Civic Body Owns Up To Gujarat Tragedy

Date:

The next date of hearing is November 24 (File)

Morbi:

The civic body of Gujarat’s Morbi has taken responsibility for the collapse of a suspension bridge in the city that killed over 130 people on October 30, a document shows. 

The Morbi Municipal Corporation, in an affidavit, contended before the Gujarat High Court that “the bridge shouldn’t have been opened.”

The bridge over Machchhu river had been shut for seven months for repairs. It was reopened to the public on October 26, the Gujarati New Year, without a fitness certificate from the civic authorities.

The high court on Wednesday came down heavily on the civic body over delay in filing an affidavit, giving details of how the collapse occurred, despite two notices.

When the matter was taken up for hearing on Wednesday morning, the court said it would impose a cost of Rs 1 lakh if the civic body did not file the affidavit same evening.

“The municipality, a government body, has defaulted, which ultimately killed 135 people,” the court said. 

On Tuesday, the high court sought answers over the manner in which the contract was awarded for maintenance of the 150-year-old bridge to Oreva Group without floating a tender.

“The largesse of the state seems to have been granted without there being any tender floated in this regard,” its order stated. 

The high court asked for the basis on which the bridge was being operated by the company after June 2017 “even when the contract (signed in 2008 for nine years) was not renewed”. 

A fresh agreement was signed in March 2022 for a period of 15 years. 

The company was bound by its contract to keep the bridge shut for at least eight to 12 months for maintenance and repairs. It was a “seriously irresponsible and careless gesture” to open the bridge, the police had said in an FIR.

So far, only nine staff members of the company have been arrested, while the top management, which signed the Rs 7-crore pact, has not faced action, nor have any officers been held accountable for the bridge having been reopened ahead of the renovation schedule. 

Nearly 500 people were on the bridge when it collapsed. Though, the 150-year-old structure could take the weight of only about 125 people. 

The high court has summoned the Morbi Municipal Corporation chief, Sandipsinh Zala, on November 24 when the case will be next heard. 
    
The Gujarat High Court had taken note of the tragedy on its own and sought replies from at least six departments. Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri are hearing the matter.

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