It is not just old buildings that collapse in India; new ones do too. As do roads and flyovers, particularly during the monsoons. Almost all these accidents, often lethal, are a result of ruthless corruption. How else can a 11-storey building under construction — that is, spanking new — collapse and kill 61 people? This happened on June 28 in Porur in Tamil Nadu, followed by another collapse last Sunday in Tiruvallur district in the same state, when a 17-feet high godown wall fell on four thatched huts of workers, killing 11 people, including a toddler and four women. This is not a coincidence in the broader sense of the term; it indicates a callousness towards the victims of greed, whether workers, residents, neighbours, customers or any other users of the facility. Investigators into the Porur tragedy are not sure whether the permission to build such a tall tower on the soft soil next to Porur lake had been got honestly; they are only sure that the new building was using material below acceptable standards and that it was a structural disaster. How many people from how many fields does that implicate? Naturally, the safety of workers is of no concern: the Tiruvallur tragedy could have been avoided otherwise.
This is not about Tamil Nadu alone. But the tragedies coming one after the other emphasize the widespread corruption around the building industry and the casualness with which rules and laws are treated. Although the chief minister of Tamil Nadu has instituted a special investigation team to inquire into the Porur incident, it has to be asked what good that will do. No one is fooled. If investigation teams and concerned chief ministers could frighten corrupt people into compliance, such accidents would have become history years ago. Take West Bengal, for example. How many fires in recent times has it experienced and how many deaths from fires? It would be interesting to find out how many hospitals and markets, let alone apartment houses, are being forced to implement fire safety measures by law as a result. Possibly the outcome of such a survey would be similar to that in Tamil Nadu, where 10 years after the fire in Kumbakonam killed 94 children in a school, most schools in the state are still run without fire safety measures. A country in which greed and its satisfaction take precedence over human lives will have a tough time growing into the big power it dreams of becoming.