Has Pune been reduced to a concrete jungle where quality and safety no longer matter ?
If the sluggish and callous attitude of the authorities are any thing to go by, then the answer is a loud Yes!
Perhaps no Puneite would have imagined in the wildest of dreams that a 40 ft high, solid iron gantry (that supports advertisement hoardings), weighing around a tonne or more, would actually come crashing down?
And of all places, it happened at a traffic choked junction on a busy road. What is unpardonable is that it was a clear man-made disaster. A callous private agency (employed by the Central Railway division) was dismantling this gantry site without considering the dangerous repercussions and threat to public safety during that time.
Alas, therein lies the general malaise of public authorities going about their work casually and carelessly with expertise reserved for only passing the buck.
The victims are always the citizens who are sacrificed at the altar of poor or non-governance by the local self-government and allied government bodies.
Let’s take the case of this gantry tragedy at the popularly called Maldhakka Chowk. Four people died, several were injured and hundreds of others are probably still trying to overcome the trauma of having witnessed this horrific accident.
Here’s the callousness explained- The Central Railways Division hires a private agency in 2015 to erect several iron gantries across the city on land that it owns. There are stringent norms for making a gantry that supports huge advertisement hoardings.
After a few were erected, the central railway officials realise they do not seem to meet safety specifications and orders the agency to get a structural audit done by the College of Engineering Pune (COEP).
The agency allegedly ignores this directive and ( so do the railways) and they continue to erect such heavyweight gantries elsewhere. Three years later, the central railways are still ‘chasing the agency for the audit report’ and eventually decide to pull these structures down, now with outsourced contractors.
A news report post this tragedy quoted a railway official having confessed that the agency used only ropes to pull it down (can you believe this primitive operation!) and should have used high capacity cranes.
It takes no rocket science to figure that this should have been done only under police supervision to ensure proper cordoning of the area. Additionally, this risk prone dismantling should have been undertaken at night when traffic is at its lowest.
Considering the haphazard way the operation was undertaken wasn’t it the railways basis responsibility of ensuring appropriate safety measures are adopted by the agency appointed to dismantle these gantries?
Predictably, they have reacted now by establishing a committee, announced compensation for the victims and suspended a junior officer and pointed fingers at an employee of the contractor. But, all this after the innocent lives were snatched away by their callousness!
Furthermore, what about the role of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC)? Can it wash off its responsibility merely because the land on which the gantry stood, belongs to another public authority?
In this case, the sky-sign department of the PMC says it has been corresponding with the central railway authorities for the past seven months on bringing this unsafe and illegal gantry down.
What about pro-active action to ensure it is safely pulled down?
Does the PMC which incidentally, gives permissions to put up hoardings on such gantries have rules and regulations in place for quality control and public safety? There is no information in this respect on the www.pmc.gov.in website.
Is it not the duty of the PMC and the Central Railways to work in co-ordination with each other for such a large dismantling operation? Can both get away by saying they were unaware of the other undertaking this ?
Will the big heads roll? Or will it be some junior who will be pushed around from jail to the courts? As per PMC’s own admission, there are over 100 such illegal/unsafe gantries and now we hear local politicians saying that there are over 1000 illegal gantries lining our roads. Will there be immediate action to take down all dangerous gantries? Or will the powers-that-be wait for public memory to fade?
Mayor Medha Kulkarni has announced that all those illegal ones would be pulled down in a week’s time. We will need to wait and see if this is implemented.
The second example is that of the Mula canal collapse on 26th September near Dandekar Pul which resulted in water gushing into hundreds of homes and flooding several arterial roads.
It created extreme panic amongst people as it seemed like a repeat of the Panshet floods of 1961 (due to a breach in the Khadakwasla Dam). Thankfully, it was not that disastrous, but serious all the same. Imagine if this breach had taken place in the middle of the night?
In this case too, the PMC and the irrigation department (Krishna Valley Irrigation Development Corporation) are passing the buck.
The height of this, was a minister of the ruling party who trivialised the tragedy, blaming rodents and crabs for the wall collapse!
The KVIDC authorities blame the PMC and said they had not removed the encroachments and illegal structures near the canal despite repeated reminders. This caused the wall to weaken and it finally breached.
Allegedly, PMC gave the nod for unauthorised laying of cables of private companies and this rendered the ground near the wall more vulnerable. The PMC has now assured rehabilitation in the newly constructed Slum Rehabilitation Scheme’s apartments that await occupancy, says one of the victims.
If there is one thing that we can be sure off, it is the fact that Pune is far from highly liveable or smart. For the moment, at least!
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
Get Real And Stay Relevant says Vinita,