The Big Picture – How prepared is India to tackle an Earthquake?
The recent Earthquake which struck Nepal and parts of India has taken many lives. The
devastation caused in Nepal and some parts of India has once again revived the debate about
various aspects of facing and tackling such disasters. India has in recent years witnessed
devastating earthquakes in Maharashtra in 1993, Gujarat in 2001, Kashmir in 2005 and other
disasters like Tsunami in 2004 among others. Eversince a lot of work has gone into studying
these disasters, planning and tackling them. The National Disaster Management Authority has
been set up along with National Disaster Response Force. However there are still a lot of gaps.
It is said that almost 50% of the land in India is vulnerable to Earthquakes. 10 cities which are
seen as high earthquake prone zones include Guwahati, Srinagar, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai,
Pune, Kochi and Tiruvanantapuram among others.
Unlike some other natural disasters, there is a fair demarcation of the territories around the
world which are prone to earthquakes due to their location over major fault lines and highly
seismic zones. According to Geographical statistics, close to 54% of India’s total land is
earthquake prone. A number of major Indian cities come under seismic activity zones IV and V,
implying that they are highly susceptible to devastating earthquakes. Northern India, in
particular, has multiple cities coming under these zones. In 2011, NDMA said that close to 4,000
multi-storied buildings in Ahmedabad won’t survive a high magnitude earthquake due to a
faulty design. The situation was even worse in Delhi in 2013.
In 2014, the NDMA, with assistance from experts from IITs and ministries, came out with
guidelines on ‘seismic retrofitting’. Launched under the Home Ministry, it was called the
‘National Retrofit Program’. The short term aim of the program was to retrofit critical structures
and buildings such as hospitals and schools on an immediate basis. Retrofitting is a mechanism
through which an existing building is modified, using certain strategies, to conform to the
present day standards for earthquake resistance. The National disaster management authority
has also issued specific guidelines for ‘Seismic Retrofitting of Deficient Buildings and Structures’.
But unfortunately, most builders have turned a blind eye towards such guidelines.
The difficulty of coordinating the response during Uttarakhand floods suggests that the country
is ill-equipped to deal with a large earthquake in a mountainous area. The effects would be
many times worse. The Government should take notice of the Uttarakhand and Nepal events
and start preparing for a large earthquake.
In 2007, the NDMA also made it mandatory for all the new constructions in Mumbai and New
Delhi to abide by the earthquake resistant designs. The RBI had also issued orders to all the
banks, asking them to deny infrastructure loans to any building which is not abiding by the
earthquake resistant structures’ guidelines. But unfortunately, these norms are flouted more
often than not. In most cases, there is no formal scrutiny of the building’s design before the
loan is approved by the Banks.
In December 2014, the Supreme Court directed the central Government to ensure that all the
upcoming infrastructures in the country display their ‘earthquake resistant category’ and define
the implications of their category, as per the Government’s definitions. Even after the apex
court’s judgement, majority of the new buildings have been overlooking these norms.