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Not just a flyover collapse; Malaise runs deep

By BS Bureau
April 04, 2016 08:53 IST

Rescue operations going on at the spot where an under-construction flyover collapsed on Vivekananda Road in Kolkata on Friday. Photograph: PTI Photo

IMAGE: Rescue operations going on at the spot where an under-construction flyover collapsed on Vivekananda Road in Kolkata on Friday. Photograph: PTI Photo

The surcharged political atmosphere in West Bengal, which is currently in the midst of assembly elections, has led to all political parties engaging in a blame game.

The collapse of an under-construction flyover in the highly congested Burra Bazar area of Kolkata, killing 27 people, has highlighted the hurdles in the way of building new infrastructure capacity not just in West Bengal but in all of India.

The tragedy comes at a particularly sensitive juncture when India, led by a very active and peripatetic prime minister, is seeking global investment for building both its infrastructure and its productive capacity.

Given that a trillion dollar-plus infrastructure gap has to be financed, and that various methods of implementing this infrastructure plan are being discussed at the moment, it is vital to dispassionately judge what has gone wrong in this case -- and to identify the more general malaise.

But the surcharged political atmosphere in West Bengal, which is currently in the midst of assembly elections, has led to all political parties engaging in a blame game.

A final call should only be taken when all the facts are known.

This flyover collapse was, sadly, far from atypical.

A section of another flyover at Ultadanga on the way to Kolkata’s airport collapsed three years ago. (Fortunately casualties were minimal then, as it happened late in the night.)

A safety audit of flyovers in and around the city undertaken thereafter revealed serious flaws in as many as 14 of them, and repairs are now underway.

The previous Left Front government has to answer for this.

But it should also be noted that this particular flyover has been under construction for seven years now with no sign of the work likely to finish in the near future.

Opposition by local people to the flyover and the inability of the government to make land available for the project are the main reasons cited for the delay.

For this, the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the current Trinamool Congress government.

Its leader, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who won the last assembly elections by making an issue of land acquisition and driving out of the state the Tatas’ Nano project, has created a culture whereby people consider it legitimate to refuse to part with land even for public projects.

The role of the private contractor executing the project, IVRCL, has also come under scrutiny.

The company had a reasonable reputation when it was awarded the contract for the project in 2007, but thereafter has fallen foul of the authorities on several counts, and in several states.

It was as early as in 2011 that a case was filed against it by the Central Bureau of Investigation; but despite this the Trinamool Congress government that came to power the same year chose to go along with it.

One of the smaller contractors engaged by IVRCL has been linked to a Trinamool Congress bigwig.

In fact, perhaps the biggest hurdle in the way of doing business in the infrastructure is the role of local political operatives who have to be awarded contracts or simply accommodated in their rent-seeking.

This is a well-known problem in West Bengal in particular and, together with the land issue, has kept new projects away from the state.

The prospects for jobs and economic growth are dim for both West Bengal and all of India unless the governance house is set in order.

BS Bureau in New Delhi
Source: source
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