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Transformation of Kutch: From the 2001 earthquake to hosting G-20’s inaugural Tourism Working Group meeting

Gujarat will host the inaugural Tourism Working Group (TWG) meeting as part of India's G-20 presidency starting on Tuesday at Dhordo Tent City in Rann of Kutch, according to officials. Following the "Business 20 Inception" programme in Gandhinagar last month, the TWG meeting would be the second G20 event to take place in the state.

India officially assumed the presidency of G-20 on December 1 of last year. “During its G-20 Presidency next year, India will work jointly with G-20 partners towards this objective. The principle of ‘Data for development’ will be an integral part of the overall theme of our Presidency ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’,” Modi had announced during the last G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia which lasted for two days, 15 and 16 November 2022.

The use of remote working and paperless green workplaces during the Covid-19 outbreak was an example of how digital technologies could be useful in the fight against climate change, the Prime Minister had added. 

The G-20 conference is scheduled for Pragati Maidan, in September, of this year.

Gujarat will host the inaugural Tourism Working Group (TWG) meeting as part of India’s G-20 presidency starting on Tuesday at Dhordo Tent City in Rann of Kutch, according to officials. Following the “Business 20 Inception” programme conducted in Gandhinagar last month, the three-day TWG meeting, which will be attended by Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy, would be the second G20 event to take place in the state.

Among those who will share their ideas at this event are Union Minister Reddy and Sandra Carvao, the head of the World Tourism Organization’s Tourism Market Intelligence and Competitiveness department. There will also be a panel discussion with experts from the Asian Development Bank, International Labor Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, and representatives from Indonesia, Italy, South Africa, Spain, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina on ‘How can tourism policy support tourism’s contribution to rural development.’ 

Tourism in Kutch

Kutch, often spelt as ‘Kachchh’, has its roots in a story that its map, if turned upside down, resembles ‘kachchh’, the Sanskrit word for tortoise. Kutch district, which has its centre in Bhuj, is India’s largest district.

The villages of Kutch have always been fertile with different cultures and artistic talent despite being surrounded by barren regions and a severe climate. Over the years, Kutch has developed as a bright spot for tourism.

Blessed with natural attractions like, The White Desert, sometimes referred to as the Great Rann of Kutch, a large region of pure white salt desert that is frequently visited for its aesthetic value and ecological significance. It is also known as the largest salt desert in the world, and it runs from the Indus River’s mouth to the Gulf of Kutch. Its striking environment is unique to India and attracts a lot of visitors. The White Desert is noted for having various sanctuaries for the protection of wildlife, flowers, and wetland areas. It has also served as the backdrop for countless Bollywood films.

One of the largest salt marshes in the world, the Rann of Kutch is situated in the Thar Desert. Rann Utsav, also called the White Desert Festival, is a notable occasion that occurs here with great festivity, every year. The event celebrates crafts, art, music, dance, food, and nature, and the people of Kutch. The carnival, which is held in the wintertime amidst the white desert, offers a variety of adventurous pursuits, excursions, and markets where one learns about the rich cultural diversity of the Kutchi people.

One of the largest seasonal saline wetland regions, the Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary has water depths of between 0.5 and 1.5 metres. A broad variety of aquatic birds and an incredible array of mammalian animals are supported by the sanctuary, including the world-renowned ‘Flamingo City’. On Kala Dungar, amidst the Rann mudflats, the well-known tourist destination lies about 10 kilometres from the Nir outpost. Here, hundreds of larger flamingos breed, especially during the seasons of greatest inundation. They build muddy nests in which they lay eggs and raise their young.

Earthquake of 2001

On January 26, 2001, a powerful earthquake that was felt across much of northwest India and parts of Pakistan struck close to the town of Bhuj on the morning of India’s annual Republic Day. The earthquake had a moment magnitude of 7.7. (6.9 on the Richter scale). Along with leaving hundreds of thousands homeless and causing more than a million buildings to be demolished or damaged, the earthquake also claimed the lives of more than 20,000 people and injured more than 150,000 others.

While addressing MPs at the Bharatiya Janata Party parliamentary party meeting held yesterday morning, Prime Minister Modi when discussing the recent earthquake in Turkey, became emotional and remembered the tragic Bhuj earthquake when he was Gujarat Chief Minister.

How Prime Minister Narendra Modi rebuilt Kutch

Modi employed a multifaceted strategy to aid in the rebuilding of the disaster-wrecked area. Innovative solutions, community empowerment, and assistance played crucial roles in assisting Bhuj to recover from the massive tragedy.

