A top earthquake expert, banned by the Indian government from entering the country, has said that Nepal had been better prepared to deal with large magnitude earthquakes than India.
Roger Bilham, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado in the United States, has said the Nepal government had invested in strengthening its buildings and concrete structures once it had become clear a few years ago that a big earthquake was almost inevitable.
“The potential for a major earthquake west of Kathmandu was recognised specifically more than two decades ago based on a pattern of historical earthquakes, and confirmed by GPS measurements in subsequent years… local engineers immediately responded by implementing plans to strengthen schools, hospitals and bridges, and by applying earthquake resistance to new construction,” he told The Indian Express in an email interview.
In contrast, Bilham said, the Indian government has largely ignored the warnings. “The Indian government’s attitude to seismic studies is apparently to ‘shoot the messenger’,” he said, referring to his own expulsion from the country in 2012.
Bilham was on his way to Bhutan, from the US, when he was denied entry at the New Delhi airport. He was asked to board the plane he had arrived on and leave the country. The government had then claimed that his tourist visa did not allow him to engage in the kind of activities he was involved in.
Informally, however, the government also accused him of ‘scare-mongering’, inflating the possibility of a large earthquake striking India.
Bilham, in his studies, has claimed that the Kashmir region can be struck by a very large earthquake, even one of magnitude 9. He has also raised questions over the safety of proposed nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in Maharashtra.
Bilham said the death and destruction in Nepal has been lower than what was expected from this earthquake. “Simply the application of building codes can go a long way in ensuring that buildings are resilient. In Kathmandu, many schools had been strengthened,” he said.
This was not the case with India, where buildings fall even without earthquakes, he said. The devastation in India could be much larger “not because of large urban populations but because buildings in India are in general very fragile,” Bilham said.
Shyam Sundar Rai, head of the Earth and Climate Science division at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, said Nepal also has better observation network to study the tectonic movements. “Nepal has a network of about 300 to 400 GPS instruments spread over the entire fault line. India does not have more than 25 or 30 that are permanently deployed,” he said.
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