Nearly 90 per cent of buildings, mainly houses, in rural areas of Himachal Pradesh do not follow safe construction rules. In Shimla, 83 per cent out of a sample of 300 selected buildings are highly vulnerable to collapse if there is a major earthquake. This is the frightening reality of a performance audit on disaster management, with specific focus on earthquake and fire, conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to ascertain the state’s preparedness. There are 1.477 million houses (166,000 urban and 1.311 millionrural) in the state as per the 2011 census, the auditor said in a report tabled in the state assembly last week. It said construction of houses in urban areas is regulated by the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act, the Municipal Corporation Act and local bodies’ regulations and building bye-laws.
However, construction of buildings and houses in rural areas (89 percent of total houses) is not regulated by any act or regulation. Construction of seismic-resistant buildings in rural areas has, thus, not been ensured as of June 2016, the CAG observed. Himachal Pradesh is prone to various types of disasters. The central government has identified 25 types of hazards to which the state is prone. This is a wake-up call for authorities as seismic sensitivity of the state is high. Seven out of 12 districts have over 25 per cent of their area falling in seismic zone V (very high damage risk).
The remaining parts fall in seismic zone IV (high damage risk). The state also experiences disasters in the form of forest and building fires with 8,534 fire incidents reported from 2011 to 2016, causing an estimated loss of property valued at Rs 451.30 crore and the deaths of 6,345 people. Taking notice of haphazard development in Shimla, where most of the buildings are “precariously hanging” on the steep slopes and clinging to one another, the auditor said the state Town and Country Planning Rules allows the maximum acceptable slope for construction of a building of 45 degrees.
The Shimla Municipal Corporation and the Town and Country Planning Department have not maintained records in the past six years pertaining to enforcement of regulation on the maximum acceptable slope of 2,459 buildings in Sanjauli, Krishna Nagar, Kangnadhar and other areas in Shimla. Sanjauli is a congested locality on Shimla’s outskirts where the dead often have to be lifted out of homes with ropes after a disaster. “Haphazard construction of buildings with no space for providing relief and rehabilitation may result in abnormally high causalities during disasters,” the CAG warned. It blamed ineffective enforcement of regulations that enabled flourishing of unauthorised constructions in Shimla that were subsequently regularised by paying fines.
Quoting a study conducted by the local civic body through the National Institute of Technology of Hamirpur from April 2014 to July 2016, the CAG said 249 (83 per cent) of the 300 selected buildings in Shimla were found to be unsafe. In the absence of an authoritative structural safety audit of lifeline buildings in the state, the vulnerability of buildings to disaster could not be assessed, it said. Similarly, lifeline buildings have not been identified for retrofitting to withstand seismic activity. The construction of seismic-resistant buildings and houses in rural areas had not been ensured till June last year. Planned for a maximum population of 16,000, the Queen of Hills, as Shimla was fondly called by the British, now supports 236,000, as per the provisional 2011 census figures. The CAG also picked holes in the state’s infrastructure to respond to a disaster.
Emergency operation centres are yet to be fully equipped with communication systems and village disaster management committees have not been established in every district, it said. Despite Rs 20.26 lakh being spent, the emergency operation centre in Shimla is yet to be made operational. The centre lacked communication equipment like satellite phones, VSAT (very small aperture terminal) links and HAM radio sets till June 2016. The CAG slammed the state for lack of disaster response force. The government released Rs 1.15 crore in February 2015 for procuring equipment for imparting training on disaster management to new entrants to the police force.
“Neither the state disaster response force was constituted nor the funds were utilised to procure equipment required to train the new entrants into the police. The entire amount of Rs 1.15 crore remained unutilised,” the CAG said. As for community-based disaster preparedness, the CAT found that no village disaster management committee has been established in the gram panchayats, except in Kullu district. There are 3,243 gram panchayats comprising 20,960 villages in the state. Interestingly, a disaster management plan in the Health Department was prepared in 2014 but no training on mass casualty management, trauma care and emergency medicine was imparted to doctors and para-medical staff till last June.