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Saturday, Dec 04, 2021
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OPINION

Death's Building-Blocks

Urbanisation and growing prosperity has led to more high-rises, which proved so fatal in Gujarat. But there are other tragedies-in-waiting: Simla and the Tehri dam.

Death's Building-Blocks
Death's Building-Blocks
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

The reason why earthquakes have become a potent threat was, ironically, highlighted by a remark made by migrant workers from Orissa, who'd just returned home from Bhuj: 'Thank God we lived in shanties'. In Bhuj, Ahmedabad, and a dozen other smaller towns that were hit by the quake, most of the deaths were caused by the collapse of multi-storey, cement-concrete structures. These are all the fruits of economic development. Industrialisation has led to urbanisation and growing prosperity. Rising urban densities have made high-rise construction attractive, while rising incomes have made them economically viable. Had Gujarat not been so highly developed, fewer people would've died. Both industrialisation and urbanisation are inexorable. Thus with each passing year, and each dollar's increase in the gnp, there'll be more and more Bhujs waiting to happen.

It's also ironic that it took Bhuj to wake Dhumal up to the fact that Shimla too is in a seismically active zone. The truth is that he's known this all along but, like the municipal corporations of Bhuj, Ahmedabad, and every other city or town in India, has chosen to turn a blind eye to the possibility of catastrophe. Indeed, governments in Himachal, including Dhumal's, have actively connived at breaking their own building laws wholesale. For him to speak now of respecting these laws is like Veerappan offering to become a policeman if pardoned! The truth, as The Hindu pointed out, is that the entire Himalayan region is seismically extremely active. Over the past century, it's experienced four big earthquakes with an energy release measuring 8-8.5 on the Richter or 20-100 times the power of the Gujarat quake. Shimla is plumb in the middle of the central region of the Himalayas and hasn't known a big earthquake for the last two hundred years and is therefore ripe for one now.

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