Seismicity studies for walled city

Letter to DST in view of likely convergence with DMP imperatives and consequent NCMP opportunities for reversing ad-hoc redevelopment trends, enclosing earlier publication on inner city renewal

Professor VS Ramamurthy 
Secretary, DST, Technology Bhavan, New Mehrauli Road, New Delhi - 110016 

Sub:Walled City imperatives – request for opinion / clarifications

Ref:Chandni Chowk houses won’t survive quake1, The Hindustan Times, 31.05.04

As per the report under reference DST’s micro-zonisation study categorizes the Walled City as probable high-death-toll-zone, with 70 to 80 per cent of the buildings unlikely to survive an earthquake measuring 5 on Richter Scale. I seek DST opinion on the following questions:

  1. Does high-death-toll probability not call for urgent mitigation measures and stopping other initiatives at least till criteria are set out for ensuring they do not increase this probability? I ask because Walled City ideas of last 2-3 years, ranging from small projects to ‘visions’ and proposals to modify laws, do not reflect the seriousness of the risk at all.
  2. Does high-death-toll probability have anything to do with local geological factors? I ask because the news item makes reference to loose Yamuna soil and other features, I understand, also contribute to earthquake vulnerability / damage, such as pockets of chalk, pocket aquifers being depleted / collapsing, subterranean interferences, etc.
  3. Does high-death-toll probability in the Walled City arise from buildings being more unsafe than in other parts of the city or from densities being several times higher? I ask because the news item suggests the former (in a manner consistent with ideas for redeveloping the Walled City after substantively modifying existing law that requires its conservation), while the statutory Delhi Master Plan (DMP) suggests the latter. 

I also seek DST opinion on a basic question: would it suffice, for purpose of normalizing death-toll-probability, to shift manufacturing, wholesaling, warehousing, government, etc, uses (which account for large share of total use) and restore the traditional built form in the Walled City? I ask because DMP sets out de-densification as pre-requisite for other Walled City interventions – so that infrastructure inputs match desired use levels rather than ‘facilitate’ the overuse problem, heritage conservation initiatives have sufficient elbow room, etc – with ample space elsewhere for uses to be shifted. DMP statutory solutions for Walled City have remained elusive because of lack of will about the de-densification pre-requisite, though a few possibilities have now arisen from Supreme Court judgment for industries in the context of UPA NCMP. If DST has also identified de-densification as an imperative from earthquake safety perspective, the convergence of imperatives could become very useful. 

I am enclosing an old paper that dwells on the de-densification imperative and I do look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Gita Dewan Verma / Planner

Encl. as above, Inner City Renewal: Lessons from the Indian Experience2, Habitat Intll 17(1), 1993

cc: (in cont. of correspondence re ground water, earthquake risk / heritage and DMP imperatives)

  • Member Secretary, CGWA
  • Secretary, Delhi Science Forum
  • Head of Department of Conservation Architecture, School of Planning and Architecture 
  • 1. ‘Chandni Chowk houses won’t survive quake’
    Hindustan Times, Chetan Chauhan, New Delhi, May 30 2004

    CHANDNI CHOWK could be the worst hit area if an earthquake rocks the Capital, as 70 to 80 per cent of the buildings surveyed were unlikely to survive tremors above five on the Richter Scale.

    In the first report prepared by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, the Walled City has been categorized as a probabale high-death-toll-zone in the Capital.

    The department is conducting a “micro-zonisation” study for the entire city at a cost of Rs.23 crore. “The study is based on the Tokyo model where each house has been categorized according to its vulnerability in case of an earthqwuake. The study will be completed in two years.

    “As a result of the study we would have the stability factor of each building on a digital map,” a senior government official said.

    Most of the buildings in the walled city are not earthquake proof because they are built on loose sand deposited from Yamuna. Only a few buildings have concrete foundations that will be able to resist earthquake.

    Not much has changed in Chandni Chowk mainly because of official apathy. The first Master Plan of Delhi had recommended a different building byelaw for Walled City keeping in view the construction style. Many buildings, however, have been constructed illegally after taking permission only for renovation.

    The Delhi Government has plans to bring out a legislation on disaster management to clearly define the role of different agencies in case of an earthquake.

    The draft suggests formation of a Disaster Management Authority headed by the Lieutenant Governor.

  • 2. Inner City Renewal: Lessons from the Indian experience
    Growing businesses and the large number of transactions involved in conducting a business tend to give rise to conflicts among the parties involved in a transaction. Human society has evolved in a way to cope with these disputes by creating law and order bodies. An Intelligent Arbitrator Associate (IAA) that works with and helps the law enforcement and law adjudication authorities to resolve disputes that arise due to commerce conducted over the Internet is presented in this paper.