Mumbai’s Crumbling Infrastructure: Are We Burning Our Bridges before Crossing Them? -Part 1
The most memorable character for me in ‘Alice's Adventures in Wonderland’ was the whimsical ruler, the Queen of Hearts. Her much-loved phrase, which she would repeat ad nauseam was "Off with his head!" or "Off with their heads!"
  
I was reminded of her when I read in a news on 12 May 2019 that, based on a report from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, the Western Railway had ordered another bridge to be demolished, this time a foot overbridge (FOB) at the busy Dadar station. 
 
The alacrity with which this decision has been taken demonstrates extreme nervousness on the part of the railways administration after the partial collapse of the FOB near Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) on 14 March 2019 and its reluctance to take a more considered line of action, including a peer review.
 
I wonder if the possible fallout of this decree to demolish the Dadar FOB has been adequately examined, because while the memory of the CST FOB collapse is still fresh in the minds of the state apparatus, it appears that the stampede of 29 September 2017 in which 23 people lost their lives has vanished from our collective memory. 
 
The demolition of this wide overbridge at Dadar has the potential to cause chaos in the event of two trains arriving at a platform in quick succession as the other parallel bridges are challenged by bottlenecks caused by narrow landings. 
 
 
I doubt if a disaster scenario simulation and testing had been carried out before such a far-reaching decision was taken. And there is certainly no concern for the inconvenience likely to be suffered by commuters, harried as they already are by the simultaneous construction of the metro line, road repairs and road excavations to lay numerous pipes and cables. 
 
The city has not yet recovered from IIT Bombay’s earlier edict to demolish the Delisle bridge and continues to reel from the loss of millions of rupees due to perennial traffic snarls at Parel, arguably Mumbai’s new financial hub. 
 
It would be fair to ask what exactly constitutes an 'IIT' report, for it to be taken as the Holy Bible by the administration. 
 
For the government, IIT is a magic wand-wielding institute, a one-stop solution for all the government’s woes when it does not know what to do with a dilapidated building in the monsoon or is facing a public interest litigation (PIL) on account of its stock of poorly maintained infrastructure—bridges, hospitals, schools, colleges or when it wants to draft the building codes for the country (a look at the code committees of the Bureau of Indian Standards would be illuminating) or for vetting new construction. (Many cities in the country have made being a faculty member of an IIT a very lucrative affair by mandating that all buildings within their jurisdiction exceeding the stipulated height or size must necessarily be vetted by an IIT or equivalent).
 
IITs can, at times, churn out reports with astonishing speed, much to the delight of the government. Imagine, a faculty member of IIT Bombay can be tasked with the study and submission of the status report of 447 bridges across Mumbai within six months. 
 
Unsurprisingly, we have two bridges in the commercial capital of the second most populous country demolished on the directions of an IIT Bombay report. When in doubt, as the queen says, “Off with his head!”
 
Having been a visiting professor at one of the older IITs for three years and worked for over two decades with numerous IIT professors, I have seen first-hand that IIT reports are not that of the institute but of an individual faculty member. 
 
It is not inconceivable to get completely opposing reports for a structure from different faculty members of the same IIT. That, an IIT professor once proudly said to me, speaks well of the independent and fearless mindset of the IIT professor.
 
While that may be true, in some areas, especially in matters of physics and mechanics, one would wish that an addition of two plus two would unfailingly yield the same result of four, especially when the stakes are high.
  
There is nothing 'institutional' about reports from IITs, unlike the institutional mechanisms that are followed in larger engineering organisations- government or private. In such organisations, a well-defined system exists in terms of supervision, oversight and signoff at many levels. There is room for discussion and debate and the final report that is released has usually passed multiple reviews which the organisation has to take full ownership of.  
 
Not so in an IIT project. The work is done by the individual faculty member and is seldom subject to review (unless expressly stated by the client) by a second faculty member. Hence, the report of an IIT is oftentimes quite simply the opinion of a single IIT professor.
 
More importantly, a professional organisation (public or private) is legally liable for the design or report. But IITs do not feel the need to stand up to public scrutiny.  
 
Here is what is put up by IIT Bhubaneshwar on its website. “The Institute undertakes to carry out the project as conscientiously as conditions allow, but accepts no economic responsibility should the work not lead to expected results. The Institute accepts the project on condition that the client renounces all right to claim damages for losses sustained directly or indirectly in consequence of the work done by the Institute.” 
 
Such a disclaimer should be sufficient for any client to scurry for cover. And, yet, for project after project, the government will turn exclusively to the IITs for advice on new projects, disaster management, health of public infrastructure and much else. 
 
