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Posted at: May 17, 2018, 12:01 AM; last updated: May 22, 2018, 12:19 AM (IST)

A bridge too far

Varanasi collapse highlights safety failure
A bridge too far
VARANASI now, Kolkata earlier — pedestrians, workers and people travelling in vehicles crushed under a span of an under-construction bridge. The story is as old as it is tragic. In spite of claims of impressive strides in infrastructure development, the lack of basic safety measures is galling. In Varanasi, the over bridge was being constructed by the Uttar Pradesh State Bridge Corporation, a government body. A fundamental question that arises is why traffic was allowed in an area where there was construction activity. The Kolkata incident should have made the cost of such risks very clear indeed. 

The Prime Minister’s tweet, Uttar Pradesh CM's statements, institution of an enquiry, suspension of officials concerned - are all knee-jerk reactions. These do not address the basic weaknesses of infrastructure development projects in the country. Shoddy workmanship, inordinate delays and allegations of corruption are all too common in such projects. Any construction site is a dangerous one, but proper safety measures can vastly diminish the risk to people there. Even as the UP government’s enquiry is expected to give a definitive answer to what went wrong in Varanasi, there is an immediate need to focus on general safety measures. Besides that, there should also be an audit of the work done by the contractors. 

Adequate attention is not paid to traffic management planning at construction sites on roads. Users need to be warned in advance about approaching bottlenecks; safe, clearly marked and adequately manned lanes should be provided; and traffic not be allowed under areas where work is going on. No doubt, delays would result. However, safety is more important. Projects that disrupt public life should be completed on schedule. The bridge in Varanasi was supposed to be inaugurated by December, and it is far from being complete! In spite of some mishaps, the Delhi Metro provided a model of what could be accomplished speedily and safely. The biggest tribute to the victims of Varanasi would be to ensure that their deaths do not go in vain. This can only happen if lessons drawn from the tragedy are applied for all other such projects.

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