The strong tremors in Chennai following the earthquake in Indonesia have once again raised fears over the safety of buildings in Chennai. Are we safe in our houses? This is the question on every Chennaiite’s mind after two temblors shook the city on Wednesday following a massive earthquake in Indonesia. Reports of some buildings in the city developing cracks due to the tremors have only added to the paranoia.
While most developers are divided over how many buildings in Chennai are actually equipped to withstand a quake, they do agree that stringent guidelines issued by the authorities has ensured that most structures constructed after 2002 are complaint and have built-in measures to withstand disasters.
R Kumar, Managing Director (MD), Navin Housing & Properties (P) Ltd, who was a former deputy planner of Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), says: “After Chennai metropolitan area, which was under Zone II as per the 1984 seismic zone mapping, was brought under Zone III (moderate) in the revised mapping in 2002, guidelines have become stringent as per the specifications of the National Building Code of India. It is important to ensure that the structure has incorporated the design elements that will enable it to withstand earthquakes,” he says.
“But rules are flouted with impunity by some. Following the massive earthquake in Bhuj, Gujarat, it was found that only buildings that flouted the rules had collapsed, while the stronger structures managed to withstand the quake. We have a lesson to learn from this: Buyers should not be lured by just cheaper homes. They should ensure that the developer complies with all the safety standards set by the authorities concerned,” he says.
“The government should encourage redevelopment as this will mean that old and unsafe buildings can be demolished to construct structures that follow the new code. But the Tamil Nadu Housing Board (TNHB) instead of making it a simple, transparent process is aggravating it by placing several roadblocks,” he says.
The tremors have left Sarita Ravindran, a software engineer, extremely worried. She bought a house in the city in 2000 and is unsure if it meets all the safety requirements and is worried about the safety of her family as she is not sure that her home can withstand such disasters. “At least for some time in the future we will be worrying about the safety of our home. I hope the developer has followed the norms while constructing this apartment complex. But how do we find out,” she asks. Most people don’t seem to think twice about the quality of construction when they buy a house. Many of them just look for the cheapest option.
Ramesh Ramachandran, who works in the hospitality industry, says, “I never really bothered to find out what materials are being used in the construction of our house or if they meet the required standards. The tremors have opened my eyes. I am now asking my friends to be extra careful. We are spending our hard earned money to buy house and we should not compromise on quality to save a few thousand rupees.”
M Shivashanmugham, Senior Planner, CMDA, agrees. “It is the responsibility of the buyer to get a certified copy of the design of the structure from the developer,” he says. They should also do a background check on the reputation of the developer and the engineer overseeing the project. “Though the CMDA gives approvals for projects, monitoring the design and execution to ensure that all standards are met, is a difficult task and not within CMDA’s purview. If people come to the CMDA with complaints, they will be examined to find a solution,” he says.
But this still leaves the questions over safety unanswered. A study commissioned by the department of information technology, government of Tamil Nadu, Anna University’s Centre for Disaster Mitigation and Management has been screening all buildings that are above three floors in the city for the past two years. The centre’s findings are yet to come, says Shivashanmugham.
“There is only so much that CMDA can do. A huge part of the responsibility lies with the developer and to some extent the buyer,” Shivashanmugham says.
According to Suresh Jain, managing director, Vijay Shanthi Builders, low-rise structures are mostly vulnerable. “In India, we always wait for a disaster to happen before the authorities wake up. Several compromises happen in terms of the quality of steel, cement and other materials. It is imperative to generate awareness among buyers. After all, a house is a lifetime investment. They have to keep a constant check on the developers who are constructing their home,” he says. It is not enough to ensure to ensure that your buildings meet all the standards. If the neighbouring building is weak, it could result in a cascading effect destroying other buildings in the vicinity,” he says.
“The government should take stock of the buildings that are over 30 years old and get them redesigned to suit modern requirements. In this way we can prevent disasters. Redevelopment is a slow and painful process especially for old and TNHB flats. Since there are multiple owners, getting approvals from each one of them is extremely difficult. The only solution is for the authorities and buyers to be alert to ensure that all quality standards are met,” he adds.
According to experts, several buildings in the city do not have the wherewithal to deal with disasters because they were constructed way before Chennai was placed in CRZ III. The authorities need to study these buildings and retrofit them to suit the current requirements. “It is time to wake up. Even countries like Japan which has used technology to mitigate the effects of an earthquake is still not completely equipped to deal with such disasters, what chance a country like India stands,” they ask.
The tremors and the resultant panic may die down in a few days, but safety concerns will continue to haunt most people.
Source : Times of India (Chennai)