Whatever happened to the Indian Railways cadre of engineers, the Indian Railways Service of Engineers (IRSE), considered to be one of the oldest and most elite of all Indian engineering cadres that  manages the department of civil engineering in the Indian Railways?
 
It is a shame that the Indian Railways, which had one of the most comprehensive systems for inspection and maintenance (the granular “Indian Railways Way and Works Manual” was first published in 1967 and has seen numerous upgrades along the way), has capitulated to the downward spiral in our institutions and has now subcontracted its duties of inspection and audit to small time consultants or  one-man armies of the IITs. 
 
What does the Indian Railways have  to say for itself when one of its own bridges (Dadar FOB) constructed in 1993 and which has barely reached midlife, is now deemed to be so  heavily corroded as to be unfit to carry intended  loads? 
 
(This is first part of a two part series.)
 
Next: Knee-Jerk Solutions Leave Mumbai’s Lifeline Without a Spine
 
(Alpa Sheth is managing director of VMS Consultants Pvt Ltd, a firm with over 50 years standing in structural engineering industry. She holds a post-graduate degree from University of California, Berkeley, US. Ms Sheth has been AICTE-INAE distinguished visiting professor at IIT Madras and chairperson of the Academic Council at Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture, Mumbai. Ms Sheth is Chairperson of BIS Sub-Committee for Drafting of Tall Buildings Code for (BIS) Special Structures Sectional Committee (CED 38) and had co-drafted the recently released Code on Concrete Tall Buildings for India. Ms Sheth is co-founder and managing Trustee of Structural Engineers Forum of India -SEFI (www.sefindia.org) which has emerged as the leading national platform for more than 22,500 structural engineers to share their engineering problems, concerns and experiences and improve the built habitat.) 
 
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    COMMENTS

    Saumil Mehta

    5 months ago

    Completely agree with Dr. Alpa Sheth. I have very experienced a report issued by IIT professors who were unwilling to support or discuss the rationale of their recommendations for repairs.

    Incidentally IIT is my alma mater

    Aditya G

    5 months ago

    One of the main reasons I'm hesitant to move back to Bombay. Crumbling infra coupled with insane real estate prices/rentals. And NO long-term vision for the city. At some point, the "spirit" will just wane and give way to frustration and and hoplessness. BMC, MMRDA, et al, need to get their act together before it's too late. Just look at Bangalore --an unmitigated mess.

    PS: I have rather fond memories of Dadar station, one of the liveliest places and full of positive energy, but it's scary AF. After the recent footbridge tragedies, I don't want to step anywhere close to these places. Sadly.

    AAR

    5 months ago

    Hindi speaking states Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, UP (BIMARU) are most backward. People from these states migrate to non-Hindi speaking cities in millions and put pressure on local infrastructure.

    New system of measurement units now operational
    The new System of Units (SI) to measure weight, temperature, amount of substance, and current came into operation in India from Monday on the occasion of the World Metrology Day, an official release said.
     
    The resolution to redefine four of the seven base units - the kilogram (SI unit of weight), Kelvin (SI unit of temperature), mole (SI unit of amount of substance), and ampere (SI unit of current) - was adopted at the 26th General Conference on Weights & Measures (GCWM), which is comprised of 60 member countries, in November 2018.
     
    "This decision has now enabled scientists and researchers to base the SI units entirely on fundamental properties of nature, which will ensure their ongoing refinement and improvement for years to come," the Science and Technology Ministry Ministry said in a release.
     
    "The fundamental constants are invariants of time and space and successfully replaced the artifact-based units, and aptly opened up the new era for quantum world by linking all seven base units to fundamental constants/quantum standards."
     
    The existing definition of the kg is over 130 years old. The new SI system, which is defined in terms of Planck's constant, would be stable in the long term and practically realisable.
     
    The new SI System will be helpful in bringing in accuracy while dealing with international trade, biotechnology, high-tech manufacturing and human health and safety.
     
    The new definition of kg involves accurate weighing machines called 'Kibble balance', which uses Planck's Constant to measure the mass of an object using a precisely measured electromagnetic force.
     
    Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
  • User

    COMMENTS

    Bapoo Malcolm

    2 months ago

    My tailor took my measurements in inches, the day before.

    The funniest part of units is the USA system. Their currency in cents and their measurement system in inches are both wrong. One is illegal and the other is unconstitutional. Yet, both are in use.

    Better Employment, Health Care and Drinking Water Are Voters’ Priorities: ADR
    Voters from across the country have preferred better employment opportunities, health care and drinking water over any other issues, shows a survey conducted by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) prior to the general elections.
     
    The Survey also revealed the government's performance score on the top 10 voters' priorities as below average indicating that the voters are unsatisfied with the government's performance.
     
