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Some of India’s new infrastructure projects are crumbling, laying bare Modi’s ‘electoral gimmick’

Officials at Delhi’s airport cancelled operations at Terminal 1 after an outdoor metal canopy collapsed during torrential rainfall on Friday. Multiple cars were crushed outside the airport, which was recently renovated, killing one person and injuring eight, according to the authorities. The area recorded its heaviest one-day June rainfall in 88 years that day.

The issues cast a harsh spotlight on Modi’s building spree, which officials are leaning on to boost development in the world’s fastest-growing major economy. According to Bloomberg Economics, 44.4 trillion rupees (US$532 billion) worth of new infrastructure will become operational over the next two years. That figure equals the value of all projects built in the last 11 years.

Modi has presided over ribbon-cutting ceremonies at many of them. Modernising infrastructure was a key part of his pitch to voters during this year’s national election, when he won a third term as prime minister. Over the last decade, his government says it’s built 80 new airports, upgraded railways and expanded highways by many thousands of kilometres.

Niranjan Sahoo, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, said Friday’s disaster at Terminal 1 raises fresh questions about the quality of India’s infrastructure. “It puts the country, which aspires to be a global power, in a very poor light,” he said, calling many of the projects an “electoral gimmick.”

Economists and business leaders have justified a big budget for infrastructure, arguing that it’s necessary to turbocharge India’s growth and build out the nation’s manufacturing sector. As China’s economy slows, many international companies are looking to the South Asian nation as an alternative for their factories.