Is Falling Down…

Irresponsible Construction of the Infrastructure

It has been over a month since the collapse of the Vivekananda Road flyover, Girish Park, Kolkata and the people are yet to come out of the trauma, give up on the threat they felt, or at least quit talking about it. The incident killed at least 25 people with nearly 90 people injured gravely and recovering in hospitals. There was a lot of mudslinging on the ‘who did it’ part and the contractor was audacious enough to say that this was an “act of God”, played at the hands of God! This was, to sum it up, a sad moment for the nation.

Lucknow was not even through with the mourning and praying for its fellow countrymen, the city that gave asylum to Wajid Ali Shah, when a similar incidence drew everyone’s attention towards Alambagh.

The ambitious project of Lucknow Metro, that was also speculated as an integral part of Samajwadi Party’s and Akhilesh Yadav’s election campaign for 2017 elections had seen a setback due to the slower than expected rate of the development. But apparently, that wasn’t the only setback to the project. On 16thApril 2016, a constructional mishap brought the entire Alambagh to a halt when a part of the structure collapsed in the midst of all the hum-drum and public vicinity. SP Rajesh Pandey reported that the accident happened when 8 metro workers attempted to reinforce the parts of the construction between two pillars. The injured were rushed immediately to the nearest medical facility, where one of them was said to be in a critical condition. Others had also been convalescing after the provision of medical aid. The District Magistrate was quoted to say, “No casualties reported as of now,” and “no one was trapped in the debris. The debris was being cleared and relief was being provided to the injured and an inquiry will be held to find out how the accident occurred,” (source: IANS).

A 3-member committee has been set up for the incident and will submit its report on the mishap shortly. Also, a unit of 15 personnel from NDRF (National Disaster Relief Force) had actively supported the people around, and involved, in the scene. However, LMRC cannot seem to find an escape from the criticism. From the local to the national media, all have questioned the parameters for safety of LMRC workers. The MLA of Alambagh, Reeta Bahuguna Joshi visited the area and put forward that such a crucial construction as ‘metro railway’ cannot be trusted with the safety of the public if the workers cannot be assured of their safety in the first place. She added that LMRC should take responsibility. Two weeks prior to this incident, a person had a near death experience when debris from the overhead infrastructure fell on his car.

It had been reported that the LMRC SPV was under pressure to finish the 8.5 kilometers of stretch from Alambagh to Charbagh. The train has to be run at this route by November of this year. (Source: TOI)

But this incident is not the first of its kind. This is, in fact, the latest link to a chain of mishaps in the Lucknow area. On 17th July 2012, a bridge under construction collapsed over Gomti on Sitapur-Hardoi Bypass. Though no loss of life was reported, this does reflect the gravity of the insufficient quality of the constructions in the public sector. The construction was pending for two years and on that fateful day, huge chunks of concrete and rubble fell like a titan’s amputated limb.

The reason of the collapse as cited by the Bridge Corporation were the beams laid not being tied up together to form support. The bridge was supposed to have been completed by the end of that year but is yet to see the final phase of completion.

The incident has also raised a question mark over the forthcoming projects, which the UP bridge corporation was about to undertake. Already proposals for a flyover and two railways over bridges are under consideration at the level of state government.

Another tragedy that actually took a toll on the life and property of the civilians occurred when flyover on Lucknow-Faizabad National Highway 28 collapsed on 11th January 2010, injuring nine people. Thankfully, no one was killed in the mishap. The injured were immediately taken to the local hospital. “We were all working when the flyover came crashing,” said an injured labourer. The district magistrate said: “Nine people have been injured and I have asked for an inquiry.” (NDTV)

The worst event of them all, however, was the one that occurred on 30th September 2008, when an under construction flyover along the Lucknow-Faizabad Road crumbled. Along with the bridge fell 7 lives and around 20 people were trapped in the debris. There was a considerable amount of casualties as there was a market below the flyover that was under construction for two years. It was also a makeshift parking spot for the civilians there. The then Chief Minister Mayawati had rushed to the spot and instructed the administration to rescue the trapped people. Mayawati, who spent five minutes at the spot, was heard informing the reporters that an inquiry would be ordered into the collapse. Being the veteran politician she is, she shifted the blame on the center by saying that the flyover was a centrally funded project initiated by the National Highways Authority of India that had started 6 years before the accident took place but was still pending. She also announced compensations for the families of those killed.

