The collapse of an under-construction flyover in Varanasi was yet another avoidable tragedy. This too will be handled in the usual way, with a probe ordered and compensation given to the families of the dead. As it was in the Prime Minister’s constituency, the probe may be a little more intense and find a few people responsible, but they will be categorised as scapegoats before the calamity is forgotten. Why was there so much traffic and people movement under a dangerously protruding concrete section after the slab was put up in February remains a mystery. Witnesses said help for those trapped in the debris came after an hour, from National Disaster Response Force teams, such delay being a given in Indian conditions.
The deeper malaise is something about which little is done in India. The contractors may have paid bribes to get the job, and they did shabby work, with poor material. In the hurry to complete projects that run way behind schedule, risks are often taken. This was evident in the building of the prestigious new terminal at Delhi airport when on the opening day a child lost its life in a malfunctioning escalator. What civic projects suffer most from is a lack of professional supervision. Inspections and constant field visits by senior engineers may ensure more thorough work on infra projects, but this is mostly lacking. This is the story across India, and more so outside the big metros. We learn little from tragedies and insist on living in a setting that is a permanent work in progress, with people’s lives at risk in public spaces.