In the aftermath of the Nepal quake, CSE points out lapses in building regulations in India

  • The condition and quality of Indian building stock is poor when it comes to seismic performance, say CSE researchers

  • India has many instances of buildings collapsing even without an earthquake – laxity in enforcing regulations is to blame

  • In Delhi, 70-80 per cent of buildings violate regulations; civic agencies cite lack of humanpower as reason for not monitoring

NEW DELHI, April 27, 2015: Earthquakes don’t kill, buildings do. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has pointed out the systemic issues that result in construction of unsafe buildings that are unable to withstand an earthquake. Anumita Roychowdhury, CSE’s executive director for research and advocacy and head of its ‘green buildings’ programme, said the lack of regulations for construction and monitoring of buildings makes a huge proportion of them unsafe. “The large number of deaths in Nepal and India should immediately lead to a reflection on the nature of our buildings, and whether these will be able to withstand an earthquake of moderate to high intensity,” she said.

A survey by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has found that in the last 25 years more than 25,000 human fatalities were caused primarily by collapse of buildings during earthquakes. “The condition and quality of Indian building stock is poor when it comes to seismic performance -- in fact, the observed performances of reinforced concrete (RC) buildings are highly unsatisfactory,” said Avikal Somvanshi, senior research associate at CSE.

Somvanshi said that during the 2001 Bhuj earthquake, RC buildings collapsed at an earthquake of just 6 on the Richter scale, when a well-designed RC building is expected to collapse only when an earthquake is 7.5 or higher on the Richter scale. The damage caused to these buildings is unreasonably high compared to any other country for similar level of ground-shaking. Thus, the housing risk in the country should be minimised to reduce losses to life and property in future earthquakes.

Seismic codes
Today, India has a fairly good range of seismic codes covering a variety of structures, ranging from mud or low strength masonry houses to modern buildings. “However, the key to ensuring earthquake safety lies in having a robust mechanism that enforces and implements these design code provisions in actual constructions. These codes are mandated for new construction but we have regular instances of buildings collapsing even in absence of earthquakes, which reflects how effectively they are enforced,” said Somvanshi.

While new building codes can apply to new buildings, there is also a need to retrofit existing buildings to make them safer. There are around 25 lakh such buildings in Delhi alone. However, while the know-how for retrofitting is in place, neither a survey nor an effort to initiate this massive project has begun. “Immediately after an earthquake, there is some discussion around safety of buildings, but in a few days the issue is forgotten,” says Roychowdhury.

Vulnerable cities
It is estimated by experts that India is likely to report heavy casualties if a moderate earthquake struck, particularly in the large cities including Delhi. “Ninety per cent of the building designs in the capital are either by the mason or the contractor. Newly constructed houses rarely abide by the meticulous National Building Code-2005, Master Plan of Delhi-2021, Vulnerability Atlas-2006, building By-laws, or the housing construction, planning, development and regulatory authorities. The seasonal wear and tear demand is rarely met,” said Somvanshi.

CSE researchers point out that the Tejendra Khanna Committee, set up in 2006 to look into various aspects of unauthorised constructions and misuse of premises in the city, found that 70-80 per cent structures had violated Building and Development Control Regulations. It stated that the formalities required to obtain a building completion certificate or even a building plan sanctioned is tedious, so owners seldom procure them.

In April 2011, the Delhi government made it mandatory for all builders to submit sanctioned building plans along with structural safety certificates for their new buildings. Within days, the number of applicants for property registration saw a drastic fall. Ten days later, MCD informed the government that it did not have enough engineers to issue the certificates. The order was revoked.

When it comes to approvals, research has shown that most builders get only the ground floor approved. “Four to five floors are added once the completion and occupancy certificates for the ground floor are obtained,” said a contractor during a research study conducted by Down To Earth, the magazine that CSE helps publish (for a comprehensive info-package on earthquakes, please visit “Adhering to planning norms, by-laws and safety standards wastes valuable floor space. Financial stakes are too high in these small- and medium-scale projects to allow such wastage of saleable floor area,” the contractor admits blatantly.

Humanpower shortage
Regulations require urban local bodies to check conformity of structures with the approved drawings while granting completion and occupancy certificates. The National Building Code 2005 states that non-compliance to the sanctioned drawings should invite suspension of further construction till the required changes are put in place, and demolition of illegal portions. Urban local bodies claim that inspections usually cannot be carried out because they are severely short of humanpower.

To speak to an expert on this issue, please contact Anupam Srivastava,, ?0091-9910093893



Media Clippings
DDA focuses on old buildings post tremors

The Hindu, April 30, 2015

Earthquakes don't kill, poorly constructed buildings do

Hindustan Times,  April 29, 2015

Illegal buildings are disasters waiting to happen: Delhi HC

The Asian Age, April 30, 2015

400 buildings in city are sitting ducks

The Asian Age, April 28, 2015

Even moderate tremors can cause heavy casualties in Delhi: Experts

IndiaTV (PTI), April 28, 2015

‘Quakes don’t kill, buildings do’

The Hindu, April 28, 2015

Nepal quake aftermath: Experts warn of heavy causalities even in moderate tremors

The Economic Times (PTI), April 27, 2015

Experts Warn of Heavy Causalities Even in Moderate Tremors

The New Indian Express (PTI), April 27, 2015

Experts Warn of Heavy Causalities Even In Moderate Tremors

Outlook (PTI), April 27, 2015

Experts warn of heavy causalities even in moderate tremors

Zee News (PTI), April 27, 2015

Even moderate tremors can cause heavy casualties in Delhi: Experts

The Indian Express (PTI), April 27, 2015

Experts warn of heavy causalities even in moderate tremors

Business Standard (PTI), April 27, 2015

Experts warn of heavy causalities even in moderate tremors

Deccan Herald (PTI), April 27, 2015

CSE points out building regulation lapses in India post-Nepal quake

New, April 27, 2015

Poor regulatory controls make Indian buildings vulnerable to earthquakes:

CSE MeriNews, April 27, 2015

Bhukamp nahin, Bhavan lete hain hum sabki jaan

Dainik Jagran, May 3, 2015

Earthquake can devastate Delhi even if it's much less powerful than Nepal's: CSE

Financial Express, April 28, 2015‎