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Partner in progress

The rebuilding of Kutch after the devastating 2001 earthquake owes much to the efforts of various non-governmental organisations. MANAS DASGUPTA writes about the contributions of the Rotary Club.

HAD the Rotary International been a political party, it would have won the elections in Kutch hands down. In the post-earthquake era, the Rotarians have left indelible marks across the length and breadth of the border district in Gujarat, geographically the largest district in the country — be it Narayan Sarovar in the extreme west, the last border outpost before the Gulf of Kutch separates India from Pakistan or Khavda in the north-west border or Bhachau in the south.

If 709 schoolrooms in 181 villages, many in inaccessible remote areas, demonstrate the Rotary Club's contributions to social welfare, it has not lagged behind in showing concern for those left homeless by the killer earthquake on January 26, 2001. It is perhaps leading all other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in constructing the highest number of low-cost shelters in rural and urban areas. Most of the 990 shelters planned have either been completed or are nearing completion in Bhuj, Bhachau, Anjar, Padhar and Bela.

"It was difficult to construct five school rooms in a place like Narayan Sarovar, 160 km from the district headquarters of Bhuj. But we could do it because Rotarians are present almost everywhere," explained Kalyan Banerjee, managing trustee of the Rotary Gujarat Earthquake Rebuild Trust. The teachers and students are happy to be back in pucca rooms instead of the thatched roofs that stood for schools before the earthquake. The benches and fans are a bonus, a luxury in district panchayat-run primary schools, which have neither adequate number of teachers nor school kits.

"We may have been sitting in some ramshackle tents still if Rotary had not built these classrooms," said Jhaluben Chaudhary, headmistress of a school in Koteshwar. While the Government is tied down under its own rules and regulations and innumerable court cases and stay orders against transfer of teachers to remote villages, the Rotary is considering plans to train local people as teachers to overcome the problem of shortage of teachers.

Rotary's success has raised people's expectations and they want them to construct boundary walls and toilets for schools, arrange for water, create infrastructure in the shelter colonies and provide other facilities, even if it means going over the budget.

Even the government's expectations from the Rotary have increased. At the request of the government, the Rotary has reconstructed the Padher police outpost and four residential quarters for the police to take care of an accident-prone zone on the Bhuj-Bhachau highway. Many such requests are in the pipeline and are under the consideration of the Trust.

Besides construction of classrooms and shelters, various Rotary Clubs have also contributed in several humanitarian programmes. A school for the deaf and dumb in Gandhidham, physiotherapy centres in Gandhidham and Bhuj, a medical centre in Anjar, vaccination centres in Mundra and Mandvi, water coolers in various schools and a piped water supply project for villagers in Narayan Sarovar are among the contributions of the Rotary Club in Kutch.

To replace the earthquake ravaged Jesthanagar school in the heart of Bhuj town, the Rotary Club of Bhuj has taken up an ambitious Rs. 5 crore project to construct the "Rotary Vidya Sankul" on the outskirts of the district headquarters.

According to the latest report of Abhiyan, an umbrella organisation of NGOs working for the reconstruction of Kutch, the Rotary has recorded the lowest administrative expenses — less than two per cent of the project cost, while for other NGOs, it has ranged from 4.61 per cent to 25 per cent.

It was because, Mr. Banerjee explained, the Rotary managed with minimum possible staff and did not charge the trust for the services they render. While the Rs. 40 crores received in donation from the Rotary International, the local Rotary Clubs and others was used for project constructions, the administrative expenses were met from the interest earned by the trust from short term deposits while the funds remained idle due to delay in getting clearances.

The State Government too has no hesitation in acknowledging the valuable contributions made by Rotary in rebuilding Kutch. "The post-earthquake modern Kutch owes a lot to the Rotarians and the government hopes that the Rotary will remain a partner in progress in the future also," a senior official in the Chief Minister's office said.

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