Building a New Techno-Legal Regime for Safer India

31 Dec 2008


To avoid damage to buildings in an earthquake due to faulty design and construction practices, a committee was constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. The publication provides recommendations by this committee,  which include modifications to the existing Town and Country Planning Act, putting in place land use zoning regulations, and bye-laws for adoption by state governments and union territories.

India is a large country and has had more than its share of major natural hazards like drought, floods, earthquakes and cyclones throughout its history of civilization. Naturally, the country developed its own practices and strategies for coping with the various natural calamities. Since independence in 1947, India has developed a nationwide relief administration where a lead role of the State governments is envisaged. The ten year period of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), therefore, came as a good opportunity for the country to look back at what had been done in the past, take new initiatives during the Decade, and plan ahead for reducing the impact of the natural hazards on its people, settlements and economic developments.

The Super Cyclone in Orissa in October 1999, Bhuj Earthquake in Gujarat in January 2001, and now the devastating Tsunami in East Coast and series of Earthquakes in Andaman & Nicobar Island on December 26, 2004, underscored the need to adopt a multi dimensional endeavor involving diverse scientific, engineering, financial and social processes, the need to adopt multi disciplinary and multi sectoral approach and incorporation of risk reduction in the developmental plans and strategy.

There has been a paradigm shift in the approach to disaster management in the country. The new approach proceeds from the conviction that development can not be sustainable unless disaster mitigation is built into the development process. The new policy also emanates from the belief that investment in mitigation are much more cost effective than expenditure on relief and rehabilitation. Disaster management occupies an important place in the country’s policy framework as it is the poor and the under-privileged who are worst affected on account of calamities/disasters.

The approach has been translated into a National Disaster framework covering institutional mechanism, disaster prevention strategy, early warning systems, disaster mitigation preparedness and response including human resource development.

Disaster prevention is defined to encompass activities designed to provide permanent protection from disasters; which will include engineer ing and other physical protect ive measures, and also legislative measures controlling land use and urban planning.

The goals of prevention is (a) to ensure that all new buildings are designed and constructed with proper engineering intervention taking due care for safety against natural hazards in urban as well as in rural areas so that no unsafe buildings are added to the huge existing stock of unsafe buildings; (b) to ensure upgrading the safety of buildings in the public sector by retrofitting techniques and encourage simiar action regarding buildings in the private sector.

National standards/codes on disaster resistant structures including the National Building Code of the country are second to none in technical contents. However, to make their use mandatory, proper enabling provisions are required in the legal framework of the country Laws pertaining to planning, development and building construction are very important to achieve planned and safe development in urban and rural areas. Building standards/regulations are derived from various laws pertaining to planning and development of different states.

They provide themandatory techno-legal framework for regulating building activity from planning, design to completion of construction. To make the techno-legal regime in the country sound enough to ensure safe construction, a road map has al ready been drawn by the Government. This includes modification in the existing laws, development control rules, byelaws.

The first step in this road map is preparation of Model Town and Country Planning Legislation, Zoning Regulations, Development Control, Building Regulations/Bye-laws. Action interactive with State Government through Workshops and further follow up action including capacity building exercise are the subsequent steps for ensur ing adequate and effect ive techno-legal regime in the country.

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