living Space: As mentioned earlier, most of the villages affected by the earthquake had a dense population. Villages were originally settled for a smaller population. The housing stock in these villages did not grow at a pace to accommodate the population growth. So the existing houses were improvised in all possible ways to squeeze in more people. The rehabilitation program gave an opportunity to improve the habitat and create more living space for all the families. The rehabilitation program was not based on the principle of replacing housing stock in the new village. Rather, it was the entitlement that formed the main basis of constructing shelter. For example, if the sons of a family head were grown-up, they were eligible for independent houses, though they lived in one house in the old village. The GOM provided a core house and a plot of minimum size, and expected all the families to construct more and utilize the surrounding space for their economic and social activities. It also took into account the possibilities of future expansion and provision of infrastructure. Thus though the spread of the new village stood in contrast with the old village, it was based on actual living needs of the people.

There were about 75 villages including the 'A' and 'B' categories, which were relocated. The land-man ratio in these two districts was good, and therefore land was not really a constraint. The GOM did not have to acquire much land through invoking relevant laws. Instead the landowners voluntarily transferred their land to the government for reconstruction.

When the families moved into new houses, the plots in the old village were surrendered to the government. Old village sites have become the property of the government. It is not clear on what evidence Jigyasu states that in one village, the people have started to move back and occupy the old site.

Poverty and Infrastructure: "Rather than build as few roads and open sewers as possible, infrastructure (including piped water and electricity) has been provided throughout the new village sites" (Salazar). In any discussion sensitive to the dignityand needs of the people, such a statement would be considered extremely offensive.
There is no conceivable reason for denying the required infrastructure in these villages. The reason that the village Panchayat would not be able to maintain these infrastructure is untenable. A number of civic and community infrastructure facilities have been taken over by the various line departments, and they will be maintained through their regular departmental budgets. Besides, there is growing devolution and transfer of financial resources to the Gram Panchayats through existing schemes, which can maintain internal roads and other facilities. It will also act as a stimulus to the people to work more productively and maintain their quality of life. If affordability works as the philosophy behind the provision of infrastructure, the rural areas would never get these in the first instance, and the resources would always be allocated for only urban infrastructure, thus exacerbating the existing urban-rural divide further.

Neglect of Expert Opinions

Salazar is particularly critical that the GOM and the World Bank did not heed the Government of India's Advisory Committee. It also did not support the PRA research by the Action Research Unit (TARU, New Delhi) who was commissioned by the central government's Building and Material Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC), New Delhi to collect primary information about local villages and their housing situation.

This is a good example of uncritical acceptance of convenient opinions. At a close look, there are many issues that have not been raised. For instance, it would have been better if the national committee could have a significant representation from the state of Maharashtra, to ascertain local conditions and popular preferences. The committee should have physically visited Latur and Osmanabad districts and interacted with the district officials and local NGOs. The committee should have organized public hearings in the earthquake-affected areas. How did these 'expert' members of the national committee finalize their recommendations in Delhi without interacting with the villagers or other stakeholders?

Similarly, when did an exercise carried out by the TARU for assessing earthquake damages become a participatory rural appraisal (PRA)? What was the role of the Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council (BMTPC), at whose behest the TARU conducted this exercise, in the earthquake rehabilitation? Did TARU have a long-term presence in the Latur and Osmanabad to record the people's opinion? Is technical feasibility the only consideration for developing the rehabilitation program? Contrary to the TARU, the TISS has recommended relocation of these villages. Which was a more correct reflection of people's wishes?

When we make arguments on the basis of our presumptions, these questions are obviously not answered, or even asked. The fact remained that the villagers were unwilling to live on the old site. They were completely against the use of stones in their walls. They wanted new and planned settlements. Relocation therefore emerged as the most feasible alternative.

Rehabilitation of 'B' Category Villages

Jigyasu reports shocking observations in respect of 'B' category villages. The in-situ reconstruction in these villages never took place. In fact, "all 15 villages which were supposed to be reconstructed got relocated".

