A report filed three years ago following the collapse of a Lalita Park building in East Delhi that killed 71 people may once again assume importance as the Delhi government gathers its resources for increased disaster preparedness in the wake of the deadly earthquake in Nepal.
The report by the commission of inquiry headed by retired justice Lokeshwar Prasad and submitted to the Delhi government in November 2011 was based on a survey of 10,000 buildings in East Delhi.
Chandan Ghosh, professor and head of the GeoHazards division at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), had supervised the survey of 10,000 buildings in East Delhi that was carried out by field workers of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.
In its findings, the commission wrote, “It has been revealed that from the point of view of earthquake disaster, practically most of the buildings, particularly residential ones, in the area of East Delhi are unsafe, as the entire area of East Delhi, falls within the seismic zone IV on a scale of V.”
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The survey results have further revealed this fact that in the area of East Delhi, which is by and large the area of river bed of river Yamuna, most of the buildings, more particularly constructed in unauthorised colonies and/or unauthorised regularised colonies, are structurally unsafe as the same have been constructed without following any guidelines, without sanction of any building plans in a most haphazard manner.”
While the condition of unauthorised colonies raised a number of concerns, the commission’s report also quoted Ghosh’s findings with regard to multi-storey building. “As per the observations, recorded by Dr Chandan Ghosh, even in multi-storey apartments there is a ‘soft storey’, at the ground floor and/or mid floor. The existence of soft storey…in the area of Patparganj, makes all these structures extremely vulnerable during stress/earthquake,” the commission report stated.
Speaking with The Indian Express, Ghosh said, “The 10,000 buildings randomly picked in East Delhi and surveyed, are just the tip of the iceberg. Delhi is not at all prepared to tackle a disaster like an earthquake.”
He added that the report was submitted to the government in November 2011 but little had been done for its implementation.
Government officials, however, said that the Aam Aadmi Party government will consider the recommendations while it takes various measures to enhance its disaster preparedness.
The commission’s report also stated, “In good number of buildings, major construction defects such as ‘hidden beam’, ‘flat beam’, ‘thin column’, ‘strong beam and weak column’, ‘cantilever projection with floating walls/columns’ etc. were noticed. There is no check on the maintenance and long-term performance of such ‘scars’ in the building physiology. In some of the buildings, even the beam thickness has been compromised with 10 cm thick typical slab thickness in the form of so-called ‘flat beam’. Those buildings, with above defects are more vulnerable to quakes.”
Buildings, Ghosh said, are like the human body and they too get sick over a period of time.
“Construction norms are blatantly flouted, there is no check on the bricks, cement or steel being used in construction and no way of testing the standard of the material is available. Also, there is no way of filtering substandard material from coming into the market. Building earthquake-resistant buildings is the lowest of our priorities,” Ghosh said.
“Some of the buildings have been found with exposed external brick work, reflecting shoddy construction workmanship which may be an easy target in the case of an earthquake,” the report added.