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Mumbai Bridge Collapse: No Lessons Learnt From Recent Mishaps And Losses, What Govt Has To Say

The part of 47-years-old Gokhale over-bridge at Andheri railway station in Mumbai collapsed on 3 July at 7:30 am during heavy rains, blocking train services and injuring five people

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Of the thousands of railway bridges in India, 36,470 are more than 100 years old, and 6,680 are more than 140 years old! According to a source, the committee headed by Congress's Mallikarjuna Kharge based its 2015 CAG report on Railway Bridges and Representations by Railway Board Members, expressed its shock that out of the 3,979 bridges work sanctioned by the Railway Board, the work on 710 bridges remains to be completed as on March 2015.
According to a Railway Board letter in October 2017, the Central Railways has 61 bridges that need repair, East Central Railways has 63, South Central Railways has 41 and Western Railways has 42 bridges pending rebuilding.
The committee noted that while the paucity of funds was cited as a reason for the shortfall in achievement of targets for bridge works, the budget grant provided was not utilised to the tune of Rs 60.95 crore per annum.
"The committee has desired that a strategic management system should be developed for fast-tracking sanction of rehabilitation or reconstruction of bridges within a time frame based on priority for safety", the report states.

The Warning Signs

Even after two years of Kolkata’s Vivekananda flyover, then under construction, collapsed on March 31, 2016, crushing 26 people to death, the West Bengal government is indecisive of demolishing the structure which is still left there. The senior official of an engineering consultancy firm RITES said on the condition of the flyover that the poor cement and sand quality are far less serious problems here. “When the design itself is faulty, these rank much further down the order,” he said. RITES is the forum with which the government consults on the subject of transport, infrastructure, and some associated technologies.

The 160-metre bridge collapsed and was swept away due to heavy currents in Himachal Pradesh on August 30, 2016. It was a supply bridge for the under-construction Rohtang tunnel project. This time the administration was alert and had noticed cracks in the pillars supporting the bridge and thereby stopped traffic well in advance which led to no loss. Just a truck fell off whose driver was rescued immediately.

The Decades-old Mahad Bridge on the Mumbai-Goa Highway collapsed amid heavy rains on August 2, 2016, taking away 28 lives. Along with, 2 buses of Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation and few private vehicles also washed away after the bridge crashed. This structure has been built past decades on Savitri River and was to be dismantled by the end of the year but the government’s callous attitude led to such loss.

Recent Mishaps and Losses

There have been many cases of the bridges collapsing in the following years. The government pays no heed to it. People are suffering, they are losing lives, and the government is not seen in any case doing its duty on time.

2 people drowned, 20 rescued safely and around 14 were injured when on May 18, 2017, the Portuguese era footbridge that connected South Goa's Curchorem to Sanvordem across Sanvordem River collapsed.

Located on NH-102, the Barak bridge collapsed on July 17, 2017 morning. Thereby cutting off Manipur from rest of the country. An official from the transport department said that the structure was in a fragile condition since the previous night.

On August 3, 2017, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari in Lok Sabha told that his ministry had completed the inspection of around 1.6 lakh bridges in the country and calculated that there are around 100 bridges that are in very poor condition and need repair. He said, ”100 bridges can be collapsed anytime and they need immediate attention”. But nothing seems to have changed since then. There are still many cases after that.

The lone bridge, the only link between Uttarkashi to the China border collapsed on December 14, 2017. The incident disconnected dozens of villages and inconvenienced daily commuters. Thankfully no one was hurt.

An old iron bridge in Kerala collapsed on October 30, 2017. Around 70 persons were on the foot over-bridge and the incident took away the life of a 55-year-old woman while injuring at least 57.

Government’s Reactions

The part of 47-years-old Gokhale over-bridge at Andheri railway station in Mumbai collapsed on 3 July at 7:30 am during heavy rains, blocking train services and injuring five people. The tragedy could have been much bigger had it not been the driver of the local train who immediately braked and averted the probable loses. It has been barely 7 months when the bridge was inspected in November 2017. Now Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has asked for an inquiry report in next 15 days. Mr. Goyal assured that in the coming 6 six months, a joint safety audit will be conducted by the Railways, BMC and IIT, Mumbai, on all the 445 road over-bridges, foot over-bridges and bridges over pipelines in Mumbai as part of efforts to improve safety for the commuters.

Saving themselves, a spokesperson from Western Railway told PTI, "no structural flaw was found in the audit”. “Railway officials assured of that they inspected some 2000 bridges and 550 ROB’s the previous year. They even said that the bridges always inspected before and after monsoon and that special attention is taken of the ones with poor condition. The officials proving their concern cited the example of the foot over-bridge at the Elphinstone Road station in Mumbai that collapsed in September last year, killing 23 people; that they have learnt a lot from that lesson.

Two beams of the 2261-metre flyover in Varanasi between Chokaghat and Lahartara being constructed by UP State Bridge Corporation with a budget of Rs 129 crore had collapsed on 15 May, 2018. On the name of action been taken, no name was taken on the FIR though, a complaint was filed by the Roadways police outpost in-charge on the next day of the incident following a case registered under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), Section 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) against the Bridge Corporation officials and also the employees who were working on the construction site. Also, the project managerand other officials were suspended and the then Managing Director of Bridge Corporation Rajan Mittal was also shifted by the government.

What Experts Say

B.P. Marwah, Deputy Secretary, Indian Road Congress (IRC) says, "The situation is precarious. If something is not done immediately, many bridges might well be past recovery. The government agencies are yet to react, although many such situations have led to disasters in the past. There is also a need to rethink policies because construction methods are strictly jacketed by inadequate conceptual specifications." 

D.P. Gupta of the Department of Road Development says, "Everywhere except in India, concepts dictate construction methods. Bridges in India have to be built according to geological and hydrological aspects, like environment, humidity, and rainfall." 

If we look at the statements, it seems experts in this field are not satisfied with the way the bridges are built in India. Kuchhwa, Head of Standards and Research (bridges) in the Union Ministry of Surface Transport (MST) says, "In India, we have switched over to the pressurised concrete technology. We are at par with international standards as far as the know-how is concerned. But we fail when it comes to implementing it, mostly because of rampant corruption." 

N.K. Sinha, a Chief engineer with the MST says, "There is no check when the bridge is constructed. The ratios of concrete, steel, and other components are changed and the fitting is not done according to specifications. Site selection is sometimes done ignoring geological conditions. Take, for instance, the Nizamuddin Bridge in Delhi: there have been problems with the foundations due to the differential settlement of the strata." 

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