There’s nothing as blatantly visible as a large-scale accident in a metropolis. And in the wee hours of Sunday, exactly such an accident took place in Delhi killing six people and frightening a whole citizenry when a section of an under-construction Metro rail bridge collapsed. If that was not horrific enough, even before the debris of Sunday’s incident could be removed, five people were injured on Monday when three cranes and a launching girder toppled at the same construction site. Let’s just say that the people of Delhi aren’t very comfortable about their object of pride, the Metro Railway, being made above their heads after this.
But let’s separate the irrational fear from the rational ones by demanding answers for the right questions. Is the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) working too fast to meet its deadlines and, therefore, spreading itself too thin? Has the supervision structure become lackadaisical? The DMRC has been performing consistently over the last ten years, meeting all its deadlines. In the process, Managing Director E. Sreedharan has deservedly become a middle-class icon. But what needs to be investigated is whether procedures followed in the past — like frequent surprise inspections of project sites — are being followed now with the same rigour. The initial contracts are given to big contractors who then pass them on to smaller sub-contractors. In some cases, sub-contractors again parcel off these projects to even smaller ones. The safety conditions imposed in the contract are applicable only to the main contractor and not to the sub-contractors. This makes regular on-site inspections crucial for quality control and accountability. Even after a mishap, however, these smaller companies can’t be asked to leave because that would upset the project schedule. After a similar accident in east Delhi last year, the investigators had blamed Afcons Infrastructure for the structural collapse. But even then, the DMRC could only blacklist it from the tendering process for the future, not stop the company from work it had already started. The main contractor in Sunday’s incident, Gammon India, can’t be removed for the same reason.
Since India doesn’t have any regulatory framework or centralised law for practising safe construction, it is imperative for the DMRC to keep an eye on the quality of work carried out by these small companies. Every project has a schedule and delays are factored into that. So hiding behind the excuse of project completion should not come in the way of a proper investigation. That alone can make us feel secure that accidents like Sunday’s won’t happen again.