After the tragic Morbi bridge collapse incident on October 30, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the spot and paid a visit to the injured at the civil hospital. But hours before his visit, news channels and social media were abuzz with visuals of facelift being given to the hospital building and equipment.
In all, authorities ensured that the hospital looked respectable, especially after Centre’s heavy thrust on healthcare infrastructure. But the overnight running-around of the authorities only blew the lid off from the prevailing ad-hocism in the system.
The same approach was visible in the bridge repair process. The 140-year old suspension bridge over Machchhu river in Morbi town was an iconic structure and a tourist spot. The Gujarat Tourism called it an “engineering marvel” of the colonial era. The Morbi civic body, however, decided to hand it over to a private party to operate and manage.
It is being alleged that the such was the urgency in appointing the private partner that the civic body didn’t follow due procedure in inviting bids from interested and competent parties. Instead, a digital clock maker Oreva Group (Ajanta Manufacturing Pvt Ltd) was handed over the bridge for maintenance and operations for a period of 15 years.
The bridge underwent renovation for about six months. The promoter of Oreva Group Jaysukh Patel threw open the bridge on October 26, allegedly without informing civic authorities, and without the due structural fitness clearances. On October 30, the bridge snapped at the middle with about 300 visitors standing on it, plunging them into the river.
The initial investigations found rusted cables and corroded steel angles besides the lack of life-saving equipment or lifeguards.
The contract signed between the civic body and Oreva lacked key aspects such as ensuring structural fitness, fixing responsibilities on the issues of accidents, safety, overcrowding etc; rather it has displayed clarity on ticket rates to be fixed over the next 15 years. It seems have been drafted on the assumption that the shortcomings will be addressed on the run, just as they were at the hospital. This points to a cavalier approach, writ large.
In the investigation, the police have so far arrested nine — two managers of Oreva Group, two ticket clerks, two officials of the bridge repair company and three security guards — for the bridge collapse and loss of lives. But the buck doesn’t stop here. After inspecting the site, Prime Minister Modi called for the need of an “extensive and detailed inquiry” into the incident.
Clearly, Oreva, despite claiming to be able to operate the bridge, wasn’t prepared. The civic body, despite handing the bridge over to the Oreva Group, didn’t seek to ensure the enforcement of standard operating procedures before allowing the bridge to be open to public.
Soon after the Morbi incident, Odisha was quick to temporarily close Dhabaleshwar suspension bridge — a similar 254-meter bridge on Mahanadi river in Cuttack — for inspection. In Gujarat, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) quickly capped the visitor capacity on newly-inaugurated 300-metre Atal Bridge on Sabarmati river at 3,000 against the technical capacity for 12,000 at any given time.
Also, in the pilgrimage centre Dwarka, the famous Sudama Setu bridge has been closed for fitness inspection, while in the port town Mandvi (Kachchh), a 100-year old Rukmavati bridge has been temporarily closed to assess its fitness.
Ad-hocism is writ large. Morbi has brought home some harsh truths. Let there be no loose ends unattended in the investigation.
Too many lives have been sacrificed at the altar of ad-hocism.