A building collapsed in old Delhi two days ago and the death toll is seven already, with many still critically injured. Last year, another building collapse in Laxminagar in East Delhi killed over 60 people. The ghastly incidents are a clear result of the highly corrupt and dysfunctional urban planning process.
Conventionally, new constructions or additions to existing structures require permission from local planning authorities. Known as a building permit, city planners are supposed to give the go ahead only after ensuring the proposed construction is well within the legal norms or bye laws. Since these bye laws exist, in their basic sense, to ensure public health and safety, building without a permit is essentially a crime against the citizens of a city, neighbourhood or street.
By turning a blind eye to illegal construction, the city planners in Delhi are in collusion with the so-called criminal, the builder. Always seen as the big, bad wolf, the builder is to blame certainly, but so are the local officials who choose to ignore blatant violation of rules, so are residents, neighbours, tenants and indeed all those who do not act in favour of the health and safety of the city’s residents.
Every such incident sends shock waves through the city. Arrests are made and allegations fly around, reams of press and airtime are spent. Yet we learn nothing. We don’t, as Delhi-ites (it could have happened anywhere in India though) hang our heads in shame at the city we are. We don’t question why we need to be this way.
Instead we go about silently paying the bribe to the MCD guy who turns up to ask why we enclosed our balcony or built the barsaati. We accept the ‘going rate’ when we start a new construction. We never go back to ask for a completion certificate. We don’t even know what the processes are!
Well, we should know that in circumventing the law, we are in fact, no better than the terrible builder whose negligence killed people when their buildings collapsed. The thought is a grim reminder of how lightly we take the rules, how little we value safety and indeed, how easy we find it to blame others when actually the fingers are also pointing back at ourselves!