Last week the unthinkable happened – a portion of a station of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) collapsed. It killed a person and injured others. Now more than the damage to the property and the human life, such accidents damage the image of Brand DMRC.
What has been more surprising is the ‘chalta hain’ (it happens) kind of response of the public and media to the incident. There was a time when DMRC had created the confidence that it could never go wrong. That confidence seems to have waned and the Metro is now being considered to be one of the several agencies which are serving the metropolis and are going wrong.
Could you believe that not even 500 metres away from the Bharat Mandapam, where we claimed ourselves to be the Vishwa Guru during the G20 Summit, a newly built tunnel road is defective and dirty linen is being washed in the public by the involved parties?
A network of underpasses and tunnels were built ahead of the G20 summit to provide easy access to the redeveloped Pragati Maidan complex complete with a world-class exhibition and convention centre. The tunnel connects Ring Road with India Gate through the Purana Qila Road. It’s been just 20 months since the Prime Minister inaugurated the project in 2022 but the tunnel has regularly faced traffic closures due to various problems.
The tunnel has leakage issues, cracks in concrete, water accumulation, inadequate drainage, inconsistent kerbstones, missing saucer drains, and unexplained groundwater seepage. The government department has sent a show cause notice to the contractors Larsen & Toubro (L&T), requesting the company to deposit a “minimum token amount of ₹500 crore” and to start repair work to address technical and design flaws in the tunnel.
People’s reaction to the tunnel issue too has been more or less ‘chalta hain.’ Such was not always the public response especially the government had to face the anger of the people when the completion of the Commonwealth Games infrastructure projects were over-shooting the deadlines. In 2009, when the concrete slab of the Delhi Metro rail at an under-construction site fell such was the public anger that the then managing director of the company, the most venerable E Sreedharan had to offer to resign to assuage public anger.
Such public rage is missing in the city today against the defective or altogether non-delivery of services. The residents of Delhi are probably living with a pang of guilt for having slowed down the process and quality of development in the city by opting for a manifesto of freebies rather than pay for development. The completion of the four phases of the Delhi Metro should have happened between 2016 and 2020.
However, this has been delayed by more than four years now and the completion of the remaining work is not going to happen soon either. Former DMRC managing director E Sreedharan had said that by the time Phase IV is completed, the city will need Phase V to cope with increased population and transport needs. Even the Planning for this phase has not begun.
This delay has largely been on account the delay in the release of funds by the city government, which simplistically put, has diverted monies to meet power subsidies, which gives better returns in the electoral terms. Nevertheless, these pending and badly executed infrastructure projects has now started to take a toll on the residents of the national capital region.
It’s not only about the increasing accidents on these sites but also about the high levels of pollution created by these pending works. Dust particles, especially PM2.5, can penetrate deep into the respiratory system when inhaled and damage the lungs. With delayed and badly executed projects we can never be accepted as a developed nation.
Author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice