Gujarat's astonishing rise from rubble of 2001 quake

By Emily Buchanan and Bhasker Solanki
BBC News, Kutch

Image caption, Some 20,000 people died in the quake that struck Gujarat in January 2001

Ten years on from the huge earthquake that razed swathes of India's western state of Gujarat, the BBC finds the place transformed from a pile of rubble in a neglected backwater into an economic powerhouse. How?

Kutch is a remote region in the arid borderlands of north-west India. For centuries life was brutally tough - rains often failed, there were few jobs and the enterprising would emigrate.

Then in January 2001 a magnitude seven earthquake struck, devastating a huge area, flattening cities including the district capital, Bhuj, and wrecking over 8,000 villages. Twenty thousand people were killed and more than a million others made homeless.

Those who witnessed the devastation at the time must have thought this would set back development by decades.

There was an outpouring of sympathy from around the world, much of it from Gujaratis living abroad. Some $130m (£80m) of aid poured in.

The Indian government was spurred into focusing on this much-ignored region in a way it had never done before.

The army was sent in to help with the emergency and $2bn of reconstruction money was allocated to the region.

Contrary to what many feared, aid and government grants were put to good use. In the first two years after the quake, nearly all the damaged villages were rebuilt.

Mithapashvaria, near Bhuj, is a small village that was completely destroyed. It was re-built with donations from the UK.

Families showed us the ruins of their old dark two-room house, and then took us to the new village.

Houses there were light and airy, with four rooms, running water and a toilet.

The village also had a medical centre, a temple and communal areas it hadn't enjoyed before.

Navin Prasad, of Sewa International, a non-governmental organisation, said that in village after village the reconstruction had produced a leap forward in development.

"We have taken people out of the Middle Ages and into the modern world," he said.

This progress was repeated all over Kutch, and it is most noticeable in Bhuj.

After the earthquake it was a sea of rubble.

Radical plans

Shocked and traumatised, residents fled, with many living in temporary accommodation for months.

It took several years to implement plans for a completely new city.

Houses had to be destroyed to make way for wider roads.

Ten years on Bhuj has been reborn.

It has two new ring-roads, an airport, parks and thriving shops.

Pradeep Sharma was the government official widely credited at the time with pushing through the radical plans.

"What you see is a new Bhuj," he says. "We have widened the roads, laid down water supply systems and underground drainage systems."

Media caption, The BBC's Emily Buchanan explains how this street in Bhuj was cleverly widened after the quake

The success of the reconstruction effort could never have been sustained without economic recovery.

This was triggered by the Indian government creating new tax-free zones, which sparked a boom in private investment.

It is thought $10bn has come into the region, with £7bn more to come.

Business boom

Some 300 companies have established their businesses in Kutch and many more are queuing up to follow suit.

Mundra is a microcosm of the scale of development.

It was a small fishing port in the middle of a salt marsh before the earthquake.

Now it's an industrial hub, handling hundreds of tonnes of goods every day.

Image caption, Once a tiny fishing outpost, Mundra's port is expected soon to be bigger than the one at Mumbai

The Adani group which owns the port is now worth $7bn.

They've also bought a coal mine in Australia and container ships to bring the coal back to India to feed the country's biggest power station.

Mundra is expected soon to be bigger than the port at Mumbai.

They are drawing on the ample supply of land and cheap labour.

In nearby villages, the only work used to be in traditional crafts.

Now there are thousands of new jobs and Adani is taking over the work of aid agencies.

Sushma Oza is a former aid worker who now heads the Adani Foundation.

Jobs revolution

"Our own budget for social development in this region is $6m a year, so you can imagine how we are trying to change the lives of people to live in better way," she says.

Image caption, Gujurat is now home to a gleaming new power station, India's biggest

Near Anjar, a city that was devastated by the earthquake, the biggest towel factory in the world was set up by Welspun in just nine months.

Its vast mechanised looms weave 250,000 towels a day.

It has taken over the British company, Christy's, the official towel-maker of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship.

The chairman of Welspun, Balkrishan Goenka, says good local governance was key in choosing Kutch.

"There were no local taxes for the first five years and no excise duties. Nor were there indirect taxes to government - they were exempted for five years," he says.

"Those were the primary benefits. More than that there was huge support from the local government so industry can come faster."

Beside the towel factory, the jaws of the Welspun steel plant's furnace spit out great slabs of metal.

Since the earthquake, over 110,000 new jobs have been created in Kutch, and there are thought to be hundred of thousands more on the way.

With two years of good rainfall and with the 400-km (250-mile) water pipeline from the Narmada River, the population is now increasing as the job opportunities increase.

The region is now a cornerstone of the Indian economy, a fact almost unthinkable 10 years ago.

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