Dear Commissioner Mehta,
On March 14, 2019, a section of a Foot Over Bridge collapsed, near the CST, during peak travel time.
This letter is but obviously not to remind you of the incident Mr. Commissioner.
You, as the Municipal Commissioner, MCGM, are fully aware of it and as it appears through media reports, you seem to be on top of the various investigations and reports that are expected to be submitted. (As latest reports trickle in, expectedly, a couple of people, vert low in the order, have also been punished for the ‘wrong-doing’.
What is disheartening is the how the senior administration has conveniently shirked its responsibility from the incident. The administration is led by you Mr. Commissioner, who has a lot on his plate we do realise.
But we are sure there could have been a little time pulled aside to, as a first, APOLOGISE to the people of Mumbai. A simple “We are Sorry” would have helped.
It is over ten days now.
Apologise for what, you may ask?
We would like to help you recall the face of one of the injured women, who was refusing to seek medical support till she could find her purse, stuck under the debris. A purse which had her Pan card and little money. That is all that people of Mumbai need Mr. Commissioner. A sorry for not providing this to Mumbaikars, would have helped as starters Mr. Commissioner.
Mumbaikars, you may argue, have not sought any apology from you. Sir, they are probably too shocked to react or far too busy rushing navigating their way from home to the workplace and back on time. Your administration has deprived them even these safety nets.
A Sorry to them for that as starters, Mr. Commissioner.
Mr. Commissioner, March 14 will easily be forgotten soon. It was a day when one more city infrastructure fell like a pack of cards. Easy to forget because one knows that there are more to come. And life will be back to ‘normal’ the very next day.
For an administration which refuses to acknowledge its fault and guilt. And for creating a city and its citizens no option but to be back on its feet the next day. A sorry to these Mumbaikars as starters, Mr. Commissioner.
But there is a lot more on your plate which needs answers, Mr. Commissioner.
The first issue and concern is about capacity building.
Anything that we plan, has a capacity. A city like Mumbai which attracts thousands of migrants from all over the country for jobs on a daily basis has gone beyond its capacity. Which includes all the public infrastructure. (Data indicates that 42 new families enter Mumbai every day seeking employment and then settle down here).
Mr. Commissioner, the crumbling infrastructure is the result of letting the population density grow without keeping a check on the capacity of the city infrastructure. A Democracy-led disaster! A simple measure of density check is to crudely divide the city space by the standard area required by a person and strictly following it. Isn’t it high time we think of this as a logical fact rather than a political game! More as a service to the well-being of our citizens?
While that should be reason enough for urgent upgrade, it appears to have become a constant excuse when disasters occur.
The second issue is directly linked to the disaster which took place. The selection process.
That of selection process where designers, structural engineers and contractor for public infrastructure projects who quote the lowest price are selected to carry out the work, leading to compromise in the quality. The 2-envelope system though in place seems to have missed the accountability factor. Many of our old bridges display all the details about the structure, in a way indicating the responsible bodies. Can we take the first step to bring back this basic system?
Where is the Accountability in all this Mr. Commissioner? Hisaab dijiye, to the people of Mumbai. A sorry for the situation reaching this mess, for starters, Mr. Commissioner.
The third issue is that of the Systems and accountability resting at various levels and on various shoulders.
Is there a single point or an agency who would take the responsibility of all that it takes to make, operate and maintain the infrastructure? Starting with the Government, to the designer, to contractor, to the citizens, aren’t we all responsible for this?
Why is it that only the citizens not only bear the fall and the pain, but also the blame for everything that goes wrong?
The Bureaucracy probably has yet to learn the dictum Respondeat Superior. Let the superior be responsible. He who wears the crown should also be ready for the brickbats.
Can someone at the top own up for the mess that exists? The absence of accountability is appalling. A sorry for starters will do, Mr. Commissioner.
The fourth issue is Public Infrastructure audit which lacks transparency.
The claim is that audits are done on a regular basis. But, Mr. Commissioner, is it not elementary that this ‘thorough’ procedure and its findings should be mandatorily displayed on public forums?
Don’t the citizens deserve transparency at least for the infrastructure audit process on which their life and limb depends? Day-in and Day-out.? Are we to remind the administration about this citizen fundamental right to them?
Once announced as NOT FIT for use, the least one can do is to put a stop on its use till it is fixed. Why is it that only after the disaster has occurred, we realise that it was dangerous?
Finally, Mr. Commissioner, is something which the administration needs to hang its head in shame.
Disaster Management. The tragic incident of the FOB collapse happened barely a few hundred meters from the city’s Police Headquarters. What were they doing, we may ask? That is for them to answer.
But it happened a stones-throw distance from your office, Mr. Commissioner.
At any given disaster instance, immediate help is expected to be available just a few mins away. It is appalling to note that this help, right under your nose, came last.
You may be aware that it is citizens who have always in the past and even this time, the first, to the rescue of others. The Disaster Team came a close tenth.
Mr. Commissioner, this letter is addressed to you as the head of the administration of one of the wealthiest local government networks. We were desisted from writing this letter to you for two reasons.
It isn’t going to make any difference, said one group. Two, It isn’t going to make any difference, said the other group.
Why is it that trust deficit and MCGM appear to go hand in hand? Why does absence of accountability, lack of transparency and MCGM, get uttered in the same breath?
We need answers Mr. Commissioner. We also need solutions.
But, first, Mr. Commissioner, you owe it to the people of Mumbai. You and your leadership team.
All of you owe us an apology and immediate steps to mend these errors.
A simple admission from you and your leadership team, of a ‘SORRY we Messed up’, will be good for starters.