Sikkim government has initiated a Rs. 391 crore project for constructing nearly 8,000 resilient houses capable of withstanding earthquakes and minimise loss of lives and property.

Under the reconstruction of earthquake damaged rural houses project, government will work on seismically strengthening 7,972 houses which were badly damaged during the September, 2011 earthquake in which 70 people were killed.

So far 1,500 earthquake resistant houses have been constructed under the project while the remaining ones are in advanced stage of construction and slated for completion by next year, Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling said in a statement.

Earthquake resistant houses are constructed in partnership with the house owners. The core house design, building standards, construction material (cement and steel), technical supervision and co-financing capital was provided by the state government under the project.

The house owners undertook the actual construction, procured construction material (stone, sand, timber etc), arranged for mason and labour and also invested their own finances, Mr. Chamling said.

The option of deciding between the department-driven implementation model and the home-owner driven model was provided to the owner.

In home-owner driven option, the owner took the lead in construction and the funds and construction material was provided to him after completing pre-defined milestones. While in the department-driven model, the department took the lead in the construction of the house.

A majority of the beneficiaries opted for home-owner driven models and made their own choice, which resulted in greater satisfaction and buy-in and an increased willingness to invest more in earthquake safety and reduced dependency.

Some relaxation in norms were provided keeping in view the local geographical conditions and prevalent traditions and toilet and kitchen was permitted outside the houses, the Chief Minister said.

These two-storeyed houses were checked to ensure whether they were earthquake resistant and prior administrative approval of the district level committee was also taken.

The project provided the option to the home-owner to choose the house type appropriate to their lifestyle, family size and budget.

Sikkim is located in one of the most active seismic zones in the world. The state has faced several devastating earthquakes in the past. During the last 115 years four massive earthquakes occurred in Sikkim with a magnitude of 8.0 or greater on the Richter scale.

The September 18, 2011 earthquake struck Sikkim with a magnitude of 6.9. Three aftershocks of magnitude 5.7, 5.1 and 4.6 followed within 30 minutes.