National Disaster Management Authority Government of India

New Delhi

Delhi - Official Website -

Hazard Profile - Earthquake, Fire, Flood


Sh. Arvind Kejriwal

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Geological Setting of Delhi

Delhi, the capital of India is bounded by the Indo-Gangetic alluvial plains in the North and East, by Thar desert in the West and by Aravalli hill ranges in the South. The terrain of Delhi is flat in general except for alow NNE-SSW trending ridge which is considered and extention of the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan. A computer image of the surface topography of Delhi is presented in the figure below.

Seismicity around Delhi appears to be associated with a major geological structure, which is known as theDelhi-Hardwar Ridge. It coincides with the extension of the Aravali Mountain belt beneath the alluvial plains of the Ganga basin to the northeast of Delhi towards the Himalayan mountain (Jain,1996).

Seismic Zoning

The country has been classified into different zones indicating the intensity of damage or frequency of earthquake occurrences. These zoning maps indicate broadly the seismic coefficient that could generally be adopted for design of buildings in different parts of the country. These maps are based on subjective estimates of intensity from available information on earthquake occurrence, geology and tectonics of the country. The zoning of a country is a continuous process which keeps undergoing changes as more and more data on occurrence of earthquakes in that country becomes available.

The region with intensity less than V is designated as Zone 0. Thus, the designation of area as seismic Zone V indicates activity. Delhi is located in zone IV which has fairly high seismicity where the general occurrence of earthquakes is of 5-6 magnitude, a few of magnitude 6-7 and occasionally of 7-8 magnitude. Delhi thus lies among the high-risk areas.

Seismicity in North India, including the Himalayas, is due to collission of the Indian plate with Eurasian plate. This is a continuous process happening for the last 50 million years. These colliding plates flex, storing energy like a spring, and when the plate's margin finally slip to release energy, an earthquake results.

In the past, five earthquakes of Richer Magnitude 5.5 to 6.7 are known to have occurred in the UT of Delhi or close to it since 1720 AD. Two major lineaments namely Delhi-Haridwar ridge and Delhi-Moradabad faults pass through the territory, both having potential of generating earthquakes of magnitude upto MSK VIII will be quite probabale in the Delhi territory. Normal depth of 30 km may be assumed for these earthquakes. It will be prudent to consider the effects of such a potential earthquake for developing a prevention-cum-preparedness plan


The city's settlement pattern has never been viewed in relation to location and geological characteristics.

Pockets with high rise buildings or ill-designed high-risk areas exist without specific consideration of earthquake resistance. Similarly, unplanned settlements with sub standard structures are also prone to heavy damage even in moderate shaking.

The Central Business District namely Connaught Place, numerous District Centres and sprouting high rise group housing schemes are high risk areas due to the vertical as well as plan configurations. The walled city area, the trans-Yamuna area, and scattered pockets of unplanned settlements also figures as high risk zones due to their substandard structures and high densities.

So far as housing is concerned, vulnerability analysis has never been carried out and preliminary estimate of damages is not available for strengthening of structures under normal improvement development schemes.

The most recent Chamoli earthquake (29 March 1999) was felt all over Delhi. There have been reports of cracks in a few tall buildings located on alluvial deposits in the trans-Yamuna area. This event has been recorded by instruments maintained by CBRI.

Past earthquakes around Delhi

Damaging earthquakes have occurred around Delhi since ancient times. Mahabharata mentions about earthquakes during the war at Kurukshetra (Circa 3000 BC?). More recently, damage to Delhi in the 1720 earthquakes (intensity IX in Delhi) is well discussed by Kafi Khan. Tandon (1953) mentions of damage to the Qutab Minar during the 2803 earthquake near Mathura.

Srivastava and Roy (1982) discuss several more earthquakes in Delhi region. These include: (a) earthquake of year 893 or 894 (Intensity XI XII) which took place not far from Delhi in which many persons died; (b) earthquake of 22 March 1825 near Delhi Intensity VII; earthquake of 17 July 1830 near Delhi (Intensity VIII); and (d) earthquake of 24 October 1831 near Delhi (Intensity VI)

Delhi has also sustained earthquake damage in more recent times. For instance, Srivastava and Somayajulu (1966) mention of (a) Khurja earthquake (M6.7) of 10 October 1956 in which 23 persons were killed in Bulandshahr and some injured in Delhi; (b) M6.0 earthquake of 27 August 1960 near Delhi wherein about 50 persons in Delhi were injurred; and (c) an earthquake near Moradabad on 15 August 1966 that killed 14 persons in Delhi. Iyengar (2000) also mentions about damage to one of the minarets of Delhi's Jama Masjid during the M4.0 earquakes on 28 July 1994.

