THE AZAD Maidan police, who arrested the director of the firm that audited the collapsed foot overbridge outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT), told a city court on Tuesday that BMC officials, who visited the spot during the audit and supervised it, will also be probed for ignoring “irregularities”, if any. Neeraj Kumar Desai, director of Prof DD Desai’s Associated Engineering Consultant and Analyst Private Limited, was produced before the metropolitan magistrate court on Tuesday, which remanded him in police custody till March 25.
In its remand plea, the police said that Desai was tasked with conducting structural audits of 76 bridges across the city by the BMC on September 17, 2016. Desai conducted the audit and submitted a report on August 6, 2018, on the condition of the bridges, including the collapsed FOB, stating that the latter was in a “fairly good condition”, the police claimed. “We want to investigate the BMC officials who were given the responsibility of supervising the audit, who were there at the spot at the time of the audit, to find out whether procedures laid down were followed,” public prosecutor Rajendra Survayanshi said.
He said that while the documents available with the BMC have details of these officials, they want to confront Desai about it to get specific details.
As per procedure, sub-engineers of the BMC’s Bridges department accompany the auditor during structural audits. The police said that while they had studied the audit reports submitted by Desai, they wanted to access and seize the notes prepared by him while writing the reports. “The notes are an important part of investigation to find out on what basis were the reports prepared. Whether there were any measurements taken, what was observed regarding iron rods, tiles, slabs and beams of the bridge to conclude that the bridge was in a good condition,” Survayanshi said.
He added that the police want to seize notes not only of the collapsed bridge but also of the other 75 bridges prepared by Desai’s firm to see if there was negligence.
The police also told the court that their probe had shown that the ‘non-destructive test’ part of the audit was done by Desai’s firm along with another company named Geo Dynamics. The prosecutor told the court that it will check if the Baroda-based company will also be liable for any negligence. Based on the test, the report submitted in July 2017, concludes that the concrete quality is classified as “good”; carbonation on 16 locations observed to be due to exposure of concrete to weather. A senior police official said that initially Desai’s firm was given eight months (excluding monsoon) to conclude the audit of 76 bridges, but was subsequently given an extension.
The defence advocates for Desai, Robert Sequera along with Lakshmi Murali and Srushti Thakkar, claimed that the collapse was due to “failure” on the part of the BMC to perform its duty. They claimed that the report had suggested minor repairs. “BMC is a vast civic body with duties caste upon various departments. They knew the condition of the bridge.. they are saying they are not to blame, then why were minor repairs not carried out,” Sequera argued.
On invoking the stringent Section 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the Indian Penal Code, which attracts a maximum punishment of ten years, the police claimed that the audit report shows that there was knowledge on part of the accused that the bridge was used by many and any negligence could amount to its collapse. “Despite being experts and having knowledge that the condition of the bridge was not proper, the report was submitted,” the prosecutor said.
“…for the purpose of proper and effective investigation in respect of safety, maintenance and repair of the bridge, presence of accused is necessary,” the court said while sending the accused to police custody till March 25.