Kutch in 2013 is far different from what it was after Republic Day in 2001 — a land devastated by a massive earthquake that had reduced vast areas of the district to rubble. Intensive rehabilitation work followed by large-scale industrialization in the last 12 years has transformed this once backward district into a cosmopolitan el dorado.
It is now a thriving land of opportunities that has attracted investors and job-seekers from all over the country.
The temblor, which has gone down in history as the calamitous Bhuj quake, measured 6.9 on the Richter scale. It had left more than 12,000 people dead in the district alone. It had then seemed that people of Kutch would find it difficult to recover their ‘Khamir’, the Kutchis’ fighting spirit.
But that was 12 years back. Today, when you go to Kutch, you will be greeted by towns with wider roads.
The main highway too passes through many of the key towns of the district. Outlets of famous eatery chains can be found all over Kutch and they are crowded not only by Kutchis with money to spare but people from elsewhere in the state and country.Large-scale industrialization has created a jobs boom in this once arid land. Fat salaries are no more a rarity and the generation of wealth has led to a demand for more English medium schools, founding of a medical college and setting up of Kutch University. Farmhouses have mushroomed in the district which was once know as the land of ‘gando baval’ — wild shrubs that grow like mad and are known to destroy the fertility of the soil.
People of Kutch believe that the arrival of industries is what is responsible for the radical transformation of the district which has turned it into a more cosmopolitan region that it was before the 2001 quake. In fact, many people from all over the country have decided to settle here and make Kutch their home.
Prior to the 2001 quake, Hindi was the language of the street only in Gandhidham which has a substantial non-Gujarati population. But now ‘Kiase hai’ (‘How are you?’) can be heard besides “Ki aayo”– the traditional Kutch greeting — and “Kem Cho” all over the district. In places like Bhuj, Anjar and Mundra people can be heard talking even in English.
“Business and industries in Kutch have grown as in Bharuch. Industries infused new life in the quake-devastated district. Though the number of petty crimes has also gone up because of an expanding labour class, that is not much of a problem as the police have been able to deal with the problem effectively,” said Narsinh Agarwal, secretary of Bhuj Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
Industrial houses had rushed to set up units in Kutch to take advantage of the five-year tax holiday announced after the earthquake. The employment generated by these units has had a beneficial result – it restricted migration to urban areas.
The youth who had to move out of Kutch earlier for higher education and well-paying jobs can now get what they want in the district itself. Ramya Antani has done his Masters in Public Administration from Vallabh Vidyanagar but he decided to return to Kutch to work at a national firm’s plant in Bhuj.
“I chose to return to Kutch for work because I could then be in my native place and stay with my family without compromising on my career. If you have talent, industries in Kutch have lucrative jobs for you. In fact, I feel that companies would not need to hire people for higher posts if there were enough qualified people in the district itself,” Antani said.
Development in Kutch has been impressive enough to draw tourists in droves. This has proved to be blessing of sorts for artisans in the rural parts of the region as women here are now earning more from sale of Kutchi handicrafts.
Managing director of Hunnarshala, an NGO in Kutch, Kiran Vaghela, is a trained architect. He said that ten years back, the construction workers they trained used to get around Rs200 a day but today they get Rs375 a day. However, Vaghela is concerned about the unequal growth in the region.
“People who have land are becoming rich as real estate is booming. But people in the slums are yet to get a fair share of the development pie,” he said. The growth of wealth in the region has also encouraged corruption in Kutch where it was virtually unheard of earlier, he added.