The Delhi Government’s Public Works Department is now considering replacing the iron railings it installs on the sides of its flyovers and bridges with raised concrete or other structures, the reason being that much of the iron gets stolen by drug addicts and the police plead helplessness about tackling the problem.

The Ghazipur flyover on National Highway-24 was constructed just before the Commonwealth Games in 2010. It had long iron pipes on the side walls. No sooner the Games ended, thieves struck. Within a matter of months almost the entire piping provided on both sides of the two carriageways of the flyover was gone – sawed away and pulled out from its base.

The PWD had to again float a contract for re-installing these. This time each section was welded so that only smaller parts could be stolen at one go. “But a joint is a joint. It can never replace an original item,” says PWD Minister Raj Kumar Chauhan.

Pointing out that thefts by such drug addicts are commonplace, he says: “When we approach the police, they say they can do little about drug addicts. The reason being that if they are taken to a police station then someone has to provide them smack.” The police are also fearful of these otherwise weak-framed addicts dying in their custody.

Realising that iron, which can be sold easily, attracts drug addicts and other thieves, Mr. Chauhan says they are now thinking of incorporating new designs for railings by doing away with use of iron pipes and using other materials or by simply raising the height of concrete walls.

Incidentally, Mr. Chauhan points out that when he got a concrete central verge installed on a road in his legislative constituency of Mangolpuri, as he knew the iron railings would go missing in a few days, the drug addicts still managed to surprise him: “This time they smashed the concrete dividers and took out the iron within them.”

The Delhi Metro had also experienced a similar problem in Indraprastha Estate and some parts of West Delhi a few years ago. “The problem was confided to areas that had smack addicts,” says its spokesperson Anuj Dayal. He adds: “Now that problem is not there. We have strengthened the security around our construction sites and that has brought about a change,” said Mr. Dayal.

Other infrastructure projects have also been impacted by such thefts. Officials of Engineers India Limited, which is executing the Connaught Place redevelopment project, encountered similar problems. A number of air-conditioners installed at their site office were simply punctured by addicts, who used to sit behind their rooms outside Palika Bazaar, as they did not like the warm air they expelled. Besides, the company has also encountered petty thefts by these addicts. “They would take away anything that fetches them Rs.100,” quipped one official.

The menace of drug addicts around Connaught Place has grown so much that four subway projects on the New Delhi railway station side of the commercial district were scrapped primarily because the traders did not want them to come up. They had argued that the footfall on this side was lower and these subways too, like the rest, would only end up becoming safe havens for drug addicts.