Building collapse in Thane, more than 70 people dead – Corruption as usual

This is one of the incidents that causes shame and shock, but the bigger shame for India is that we forget this soon after, and more important, do not learn any lessons from such an incident (I would never call this an accident, since this was almost like a deliberate step, with a series of actions that were all but certain to result in such a tragedy). For those who do not know what I am talking about, there was a building collapse in Thane in Maharashtra of a 7 storey building, full of people, that caused these huge numbers of dead people. Was this a bomb explosion ? Was there an earthquake ? No, it was nothing like that. The building collapsed on its own, and buildings do not normally do that unless it is not constructed properly. Foundations are not laid properly, or the construction was slipshod, or the materials used in the building were inferior ? What is the common factor behind all of these ? Money. And lots of it. The modus is simple. Build buildings cheaply, even doing so where construction on such a land is illegal, and do it fast. And sell off this building to people, and exit quickly.
This is not unknown in India. There have been numerous such incidents that happen all the time in India, some get reported, some don’t. In some cases, the building does not collapse on its own, it collapses after some rain (how many times have you heard about a building collapse when there was rain, or even when there was work going on in a neighboring building and this caused a building to collapse). In almost all cases, these buildings cater to the poorer section of society, there is some death or injuries, there are heart-rending stories that come out, and then all is forgotten till the next story comes out. There are suspensions of some officials, no one is ever brought to trial, and then later things become normal. Do you remember the phrase – “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it”. There is no better example of this phrase than the current situation.
In the recent past, there were incidents like this that happened in Delhi, with people dead at a building collapse that happened near the river, where water from the river degraded the poor foundations and lead to tragedies. And there was some reaction, but all of this is short-lived. Can these tragedies be justified by stating that these buildings were meant for the poor, and hence there needs to be low cost housing, and hence some short-cuts taken during the construction process ? No one would say that outright, but that is how the Government seems to react. For buildings that are meant for the middle class and more richer people, the people who have to live in these buildings are sure to do some research about the quality of the builder and are sure to raise a ruckus if the builder seems to have done some short-cuts. However, for the poorer parts of society, the dream to have a house to live in is not met by the more organized builders, and hence they have to depend on whoever is willing to do the building.
However, any building that is made has to have plans, has to have periodic inspections by building inspectors, and any illegal building that comes up is supposed to be detected by municipal authorities as well as by the area police. You know what comes next, right ? The massive crime of corruption is what comes next. The building continues unabated, since those tasked with detection and preventing such construction find that their financial conditions get better if they look the other way, and everybody agrees with this. At all levels, local political parties are involved, with money making its way to the cadres of parties at the lower levels and progressively making its way to higher levels. Nothing can stop this. In the current case, a local concerned citizen took evidence of the construction of this unauthorized building and send these off to all levels in the state, including the Chief Minister. You know what happens next, NOTHING! No action taken to see whether the building was safe, no directions to find out the status of this complaint and then when a disaster like this happens, some local flunkies are suspended with an enquiry ordered. There are directions to arrest the builders who are already underground. Give this a few months, and then everything is forgotten in this case; all the while, the whole process of building construction and evasion is already ongoing in other cases. And the sad state is, that since everybody is involved (the state is run by the NCP and the Congress, and the local corporation by the Shiv Sena), there is really no need to raise this high. The media attention will also go away, until the next time another incident like this happens, which will again be treated as a one-off incident.
Seems very despondent, but there is really no way to break this cycle. All parties are now hopelessly corrupt, and since everybody has a stake, any complaints are quickly discussed as a matter of form, and then dismissed. What can change this ? Nothing. Not unless some hard action is taken in terms of a more honest politician (once you have finished laughing, read on), or the courts give some very hard punishments for the people responsible for building these and for letting the building happen (of course, the prosecution would need to be done by the Government, which means files can disappear, or charges are not backed by the research and the court is forced to give lenient judgments). Or, we can go in for the French or Italian style investigating magistrates, who are not bound to the Government and can prosecute cases based on their research.

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