Monday, December 5, 2022

Winding bridge

Nearly a week after a pedestrian suspension bridge over the Machchhu River in the city of Morbi in Gujarat, collapsed, causing the deaths of over 140 people and injuries to more than 180 others, nine persons were arrested. However the FIR does not name Oreva group nor its owner, Jaysukhbhai Patel, who inaugurated the bridge on October 26 a week before it collapsed. Two managers of the Oreva Group and two sub-contractors who had repaired the bridge have been sent to police custody. Five other arrested men, including security guards and ticket booking clerks, are in judicial custody. The Oreva company, a watchmaker, bagged a 15-year contract with the Morbi Municipal Corporation without a bidding process. The first repair was done in 2007 and then in 2022. The arrangement was that Oreva will take responsibility for maintenance and repair of the bridge and bear the cost. In return, Oreva will have the right to collect revenue from sale of tickets for tourists visiting the famous 143-year old colonial era bridge during the period of the 15-year lease. Politics followed the tragedy as opposition parties accused the BJP government in Gujarat of wanting to make a statement in Morbi by inaugurating the bridge on Diwali to gather clout for the upcoming elections.The opposition also accused BJP of having some interest in shielding Oreva Group and the owner from responsibility and accountability. It was also pointed out that while Oreva received preferential treatment from the BJP government in Gujarat, the watch company in turn sub-let the works to other contractors who are not trained in bridge work. The contractors carried out maintenance of the bridge without taking serious note of the cables and other critical aspects for 15 years their quest to make easy money. It was pointed out that the floor of the bridge was replaced but its 150-year-old old cables were not. The cables could not take the weight of the new flooring and snapped as per a forensic report. The weight of the bridge had increased due to four-layered aluminium sheets used in the flooring and the cables couldn’t support it. To make the situation worse, media reports also pointed out that around 650 tickets for the bridge were sold on October 30, when the bridge could only handle 150 to 200 people at a time. At the time of the collapse, over 300 people were on the bridge, which was 1.25m wide and 233m in length, as part of celebrations for the Diwali and Chhath Puja festivals. At the re-opening ceremony, Oreva’s managing director told reporters that people could enjoy a “care-free adventure” and the bridge would not need any major work for another 8-10 years. A police complaint has been registered under Sections 304, 308 and 114. The survivors of the tragedy and the opposition have questioned why the police FIR doesn’t name Oreva, its top bosses or the civic officials who signed the contract despite glaring gaps?. Politics went a step further when opposition parties asked Modi what can the Morbi bridge tragedy be called if he had referred to the Vivekananda Flyover tragedy at Kolkata in 2016 which collapsed killing 20 people as “an act of fraud” and not an “Act of God”?.

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