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Infernal apathy

The Meerut blaze and its toll is a chronicle of a story re-told many times ? Dabwali, Baripada, Uphaar, Srirangam and Kumbakonam.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2006 00:11 IST

The Meerut blaze and its tragic toll is a chronicle of a story re-told many times in India — Dabwali, Baripada, Uphaar cinema, Srirangam and Kumbakonam. The response of the government is uniformly the same — an expression of regret at the lives lost, and a monarchical announcement of the compensation to be paid. Yet what the episode really brings out is the failure of urban government in the country. On paper there are rules and regulations for everything; in practice nothing ever works as it should. No-one, not even the citizens, seem to want to live in a regime of regulation where zoning — separating residential and commercial areas — will be observed, building codes and safety measures rigorously implemented and violators punished.

Take the recent Supreme Court-mandated drive to remove illegal buildings and their misuse in Delhi. The aim is not what the elected civic leaders of Delhi claim — deprive people of their livelihood — but to bring a measure of regulation and order in the city. As of today, illegal offices in colonies make the passage of a fire truck difficult, if not impossible. Basements of residential houses are being used to store commercial and industrial material, or being actually used as workshops. As for commercial areas, a quick look at Nehru Place would make a fire safety officer's hair stand on end. Burst gas cylinders and short-circuits routinely result in devastating fires, with a tragic loss of life and property. What happens, God forbid, if cities like Delhi are rocked by a major earthquake? Given today’s quality of urban infrastructure and civic government, there is likely to be total collapse and anarchy. The enervated city governments seem to be good only at promoting the ‘builder’ business and devising ways and means of condoning illegal actions.

Urban living imposes a great challenge to society in terms of organisational principles and managerial skills. People crowded together must be able to live in secure and comfortable housing, travel to work on efficient public or private transportation, drink potable water, enjoy their leisure or shop in public facilities that are safe. There is only one way to ensure this: a zero-tolerance system towards all defaulters — big or small. Only such a regime can meet the huge challenge of effectively managing our burgeoning urban centres that house an ever-increasing number of citizens.

First Published: Apr 12, 2006 00:11 IST