Even before victims of the foot overbridge collapse outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in Mumbai could be taken to hospital, a political blame game over the tragedy had started. The Congress was quick to seize the opportunity to blame the BJP-led government in Maharashtra, especially as Thursday night’s collapse that killed six people came less than a year after another bridge collapse in Andheri.
While there were no fatalities in the Andheri incident, it came as a wake-up call to the authorities, who ordered an audit of all bridges in the megapolis. It is a telling comment on the professionalism, or the lack of it, of the auditors that this CST foot overbridge had been cleared in the audit just six months ago.
It is easy and perhaps tempting to blame Mumbai’s huge population for the tragedies that seem to strike the city at regular intervals. Experts have repeatedly pointed out that the city’s infrastructure is just not enough to cope with the huge population. With Mumbai surrounded by the sea on three sides, there is no scope for India’s financial capital to expand, resulting in enormous pressure on public services. But having said that, experts have also agreed upon the need to plan at least 25 years ahead when it comes to infrastructure projects.
Unfortunately the tendency among the authorities is to keep only five years in mind, thus straining roads, bridges, flyovers and ports much beyond their lifespan.But Thursday’s tragedy throws up a larger question: Are India’s cities becoming increasingly unlivable? Overpopulation, slums, traffic congestion and poor housing are only among the few issues its citizens have to deal with daily.
In 2005, about 500 died after Mumbai received an unprecedented 944 mm of rain in less than 24 hours. Ten years later Chennai was brought to its knees after a severe downpour. While smart cities are necessary, there is also a crying need to arrest the decline of cities. Long-term planning keeping rural and urban needs in mind is perhaps the first step in that direction.