During the last 115 years, the region has suffered four massive earthquakes measuring 8.0 or greater on the open-ended Richter Scale. The last one occurred on September 18, 2011, and measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale with its epicentre located near the Indian-Nepal border, about 68km northwest of state capital Gangtok. It claimed about 100 lives, with more than 70 in Sikkim.
The Reconstruction of Earthquake Damaged Rural Houses (REDRH) Project was launched in 2012 with the objective of seismically strengthening 7,972 badly damaged houses.
Funded from the Prime Minister's Special Relief Package, this project is being implemented by the Rural Management and Development Department of the Government of Sikkim on the philosophy of "Build Back Better".
So far 1,500 earthquake-resistant houses have been constructed. The remaining are in an advanced stage of construction and expected to be completed in 2014.
A total of Rs. 227crore out of the total Rs.389.83 crore outlay has been utilized so far.
Each house is being rebuilt at a cost of Rs.6 lakhs. The grant component is Rs.4.89 lakh, which is being provided in four installments after achieving pre-determined milestones namely - beneficiary finalized, plinth level complete, roof complete and house fully completed.
Each house is being constructed with RCC frame with a slab roof and a plinth area of 605 square feet. However, in a few remote areas, the option of CGI roofing is being considered. Each unit is being provided with one toilet and a septic tank.
The beneficiaries have been selected by gram sabhas in a uniform and transparent manner, and all funds have been directly released directly to them after achieving pre-fixed milestones.
The project seeks to change construction practices permanently, recognizing that earthquake-resistant housing construction will only become common if the right technology is locally available, widely known, culturally accepted and competitively priced.
The rapid and inclusive growth in the economy over the past decade has brought in prosperity, which has resulted in a transition in the construction choice from traditional houses to reinforced concrete frame houses in the region
The state government has set up various monitoring agencies to ensure quality and financial standards under the project.
Twenty nine Special Secretary-ranked officers have been deputed to monitor construction work in each block. District-level monitoring is being done by the district-level committee headed by the district collector.
As per directions of Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, the financial audit is conducted on a monthly basis to ensure complete accountability and transparency.
Chamling has directed the office of Principal Accountant General (AG) to ensure financial discipline.
A separate audit of the scheme is also being conducted by a chartered accountant.
Construction material like cement and steel has been purchased from reputed manufacturers outside the state at concessional prices and provided directly to the beneficiary in installments.
This has resulted in significant savings in terms of cost.
Each house has an entitlement of 300 bags of cement and 26 quintals of TMT Bars.
This translates into 2.4 million cement bags and 20,700 MT of TMT bars for 7972 home-owners.
These earthquake-resistant houses are being constructed in partnership with the home owners.
The option of deciding between the department-driven implementation model and the home-owner driven model has been provided to the home owner.
In home-owner driven option, the home-owner takes the lead in construction and funds and construction material are provided to him after completing pre-defined milestones.
In the department-driven model, the department takes the lead in the construction of the house.
A majority of the beneficiaries have opted for home owner driven models.
Some relaxation in norms has been provided keeping in view of local geographical conditions and prevalent traditions.
For instance, in some houses, the toilet and kitchen has been constructed outside the house, provided the size and design of the main house conforms to the prescribed design.
This is as per the prevalent traditional practice, as many households use firewood extensively and toilets are not perceived as hygienic inside the house.
Rather than the usual, top-down, one-size-fits-all model for housing reconstruction, the project provides the home owner the option to choose the house type appropriate to their lifestyle, family size and budget.
Centralized purchase of stock material was made from the manufacturers at an institutional price and various tax exemptions were provided which resulted in access to quality construction material at prices significantly lower than the prevailing market price.
Quality of stock material was ensured by pre-specifying the brands i.e. approved brands for cement was Lafarge, Birla, Jayapee and Ambuja.
Steel was of technical specification TMT Bar 500D EQR with earthquake resistant specifications with the approved brands being Adhunik and Elegant.