     
    The Survey covered 534 Lok Sabha constituencies with 2.73 lakh voters participating in this exercise spread among various demographics. On better employment opportunities, which is the top most voters' priority, the performance of the government has been rated as one of the worst at 2.15 on a scale of 5.
     
    "The survey highlights the voters' priorities on 31 listed issues like drinking water, electricity, roads, food, education, healthcare, and public transport in their respective regions in terms of its capacity, governance and specific role in improving their living conditions," ADR says in a release.
     
    It is quite clear from the top 10 Voters' Priorities that Indian voters prioritize employment and basic amenities like healthcare, drinking water, and better roads above all governance issues, including terrorism and strong defence or military. 
     
    ADR says, "This indisputably is a result of prevailing governance deficit in these sectors that is causing deprivation to the average Indian voter besides also leading to the denial of their fundamental rights like Right to live with human dignity as embodied in the Article-21 of the Constitution. For inclusive and equitable development, it is important that the government ensures that such basic services reach all sections of the society, as it is key to developing human capabilities."
     
     
    Voters' Priorities and Government's Performance
     
    • As per All India Survey 2018, Better Employment Opportunities (46.80%), Better Health Care (34.60%) and Drinking Water (30.50%) are the top three voters' priorities at the all India level, followed by Better Roads (28.34%) and Better Public Transport (27.35%) at the fourth and the fifth place, respectively.

     

    • It is important to note that agricultural related governance issues featured predominantly in the all India top 10 voters' priorities e.g. Availability of Water for Agriculture (26.40%) that was ranked sixth, Agriculture Loan Availability (25.62%) that was ranked seventh, Higher Price Realization for Farm Products (25.41%) that was ranked eighth, and Agriculture Subsidy for Seeds/ Fertilisers (25.06%) that was ranked ninth.

     

    • The other top two voters' priorities, Better Healthcare (2.35) and Drinking Water (2.52) were also rated as below average. Better Healthcare was ranked seventh and Drinking Water was ranked third.

     

    • It is a matter of serious concern that for none of the 31 listed voters' priorities, the performance of the government was rated as average or above average.

     

    • The worst performance of the government, as rated by the voters, was on the issues of Encroachment of Public Lands, Lakes etc., Terrorism, Training for Jobs, Strong Defence/Military, Eradication of Corruption, Lower Food Prices for Consumers and Mining/Quarrying.

     

    • The comparative analysis between All India Mid-Term Survey 2017 and All India Survey 2018 reveals that the top two voters' priorities (Better Employment Opportunities and Better Hospitals/Primary Healthcare Centres) have continued to remain at the top.

     

    • The significance of Better Employment Opportunities as voter's highest priority has increased by 56.67% from 30% in 2017 to 47% in 2018. At the same time, the performance of the government on this issue declined from 3.17 to 2.15 on a scale of 5.

     

    • The significance of Better Hospitals/Primary Healthcare Centres as voter's second highest priority has increased by 40% from 25% in 2017 to 35% in 2018. At the same time, the performance of the government on this issue declined from 3.36 to 2.35. 

     

    • The significance of Drinking Water as voters' priority has increased by 150% from 12% in 2017 to 30% in 2018. At the same time, the performance of the government on this issue declined from 2.79 to 2.52.

     

    • The significance of Better Roads as voter's priority has increased by 100% from 14% in 2017 to 28% in 2018. At the same time, the performance of the government on this issue declined from 3.1 to 2.41.

     

    • Amongst the 32 states and UTs that were surveyed, in 29 of them, voters have given below average ratings to the government for its performance on all top 3 voters' priorities at the state level. This is with the exception of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu and Puducherry.

     

    • Out of all the 8 Empowered Action Group (EAG) states, which are considered as most socio-economically backward, in 7 states (Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh) Better Employment Opportunities is the foremost voters' priority.

     

    • Drinking Water is the topmost voters' priority in 3 States/UTs like Odisha, Karnataka and Daman and Diu.
     
    Voting Behaviour 
     
    • As per All India Survey 2018, 75.11% voters disclosed that CM candidate was the most important reason behind voting for a particular candidate, followed by candidate's party (71.32%) and the candidate (68.03%) himself/herself.

     

    • It is distressing to see that for 41.34% voters, distribution of cash, liquor, gifts etc. was an important factor behind voting a particular candidate in an election.

     

    • In relation to voting candidates with criminal antecedents, maximum number of voters (36.67%) felt that people vote for such candidates because they are unaware of his/her criminal records. 35.89% voters are also willing to vote for a candidate with criminal records if the candidate has done good work in the past.

     

    • Although, 97.86% voters felt that candidates with criminal background should not be in Parliament or State Assembly, only 35.20% voters knew that they could get information on criminal records of the candidates. 
     
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