Lessons for buildings from Kolkata fly-over collapse

Amongst heated debates being held on virtually all media channels between various political outfits trying to score brownie points over their rivals’ parties, the death toll in the unfortunate Kolkata bridge collapse has reached 27. These kind of incidents often make the sane to wonder how cheap is the “cost of live” in our country. The Government of the day whether Congress, BJP, Trinamool Congress or any other remains unaffected, the only action taken is appointing of the key personnel responsible for attending debates and making statements to the media. Much of the media too sees such incidents as TRP gaining exercises. Has anyone tried to figure out the reasons and what the wider connotations can mean.

Structural safety, may it be buildings or bridges comes under the domain of structural engineers, a profession most important but not acknowledged by the Government and thus not regulated in any form or manner.

Are there any lessons that can be learnt from the bridge collapse, sadly not until a bigger catastrophe strikes. The National Capital Region falls in seismic zone 4 and recently there have been announcements by Government agencies that multiple earthquakes of magnitude 8.2 or higher can be expected to strike North India. There are thousands of grossly unsafe buildings existing, one most vulnerable building type identified are the “Flat-slab” buildings, IIT-Rourkee recently reported to the Government on the vulnerability of such buildings, how in the first place these should not have been allowed to be constructed and how these can have a pan-cake collapse in an earthquake causing thousands of casualties.

However, as there are huge commercial interests at stake the report was received by the Government with deaf ears. As per the seismic code “Flat-slab” buildings are not allowed to be constructed in seismic zones 3, 4 and 5 but as enforcement has been nil by all the Governments so far there are hundreds of such buildings existing too date. To add to the danger all of these buildings are of high occupancy types as are being used as office buildings. Collapse of even a single building can mean many thousands of deaths.

Ministry of Urban Development responsible for laying down policy guidelines for the built environment and the Ministry of Home under whom the National Disaster Management Authority operates have chosen to be silent spectators to the IIT recommendations. How have these banned buildings been constructed and what now, is it acceptable to risk the lives of the people occupying such buildings?

Credits ET Realty

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