Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Flyover Collapse in Kolkata, When will We Learn

What a disaster. An under construction flyover came down crashing in busy business district in Burra Bazar area of North Kolkata. Twenty six people have lost their lives and close to a hundred are battling in the hospital. This is the second crash since 2013, when another under construction bridge collapsed in Ultadanga area, again in North Kolkata. 

This crash brings several questions to the forefront. Kolkata, and for that matter every large and mid size city in India, needs to remove traffic bottlenecks. Flyovers are one such solution. In the hurry to build a flyover before impending state assembly election, did government overlook safety measures? Many local residents had objected to the construction of flyover. Some said, anyone could simply jump from flyover to their home, so close was the distance between residential houses and the bridge. Yet government went ahead. In a congested North Kolkata, why did the authorities not close the area down for vehicular and/or public movement for a  time till the flyover work was completed? Why not make construction activity at night time? May be that way number of casualties could have been less. 

Post crash, government has responded by arresting few employees of the construction company, IVRCL. Government has charged them with murder. I am sure in Kolkata flyover tragedy, builders will get away. If builders open their mouth, politicians may be in trouble. So a compromise formula will be arrived at. Life will go on as usual after a few days.

It is coming out that the construction company had a poor track record. This company was an aggressive company that bids for projects without necessary expertise. Indian railways had put the company under their watch list. It was not possible that government of West Bengal did not know about poor track record and lack of expertise of the company. Experts had suggested there was a flaw in flyover design.

Despite design flaw the flyover project was allowed to continue because of political patronage. Local politicians, their relatives and friends had got subcontract in flyover project to supply men and material. I have heard in two different TV news shows, Headlines Today and Times Now, that a syndicate of corrupt contractors supported by local politicians control the construction business in Kolkata.

In many places, I have seen flyovers remaining unbuilt over a long period of time. May be construction companies run out of money paying off local politicians. If a company has no money, it will delay its project and cut corners. I have seen one such flyover being built in Kanpur suburb since eternity. Every time I visited Kanpur, I had seen the flyover remaining as it was since last visit. Fortunately, the flyover has become operational as of last few months. 

Instead of politicising the issue, both BJP and left should have stood by the government in solidarity to pay respect to the departed and help rescue mission for all those trapped. If we cannot forget political differences in this moment of tragedy, then shame on us. Once the last person is removed, there should be enquiry and politicians should have had enough time to bake their bread on the oven of public agony. 

Kolkata flyover crash was not the first such accident. Many such accidents have happened before also. Earlier, people had suspected collusion between politicians, builders and mafia.  No one had any direct proof. Such a proof is emerging after Kolkata tragedy. No one is a saint here. Every political party has its finger in the till. Difference is of quantity and not quality. I am sure, after dust settles all big players will get away scot free. Because one shark does not eat its own. Neither builder, nor politicians will be caught and brought to book. Life will continue as usual. Few poor people who have lost their only earning member of their family, will have to bear the burden of conspiracy of rich and powerful.





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