Editorial: Tunnel Vision Of Development

Editorial: Tunnel Vision Of Development

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Saturday, February 10, 2024, 04:01 AM IST
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The story of the Pragati Maidan Tunnel project in Delhi, now under a cloud over its design and safety among other issues, is the ugly underside of the approach taken to large infrastructure projects in the last few years. This approach, as the Narendra Modi government has repeatedly stated and other governments have tried to mimic, is driven by speed, scale and spectacular impulse. The less-discussed underside of this is marked by design flaws, shortcuts, cutting corners and more of the same. The net result is that, after spending hundreds or thousands of crores from the public exchequer, these projects show infirmities or come apart while the first coat of paint is still fresh. Breath-taking speed in projects of scale is not necessarily the best approach.

The Pragati Maidan Tunnel corridor, costing either Rs 770 or 920 crore depending on whose figures one goes by, was inaugurated with great fanfare and drama by PM Modi in June 2022. Helmed by Delhi government’s Public Works Department, it was among the flagship mega projects in the national capital ahead of the G20 summit last year. At its momentous inauguration, the Modi government called it, among other epithets, “transforming urban infrastructure”. The 1.3 kilometre tunnel with underpasses was meant to significantly reduce travel time in central and southeast Delhi. Barely a year later, it was massively flooded and shut down for five days; through its short life so far, it has had severe seepage issues and safety concerns which pose grave risks to commuters.

The PWD, in its notice to the construction giant L&T who undertook the project, pointed to its “serious technical and design deficiencies” and “design flaws”. It demanded Rs 500 crore from the company. This raises several serious questions: who approved the design and why; was the drainage system of the Pragati Maidan basement parking not considered; who permitted the tunnel to be situated in a high water-table area; if there was a “notable variation” in the construction, as the PWD now alleges, why was it not flagged off and remedied; how can India’s top company miss a step in constructing 1.3km tunnel in the heart of Delhi — and more. It is imperative that the governments do a thorough and fearless multi-disciplinary audit of the tunnel which examines geological, structural, civil and other aspects. This is not merely public money but lakhs of lives at stake. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that the infrastructure is reliable and safe.

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