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With 54% of India’s total land prone to earthquakes, are we prepared to handle it?

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EQ pic (1)

By Harshmeet Singh

The brutal 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Nepal has caused unprecedented loss of life and physical damage. While the official death figure, at the time of writing this, is over 2,500 in Nepal and 51 in India, it would surely rise exponentially as the rescue efforts intensify in the following days. As the world rallies behind the Nepalese people and help pours in from all quarters, there is only thought in everyone’s mind – ‘Is there nothing we can do against the nature’s fury?’

Despite galloping scientific achievements that the mankind has witnessed, we have never been able to question the invincibility of Nature. While the textbooks are filled with lessons on kinds of earthquake, there is still no breakthrough on any earthquake prediction mechanism. In such a scenario, the best bet for any country, to deal with such a horrendous event is to be prepared for the worst, while hoping for the best. With the Himalayas making India an active seismic zone, it would be worth taking a look at India’s preparedness to handle strong earthquakes.

Unlike some other natural disasters, there is a fair demarcation of the territories around the world which are prone to earthquakes due to their location over major fault lines and highly seismic zones. According to Geographical statistics, close to 54% of India’s total land is earthquake prone. A number of major Indian cities come under seismic activity zones IV and V, implying that they are highly susceptible to devastating earthquakes.

Northern India, in particular, has multiple cities coming under these zones. Add to that the vertical growth that our cities are witnessing over the past decade or so, and you would be able to picture how a major earthquake can leave us in tatters.

Earthquake resistant structures

India’s national capital, Delhi, falls into seismic zone IV, thus making it highly prone to major earthquakes. In 2007, under the ‘Indo-US capacity building exercise for disaster management’, five buildings in the capital were retrofitted in order to ensure that they sustain future earthquakes with minimal damage. Retrofitting is a mechanism through which an existing building is modified, using certain strategies, to conform to the present day standards for earthquake resistance.

Soon after, the National disaster management authority issued specific guidelines for ‘Seismic Retrofitting of Deficient Buildings and Structures’. But unfortunately, most builders turned a blind eye towards such guidelines.

In 2011, NDMA said that close to 4,000 multi-storied buildings in Ahmedabad won’t survive a high magnitude earthquake due to a faulty design. The situation was even worse in Delhi in 2013. Talking about Delhi, a senior official from the NDMA said, “It is hard to imagine the damage caused by an earthquake with high intensity. The city has over 25 lakh buildings; a majority of them do not adhere to the safety code, nor have they been constructed under proper technical supervision,”

National Retrofit Program

In 2014, the NDMA, with assistance from experts from IITs and ministries, came out with guidelines on ‘seismic retrofitting’. Launched under the Home Ministry, it was called the ‘National Retrofit Program’. The short term aim of the program was to retrofit critical structures and buildings such as hospitals and schools on an immediate basis.

According to these norms issued under the program, “A special class of buildings has emerged in a big way across the country, called open ground storey buildings (or buildings on stilts). This is a solution being provided by architects to solve the parking crisis in urban India, but it does not address earthquake safety of these buildings. These do not conform to prevalent Indian standards for earthquake safety. These buildings are flexible and weak in the open ground storey compared to the storeys above,”

According to the NDMA, the devastating Bhuj earthquake in 2001 saw a number of weak RC (reinforced concrete) buildings bite the dust, whereas many government owned buildings, which had an open ground storey, stood the test since they were in accordance with the ‘Indian Seismic Code’.

Other Steps taken

In 2007, the NDMA also made it mandatory for all the new constructions in Mumbai and New Delhi to abide by the earthquake resistant designs. The RBI had also issued orders to all the banks, asking them to deny infrastructure loans to any building which is not abiding by the earthquake resistant structures’ guidelines. But unfortunately, these norms are flouted more often than not. In most cases, there is no formal scrutiny of the building’s design before the loan is approved by the Banks.

Although it is mandatory to approve the structural design from the civic authorities before construction, the process has taken the shape of a mere formality. The structural engineers, who are supposed to ensure that the buildings’ designs are earthquake resistant, seldom care to go into such details.

