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Collapsing Bridges, Falling Roofs

   By Vijay Darda | 08-07-2024

Without the support of public representatives, no official can dare to do wrong.

I had read a short story a long time ago wherein an engineer was worried about financing a car for his young son. He couldn’t figure out how to arrange the funds. News about roads being washed away and bridges collapsing due to floods trickled in. He was relieved and made a call to the concerned contractor. The new construction would get him the car!

Multiple bridges collapsing in Bihar and sloppy construction at several airports in the country reminded me of that story. How else can one describe this but as an open secret of hopelessness, shamelessness and corruption in the system? How else can one explain the collapse of 12 bridges over 18 days in Bihar? The fall of roofs and canopies at airports in Delhi, Jabalpur and Rajkot? There is this deafening silence over failing infrastructure in the country. It is as if nothing has happened!

Committees have been constituted to investigate these cases but nobody knows when their reports will be submitted nor whether they would be made public. The murky web of corruption may never let the findings see the light of the day. Is this a picture of “developed India”? Are we on the way to becoming the third-largest economic power by following this path?

The National Crime Records Bureau statistics show that over 250 bridges have collapsed in the country in the last ten years and over 2,000 in the last forty years. These do not include small bridges and foot overbridges over nullahs. The question here is not restricted to bridges collapsing in Bihar but why are they giving way? Some bridges were indeed old, but how does one explain the bridge collapse over ‘Bakra’ River in Araria district even before it could be inaugurated? Two piers of the structure sank while six others were damaged! One does not need to be an expert in bridge construction to say that the space under the sunken piers was hollowed out by corruption. Local residents had pointed out that the quality of construction wasn’t good and sand mining ought to be stopped, but nobody listened!

In any construction, there are various stages of inspection, and the quality of material used is checked. Only after satisfaction at each stage is the work allowed to proceed. This seems to have been neglected in the present case. How else could the structure collapse? A base rate for construction is determined after taking into account the market rate of material to be used, labour and margin. Yet many times it is seen that contractors are willing to work at rates lower than that stipulated in the tender. Is this possible without corruption? Compromise on quality and bribes cannot be ruled out. It is obvious that the quality of the construction will be compromised and what took place in Bihar will happen again. What happened at the airports of Delhi, Jabalpur and Rajkot can also recur elsewhere.

It is generally believed that the quality of construction at airports is the best, but now even this seems illusory. It’s as if corrupt officials have been given an open licence. A bridge under construction in Khagaria, Bihar, built at a cost of Rs 1,717 crore, collapsed. How many people were punished in that case? Do you remember the suspension bridge collapse in Morbi, Gujarat, about two years ago? 141 lives were lost. What happened in that case? Let me remind you of another incident. About two years ago, a large iron bridge in Rohtas district in Bihar was cut and stolen by thieves. This sounds like a strange incident, but it is true. All these incidents reflect the failure of the system.

Today, everyone knows that roads are built, and after a few days, gravel comes out or cracks appear in the cement roads. The work in villages is even worse. You will be surprised to know that in Mumbai alone, hundreds of crores of rupees are spent every year on filling potholes and repairing roads. This year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Atal Setu in Mumbai, and I have heard that it has also developed cracks. MPs and MLAs receive hefty development funds every year. If an audit of the works done with that fund is conducted, 80% of the work will be rejected in terms of quality. Public representatives also use these roads, but their voices are neither heard in Parliament nor in the Assembly. They neither protest nor fast on the issue. What is the reason for their silence, their support for such works?

No official can dare to sanction such works without the support of public representatives. The state of the system can be gauged from the fact that from the prime minister to the chief minister, everyone says “Plant a tree”. My personal experience is that if you plant a tree, the tree guard is stolen and the system does nothing. Those in power are so engrossed in politics that they don’t have time for such things. They are only busy with politics. One can only turn to the judiciary for intervention, for taking suo moto notice so that improvement could be expected.

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