Such an observation reflects a static view of the rehabilitation program. In the "B" category, there were 16 villages that were to be reconstructed in-situ. According to the rehabilitation policy, the GOM was to provide Rs. 62,000 each to all the households in these villages to reconstruct houses. The participants would organize the reconstruction themselves. However, all these villages demanded relocation. The GOM had not planned for their relocation, and had not made provision for community infrastructure such as roads and drainage since they already existed in these villages. However, these villages refused to construct on the old site. For almost two years, there was a stalemate. Finally, the GOM allowed the relocation on the condition that the government would not acquire land or pay for the new plots. The villagers pooled resources through the NGOs and their own sources to purchase land for a new village site, and the reconstruction finally commenced.

In about five villages in the 'B' category, the owners themselves took the responsibility for constructing their own houses. In the remaining villages, they asked the NGOs to help them with the construction. One of the main reasons the villagers wanted to construct through an external agency in 'A' and 'B' category villages was that they were apprehensive of the assistance money being spent on other pressing claims of the family. So they requested the GOM to pass their entitlements directly to the NGOs selected for their villages.

Demand for Re-categorization of Villages: In addition to these 16 villages, there were six other villages who demanded 'A' category assistance and relocation. These villages were not included in category 'A' on the basis of damage assessment. They went to courts, and there was protracted litigation for three years. The GOM opposed the re-categorization and relocation on the ground that these villages did not meet the criteria of damages and that it would open the floodgates for similar demands from other villages. There was a strong demand for re-survey of damages and re-categorization of villages in the region, and it was fiscally impossible to meet these demands. However, these six villages abandoned their old site and lived in temporary shelter for five years, which rendered their old houses completely uninhabitable. Finally, the GOM agreed to resettle them in terms of 'B' category entitlements.

There was a democratic process underlying the demand for new settlements, extending to the legislature and judiciary. It was followed by vigorous political dialogue and negotiation. If the GOM responded to the democratic process and showed flexibility in meeting these demands, it was the most legitimate course of decision-making. A rehabilitation program must have the flexibility to make mid-course corrections. What is so "shocking" about this change in the rehabilitation strategy for 'B' category villages? Such expressions arise from an ignorance of the dynamic context in which a rehabilitation program is implemented.

Repairs, Reconstruction and Strengthening in 'C' Category Villages

Jigyasu has extended his criticism to the 'C' category villages too, where repairs, strengthening and retrofitting were to take place. According to him, it has been the least priority category. There was little technical assistance forthcoming and these people were simply provided with some money and were expected to carry out these measures on their own. For each village two junior engineers were allocated by the government to provide technical assistance…Poor villagers who had suffered great trauma were too scared to risk their lives in any way and thus submitted to the 'expert' views of these engineers. These engineers also played an important role in strengthening the perception of local people against he use of stones and wood….As a result, slowly most of these villages were vacated and people demolished their own houses and sold out well-dressed stone blocks and wooden beams and columns at petty prices. Instead they started settling down just outside the old village and used the money allocated by the government to construct new houses…

Here, the correct picture regarding the Repairs, Reconstruction and Strengthening (RRS) program needs to be brought out. Though the relocation was the most visible component due to the circumstances of the total destruction of those 70 villages, it was comparatively a smaller component of the MEERP. The largest component was the RRS component, which covered about 200,000 participants in more than 2,000 villages spread over 13 districts of the state. Under this category, the GOM provided two different packages of financial assistance: Rs. 17,000 for those houses which suffered damages of category I, II and III as defined by the International Association of Earthquake Engineering, and Rs. 34,500 for those which suffered damages of category IV and V.

Preparations for RRS Program: The GOM had to do considerable spadework before the RRS component could be launched. It prepared the Guidelines for Repair, Strengthening and Reconstruction of Houses Damaged in the September 30, 1993 Earthquake in Maharashtra, India (GOM, 1994B), which provided recommended technologies for the RRS program. The GOM took several steps for its implementation, which included appointing 700 junior engineers, setting up material depots in the entire region, procuring construction material through international competitive bidding, setting up bank accounts for about 200,000 program beneficiaries, setting up procedures for payment of installments, and issuing coupons for release of construction materials. The Government appointed SPARC as the community participation consultants specifically for this component. It also appointed communications facilitators (Samvad Sahayak), generally a woman, at the village level to provide all the information related to the RRS component.

