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Bihar dam collapse: Why public infrastructure crumbles so frequently in India

One of the key reasons is the corrupt nexus among politicians, bureaucrats and contractors, a theme portrayed poignantly in Hindi film Madari. The strategy of the parasitic politicians, bureaucrats and contractors is simple: Build like there is no tomorrow, and always low quality structures. .

editorials Updated: Sep 25, 2017 10:14 IST
Hindustan Times
Bihar dam collapse,Public infrastructure,central water commission
On March 31, 2016, part of the under-construction Vivekananda flyover in the Girish Park neighbourhood of Kolkata, collapsed. Twenty seven people were dead and more than 80 were injured in the incident.(Hindustan Times)

In the last one year, we have had flyovers collapsing in Maharashtra and Orissa. Last week, it was a dam in Bihar. Then there have been several monsoon-related cases such as pot-hole deaths and building collapse. The crisis of crumbling infrastructure is so deep and countrywide that even Bollywood came up with a movie, Madari, on the issue. In the film, a father takes revenge for his son’s death in a bridge collapse. To go back to the recent one in Bihar, a part of the Bateshwarsthan Ganga Pump Nahar Priyojna collapsed in Bhagalpur on September 19, embarrassingly a day before chief minister Nitish Kumar was to inaugurate it. The cost of the project is estimated at Rs 389.31 crore.

Why is the quality of public infrastructure so bad in India? One of the key reasons is the corrupt nexus among politicians, bureaucrats and contractors, a theme portrayed poignantly in Madari. The strategy of the parasitic politicians, bureaucrats and contractors is simple: Build like there is no tomorrow, and always low quality structures.

The routine breaching of flood embankments in Bihar is a case in point. While there has been several reports of how embankments serve no purpose, no government is ready to scrap them because there is money to be made in maintaining these structures.

Second, lack of proper maintenance and regular safety audits. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India tabled in the Parliament on July 21 found the safety and compliance status of large dams to be poor. “Out of 4,862 large dams, emergency action plans or disaster management plans of only 349 dams, which is seven per cent, were prepared (March 2016)…mock drill in respect of only one dam was conducted as of March 2016,” the report stated. The report also found that maintenance work was not conducted in many of the dams.

Third, lack of information about certain structures such as dams. In a piece published in 2013, Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP wrote that the Central Water Commission, which publishes the National Register of Large Dams (NRLD), has several information gaps in its reports. “It is a disturbing situation that the agencies that are responsible for our large dams do not even know the names of the rivers (every river in India has a name, so if someone were to argue that the rivers do not have names, it won’t be acceptable excuse) on which they are located. Without the names of the rivers and locations of the various dams on specific rivers, we cannot even start looking at the crucial issues like dam safety, cumulative social and environmental impacts, hydrological carrying capacity and optimum utilisation of the storages created behind the dams. We clearly have far to go to even start knowing our dams and rivers.”

This neglect of public infrastructure is criminal. But most accidents are forgotten after the initial hue and cry because in government responsibility is shared, the onus is not on one person. Politicians, bureaucrats and contractors take advantage of this loophole. and the deadly results are there for all to see.

First Published: Sep 25, 2017 10:14 IST