A flyover has collapsed killing 25 people and injuring more than 80 people and no one is responsible for this. The builder has callously called it an act of God and a political bun fight is in full flood.
The collapse of public structures is nothing new in India. During the monsoon they take place with regularity in Mumbai. But the Kolkata tragedy is a chronicle of a disaster foretold. Engineers had cautioned against the rusting framework of the flyover’s superstructure which has been pending completion for a long time. This has been compounded by the humid conditions in the city. The Kolkata flyover was already in a dilapidated condition even though it had not been completed.
There are a host of reasons why public structures tend to either collapse or have a short shelf life. The material used is substandard with builders being notorious for cutting corners. In many building collapses, the foundations have been found to be not well laid and the materials used unable to withstand either the vagaries of the weather or the sheer weight of the construction.
And invariably, an element of political brinkmanship enters the picture. In the Kolkata case, political grandstanding has been heightened as the state is poll-bound. Even as rescue workers are battling to save those trapped and who might still be alive, the political blame game is afoot. All this is to detract from the task at hand which is succour to the victims in the form of compensation for the dead and injured.
Contracts for constructions like flyovers should contain clauses to ensure that builders stick to a timeline. This way there will be fewer cost overruns and minimal chances of wear and tear on the building materials. This is something the political class can ensure rather than engage in verbal fisticuffs after the event.
This sad turn of events provides the right opportunity to review public structures in our metros. Many of them
are in poor condition and require retrofitting. Instead of rushing to build even more flyovers and overhead passes and buildings, the existing ones should be made safer. The builder in the Kolkata case cannot get away with lofty pronouncements that it is an act of God. It is not. He will have to make restitution for this tragedy.
There has to be a concerted effort to enforce more rigorous checks before a project is sanctioned and also ensure that there are fewer delays in completion as well as regular maintenance inspections. This, rather than political mudslinging, would be a practical way of ensuring that such calamities are minimised in future.