A strong agriculture sector had helped this economically self-sustained town in Gujarat survive the first wave of the pandemic but a second wave and the cyclone together razed it to the ground
Una: Situated on the banks of river Machchundri, close to the southern periphery of Saurashtra region, Una is the closest town to Gujarat’s famous tourist destination Diu. The nearest big city is Rajkot, which is 220 kilometres away, and Ahmedabad is nearly 400 kilometres far from this small town. Even though Una does not have any major industrial unit to boast of, its economy was strong because of the robust agriculture, fishing and tourism sectors. However, these pillars were first rocked by the waves of COVID-19 pandemic and then shattered by the recent cyclone Tauktae.
The backbone of Una’s economy was agricultural produce such as mango, coconut, cotton as well as oil seeds including groundnut. There are several small-scale industrial units such as cotton ginning and pressing plants, groundnut processing plants and onion and garlic dehydration plants, all of which dependent on the agriculture sector. Una taluka is also home to Saiyad Rajpara village — an ancient business hub dating back to the pre-British era — and coastal villages such as Navabandar where fishing business thrived. Diu —a tourist destination now on world map — also added strength to Una’s economy.
COVID-19, the first jot to economy
The first blow to economy came in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic-triggered nationwide lockdown. It badly affected the hospitality industry, businesses dealing in non-essential goods such as garments and electronic gadgets as well as small-scale service providers such as barbers. The education sector was also affected because of the social distancing norms forcing them to switch to online teaching that led to fall in demand and loss of employment. However, the strong agriculture sector and related industries saved the economy from plummeting too deep during the first wave of infections unlike what happened in the case of the big cities in the state. The relaxation of the lockdown from June 2020 put it on a path of gradual recovery—till February this year.
Then came the second wave of COVID-19 infections, bringing Una to its knees as the infection spread rapidly. The number of daily detection of positive cases crossed 100 as the virus started spreading to its rural areas, and the death toll started climbing. The Gujarat government imposed night curfew initially in 29 cities and then raised the number to 36, but Una was not among these. However, the local authorities ordered curbs in the town in April and May, 2021. This again resulted in large-scale loss of business and employment. The hardest-hit section was the daily bread earners such as small tea-stall owners and snack sellers who had to stay at home. Unlike in the case of a national lockdown, no relief package was given to the families below poverty line.
The second jolt: A quake and a cyclone
It was forecasted seven days in advance that tropical cyclone Tauktae would hit the Gujarat shore on May 17 and wind speeds would cross 200 kmph. During the fateful night, just before the cyclone arrived, an earthquake measuring 4.8 on the Richter Scale shook Una. The deadly cyclone had its landfall near Diu and ravaged several towns and villages of Una and Gir Gadhada talukas. As part of precautionary measures the electricity was disconnected since the previous afternoon and the heavy winds continued till early morning on the next day. The real devastation was visible only by the next morning—the entire area was strewn with fallen trees, roof panels, overhead tanks, solar water heaters and solar electric panels which were blown away by the strong gusts of wind. Most of the roads were blocked by fallen trees.
Cyclone Tauktae damaged 90% of the electric poles in Una according to the Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Ltd (Picture courtesy: Bhavya Popat)
Sources in the Paschim Gujarat Vij Company Ltd, the company supplying electricity in the area, said that the cyclone brought down nearly 90% of the electric poles. Many cotton ginning and pressing plants, groundnut processing units and onion and garlic dehydration units also reported heavy damages.
Bharat Baldaniya, the owner of a ginning plant at Dhokadva village in Gir Gadhada taluka said, "I have never witnessed such a massive destruction in my life of 45 years. There are heavy damages to our buildings and machinery. These are still repairable, but the loss of the agricultural produce is the biggest concern. With no big industrial units in our area, the economy mainly depends on these agro-based units. This devastation by the cyclone will severely affect these units." He said the government should implement a long-term development project in the line of "Kutch Model" for the revival of the town’s economy.
Even as massive damages to fishing ships were reported from in the coastal areas of the taluka, the worst-hit was the agriculture sector. The area was famous for coconuts and the Kesar variety of mangos. All most the entire coconut and mango trees in the region were uprooted. These trees take five to 10 years to bear fruits. Kaushik Gangdev, an accountant by profession and also an agriculturist, said, "The damage to agriculture will affect not only the farmers but also the businesses and the lives of people in the long term. It has left everyone in a scary situation.”
The way ahead
After the COVID-19 pandemic and cyclone Tauktae left both the economy and the future prospects of people in the area in tatters, there has been a constant flow of help from several NGOs for the rehabilitation of the affected people. The central and state governments also conducted quick surveys and distributed relief worth thousands of crores of rupees. The state government has also announced a special package for the fishermen.
However, the question is, will these be enough? These short-term relief measures will definitely help for time being, but the region needs long and sustainable development plans in the line of the "Kutch Model" implemented after the deadly earthquake in 2001. The setting up of special economic zones (SEZ), providing tax concessions and several other economic benefits have turned Kutch into a powerful economic hub in two decades. With agriculture being the backbone of the Una’s economy, turning it into an agro-SEZ would be the perfect long-term solution for its revival. In addition, because the taluka has a long coastline, developing a full-fledged jetty on Public–Private Enterprise (PPE) model may provide both the farmers as well as the industrial units with better means for transportation of their produce/products. This will also generate employment for the local residents.
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