DIBRUGARH, March 12 � After the high-tech safety measures failed the people of Japan on Friday, one shudders to think of the consequences in the aftermath of a similar quake in Assam or elsewhere in the North-east. A few inquiries by The Assam Tribune today laid bare the vulnerability of the people of the State and the region, in case the area takes a hit measuring 7 or above on the Richter Scale.
Noted geo-scientist Dr Sushil Goswami said he is appalled that no serious geo-tectonic study has been carried out to systematically assess the movements of the earth�s plates in the Indian sub-continent. He feels that this study should have been on the priority list of the Department of Science & Technology. �There is scanty risk factor documentation, a serious lack of arrangement of public shelters and post quake public administration,� he said.
Dr Goswami also revealed that after the 9.3 magnitude earthquake of December 26, 2004, the entire Burmese Plate, stretching from the Andamans to upper Assam has become all the more dangerous to people and property of the sub-continent. The Burmese Plate has been colliding with the Indian Plate that triggers frequent tremors in the region. To add to this, one has to bear with the other major inter-plate collision in the sub-continent � that of the Himalayan Plate and the Tibetan Plate. Worse, both these twin pairs of tectonic movements have their crossroads in the India�s North-east.
Structural engineers like Chanchal Rajkonwar are of the opinion that unless buildings and other constructions in the region are adequately reinforced, there is every likelihood of massive damages to public property. Others in this specialisation even go to the extent of declaring that dams and major river bridges have to be built extra strong to prevent major damages in the region. The North-east falls in the highest risk sector, in geological parlance, called Seismic Zone V. In this zone, the intensity of quakes could be as high as 10 on the Richter Scale, and with frequent occurrences of lesser quakes.
That buildings in Assam are not built safely enough is no longer a myth. It was only last year that a tall apartment building in Guwahati bent over, following a relatively minor quake. With no monitoring mechanism in any of the urban bodies in the State for construction quality assurance, the risk factor goes higher. Dr Goswami feels that there must be structural engineers with all the development authorities in the State on full time basis to monitor quality of construction, both in the private and public sectors.
According to statistical predictions, India�s North-east has witnessed one or more major earthquakes on a regular 50 year cycle. The first documented major tremor in the region took place on June 16, 1869, with a magnitude of 7.5. The other documented major quakes in the region, all measuring above 7 on the Richter Scale, occurred on June 12, 1897, July 2, 1930, October 23, 1943, August 15, 1950, and August 6, 1988. While the last mentioned measured 6.6, the quake of 1950, measuring 8.5, caused the most damage. Thus, statistically, the next big one is due any day.
However, a better study of the plate movements in the sub-continent would result in a better assessment of earthquake vulnerability in the area. While predictions of quakes till now are mostly statistical, a proper geological assessment is called for.
Meanwhile, the poor preparedness to face a big quake is a matter of deep concern all over Assam. And more so, as the State has a wide network of �inflammable projects�: refineries, gas-based industries, power stations, underground oil and gas pipeline grids, public safety can never be compromised. Experts are also calling for immediate installation of auto shutdown mechanisms in all these utilities, to avert major mishaps. May be Japan should teach India some lessons in safety and also that even the best available technology may not be good enough with Mother Nature decides to call it a day.