Devastation in the wake of recent earthquake in neighbouring Nepal and its aftershocks felt across Northern India has shaken the Indian Public. The Indian subcontinent too has a history of devastating earthquakes. The major reason for the high frequency and intensity of the earthquakes is that the Indian plate is driving into Asia at a rate of approximately 47mm/year. Geographical statistics of India show that almost 54 per cent of the land is vulnerable to earthquakes.
More and more people are migrating to cities in India in search of jobs. Around 200 million city dwellers in India will be exposed to storms and earthquakes by 2050 as per World Bank and United Nations report. And this is an alarming figure. This will not only put at risk 200 million lives, but will also cause unimaginable damage to the infrastructure-Bridges, Roads, Mobile Towers, Refineries, and damage can be caused by fires that can be generated by breaks of electric poles and gas pipe lines.
Imagine the situation and it sends a chill down your spine. An earthquake of high magnitude in Delhi-NCR areas has the potential to turn Indian cities into rubble, will flatten skyscrapers and damage to and private houses built on small plots would be no exceptions.
Unfortunately this scare was not built overnight. The unauthorised construction in a haphazard manner is rampant to an extent that sending an ambulance to gutted colonies in Delhi is a nightmare: forget putting to rescue the fire tenders!! If an earthquake jolts the city- government buildings, schools and hospitals will suffer the same fate as happened in Gujarat in 2001- A Powerful Earthquake of magnitude 6.9 on Richter Scale rocked the Western Indian State of Gujarat on the 26th of January, 2001 devastating life and property.
Earthquake results in loss of lives followed by diseases and lack of basic amenities. In Delhi-NCR, there is rampant illegal construction with scant regard to safety parameters. Single storey unauthorised colonies come up overnight. And open green fields are turned into concrete jungle where lanes and by-lanes are so narrow, that four-wheelers can only move at a snail pace and that too in one direction.
Earthquake prone cities in India
Buildings few years back had asbestos sheets but today they are replaced by cemented roofs. If this was not enough, multiple floors are added by the younger generations of the family. Building by-laws are violated with impunity. While adding floors, people often turn a blind eye to the fact that the foundation laid by their elders was meant for a single floor. Additional floors are built on the building by using the base pillar of the original single-storey structure. Owners of these properties usually employ small time contractors and inexperienced workers. Considering that this kind of attitude and construction choices are rampant in Delhi, it will turn out to be a disaster for Delhi which lies in zone 4 if stuck by an earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale: the devastation and loss of life one can only imagine.
|Disaster in Making?|
Seismicity in North India, including the Himalayas, is due to collission of the Indian plate with Eurasian plate. This is a continuous process happening for the last 50 million years. These colliding plates flex, storing energy like a spring, and when the plate's margin finally slip to release energy, an earthquake results. In the past, five earthquakes of Richer Magnitude 5.5 to 6.7 are known to have occurred in the UT of Delhi or close to it since 1720 AD. Two major lineaments namely Delhi-Haridwar ridge and Delhi-Moradabad faults pass through the territory, both having potential of generating earthquakes of magnitude upto MSK VIII will be quite probabale in the Delhi territory.
Delhi is currently passing through a major infrastructure development phase with a large number of bridges, flyovers and the metro project under construction. After a severe earthquake, the transport infrastructure is earthquake resistant and the old one is seismically retrofitted. Indian seismic code (IS:1893-1984) is not applicable for major projects which require special studies on seismic design criteria. Moreover, the Indian seismic codal provisions on bridges as these exist today are obsolete and inadequate (e.g Jain and Murty, 1998). Earthquake disaster in Delhi has the potential to go well beyond the statistics of deaths and injuries. Such a disaster in the country’s capital, which also happens to be a major commercial and industrial centre, will have huge economic and political implications which will affect the entire country and not just the population of Delhi. This adds an extra dimension to the earthquakes problem for Delhi. (Source: www.ndma.gov.in)
In Delhi thousands of people living in unsafe dwellings are at risk as norms are being flouted with impunity. People have added floors that go up to fifth and sixth floors and poor construction material is used. To hoodwink the buyers and to cover the poor quality of material used in such buildings, builders are using white marble on the stairs, in the rooms, designer tiles in the washrooms and use black granite in kitchen. In these unauthorised colonies, high tension wires crisscrossing each other are a source of fire hazard.
Cantilever projections-beam and balcony are added to the structures without taking into consideration their load bearing capacity. In certain areas buildings/ colonies have come on plots as small as 20sq yard and that too also do not have the minimum required gap of four feet on both sides of the plot. During earthquakes or floods, if building collapses, others close buildings too will be damaged. People in areas like Palam, Dabri, Mahipalpur and Masoodpur in Vasant Kunj have reduced the width of the interior walls to lessen the load on the beams and pillars. However such structures are not only weak and unsafe for habitat but are also prone to collapse during earthquakes.
Safety is also not a concern for most of the builders in Delhi and NCR. Private builders are offering luxurious apartments with salient features around Delhi in Noida, Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Gurgaon and Dwarka. All flats are three sides open; surrounded by landscape greens with children play court and outdoor gaming; swimming pool, gym, spa overlooking spectacular Golf Course facility etc. But what is missing in all the adds is that there is no mention whether these high rise buildings are earthquake resistant and can bear the brunt of an earthquake as per Zone 4 category in which the Indo-Gangetic basin and the capital of the country (Delhi), and Jammu and Kashmir fall.
Imagine this scenario, earthquake of high magnitude hit Delhi-NCR or other parts of India. It will be naive on our part not to expect hostile neighbours not to launch a war against India when our armed forced will be engaged in relief and rescue operations. If reports are to be believed during cold war era, Russians had planned to carryout nuclear explosion under the sea to cause a massive earthquake in America. And Russia’s plan was to attack US when it was busy in relief and rescue operations. But then in a city like Delhi, where people add floors and rooms flouting every norm to earn easy and quick money will not understand the gravity of the situation that has besieged our brothers and Sisters in Nepal. India under the leadership of PM Modi has rushed relief material to Nepal. RSS has also joined in a big way to provide relief to victims of earthquake in Nepal. In the wake of this disaster, from future perspective, India too needs to take preventive steps to be able to handle such a tragedy effectively.
Manoj Sharma (The writer is a senior columnist)