Indian lives matter
Flyover collapses, bridges crashing – common people across the country have paid the price for development with their lives
The ongoing drama in 'War-Nataka' has left us breathless this week. The finale is still awaited but what a nail-biting finish it will be! While the electoral drama unfolded in Karnataka, a tragic incident went almost unnoticed. An under-construction flyover collapsed in distant Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, killing 18 people. While the flyover was being constructed, the road below had remained open to traffic.
Rajiv Mittal, the Managing Director of Uttar Pradesh State Bridge Corporation (UPSBC), who has now been sacked, termed it a 'natural disaster'. No, this is a manmade disaster, one that could have been easily prevented if due procedure and protocol were followed. Equally shocking is the lack of action taken when an FIR had been filed in February against the project manager for causing 'public nuisance' and 'danger or obstruction in public way or line of navigation'. According to news reports, the UPSBC was probed twice, once in 2010 when the Rs 650 crore Chillaghat Bridge cracked and, then again in 2016, when Lohia Bridge over River Gomti developed a cavity. Yet, no action was taken.
The total estimated cost of the Varanasi flyover is Rs 129 crore, the cost of human lives though is much cheaper. Time and again, we hear of incidents that show that the cost of human lives, especially of the 'aam aadmi' comes cheap. When the standard protocol is bypassed, when inferior quality of building materials is used, then buildings and flyovers will obviously not stand the test of time and usage. To blame collapses, such as these, on natural disasters is simply scape-goat tactics.
The horrific scenes of people still stuck under the concrete and debris of the Varanasi flyover brought back sordid reminders of a similar flyover that had crashed in Kolkata a couple of years ago. At least 26 people had died in the busy streets of the eastern city when a 150-metre steel span of the under-construction Vivekananda flyover fell down. In 2015, a part of Delhi's Wazirabad-Janakpuri elevated corridor came down destroying cars. Similar incidents have been reported from Surat, Bhubaneshwar, and Hyderabad, and in states such as Bihar and Uttarakhand. Last week, apparently the Gill flyover collapsed in Ludhiana allegedly due to a rat infestation! Numerous lives have been lost and people have been injured in the slew of incidents.
A news report says that at least 93 people have been killed in the last two years when public infrastructure crashed. Who will take collective responsibility for these deaths? Even one life is precious but in an over-populated country like ours, life carries no value, just enough to cover compensations of a few lakhs. Infrastructure development is sorely needed in India and the sign of construction is a welcome symbol of economic growth and progression. But, what is the cost of this development that is coming at breakneck speed?
In a country that believes in 'jugaad' and hacks rule the roost, few pay attention to protocol, precaution, quality building materials and safety standards. Collapsing infrastructure cannot be politicised, try as some powers might. This ailment is afflicting the length and breadth of our country. It is not an act of God, a natural disaster or a tragedy. This is the sign of the systemic rot that consumes lives with alacrity. This is a sign of corruption, laziness, and ineptitude; and, all governments, at both Centre and states, have to act with strictness. The authorities themselves have to be non-corrupt and keep vigilance that innocent lives are not sacrificed. Indian lives also matter though it may not seem so at the moment.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)