Fixing the blame: Anatomy of a building collapse

Lets play a game. Its called ‘Fix the blame’. Its a multi-player game with the following participants: Greedy building contractors, corrupt municipal officials, the colluding police force and, lastly, the poor and needy people.

The first move is done by the greedy building contractors. They wish to earn profit from thin air and are willing to go to any lengths (i.e. stoop down to an abysmal level) to achieve that goal. They realize that they can earn enormous amounts of money by constructing cheap high-rise buildings in a matter of months on illegal land, bypassing all kinds of rules and regulations, and then selling them to desperate individuals in search of a roof over their heads. But obviously, they have to shell out some money to their ‘supervisors’ who are in the know of their greed. You can’t pick a fight with the crocodile if you want to swim in the lake, can you? You have to keep them happy.

So the next roll of the dice is from the corrupt politicians and municipal officials, who choose to look the other way when in fact its their obligation to stop a wrong deed from happening. All in the name of a few bundles of cash that pass into their hands from the building contractors. Some relevant persons from the law enforcement agencies, i.e. the police force, too get their share of this money to keep quiet and pretend they are patrolling a paradise.

Enter the poor and migrant population, who get the last chance at throwing the dice. With everything back home up in the air and job security in a new city being a myth, they are living with an uncertain future. A pair of clothes at the max, very little food, no shelter to call ‘home’ and an ever burgeoning family with hungry, crying infants to look after (figuratively) with not even a remote hope of medical care. Add to that the hot sun or the incessant rains. A rational way of thinking isn’t a priority when you have an empty stomach. Then they come across someone who is selling a house to renting it out at throwaway prices. It seems like a glimmer of hope in a dark alley, and they grab the opportunity, knowing fully well at the back of their minds that they are treading thin ice here, not knowing the background or the history of the builder in question. It solves today’s problems. They live to fight another day, and who knows what tomorrow might hold.

Unfortunately, that ‘tomorrow’ doesn’t hold good for them. Its no surprise that substandard material and shoddy practices have been used to construct the multi-storey buildings. Moreover, the land the high-rises are built upon is a covered sewer and is as unstable as quicksand. Their luck runs out. One such building comes crashing down to bury the people, and their hopes and ambitions, in a pile of rubble several meters high, leading to numerous deaths. A danger that everyone involved knew fully but chose to ignore.

Game over. Go ahead, fix the blame.

Thane Building Collapse (April 2013)

Thane Building Collapse (April 2013)

Last Thursday, an 8-storey building came crashing down in a congested suburb of the over-crowded city of Mumbai, India. 72 lives were extinguished. Almost the same number were injured, some severely. Many more have been rendered homeless. There are stories of 10 month old kids still waiting to be united with their moms and dads, who are dead, unfortunately. So who was at fault? Upon whom do you fix the blame?

And this is not an isolated case. Its not the first time something as catastrophic as this has happened, and its certainly not going to be the last. Its just an example of what happens in most developing countries. And this vice is here to stay. For most of the victims, its a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

(Image credits: indianexpress.com, indiatoday.intoday.in, dawn.com)

Advertisements

A birthday and a death, put into perspective

Candle

Yesterday was the birthday of a friend of mine from my old college days. I hadn’t been able to keep in touch with him for some time now, so as I woke up in the morning I promised myself that I will dial his number in the afternoon to wish him and also catch up on his updates. With this feeling I entered office and started settling down into the day’s tasks.

About half-an-hour later, one person from the group that has been hired to mop the floors and keep them clean (house-keeping staff) came up to the Human Resource (HR) guys who sit in the cubicle behind mine, and asked for a leave from work. After being prompted for the reason, he said that he just got the news from his native place that his son had met with a fatal accident (he had drowned), and so needed to go visit. The calmness with which he said this really startled me. The HR guys said that he could take off immediately and that they would inform his contractor later.

It felt strange. I’ve been seeing this person for about 3 months now, working day in and day out, and have never thought that he too could have a family life. He comes across as a genuine sort of guy who could never shout at anyone and who would always take the first step back in any argument. Its almost like he is used to being ignored by the busy people running all around him. He was distressed, but surprisingly his face showed little emotion.

The thought stayed with me for most of the day, well after he had left and we got back to our daily activities. Later as I picked up the phone to call and wish my friend for his birthday, I couldn’t help connect the two events. On a day when he would be celebrating the occasion of his birth, some person somewhere would be mourning a death. Come to think of it, on a planet where the human population is fast approaching 7 billion, this pattern will be followed every single day. Contrasts do not come starker than this.

Perhaps, this is an indication of how we should value our lives, while we have the chance to do so.