Monday, April 30, 2018

Audits, Auditors & the City!

Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)”… Ayn Rand.

With just five novels & hundreds of letters still she is one of the most acclaimed writers whose writing has made generations to think about social aspects of life & yes about the government! Unfortunate is even after so many decades her writing about most of the govt’s applies true & our rulers are no exception. When things comes to our beloved Pune city then Iyan Rand’s above words really hit me hard as one look around & you saw that majority is not always right rather majority is worst power which corrupts sanest of the minds! For e.g. the recent news papers are buzzing with the term “audit” of the services or infrastructure of our city. For those who are ignorant (and most citizens are ignorant) about how the term audit which usually is applicable for accounts or balance sheets is used for city infra, will explain with whatever little exposure I have got about the same! And yes there is one more community our civic body is happy with & that’s is consultants & they are being used for everything, right from bridge designing to BRT to river development or may it be 24x7 water supply, nothing in PMC (or PCMC) moves  without having a consultant for it. And being an engineer by myself I can’t deny importance of having a consultant but most of these consultant’s advise has been gone wrong terribly may it be the infamous Z bridge or fly over at University circle or even de-silting of the pashan lake which has been driven away all the migratory birds from the lake, there has been many examples the city has witnessed (rather paid) for wrong planning or advise of the so called consultants. Rather the latest trend is employ a consultant, then get a tender of the work & then after completion of the job employ an auditor to check efficiency of the work done & submit a report & file it. Long back when Hero Honda bikes first came in market, their ad campaign was very popular, “Fill it, Shut it & Forget it”; means emphasizing the importance of mileage of the bike. The same way in Pune city when an auditor has been appointed then the motto is, “Appoint it, File it & Forget it”!

Just to list out the news of audits of various services PMC is getting done, the audit is being done that of road safety, then about the swimming pools, then about the fire audits as well electric consumption audits are to name a few. Let’s take road safety first as approximately more than thousand people (read citizens) lost their lives in road accident every years & nearly thrice the numbers gets severely injured. Now what road safety audits have been carried out since last ten years & what actions have been taken this report I don’t remember ever reading. Because the road safety audit (if being conducted) then how it misses thousands of open man holes on the roads, then there are chamber covers of drainage lines which either are broken or not in level with the road surface causing maximum accidents. Then road dividers either don’t exists or pops up suddenly in some stretch of the road or punctured at the will of residents (read local elected members) causing second most numbers of accidents. Footpaths (as well cycle tracks, though no one ever dared to carry audits of cycle track as that’s biggest joke the city has seen) audits if even a blind man has done then he could have black listed every footpath for poor paving as well width, (barring a few) in the city. As the some footpaths have been paved by ceramic tiles making people walk on road in rainy season such sleeper they gets & some are with the blocks which are so uneven that fittest of the person can fall down while walking on it. Then comes the pedestrian bridges audits; here first the consultants who suggested pedestrian over bridges & then the joke is few has been fitted with lift also. The one bridge near Mayur Colony on karve road, I have never seen a person ever climbing the forty odd steps of this bridge & cross the road as width here is not even 100 ft that of road. As well the lifts have been fitted but they are un-operational since the day they have been fitted! So, now this bridge is best solace for the beggars & ill elements from the society for all twenty four hours of the day! Then the width of the foot path & all sorts of services like telephone junction boxes to MSEB feeder-pillars to MGNL gas valves or pipe lines, everything is on the footpaths. And yes even bus stops also, blocking entire width so a pedestrian has to get down on road especially at bus stops & come directly under the wheels of our beloved PMPML which rarely slows downs even at stops.

