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Quaking, 1108 aftershocks later

The Indian plate is underthrusting the Eurasian plate by 4 to 5 centimetres a year. But our scientists move even slower. Are they waiting for the Big One to come, again without warning?

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015 | 21:11:47 PM

-- two years ago, the earth in Gujarat shook and buildings crumbled. Since then, as many as 1108 tremors of 3 and above on the Richter scale have been recorded in the same region. Humans do not feel a tremor of 3 and below; only seismographs can record them. But the State (which owns these machines) feels nothing. The Indian plate is underthrusting the Eurasian plate by 4 to 5 centimetres a year. But our scientists move even slower. Are they waiting for the Big One to come, again without warning?

An earthquake is a natural disaster. But earthquakes do not kill; substandard buildings we call home do that. The builders lobby and our city fathers have grossly compromised engineering, and people's lives. It shows in the cracks. And the cracks are widening with each aftershock. All of north India sits on a tremor intensive zone. Yet anarchic urban sprawl imagined without any rationale, geological or scientific, is the development culture of the day. Even today, Ahmedabad residents prefer high-rises, and the state merely encourages them!

We need a seismic map of the country. The efforts in digital seismic tracking in the Uttaranchal region is a welcome move. A Central Building Research Institute project to study the seismic character of Delhi through advanced Digital Accelerographs is also welcome. It will help understand tectonic movement in detail, which in turn will help urban planners. But what about political will?

It will be argued that the money required to implement such a large plan for India is too high. It will also be argued that earthquake resistant buildings will cost more. Again, these problems can be solved by redefining priorities. Don't we have money allocated for 'disturbed regions' of the country? Tracking siesmic movements beneath the ground is not an exotic scientific dream. It has a survival value, greater than nationalist dole. The Indian state, and Indian science, must do something very practical. They must make every Indian feel safe in their homes.

This last fortnight Delhi's ex-chief minister Madan Lal Khurana, working with the Union minister for urban development, announced that illegal constructions made in houses would be sanctioned. Architects have warned of a structural disaster. Does anyone remember Gujarat? Does anyone care?

Security is a loaded word. But it certainly doesn't mean we queue up for meaningless martyrdom.

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