A Gory Reminder

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 07 Jan 2018 12:23:18












No one seems to fear the law. The cop is bribed, the official is bribed, the leader is bribed— the chain runs unending and smooth and unhealthy practices continue unabated.

How could a restaurant— a public hangout of quite a wide repute in the area, operate for years in open violation of norms in the heart of Mumbai? Are we to believe that such a thing can happen without the connivance of the bureaucrats and politicians running the municipal corporation?

THE recent loss of 14 innocent lives at a roof-top restaurant blaze in Mumbai close to the New Year’s Eve is a gory reminder of our poor civic infrastructure and lack of respect for the law.

The restaurant was operating illegally for years and the mega city’s civic body was sleeping over the gross violation that always posed a chance of a mishap as no safety net was in place.

How could a restaurant— a public hangout of quite a wide repute in the area, operate for years in open violation of norms in the heart of Mumbai? Are we to believe that such a thing can happen without the connivance of the bureaucrats and politicians running the municipal corporation?

Had there been the uprightness and the right intention to safeguard the interests of the city and its people, an illegal establishment would never have been allowed to run uncensored.

And as if to compensate for the brazen lapse and tone down the all-round criticism of a bad administrative instance, the Government ordered immediate razing of certain illegal constructions and bulldozers and JCBs went rampaging over whatever came their way.

Many encroachers fell prey to the action, which in itself is a good move and should have come much earlier, but such a knee-jerk response is not what is going to make Mumbai safer. This is more like the regular anti-encroachment drives civic bodies across the country take up from time to time.

The squatters vanish for a week and again come back from the eight-day to reclaim their place, till the time a next drive is initiated. Things don’t change—the larger picture remains the same. On record, action has been taken and the civic body has done its job. Off the record, everyone knows the story.

Mumbai’s razing drive after the fire is almost an exercise in futility because the wrongdoers will again come back doing what they had been doing. Once the brouhaha dies down, things will go on unchecked as ever.

Most of the major illegal constructions are in hotels, complexes and offices owned by big businesses and political leaders or those well connected, moneyed and muscled. It is a well-known story in India that the bigwigs are often untouched in any big action and only the small fries are caught and projected and the administration gets its pat on the back for the catches.

The moneyed and the powerful always have multiple escape routes which the commoner doesn’t know of. Who gives these builders and restaurateurs and businessmen the leeway and the immunity to go blazing guns in illegal constructions and extensions of their premises? Certainly, the men in the chair do.

They have the authority and the ability to twist the laws, interpret and use abuse or ignore them as per their convenience, hide and lose files, get signatures as and where needed, delay or expedite a project and do all sorts of nefarious acts to facilitate the wrongdoers.
Certainly, without the involvement of huge money, such risks are not taken. There would be thousands of illegal constructions going on in Mumbai on any given day and lakhs others would already be in existence and operating, but who cares? Who monitors them? Who is there to arrest the chances of a mishap before it occurs? When will we act before a mishap occurs?

When will we end the tradition of waking up after an incident happens? When will we learn to value human lives? There are glaring instances of mishaps lying in wait to strike no matter in which part of the country we are. We will continue to have creaking bridges and dilapidated buildings, mismanaged temple crowds and unsafe conclave venues.
No one seems to fear the law. The cop is bribed, the official is bribed, the leader is bribed— the chain runs unending and smooth and unhealthy practices continue unabated. Every other day we have a fire somewhere, or a stampede somewhere else and a bridge collapse at another place. We lose thousands of precious lives every year in freak mishaps which are easily preventable.

Our social security is minimal and there is no comprehensive plan or model to safeguard the interests of the man on the street. Only the laws are there on the books but no one seems to care much for them.
Ill-begotten money, corruption, inefficiency, lethargy and lack of innovative plans bring our country down. There is no therapy to change mindsets and habits. The mandarins and officials are so used to a way of life that thrives on corruption, they don’t know of any other model of administration.

The one who tries to introduce honesty to the system is either transferred or harassed. This is a five-decade old story that mars our administration and robs us of the right to have a decent social life expected in a civilised society. We walk the streets in fear and uncertainty.
No one knows which building is ticking towards a collapse or whether the eatery we are sitting in will not be engulfed in a fire the next moment. Most of our industries, apartments, hotels, shops, resorts, playgrounds and parks, hospitals and swimming pools have multiple violations in their safety setup.

Most of the mandated essentialities are ignored— many industrial units don’t have a recycling or sewage treatment plant and their waste flows untreated into the rivers and water bodies causing irreparable damage to the environment. Many housing apartments and offices don’t have functional emergency exists or fire safety arrangements. If probed and prodded, a million lapses will come up in every building and establishment in our cities, but even when found guilty, most owners and entrepreneurs are tackled leniently with warnings and assurances, and money plays the lead.
If real strict action is taken against just a couple of bigwigs involved in wrongdoing and compromising people’s safety, the whole scenario can change.

A strong example can serve as a strong deterrent and a template for others who are in the same league. Had there been a culture of unbiased and fast action in our country, we would not have seen an Upahar tragedy happen, or a Thane building collapse happen or an Elphinstone stampede takes place.

These are all instances of not only human neglect, ignorance and apathy but also a corrosion of morals, ethics and empathy. No one thinks for the people, for society or for the country. No one wants to help the country and its people evolve and prosper and live a safe life. Everyone is busy extracting as much as possible from the motherland and when it is payback time, everyone cringes.

Greed and selfish motives are the overruling concerns for most and most people are happy busy grinding their own axe. Everyone talks big and makes the right noises on the right platforms, but when it comes to action, we have the same ‘sarkari’ culture that is a dud. If the main moving force of the country, i.e. the Government mechanism, is sick and hollow, we have little hope of any early resurrection of the nation’s prospects.

It may take centuries to infuse good work culture in the Government set up and make our officials accountable. It may take centuries to develop a structure where the corrupt are punished and the honest is rewarded. If the Government is really committed to offering the country a good governance model it must act fast and act tough against those responsible.

By the way, India is on the cusp of a great economic and logistic turnaround and it will lose the plot in the global pecking order if it doesn’t have her social coordinates right. Time is short. The world has moved ahead and those falling behind are catching up fast. We cannot afford to forgive ourselves any further.