How safe are our build­ings?

Why is the gov­ern­ment not putting earth­quake safety mea­sures in place? Can dis­clo­sure norms be en­forced in the realty sec­tor?

HT Estates - - HTESTATES - HT Es­tates Cor­re­spon­dent

Some months ago t he Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity (NDMA) had an­nounced that there were cred­i­ble re­ports of a mag­ni­tude 8 or higher earth­quake strik­ing In­dia in the near fu­ture, caus­ing mas­sive dam­age to life and prop­erty, with ca­su­al­ties es­ti­mated at more than eight lakh. Till date, how­ever, no steps have been taken to strengthen build­ings, in­cor­po­rate seis­mic risk re­duc­tion strate­gies or to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on what needs to be done in case dis­as­ter strikes.

The fre­quency of earth­quakes has also in­creased in the last few months after the mas­sive Nepal quake. In­dia has also had within the last 50 years? six ma­jor earth­quakes which have re­sulted in over 23,000 deaths and caused enor­mous dam­age to prop­erty, as­sets and in­fra­struc­ture. In­dia has the sec­ond high­est pop­u­la­tion in the world and a cor­re­spond­ingly higher num­ber of build­ings. How­ever, not many know that In­dia also has the max­i­mum num­ber of earth­quake-un­safe build­ings in the world. As ev­ery­one knows, earth­quakes don’t kill peo­ple but fall­ing build­ings do and this makes In­dia the most vul­ner­a­ble place on the planet. The fact that about 60% of In­dia’s land area hosts about 80% of In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion, has placed a ques­tion mark on the ca­pac­ity of the build­ings to re­sist ef­fects of mod­er­ate to se­vere seis­mic shak­ing.

As per gov­ern­ment re­ports and a PIL be­ing dis­cussed in the Delhi High Court, more than 80% of the build­ings in the Delhi-NCR re­gion will col­lapse should a high mag­ni­tude earth­quake hit north In­dia. The Nepal quake should have set alarm bells ring­ing as In­dia is al­ready late in mak­ing a be­gin­ning to achieve seis­mic re­silience, says San­deep Shah, coun­try head and MD- In­dia, Miyamoto In­ter­na­tional, earth­quake struc­tural en­gi­neers.

“The au­thor­i­ties that need to spread pub­lic aware­ness are not do­ing so. How will peo­ple take any earth­quake strength­en­ing mea­sures un­less they know what kind of a build­ing they are living or work­ing in? Is it likely to col­lapse in an earth­quake? Peo­ple need to be ed­u­cated about earth­quake-re­sis­tant build­ings, that there are of four types and each of th­ese types de­fined in the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity (NDMA) guide­lines. All of the build­ings in In­dia are be­ing de­signed only to the low­est seis­mic cat­e­gory-D, which means that the build­ing will be in a state of dis­use and will need to be aban­doned after an earth­quake. For peo­ple de­sir­ing higher pro­tec­tion they will need to get their build­ings de­signed as is done in coun­tries like Japan,” he says.

Seis­mic retrofitting

What kind of ac­tion is needed to save lives and prop­erty? NDMA has stated that retrofitting is not just an op­tion, but a na­tional ur­gency. There are valu­able experiences of coun­tries like USA, New Zealand, Tur­key and Italy, which have un­der­taken large pro­grammes for seis­mic retrofitting of build­ings.

“One of the ad­min­is­tra­tive issues that re­quires at­ten­tion at the high­est level of PMO is the need for per­fect un­der­stand­ing and co-or­di­na­tion be­tween the min­istry of home af­fairs, which is re­spon­si­ble for dis­as­ter man­age­ment and the min­istry of ur­ban de­vel­op­ment, which in­flu­ences the shape of poli­cies and pro­grammes with re­spect to con­struc­tion of build­ings and de­vel­op­ment of cities. The min­istry of con­sumer af­fairs which is re­spon­si­ble for the Bureau of In­dian Stan­dards char­tered to up­date the build­ing codes also has to be looped in. The need of the hour may well be to have a joint task force han­dling the is­sue,” adds Shah.

