Andrew Buncombe: The reckless side of the 'new India'

Delhi Notebook: It is a confident, sometimes swaggering place that wants to pitch the best of itself to the world
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The Independent Online

Delhi's metro is a wonderful thing. Clean, efficient, completed on time and within budget, it is a wonderful rejoinder to those naysayers (and perhaps outright racists) who might be tempted to suggest India can't get things done. On the occasions I've used it, I've marvelled as its cleanliness, punctuality and affordability.

I was horrified therefore to watch the images over the last couple of days of two horrible accidents as workers rushed to complete the second phase of the network. In the first, five labourers and an engineer were killed when a steel girder fell off a concrete pillar. Less than 24-hours later, three cranes crashed while trying to pick up the huge piece of steel. Only a handful of people suffered minor injuries, but these are just the latest of a series of errors.

It's well known that the city is pressing the contractors to complete this phase of the metro ahead of the October 2010 Commonwealth Games. Ministers have insisted safety is not being compromised. However, a trusted source involved in the project told me it was impossible for accidents not to happen given the scale of the job and short timetable imposed. "It's inconceivable that any other country in the world would be trying to finish this in the timescale," he said. He said there were inadequate safety checks. "Questionable decisions are being made," he added, as a result of the pressure to get work done.

The much-vaunted "new India" is a confident, sometimes swaggering place that understandably wants to pitch the best of itself to the world. Next year's games are an opportunity to do that. It would be a tragedy however, if a self-imposed pressure to impress led to more accidents and the deaths of more poorly-paid labourers who, by and large, are unlikely to share in the spoils of this newly-imagined country.

This is 10 rupees well spent

My local high street used to employ parking attendants who, for a nominal fee, would locate you a spot, hold up the other traffic and guide you into your place amid the chaos of honking horns and a drive-anyway-you-like road etiquette. Then traders complained the charge was putting off shoppers. Cue, no attendants and more chaos. Now unofficial attendants are back, blowing their whistles and trying to maintain order for a "voluntary fee". I like them and never forget to hand them the 10 rupees that the old attendants used to get. Are they the same people, I wonder?

Biscuits, yes. Tea, no

An interview with a minister takes me to the grandeur of South Block, home of the main government departments. His assistant gives me what he says is "India's worst tea". It is, admittedly, not great. Much better are the delicious chocolates made by a new Indian company. I accept two, decline a third and then regret my decision.

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