Most recently, the 1999 Chamoli earthquake (M6.5) took place about 280 km from Delhi. Such a moderate earthquake does not normally cause damage at such large distance. And yet, several buildings in Delhi sustained non-structural damage possibility due to peculiar geological and geotechnical features if this area. Fig. 1 shows damage to the gound storey partion walls of a multistory apartment building in the Patparganj area. Collapse of a few architectural fins at the Shastri Bhawan during this earthquake is shown in Figs.2 (a,b). In 1985, an earthquake about 400 km from Mexico city caused very considerable damage and deaths in Mexici city, primarily due to the peculiar site conditions there. The Chamoli earthquake effects in Delhi indicate that there is real possibility of a large earthquake in the Himalaya causing considerable damage to Delhi.

It is therefore seen that Delhi is prone to severe earthquake damage both by nearby earthquakes and by large earthquakes occurring in the Himalayas. The scientists and engineers need to urgently take up detailed investigations to develop a more quantitative understanding of the seismic hazard faced by Delhi. Unfortunately, not many such studies have been carried out so far. For instance, paleoseismics studies to locate major earthquake events of the past, e.g., the 1720 and the 1803 events, would add significantly to the hazard evaluation. Due to its complex geological setting, some areas of Delhi are likely to sustain much higher levels of damages than the others and to evaluate this, detailed microzonation studies are needed. (e.g., Iyengar,2000).

Current status of building stock

The first code of practice for earthquake resistant design was developed in India as early as 1930's after the 1935 Quetta earthquake (e.g., Jain and Nigam, 200). The Bureau of Indian Standards developed its first code on aseismic design in 1962 (IS:1893-1962). However, till date there is no legal framework to require that all constructions in Delhi must implement seismic code provisions. The results is that most buildings in Delhi may not meet codal requirements on seismic resistance. Moreover, even if from now on we somehow ensure that all new construction will be earthquake resistant, there still will remain a very large inventory of old buildings that will be deficient for seismic safety. We need to develop a rational seismic retrofitting policy, first for the government- owned buildings and later for the private constructions.

As per Vulnerability Atlas of India (1997), for shaking intensity VIII, 6.5% houses in Delhi have high damage risk , and85.5% houses have moderate damage risk. These estimates are based on very simplistic assumptions. Systematic studies are needed on vulnerability of different types of constructions in the area. This will require experimental studies to evaluate strength, stiffness and ductility of different types of constructions as well as as analytical studies such as the Push Over Analysis. Experiences of past earthquakes both in India abroad have clearly outlined the vulnerability of multistorey reinforced concrete buildings if not designed and constructed correctly. Huge number of multistorey reinforced concrete buildings in Delhi, particularly those with open ground storey to accommodate vehicle parking, could also pose a major challenge in the event of a strong earthquake.

Infrastructure and other implications

Delhi is currently passing through a major infrastructure development phase with a large number of bridges, flyovers and the metro project under construction. After a severe earthquake, the transport infrastructure is earthquake resistant and the old one is seismically retrofitted. Indian seismic code (IS:1893-1984) is not applicable for major projects which require special studies on seismic design criteria. Moreover, the Indian seismic codal provisions on bridges as these exist today are obsolete and inadequate (e.g Jain and Murty, 1998).

Earthquake disaster in Delhi has the potential to go well beyond the statistics of deaths and injuries. Such a disaster in the country's capital, which also happens to be a major commercial and industrial centre, will have huge economic and political implications which will affect the entire country and not just the population of Delhi. This adds an extra dimension to the earthquakes problem for Delhi.

Plan of action

A valid question at this stage will be: should one be concerned about an earthquake which has a very low probability of occurrence, when Delhi faces so many day-to-day problems of environment, noise, traffic, water and power shortage, etc? The consequences of a severe earthquake to not seriously address the problem. Put it differently, considering the potential for a mega disaster, we cannot afford ignore the earthquake problem.

