Monday, July 1, 2013

Transparency lesson from the past!

Interning at an office in South Bombay has meant that I found time to and had to go to several colonial buildings including the Bombay High Court, the Esplanade Centre of Magistrates’ Courts, the Central Telegraph Office and the Victoria Terminus (now – CST).

I noticed a common feature in these beautiful public buildings built in the late 1800s or early 1900s. To ensure transparency, these buildings carry a great many details on their prominently displayed plaques. These plaques have details of not only when was the building sanctioned and who built it but also about the chief designers, engineers and most importantly the difference between the estimated and final costs of the project.

Take a look at this plaque at the Central Telegraph Office*.


* – The image says General Post Office because it was built as the GPO but later on  when the present GPO building was built it was made the Central Telegraph Office.

The very detailed plaque above shows that the massive building was completed in just about three years from 1869 to 1872 and that the actual cost of ₨. 5,94,200 was actually about five thousand rupees lesser than the sanctioned cost of ₨. 5,99,992.

This plaque is infact a tool of accountability and transparency. The name of the architect along with the names of those who were incharge of the construction is out there literally etched in stone for everyone to see. 

Another example of such a plaque is the image below (taken from which I believe is of the building presently housing the Maharashtra Archives.


Let’s bring back this practice…

This practice of elaborate plaques has been almost completely abandoned today. I don’t remember seeing any post-independence building or structure of which so many details including the name of the architect and the cost of construction is available on the structure itself. While plaques still exist they tend to only highlight the names of the so called VIPs who inaugurated it.

With several infrastructure projects and public buildings in Bombay (and other parts of India as well) being way behind schedule and extremely over budget, this could be an effective way to put pressure on contractors to finish on time an within budget because if the don’t, their shortcomings would be on display for the world to see, for ages to come. It is also a transparency mechanism since when the people see how many taxpayers’ rupees were spent on a particular building or project they would be able to gauge for themselves if it was money well spent.

In our hurry to move forward and progress, it is not really wise to leave behind the wisdom of the past!

Do comment and let me know if you have ever seen in Bombay,a modern building plaque that states anything apart from the name of the VIP or VVIP who inaugurated it!

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