Sunday, July 12, 2009

Reasons why bridges keep collapsing in the country: Institutionalised Corruption, System

The under-construction metro bridge collapsed in Delhi recently, causing the death of five persons. 

Bridges are now falling at regular intervals in this country.

Sometime back there was an incident in Delhi, earlier in Lucknow and before that in Hyderabad.

Still, many bridges stand. Surprised at this statement! Yes, it surprises me when one gets to know how these bridges are built.

Just the other day I came across a person who had come for a visit after finishing a project. He had just finished the construction of an overpass and was in a holiday mood, awaiting clearance of his cheques.

Lot of things are known in the society but it is not easy to talk about them, 'officially' or 'on the record'. I casually asked him about the construction work and that's what he told me: "The 26% cut straight goes to the officials and engineers, then 7% goes in taxes, 8-10% goes to local strongmen, junior engineers and other troublemakers who either extort or threaten to hamper work".

Construction was done more at night to avoid other extortionists including policemen."We keep 20% profit for ourselves. So the project has to be completed in just about 38% of the original budget that is needed for the complete construction of a safe project".

So if an overpass 'puliya' has to be constructed for Rs 1 crore, the contractor must build it in around Rs 35 lakh. How will he construct and if he does, how will it stand a few monsoons or even high volume of traffic?

'Cuts': Money has to go to everyone, officials, politicians, cops

And why is the 26% cut? Everybody needs it, officials have to send money to those up in the hierarchy up to the ministers. And there is no secret about it. Everybody knows it.

In case of Central schemes, the situation is even bad. I asked him if the bridge will stand. "Hopefully", he said.

"I have done my best and at least, it's better than the construction which other contractors are doing in the area around. So it has fair chances of standing for a couple of years."

Bureaucracy is complicit: No one can dare to speak

And nothing can probably check this corruption. Almost entire bureaucracy is complicit and those who dare to speak up, are either shunted out or 'silenced' so that the chain is not broken. Everybody must keep getting their share of bribes and cuts.

Ironically, it is this system that needs to be cleansed but it remains a non-issue. As long as Old British-built bridges exist despite having far outlived their life, we are moving.

But in a few decades, when majority of flyovers and bridges in this country would be the ones built in recent history, we will perhaps see more collapses.

Contractor will be held accountable, never the bureaucrat

But the real 'traitors' who steal our money and compromise our safety, remain safe. If ever something goes wrong, it is the contractor who will be held, just for eyewash. The bureaucrat will remain safe.

What a wonderful system! The need of the hour is a public movement against this level of corruption but there are no such signs visible.