A residential building in an unauthorised but regularised colony collapsed in New Delhi late evening on Monday. More than 60 people were dead at the last count and around 80 have been injured. After the incident, the Delhi chief minister said the guilty would be punished. We've heard that before. Going by past experience, it's unlikely that the probe will get too far because the list of the guilty could include many within her administration. As of now, the owner of the five-storey house is absconding. Like us, he too understands, that in the end, he will be the scapegoat. But the truth is, he could not have come this far without the help of corrupt government officials who never raised a red flag when the illegal building came up in the first place. Some reports say the building, supposedly a residential one, also housed a cloth-exporting company and a food snacks group. We wonder if the building had permission for commercial activity or the requisite fire clearance certificate.
In a way, recent accidents like this one or scams like the Delhi Commonwealth Games and Adarsh in Mumbai have once again underscored the deep links that exist among officials, the construction industry and politicians. Newly-constructed bridges collapse, brand new airport roofs develop leaks and as, the Delhi incident shows, buildings cave in like a pack of cards. The most alarming fact is the disturbing regularity with which all this is happening. A scam here or a scam there has become par for the course. It only shows how corroded our governance system has become.
The rot starts from the day the foundation of a building, in many cases weak, is laid. First, illegal buildings are allowed at a price. Then after a few years, they are regularised — again at a hefty price. Come elections, the question of illegal quarters always comes up for discussion. Politicians use the promise of regularisation of illegal colonies as a sop in exchange for votes. But never do departments concerned make a survey of the status/quality of the buildings before legalising them. Now the CM and lieutenant governor have said a survey of the area would be conducted and any building found unsafe would be demolished. Is this proactive or reactive governance? Delhi, like Mumbai, is a magnet for people from other states. The city authorities know this well but have struggled to provide space for people. Naturally, encroachment is seen as an easy way out. And safety takes a backseat, often with fatal consequences.