Serious operational and technical lapses by Oreva company led to Morbi bridge tragedy: SIT report in HC

There were “serious operational and technical lapses” on part of the Oreva company’s management, which led to the collapse of a bridge in Gujarat’s Morbi town last year, the Special Investigation Team said in its report submitted before the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday.

The lackadaisical approach on part of the management of Oreva company resulting in “one of the most severe and tragic human calamities” cannot be countenanced, the SIT said.

“For this, prima facie, the whole management of the company, including its managing director and two managers appear to be responsible,” it said.

The British-era suspension bridge on the Machchhu river in Morbi collapsed on October 30 last year, killing 135 people and injuring 56 others.

The Morbi Nagarpalika gave the repair work of the bridge to Oreva company, which assigned it to a “non-competent agency,” and the work was carried out “without consulting technical experts,” the SIT said.

It also found several design faults in the bridge post-renovation works, contributing to its collapse.

The tragedy was “a result of lapses at administrative level to follow due procedure as per government norms, and also due to technical incompetency to repair the bridge and test it before opening it to the public,” the SIT said in its report submitted before a division bench of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha P Mayee, which is hearing a suo motu PIL on the tragedy.

“Various steps taken in carrying out the repair works of the bridge could have been avoided by various better steps had the company taken the help of a professional expert agency in the field,” it said.

Even after the completion of the repairing work and before opening the bridge to the public at large, the Oreva company ought to have obtained its fitness report and consulted the municipality on that behalf, the SIT said in the report presented by Advocate General Kamal Trivedi before the court.

After the contract between the Oreva Group and Morbi municipality was renewed regarding maintenance and operation of the bridge, the company failed to take technical opinion of an expert agency or consult the civic body before giving the contract to one Dev Prakash Solutions to carry out major repair works, it said.

No restrictions were placed on the number of persons accessing the bridge at a given point of time or on sale of tickets, it further said.

As per the Oreva Group, it sent several letters to authorities concerned regarding the dilapidated condition of the bridge after the expiry of the initial MoU it had signed for its maintenance and operation with local authorities, the report noted.

The company had also requested to increase user charges which was rejected by the authorities concerned. As against this, the authorities concerned had told the company to either continue the work at the same user charges or return the possession of the bridge to them, it said.

“However, the company failed to hand over the bridge to authorities concerned and no corrective action could be taken by the company to improve the condition of the bridge,” it said.

The Morbi Nagarpalika gave the repair work of the bridge to Oreva company, which assigned it to a “non-competent agency,” and the work was carried out “without consulting technical experts,” the SIT said.

“Based on the above observations, it is clear that there were serious operational and technical lapses on the part of Oreva company’s management,” it said.

There were also lapses on the part of three members of the municipality — the then president, vice president, and chairman of the executive committee — as they failed to bring the agreement signed by the company for the management, maintenance and operation of the suspension bridge before the general board, stated the report.

The SIT also found several design faults in the bridge post-renovation works like replacement of wooden panel deck by aluminium honeycomb deck, etc, contributing to its collapse.

There were several technical lapses in the repairs of the bridge, which was built in 1887, as no assessment of the main cable and suspenders was carried out. Testing of main cables and suspenders was not carried out during the renovation work, and the main cables were neither inspected nor replaced, it said.

The report also recommended a register to be maintained for all public structures, and periodic inspection of any such structures being used by the public.

The high court also asked the government why no action was taken against the company for violating the maintenance contract it entered into with the municipality, and compensation to women who have been rendered helpless due to the death of male members of their family.

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It directed the government to submit an independent report regarding rehabilitation of the victims.

The HC also directed the company to file an affidavit on how it was proceeding with the rehabilitation of children orphaned in the tragedy, and kept the matter after Diwali vacation.

The state government had appointed a five-member SIT to conduct a probe into the bridge collapse. It submitted an interim report in December last year in which it found several lapses in repairs, maintenance and operation of the structure by the Oreva Group (Ajanta Manufacturing Ltd), whose managing director Patel is the main accused in the case and is currently in jail.

A total of 10 people were named as accused in the case, including Patel, two managers of his firm and two sub-contractors who had repaired the bridge, three security guards and two ticket booking clerks.

They have been charged under Indian Penal Code sections for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, act endangering human life, rash or negligent act, etc.

The SIT members are roads and buildings secretary Sandeep Vasava, municipalities administration commissioner Rajkumar Beniwal, Inspector General of Police CID (Crime) Subhash Trivedi, chief engineer KM Patel and Ahmedabad-based LD College of Engineering’s head of applied mechanics department Dr Gopal Tank.

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