With rich cultural historic background, the city of Bhuj is located in the western state of Gujarat in the Kutch district. In close proximity to the Rann of Kutch (salt marshes), Bhuj has a borderline hot desert climate along with being a major tourist destination. Along with home to many beautiful arts and crafts of the Kutch region, the city happens to lies on one of the four active faults in the district. In 2001, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake measuring on the Richter Scale struck Bhuj and its adjoining areas with epicentre at Bhachau Taluka about 20 km away from the city. 8000 villages along with the Bhuj city were absolutely devastated and millions were homeless in the aftermath of the disaster.
In the pre-disaster period, Bhuj existed as a walled city with a dense urban fabric like any other old fortified cities in India. However, the unplanned and organic development was highly undesirable as the intense labyrinth of streets possessed complex intersections, cul-de-sacs and bottlenecks which caused colossal damage to human resources. They quickly turned into death traps in the wake of the disaster. The entire urban morphology of the city made it vulnerable due to lack of accessibility for immediate evacuation or relief operations. Moreover, important disaster management institutions for exercising response strategies were absent despite the long history of earthquakes in the region.
Redevelopment for the city became quite a challenge and was seen as a long tedious journey of decades. However, after 20 years Bhuj stands much stronger than it ever was, with an unprecedented rehabilitation and reconstruction program.
Redevelopment and Renewal of Bhuj
The earthquake killed over 20,000 people, injuring 1,66,000, destroying nearly 4,00,000 homes resulting in multitudes of homeless people looking for rehabilitation. The first and foremost step by the government authorities was to realize relocation sites and initiate a massive rehabilitation program. By September 2001, seven relocation sites were proposed on government land around Bhuj.
In the post-disaster Bhuj, Bhuj Area Development Authority (BHADA) was constituted to implement Town Planning proposals and ensure adherence to maintain safety regulations due to the risk of future disasters. The authorities then initiated the reconstruction of the city which was one of the biggest urban renewal programmes ever undertaken by the government.
After much assessment of earthquake risks in different parts of the city, a Development Plan was proposed to oversee a comprehensive and integrated development all over the city. The major concerns were – Land, Road Network, Physical and Social Infrastructure, water bodies and environment, heritage conservation, and Informal sector redevelopment.
The city witnessed an expansion of around four times due to building construction regulations which restricted building heights to only two floors. Before the earthquake, about a quarter of the population lived in the old city, approximately 35,000 people in only one square km. This decentralized the large amount of population which was habitual of living in congested squatters of the old city. Another aspect of the development plan proposed an extensive road network and revived the ancient water management system which was deteriorated overtime
The most crucial of all task was to commence redevelopment in the dense urban morphology of the walled city. However, a vast part of the area was destroyed by the disaster and this presented enormous opportunities for renewal. The Town Planning Scheme devised a two-step strategy. Firstly, a set of new wide loop roads were conceptualized amidst the existing fabric utilizing the already present open spaces and connected the market areas along with the walled city. While it gave access to the entire walled city, the market streets were converted into pedestrians only zones. Secondly, the densely populated fortified expanse underwent land readjustment. Plot Layout was reorganised at the neighbourhood level where the buildings collapsed. This gave away spaces for wider streets and created safer built forms.
Another aspect of the reconstruction process was heritage conservation, which lead to the restoration of a lot of heritage structures such as the three Walled City Gates, Alfred high School, renovation of the old Sharaf Bazaar and many more all over the city.
After two decades, Bhuj now stands proudly and faces boundless economic and infrastructure growth as it learned its lesson the hard way. The city has overgrown from the wounds of the past as it literally rose from the rubble of destruction. It is the epitome of optimism and inspires the distressed in every part of the world.
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