Why do bridges keep collapsing in India?

Regular monitoring and infrastructure upgrades cannot be novel ideas for those responsible for maintenance

By The Editorial Board
  • Published 29.10.18, 7:28 AM
  • Updated 29.10.18, 7:28 AM
  • 2 mins read
Passengers caught in the stampede on the Elphinstone Road station overbridge in Mumbai in September 2017 PTI Photo

Timelessness is a concept that comes glibly to Indians; they have a lot to say about the delusions of this time-bound life. Perhaps it is this mode of thought that predominates in their vision of infrastructure too, because they seem to feel that items of infrastructure, such as bridges, once built, are eternal. That is why even the most alarming reports of the condition of bridges that came out of a survey of 5,600 bridges out of 6,500 by the ministry of surface transport some years ago do not seem to have borne much fruit. Bridges keep collapsing and being washed away, worn down by heavier loads and more environmental assaults than they are built to take. What is amazing is that the knowledge of the short life of bridges in India has not resulted in an effective system of regular maintenance among the many agencies that look after them. In 2017, the Union road transport and highways minister conducted another extensive survey, claiming at the end of it that 140 bridges on the national highways were on the verge of collapse. Many others were shown to be in different stages of decay. Has this report been appropriately followed up?

Naturally, the state of old foot overbridges within railway stations is not even on the official horizon. The death of two people and the injury of others during a stampede on such a bridge at Santragachi station in West Bengal is just one more tragedy resulting from overbridges being too narrow to accommodate the growing press of people over the years. Two wider bridges remain half-made; clearly, it is not the authorities’ innocence that caused the tragedy. Maintenance is a bit of a joke: one woman died and another was injured when a slab from the foot overbridge fell on them in Baruipur station last September. And all this is happening a year after 22 people died in a stampede on a pitifully inadequate overbridge in Mumbai’s Elphinstone Road station. Nobody had bothered to make space for more passengers after the station became a transit point for newly developed industrial and office areas. More than 35 people died in Allahabad station in 2013 when a foot overbridge collapsed because of the huge rush of pilgrims after the holy dip on Purna Kumbh. Regular monitoring and infrastructure upgrades cannot be novel ideas for those responsible for maintenance. Why do Indians find it so difficult to do the jobs they are paid for?