Sunday, April 07, 2013

Thane building collapse, and what's killing us

The problem of illegal constructions in Thane came to the notice of the Maharashtra government in the early 1990s. They did what all good governments do every time there is a problem: they set up a committee. The committee, under an IAS officer named Nand Lal, studied the problem, and submitted its report of 230 pages in December 1997. It mentioned percentages of cuts taken by politicians and municipal officials in Thane (37.5 per cent), names of 54 corporators and 36 civic officials involved, and indicted the then chief of the Thane Municipal Corporation, JP Dange - who was subsequently promoted to Chief Secretary. Speaking to my colleague Anand Mishra of The Asian Age after the recent collapse of a building that killed 74, Nand Lal rued that “no heed was paid” to his report.
It was ritually accepted, but is still gathering dust, more than 15 years after it was submitted.
This is the story of report after report of committee after committee. Every time something happens, a committee is formed, and the matter is buried. The report of the committee is rarely acted upon, and often kept secret.
Even the most high profile of cases get buried in this manner. Sometimes, crucial but politically inconvenient recommendations are neglected, as happened in the case of the Justice Verma committee report that was filed after the Delhi gangrape.
Even the police is a victim of this. Commission after commission has been set up on the subject of police reforms for decades, but no report has ever been implemented.
The Srikrishna committee report that was filed after the Mumbai riots of 1992/93 has been gathering dust for 15 years. The report of the Justice Reddy committee on Armed Forces Special Powers Act has been gathering dust since 2005. And so on.
It is not necessary that every report of every committee must be implemented in full, but every report of every committee should be placed in the public domain upon completion, and brought before Assembly or Parliament for open debate. Otherwise, the purpose of setting up the committee is negated and its efforts are wasted. 
An approach that focuses on the greater common good, rather than partisan considerations, is required of ordinary citizens.
At present, the nexus between corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and policemen has gamed the system completely, to the eventual detriment of all. Everyone is looking for his own little 'fayda', but the big picture is horrific. We are creating a gigantic mess.

A look at the Thane building collapse again shows this. It is a very small example, but the characters arrested all represent the usual stalwarts of our criminal society: one politician, one policeman, a couple of government officials, and a couple of crooked businessmen.
Those fellows got 74 people killed in just this one building, but actually, every city is full of people like that, and perhaps, buildings like that.