SK Sharma, email@example.com
Gujarat earthquake has exposedin stark nakedness the inadequacy of our
institutions in managing disasters. What we totally lack is political,
bureaucratic and professional accountability to the people, and the mechanism to
respond to such situations.
Our centralised democracy, based on the faulty Westminster system and exploitative colonial institutions, is at the root of all our problems. We need to urgently institute true democracy in which local governments control local resources to handle all local matters, as advocated by Gandhi. People First has prepared such a "Constitution for Free Bharat (India) 2001" and launched a campaign for instituting independent commissions at the state level for organising wide public consultations and local referendums on it. Based on these, a similar commission at the national level shall refine it, and seek approval by the sovereign people through referendum held along with the next national election. (Visit our website: www.peoplefirstindia.org)
Within the present system, some measures that need to be taken immediately are outlined below.
Local Accountability of Municipal Officials
The permanent but transferable municipal bureaucracy has no local accountability. It is usually hand in glove with unscrupulous developers and politicians involved in illegal and faulty construction.
Municipal officials should be locally appointed. Local professionals should be appointed as municipal commissioners and other departmental heads on contract with the approval of and impeachable by the local assembly. They will then be professionally accountable directly to the people.
Regulating of Real Estate Business
Real estate developers take deposits from consumers, use the money on other projects, and often delay or do not built according to desired building standards. There are also frauds in which builders do not have proper title over land and/or build excessive floor area.
Such frauds and irregularities are being perpetrated because of absence of legislation regulating real estate business, and independent check on safety of structures. The laws in North America are very stringent. The Singapore laws can suit our needs. Under Singapore laws, developers can take payment in instalments from consumers but all such payments and loans taken are required to be kept in separate escrow accounts for each project. The bank releases money in instalments after getting the progress and safety of the structure certified by its consulting engineers. Such a basic law is urgently needed in India.
Architectural and Structural Engineering Services
A most unfortunate practice for which the government is responsible is that instead of establishing professional standards, public agencies often invite quotations and tenders for architectural and structural engineering services. This leads to mediocre or unscrupulous architects and engineers who quote low, to get public projects. This encourages builders to also engage poor architects and incompetent engineers, often with disastrous consequences.
Based on intense study, a committee of chief executives of Government of India public sector undertakings prepared a circular, "SCOPE Management Circular on Management of Building Projects". Government needs to adopt this circular for all public works and also direct builders who use citizenís money to also adhere to it. It can often be disastrous to engage professional services such as those of doctors, architects and engineers in contravention of norms of professional practice. The collapse of a number of multi-storeyed buildings in Ahemdabad clearly establishes this.
The need of an architect cum engineer trained in cost effective but safe building design and construction, small water harvesting structures, etc., for meeting the need of small towns and villages has long been felt. People First has proposed to the government concept of a three years degree course of Bachelors in Habitat Studies imparting skills in architecture and engineering adequate to certify individual buildings up to three stories on plots not exceeding 500 square meters in area. On completing this programme and one semester attachment in an approved building centre, the candidate will be designated Habitat Engineer. After stipulated experience and possibly continuing education on internet he can appear in professional examinations to become a fully qualified architect or engineer. Such a study course needs to be urgently instituted.
Earthquake Resistant Structures
The government should get basic principles of earthquake resistant structures published on rural websites being set up in various states. Development Alternatives has promoted such a website: www.TARAhaat.com managed by small rural entrepreneurs.
Such institutional reforms are the least that the governments should do forthwith for, in view of serious depletion of our environment, disasters especially draught and floods will now be an ongoing assault on the people. We urgently need true democracy based on our several thousand years democratic ethos symbolised in Ram Rajya, described by Gandhi as Gram Swaraj.
The author is the Managing Trustee, People First Url: www.peoplefirstindia.org
The Government of India has land acquisition policies for large development projects, but people of India have no clearly defined rehabilitation policies.