Last week, a roof collapse at a cremation ground at Muradnagar in Ghaziabad killed 24 people and injured at least 17 others. On Tuesday, Ghaziabad Police arrested the contractor who built the crematorium; four government officials, too, have been arrested. An initial report indicated that “substandard material” was used to build the crematorium, and there were other “design issues”, which might have led to the structural failure.
While the swift action taken by the administration and the police is praiseworthy, the roof collapse is symptomatic of a larger problem that is rampant across India — the failure of the State to not just ensure good quality public infrastructure (all built with public money), but also force contractors to keep to timelines and maintain infrastructure projects during their lifecycle. This lack of admin-istrative capability and criminal negligence is responsible for open borewells, weak flood embankments, wobbly bridges, and potholes in the roads, all of which have humanitarian conseque-nces. Slow police action, judicial delays when it comes to taking action against the culprits, and absence of political will to ensure quality projects add to the challenge.
Research from around the world (compiled by TheConversation, an academic website) throws up several reasons why governments slip up in implementing public projects. Announcement is often equated with accomplishment and officials lose interest when details are worked out; when things go wrong, those who speak up about the problems are dismissed, discounted or punished; many implementers suffer from optimism bias (what could go wrong?), and there is steady turnover of officials. These are valid explanations and structural reform is essential. For now, it is important that there is justice for all those who
lost their lives in a needless tragedy.