Rohit Kumar, a grocery shop owner nearby, said, “It happened around 5:30 p.m. I heard a kind of a loud cracking sound, then the iron beams came crashing down and the bridge crumbled. ”Ashok Gupta, who owns an electrical goods shop there, said, “There are at least 3-4 cars and some scooters and bicycles crushed under the bridge.”The injured were rushed to hospital. Five cranes were brought in to rescue those trapped under the debris. Angry bystanders claimed the cranes arrived three hours after the incident.

People alleged that despite several complaints that the under-construction flyover could come crashing down, no attention was paid to it. “The iron girders were rusting for a long time and the construction could collapse anytime. And this is what happened,” a member of the angry mob told IANS.

The event became a feast for the political hyenas that seized the moment to play blame games. The Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) blamed the UPA government for the accident. Senior state BJP leader Lalji Tandon said, “Our government had started the project but the UPA government later ignored it.” The project was launched from the discretionary fund of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a Member of Parliament from Lucknow.

There was a separate allegation war waged between the contenders of the State Command. Samajwadi Party leader Prem Prakash Verma told journalists that it was the duty of the state government to ensure that the project was completed. State Congress leader Pramod Tiwari said the local government should have ensured timely execution of the project.

Well, that is the nature of politics in India probably; even a signature has to be with a highlighter pen. But amidst this political circus created out of the plight of the common man, some progress was indeed made. According to IANS, three employees of the Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) were arrested from Barabanki town of Uttar Pradesh for the death of at least seven people due to the collapse of an under-construction flyover. “Senior officials and engineers of the HCC were arrested from Barabanki Wednesday night. We have also arrested one person from Lucknow,” S.C. Dubey, circle officer of Gomti Nagar, told IANS.

A 30-metre-long concrete beam of the under-construction Shaheed Path flyover, a part of the golden quadrilateral, collapsed in the Chinhat area of the state capital.

“A case was registered against officials and employees of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and HCC in the Chinhat police station and we have been conducting raids in Lucknow and Barabanki,” Dubey said.

The NHAI has also constituted a two-member team to probe the accident. “We visited the spot along with the probe team and have collected vital details about the accident. We will also be inspecting other NHAI projects in the state,” S.C. Arora, NHAI chief general manager, told reporters.

On paper, the parameters for quality and the guidelines for safety seem ample for the protection of the lives of the workers as well as the civilians, but then, experiences of quite many Lucknowites beg to differ. What then goes wrong here? Without being very suggestive, it is probably the implementations of these parameters and guidelines. What else can anyone come up with as a reason for such accidents if not this? Oh! Of course! Earthquakes!

It is a well-known scenario, in the Indian sphere at least, where concrete and steel are eaten more rapidly by corruption than erosion and corrosion. The responsible authorities, to pocket as much funds as they can, either don’t put in sufficient quantities of the materials required to erect enormous infrastructures such as bridges and flyovers, or they use cheaper quality of materials that are sub-standard and thereby, compromising the durability of the structure. This is also done in the wake of the fact that a poor quality of material would erode easily. To repair that, more funds would be provided. This cycle would continue- more funds, fuller pockets.

In the light of the Kolkata incident, we can safely say that unqualified engineers and personnel produce faulty designs and might neglect critical measures for safety. Social media was ruthless while mocking the engineers as ‘products of reservation’, but would it not be unfair to blame it on caste-based distinction when it is the students’ own fault? A considerable part of the youth is pushed towards a line of education, which they never wanted. Would it not be appropriate to dub them as ‘engineers who never wanted to be engineers’? These are the questions and this is a concern we shall cover in the later issues. For now, suffice it to say that we might be building bridges across destinations, but we’re widening the gap between the faith of the common and the credibility of the authorities.

Suchit Mathur
Writer is a student. Reading and writing are his passion.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 3 Issue 4,July 2016)

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