In June 1994, the Directorate of Vocational Education and Training, with the support of the MEERP, launched training programs for unskilled labor in the earthquake-affected areas. The existing network of 32 vocational training centers in the most affected districts was used for this purpose. The training lasted two months and covered four trades: masonry, carpentry, electric works, and welding. From 1994 to May 1995 over 6,800 individuals were trained under this program (Nikolic-Brzev et. al, 1999).

It was planned to be an owner-driven program. The participants were to undertake the repairs and reconstruction on their own, which made it predominantly a community-managed construction process. The beneficiaries, individually and collectively, made most of the decisions. An important strategy was to mobilize women, who played a very active role in facilitating this program. More than one million people participated in this program, which took the dimension of a housing movement. The RRS was a hugely complex and the most challenging program, and Jigyasu's statement that GOM considered it the least priority program reflects ignorance of the facts.

Building Materials and Technology: At the beginning of the RRS program, the GOM favored repairs and strengthening of houses, as they were not much damaged. However, this approach did not find acceptance among the beneficiaries. The beneficiaries looked upon this assistance as an opportunity for adding to their living space and improving their houses. Stones used in their old houses continued to be a source of fear, and they wanted to shift to burnt bricks. In 1996, the GOM provided them the alternative of partially reconstructing their houses on the existing plinth and even relocating their houses.

This is when the RRS program came into conflict with the strategy advocated by the ASAG, an NGO that has been specially mentioned in both papers. ASAG favored retrofitting and strengthening of old houses using local materials. Though this option still remained, what ASAG opposed was the alternative of reconstruction offered to the people. The GOM issued a special order releasing the entire payment to ASAG in advance for the retrofitting and strengthening. However, it did not help ASAG in expanding its program beyond two villages.

Overwhelming Preference for Reconstruction: From the inception of the RRS program, it was apparent that retrofitting and strengthening was not a preferred technology package for the beneficiaries. According to the Quality Assurance and Technical Audit consultants, only 0.1 percent of the beneficiaries decided to repair and strengthen their houses (for a detailed discussion of alternative building technologies and materials in RRS program, see Nikoli-Brzev, et.al, 1999, GOM, 1998). There were a number of reasons why the beneficiaries opted for reconstruction. First, at the time of the earthquake, many houses in the affected villages were in a deteriorated condition due to aging, adverse weather conditions, and lack of maintenance. Second, there were cost considerations to retrofitting houses using stone masonry. Stones had to be cut and shaped, and the stone masonry used a higher volume of cement because of the larger spaces between stones. Third, before the 1993 earthquake, a large majority of low-income beneficiaries owned hut-like ("kutcha") houses, for which strengthening was not a feasible rehabilitation option in any case. Fourth, a large number of houses were originally constructed to shelter smaller families. As the size of families increased, the need for more built-up house area was most pressing, which could have been realized only through reconstruction. Finally, in those villages that were closer to the relocation villages and where the villagers had experienced more extensive damages, strengthening was an unacceptable option. In these villages, reconstruction was the preferred option. Though it can also be said that strengthening was more complex and time-consuming compared to reconstruction, which was easier for the project engineers, it is the owners who exercised their choice of technology and materials on the basis of these considerations (Nikolic-Brzev, et.al. 1999).

In most cases, the beneficiaries used stones for the construction of strip foundations up to the plinth level. In many cases, the beneficiaries decided to use stone masonry up to the sill level, and then burnt clay brick masonry for the upper wall portion. A brick masonry house was something most of the households aspired to construct but had never been able to afford. Brick masonry construction in cement mortar is known as "pukka" construction and is found mostly in townships. Prior to the earthquake, pucca houses were generally owned by the wealthier households of the village. For the beneficiaries, the program offered a unique opportunity to develop and construct "dream" houses (Nikolic-Brzev, et.al. 1999). Most of the beneficiaries contributed their own savings to what was provided by the GOM to realize their dream. It took place on a scale large enough to substantially renew the housing stock in the entire area.

