A Metaphor for Institutional Failure
Kolkata’s flyover collapse has no single cause
The under-construction flyover that collapsed in Kolkata, killing 25 and injuring more than three times as many, embodies multiple failures that need to be identified and remedied. People have been quick to blame IVRCL, the company that has been constructing the flyover for seven years, but that is a little facile. Of course, the company cannot abdicate responsibility and blame God. If we have to be spared future reprises of trauma under crushing concrete, the inquiry the government has ordered into the flyover’s fall must go beyond finding a scapegoat.
Why does it take seven years and more to build one flyover? The planning and project preparation are grossly inadequate. In some large infrastructure projects, land acquisition gets stuck and the entire project stalls. The funding of the project tends to be haphazard: rarely are funds released in time to ensure that the project proceeds at the technically optimal level. And who decides the optimal technology to be deployed in constructing anything? The construction techniques still widely prevalent in India are antiquated and sheer lack of political will at decision-making levels allows inertia to rule the roost. Once a large publicly funded construction project gets going, whose responsibility is it to ensure that funds available within the constrained budget are not spread too thin across a variety of projects, including politically appealing new ones, but do go to complete the ones that have been started, so that their economic benefit begins to flow? Why doesn’t the Opposition hold those who hold office and are culpable for misaligned spending priorities to account? Why doesn’t the voting public punish both sides for their lapses? These questions need answers.
The review must have a strong engineering component as well? Was there a flaw in the design? Were the materials used substandard? Or was the workmanship shoddy? Or did seven years of naked exposure to the elements corrode bits and pieces of the half-built structure? All these questions must be answered unequivocally and placed in the public domain. An informed public discourse is the biggest insurance of public safety.