‘Quakes don’t kill, buildings do’

In Delhi, 70-80 per cent of buildings violate regulations.

April 28, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 08:36 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Houses collapsed in Kyirong county. In this picture, volunteers help with rescue work at the site of a building that collapsed after the earthquake hit Kathmandu.

Houses collapsed in Kyirong county. In this picture, volunteers help with rescue work at the site of a building that collapsed after the earthquake hit Kathmandu.

Seventy per cent to 80 per cent of buildings violate regulations in Delhi, while civic agencies cite lack of manpower as the reason for not monitoring the same, noted a release issued by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) here on Monday.

Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE executive director for research and advocacy, and head of its green buildings programme, said: “Earthquakes don’t kill, buildings do. The lack of regulations for construction and monitoring of buildings makes a huge proportion of them unsafe. India should immediately lead to a reflection on the nature of our buildings, and whether these will be able to withstand an earthquake of moderate to high intensity.”

“The condition and quality of Indian building stock is poor when it comes to seismic performance — in fact, the observed performances of reinforced concrete (RC) buildings are highly unsatisfactory,” said Avikal Somvanshi, CSE senior research associate.

Mr. Somvanshi added RC buildings collapsed when an earthquake measuring about 7.7 on the Richter scale hit Bhuj in 2001. A well-designed RC building is expected to collapse only when an earthquake measuring 7.5 or higher on the Richter scale takes place.

Today, India has a fairly good range of seismic codes covering a variety of structures, ranging from mud and low strength masonry houses to modern buildings.

“However, the key to ensuring earthquake safety lies in having a robust mechanism that enforces and implements these design code provisions in actual constructions,” said Mr. Somvanshi. While these building codes apply to new constructions, there is also a need to retrofit existing buildings to make them safer.

“Around 25 lakh such buildings exist in Delhi alone. While the know-how for retrofitting is in place, neither a survey nor an effort to initiate this massive project has begun. Immediately after an earthquake, there is some discussion around safety of buildings, but in a few days the issue is forgotten,” said Ms. Roychowdhury.

She added that experts estimate India is likely to report heavy casualties if a moderate earthquake strikes, particularly in the large cities, including Delhi.

The CSE researchers point out that the Tejendra Khanna Committee, set up in 2006 to look into various aspects of unauthorised constructions and misuse of premises in the city, found that 70 per cent to 80 per cent structures had violated building and development control regulations.

It stated that formalities required to obtain a building completion certificate or even a building plan sanctioned is tedious, so owners seldom procure them. The CSE noted that when it comes to approvals, research has shown that most builders get only the ground floor approved.

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