Material and Social Change through the MEERP: The MEERP was implemented in a region where civil society has been in a state of transition from feudalism to modernity. The program, which brought in a great deal of investment and regenerated the local economy, acted as a catalyst. The shift can be seen through the overall increase in the holding of assets at the household level. The household survey conducted by the CSSS (1999) shows that excepting cattle and land under cultivation, the percentage change in the number of assets is markedly positive in the post-earthquake period. Ownership of both traditional and modern agricultural implements has shown significant increase. The only exceptions are ownership of the number of bullock carts and diesel pump sets. They are now being substituted by tractors and electric motors. The number of open dug wells in the villages has decreased slightly but at the same time the number of borewells has shown a considerable increase. All household appliances and vehicles have increased in number in the post-earthquake period.

Changing Status of Women: A transition could also be seen in the changing status of women as equal partners. In the relocation category, all the new houses came to be jointly owned by the husband and wife in the family. All the widowed women in these villages received houses. More than 1000 day care centers were constructed under the program. In all relocation villages, women's centers were constructed. Resource centers were set up to train women in different skills. Samvad Sahyaks appointed in the RRS villages were mostly women. There were about 60 women junior engineers among the team that supervised the RRS program. More than 400 women's self-help groups were formed, and a village development fund with a corpus money was set up to support these self-help groups.

Changes in the built environment are consistent with these stirrings of modernity. Besides, the people supported it. The survey conducted by the CSSS brings out the positive response of the people in favor of each housing category. The quality of implementation and the level of satisfaction may vary across these categories, and this could help us analyze the outcome of the program better. For example, 77 percent of the respondents in 'A' category are of the opinion that the new layout plan of the village is better than that of the old village and 80 percent of the people feel that these houses are safer. In 'B' category villages, 78 percent of the respondents are satisfied with the construction undertaken by the NGOs, while in 'C' category, 95 percent report overall satisfaction about the construction / repair of their houses. Clearly, the owner-driven construction is the most successful category, compared to the government- and NGO-driven category.

Lessons for the Gujarat Earthquake Rehabilitation Program

A number of lessons emerge from the implementation of the MEERP, which are relevant for the Bhuj earthquake rehabilitation program in Gujarat (For a more detailed discussion, see Vatsa, 2001). First, the people should make the choice of a rehabilitation strategy in terms of relocation or in-situ reconstruction. In Kutch, the three worst affected towns- Bhuj, Rapar, and Bhachau--opted for in-situ reconstruction, while the fourth town, Anjar asked to be relocated. Second, relocation and in-situ reconstruction are not exclusive categories. Rather, they should be looked as a continuum of rehabilitation strategy. Towns and cities need to be decongested, and a certain amount of relocation is inevitable, while in many places in-situ reconstruction will be the most appropriate strategy.

Third, the rehabilitation policy should aim at improving the human habitat. When an investment is planned on a very significant scale, just rebuilding will not achieve the objective. A certain amount of urban and rural resettlement planning will be required. Planning may have several objectives: all the towns and villages in Kutch have been settled a long time back for a much smaller population. In the intervening years, the population has grown in most of these settlements, which would require more built-up area. In such a case, it will be necessary to have an extended layout of the village or town for more houses. Further, there should be enough area available for social and community infrastructure, and all the segments of the population must be able to access these facilities.

Fourth, are the poor and marginal sections of the society getting a fair deal in the rehabilitation? They generally live in the most unfavorable parts of the village or towns in weak or unsafe structures. Rehabilitation must come as an opportunity to build assets for them so that they could lead a more egalitarian life.

Finally, a number of designs and technical recommendations could be prescribed for substructure, superstructure, roofs, walls, and openings. Choices could be made among prefabricated, modular, and regular structures. Similarly, there could be a number of options for building materials-RCC, stone masonry, brick masonry, and adobe. While expert opinion will help the community in making an informed choice, the final decision must rest with the community.

"Cultural Disaster"

The academic discourse today is dominated by perspectives and ideological biases, which are ostensibly sensitive to developing countries. However, they make a number of assumptions about culture, custom, social order, education, and appropriate development models, often rooted in static conceptions of developing societies.

