December 5, 2023

Delhi High Court orders structural audit of public buildings to assess earthquake stability


New Delhi, Dec 5 (IANS): The Delhi High Court on Tuesday, responding to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer Arpit Bhargava, directed authorities to carry out comprehensive structural audits of public buildings like hospitals and schools to assess their stability against possible earthquakes in the area.

A bench of Chief Justice Manmohan said natural disasters like earthquakes are beyond control, but governments and local authorities can take proactive measures by reviewing the structural integrity of their buildings and drawing up action plans.

The court inter alia directed the Delhi government and other local authorities to carry out a structural audit of all hospitals, schools and colleges and submit a status report detailing the findings.

The PIL expressed concern about the earthquake resistance of Delhi's buildings and suggested that structural problems could lead to large numbers of casualties in the event of a major earthquake.

Delhi government counsel Santosh Kumar Tripathi assured the court that authorities have already taken steps to deal with potential earthquakes. Tripathi explained that given the presence of old buildings and the problem of unauthorised constructions, making all buildings in the city earthquake-proof will be a gradual process.

The court noted the challenges posed by both old buildings and unauthorised constructions and asked the government to issue warnings to occupants of potentially unsafe buildings.

The court suggested posting a notice declaring the structure dangerous and unsafe.

Counsel for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) said it was taking action against unauthorised constructions and was also exploring options for retrofitting buildings to bring them into compliance with safety norms, while counsel for the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) said over 300 buildings currently comply with safety norms.

Petitioner Bhargava argued that only 10 percent of Delhi's buildings meet earthquake resistance standards and that the disaster could happen at any time. He alleged repeated violation of safety norms despite court orders.

The Delhi government countered that the matter is not an adversarial litigation and said the petitioners are welcome to make suggestions to the authorities, who have already issued appropriate directions.

The case, which began in 2015, has seen successive directions from the High Court to prepare an action plan for earthquake preparedness. The court is scheduled to further hear the matter on May 6, 2024.


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