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Quake threat to Puri echoes in HC

- High-rise buildings along shoreline show signs of tilt

Cuttack, July 19: Orissa High Court has initiated a public interest litigation (PIL) on the earthquake threat to Puri where the sea level has risen and high-rise buildings along the shoreline show signs of tilting possibly due to tectonic movements.

Taking suo motto cognisance of a report in The Telegraph on the issue, the division bench of Justice Pradip Mohanty and Justice Biswajit Mohanty issued notices to the revenue and disaster management secretary, home secretary and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

The report “ASI team visit inspects Jagannath Temple — Visit follows earthquake” was published on May 23, a day after an earthquake hit the state.

Official records indicate that the high court’s concern was triggered as the report alleged that the state government officials played down the impact of the earthquake on May 21 though eminent geophysicist and former deputy director-general of the Geological Survey of India P.N. Nayak had said Puri was sitting on a time bomb.

“The rise in water level of the sea in Puri on May 15 is the precursors of a disaster and now the earthquake hit the state, affecting the coastal belt,” Nayak had said.

The PIL committee consisting of Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice B.R. Sarangi said: “The matter relates to threat of earthquake and consequent rise of the sea level. In view of constant upcoming of high-rises by the seashore in Puri, a holy and tourist place, the matter needs consideration regarding safety measures and precaution to avoid any unfortunate incident or death toll. Thus, the matter involves important question to the safety of the Puri inhabitants, therefore, the same may be treated as a PIL.”

The seashore buildings of Puri town were observed to be tilted towards northeast by Nayak, retired deputy director-general (geophysics).

The Telegraph had also carried a news report on the issue on February 22, 2012. A team of professors and research scholars of IIT, Kharagpur, had visited Puri to study the tilted structures.

Nayak attributed it to the impact of the 2004 tsunami or the rise of the earth’s mantle material through the oceanic ridges between Brahmagiri and Sakhigopal near Puri. The ridge extends to over 1,600km connecting Sri Lanka.

“The tilted buildings are either caused by pressure transferred from the oceanic crust after 2004 Sumatra quake or the up welling (an oceanographic phenomenon that entails rising of cold, usually nutrient-rich waters from the ocean depths to the warmer, sunlit zone at the surface) of mantle material through the ridge that may result in further tilting of the buildings and disastrous crustal movements,” Nayak had said.

The road running parallel to the shore in Puri had been breached by a massive surge of the sea in 2007, a phenomenon generally attributed to global warming but which, it now appears, could also have been connected to the oceanic crust movements in the wake of the Sumatra tragedy. The road has developed not only cracks, but also elevations and depressions of more than 1 metre at certain points.

While the already-visible tilt in the buildings make them disaster-prone, Nayak felt that in the event of an earthquake, the destruction could be minimised if a prediction programme was implemented.

The tilt in the buildings is hardly noticeable if viewed from the beach road, extending from Banki Muhan in the east to Baliapanda on the western side. One has to trudge through the golden sands and look at the buildings from the south-western side, or drive up to the Baliapanda side at least to the point where the road bends for the tilt to be visible.