In reality, when people interact with the economic and social changes, they redefine their notions of well-being. These involve improving their quality of life and expanding opportunities for education and livelihood. It is a more subtle adjustment, a change with continuity, which can be appreciated only through a close involvement with communities. Unfortunately, a great deal is published on the basis of perfunctory visits and casual impressions, of which these two papers discussed here are good examples. These writings are based on presumptions that do not connect with the people's aspirations. It is not a coincidence that the critique inspired by ASAG and similar organizations are conducted only in the remote confines of academia. In Latur and Osmanabad, there are no takers for such a glib characterization as "cultural disaster".


Center of Studies in Social Sciences (CSSS). 1999. Survey of Rehabilitated Households affected by Killari Earthquake (Latur and Osmanabad Districts), Vol. I & II. Pune. India.

GOM. 1993. Proposal for Maharashtra Earthquake Rehabilitation Programme. Government of Maharashtra. Earthquake Rehabilitation Cell, Revenue and Forests Deparment, Mantralaya, Mumbai.

GOM. 1994a. Earthquake Rehabilitation Policy of the Government of Maharashtra. Government of Maharashtra, Mantralaya, Mumbai, India.

GOM, 1994b. Guidelines for Repair, Strengthening and Reconstruction of Houses Damaged in the September 30, 1993 Earthquake in Maharashtra, India, for Marathwada and Solapur District. Project Management Unit, MEERP, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai.

GOM. 1998. Earthquake-Resistant Construction and Seismic Strengthening of Non-Engineered Buildings in Rural Areas of Maharashtra- Manual. Project Management Unit, MEERP, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai.

Jigyasu, R. 2001. "From 'Natural' to 'Cultural' Disaster, Consequences of Post-earthquake Rehabilitation Process on Cultural Heritage in Marathwada Region, India", presented in the International Conference on the Seismic Performance of Traditional Buildings, Istanbul. Available on http://www.radixonline.org/resources/jigyasu.doc.

Momin, S.S., S. Nikolic-Brzev, and K.M. Bajoria. 1996. "Seismic Retrofitting of Stone Masonry Buildings Damaged in the September 1993 Earthquake in India,'' Proceedings of the Eleventh World Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Acapulco, Mexico. Paper No. 1389.

Nikolic-Brzev, S., M. Greene, F. Krimgold, and L. Seeber. 1999. Lessons Learned Over Time, Innovative Earthquake Recovery in India. Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Oakland, USA.

Salazar, A.1998. "Disasters, the World Bank and Participation, Relocation Housing after the 1993 Earthquake in Maharashtra, India". Available on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GUJARATDEVELOPMENT/message/64.

Vatsa, K. S. 2001. The Bhuj Earthquake 2001, Identification of Priority Issues. World Institute for Disaster Risk Management, Alexandria, USA. Available on http://www.drmonline.net/drmlibrary/gujarat.htm.

Web Site: http://www.maharashtra.gov.in/english/meerp/profile.htm


1. Krishna S. Vatsa worked in the Maharashtra Emergency Earthquake Rehabilitation Program from 1995 to

2. Rohit Jigyasu (2001), "From 'Natural' to 'Cultural' Disaster , Consequences of Post-earthquake Rehabilitation Process on Cultural Heritage in Marathwada Region, India", presented in International Conference on the Seismic Performance of Traditional Buildings, Istanbul. Available on

3. Salazar, Alex (1998), "Disasters, the World Bank and Participation, Relocation Housing after the 1993 Earthquake in Maharashtra, India". The paper was originally published in Third World Planning Review, Feb. 1999. Available on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GUJARATDEVELOPMENT/message/64.

4. The number of deaths as the basis for categorization of villages was mentioned in the first proposal prepared by the GOM. However, the GOM immediately removed it as a criterion in the revised proposal.

5. Satara is a highly earthquake-prone district, having experienced more than 100,000 seismic tremors since 1960. Despite its distance from the epicenter of the 1993 earthquake, the district suffered considerable damages.

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