Bridge Collapse At Morbi
Morbi having a population of 267,531 (2011 Census) is in news again.The collapse of 230 metre pedestrian bridge built in 1877 over Machchu river connecting Darbargarh palace to Lakhdhirji Engineering college, has claimed precious life of over 140 persons. But 180 persons could be rescued. Last time when this small town of Gujarat hit the headlines was on 11th August, 1979, when the unprecedented floods in Machchhu river had devastated the city and surrounding villages, leading to death of thousands of people.
PREVENTION vs. PREDICTION
2) It is felt that untimely death of mostly senior citizens, women and children following sudden breaking of wire ropes around 6.40 p.m. on 30th October could have been PREVENTED and the upsurge of water in 1979 also could have been PREDICTED.
One was triggered by an element of utter neglect. Other one, off course, was natural, over which man could not exercise any control or command.Some survivors of 1979 tragedy have sadly recalled the unforgettable deluge and devastation.
NATURAL DISASTERS: CHANGE IN OUTLOOK
3) Natural disasters are a never ending phenomenon. There may be recurrence as long as man fiddles with nature or climate changes its mood and tantrums. But it is essential to prepare well and stay in a state of readiness rather than follow the oft repeated dictum of relief. With mitigation being in the forefront now by sharing of cross country experiences, responsibility has to be fixed swiftly for acts of gross negligence and man made disasters.Fear of the State too has to penetrate the mind of corrupt and negligent lots.
Growing awareness on account of mass ownership of Cell Phone, easy access to social media, Net and T.V. should be in a position to lead and sustain this tempo.
4) Fresh from the harrowing and mind boggling experience of Covid-19, one can imagine the state of mind of the sufferers of the latest bridge collapse. Last two prominent ones were in Kolkata in 2016 and 2019 in Mumbai. Most of the people had to wait in vain in the darkness of night to locate their missing friends and relatives. Unlucky ones were shattered on being informed about the demises. Heartening scenes and long waits outside the Creamatoriums were seen as the relatives wailed and sympathised with each other.Situation was worse for the Muslims as the District has only one Islamic Cemetry.
5) Bodies were seen floating on water or stuck in mud when a few Good SAMARITANS arrived on the scene.One person took out twenty five of them, of which nine teen had already lost their lives. Another person was able to rescue thirty people with the timely help from his friends .Similarly, efforts of local fishermen and villagers who knew swimming will have to be appreciated.Hearing screams of trapped people, several of them rushed to save lives and some arrived with their boats, much before the arrival of official rescue teams.The portion of river having a depth of twenty metres, however, could not be reached at night.
LOAD OVER BRIDGE WAS BEYOND CAPACITY
6) The bridge having the peak capacity of one hundred people had thrice this number on the ill feted day, when it snapped and holidayers fell over each other. Some of the dead were found holding the remains of the broken pieces. Number of 140 dead & 180 rescued itself totals to 320.Two people still are reported to be untraceable. Efforts are going on to trace them by de-watering the river in a stretch of ten kms by deploying two pumps of 50 h.p.each. As much as 12,000 litres of water is being pumped out every minute.
IRREGULARITIES NOTICED & KEY DEVELOPMENTS
7) Reports gathered so far have revealed the following irregularities & facts:
* Subject to verification, Police version that those issuing tickets and manning entry to bridge should have informed them (Police ) about the unusual rush caused by unmanageable crowd, is an important point to be noted,
* No Public Notice Inviting for Tender( NIT) was issued for repair & renovation works of such a long bridge,
* Morbi Municipality has been reported to have signed a contract with Oreva Group , a private trust on 7th March,2022 for operation and maintenance of the bridge for a period of fifteen years at an estimated cost of Rs.Two Crores. The agreement stipulates that all expenses for renovating and commissioning of the bridge will be borne by the said private firm,
* Prior to repairs, no assessment of structural stability of the bridge or audit was carried out. Going through details of repairs carried out in 2007 could have certainly helped,
* A forensic report has pointed out that in view of rusting of cables and suspenders , four layers of Aluminium flooring could not withstand the weight of people, beyond bearing capacity of the bridge( hill practice of using wooden planks is much more safer & lighter),
* Coming to registering of FIR by Police, nine low functionaries have been named & arrested. However, Jaisukhbhai Patel, M.D. of Oreva Group, who was present at the time of reopening of the bridge on 26th October, 2022, has neither been named nor arrested. He is eported to be an influential person of the area having an annual turn over of Rs 700 Crores,
* FIR registered for Culpable Homicide and negligence, similarly, does not mention the name of authorities who awarded the contract for repairs,
* Work being sub contracted to Devprakash Fabrications, without their having any expertise or qualification pertaining to renovation of bridges, itself speaks of irregularity, unless specifically agreed to according to agreed terms & conditions and
* Decision by the Bar Association of Morbi and Rajkot Not to represent the Oreva Group, not only assumes significance but also raises hope for an early justice in the matter.
ROLE OF NDRF & SDRF VERY CRUCIAL
8) Setting up of National Disaster Response Force in 2006 as a specialised force of National Disaster Management Agency for responding to natural disasters, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence emergencies was a significant landmark in the challenging area of rescue and relief. Natural disaster combat machinery at the District, Sub divisional and Block levels has been sufficiently beefed up following this development. In a short period of 16 years, the force has rescued over 1.44 lakh precious lives.
NDRF, as on date, has 12 functional battalions, spread over to important and well connected locations of the country (only one in North East region). Personnel are drawn from BSF, CRPF, CISF, ITBP, SSB & Assam Rifles.Not only there is upgraded and dedicated professionalism and availability of boats, better ropes, trained divers, appropriate gear for floods, landslides, earthquakes, cyclones and cloud bursts, a system of First Time Responders at the Panchayat and village levels is also readily available.This cutting edge matters a great deal.
9) One may very well ask, where were they when the tragic incident happened at Morbi ? Time taken by NDRF, SDRF, Army, Air Force and deep divers of Navy was understandable but better sense could have prevailed over the people involved in political rallies or meetings being held, close by.
Sadly one mostly misses the precious moments of such a Golden Hour, thus precipitating a crisis.
ACTION TAKEN SO FAR
10) Talking of action taken, so far, nine insignificant persons of the ill fated company have been arrested but not the big shots, who seem to have pocketed the contract for bridge repair. Political pull string in the matter at this stage, therefore, is very much understandable.
11) Very soon, despite promises made at the highest level for leaving no stone unturned, a pliable Inquiry report would be prepared , overlooking poor workmanship. This incident may, perhaps also vanish from citizen’s memory, sooner than expected. Taking of action by the local Police in a” step wise process, based on evidence”, too has to be seen with a pinch of salt. Life of those wielding power or the ones benefiting shamelessly from it, matters. Not the death of the people whose dependents will have to toil with more pain and inconvenience.
12) Coming to ex-gratia compensation for the next of the kins of the dead and injured, till 1st November evening , Rs 4 lakhs for the dead and Rs fifty thousand for those injured, had not reached the affected families according to a T.V. channel .Presumably taking a cue, an announcement regarding release of the total amount of Rs.5.40 Crores was made.
In normal circumstances, such disbursement is immediate out of allocation earmarked for relief & rescue, by the concerned District Collector. As it is a routine payment, according to a standard Code, no ” clearance” is required. This is the sad state of affairs on the eve of Assembly elections in one of the most prosperous and leading states of the country.
Stories of multiple deaths in many families, including twelve deaths in the family of a BJP M.P, may continue to disturb if not haunt the Morbi town for a long time.
(The author is former Chief Secretary, Sikkim)