While none can predict, far less prevent, an earthquake, careful planning and adhering to quake-resistant construction norms can prevent loss of life and property. Delhi lies in the high-damage seismic zone, the fourth most dangerous among five zones. If a temblor of the magnitude that hit Kathmandu this year were to shake the capital, the destruction would be unimaginable.
Around 75% of buildings here violate the Building and Development Control Regulations laid down in the National Building Code (NBC) 2005, say experts. The code, that’s being revised, specifies structural stability needs of a building, its design, quality of construction material and other parameters.
Delhi’s building plans are approved under the 1983 Building Bye-laws, which incorporate the NBC and Delhi Master Plan 2021. Though these make it mandatory to keep a check on the quality of construction material and steps to make a building quake-resistant, municipal corporations don’t have a mechanism to inspect them. “The focus of reviews is more on design, less on structural safety,” says Chandan Ghosh, head of the geo-hazard risk management division, National Institute of Disaster Management.
While the Bureau of Indian Standards has a code for earthquake engineering in high risk seismic zones, it’s not binding on the government. “The owner and structural engineer are responsible for a building’s safety,” says Subhash Arya, South Delhi Municipal Corporation mayor. “We go by what the structural engineer certifies because we don’t have manpower to check the stability of each building.”
This cavalier attitude to construction allows stone dust to be used instead of sand as well as sub-standard building material. When the then Municipal Corporation of Delhi checked building stability in east Delhi in 2010, it found most riddled with serious structural defects. But the alarming findings didn’t change mindsets. Today, civic agencies don’t even have a count of Delhi’s dangerous buildings.