If an accident is caused by the poor condition of a road, should the BBMP be held responsible? And should the corporation be forced to pay compensation to such victims? There’s been a lot of heated debate about this following the unfortunate recent incident, in which a woman fell off a scooter and died as her husband swerved to avoid a pothole on the street.
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With the cops booking the husband for negligent driving, and the BBMP pointing fingers at BDA, it seems that we were only too ready to add insult to the tragedy, whereas what is really needed is a close look at what the problem is, and how to solve it.
It is often difficult to tell, with certainty, what caused any specific accident, and which officials – if any – should be held responsible for it. But there is absolutely no doubt that there are very many accidents in the city that are caused by shoddy infrastructure and poor maintenance, and that the BBMP and other civic agencies together are responsible for countless injuries and many deaths each year.
That is, what is debatable in a single instance is indisputable when we look at the totality of the problem. And therefore, we should first focus on that whole picture.
Who decides if BBMP’s infrastructure is acceptable? As things stand today, BBMP itself does that. And that’s the problem. We have an executing agency whose work is not subject to any standards and regulation. BBMP tries to get around this by pretending that the contractors are doing the work, and it is itself the overseeing agency. But that’s not true. Whether done by itself or through contractors, it is BBMP that is legally responsible for its works.
Therefore, BBMP cannot be the institution that certifies the work. That has to be the work of an independent Urban Services Regulator. In the draft Urban Development Policy that was put together four years ago, this regulatory institution was proposed—to have jurisdiction over all public services in the city. It was grandly announced at an event in the Vidhana Soudha and then promptly forgotten.
Even today, this is the answer. Let’s create an independent regulator that can routinely look at all of the work that BBMP does—as well as that of other civic agencies – and pass both judgment and penalties on unaccpetable works. That would then set in place a system of accountability, and continuous improvements in the infrastructure of the city.
And in turn, that will ensure that in the future, there is less risk of anyone swerving to avoid a pothole, only to end up dead instead.
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