DELHI: November 12th’s mild tremors might not have caused any damage but with Delhi being the epicentre, concerns have been raised about the government’s preparedness to handle an earthquake. Delhi is vulnerable to earthquakes is no secret, considering it falls under seismic level IV. But are we prepared for a moderate to high intensity earthquake with Delhi as the epicentre?
The answer, unfortunately, is no. “It is hard to imagine the damage caused by an earthquake with high intensity. The city has over 25 lakh buildings; a majority of them do not adhere to the safety code, nor have they been constructed under proper technical supervision,” said S N Mahapatra, senior specialist in earthquake and Tsunami, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Though the Delhi government’s disaster management authority has been conducting campaigns to spread awareness on building safety, little effort has gone into ensuring that buildings, especially highrises, are safe and earthquake-resistant. Every year, the civic agencies here approve thousands of plans for constructing new buildings. No thought seems to be spared for the stability of these structures. Though it is mandatory to get a certificate from a structural engineer, sources say it has been reduced to a formality; most building owners don’t even apply for a completion certificate from civic agencies.
Civic agencies, with the help of NDMA, have trained their engineers in identifying dangerous buildings and dividing them into three categories: collapsible, non-collapsible and those liable to economic loss. Even so, no exercise has been undertaken to categorize buildings in the city. In the past two years, many surveys have been conducted, especially in east Delhi, to check the stability of buildings.
After the Lalita Park building collapse, MCD had carried out a massive survey along with the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) to identify dangerous buildings. The findings were shocking. “A majority of buildings in the area had serious structural defects. Therteafter, we taught close to 300 MCD engineers how to identify structurally unfit buildings,” said Chandan Ghosh, head of the geo-hazard risk management division, NIDM.
Experts say the government must take drastic measures to minimize the damage caused by an earthquake. From setting up a body to monitor the quality of construction, to giving incentives for carrying out, a lot needs to be done. “Building audits should be routine. Delhi needs a council on the lines of the Tall Building Council in Mumbai to look into the safety of highrises. We need to fix responsibility if we want the city infrastructure to be safe. Seismic micro zonation is an immediate need to find the vulnerability of each area and factor that in while town planning. The city allows stilts but they must comply with the building standard code,” said Mahapatra.
Also, the government and civic agencies should get down to fixing the loopholes in the sanctioning of building plans to make new structures earthquake-resistant. Experts recommend retrofitting in old buildings, especially those privately owned.