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Making India Earthquake Prepared

GS 3 Disaster Management

In Context

We should be alarmed by the devastation caused by earthquakes in Turkey, as geologists have warned of a probable massive earthquake in the Himalayan state.

More about the Earthquakes


  • Seismic waves are produced when the shaking of the Earth’s surface causes a sudden release of energy in the lithosphere (the rocky outer layer of the Earth).


  •  Earthquakes can cause severe damage, especially in regions where homes and other structures are poorly built and landslides are common.


  • The initial rupture point of an earthquake is known as its hypocenter or focus.
  • The epicentre is the point directly above the hypocenter at ground level.
  • The Richter scale is used to measure it.


India’s Vulnerability:

  • Earthquakes are a prominent hazard in India’s disaster profile and have resulted in substantial losses of life and property.
  • India has experienced some of the largest earthquakes in the previous century.
  • Approximately 58 percent of India’s landmass is prone to earthquakes.
    • Frequent tremors:
  • In recent times, albeit with small magnitudes, tremors have occurred in various regions of India. On the subcontinent, where several regions are prone to major seismic activity, few experts warn that frequent tremors are a cause for concern.
  • According to others, India is experiencing frequent micro tremors, which are relieving tectonic stress and providing protection against the possibility of a catastrophic event.

India’s earthquake preparedness

Seismic Zones:

  • Earthquake-prone regions of India have been identified based on three factors: Seismicity-related scientific data.
  • Past earthquakes have occurred.
  • Tectonic configuration of the region.
  • The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) divided the country into four seismic zones based on these conditions: Zone II, Zone III, Zone IV, and Zone V.
  • India’s policy on earthquake preparedness: 
    • Currently, India’s policy on earthquake preparedness operates primarily at the scale of structural details.
    • Guided by the National Building Codes, this includes specifying dimensions of the structural members — columns, beams, etc. — and details of the reinforcements that join these elements together.
    • While scientifically sound, this view on earthquake preparedness is criticised for being myopic.
  • National Seismic Risk Mitigation Programme (NSRMP):
    • o Its objective is to reduce the vulnerability of communities and their assets to natural disasters by implementing appropriate mitigation measures and to strengthen the capacity of national and state entities to plan for and respond to earthquakes effectively.


  • Delhi High Court’s recent action:
    • Recently Delhi High Court has asked the state government to file a status report and action plan on the structural safety of buildings in Delhi.

Issues & Challenges

Shortcomings of India’s policy on earthquake preparedness:

  • The policy disregards buildings constructed before 1962, when such codes were first published.
  • Such structures make up a significant portion of our cities.
  • Itt assumes infallibility in its enforcement processes, relying solely on penalties and violations.
  • It views earthquakes as a problem of individual structures, assuming that they exist and behave in complete isolation from the urban context.
  • The truth is that buildings exist in clusters and behave as a system during an earthquake.
  • They collapse on neighbouring structures and adjacent streets, causing damage to buildings that would have otherwise survived and blocking evacuation routes.

Suggestions & way ahead

    • Earthquake preparedness must act on the scale of individual building components and cities.


    • At the scale of cities, the issue is more complex, extensive, and neglected.
    • None of the urban renewal programmes, including the most recent Smart Cities Mission, have developed a policy for earthquake preparedness in urban areas.

Bulding details:

  • We must create a system for retrofitting existing structures and enforcing seismic codes more efficiently at the level of building details.

Need of a policy:

  • Earthquake preparedness must be viewed as a matter of policy, not just legal enforcement. Such a policy should include two measures: First, the establishment of a system of tax-based or development-rights-based incentives for seismic retrofitting.
  • Such a system of incentives will foster the growth of a retrofitting industry and produce a pool of well-trained professionals and competent organisations.
  • Second, by improving the enforcement of seismic codes using a comparable model.
  • The 2014 launch of the National Retrofitting Programme was a step in this direction.
  • Under the programme, the Reserve Bank of India instructed banks to deny loans for any building activity that does not meet earthquake-resistant design requirements.

Urban-level policy:

  • A policy at the urban level should begin with surveys and audits that can generate earthquake vulnerability maps depicting areas of the city more susceptible to severe damage.
  • This must adhere to the following criteria:
  • The proportion of vulnerable structures in the area; The availability of evacuation routes and distances from the nearest open ground; The urban density; and the proximity of relief services and the speed with which they can reach affected areas.
  • Using these maps, enforcement, incentives, and response centres can be distributed proportionally across the urban landscape.

Utilizing Urban platforms:

    • Programmes like the ongoing Urban 20 meetings are an excellent opportunity for international knowledge exchange on earthquake preparedness.
Global examples

  • Cases like that of Japan and San Francisco are good examples of their Earthquake Preparedness.


    • Japan has made substantial investments in technological measures to mitigate the effects of its frequent earthquakes.
    • Skyscrapers are constructed with counterweights and other high-tech measures to mitigate the effects of earthquakes.
    • Small houses are constructed on flexible foundations, and the public infrastructure is equipped with earthquake-activated switches that cut power, gas, and water lines.

San Francisco:

    • In April 1906, San Francisco, another of the world’s famous earthquake-prone cities, was devastated by an earthquake.
    • The city experienced over 3,000 fatalities and extensive property destruction.
    • After the disaster, San Francisco implemented policy changes similar to those in Japan, and when the next major earthquake struck in 1989, only 63 people were killed.


Daily Mains Question

A policy regarding earthquake preparedness will need to be visionary, radical, and transformative. Analyse