Inside Story

India: Too far, too fast?

As dozens die in Mumbai building collapse, we ask if anyone cares about the poor in one of the world's top 10 economies.

Last Modified: 06 Apr 2013 11:07
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A seven storey building has collapsed in India killing dozens of men, women and children.

"The people responsible for building those buildings are ultimately responsible for mishaps like this, this includes the builder, the contractor, the architect - if any architect is involved. And it happens sadly with surprising regularity ... What is being done to prevent this, from a regulatory point of view? Surprisingly little. We are still stuck with the regulations that we have had for many, many years now."

- Madhav Raman, architect

The victims were living in the Mumbai building while construction continued above their heads. Rescue workers were pulling dozens of bodies out of the collapsed structure after the incident on Thursday.

The poor workers, living with their families, perished in seconds.

Indian media has said that builders may have ignored construction regulations. The police say they are seeking the arrest of the builder in charge of construction.

This is by no means an isolated incident. Building collapses often occur in India when developers cut corners. Buildings are often built with poor materials and no proper supervision.

Other cases just over the past couple of years include a bridge being built at Mumbai's main airport which collapsed in February killing three people and injuring seven.

In December last year in the city of Pune, 13 people were killed when a slab being placed on a building fell apart.

And in one of the worst incidents, 69 people were killed when a residential building collapsed in 2010.

"Politicians never made buildings, buildings are made by construction companies and construction authorities ... This is the case of cheap infrastructure, so there is no involvement of politicians there; we cannot blame the politicians. The politician is able to give an answer about what he has done, but the work was done by construction companies."

- Amrish Pandey, Indian National Congress youth wing

There is a lot of temptation in Indian cities to build fast and make money. Shortage of housing in the cities is a growing problem, and rapid urbanisation has put big strain on infrastructure.

Developers see millions of people moving from poor rural areas to busy urban ones every year. And this is set to continue.

By 2050, as many as 900 million extra people will be added to India's cities.

Right now, the government estimates that nearly 19 million households living in urban areas are in need of decent homes. And an estimated 95 percent of urban housing shortage affects lower income families.

In New Delhi, India's prime minister has been talking about sustainable development and alleviating poverty.

But, is India growing too far, too fast? Is anyone really sticking up for the poor? And are incidents such as the Mumbai building collapse really acceptable in one of the world's top ten economies in 2013?

To discuss this, Inside Story with presenter Ghida Fakhry is joined by guests: Amrish Pandey, a political activist and member of the Indian National Congress youth wing; Sourav Roy, a political analyst, Asian Affairs Analyst and columnist for the Huffington Post; and Madhav Raman, an architect, urbanist and partner at Anagram Architects

"I'm just appalled at the way such situations keep cropping up in India time and again. And it's not just one building in Mumbai or a pack of colonies in New Delhi or any other metropolitan city in India. It's just the whole system - the way it works. You have got these whole colonies after colonies of illegal settlements that have cropped up right under the nose of the politicians, the minders of the municipal corporations, and all bureaucrats and those governing the cities. And my question is if such a thing has been happening at such a rampant pace, then what have the others been doing? Has everybody turned a blind eye towards it? If yes, then it's very sad. And if no, then I think the strictest and the sternest actions need to be taken against people who practice in such cheap constructions that put not just life and property, but also public security, at risk."

 - Sourav Roy, political analyst



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