New Delhi: With majority of buildings in Delhi ill-equipped to withstand a major earthquake, the city government is planning to involve structural engineers in the process of building-plan approval to ensure safety of structures.
According to government records, there are 31 lakh units in Delhi which are at medium risk of being affected by an earthquake.
"This status sounds very scary, but the question is what can be done about this. Since 7-8 years a decision was taken to retrofit some key buildings in Delhi so in an event like earthquake these buildings can be used for housing government offices and key operations.
"As of now only 2-3 building can be retrofitted. It is complex to retrofit an existing building, but structural engineers know that it can still be done," KK Sharma, Chief Secretary of Delhi government, said.
Sharma was speaking at a joint conference on "Earthquake Disaster Mitigation in India" by the Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).
According to officials, many of the building that have come up in government sector are unsafe from the current standards of preparedness. Thousands of three-four storied buildings in unauthorised colonies where a large number of people are living are prone to earthquake.
Sharma said Delhi government is planning to incorporate role of structural engineer in getting building plans approved.
"I think we need to bring in structural engineers and they must also verify and sign building plans along with the architect at the time of getting permission from Municipal Corporation," he said.
Certification of structural engineers is being done by few states like Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
"We have got a copy of notification from UP and we have spoken to organisations of structural engineers to guide Delhi government as to how to interface standard operating procedure that all new buildings are certified by structural engineers.
"If we can have 1,000-1,500 structural engineers in Delhi to certify building, then we could have self certification schemes on the part of people living in unauthorised colonies to encourage people to get their building audited," Sharma said.
Sharma emphasised that as the process is expensive
government can keep their fee nominal. This can be as low as Rs 1,000-1,500. Engineers can prescribe minimum interventions to keep the building safe.
Taking about the need of having safe buildings, P K Mishra, Additional Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, said, "We have learnt many lessons during the last few years but we have not been able to ensure safety of building. In context of earthquake it does not kill people but building collapse kills people.
"We have best of building code but how to enforce that. Till 10 years ago building code was not mandatory. But then there are many challenges like training of engineers and capacity building of supervisors. There are very few structural engineers who can prepare earthquake or disaster resistant structures."
Mishra said it is very difficult to sustain lessons of disaster.
"Earthquake has a long return period. If there is an earthquake in an area it might again occur in some years and that makes the problem much more difficult. People forget the lessons learnt during the earthquake and start following old practices.
"So preparing for earthquakes become much more of a challenge not only because it is uncertain and unpredictable but because return period is very long," Mishra said.