As a first step towards earthquake disaster mitigation the problem must first be recognized and quantified. Herein lies the first challenge: to discuss and debate the problem of this kind on a rational basis and yet not cause panic. Once the problem is identified and an action plan agreed upon, the need will arise for a political and administrative will to implement the action plan. It must be emphasized that the problem requires huge efforts and is well beyond a few individuals or a few organizations. Numerous scientific and engineering activities will have to be initiated simultaneously before we can even quantify the size of the problem by way of seismic risk scenarios.

As of now, there are too few experts in this subject for a large country like India. We must focus our attention to the institutionally and manpower development at all levels. Extensive studies are needed for seismic hazard evaluation for different parts of Delhi and vulnerability assessment for different kinds of constructions; using these, seismic risk evaluation for Delhi must be carried out. Manuals need to be developed outlining methodologies for new constructions and retrofitting of old ones. A strong legal and enforcement framework with appropriate incentives and punitive measures is required together with awareness programmes for general public. All these components must be taken up simultaneously; ignoring one aspect for the other could be counterproductive.

Delhi has had many damaging earthquakes in the past and is placed in a high seismic zone (zone IV). Delhi is prone not only to damaging earthquakes in or near Delhi, but due to its peculiar geological setting it could also sustain strong shaking due to a large earthquake in the Himalaya. Unfortunately, most buildings in Delhi may not meet Indian standards on aseismic constructions and may be considered deficient from seismic safety view point. Thus, there is a real potential for a great earthquake disaster in Delhi, the implications of which go well beyond casualties because of its political and commercial significance.

There is an urgent need for healthy debates on seismic risk aspects of Delhi and for reasonable assessment of the problem. Studies are needed on seismic hazard evaluation for different types of construction. Using these, seismic risk scenarios must be developed and implementation strategies chalked out for new and old constructions. The efforts required are truly multidisciplinary and should include components on technical training, institutional development, development of technical manuals, legal and enforcement aspects, and public awareness programmes. Most importantly, we need the political will to handle this problem and the biggest challenge perhaps lies in drawing the attention of political leadership to this problem when the city faces many other urgent problems.



In Delhi there has been a substantial increase in population and industrialization, since Independence. Well over 1,50,000 small scale industrial units in identified industrial units in identified industrial pockets (in addition to industries running illegally), over 1200 J.J. Clusters providing shelter to nearly one third of the population and over 3.5 million automotive vehicles have choked infrastructural services. The fast increased has not been planned for.

Master Plan for Delhi, had been created as an instrument to control the use of land in urban area and protect the welfare of people. The concept of zoning has not yielded desirable results over and above allowing for mixed use and occupancy, authorized as well as unauthorized. Banquet halls in residential areas, cottage industries in congested areas, trade of hazardous chemicals from the highly congested residential/commercial areas, hazardous and non hazardous industries in close vicinity are few to menmtion which have further deteriorated environemental services. This has certainly added to the fire risk already inherited by a particular occupancy. As a result losses due to fire are increasing to both the life and property. This is developing a dangerous trend. Man-made disasters are likely in these areas.

Lal Kuan tragedy that claimed 58 lives has not fixed from our memories. Zoning and mixed use planning is a vital part of urban design. However, it can fail through abuse, misuse, and resistance to changes in urban pattern essential for the general welfare of the population. The price , which is being paid, is high. It needs to be understood, appreciated and accepted that the solution to complex problems is not always simple and widely acknowledged . Many a times they are complex, hard and unpopular in a democratic setup.

The recent fire incident data as provided in the table can provide a clear assessment of the fire incidents in Delhi and their increase. In order to contain these rising trends, sometimes hard unpopular decisions need to be taken. However, unpopular these decisions could be, they are the need of the hour and shall have to be taken at the earliest.


Although the number of calls have only marginally increased, number of deaths have increased potentially. The basic reason is that deaths are not as much due to burning but more because of inhalation of toxic fumes, which get concentrated in high density less open space area. It is the lack of circulation/ventilation within tenements. In industrial areas there is disrespect for the safety measures required and hence large numner of deaths or injury due to fires occur.

