All fall down

Gaps are seldom bridged. That could explain why bridges in Calcutta have started to resemble the proverbial house of cards. The city witnessed another bridge collapse, the third in the last few years, when a portion of the Majerhat bridge slumped, throwing traffic out of gear. Urban disasters can no longer be attributed to divine causes.

  • Published 6.09.18
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Gaps are seldom bridged. That could explain why bridges in Calcutta have started to resemble the proverbial house of cards. The city witnessed another bridge collapse, the third in the last few years, when a portion of the Majerhat bridge slumped, throwing traffic out of gear. Urban disasters can no longer be attributed to divine causes. The human agency is far too apparent. Reports suggest that reservations had been expressed about the safety of the Majerhat bridge on more than one occasion. Three years ago, an audit by the public works department, which is tasked with maintaining the bridge, had revealed structural deficiencies. The surface had been relaid several times, adding to the weight of the bridge. An assessment by a Delhi-based agency, which had been instructed to examine the bridge after the Vivekananda flyover fell two years ago, had concurred with the findings of the earlier study by the PWD. Shockingly, the warnings were not enough to get the PWD to intervene on time. This kind of negligence - is it not criminal? - would have been penalized by any conscientious administration. But Bengal, as they say, thinks and acts differently. Negligence or collusion on the part of public institutions are often brushed under the carpet. Is that why those who had been arrested after a police investigation into the disaster of 2016 are now out on bail? Accountability - not just of private employees but also public servants - must be reimagined. The lack of transparency of the PWD helps it evade scrutiny. Is there a case for the PWD widely sharing its appraisals of Calcutta's bridges not just with its bosses but also with citizens and the media? That could reveal bigger worms in the can: the poor quality of construction material, corruption, rushed execution of projects and the nexus with politicians.

Calcutta's wobbly infrastructure reveals a disturbing anomaly. As the city grows exponentially, fuelling demands for the construction of flyovers and bridges supposedly to evade bottlenecks, standards of safety are being wilfully compromised as a result of the connivance among various authorities.

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