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Kolkata Bridge Collapse :“WHICH PART FELL, YOURS OR MINE?”, By Poonam I Kaushish, 5 April, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 5 April 20116

Kolkata Bridge Collapse


By Poonam I Kaushish


"What's the use of coming now? They are already dead. All are dead. The Administration is hopeless, useless," angrily shouted the residents of Burra Bazaar in Kolkota. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Day after day, month by month anguished wails pierce India’s comatose dark skies. As our netagan continue to glibly parrot trivia and get their knickers in knots. Standing testimony that the aam aadmi translates into a sterile statistic!


True, the dastardly collapse of an under-construction 2km long flyover on street vendors and vehicles, killing at least 26, injuring 75 with 150 still buried under the concrete and steel bridge debris in the West Bengal Capital is heart-wrenching. But more horrifying is the reaction of our leaders.


Asserted Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, “Construction began during CPM’s time; I have cancelled my election meetings and come here.” Countered the Left, “Which part of the flyover has collapsed? The portion built during our regime or under Trinamool? Mamata is making an excuse to escape responsibility.” Added the BJP for good measure, “There should be a CBI inquiry it is a clear case of corruption.” While the construction firm dusted it off by heaping blame on God!


Importantly, given our polity’s penchant for short-cuts and quick-fix solutions, what else can one expect, but this ghisa-pitta reaction? Spotlighting once again there cavalier and churlish attitude and approach to a crisis.  Not for them the need to elucidate damage control measures, put the disaster in proper perspective and keep calm.


Raising a moot point? Why was the contract given to a company already blacklisted? Was it for a few extra bucks in private pockets? Does Mamata not know that her State Government too has a stake in the flyover’s ownership which has been under construction since 2009 and missed several deadlines for completion?


Why did she ignore project engineers concerns over hurrying construction to complete it by February so that she could take credit and garner votes in the polls? Does it condone and justify the State Government’s delayed action, bad planning, unscientific approach and mismanagement?  Why haven’t the CPM and Trinamool Ministers who awarded the flyover contract been arrested? Who will bear the cross for the State Administration laxity?


Predictably, the incident has sparked a raging debate about corruption in the country, with many saying that kickbacks resulted in sub-standard material being used, lack of inspection and health and safety standards were ignored resulting in the crumple. More scandalous, the State Administration did not learn any lesson from another flyover’s collapse three years ago.


Undoubtedly, construction projects have long been plagued by dubious ties between politicians and businessmen. Think since 2007 over five flyovers have collapsed killing and maiming hundreds in Hyderabad, Mumbai, Muzaffarpur, Surat and Delhi. All due to the same reasons: Sand instead of cement, low-quality steel etc. But it is no water off our leaders back.


Clearly, underscoring the real filth is political and administrative. Alas, gone are the days when Shastri concurred that he was duty bound as head of the Ministry to shoulder responsibility and resigned in 1956 following a train accident.  Today, we are captive of double standards and skullduggeries wherein demands for responsibility and resignations are dismissed by are netas as political redundancies. 


Look at Mamata's track record: As erstwhile Union Railway Minister from 2009-11 over 250 passengers lost their lives in train accidents. But not only did she refuse to take responsibility, conveniently dismissing it as “the drivers’ human error” and refused to resign.


Ditto, ex-Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s response to farmers’ suicide in Maharashtra. He too attributed these to vagaries of nature, instead of owning up to faulty planning and giving fertile land to builders for ugly sky-scrapers for a few pennies more. Why blame the flyover construction firm for following suit then?


Of course, RJD’s Laloo gave accountability and acquiescence an all together new meaning. Asked whether he would resign taking moral responsibility for a rail accident in 2005, his response was telling: “People have elected us to take responsibility as Ministers, not to run away from it.”


Ex-Prime Minister VP Singh elevated resignation to a high political art. Effectively, converting the moral act in to an instrument for furthering personal political goals, gaining public sympathy as a selfless leader.


Resignation from office, as we know it now, is no more a suo motu high act, it is a part of the game of political expediency. Where do we go from here? It all depends on our netagan.


Perhaps it is time for the Government to realize that economic reform without reforms in the social sectors can become a bane in themselves. In an open economy, as Kolkata’s disaster shows, the entire system can crumble if the social sectors are weak and fragile


Undoubtedly, India is in the throes of an all-round crisis: Social, environmental and moral degradation, Look at our appalling state of our healthcare systems which makes us particularly vulnerable to a disease. The Government spends less than one per cent of its GDP on public health care.


According to the WHO, our national average is only 45 doctors and 8.9 beds for every 100,000 patients, with the levels far lower in poorest States. Add to this a highest annual death toll due to tuberculosis, malaria, dengue and cholera. Worse, sky-rocketing pollution levels of not only the Union Capital but other cities also.


Worse, there is only one doctor for 28 villages with over 20,000 people. When he is away on call all is left to God. According to UNICEF nearly 136,000 maternal deaths out of 30 million pregnancies occur annually, most of which are easily preventable.


Shockingly, the recent death of a 40-year old dentist by miscreants who bludgeoned him to death with iron rods and bricks in front of his wife and son in Delhi illuminates the rising crime graph in every city. His fault? Reprimanding two motorcyclists for driving rashly. The police helpline number was constantly engaged and PCR vans were missing. So much for our law enforcers protecting us!


What next? Time our polity has respect for human life and puts in place efficient administrative and political machinery. They need to restore the State’s Iqbal, enforce strict law and order and its moral authority.


It is now imperative for our leaders to rethink its strategies, establish fresh priorities, improve service delivery in rail and road management, public services and establish close links between research and policy with people at the centre of social development.


The Government can no longer bury its head in the sand. Conferences of Ministers, Secretaries and directives from the Centre to the States will not do. The time is for gone for the Government to play the pied piper coupled with its accompanying ki pharak painda hai attitude. Will the future generation be weighed down by our moribund and politricking leaders albatross round its neck? And aver: Achcha who mar gaya kya?---- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



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