If all this is not enough then the planning of signals & one ways & two ways along with parking arrangements adds further chaos in the road fury. Some roads are one way from 9am to 9 pm & so are some bridges for entry of two wheelers! I rarely wonder how many people can remember such bizarre rules as well what about new comers to the city & tourist vehicles, how the hell they are going to know this road is one way after 9pm & more that that what audit is being done for the proper signage for the use of the roads? Road signs is another joke as either the signs are missing or covered by faces of our popular mananiya’s & their keens or the road signs are put in such a way that even if you go & look for them you won’t find them! And if you miss the road signs & enter in no entry the traffic police are always alert on other end provided you are lucky if you reach the other end safely. One such road safety audit report says there are some 36 black spots (only?) in city where accidents can cause; sure these spots haven’t been come in existence in single day, so what we were doing till now & more than that what we will be doing now about removing them & in how much time? (read as, after how many more life losses). And worst part is even if you ensure the road is one way & you are going in right way yet there is every chance a vehicle (including PMPML bus) can come from opposite side in full speed, so where is safety audit & who is acting on it especially for road safety, is the question I will ask.
Then there is audit of public swimming pools; this is popular joke which happens in every summers! Every year some youngster (mostly) lost his life while swimming in PMC’s pool & as usual the safety audit game starts & mostly the outcome is same i.e. no proper trained life guard in place, less numbers of life guards in compare to numbers of swimmers in pool, no life saving means available, no primary medical treatment in place & the list goes on. Immediately safety audit of all public swimming pools is undertaken via appointing safety auditors & similar formalities are followed. Notices gets issued to even the private societies with swimming pools & news papers carries snaps of swimming pools over flowing with swimmers & just as the water gets calm in the pool without swimmers all the action gets forgotten in few days till the next death happens in some swimming pool, the auditors reports gets stored in some basement room of ward office as with new causality new auditors gets appointed & the show continues!

Then there is something like safety audit in respect to fire, well this is mandatory to ever building may it be govt or private, residential or commercial but I wonder how many knows it in first place & then how many gets audited for fire safety & then how many actually does something about it? First of all fire safety audit of city’s public places & slums, well the lesser we speak the better it is. As the news of one posh restaurant in Mumbai got burnt up in fire came, immediately PMC issued notices to private establishments of getting the safety audit done in respect to fire but what’s burning under their own skin, who cares! As PMC’s fire dept itself needs a fire safety audit such is their condition on the front of infrastructure. Right from the lesser numbers of firemen to not having good fireproof outfits to less numbers of fire engines, so many things are missing from the fire dept itself. And then faire safety manuals to proper fire exits to keeping clear ways for movement of fire engines, hundreds of things can be counted as lacuna in fire safety even by a lay man but we still needs auditors as how else reports can be created if not auditors? I wonder whether the fire water line plans has ever been suggested by any auditor for the slums as well densely populated buildings or areas of the city especially old city! At the same time one should really appoint an auditor to audit how many fire audits has been done as per the required by law, I think soon we will have that kind of auditor too!

Here one more thing to mention, safety audits are a must for the ongoing constructions & time & again PMC has issued notices to the construction sites for safety measures as usual after accident at some site! But one round on any of public works going in & around the city then the same PMC (or any govt authority) turns blind eye towards getting their own ongoing work safety audited! As you will find labors working at heights may it be building or bridge right in-front of PMC main building, working without any safety belts or even helmets. Then if road digging is going on then the open ends of the excavations are seldom guarded neither any read light is put for unfortunate souls travelling on the very road at night. As well you will often found open mouthed man holes of all sorts of lines (drainage, water or rain water) right on the foot paths, so all the safety is in the eyes or mind of the user is what safety auditors of PMC must have told to the authorities! Or else how every public body would have been so casual (read careless) about the safety of the citizens is the thought comes to my mind.

And apart from this safety audits there are few more also like electric power consumption of the PMC by things like street lights. And then audit of PMC’s garbage treatment plants (don’t ask me what it means) along with audit of drainage treatment plants. Well for this just have a look at our rivers (if we can call them rivers) where the so called treated water is let out & then you can understand how difficult auditors work must be as they can see, hear & smell everything. After that all they can do is, follow the Gandhiji’s three monkeys, “Bura Mat Dekho, Bura Mat Bolo, Buro Mat Suno”. Only difference is as an auditor for the city they seem to have modified the three monkeys rule in tune to todays needs i.e. “Bura Mat Dikhao, Bura Mat Sunao, Bura Mat Bulwao”! I think with such type of attitude the term auditor is fast losing its luster as any audit is effective only if the action is taken on its observations but unfortunate that our city rulers are busy in getting the things just audited as or else how the citizens will know that govt is working! Let’s understand as a citizen you are the best auditor for the city & just by calling yourself Punekar you won’t become one but how you audit as an individual the services this city offers you & what you do with what you have audited is what going to make you a proud Punekar!

Sanjay Deshpande 
Sanjeevani Dev.

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