The Oreva Group has alleged before a division bench of the high court led by Chief Justice Aravind Kumar that it was not interested in continuing with the bridge’s maintenance but some “influential persons” forced it on the company. Meanwhile, Mr Patel has moved an anticipatory bail application, which is expected to be heard on February 1.
Rajkot range inspector-general of police Ashok Yadav said a chargesheet of about 1,262 pages has been filed in the case. Nine others who have been named in the chargesheet had been arrested earlier.
Oreva Group, a popular Morbi-based clock, e-bike and home-appliances manufacturer, was given the contract by the Morbi municipality in March 2022 to repair, maintain, and operate the British-era bridge for 15 years and to collect revenue from its ticket sales.
The suspension footbridge over the river Machhu, was thrown open for the people on October 26, the Gujarati New Year, after undergoing repairs for seven months, by Mr Patel and his family members allegedly without informing the Morbi municipality. The civic body’s chief officer Sandeepsinh Jhala had then told said the municipality came to know of the bridge’s opening from the media, though Mr Patel had held a press conference ahead of the opening.
Mr Patel has not been seen in public after the tragedy, nor has his company issued any statement regarding it. The Gujarat police got an arrest warrant against him from the court more than 10 days ago and issued a lookout notice for him at airports and ports.
On January 16, Mr Patel moved an anticipatory bail plea in the court of Morbi’s principal district and sessions judge PC Joshi, but the court deferred the hearing to February 1 as the public prosecutor was not present.
An FIR filed by the Morbi 'B' division police station on October 31 did not name Oreva and its promoters. It showed "agencies responsible for maintenance and management of the hanging bridge" as the main accused, along with others whose names emerged during the course of investigation.
Based on the FIR, police arrested nine persons, including two ticket-booking clerks, three security guards, two Oreva group managers and two private contractors hired for the repair and renovation of the bridge.
The state government suspended Mr Jhala, who signed the MoU with the Oreva Group without the approval of the general board of the civic body. However, his name doesn’t figure either in the FIR or the chargesheet filed on Friday.
A government-appointed special investigation team had cited several lapses on part of the Oreva Group in repairs, maintenance, and operation of the footbridge. Reports by the forensic science laboratory revealed that rusty cables, broken anchor pins, and loose bolts were among the lapses that were not addressed while renovating the suspension bridge. Oreva Group did not hire any expert agency to assess the load-bearing capacity of the bridge before throwing it open to the public, it said.
The government led by Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel issued a show-cause notice to the Morbi municipality asking why it should not be dissolved for failing to discharge its duties that led to the bridge tragedy. This came in the wake of the Gujarat High Court observing that there was a “collusion” between the company and officials of the civic body.
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