After the January 26, 2001, earthquake razed most of Bhuj, what emerged from the rubble was a model city with new buildings no more than a storey tall, a network of wide roads, and a mesh of seismographs spread across the district. As Nepal faces its biggest challenge — rebuilding after the April 25 quake — it could look at Bhuj for solutions.
The earthquake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, destroyed over 12 lakh houses across Gujarat, but the worst hit was Bhuj, 60 km from the epicentre at Bhachau.
Some of its landmark buildings, like the nine-storey Sahajanand Towers, came crashing down. Over 38,000 homes collapsed in the city, killing 2,370 people.
But Bhuj — which sits on one of four major active faults in the district — has learnt its lesson, albeit the hard way.
“We are now very strict. We do not permit any new commercial or residential structure taller than 7.5 m (1 storey) and not earthquake-resistant as per the Development Control Regulations,” said D C Joshi, CEO of the Bhuj Area Development Authority (BHADA) that was formed to help reconstruct the city, and is the nodal agency for clearing new construction.
“Over 70,000 new buildings — both residential and commercial — have come up in Kutch since the 2001 quake. All of them have been built keeping future earthquakes in mind,” said Prashant Anjaria, a senior BHADA official.
Bhuj has continued to grow after the quake. The town is spread over 56 sq km today, almost four times its size in 2001. The 7.5-metre norm has ensured it has spread horizontally. The only multi-storey structures in the city are the 70-odd buildings that survived the quake. Plus, one exception: the three-storey G K General Hospital.
The Rs 100-crore hospital, which was completely rebuilt with help from the PMO, is a model earthquake-resistant structure. “We used base-isolation technology, where lead-rubber bearings are used to isolate and protect structures during earthquakes. These bearings act as shock absorbers. Such structures are built to withstand a quake of 8.5-9 magnitude,” said seismology and palaeoseismology expert M G Thakkar of KSKV Kutch University.
The technology used for the hospital was, however, difficult to replicate in residential and commercial structures because that would have pushed up building costs at least four times, said experts.
Bhuj also has a network of wide, accessible roads today. “In 2001, city roads were hardly 2.5 m wide, which made rescue and relief a nightmare,” said Anjaria. “Today, any new locality needs to have main roads that are at least 9 m wide, and internal roads that are 7-7.5 m wide.”
Despite the structured and planned development though, Kutch — and Bhuj — remained vulnerable, said B K Rastogi, director of the state-run Institute of Seismological Research in Gandhinagar.
“Earthquakes in Kutch can be very big… Every year, Kutch sees over 1,500 tremors that measure between 0.5 and 5 on the Richter scale. Four major faults in the district have become active since 2006. They are located in populated regions. We need buildings that can withstand a 7.0 quake,” said Rastogi, who has laid a network of over 25 seismographs in the district to study seismic activity.
Not everyone is happy about the new norms. After the quake, Kutch, which got a five-year tax holiday to help rebuild its industry, saw about 1,400 units investing
Rs 1,00,000 crore in the district, but they are now lobbying to get the height restriction removed. “We held a meeting with Chief Minister Anandiben Patel in February this year, asking her to relax the norms, while ensuring that all taller construction is earthquake-resistant,” said Nimish Phadke, MD of FOKIA (Federation of Kutch Industries Association), an umbrella organisation of large, medium and small industries in the district.