Quality of infra projects matters, not quantity
The collapse of an under-construction bridge like a sand castle in Bihar is not the prettiest sight, especially coming a couple of days after the fatal train accident in Odisha. That the Sultanganj bridge was under construction for eight years and collapsed twice makes for an even more sordid tale. It is not an isolated case. Caving in of newly-built highways and bridges, flooding of newly-built underpasses, and breaking down of newly-introduced trains are now common sights. This is not the best advertisement for the economic powerhouse we have declared ourselves to be. India prides itself on the pace at which it is building its infrastructure. The newly created infrastructure and buildings give a sense of superiority over some countries in the West, which struggle with their old, dilapidated infrastructure. But the sense of pride and superiority would be short-lived if we do not address the quality issue. It’s easy to find videos on social media of people digging up newly-laid roads to show the poor quality of work done. The potholed roads of Mumbai and Bengaluru no longer generate outrage for apparent reasons.
The government has focused on showcasing quantity – how many km of highways were built, how many bridges were erected, trains launched, and how many medical colleges were constructed. But politicians are not ready to take the blame for the poor quality of infrastructure. Medical colleges and schools come up without good faculties, newly-built roads do not last one monsoon, and fancy new trains are being run at the cost of the existing trains — services are getting worse every day.
Poor quality infrastructure puts the country in a bad light and risks people’s lives. It is not that the government is not spending enough money on these projects; it is just that money is not buying them good quality. The government’s latest data shows that as of April 30, 2023, over 1,600 major infra projects (each costing `150 crore or more) in the country have a cost-overrun of 20% and time-overrun of 50%. Quality is not necessarily assured despite spending extra money on those delayed projects. It is probably time to have stricter parameters to ensure the longevity of infra projects in the country. Transparent oversight mechanisms, project audits and legal deterrents are a must in order to avoid any compromise on quality.