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Hazard Safety Cell

The state of Sikkim with its capital at Gangtok, located in the north-eastern part of the country falls within “Seismic Zone-IV”. The total population of the entire state is around five lakhs. The State of Sikkim with its proximity to the Bay of Bengal and the fact that the mountains of the state come directly in the path of the monsoon clouds, makes it the rainiest place in India. Gangtok registers an average rainfall of 325cm per annum; this factor makes the state prone to landslides. The runoff if not checked with proper drainage systems, may seep its way into foundations, thus making the structure weak against earthquakes. From the Administrative point of view the state has been divided into four administrative districts, viz. North, East, West and South. East District compromises of the highest amount of towns, including the capital Gangtok. Owing to its high-rise buildings and population, East district may be considered the most vulnerable in terms of disaster. The Hazard Safety Cell, which is still in its infant stage, has yet to materialize and get established in the State. The disaster management team, at present compromises of the following officers:
1. Mr.J.B Subba (Chief Architect)
2. Mr. Shahid (Superintendent Engineer, Planning)
3. Mr. Praveen Kumar Pradhan (Divisional Engineer, Project)
4. Mr. Vivek Karma Subba (Assistant Engineer)
5. Mr. Rimp Dorjee Bhutia (Assistant Engineer)
6. Mr.Neeraj Rai (Assistant Engineer)
7. Mr.Ashok Chettri (Junior Engineer, Building and Housing Dept.)
On the Tuesday morning of 14th February, at around 6.30; the state of Sikkim experienced an earthquake, with its epicenter in between the hills of Phim Lachung and Dangrin, east of Lachung in North Sikkim. The earthquake measured 5.7 on the Richter scale, with tremors lasting for duration of 5 to 7 seconds in Gangtok. Ten more aftershocks of lower intensity that measured 3 on the Richter scale were recorded. The intensity scale of the earthquake could be taken as “Frightening”, as it was felt by most indoors and outdoors. Many people in the buildings were frightened and ran out doors. There were reports of breakage of glassware, falling of books and movement of furniture. The disaster management team made a quick inspection within the capital Gangtok. A selected few structures that claimed to be most affected by the earthquake was inspected by the team. The following buildings were inspected:
1. Governor’s Secretariat
2. Raj Bhawan
3. Enchey Monastery
4. Private Building at Deorali
5. Tashling Secretariat
6. Kanchendzonga Shopping Plaza
7. Police Head Quarter
8. Legislative Assembly
The first three buildings comprised of mainly load bearing structure. The age of the buildings exceeded the hundred years mark, and fell in the type-B structure. The masonry wall of Enchey Monastery, built in 1840 was cracked and the century old gold painted frescoes damaged beyond repair. The damages on the buildings were of Grade 3 viz. Heavy damage, with large and deep cracks in plaster and fall of chimneys.
The Private building at Deorali was a fairly recently constructed structure, around the year 1995. The building fell in the type-C structure, however the damage caused on the building was of Grade 4 viz. Destruction, with gaps in walls: parts of buildings collapsed, collapse of inner walls, leading to the total evacuation of the residents. It was also noted that the most damaged part of the building viz. the basement was made up of hollow bricks, whereas the rest of the floors that withstood the earthquake were comprised of normal brick masonry.
The rest of the buildings inspected, were recently constructed and fell in the type-C structure. The damage caused on the buildings were of grade 2, viz. Moderate damage. There were small cracks in plaster, fall of fairly large pieces of plaster, and small cracks. The Police Head Quarter and Kanchendzonga Shopping Plaza consisting of soft-storied structure showed signs cracks, and thus requires proper shear walls/ bracings.
There are other private buildings which have suffered damages of Grade 2 to Grade 3 (Heavy damage).
The earth quake should be taken as an eye opener, and proper coordination between all departments should be established. Proper data of buildings should be collected, lifeline buildings should be identified and proper disaster management training should be provided. The scale of 5.7 magnitude earthquakes would generally be considered moderate, however it has caused extensive damage in Sikkim, with reports of more than 300 houses damaged in and around the State capital Gangtok; the present spree of building activities taking place in and around Gangtok, demands urgent need for proper construction norms.
Presently, no comprehensive planning legislation exists in the State. Long ago, a draft planning legislation had been prepared by the Central Town and Country Planning Organisation and sent to the Sikkim Government for Consideration. It has yet to take statutory effect. In April, 1985 a team led by the Chief Planner of this Organisation had visited Sikkim, following the discussions held by the Chief Secretary, Government of Sikkim, with Secretary, Ministry f Works and Housing and Joint Secretary (Urban Development) and acquainted themselves of the various problems of development of Gangtok and other towns in Sikkim. A draft State Planning and development authority ordinance has been prepared at the request of Government of Sikkim which provide for planned development of rural and urban land in the State. It was comprehensive planning and development legislative proposal and the State is processing it for statutory enactment. At present, the following Acts are enforced in the State:
1. The Gangtok Municipal Corporation Act, 1975
2. The Bazaar Committee Act, 1969
The building bye laws and other rules and regulations framed under the Corporation Act are applicable to Gangtok but their enforcement leaves much to be desired. The Bazaar Committee Act is applicable to towns other than Gangtok and does not contain any provision for the preparation of a development plan and the enforcement is almost absent. (Quoted from, Reference Documents Vol-II, September 2004, Prepared by Committee of Experts, constituted by Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, National Disaster Management Division, Pg.21-22)
In conclusion, although efforts are being made by various departments to provide proper rules and regulations, the establishment of Hazard Safety Cell should be considered at the earliest.



Government of Sikkim

Website Administered by: G.Chopel,Joint Chief Architect (Ext-210)
Ashi Sonam Choden,Senior Architect (Ext-239)

Middle Block, SPWD, Nirman Bhavan,Zero Point
Gangtok,Sikkim 737101

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