Although a number of surveys, to earmark ‘dangerous’ buildings, have been conducted by the civic authorities over the past few years, it is hard to see any concrete outcome. Building audits do not find a place in the priority list of the Governments. And with high-rise buildings making their way into tier 1 and tier 2 cities, the risk of a huge life loss is imminent.

In December 2014, the Supreme Court directed the central Government to ensure that all the upcoming infrastructures in the country display their ‘earthquake resistant category’ and define the implications of their category, as per the Government’s definitions. Even after the apex court’s judgement, majority of the new buildings have been overlooking these norms.

Are we ready to face an Earthquake?

The one word answer to this question is ‘No’! There is a high chance that the building where you are currently residing isn’t earthquake resistant because the structural engineer passed the structure plan without giving it a second thought. Considering that more than half of India’s territory comes under an active seismic zone, this imagination could very well turn into a reality. Till then, we can only hope that our builder chose to follow the norms rather than bypassing them for an easy passage.

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Himalayan Yogi to open art gallery consisting 8 quintal photographs

Wanderer Baba aka Click Baba Swami Sundaranand is all set to open his art gallery consisting of Himalayas pictures

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Himalayan Yogi
Himalayan Yogi Swami Sundaranand (Wikimedia Commons)
  • Himalayan Yogi Sundaranand is also known as “Himalayan Wikipedia Baba”, have clicked 8 quintal photos in beautiful Himalayas

You must have heard about Himalayan yogis living upto hundreds of years and having miracle powers. But his is the story of a wanderer Sadhu, who is a mountaineer and photographer by choice. He has a deep connection with Himalayas. He is known to be a principal advocate for the ecological preservation of the Himalayas, the Ganges and its source at Gangotri.

During 1962 war Indian Army also seek help from this Himalayan Yogi as he was very much aware with all the rotes and region in Himalayas. The photographs he clicked weighs around 8 quintals.

Sundaranand’s love for Himalayas started at a young age when he read a book named “Himgiri Vihaar” by Tapovan Maharaja. He was so inspired by the book that he went to Tapovan Maharaja and started Yoga Sadhna under his guidance.

In 1956 he bought a camera for Rs. 25 from a Belgian tourist. And since then he has been clicking the beautiful Himalayas. He has taken more than 100,000 photos, over a 50-year period, of the shrinking Gangotri glacier in the Indian Himalayas.

Himalayan Yogi is now all set to open his Himalayan art gallery at a height of 10,310 feet in Gangotri region. He has invested Rs. 2 crores in this project, money which he got through royalty of his book “Himalaya : Through a lens of a Sadhu”. His book was launched by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Swami Sundaranand is the subject of a feature documentary shot at his home in Gangotri titled Personal time with Swamiji. The film was produced by The Centre for Healing Arts and directed by Victor Demko.

Himalayan Yogi Sundaranand is also a skilled naturalist that is familiar with thousands of Himalayan plants and he knows the lore and medicinal uses of these species. The most important parts of his life are meditation, japa and pranayama. As a younger man he was an accomplished hatha yogi, mastering 300 postures, and he continues to practice it daily. He is very devoted to the ecosystem in which he has lived for forty years and believes that “God does not reside in temples or mosques – he is scattered everywhere in the courtyard of nature.

So Himalayan Yogi’s art gallery you can not miss to visit! Plan your trip soon and thank us later.

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Bhai Boolchand-the Indian who launched trade with Ghana

The first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast (Ghana's colonial name) in 1890 , Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana

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Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana.
Ghanian flag, Bhai Boolchand launched trade in India with Ghana. pixelbay
  • Bhai Boolchand, the anonymous Indian, is credited with starting trade between Ghana and India
  • The year was 1890.

Not much is known about him, but it has now emerged that trade relations between Ghana and Indiawere started by Bhai Boolchand, the first Indian to arrive in the Gold Coast — Ghana’s colonial name — in 1890. That’s some 67 years before the British colonial government granted the country independence, research by the Indian Association of Ghana has found.

