Following overnight rescue operations, the body of one of two missing labourers was recovered from the collapsed portion of the Majherhat bridge on Wednesday evening, taking the total toll to two.
The deceased was identified as Pranab De (24), a resident of Berhampore in Murshidabad.
On Tuesday, 21-year-old Soumen Bag was killed and 25 others were injured in the incident, which occurred at 4.45 pm. Rescue and search operations are on to recover another missing labourer, Gautam Mondal, who is feared to be trapped under the debris.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee cut short her visit to the Darjeeling hills and came back to Kolkata in the evening. She went straight to the scene of the collapse and interacted with state ministers, senior government officials, police officers and rescue workers.
Speaking to reporters later, Mamata described the incident as unfortunate and announced the recovery of the dead body.
“It was a big incident. The death toll could have gone up, but it is the blessings of God that it has not gone up. Yesterday, one person was killed. Today, rescue workers have recovered another dead body. Several people were injured and they are being treated at hospitals. While the condition of one person is critical at CMRI Hospital, the condition of another person is also critical at SSKM Hospital. The family of the deceased will be provided Rs 5 lakh. Seriously injured persons will get Rs 1 lakh and those whose injuries are not so serious will receive Rs 50,000 each,” she said.
Seven injured persons are undergoing treatment at SSKM Hospital, while four persons are being treated at CMRI Hospital.
The chief minister was accompanied by Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, PWD Minister Aroop Biswas, Mayor Sovan Chatterjee, Chief Secretary Moloy De and city Police Commissioner Rajeev Kumar.
“I have convened an emergency meeting tomorrow at 3.30 pm to discuss this incident. The engineers informed us that this bridge is 54 years old. We monitor the condition of bridges in every six months. But there are bridges which were constructed a long time back and their documents are not immediately available. We do not get documents of such bridges. Still, we are keeping a watch and will conduct a time-to-time survey with available technical experts…” she said.
Mamata also said her government will explore all possible angles to ascertain the cause of the collapse, one of them being the construction work of Joka BBD Bag Metro line adjacent to Majherhat bridge.
“We have come to know from locals that construction work was going on when the incident took place, which led to an earthquake-like sensation. So we are looking at all possible angles and will not trivialise any angle. The Metro construction has been going on for nine years and there has been a lot of problems because of that. The entire matter will be probed thoroughly. We will start monitoring the condition of bridges from tomorrow,” she said.
The chief minister also asked the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and urban development department to widen the roads near the incident spot and utilise the newly-constructed Garden Reach flyover to provide an alternative route.
State Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said rescue work will continue till the missing labourer is found.
“We will remove every slab to recover the missing labourer,” he said.
Rock breakers were used to speed up the rescue operation. Forensic team officers, KMC engineers, and PWD officials visited the spot to ascertain the cause of the disaster.
“Investigation just started. It is too early to come to any conclusion. We are looking into the incident,” said an official of the 20-member forensic team.
Sources said, a special enquiry committee comprising structural engineering experts from JU, IIEST and IIT-Kgp, police and forensic experts has been formed to decide whether to raze the entire bridge or repair the collapsed portion.
Acting on instructions from Eastern Railway, officers from consultancy agency RITES Ltd visited the spot. There were reports that the agency had submitted a report to Eastern Railway, saying lack of maintenance of the bridge led to such an incident. When contacted RITES officers denied having done so.
Speaking to The Indian Express, group general manager (highway) of RITES, Tarun Sengupta who visited the spot, said, “We have not filed any report. We had gone there to examine the bridge for purely academic purposes. However, we cannot divulge details of our observations.”
When asked to comment on who was responsible for the disaster, state Education Minister Partha Chatterjee said he does not know. “I don’t know who is responsible for this. First, we have to see whether injured persons are treated or not. Later we will find out who is guilty. This is not the time to indulge in politics,” he said.