Who is responsible for CST bridge collapse in Mumbai; BMC or Indian Railways? Neither and it doesn't really matter

'Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan,
Zarra hatke zarra bachke,
Ye hai Bombay meri jaan.'

These are words from a song that perhaps best defines the city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay). It was written by Majrooh Sultanpuri for the 1956 movie CID and set to tune by OP Nayyar (who copied the old American tune My Darling Clementine).

The song, which is more than six decades old, is still relevant, given that it tells Mumbaikars to be generally careful (zarra hatke zarra bachke) as they go about living their daily lives, because somewhere around the corner lies trouble which should be best avoided.

In a way, the song is telling Mumbaikars, you are responsible for your lives because no one else cares.

On Thursday, a footover bridge at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus in south Mumbai collapsed, killing six people and injuring more than thirty. Soon reports of the incident started trickling in, the blame game began. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) blamed the Indian Railways for the accident, and vice versa, with each washing their hands off the incident by saying that the bridge doesn’t come under their jurisdiction.

Who is responsible for CST bridge collapse in Mumbai; BMC or Indian Railways? Neither and it doesnt really matter

The footover bridge near the CST station collapsed on Thursday.

The BMC and the Indian Railways should try telling this to the relatives and the loved ones of the people who died in the collapse, as well as to the people who were severely injured, on a normal Mumbai evening. The politicians who washed their hands of the incident are essentially telling Mumbaikars that they are responsible for their own lives.

But the question is, does it matter who was responsible for the maintenance of the footover bridge — the BMC, or the Indian Railways? It doesn't really matter and here's why:

1) Let' start with the assumption that the BMC is responsible for the bridge. In this situation what stopped it from maintaining the bridge properly. Lack of money? The corporation has fixed deposits of more than Rs 70,000 crore with banks. On these deposits, the BMC earns interest every year. With Goods and Services Tax coming into force, the corporation can no longer collect an octroi tax on goods entering the city. This was a big revenue earner for the BMC. Nevertheless, the state government compensates the corporation for this. In 2017-18, the compensation had stood at Rs 7,200 crore. Hence, money clearly is not an issue for the BMC. There is a lot of it lying around. The corporation has the money to build/repair normal bridges and footover bridges. So what is the problem?

2) The fact that they are not doing it, shows the general apathy of the BMC towards the city and the lack of a work ethic, more than anything.

3) Now, let's take Indian Railways for instance. The Railways could easily have repaired this particular bridge and all other bridges across the Mumbai suburban railway network. While, the Railways isn’t exactly as loaded as the BMC, but the money still shouldn’t have been a problem.

4) The Indian Railway Finance Corporation was created in 1986 exclusively for arranging finances for projects of Indian Railways. As of March 2017, it had borrowings of close to Rs 1.03 lakh crore. The point being that the Railways borrows a lot of money to build and complete projects.

In this scenario, the Railways could have easily borrowed a few thousand crore more through IRFC to repair/rebuild the footover bridges of Mumbai. The fact that they chose not to do it, shows the attitude of the different railway ministers and governments, towards the city. They like to collect all the tax that the city pays, but when it comes to building physical infrastructure in the city, there is no money for that.

5) It's politically more rewarding to borrow money to inaugurate new projects (which are also necessary) than to repair old dilapidated bridges being used across India's largest suburban railway network, by hard-working people who will get back to their jobs the next day, come what may.

And this is a major problem. We are more excited about building a bullet train track than filling up potholes across roads and repairing bridges. These things are not exciting enough.

6) At the end of the day, whether it's BMC or it's the Indian Railways, it doesn't matter. Both the organisations have the money to carry out the repair/rebuilding of the bridges. It’s just that it’s not on the top of their agenda for the city.

And there is nothing one can do about this lack of concern. As far as general apathy of the administration is concerned, one needs just go back to September 2017, and remember the stampede that broke out at the Elphinstone Road station. It took a stampede for the government to build new footover bridges at the station. To conclude, as far as citizens are concerned, it still makes sense to follow what Majroor Sultanpuri wrote about the city, more than six decades back: “Zarra hatke zarra bachke, Ye hai Bombay meri jaan” and believe that we are all responsible for our lives.

The author is an economist and the author of the Easy Money trilogy

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Updated Date: Mar 15, 2019 15:54:07 IST

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