“As far as our records show, Bhai Boolchand (of the Bhaiband Sindhworki trading community), landed on the shores of the Gold Coast in western Africa in 1890. Nearly twenty years later, in 1919, the first Sindhi company was established by two brothers — Tarachand Jasoomal Daswani and Metharam Jasoomal Daswani,” the Indian Association said.

The duo opened a store — Metharam Jassomal Brothers — in the then capital city of Cape Coast in 1919.

“Their business flourished and branches were opened in Accra and Kumasi. A few years later, the two brothers separated and whilst Bhai Metharam Jasoomal continued the business as Metharam Brothers, Tarachand Jasoomal operated his business as Bombay Bazaar. These were the first two Indian companies that were established in the Gold Coast,” the Association said.

Boolchand’s arrival, therefore, pre-dates the historical links between the two countries that were always thought to have started between Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkruman, and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Boolchand can thus be described as the one who paved the way for the arrival of other members of the Sindhi community, initially as traders and shopkeepers.

The Indian Association said more of this group arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, with a few venturing into manufacturing industries such as garments, plastics, textiles, insecticides, electronics, pharmaceuticals and optical goods.

The Association said two more Indian firms were established under the names of Lilaram Thanwardas and Mahtani Brothers in the 1920s. This trend continued in the 1930s and 1940s with the creation of several more Indian companies like T. Chandirams, Punjabi Brothers, Wassiamal Brothers, Hariram Brothers, K. Chellaram & Sons, G. Motiram, D.P. Motwani, G. Dayaram, V. Lokumal, and Glamour Stores.

Glamour Stores, which was stared by Ramchand Khubchandani who arrived in Ghana in 1929, has grown — after changing its name to Melcom Group — to become the largest retailing business in the country. The Melcom Group, headed by Ramchand’s son Bhagwan Khubchandani, is now in its 60th year and about 40 stores all over the country.

Ramchand and his brother later went into garment manufacturing in 1955 and once employed over 1,200 Ghanaians. They later opened the first Indian restaurant, Maharaja, in Ghana. Bhagwan followed in his father’s footsteps and in 1989 established the Melcom Group with his sons-in-law, Mahesh Melwani and Ramesh Sadhwani.

Another Indian-owned company that has survived through the years is the Mohanani Group, which is currently in its 51st year. At the first-ever Ghana Expatriate Business Awards, the Ministry of Trade and Industries recognised the work of one of the thriving Indian-owned B5 Plus Steel Company and awarded it the Best Expatriate Company in the metal and steel category.

As these companies brought in new expatriate staff, some left their employers to venture out on their own — resulting in more companies opening up.

“After 1947, the Gold Coast attracted the attention of some Indian multinational companies, and big names like Chanrai, Bhojsons, K.A.J. Chotirmal, Dalamals and A.D. Gulab opened branches in Ghana,” the Association said.

“The employment of Ghanaians by these founding companies also helped to lessen the burden of unemployment in the country. This amply demonstrates the level of commitment India has in the developmental agenda of Ghana,” it said.

Indians are not only investing in the manufacturing and commercial sectors of the country; they are also investing in the financial sector. Bank of Baroda, one of India’s biggest and most reputable banks, recently established a branch in Ghana and hopefully it will expand its operations in other parts of the country very soon. (IANS)

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Beatles, Apple, Facebook knew India more than Indians

Famous non-Indian celebrities know more about India and its past

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The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture.
The Beatles once visited India to know more bout its past and culture. Wikipedia

-By Salil Gewali

Facebook’s Chairman Mark Zuckerberg had dropped a bombshell on the “secularists” in India during PM Modi’s visit to his campus in California. It’s all about the Facebook connection with India. Initially, it was never a bed of roses for what is now a household name “FACEBOOK” across the world. This world-famous ‘social networking service company’ had its own share of bad times. Revealing for the first time in the meeting at the Facebook office upbeat Zuckerberg told PM Narendra Modi that Steve Jobs, the founder Chairman of Apple, had advised him to visit a certain temple in India for blessings. The revelation may have caused heartburn to many. More so in India where so-called secular and snooty folks have long acquired a proclivity to look down upon their own culture, religion, and values while being appreciative of any bizarre customs and styles of the West. Yes, heeding the advice of his mentor Steve Jobs the depressed Mark had visited the temple and toured around India for nearly a month.

