If disaster strikes, city has no plan A, B or C...

Anuradha Mukherjee, TNN | Dec 30, 2004, 10.36PM IST

NEW DELHI: Have you ever wondered as you drive or walk through and past crowded colonies with their narrow lanes and unauthorised overhangs, just what would happen if a disaster like a quake happened? 

How much of the city is structurally sound enough to withstand a jolt like the one that struck Gujarat on January 26, 2001? Experts say that the city may get "downsized" if this happens. Not only are we ill-equipped to face such a disaster, but the setting for large-scale destruction has been prepared by badly constructed buildings, without any attention to structural design and safety norms. 

Architect and urban designer K T Ravindran says not just the structural design of the buildings, but their location is also a factor in their susceptibility to earthquakes. "Much of the development that has taken place after the 70s is in seismically susceptible area. For example, colonies like Patparganj that are on the riverbed, or Dwarka and neighbouring Gurgaon," he said. 

MCD, which is supposed to clear building plans of all structures coming up in almost 94% of the city, merely takes an undertaking from the person building a structure, that he has kept structural safety norms in mind. The officials clearing the building plans are usually simple engineering graduates without any expertise in structural design, say MCD sources. 

While building plans for structures coming up in authorised colonies have to be cleared by the MCD, in unauthorised ones, no one cares. "Even in authorised colonies, very few people get building plans cleared. In Rohini zone, that is an upcoming part of the city where a construction boom is on, only 400 building plans were cleared in 2003-04. People usually don't get plans cleared, it is enough to bribe the official," said BJP councillor Vijendra Gupta. 

Microzoning plans of Delhi show a faultline running under the Yamuna. Gurgaon is settled on the tip of that faultline. "Soil quality is bad in Dwarka — it is soft and high in water content. In areas along Yamuna, the riverbed soil is silky sand with a very high water content. When a quake strikes, the water content is expelled and the earth sinks," explained Ravindran.