Over the past month, as Nepal recorded two of the strongest earthquakes in its recent history, Indian scientists were left without adequate research data to understand what is happening along the most crucial seismic zone in the subcontinent. Dr Ashok Mathur, a professor in the department of earthquake engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Roorkee, who spent ten years of his life establishing a network to monitor precisely such an event, said, “I am 60 years old, and I have never witnessed a stronger tremor [than the earthquake on 25 April] in my life,” adding, in a frustrated voice, “and I have no data to study this.”
In September 2014, the government of India decided to cut the funding of a research program called the Program for Excellence in Strong Motion Studies (PESMOS) at IIT Roorkee. Bereft of the only source of nation-wide data on earthquakes, scientists in India were forced to make their peace with the seismic data recordings that were made available from regional research wings scattered across the country, none of them as prompt as PESMOS was.
The project, which built a nationwide network of accelerographs—a strong motion seismographs which are used to measure and record ground motion during an earthquake—was sanctioned to IIT Roorkee by the Department of Science and Technology of the government in 2004 to create a knowledge base of strong motion studies. Between 2004 and 2008, PESMOS, under the command of Dr Mathur had installed 294 accelerographs across north and northeast India, the seismically vulnerable zones in the country.