I had watched Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro as a teenager in the 1990s (the film was released in 1983); it was a film that made a deep impression on our generation and the generation before ours. A dark satire on the rampant corruption in public life, politics and the news media business, it could very well have been set in 2017. Or specifically, in Nagaland in 2017. On 11th July, a bridge collapsed in Dimapur, a populous town in Nagaland, killing four people and leaving five injured. The news did not make it to the national newspapers. Maybe, it was not ‘news worthy’; after all, the number of casualties is not ‘significant’. And in a region where flood waters routinely wash away bridges, the fact that we had a standing bridge is a miracle in itself!
As for the reasons behind the collapse, they are almost banal. Officials of the PWD (R&B) who visited the site on Wednesday have confirmed that sand gravel and stone mining caused the bridge to cave in. Infact, an assistant chief engineer had submitted a report to the DC in Dimapur way back in 2015 citing that the bridge was unsafe, mainly due to mining activities and that mining should be restricted. Sources say that representatives from the United Naga Council and Dhansiri Flood Control Board had also visited the site and pronounced it unsafe for commuters. You would expect that action would have been taken after multiple interventions from state and non-state actors. Surprisingly, the only action taken by the PWD was putting up a board with a disclaimer that the bridge was unsafe and that commuters travelled at their own risk. The aforesaid bridge connected 120 villages and there was no question of choice here. So, commuters continued to travel until one day, the inevitable happened. This theatre of the absurd puts even the climax of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron to shame where a bridge collapses due to poor construction quality. Here, the State had the audacity to put up a board to absolve itself of all responsibility. And, yet, the only news that has come out of Nagaland recently has been about a peace accord no one knows anything about. Because apart from the narrative of conflict, there is not much that is covered by mainstream news channels.