Sonu, the driver of an axle cargo carrier, was transporting concrete cement dividers meant for Metro construction to Kalindi Kunj when he took a wrong turn at 3 am — a mistake that would lead to a day-long traffic jam in several parts of Delhi and Noida on Tuesday.
Soon after the truck got on the bridge over the Kalindi Kunj barrage, a set of wheels on its right came loose, bringing the massive vehicle to a grinding halt.
The carrier was loaded with 15 precast, reinforced concrete cement dividers weighing 30 tonnes. “The hub of the right wheels broke. It was dark and I took the bridge instead of taking a right towards the Metro station. I have been calling my owner and he has been trying to arrange for a mechanic, but something is holding him up,” Sonu said at 2 pm on Tuesday, still standing next to his vehicle, surrounded by several traffic police personnel from Sarita Vihar.
Traffic police first received an alert at 3 am on Tuesday, following which they reached the spot and made arrangements for a local crane. Over the next six hours, as morning rush hour approached, three cranes with various lifting capacities tried to tow the vehicle — but each failed.
“The cranes can only drag vehicles off the bridge. That’s how each vehicle with a breakdown is cleared off roads. But this carrier posed a peculiar problem. It had a set of missing wheels, so it could not have been dragged away. Hoisting the carrier and dragging it on its hind wheels was impossible because of the weight of the cargo and because it was an open one,” said Om Prakash, traffic inspector of Sarita Vihar circle.
Around 6 am, morning traffic from Badarpur and Okhla began heading towards Noida, only to find the six-wheeler parked midway on the bridge, reducing the three-lane flow of traffic to a single file. This triggered a bottleneck, and eventually gridlock across southeast Delhi and Noida.
Noida traffic police, who were alerted by Sarita Vihar circle, meanwhile closed traffic towards Kalindi Kunj and diverted vehicles to the DND. Thousands of commuters, such as Kiran Mantu — who was travelling from C R Park to Noida Sector 37 — spent as long as four hours in their vehicles.
Many who take buses to and from Noida chose to walk the 2-km Kalindi Kunj bridge. “All buses are avoiding the bridge. The cabs are on strike. So I am walking to my office in Jasola,” Priyanka Chaudhry, a software engineer, said.
Even as the traffic situation worsened during peak rush hour, traffic police kept calling the owner of the stranded vehicle, asking him to come and solve the problem. The transporter sent across a mechanic, but he got stuck in traffic himself. Traffic police also considered taking the concrete slabs off the vehicle to reduce its weight and tow it, but decided against it.
“We do not have the expertise to weigh the cargo, and we felt the bridge could have got damaged had the cable of the crane snapped while towing the carrier. So we had to repair the vehicle on the bridge before clearing it,” Prakash said.
When the mechanic arrived more than 12 hours later, traffic police oversaw the fixing of vehicle’s hub and wheel. “The owner had sent the mechanic to look for an old hub from Mayapuri’s scrap market so he could save money. A new one would have been faster to find,” an officer claimed.
Such was the frustration of traffic police officers that they considered challaning the owner for “negligence”, but eventually decided not to. Around 4.45 pm, the cargo carrier — its wheels fixed — was dragged off the bridge, unclogging the stream of traffic from Delhi to Noida.