Hasty Patchwork, Dubious “Fit Certificate” & Unexplained Delays - Was Kolkata Bridge Disaster On The Cards?
The catastrophic Majerhat bridge collapse in Kolkata on Tuesday evening has raised several questions about the alleged negligence of the authorities and discrepancy in the repair work completed a month ago. The nature of the allegations almost follows a similar pattern as the controversy over the Vivekananda Bridge collapse only two years ago.
Patchwork was completed in haste
Several reports from the past few months have started surfacing online, many indicating callousness on part of the authorities regarding maintenance and repairing of the over 40-year-old Majerhat bridge.
On July 26, Times Of India reported about a weeklong patchwork on a long stretch of the old Majerhat bridge. The bridge was riddled with potholes and cradles, which created a lot of inconvenience for the daily commuters in the heavy monsoon rains, posing the risk of fatal accidents. Repeated appeals by the Kolkata Traffic Police to the civic agencies were ignored for a long time. However, PWD officials openly claimed that the patchwork was just a temporary solution, and complete restoration work cannot be started before the Pujas are over.
Incidentally, within a few days, regular commuters complained that the new bitumen coat was already being washed away by the rains. “The stretch still has major craters — around 15-20 of them at the Taratala Mint side approach. The vehicles are forced to check speed and there is little respite from traffic snarls near the Mint area in the morning peak hours,” the Times Of India quoted local resident Shankar Chowdhury saying.
An August 15 report by The Telegraph India reveals that a patchwork for a stretch of the same bridge was estimated to take a month’s time. However, the repair work was claimed to be completed overnight just before Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the area. A part of the report reads, “None would say how the roads were repaired so promptly” – hinting at a possible discrepancy in the claims. Unauthorised reports by some local residents reveal that in the name of repair, only the outer walls of the bridge were re-painted in the iconic indigo-white colours of the West Bengal State Government.
Complaints by local residents went in vain
According to the comments of an eyewitness published in local daily Anandabazar Patrika, the regular commuters often experienced tremors while travelling on the bridge. Ongoing metro extension work in the locality had apparently worsened the condition. “You could even feel the tremors while riding bikes on the bridge. We have complained about this to the PWD engineers so many times, but they never paid heed. We could sense a disaster was coming,” said eyewitness Gulam Mustafa.
Anandabazar Patrika also reported that after the collapse of Vivekananda bridge two years ago, the State Government had ordered a thorough “Physical Audit” of all the bridges and flyovers in the city. However, now the top government officials are refusing to comment if the protocols were followed in the case of the Majerhat bridge. An anonymous source has revealed that the bridge was awarded the “fit certificate” a few months ago, which is raising many questions now. After visiting the accident site yesterday, State Governor Kesharinath Tripathi has said, “A recent report spoke about a large risky pothole in the bridge. I am not sure if the PWD officials had paid any attention to it.”
Internal sources from the State PWD Department have revealed that around 1.5 months ago, a substantial amount was allotted for maintenance work on the bridge, at a huge rate of over 7 crores per girder (units of the metal framework of a bridge), stated the Anandabazar Patrika report. However, the question still remains about the delay to start the work.
As of now, a suo moto case has been registered at Alipur police station against people unknown under IPC sections 34, 304, 308, and 427, as reported by The Indian Express.