[op-ed snap] Lapse and collapse: on Mumbai’s pedestrian bridge accident

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Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Urbanization , their problems & remedies

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Accountability on Municipal authority’s part to create sustainable infrastructure.


NEWS

CONTEXT

The pedestrian bridge that collapsed at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, leaving six people dead and several injured, underscores the irony of India’s race to development on creaking urban infrastructure. Mumbai’s creaking public infrastructure must be urgently upgraded.

Loss of lives due to poor infrastructure

  • It was only in September 2017 that there was a stampede at Mumbai’s Elphinstone bridge that left at least 23 people dead, an incident that officials blamed on heavy rain and overcrowding on the rickety structure.
  • there is the chronic toll of eight people, on average, dying every day on the city’s railway tracks.
  • This is a dismal image for a metropolis that generates so much wealth, but cannot guarantee the safety of its public infrastructure.

Punitive Action Taken by municipal Authorities

  • In the first response to the CST incident, the Maharashtra government and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have launched action on the contractor who carried out repairs on the bridge five years ago.
  • the structural safety auditor who had certified the bridge to be in ‘good’ condition among a total of 39 bridges, and some civic body officials.
  • Such steps may serve to mollify public anger, and no one would argue against efforts to fix accountability for lapses.
  • However, far-reaching administrative reform is necessary to raise public confidence in the way government works.
  • It is extraordinary that the BMC is wiser after the fact, and has determined that the quality of repairs performed on the CST bridge was not ‘up to the mark,’ since it collapsed within six years.
  • It has also closed several busy footbridges, virtually confirming prolonged neglect of maintenance.

Way forward

  • In a city where eight million passenger trips are made daily on an overburdened railway system, besides other modes of transport, the highest policy priority should be to raise levels of safety.
  • In the wake of the bridge disaster, the municipal corporation must explain how much of its annual budget of ₹30,692 crore for the coming year will go towards improving facilities and safety for the majority of its citizens who ride trains and buses or walk.
  • Mumbaikars badly need a new deal in the form of a modernised bus system, with expansion of services that can be funded through a levy on private vehicles or on fuel.
  • The move to privatise BEST bus services may result in greater pressure on other systems, reducing access and adding to the stress faced by citizens.
  • Mumbai’s experience should serve as a warning to all fast-expanding Indian cities governed by municipal systems that have low capacity and capability to create people-friendly infrastructure.
  • Distortions in urban policymaking in recent years are all too evident, marked by support for loosely defined smart cities and personal vehicles, at the cost of basic interventions that will make the commons more accessible — roads, pavements, pedestrian facilities and public transport.
  • The safe mobility of people must be prioritised.

 

Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.
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