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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

‘No geologist worth his salt would approve such an unsafe change’

'Haryana's vertical push risks people's lives in Panchkula which lie under seismic zone 4'

Written by Pallavi Singhal | Panchkula | December 29, 2019 7:50:13 am
‘No geologist worth his salt would approve such an unsafe change’ Houses at MDC in sector 6, Panchkula. (Express photo by Jaipal Singh)

“No geologist worth his salt would approve such an unsafe change.”

This was the response of A D Ahluwalia, former Geologist at Geological Survey of India, to the amendment to Haryana Building Code.

Panchkula has been marked under Pinjore- Chandigarh active fault zone falling under a seismic zone four— which is considered to be a risk-prone area. Despite this, tall buildings have been cropping up in sectors 15,16, 17 and various sectors of Mansa Devi Complex (MDC), besides the surrounding villages including Buddanpur. With tilts in buildings that were built only months back and cracks growing in their own houses due to added pressure, the risk during situations of earthquake increases further.

Panchkula and its extensions are in front of the Shiwalik Ranges which rose to their current heights about 5500 years ago. When Chandigarh city was planned, the existence of Active Fault Zone was discovered and named as Pinjore-Chandigarh active fault zone.

“The Japanese and the IIT Kanpur geologists were the first to find it. The alluvial cover spread out largely by the young Himalayan rivers after the last major uplift, obviously is not yet well settled yet. The presence of active fault zones surely renders the Panchkula belt extra sensitive in matters of slope stability. The ongoing subsidence of soils has also been scaring and unsettling some developing sectors where cracks due to circular slip failure have developed even prior to the amendment passed”, said Ahluwalia, referring to the several incidences of landslides that happened in the region which are even being investigated for several years by Engineering Geological Experts of Geological Survey of India.

Raising questions on the way the amendment was passed, Ahluwalia said, “ I wonder if the Engineering Geologists of GSI were at all questioned about the prudence of the decision to put additional load on the little vulnerable foundations or the fragile sliding slopes susceptible to landslides especially during heavy and sudden rain falls.”

“Landslides are a global phenomenon but no developed country looks the other way or allows random reckless urbanisation unplanned by a stroke of pen of powers that be. Not scientific vision or geoethical integrity but lust to make quick buck in collusion with the mighty, has obviously taken over the situation.”

Even though all houses that are made now are earthquake resistant, experts claim it is so only on papers. A structural engineer, who has worked for the Punjab government, said, “ These plans that are passed are not even looked at.

These draftsmen who know nothing are the ones putting a stamp on them. Engineers rarely take a look. Even if they do, they do not know about structural stability, geological issues, architecture. They know the only the basic civil engineering.”

Adding to the same, Ahluwalia said, “Even the material used in India is substandard with weak iron rods and more sand than cement being used to make buildings. We have no practice of taking a geological safety audit of houses, Environmental Impact Assessment is also often a farce.”

Ending with a warning, Ahluwalia said, “Surely some seniors living in peace are heading for a living hell next door. The tall towers are not only an aesthetic nuisance but the moment an imminent big Himalayan quake strikes or the Active Fault Zones shake up once again, these hurriedly added floors will come tumbling down and may as well kill the neighbours too besides the unwitting tenants for whom these death traps are built.”

In May 2018, the Haryana Building Code was amended which increased the maximum permissible Floor Area Ratio (FAR) earlier (for all different categories of plots) ranging between 100 per cent to 145 per cent to the current, 140 per cent to 220 per cent in core residential areas, and from 100 per cent to 165 per cent in other residential areas. The maximum permissible height too was increased from 12 metres to 15 metres, allowing people to build ground plus three floors, and in case of a stilt parking, a stilt plus four floors. Another amendment in June this year further raised the permissible height to 16.5 metres, subject to clearance from the fire department.

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