AT HER one-room residence in the narrow Lal Madhav Mukherjee Lane at Ganesh Talkies area of Burrabazar, Malati Devi (52) flips through a handful of sample wedding cards. Her son, 33-year-old Vikas Mali, is set to get married. Last year too, around this time, she was busy preparing for Vikas’s wedding, which was scheduled for April. But then, the cards printed for the wedding, had to be discarded. Malati’s husband, Gulab Chand Mali (58), was buried alive on March 31, 2016, when the underconstruction Vivekananda flyover collapsed in Kolkata. He used to run a small paan shop on the main Burrabazar Road, near the flyover.
Malati, who would to sell incense sticks and flowers on the footpath of Ganesh Talkies, did not go to work that day. “We had to distribute Vikas’ wedding cards that day. I had asked my husband to come along. He said he needed to go to the shop, so I went with my son. We were on our way when we heard about the collapse. When we called my husband, his phone was unreachable,” she said. Malati nowadays stays at home. While the family had received Rs 7 lakh as compensation from the state government, Vikas has also got a job. He will get his first salary on Saturday. But this fails to bring a smile on her face. “The bridge should be bulldozed. How can the anyone take such a risk? I heard its design was faulty… but why did no one realise this earlier? I have lost all faith. I keep asking my son to avoid passing under any bridge,” she said.
Twenty-five others died that day, along with Gulab Chand, in what has been one of Kolkata’s biggest disasters. Sixteen people have so far been arrested in the case, including officials of construction firm IVRCL and Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA). All are currently out on bail. On the day of the incident, a case of murder, criminal conspiracy, attempt to murder and mischief causing damage was filed at Posta police station against unknown persons. The first chargesheet in the case was submitted in June 2016 at Bankshall court. The murder charges were dropped in the 2,400-page chargesheet, which named the arrested 10 IVRCL officials as the main accused.
“Serious lapses were found on part of the supervising agency KMDA. It was the duty of KMDA engineers to check the quality of the material used,” a police officer said, adding probe into the case is still on the final chargesheet is yet to be filed. Since the collapse, expert body RITES — an engineering consultancy company — has been roped in by the police to carry out an independent investigation. “Construction was not undertaken with due care, no proper supervision was done and the design itself was faulty. The execution did not follow a set protocol. A large project like this needs separate fabrication drawing, which was not done in this case. All these factors resulted in the collapse,” a source said. RITES submitted its report in the last week of September, last year.The state government had also set up an expert committee under Chief Secretary Basudeb Bhattacharya to look into the matter. The committee had roped in IIT-Kharagpur to suggest if the flyover should be torn down or rebuilt.
Just a few meters away from Malati’s room, in a two-bedroom apartment in Natunbazar, lives the Kandoi family. Vimla Devi Kandoi (70), lost her son Ajay and daughter-in-law Sarita in the collapse. “I suffer from arthritis and cannot stand for long. There is nobody to look after my two grandsons. I have struggled everyday for the last one year to support them but now it is becoming tough. If they decide to rebuild the flyover, I think I will die all over again,” she said, as the mangled remains of the flyover continue to scar Kolkata’s landscape.