Modi Government Completes First Month Amidst Reports of Leakage, Seepage and Collapse of Bridges

The hard fact is that most of the recently constructed structures are coming down or are getting exposed to rain because they were built against the run of the time.

Ever since the first parliamentary election of 1952 the rating of no government has dipped so sharply in its first month in office as that of Narendra Modi. And that too
when it had returned to power for the third time — albeit with a reduced majority.

Be it the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (Undergraduate) (NEET-UG) paper leak, cancellation of the National Eligibility Test (NET) and subsequently the postponement of NEET-PG examination or collapse of canopy in Delhi airport leading to casualties, similar mishaps in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and falling down of a dozen bridges in Bihar within a fortnight, all such bad news hit the headlines almost everyday, since June 4 Lok Sabha election result day.

Not to forget about the seepage in newly built Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and waterlogging within its complex which exposed the drainage system there after first monsoon shower.

Despite the temple trust’s denial, the head priest of the Ram Mandir, Acharya Satyendra Das, revealed that water had indeed seeped into the temple from the roof after the first rain, contradicting the trust’s claims.

Moreover, the indisputable reality is that the 14-kilometer Ram Path has collapsed in at least a dozen spots, and widespread waterlogging has affected Ayodhya and even the Shri Ram Hospital.

Suspension drama

Notwithstanding the denial of reports of seepage, the fact is that the Uttar Pradesh government has suspended six engineers for massive waterlogging and caving in of roads.

As if that was not enough on July 2 came the news of stampede in Hathras at a religious congregation of Bhole Baba which officially left 121 dead, including many women and children.

Since all these developments have taken place in the National Democratic Alliance-ruled states, the image of the newly elected government at the Centre has taken a beating.

Be it Bihar, Uttar Pradesh or anywhere else the government had washed its hand of by blaming the engineers and the firms involved in the construction works. Following the Adityanath government’s action the Nitish Kumar-led regime, after remaining in denial mode, finally suspended 16 engineers and thus held them responsible for the collapse of bridges.

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As most of the above-mentioned construction works have been undertaken by reputed firms and under the guidance of institutes like IITs does it make any sense to simply suspend a handful of engineers?

Meanwhile, considering that all these structural collapses have occurred in states governed by the NDA, it raises a pertinent question: Is corruption and embezzlement in construction projects a new phenomenon limited to these Hindi-belt states, or is it a more widespread issue?

Perhaps, this is not the case. Eyebrows are being raised simply because all these had happened in just one month and that too in the states where the ruling party/alliance is in power for several years. Kickbacks and commissions were very much in practice in the past regimes too. They are accepted reality in several other non-Hindi speaking states as well. But nowhere structures are falling apart like in the last one month.

Short deadline

Engineers are not infallible, but it’s wrong to blame them alone for everything. Keeping in mind the long history of politician-bureaucrat-engineer nexus one can safely say that the blame should be shared equally.

The hard fact is that most of the recently constructed structures are coming down or are getting exposed to rain because they were built against the run of the time. The
construction firms, the contractors, the engineers and all the labourers involved in them were compelled to work under pressure and within a short deadline. As politicians want them to be completed before the election everything is rushed through in a break-neck speed.

As in the case of Ayodhya, January 22 was both politically and religiously sacrosanct, all those involved in the building of Ram Mandir had to follow the diktat of the political executive which was not at all prepared to listen to the voice of reason. Developing infrastructure is necessary for the growth of any country. But this does not mean that government in power should undertake haphazard construction work and thus in the process earn short-term goodwill of the voters. In the long-term such policy proves very costly.

Lame excuses

When electrical engineer Nitish Kumar became the chief minister of Bihar on November 24, 2005 he undertook several ambitious infrastructure development projects. Perhaps he copied the idea from the then Gujarat counterpart Narendra Modi. As cutting ribbon on the eve of election for the inauguration of new roads, bridges and other structures are the shortest-cut to become popular in the eyes of the voters many rulers are fast adopting this style of functioning. In the process, all norms and rules are thrown to the wind.

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Undoubtedly, many governments award contracts to individuals with close ties to those in power, for obvious reasons. But once anything wrong happens the political executives first distance themselves from the incident.

For example, the Bihar government took action against some engineers on the plea that they did not take care of the pillars of the bridges at the time of dredging and
desilting of rivers — a common exercise. But that is not the only reason for the crumbling down of so many of them in such a short spam.

Ironically, the most outlandish statement came from the newly appointed Union minister and former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi. He blamed unprecedented rain for these incidents, when the fact is that till June 30 Bihar had 52% deficient rainfall which came down to 22% on July 5 when Manjhi was speaking. Thus, the state government had not declared any district as flood-ravaged till that date. In fact, monsoon hit Bihar a fortnight late. The bridge started coming down well before it.

The question paper leak, stampede in religious gathering, seepage and waterlogging in Ayodhya and collapse of bridges, canopy etc. all these developments have their roots in the previous government of the same party or alliance. The need of the hour is to stop behaving like monarchs who to fulfil their own ego would love to build huge mansions, mandirs, mosques, mausoleums etc as they have little to do with the day-to-day governance and the real problem of the common masses.

Administrating and managing any state or country is a more challenging job than simply ordering massive construction projects.

Soroor Ahmed is a Patna-based freelance journalist.