Thursday, September 22, 2011


India is still not ready for skyscrapers – especially residential!

Of late, earthquakes have sent some unwanted jitters down the spines of the citizens residing in the North and the North-Eastern regions of the country. The recent one, which partially destroyed the entire North-Eastern zone, would have caused unimaginable damage if the same would have occurred in Delhi. The entire NCR belt would have seen buildings falling like packs of cards. A stroll or a drive through Gurgaon or Noida would be enough to gauge the damage a quake would cause in the region. The entire NCR is dotted with tall buildings that compete with each other. Recently, in Delhi, I saw a billboard stating that “why to live a few feet above the ground, when you can live a few feet below the sky.” Though an interesting tagline, but while reading the same did not give me a very comfortable feel.

The issue out here is not about tall buildings but about FSI. For the uninitiated, FSI is Floor Space Index which is a ratio between the built up areas allowed and plot area available. Putting it in simple words, higher the FSI, higher is the built up area or taller the building. With urban population erupting at light-speed, state governments are indiscriminately giving clearance to high-rise buildings. The Delhi master plan 2021 promotes such skyscrapers. The government has increased the FSI and thus has allowed builders to construct taller building on plots that are small in size – to accommodate more flats! However, small builders go against the laid down norms (by Bureau of Indian Standards) and build taller buildings. It’s needless to state that taller buildings make evacuation virtually impossible during a disaster. Moreover, most of the builders rarely study the topography of the area (seismic zone and flood likeability) and blatantly construct buildings with complete disregard to safety measures. With Delhi falling in zone 4 and Mumbai in zone 3, the skyscrapers constructed in these zones are even more vulnerable. As such many buildings in Mumbai (Kalbadevi, Bhendi Bazaar, Bhuleshwar, Mumbadevi and many more) were recently ceased as they didn’t meet the FSI norms. Since these areas are near the coastal zones, the buildings constructed here are very unsafe. This was evident during the Surat quake in 2001. In the past five years, Delhi alone has witnessed more than 15 reported major incidents that claimed at least 100 lives, besides many small incidents that go unreported. The entire situation gets even worse when one tries to see the tall buildings and their safety plans in the perspective of disaster management system. Moreover it requires no statistical evidence to prove how ill-informed our citizens are about the vulnerability of the region they are residing in. India still lacks a central integrated disaster management system, unlike the West. For instance in the US, everything from early warning messages, evacuation plans and state insurance are in place to reduce the loss well before the disaster hits any city.

All in all, the problem here is not just with skyscrapers or high-rises, but with misuse and abuse of FSI norms. Our government shouldn’t allow buildings above an average FSI – in spite of the area being safe. And above all, the buyers should be made educated about FSI norms and building safety during purchase (may be during the registration and loan process). As of now, India is still not ready for tall buildings, especially in the seismic zones – as quake or no quake; there are wide cracks well within our existing housing infrastructure.


1 comment:

  1. Skyscrapers or high-rises are the need of the hour but not at the cost of human life by earth quake. North-East of India is not alone the seismic region prone to Earth Quake. Japan is a place of volcanic region. They are living with safety. South Korea has built the tallest skyscraper in Dubai. Can we not do the same but we require proper technology and proper tensile steel. A building should be as such that could resist the greatest degree of termer. Singapore is a small island; they are increasing their land area by scratching sea. If a building is possible to be constructed in a sea with safety in Singapore, why not does it in a land with safety?