Number of fire incidents in jhuggis and jhopairs clusters/high-rise buildings have reduced while fire incidents in industrial and residential areas have increased. One of the reason for such increase is, that industrial areas have started hosting non-confirming industries and residential areas have become haven for illegal storage's and dangerous commercial activities in pursuit of mixed permitting land and occupancy in these areas. Also, disrespect to circulation space and open space and increase in congestion in these areas have caused poor accessibility to the place of tragic incidence, which takes only records to increase.

If the number of incidents of fires is carefully studied area wise in Delhi maximum percent of calls of fire incidents have been received in Shahdra, in the east division, Janakpuri (west division), Moti Nagar (northwest),Connaught Circus (central) , Roopnagar and Nehru Place in South Delhi. The reason is congestion and illegal storage of recycling material and chemicals.

If we analyze the causes of maximum number of fires in Delhi 70 percent of calls are due to electric short circuiting. This is alarming because a single cause can be disastrous to life and property that major investments are required mitigating these risks.

Short-circuiting is often a result of illegal connections, low quality wiring and therefore even if single major cause is taken, of, not only would it lead to saving innumerable lives and properties but also cut down on expenditure incurred on fire mitigation.


High population density, crowded streets, unmatching mixed occupancies, inadequate water supply, poor electrical services, unplanned siting of fire stations, encroachment are few examples of ineffective planning which adversely affect the fire response time. Under the present circumstances, a response time of 3 minutes in urban areas and 5 minutes in rural areas is very difficult to achieve. Mobilizing a large quantity of water to the fire scene in walled city area is more than fire fighting. After every fire, as a customary, fire service is blamed for one thing or the other but public, planners as wells as bureaucracy are least bothered to analyze the constraints under which services perform. Fire safety should therefore be an integral part of urban planning process rather than an after thought.



Nature cannot take more abuse. Hence the degradation caused to the environment of the city has to respond in terms of its wrath. Floods in Delhi are not natures wrong doing, it is invariably the irresponsibility of the authorities and those who are to tally insensitive of human life blinded by the economics of haves and have nots. This is very clear from the recurring phenomenon of floods in the mighty river Yamuna and flash floods caused by rains due to choked drains of Delhi.

River Yamuna

Keeping in view the topography, Yamuna catchments upto Delhi is divided in two parts - (1) The upper catchment from source in Himalayas to Kalanaur in Haryana - which com[rises parts of Himachal Pradesh and hills of West Uttar Pradesh and (2) the lower catchment from Kalanaur to odl Delhi rail bridge which consists of West Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

The flow of Yamuna within Delhi is by and large influenced by discharge from Tajewala Headwork 240 kms upstream. In the event of heavy rain in the catchment area excess water is released from Tajewala. Depending upon the river flow level down stream, it takes about 48 hours for Yamuna level in Delhi to rise. The rise in water level also causes backflow effect on the city's drains. The city also experiences floods due to its network of 18 major drains having catchment areas extending beyond the city's limits.

Flood vulnerability

The city has been experiencing floods of various magnitudes in the past due to floods in the Yamuna and the Najafgarh Drain system. The Yamuna crossed its danger level (fixed at 204.83m) twenty five times during the last 33 years (table 3.1). Since 1900, Delhi has experienced six major floods in the years 1924, 1947, 1976, 1978, 1988 and 1995 when peak level of Yamuna river was one meter or more above danger level of 204.49m at old rail bridge (2.66m above the danger level) occurred on sixth September 1978. The second record peak of 206.92m was on twenty seventh September 1988.

In the recent part, the city experienced high magnitude floods in 1977, 1978, 1988 and 1995, causing misery and loss of life and property to the residents of the city. A profile of these four floods (table 1) indicated the extent of damage caused by these calamities.

In Delhi Environment Status Report: WWF for Nature-India (1995), it has been pointed out that since 1978, the flood threat to Delhi has increased. In 1980, a discharge of 2.75 lakh causes at Tajewala resulted in flood level of 212.15 meters at the bund near Palla cillage in Delhi.

Flood zoning

The flood situation is projected in the flood atlas map prepared by central water commission.

As per the map of the flood prone areas of Delhi has been classified into thirteen zones based on the flooding risk in relation to incremental rise in the water level of the Yamuna (DDA, 1993). These cover a range from 199m to 212 m level of water in the Yamuna. This zoning map covers part of North Delhi on the West bank of the Yamuna and almost the entire Trans Yamuna Area on the East bank. Besides this, the Delhi Flood Control Order also the NCTD into four Flood Sectors, namely Sectors, namely, Shahadra, Wazirabad - Babrapur, Alipur and Nangloi - Najafgarh sectors.

