FAR OF 400 FOR TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS Is the government putting lives at risk?
A FAR of 400 in TOD projects is not advisable for Delhi, which falls in seismic zone IV and is highly vulnerable to earthquakes
The ministry of urban development has approved its transitoriented development policy (TOD) to address the shortage of affordable housing, pollution, congestion and to ensure that people actually walk to work. The policy provides for a higher FAR of 400, enabling vertical construction or tall buildings within the influence zone extending to 500 metres on both sides of the mass rapid transit system (MRTS).
While real estate and urban planners have welcomed the move, many structural design experts have expressed concern over rampant construction of tall structures in Delhi, which falls in the seismic zone IV category and is highly vulnerable to earthquakes.
“If a severe earthquake of 7 to 8 on the Richter scale hits the capital, 80% of its buildings won’t be able to withstand it,” say experts, adding that the ministry has cleared FAR of 400 in the absence of a special building code for tall buildings.
A FAR of 400 is applicable to areas along metro transit routes in Delhi. What this means is that there will be a sudden spurt in growth of 40-storey and higher buildings in Delhi, similar to the super tall structures to be launched in the NCR. Not only will this be dangerous, it would also bring to the fore total lack of coordination between government ministries, claims Sandeep Shah, country head and MD - India, Miyamoto International, earthquake and structural engineers.
The Bureau of Indian Standards that is under the ministry of consumer affairs last year had promised to revise the National Building Code and come up with a specialised code for designing tall buildings. Nothing has been done as yet even though these are essential for constructing safe buildings with respect to earthquakes, Shah adds.
The two most important building codes with respect to earthquake safety are IS-1893 and IS-13920, the first was last revised in 2002 and the second in 1993. It’s a pity that neither the Nepal earthquake which caused such widespread damage nor the warning by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) that a magnitude 8 or higher earthquake is due anytime has been able to motivate the ministry of consumer affairs to release
the revised building codes as promised. Without waiting for the essential codes the MoUD has announced the revised FAR of 4, which is another example of lack of coordination between important ministries that seem to be working in silos, Shah claims.
A stringent regulatory mechanism and not higher FAR of 400 is the issue here. Experts ask how, when buildings with a FAR of 250 are structurally unsafe, how can structures with a FAR of 400 be safe.
The crux of the problem lies in the regulatory mechanism. Today it’s considered a mere formality to get approvals for plans and structural drawings submitted to the authorities. There is no system in place that ensures that buildings have been done as per approved structural drawings. The inspection of the site before handing over the occupancy certificate merely certifies the planning/ architectural parameters and not the structural parameters such as quality of reinforcements or beams.
Increasing FAR to 400 will increase the hazard level. The city requires a regulatory sys- tem for checking the adequacy of buildings. There are countries where the metro passes right through the buildings because the structural safety of the building has been regulated and ensured, says Abhay Gupta, director, Skeleton Consultants Pvt Ltd/ESCOM Consultants Pvt Ltd.
Structural safety experts are also skeptical about plans to construct TODs, and building a 100-storey marquee tower in east Delhi, especially Karkardooma and near Sanjay Lake because of the fragile soil in the area. “These projects are not feasi- ble because of the presence of sandy silt on the river bed and a high water table. These areas are prone to liquefaction during an earthquake. There have to be guidelines issued by the authorities for the type of foundation to be constructed and the size of the structure in these areas because of these defects,” Gupta adds.
Noida in Uttar Pradesh has silty sandy soil which means it has sand with silt content and a high water table, making it prone to liquefaction. Dwarka, however, has sandy silt soil with a low water table, adds Gupta.