Two months before a portion of the Majherhat bridge in Kolkata collapsed, leaving two persons dead and 25 others injured, a West Bengal Public Works Department audit of bridges and flyovers — ordered by the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) — failed to identify weaknesses or faults in the 54-year-old bridge.
A month after the directive was issued, the PWD issued instructions to carry out beautification and patchwork for the Majherhat bridge. Sources in the state secretariat said the PWD had even given the bridge a fitness certificate after conducting a routine check.
A day after the collapse, efforts to rescue three missing construction workers at the adjacent Metro site, are still on even as the state government Wednesday said a high-level probe has been ordered.
“We have held a meeting with all officers and have sought health reports of all flyovers and bridges immediately. Regarding Majherhat, a police investigation is on and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already stated that the chief secretary will probe the matter,” said state Minister for Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Firhad Hakim.
On July 5, the CMO had ordered: “With the onset of monsoon it would be appropriate to undertake a quick review of condition of all bridges, flyovers, embankments, irrigation dams etc throughout the state. Such an exercise was made two years back. All the departments concerned must carry out necessary audit of condition of all these structures. So that the structures remain stable and no untoward incident takes place.”
In a subsequent letter, accessed by The Indian Express, PWD Secretary Arnab Roy had directed all zonal chief engineers to inspect and report on the condition of bridges and flyovers by July 13 with a final report to be prepared by July 16. In this report, the PWD failed to identify the deteriorating condition of the Majherhat bridge, which connects Kolkata with its southern fringe.
On July 16, the Alipore division of the PWD invited bids after for surface repairing of a 1.2-km stretch between Taratolla flyover, Majherhat bridge and DH Road. The work included patch repair and bituminous surfacing work at an estimated cost of Rs 16 lakh. The work was scheduled to start in August, and the Majerhat bridge collapsed before it could start.
Almost a month later, on August 10, the PWD issued a memorandum ordering the beautification and painting of bridges and flyovers. The memorandum stated “…it has been observed that the appearance of bridges and culverts are not up to the mark. Therefore it is decided that all bridges and culverts under the control of public works department, the government of West Bengal are to be painted after cleaning the same and repairing it if necessary.”
“It is also true that six months back, the PWD gave a health certificate for Majherhat during a routine meeting. After the 2016 Vivekananda flyover collapse, it was decided that every six months, the health of flyovers and bridges will be reviewed. We have asked for reports from Indevar Pandey (who was PWD secretary six months ago) and present secretary Roy,” said a Secretariat official.
PWD Minister Arup Biswas could not be reached for comment.
Incidentally, after the collapse of a portion of the under-construction Vivekanda flyover in Ganesh Talkies which killed 27 people and injured 80 on March 31 2016, the state government had called in Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RiTES) for a safety audit of bridges and flyovers.
RITES, however, was asked to audit of only five bridges and flyovers – Sealdah flyover, Baghajatin flyover, Amdebkar bridge, Bankim bridge in Howrah and Chingrighata flyover (a portion of which fell on March 4, 2013), according to sources.
Based on the report, the state government conducted repairs on the Baghajatin, Ambedkar, Chingrighata and Dhakuria bridges.