The lack of housing was a major issue. The Gujarat government reacted quickly, incorporated the neighbourhood groups, formed compact teams, provided tools to each group, and concentrated on housing construction. Brick by brick, the housing issue was solved over time. The number of houses rose, they were larger than before and constructed in accordance with local standards.

The construction of schools was the other topic Modi emphasised. We must get the educational infrastructure back on track, he declared, whatever the cost. The Kutchi people have been abandoned to their destiny for generations. This region was well-known for its desert and Pakistani border (Registan and Pakistan). Modi was keen to alter this perception of Kutch after the catastrophe. As Chief Minister, Modi has previously expressed a desire to dispel the perception that Kutch is somehow connected to Pakistan.

Modi then redesigned Kutch’s agricultural industry. After the earthquake, Kutch started to export pomegranates, dates, and mangoes. Water from the Narmada gradually made its way to the area owing to the extensive irrigation system.

In August, last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared a video based on the resurgence of Kutch, after the earthquake to become a thriving hub of manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, etc.

The Kutch Earthquake 2001: Recollection Lessons and Insights is a book by Pramod Kumar Mishra, who is currently the principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was released in 2004 by the National Institute of Disaster Management in New Delhi. In his book he wrote, “The earthquake was most devastating in terms of its magnitude and intensity. It posed enormous challenges because of its magnitude and geographical spread for rescue, relief and rehabilitation. Yet, they faced the challenge with courage and conviction. What is remarkable is that a comprehensive rehabilitation and reconstruction programme was put in place at the earliest. Adversity was transformed into an opportunity.” The astounding success in regards to reconstruction, he continues, “has no parallel anywhere,” both inside and outside of India.

Smriti Van

On Sunday 28th August 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated, the “Smriti Van” memorial, which honours the tenacity displayed by people after the horrific 2001 earthquake in Kutch. According to Modi, “Smriti Van” pays homage to the Kutchi people’s heroic spirit and the lives lost in the tragedy. The memorial lists the names of those who died in the earthquake. Additionally, it features the cutting-edge Smriti Van Earthquake Museum. According to a Gujarat government source, the massive memorial is the nation’s first of its kind and spans 470 acres on Bhujio Hill, just outside of Bhuj.

Transforming Kutch into a tourist hub

In 2006, the then-Chief Minister and current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, created the Rann festival as a Gujarat Tourism initiative. By drawing a large international audience to Gujarat, the festival started to develop the local tourism sector. Every year in the White Rann during the winter, the celebrations take place. Rann Utsav, which was originally a three-day celebration, has expanded to a 100-day event as a result of public demand.

Salim Osama, a cattle rearer of Khavda, said, “Till now, no one wanted to come in this desert. Now, it has become a famous tourist spot after Modiji (Narendra Modi) started Rann Utsav here. As a result, thousands of villagers are able to sell their handicraft items through over 100 stalls at Dhordo. We are also selling sweets at such stalls. Locals of 56 villages near Khavda are reaping the benefits of this unique initiative of Modi.”

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan had rightly said, “Kutch nahin dekha to kuch nahin dekha (If you’ve not seen Kutch, you’ve not seen anything).”

Narmada water reached Kutch

In July, last year, through the Kutch Branch Canal (KBC), Narmada waters travelled 750 kilometres to Mod Kuba, a village in the Mandvi taluka of the Kutch area. According to Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) officials, the development marked the KBC’s completion as the last branch canal was left unfinished and the arrival of Narmada waters at the dam. Narmada waters had already been delivered to Saurashtra and north Gujarat through the Saurashtra Branch Canal and its six sub-branch canals as well as the canal system in north Gujarat.

It has taken decades for the water to get to Mod Kuba. Actor-turned-activist Aamir Khan, and Medha Patkar among others, have impeded the state government’s ability to finish the project. The Sardar Sarovar Dam project was blocked off until Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed control of the government at the centre.

Villagers welcomed the significant development with loud cheers and firecrackers.

Renewable Energy Park in the Rann of Kutch

In Gujarat’s Kutch, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the cornerstone for the 30,000 megawatts (MW) Ultra Mega Hybrid Park last December, making it the largest renewable solar and wind energy facility in the world. In addition, he ceremoniously broke ground for four other desalination facilities along the Arabian Sea coast virtually. The plants will sprout up in the Kutch towns of Gundiyali, Gandhvi, Bhavnagar’s Ghogha, and Somnath’s Sutrapada. 

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