Will there be accountability for negligence this time?
At least 134 people have been reported dead in the bridge collapse in Morbi, Gujarat. When the century-old suspension bridge broke apart yesterday evening, it was loaded well beyond capacity. The Chhath Puja crowds along the way delayed the rescue teams and then their operations were made difficult by the thick algae covering the Machchu river underneath the bridge. The critical question is whether this was an avertable tragedy. If so, the multiple layers of negligence that contributed to it should be transparently laid out in front of the public.
As last week’s deadly Halloween stampede in Itaewon, Seoul also underlined, overcrowding tips over into tragedy because authorities are lax in its initial stages. Beyond the tipping point, fatalities just mount. But unless accountability for such laxity is fixed and punishment meted out, lives will continue to be lost. India is a densely populated country and the Indian calendar is packed with celebrations. Many are well run: Kumbh mela springs to mind. But when those that are not turn into disasters, nobody is punished. Who has been punished for the New Year stampede at the Vaishno Devi shrine?
In the Morbi case, additional layers of mismanagement are suspected. After being closed for renovation for several months, the bridge was reopened for the Gujarati new year on October 26. Was this reopening rushed for poll reasons? Did the private contractor in charge of maintaining the bridge reopen it without a fitness certificate from the municipality? Such questions need to be answered punctiliously. This is what we owe those who died yesterday and this is what will save lives in the future. Otherwise, a lot of rickety infrastructure around the country means more tragedies just waiting to happen.
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