Kerala’s popular engineer and principal advisor of the Delhi Metro, E Sreedharan on Monday inspected the flyover at Palarivattom in Kochi, which has been in the news for the past one month for its shoddy construction.
The flyover, built at a cost of Rs 39 crores to ease congestion at Pipeline Junction on National Highway 66, was thrown open to the public in October 2016. But less than three years of its commissioning, the authorities were forced to close the bridge to commuter traffic after large cracks and potholes appeared in it. The state-run Roads and Bridges Development Corporation Kerala (RBDCK), which built the bridge, began repairs on May 1 and hoped to reopen it to commuters by the end of the month. But closer high-level inspections by experts have revealed large-scale corruption and lapses in the construction of the bridge.
Last week, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan turned to Sreedharan, who was pivotal in the making of the Kochi Metro and carries a badge of reliability and honesty among the larger public in the state, to help fix accountability for the crisis. The 87-year-old engineer has been tasked with submitting a report based on which the state government would take a final call on whether the flyover needs to be rebuilt. Sreedharan, along with Dr Mahesh from IIT Kanpur and other experts, visited the site of the flyover on Monday and made detailed inspections of the girders, pillars (pier) and cracks that have formed.
The 750-metre long Palarivattom flyover stands in stark contrast to the Edappally flyover, built by the DMRC, both commissioned in the same period. Both bridges were planned to ease critical bottlenecks on the junctions of NH-66 and NH-544. While they were constructed during the earlier Congress-led regime, they were inaugurated after the CPM-led administration was voted to power in the state. Even as the Palarivattom flyover has attracted attention for its tawdry construction style, the Edappally flyover still stands strong with no repair works required.
The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau of the state government kickstarted a probe into the construction of the flyover, days after it was closed to road traffic. It registered a formal case earlier this month against RBDCK and the contractor concerned under Section 13 (1) (d), Section 13 (2) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and Section 120 (B)(d) of the IPC.
In its month-long probe, VACB has pointed to grave irregularities and malpractices relating to inferior quality of cement and inadequate use steel especially in the making of girders and pier caps. Improper use of construction materials may have led to structural and surface-level damage to the flyover. Fingers have also been reportedly pointed at KITCO, the project consultant, for loose supervision.
Last week, VACB officials conducted a raid at the Kochi office of RDS Projects, which was awarded the contract for the flyover, in connection with the probe. The home of its managing director was also raided. Several documents and data from computer hard-disks are being retrieved that would help officials prepare its final probe report.
IIT-Madras experts’ probe lapses
A team of experts from IIT-Madras had conducted a parallel probe, along with the VACB, to find out irregularities in construction. The report the team submitted matched the findings of the VACB. Led by P Alugusundara Moorthy, professor of structural engineering laboratory at the department of civil engineering at IIT-M, the team said the flyover will have to be monitored carefully and traffic suspended for at least three months till major repairs were carried out.
In its report, the team said the flyover is in a dangerous condition due to structural flaws in construction and large vehicular overload. It even suggested that a new flyover be built by the contractor if reconstruction efforts are not successful.
‘Nobody has built a bridge like this’
PWD minister G Sudhakaran hit out at the previous UDF government and his predecessor VK Ibrahim Kunju for the shoddy construction of the flyover. He said that no contractor or agency has built a bridge like the Palarivattom flyover which developed cracks within just three years of its commissioning.
He said there were serious lapses with regard to financial, administrative, technical overseeing of the project and that Ibrahim Kunju cannot let himself off the hook. He pointed to major corruption and lapses by KITCO, which designed the project. He added that the government would examine all ongoing projects being implemented by the agency and take action if required.