Sunday, April 03, 2016

Had predicted Kolkata flyover collapse, writes Kiran Bedi

I had anticipated the collapse of the Kolkata flyover on one of the recent visits to the city and asked it on Twitter who was in charge of this ghost structure. Left unattended for years, the rusting, concrete juggernaut without a workman near it was just waiting to cave in. It had to take lives to let the world know it was dying.
Cases would be registered and a few company officials arrested but no one would say a word about the other public servants (political or non-political) responsible for the oversight. We’ll hear public statements that they will spare no culprit and compensate the families of the victims. Then politicians will descend on the scene. It has become a predictable drill.
When under pressure, politicians wait for the next disaster or the public memory to fade. In our subcontinent, disasters occur too frequently for the general public to keep track of all. They who must be held accountable will never be.
Bureaucrats first
The clean-up should start with the public works department, from the lowest secretary to the highest bureaucrat. It was their duty to oversee the work, clear the bills, do regular site inspection, audit/test the material, and ensure that safety standards were followed. How many times since 2008 did they review the project? We do not know, nor will we get to know, unless we file an RTI. It will be months before we get the information, which will be incomplete and not of much help.
Files will show where the matter was kept pending at the administrative and political levels. The construction company went bankrupt within a year of the project, so blame will be shifted to it, without transparency and accountability, even though many politicians also deserve to go to jail over this.
Leaders retract
Can the area legislator and MP be held accountable? I heard the MP say on television that monitoring the rusting flyover was not his job. The Trinamool MP of Kolkata North said that by the time the flaws had come to his notice, 60% of the work had been over. He forgot what he owed to his voters. Did they pick him or his party? No one knows. No one can ask. No one will reply.
What about CM’s accountability?
As CEO her government, is West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee not supposed to review the progress of pending projects for public safety? But she said on TV that her predecessors had awarded the contract and it is they who should be asked why they had hired a blacklisted company.
Information in the public domain suggests that she knew the company was untrustworthy. The question is who will dare to ask her what her government had been doing for almost five years? No one can. She has already put the blame o the company and washed her hands off it.
Opposition not innocent either
How about the Opposition parties who also seek votes? Did they protest to seek time-bound completion of the project? If they did, when and to what effect? Did they persevere, or gave up? They can say it’s best to protest when the structure has collapsed, not when it is collapsing. Imagine the votes the tragedy will get them. They say the Opposition’s accountability is never certain; tell them so is the case with public vote.
Public guilty, too?
Cities have their media and citizen groups for taking up causes. Did they find out what the government was up to? I fear they, too, will turn around and say: “O’ please, we do only campaigns like marathons, environment runs, save the tiger, school charity (that don’t question the government).”
It’s not safe for the local media to ask the government uncomfortable questions. Then who will? Who killed the people?
The hand of God?
Did the voter under the bridge not have the duty to exercise safety? Was it the hand of God, as a company executive said, as another man on TV said: “The state anyway is run by God.” Since God is neither visible not accessible, how do we make God accountable? But the case should not be closed. The challenge is to fix responsibility.
@SivadasTV2, who follows me on Twitter, had the following suggestion. I think it’s worth considering. “Pass a law requiring all elected representatives to file a monthly intelligence report on illegal activities in their constituencies.” Will the voter demand it? But again, from whom? They who do not understand the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’? India begs for accountability, from its corporate houses, public servants, and appointed and elected representatives.
Will the judiciary take suo-motu notice?