It is an ugly failure that we as a country must learn with immediate effect that we cannot afford
If one person dies in an accident that could have been prevented, it is one life lost too many. The needless and avoidable death of 133 people so far after a suspension bridge collapsed in Morbi in Gujarat, and the structure and people plunged into the waters below, must become India’s resolve to never again have such a tragedy.
Alas, we don’t learn anything and the tragedy, when it repeats, becomes a farce, a shame, an indignity and an insult to our entire nation and culture. We Indians make and build great things, but we cannot put ourselves to maintaining them. We don’t care about safety much, either.
The best of buildings will have leaking faucets, fire safety devices which don’t work, standard safety instructions being flouted with impunity and indifference, and never do people stand up against it — not till it results in a consequential tragedy.
Buildings which are past their structural safety date are habitats for lakhs of people in our cities but we don’t remedy them enough on time. Lifts and elevators which are not regularly tested and maintained, garbage dumps which can catch fire, bridges, cable cars, electric wires hanging unsafely, manholes uncovered before rains, people carrying fireworks and cooking on trains, overloaded buses and boats, people transported on top of truck and bus — we live with an insensitivity to ignore them all.
Till they become tragedies. But tragedies too we have learnt to forget. Accidents too don’t make us learn and act. Deaths of fellow citizens which could have been avoided are written off as collateral damage with a karmic nonchalance as a bad accountant or unscrupulous bookkeeper. We are one bad cacophony, a cobbled up infrastructure about to rust and wither, and a potential accident every way in every nook and corner.
The rest is a standard template. Condolences of leaders. Criticism by Opposition. Hectic rescue and rush to hospitals. Media exposure in excess. Promises of probe into root cause. Shifting of blame. Finding scapegoats. And then we all press some invisible button and forget. Till the next time. Jumping with a total memory loss from one accident to the next. Without fear, guilt, shame or remorse.
But it is time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when you stand up and take up the onerous responsibility to inspire us all to change ourselves. Because only you can, PM Modi, launch a ‘Maintain in India’ and achieve ‘Safe in India’ result.
You can ensure that on a war footing, every single piece of infrastructure is checked within the next one month, the unsafe done away with and safety become a national mantra.
Let every bridge, building, train, plane, boat, lift, road, have a digitally tagged or QR coded declaration — a message of the safety schedule, last maintenance exercise actually done, expiry date of the structure, and above all, all personal details of the person responsible for its maintenance — name, photo, phone number et al.
Let no accident that can be prevented happen. It is an ugly failure that we as a country must learn with immediate effect that we cannot afford. Let no one be spared from action, after a quick, focussed and transparent probe in this mishap.
Let Morbi be the last of our morbid tolerance.