Kolkata stood witness to a horrific man-made tragedy on Thursday. A 150-metre section of the 2.2-km flyover collapsed in the heart of the city, killing at least 24 people. In response to the tragedy, personnel from the Indian Army, National Disaster Response Force, state disaster management, city police and fire brigade, conducted rescue operations through the night. At least 90 people were rescued in overnight operations by Friday morning. However, National Disaster Response Force officials said that the chances of finding more survivors later on Friday are low. Many of the people rescued are in critical condition, mainly as a result of multiple fractures. Suffice to say, the West Bengal government under Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been prompt in its response by taking action those responsible for the tragedy. On Friday, the city police detained five executives of the company that was constructing the Vivekananda Road flyover.
The officers had left for Hyderabad earlier to arrest officials of IVRCL group, a blacklisted company that had won the contract for the flyover under the previous Left Front government. “Stringent action will be taken against officials of the construction company and others involved,” the Chief Minister, who cut short her election campaign in West Midnapore district and rushed back to the city, said. When asked about the flyover collapsing, KP Rao of IVRCL said, “45 percent work was left, one girder missed and second one fell. It is nothing but God’s act.” It was a rather insensitive statement to make, especially with city reeling under a state of shock due to events brought upon by acts of sheer negligence. Anyone responsible for the tragedy should be subject to stringent punishment. For the families of the victims, Mamata Banerjee announced a compensation of Rs.5 lakh to the families of the dead and Rs.2 lakh each for those critically injured as well as Rs.1 lakh for those who suffered minor injuries.
The Chief Minister has left no stone unturned to provide relief to those affected. She parked herself on the scene of the tragedy, overseeing the relief operations through the night. Her presence has sent a much-needed psychological message to traumatised citizens that their Chief Minister is standing by them in their moment of crisis. But even before the rescue operations had concluded, some were quick to blame the TMC-led government. No one should be surprised by the concerted effort to blame the TMC government, with Assembly elections around the corner. But it is a patently unfair criticism to make, considering the recent history of the damaged flyover. During the Left Front regime, the state Urban Development Department had laid the foundation stone of two flyovers– namely, Parama Island and Vivekananda Road flyovers to ease traffic congestion for the airport and Howrah-bound vehicles. The Rs 164 crore-Vivekananda flyover was funded by Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The company, IVRCL, was given an 18-month deadline to complete the project in 2009. But after seven years, only about 60 percent of the work has been done.
Despite repeated complaints from local people, the then Urban Development Minister under the Left Front government, Ashok Bhattacharya, refused to change the design. Locals claimed that because of its faulty design they could not open the windows of their flats as the flyover stood just a few inches away from their windows. But Bhattacharya refused to listen and went ahead with the construction. Locals allege that the portion of the flyover affected by “faulty design” had collapsed on Thursday afternoon. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has also alleged that IVRCL had not provided the government details of the construction plan despite several reminders. Suffice to say, the TMC-led government inherited the mess left behind by the previous Left Front government. Beyond all the politics and blame game, we should spare a moment to understand the soul-crushing visuals coming out of Kolkata and the suffering endured by those families who have lost their loved ones.