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Pink houses dazzle in quake village

Adhoi (Bhuj), July 4: The boardroom looks plush. The huge oblong table has rows of blue executive chairs lined up on both sides. A cluster of overhead lamps glows — blue, orange and green — on either end of the table.

The only thing incongruous is that this is a gram panchayat.

The devastation over, earthquake-hit Bhuj is now at the receiving end of bounty. First the Narmada, which changed its course and wandered into the district during the quake, brought much-needed water into parts of the dry, arid district. The Asian Development Bank has sanctioned Rs 4,000 crore for the project.

And now, the landscape of Bhuj is changing.

It is yet to rise fully from its ruins. Houses lie flattened along the highway, in the state they were at the time of the quake. But interior Bhuj has become swank, with “model villages” dotting the countryside, thanks to the generosity of corporates, rich sons of the soil and neighbouring governments.

One model village is at Adhoi, built by the Maharashtra government. The state may be bankrupt — it posted a fiscal deficit of Rs 9,000 crore this year — but the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, into which money was poured in by rich Gujaratis, has spent Rs 79 crore to build the new village and a smaller one at Vondh and on relief work.

But Adhoi is hardly a village — it’s a spanking little town, with amenities many a suburb doesn’t have. It’s a 285-acre settlement of 2,000 cheerful-looking homes — two-room concrete houses of 510 square feet each, painted a bright shade of pink, with separate toilets for each house. Sintex tanks standing atop the houses supply the water. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Adhoi was an affluent village, many of Mumbai’s leading businessmen having their roots there, but the new village is state-of-the-art.

There’s the gram panchayat with the boardroom, a school with sound boxes in its rooms and a hospital with an ICU. There are provisions for a library, a balwadi, two small community halls, a large one and a mahila kendra. “We may even build a swimming pool,” says Vinayakrao Patil of NGO Unique Service Trust, the man behind the rehabilitation project, and adds he is not joking.

The hospital has 30 beds, including a 10-bed ICU. The entrance is protected by Lord Ganesha, enshrined in a plastic miniature temple.

There’s an OT, a room for delivery, and the 10 beds of the maternity ward have cradles attached to them. The only thing to be decided is who will run the hospital — doctors from the Gujarat government service or private practitioners.

The school is cosier. It’s a primary school, with classes till standard VII, but it would give many high-end city schools competition. Apart from well-furnished classrooms, there’s a recreation room for the students and a children’s room, though in both there is a preponderance of cutesy posters. As the old Rafi number “Yeh Bharat Desh Hai Mera” pours out from the hall, the corridors and the classrooms, one wonders what so many baby-love posters are doing in the nursery and concludes that they have created the atmosphere.

There’s a garden in the village with a memorial in honour of the 346 people who died. Its floor is woven with Korean grass.

Old Adhoi, a prosperous village with many two-storey and three-storey houses where 3,000 families lived, lies stretched like a heap of rubble just half-a-kilometre away. Villagers are frightened to return to their homes — they think their houses are haunted by the dead. They stay in the shelters near the village built for the interim period.

“They will move into the new homes in a week’s time,” says Patil, who has done rehabilitation work in Latur after the quake and in Orissa following the cyclone. The residents will have to be given a little training, says Patil, so that they can use the facilities properly.

The villagers are not very sure about how they will fare in this totally new environment. They are a little dazzled at the moment. A teacher at the old school, who will also be teaching at the new school, says she is happy with the way things have turned out, but says not all her neighbours are comfortable. Some are unhappy with the position of the houses allotted, some basically with change.

The sceptics feel they may be selling the houses once two years — the period during which they can’t sell their homes — elapse.

Along with Adhoi, the Maharashtra government has “rebuilt” another village at Vondh, setting up 868 houses. The chief minister’s Gujarat relief fund was earmarked only for the earthquake victims — not for rehabilitation of the riot victims.

The Maharashtra government is not the only one. Corporate houses like HLL and Reliance have adopted villages, too, in Bhuj. The Malayala Manorama group has set up a small settlement.

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