Sunday, May 17, 2015

‘Growth’, Still Unchecked and Unplanned

On 25 April, and then again on 12 May, earthquakes wreaked havoc on Nepal. From experts to laymen, all are convinced that old, un-engineered, unplanned and weak structures were the main contributing factors behind the huge number of casualties, injuries and damage to properties. Now, experts ranging from architects to civil engineers, even geologists in their interviews given to TV channels of Nepal are urging the government as well as the public in general to avail their services in rebuilding Nepal. It is difficult to say how long the Nepalese will take to overcome the devastation but expert suggestions are a welcome move in certain respects.
In the case of Sikkim, we are lucky that the tremors felt here were of less than half the intensity of the ones in Nepal. It is difficult to imagine what would have happened if 7.8 and 7.3 magnitude temblors had hit us here. We have already seen the consequences of a 6.8 magnitude quake that struck us in September 2011. Maybe it is time for us to think about the lessons from the past.
In 2011, it took us three to six months to return to normalcy. After that hiatus, people started repairing their houses to cover-up micro and even macro damages incurred from the tremor. At the same time, you also had people adding more floors to their buildings without determining if the tremor-hit bases of their buildings were capable of bearing the extra load.
After the formation of the Municipalities five years ago, it had become mandatory for all new constructions to have an architect designed blueprint. Old structures were also issued blueprints on the payment of a certain fee. However, almost all old structures were okayed for blueprints without verification by a competent authority. Not only this, for a new construction, the competent authority has to certifiy whether the land is fit for construction and an architect has to design the structure. In several cases, most of the formalities are bypassed. Architects are rarely hired and some buildings have even crossed the prescribed limit of number of storeys.
Commercialization of residential buildings is now a common practice in Gangtok. As per experts, this can be dangerous since residential buildings are constructed to bear a certain load while commercial establishments like hotels and schools have to bear more load. Commercialization of residential buildings is a dangerous practice, and yet, it is happening without any re-evaluation or reinforcements.
Not only urban areas, the rural parts of Sikkim are also rapidly mutating into concrete jungles. Very few experts are consulted while constructing buildings. It is the local mason who is the overall in-charge of such constructions. There is nothing safe about such practices either.
Keeping all these in mind, it will be a challenging task for Disaster Management teams and concerned authorities to work out concrete disaster management preparedness and mitigation plans so that damage to lives and properties during such disasters can be minimized as much as possible.

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