Audit hospitals, schools to check stability during earthquakes: Delhi HC to authorities

The Delhi High Court Tuesday asked the authorities here to conduct structural audit of public buildings like hospitals and schools to test their stability against tremors caused by earthquakes in the region.

A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Manmohan observed that while it was true that one cannot control natural disasters like earthquakes, the city government and other local authorities can start by reviewing their own buildings first and have an action plan prepared.

The Delhi government and other local agencies are directed to do structural audit of all hospitals, schools and college and file status reports, ordered the court.

The court was hearing a PIL by advocate Arpit Bhargava claiming the seismic stability of buildings in Delhi was poor and, in case of a major earthquake, there could be a large number of casualties.

Delhi government counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi said action is being taken by the authorities to deal with any major tremors. Making all buildings in the city seismic activity proof can only be done in a phased manner.

The government lawyer emphasised that besides the city having several buildings that are old, there is also a problem of unauthorised constructions, some of which have been demolished.

Maintaining that the government also turns “a blind eye” to authorised constructions that may “come down like a pack of cards”, the bench, also comprising Justice Mini Pushkarna, said due warnings should be issued to the occupants there.

“Please warn these people. Put notices that structure is dangerous. It is unsafe”, the court said.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) counsel said it was taking action against unauthorised constructions and the option of “retrofitting” in buildings to make them compliant with safety norms was also being considered.

The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) counsel said over 300 of its buildings were now compliant with the safety norms.

Bhargava submitted that damage to life and property in Delhi in case of an earthquake was a disaster waiting to happen as only 10 per cent of the buildings were seismically compliant.

He said there were repeated violations of safety requirements despite court orders.

The Delhi government counsel said the matter was not an adversarial litigation and the petitioner was free to give his suggestions to the authorities who have already issued “suitable directions”.

The petitioner had said Delhi fell under seismic zone 4 (severe intensity zone) and measures were required to be undertaken to avoid loss of human lives in the event of an earthquake.

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The Delhi government had earlier told the court that out of over 10,000 buildings identified for assessing structural safety more than 6,000 have been asked to show structural safety certificates and 144 unsafe buildings demolished.

It had said structural audit of 4655 buildings has been done, while retrofitting was in progress in respect of 89.

The petition was filed in 2015 and the high court has, from time to time, directed the Delhi government and civic authorities to develop an action plan.

In 2020, Bhargava filed a contempt petition claiming the court’s earlier orders on making the national capital ready to face any major earthquake have not been complied with yet.

In December 2020, the high court sought responses of the AAP government, the DDA, and the three municipal corporations to the plea seeking contempt action against them for allegedly not complying with judicial orders on ensuring seismic stability of buildings in Delhi.

The court listed the matter for further hearing on May 6.

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