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Mumbai collapse is national disgrace

The building collapse in Mumbai once again highlights corruption in India and the urgency to tackle the menace.

The building collapse in Mumbai in which 72 people perished - including 26 children - has once again highlighted endemic corruption in India and the need for the government to tackle the menace with determination and urgency.

The neighbourhood in which the accident happened was part of a belt of more than 2,000 illegal structures that have sprung up in recent years. Illegal construction, however, is not a problem limited to Mumbai. According to latest government statistics there are 1,320 illegal colonies in the state of Haryana alone, housing tens of thousands. In Delhi, some 1,600 unauthorised colonies were accorded legal status after official inspections last year. No Indian state is spared.

This explains why such accidents are a common occurrence across the country. In Delhi in 2010, 69 people died when a residential building under construction collapsed. In February this year, 19 people died in Kolkata after fire broke out at an illegal plastics market. In the same month, three people died in Mumbai when a flyover collapsed.

India's booming economy has led to a mushrooming of multi-storey structures that often flout safety laws. Punishment of builders and owners has been rare. The reason was explained by GR Khairnar, a former top Mumbai official, who acknowledged that "builders, government machinery, police, municipal corporation - everybody is involved in this process."

Corruption, therefore, must be addressed by the government, through tougher laws to regulate and monitor the building sector.

To be sure, India's anti-corruption image remains poor; Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index places the country at 94th out of 176 nations last year, meaning few Indians believe corruption eradication is a serious undertaking.

It is not just about image. Corruption exists at all levels in the country, from the bottom to the top, as a series of scandals indicate. Stemming this phenomenon is a huge challenge for the government, especially given the country's rapid growth and urbanisation.

But corruption helps no one. It erodes the power of ordinary people by diverting resources and decisions away from those who need it. It stifles economic growth, discourages investors. And now it kills.

The hunt is on for the builders of the crumbled seven-storey housing block. Finding them may start the wheels of justice for those killed. Yet only if authorities begin a serious campaign to end the type of top-to-bottom corruption that allows this type of tragedy to happen so often will India's goals of economic and social prosperity be realised.

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