2001 earthquake memorial in Bhuj to show nature's fury

2001 earthquake memorial in Bhuj to show nature's fury

This memorial called 'Smriti Van', under construction for nearly 16 years is pegged to be a display of Kutchi resilience which fights back after every natural disaster. (DH photo/Satish Jha)

A memorial and museum dedicated to 2001 devastating earthquake victims has almost taken shape into a green mound, dotted with concrete structure, emerging from the growing green pastures atop Bhujiyo Dungar in Bhuj city, the district headquarters and epicentre of the earthquake. This is the land known as country's largest district in terms of its geographical expanse dominated by dry and desert land.

This memorial called 'Smriti Van', under construction for nearly 16 years is pegged to be a display of Kutchi resilience which fights back after every natural disaster.

Spread over 470 acres of land, the first phase of the memorial is slated to be completed and opened for the visitors by the mid-2020. Back in 2004, the then chief minister Narendra Modi, now the prime minister, is said to have come up with the idea of planting trees in the name of each victim. The memorial will have names of all 13,805 victims and an equal number of trees in their memories.

Now final output consists of 81 water "leaking" reservoirs, and 108 check dams, all interlinked through canal system that will harvest rainwater falling on the hill. Each reservoir will have nearly 200 names of victims, engraved in three languages—Gujarati, Hindi and English. A local officer told DH that more than 11,000 names have been verified.

A booklet, prepared by Ahmedabad-based architect firm Vastu Shilpa Consultants, which has designed the memorial, describes the project in detail. The reservoirs are made of gabions without mortar and thus allow the rainwater to seep into the ground slowly, thus allowing the root system of the trees to draw upon it. Over time, the gaps in the stones are filled up by the alluvium that the water brings in and seeds trapped in it sprout plants. This consolidates the gabion structure and slowly effaces the build to merge with the landscape.

"We are developing the memorial into a green zone that will become the lung of the city in the next three to four years. The idea is based on the resilient character of the region. The whole region suffers from natural calamities—be it in the form of earthquake, drought or cyclone. Based on these features, we have tried to create an ecosystem that will thrive on its own and tell the story of this dry land and its inhabitants who showed extraordinary resilience in accepting the way nature is," said architect Rajeev Kathpalia, who is partner at Vastu Shilpa Consultants, a renowned architecture firm led by Padma Shri awardee and recipient of prestigious Pritzker prize Balkrishna Doshi.

Kathpalia said that Smriti Van is not going to be "a monolithic memorial nor a structured garden. The project aims to provide the initial guidance needed for both vegetation and reservoirs. The rest is left to nature." The project has a dedicated biodiverse zone spread in 75 acres, which has been left to grow into a jungle on its own. The team of forest officers, local administration and NGOs have together planted 86 varieties of plants out of which 56 are found locally.

According to senior officers at Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA), the nodal agency implementing the project, over Rs 300 crores have already been spent to complete the first project. Boundary wall on the hill, sun point, pathway and other features have also been completed. The museum will have an emotive experiential space that would give visitors an experience of the earthquake. One of the top officers said that the first phase of the project is likely to be inaugurated in April or March 2020.

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