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The Supreme Court has granted permission to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to proceed with the award of a contract in “accordance with law” for the construction of two bridges at the site of the demolished Hancock Bridge between Sandhurst Road and Mazgaon. The apex court passed the order on November 10 taking into consideration the fact that “if the work is stalled, the general public would be put to great hardship.” The court was hearing a Special Leave Petition filed by a company that was awarded the contract by the BMC for construction of two bridges. The contract had run into trouble after a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was moved in the Bombay High Court raising questions regarding the legality of the contract in favour of the petitioner. The court had in 2016 ordered that status quo be maintained.
Mukul Rohatgi, senior counsel appearing for the civic body, however, argued that the BMC be permitted to finalise the tenders and proceed with the execution of the work, or else it would put the public at a great degree of inconvenience. He also informed the court that apart from the instant litigation, the petitioner company in the matter was (earlier) blacklisted by the BMC, and the issue is pending consideration under a statutory appeal before the municipal corporation.
“We do not propose to examine the legality of the blacklisting order in the instant proceedings. It is an order independent of the order and the legality of which is to be determined by an appropriate forum. The fact remains that by virtue of the order, the High Court directed the cancellation of work awarded to the petitioner. Whether the order of the High Court could be sustained in law, is to be examined on the merits of the petition which is likely to take time,” said the Apex Court. “Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the company eventually succeeds in the matter, it could be adequately compensated including award of exemplary costs for all the trouble to which the petitioner is subjected to, in the process of litigation. In the circumstances, we do not see any reason to continue the earlier interim orders of this court,” added the court.
Following the hearing, RTI activist Jyoti Rathod met BMC officials to enquire about the work. “They said the work on the bridge will start soon. The tendering process has begun, they will have to present it to the standing committee. I have also written to municipal commissioner Ajoy Mehta today asking him to fast track the work and complete the work that would take 15 days, in 8 days,” she said.
According to Rathod, school students were the worst hit after the bridge was demolished in December 2015. “The bridge used to connect Bombay No. 10 in Mazagaon to Bombay No. 9 in Noorbaug, Dongri. Bombay No. 10 has the maximum number of schools in the area and students used to use the bridge to reach there. Now they have to take a taxi through P D’Mello Road and the earlier two minutes now takes 45 minutes,” she added.
Another activist, Kamlakar Shenoy, alleged that the bridge was illegally demolished by falsely declaring it dangerous without following due process of law. He said he has found through RTI that “they did not conduct a structural audit and inspection before demolishing it. It is necessary that the audit report says that the bridge is beyond repair and it has to be demolished. An FIR should be registered against the railways.”
According to him, many students lost their lives while crossing the railway lines in the absence of the bridge. “While official records say seven lives have been lost, we know that at least 40-50 lives were lost just this year,” he added.