The Infrastructure Sham

Updated: Dec 18, 2010, 10:32 AM IST

Deepak Nagpal

The national capital recently witnessed a tragic accident. A five-storey building in east Delhi’s Lalita Park area near Laxmi Nagar collapsed on November 15, killing nearly 70 people.

While building collapses in India’s metropolitan cities – be it Mumbai or Delhi - are not new, they do raise concerns about residential infrastructure growth in India.

India is a developing nation in advanced stages, and infrastructure is growing at a rapid pace. This is also one of the major contributors to the country’s 8-9% annual GDP growth. So, the sector is of prime importance to nation building.

However, what’s worrying is that the government as well as its various departments’ apathy towards quality of construction.

Here, I would not talk about the rest of the country but restrict my observations to just the national capital. Because trends are mostly set at the seat of power in any country; in case of India it’s Delhi.

While the New Delhi area, especially the Lutyens Delhi which houses MPs, bureaucrats, Embassies and who’s who of the establishment, is the city’s pride; areas outside it – most of which fall under MCD – are in a pathetic state.

Many of you might not agree with me and list Greater Kailash, Jorbagh, Khan Market etc as shining examples of Delhi’s upclass living. But I would strongly counter that because compared to Western counterparts, road infrastructure, drainage system, cleanliness etc. in most part of the capital are still of ‘third world’ standards.

It’s not that in India we don’t have the technology or skilled labour to build world class infrastructure. The problem is: Corruption.

A ‘dense-carpet’ road built in New Delhi would be of far better standards than the one laid in an outer Delhi area, say Uttam Nagar (where I live). Why? Because ‘N’ number of people from contractors to local leaders and government officials believe that roads should be built in a manner that they require repair in a six months’ time, so that the ‘inflow’ into their bank accounts continues.

And the ‘efficient’ drainage system that we have in Delhi ensures the corrupt go laughing their way to banks. It is disgusting to realise that in Delhi, we can’t get as basic as the drainage system right. It does not require an Einstein or Edison to lay the road in a manner that the slope is towards the drain inlets so that the water during rains flows into the drainage pipes and does not accumulate on roads.

Talking about the building collapse, it is an open secret how shoddy construction is allowed in Delhi. The huge number of unauthorised-but-regularised colonies in Delhi is prime example of the collusion between the government officials, private builders and police.

In such colonies, private builders pay a fixed per-floor sum to MCD as well as Delhi Police officials to construct buildings without proper government clearances. And the quality of construction material and building technology used ensures one or the other building collapses within years, taking away with it unsuspecting occupants who put in all their life savings to buy ‘their own home’.

The problem in India is: We don’t care about others. What we care about is how fat our bank balances are; doesn’t matter if they grew on others graves.

All these are very localised examples and in no way reflect the overall picture about India’s infrastructure sector. However, I am sure these instances do reveal the real picture as to how we go about building our cities and towns.