CST Bridge Collapse: Busy With ‘Smart City’, but No Basic Safety
The memories of the horrific stampede at Elphinstone Bridge in 2017 were still fresh when I heard the news of the collapse of a foot overbridge near CST, formally known as the Himalaya Bridge. Both the bridges have been a significant part of my daily commute to work. So reading about these incidents makes me wonder if I was lucky to escape by a hair’s breadth.
Himalaya bridge is 30 years old. As per the information available in the public domain, major repairs of the bridge were undertaken in 2010-11. The bridge came under the watchful eyes of the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan – for a fresh coat of paint and replacement of tiles to beautify the ageing structure.
In a city that is defined by its suburban railway network, with over eight million passengers making daily trips, ensuring the highest levels of safety should be the paramount consideration of the government. Instead, as expected, soon after the bridge collapse, the instant reaction of the BMC was to engage in a blame game and conveniently shift the responsibility of the disaster on the Railways. Only after the intervention of the chief minister did BMC accept its responsibility and agreed that the maintenance of the overbridge was within its jurisdiction.
In the past few years, there have been at least four incidents of infrastructure collapse in the city, including the horrific fire at Kamala Mills. In each case, BMC officials have been brought under the scanner. What surprises me is that despite so many unfortunate events, why has BMC and the government not taken any concrete actions to address the systemic failures?
As per news reports, in case of the CST bridge incident, BMC has now pointed its fingers towards the contractor who had carried out the repair works and the auditor who had certified the safety of the bridge. But what about the accountability of a municipal corporation towards the safety of its taxpaying residents? Blaming the contractor and the auditor are nothing but quick fixes given that the incident happened so close to the elections in the country and no one wants to be deemed responsible. The authorities are turning a blind eye to structural reforms required within governance.
BMC’s Neglect of Policy Directives
Experts on urban policy and governance have, on several occasions, emphasised on the need for more transparency and accountability from the various stakeholders.
Sayli Udas⎯Mankikar, a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, stresses on the need to have a clarity on the 'jurisdiction of assets' ie., the need to have a board in front of every bridge, underpass and flyover in the city which sets out the name of the agency, the age of the asset along with the contractor’s name, and details of who is in charge of its maintenance.
In 2018, the Bombay High Court had directed the constitution of district disaster management authorities for Mumbai city and Mumbai suburban, which were supposed to lay down the standard operating procedures to be followed by agencies such as the BMC in case of calamities.
This is alarming given the vulnerable condition of the bridges. If there were meetings, adequate steps could have been laid down to prevent a tragedy.
As the guardians of the city are busy in implementing coastal road and smart city projects, the basic needs of the common man – that of safety in the public spaces and public structures – seem to be neglected. The indomitable spirit of Mumbai forces people to put up a brave face in the midst of a tragedy and carry on with life – but is it fair to expect a ‘never-say-die’ attitude while the caretakers of the city get a free pass for having neglected the safety? I hope the ‘chowkidars’ are listening.
(The author is a lawyer based in Mumbai. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)