The unprecedented death toll in Turkey and Syria following the devastating earthquakes has sparked off serious concern regarding our own vulnerability to earthquakes here in India and Manipur in particular.
In 2021, Union Minister Jitendra Singh informed the Lok Sabha that a total of 59 per cent of the landmass of India (covering all states of India) is prone to earthquakes of different intensities. Among the cities he listed as per their respective locations in high seismic zones, Manipur came under Zone V which is considered as the most active region.
As per geologists, the Himalayas have not stopped growing and they grow about 2 inches a year. This continuous growth is caused by the collision between the Indian tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate. The collision which was responsible for the creation of himalayas in the first place is still ongoing and this builds up tectonic stress over millions of years. The boundaries between tectonic plates are made of fault lines and their movement releases the build up stress in the form of seismic waves or earthquakes.
Some of the high magnitude earthquakes in Assam are attributed to the Kopili fault line which extends to the western areas of Manipur. Manipur also has its own Churachandpur-Mao Fault (CMF) which passes right through the map of the state. Some blame this fault line for the 2016 earthquake (M 6.7) in Manipur. Although the epicentrd was in Tamenglong, which is 30 km away from the Imphal, it killed eight people, injured over a hundred in the city and caused wide and extensive damage to buildings, houses, and markets in Imphal. The quake was also strongly felt in Bangladesh and in the neighboring states as well. We can only imagine what the extent of devastation might have been if the epicenter came a little closer to the city. These concerns should prepare us to take up necessary measures.
In may 2019, the state government announced that it is planning to launch an assessment of the buildings located in and around Imphal City (under IMC Jurisdiction), particularly those located in Thangal and Paona bazaar after a pedestrian was killed and three injured when a portion of an old building along the busy Bir Tikendrajit Road in Imphal City collapsed. The state government made further announcements in a few months that the assessment will be carried out to see if the buildings violate the newly amended IMC building Bye-Law, 2019.
Strangely, it was also announced that approval has been given to construct up to seven storey buildings at areas covered by the IMC building Bye-Law 2019, against the earlier rule that allowed the construction of only three story buildings.
In planned cities like Chandigarh, the maximum number of storeys is not allowed to exceed more than five (G+4 i.e. Ground Floor + 4 storeys). North Punjab and Chandigarh come under the seismic Zone 4 which is considered a ‘high risk’ and liable to suffer earthquakes up to the intensity of Level VIII (Damaging) on the MMI Scale. Compared to this, the entire Northeast comes under Zone 5 which are areas facing the ‘Highest Risk’ of getting earthquakes on Level IX (Destructive) or more as per the MMI scale. So, the factors taken for allowing an increase in the number of storeys that can be built at IMC covered areas need to be reconsidered. With many playgrounds, compounds and lawns already shrinking in an already congested city, a Level IX earthquake will not be required to cause widespread devastation in the city.
As for Turkey, it also serves as a case study on how blindly adopting a neoliberal approach by administrators towards the city of Istanbul after the 1980 military coup put millions of lives at risk. Bringing in foreign investors to a city which already lacked principled planning and building skyscrapers and increasing the number of cars by expanding connectivity resulted in many untoward outcomes and continues to cause unwanted consequences in the future. This has been vividly documented in Imre Azem’s Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits (2011). These are, of course, lessons we can learn but not necessarily by walking down the same path.
(The views expressed are personal)