Although the unprotected flood prone area is only 1.7% or 25km only towards the south east and about 5% or 74 sq km in the north eastern parts which is protected by earthern embankments every year water level ruses in Yamuna above danger level and large population has to be evacuated to the top of the bunds and Delhi highways.

As already stated, main reasons for this rise of water level is not natural but release of excess water from Tajewala headworks upstream to the two canals one on left and other on the right bank of the river. Rise in water levels also cause back flows in the connecting drains and have effect on the city drain network causing overflow cause of many monsoon related diseases.

Local Flooding

A significant phenomenon which has been increasing during recent years is that of local flooding. Urban areas are characterized by a high area under impervious surfaces (Roads, pavements, houses etc). High rates of development along with the resultant loss of soft landscape has led to high surface water sun-off rates. This results in flash floods in the low lying areas even after moderate precipitation. Another factor adding to this effect is that of river because the river is already flowing at a higher level within its embankments. Thus, the water gets logged in the city areas and it takes several days to mechanically pump it out and bring the situation under control. Similarly, during the past few years, flooding due to the city's 18 major drains has also become a common phenomenon. Already under the pressure of the city's effluent discharge, these drains experience reverse flow from the Yamuna, which is in spate, and as a result they tip their banks, flooding the neighbouring colonies.

Four major floods : profile

1977: Najafgarh drain experienced heavy floods due to discharge from the Sahibi River. The drain breached at six places between Dhansa and Karkraula, marooning a number of villages in Najafgarh block. Six human lives were lost due to house collapse. 14 persons died in a boat mishap. Crop damage was estimated at Rs 10 million.

1978: (September) River Yamuna experienced a devastating flood. Widespread breaches occurred in rural embankments, submerging 43 sq km of agricultural land under 2 meters of water, causing total loss of the kharif crop. In addition to this, colonies of north Delhi, namely, Model town, Mukherjee Nagar, Nirankari Colony etc. suffered heavy flood inundation, causing extensive damage to property. The total damage to crops, houses and public utilities was estimated at Rs 176.1 million.

1988: (September) River Yamuna experienced floods of very high magnitude, flooding many villages and localities like Mukherjee Nagar, Geeta Colony, Shastry Park, Yamuna Bazzar and Red Fort area, affecting approximately 8,000 families.

1995: (September) The Yamuna experienced high magnitude floods following heavy runs in the upper catchmen area and resultant release of water from Tajewala water works. Slow release of water from Okhla barrage due to lack of coordination between cross state agencies further accentuated the problem. Fortunately, the flood did not coincide with heavy rains in Delhi, and could be contained within the embankments. Nonetheless, it badly affected the villages and unplanned settlements situated within the river-bed, rendering approximately 15,000 families homeless. These persons had to be evacuated and temporarily housed on roadsides for about two months, before they went back to living in the river-bed. (Source : Sharma, 1996).

Settlement Patter in Flood Plain

A close analysis of the flood zoning pattern reveals that the high risk zones are the areas that have earlier been identified as unplanned or poorly planned areas having high population densities and sub standard housing structures. These include areas of North Delhi, and Trans Yamuna Area. Some of the colonies that have come up in these areas are at levels 3 to 4 meters below the 1978 flood level.

The community exposed to the highest risk from floods comprises the families living in the villages and unauthorized colonies within the river-bed. There are over 15,000 such families, having over 75,000 persons. Situated on the wrong side of the embankments, these people live on the edge of the floods, and are the first ones to find their homes washed away.

Direct effect of floods in the river Yamuna and the city's network of drains. These affect the population living in the Yamuna River-bed and on the banks of the river and drains.

Local flash floods and water logging increased surface run-off due to high ratio of hard surfaces leading to flash floods. This in turn badly affects the low lying areas, particularly the unplanned colonies which get water logged.

Risk of break in embankments

Protection from the river by embankments lead to a false sense of safety and development starts taking place in the shadow of these embankments. In the event of failure of these protective works, as has been seen in the form of breaches during past floods, the effect is devastating because the pressure of the entire embanked stretch is released at one point, and it takes the people by surprise.