Facebook's CEO tells about India.
Facebook’s CEO tells about India. wikipedia

Well, the American techno-wizard Steve Jobs had himself spent over six months in India in 1974. He was here in quest of the higher meaning of life and spiritual solace. As understood, from early age Steve was quite haunted by a good deal of unanswered questions. Of course, his encounter with a book “Be Here Now” by Richard Alpert, a Harvard Professor, had opened up a gateway to the spiritualism of the East. This book had also introduced him to a mystic Yogi ‘Neem Karoli Baba’. That later inspired Steve to set out the journey for the East. As soon as Steve and his friend Daniel Kottke arrived India they directly went to meet the Guru in Kainchi Dham Ashram in Nainital. But to their disappointment, they found the Baba had already passed away some months earlier. Nevertheless, the urge to dive deeper into the spiritualism did not die away. They shaved their heads and put on Indian clothes and undertook an extensive meditation and yogic practices.

The most significant impact that had made upon Steve’s life was a book “Autobiography of a Yogi”by Paramhansa Yogananda. It is on record that he would read this book too frequently, at least once every year until his death, 2011. This book had given him the practical insight into what exactly this world is about and how a layman can prepare himself to realize the Supreme knowledge. The first-hand account of a Yogi with empirical approaches to know oneself this book by Yogananda is a smash hit manual now among the seekers of the Eastern spiritualism.

Yes, by dint of hard work, intuition and innovation Steve stood out as one of the most successful techno-tycoons of the modern times. As much known, Jobs was hardly possessed by the luxury of riches and materialistic vanity. He just regarded his entrepreneurship as a tool to awaken his dormant potentialities. The chairman of Salesforce.com and famous philanthropist Marc Benioff says with conviction — “If you want to understand Steve, it’s a good idea to dig into ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.” It is this book which Steve’s family had given to all the guests as a last gift at his memorial service.

Here we can’t afford to ignore the Beatle’s fascination for INDIA as well. The band members that were basking in the opulence of materialistic riches and glory visited India (Rishikesh) in search of inner peace. They met with Sri Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and learnt from him Transcendental meditation (TM) who laid bare methods to feel true bliss within. Sri Maharshi is a big name in the West having a huge following that includes celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, David Lynch, Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Modern physicist Dr. John Hagelin, to name a few. The Beatle’s Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr often assist a Hollywood Director/actor David Lynch to organize the Transcendental meditation under ‘David Lynch Foundation’ across USA and the European countries. George Harrison later took refuge in Bhakti Yoga. The founder of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada showed him the pathway to the Supreme Consciousness.

What basically pulls the rational westerners to India is less known to Indians themselves. It’s shamefully paradoxical. From early 19th Century, the philosophical literary treasure troves and Yoga of India found more admirers in the foreign lands than at home. Indeed, the philosophy of the “laws of karma” and the presence of all-power-divinity within every being and everywhere — which any human being can realize irrespective of one’s caste, creed, nationality, and color, has intensely stirred the greatest of the great minds of the West. The ancient texts hold out a whole bunch of keys to unlock oneself and know his/her relationship with the Supreme Being which in fact seems very reasonable to the West. Further, the complex studies of world-view by Modern scientists are gradually arriving at the same conclusion what the ancient sages of India expounded over five thousands year back that ‘creation and creator are ONE’. Interconnection, inter-relation and interdependence among every individual particle/object, living or non-living, in the infinite universe — which is the fundamental tenets of the Eastern philosophy, provided a new light of wisdom to the the modern physicists like Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Julius Oppenheimer, Brain David Josephson, David Bohm, John Stewart Bell et al.

Well, Indian’s contribution to the western academia is immeasurable — though deliberately undermined or less discussed in India itself. It’s very worthwhile to recall a famous proclamation by our western master whom we hold in the highest esteem. TS Eliot, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, asserts: “Indian philosophers’ subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys”.

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’. Twitter @SGewali.