Gujurat earthquake – No ‘natural’ disaster

IN THE worst ever earthquake that India has seen in the last two centuries, Ahemadabad, Bhuj, Bhachau and the entire Kutch district have been devastated.

Ten days after the disaster the most conservative estimate puts the body count at 100,000. The final toll will be at least four times that number as the day of the earthquake was a holiday and people mostly remained home.

“The more we tried to run, the more we stayed in the same place. There was a sound like a screaming train, and then, the silence”, said Syed Husain Miya of Bhachau village, who lost his entire family. Ironically, his village Bhachau means “save us” in Hindi.

Gujarat, which was India’s second most developed state, has been reduced to ruins. It had a growth rate of 10% a year throughout the 1990s, and industrial growth 22% a year. 11% of India’s GDP (national wealth) came from Gujarat.

Ahemadabad, which is one of the most affluent cities in India, had seen rapid urbanisation and a real estate boom in the 1990s. The concentration of buildings in prime areas had sky rocketed the land value of some of the suburbs.

“An earthquake itself never kills people. It’s the badly constructed buildings that do”, says V Suresh, chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO). Proving his point, are the 30,000 Gujarat Housing Board flats which were designed and built by HUDCO, still standing, with very little damage.

Almost all the high-rise buildings and skyscrapers built by flouting the building bylaws and architectural specifications have been reduced to rubble.

The clique of ‘land mafia’, corrupt politicians and the government bureaucracy are the real culprits behind this ‘natural disaster’.

Two ministers of the Gujarat’s right-wing BJP government, Vajubhai Wala and Narottham Patel are also leading property developers.

Earthquake zone

The Gujarat earthquake came as no surprise. The Rann of Kutch has been marked as an extremely high risk earthquake zone since the first seismic hazard surveys in 1935.

Earthquake-resisting designs have been known to structural engineers since the 1960s, and the National Building Code of 1983 clearly identifies structural designs in terms of earthquakes and cyclones. But the profit-driven, corrupt capitalist system makes the innumerable laws and statutes ineffective.

The district of Kutch in Gujarat is cursed in one more way. The underground water tables are shifting and disappearing very fast, (according to one independent survey, by 2020 the entire Kutch region would become a desert). Many fingers point towards the secret and many not-so-secret nuclear bomb tests that were carried out in the neighbouring Pokhran village of Rajasthan.

For the capitalist government the calamity of Gujarat has come as a blessing in disguise. Already facing a huge fiscal deficit, the prime minister has warned that people will have to be ready for harsher times. It is certain that direct and indirect taxes will soar when the budget is announced later this month.

The Gujarat earthquake shows that capitalism is too corrupt and incompetent to save the lives of the people. In fact, it breeds destruction through its greed for quick and more profits.

Make the builder-land mafia pay. Seize their ill-gotten wealth and assets.

No new taxes: tax the rich. Public ownership and control of land and building.

Put massive investment in affordable, safe and modern government housing.

Re-house the migrant labourers, who were living in appalling conditions even before the disaster.

End the corrupt capitalist system.

Jagadish G Chandra, New Socialist Alternative, CWI – India.