Re c e n t l y, t h e m i n i s t r y of ur­ban de­vel­op­ment has an­nounced that it has given a go ahead to FAR of 400 along the tran­sit routes in Delhi. What this rul­ing prac­ti­cally im­plies is that there will be a surge of 40-storey build­ings in Delhi just like the many su­per-talls that are ex­pected to come up in Noida and Gur­gaon.

“To­day, In­dia is not pre­pared for high-rise build­ings as it does not even have the ba­sic build­ing code for de­sign and con­struc­tion of high-rise struc­tures,” says a re­port ti­tled Earth­quake Safety - Are We Pre­pared To Face? by As­socham and Miyamoto this week.

Build­ings on stilts

Last year the home min­istry through the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity came out with a pub­lic state­ment that all build­ings on stilts were to be con­sid­ered as dan­ger­ous as th­ese would come crash­ing down in the event of an earth­quake. The min­istry of ur­ban de­vel­op­ment fol­lowed this an­nounce­ment with a pol­icy guide­line that stilts were to be made manda­tory in Delhi for en­sur­ing park­ing space. “As a con­se­quence of gov­ern­ment poli­cies and an­nounce­ments, thou­sands and lakhs of build­ings have come up on stilts with the pub­lic not re­al­is­ing that th­ese are death traps in the event of an earth­quake.”

The Bureau of In­dian Stan­dards, which works under the Min­istry of Con­sumer Af­fairs, re­leased a doc­u­ment last year which said it would be re­vis­ing the Na­tional Build­ing Code and come up with a spe­cialised build­ing code for tall build­ings in the year 2015. Till date, the re­vised Na­tional Build­ing Code and the Spe­cialised Build­ing Code, es­sen­tial for con­struct­ing safe build­ings with re­spect to earth­quakes, are yet to be re­leased.

The two most im­por­tant build­ing codes with re­spect to earth­quake safety are IS-1893 and IS-13920, the first was last re­vised in the year 2002 and the sec­ond in 1993. It’s a pity that nei­ther the Nepal earth­quake that caused wide­spread dam­age nor the warn­ing by NDMA that a mag­ni­tude 8 or higher earth­quake was due any­time, has made the min­istry of con­sumer af­fairs re­lease the re­vised build­ing codes, the re­port says.

Alot has been said and writ­ten about t he realty sec­tor and the good and bad prac­tices be­ing fol­lowed from time to time. How­ever the Nepal earth­quake has high­lighted the need for fol­low­ing in let­ter and spirit the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act, which was en­acted on De­cem­ber 24, 1986.

The Act was aimed at pro­tect­ing con­sumer in­ter­ests and gave each In­dian ci­ti­zen six con­sumer rights. Two of the rights which are rel­e­vant to this dis­cus­sion are the right to be in­formed about the qual­ity, quan­tity, po­tency, pu­rity, stan­dard and price of V V V V V IV IV IV IV IV IV III III III III III III III III III goods or ser­vices and the sec­ond is the right to con­sumer education.

The law in­tends that the con­sumers be ed­u­cated so that the de­ci­sion they take to pur­chase a prod­uct or ser­vice is an ‘in­formed de­ci­sion’ and they are not duped/ cheated to take a de­ci­sion which may af­fect them later. Realty projects in In­dia are sold or let out with the sim­ple men­tion that the build­ing is “earth­quake re­sis­tant” but no­body has ques­tioned the def­i­ni­tion or the mean­ing of this term and nor are the sales executives equipped to give a de­tailed and the right an­swer.

BURHAAN KINU Source: Bureau of In­dian Stan­dards Code IS-1893

As­socham MSME Coun­cil chair­man PK Jain (cen­tre) re­leas­ing a study ti­tled Earth­quake Safety: Are We Pre­pared to Face It?

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