A Metaphor for In­sti­tu­tional Fail­ure

Kolkata’s fly­over col­lapse has no sin­gle cause

The Economic Times - - Breaking Ideas -

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.

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