Building code made stronger

Published: Wednesday 31 March 2004

large-scale destruction caused by natural disasters like earthquakes and cyclones has forced the Union government to take a hard look at the country's building construction rules. Consequently, the Bureau of Indian Standards (bis) recently revised the National Building Code (nbc), making it "more comprehensive" so that disaster-preparedness is ensured. This is the second time that the nbc has been modified in about 35 years.

Though the code was adopted in 1970, it hasn't been effective in checking unsafe constructions due to a poor enforcement mechanism. Only a few states have shown the resolve to make its guidelines mandatory when framing building by-laws and development control rules of their local bodies. "The problem is that nbc provisions are recommendatory in nature," points out V Suresh, vice-chairperson of the bis task force for revising the code.

Strict implementation of a scientific building code could help in reducing casualties in urban areas during natural calamities. But the rural parts of the country continue to be neglected on this front. Nearly 70-75 per cent of the residential dwellings in these areas are non-masonry constructions, which are rarely governed by such codes.

In urban localities, the stakes are high. It is estimated that 25 per cent of the outlay of any plan in India is spent on constructing residential, administrative, industrial and commercial buildings. Besides, as many as 38 cities with a total population of more than half a million are situated in seismic zones.

Factoring in such details made the revision of the code a mammoth task. The exercise involved 400 experts from across the country. These included civil and structural engineers, architects, town planners, and public health specialists. The work was done over a period of two years during which 18 specialist panels were constituted to review different aspects of building construction and incorporate state-of-the-art techniques. The panels analysed issues like building materials, construction practices, building utility services (electricity and air-conditioning), provisions for water and gas supply, and landscaping.

"In view of major water supply, sanitation and environmental deficiencies faced by almost all cities, provisions relating to integrated water management, rainwater harvesting, aquifer recharging and waste management have been incorporated in the revised document," reveals Sanjay Pant, joint director (civil engineering), bis. A sub-section on bamboo has been included in the nbc for the first time to exploit its potential in building construction. A design code has also been evolved for the product, adds Pant.

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