Morbi: As many as 3,165 tickets were sold to visitors on the day of the mishap which killed at least 132 people. Along with it, the probe of this incident in Gujarat's Morbi has also highlighted huge shortcomings in the renovation and the management upon restarting the bridge, putting Oreva Group, the contractor, and the local municipal body in question.
Oreva Group, the contractor who was responsible for maintenance, operation, and security of the suspension bridge, had sold 3,165 tickets on October 30, when the bridge collapsed, as mentioned by the government lawyer at a district court today during the filing of a forensic report. Although not all tickets were sold, the company had not assessed the load-bearing capacity of the bridge, which was built over a century ago.
The bridge's cables were rusted, and its anchors were broken
According to the report, the bridge's cables were rusted, its anchors were damaged, and even the bolts that were connecting the cables to the anchors were loose. An initial probe has revealed that the old cables could not carry the weight of the contractor's new, heavy flooring.
The guards and ticket collectors, employed by Oreva did not have prior experience in crowd management, according to the government lawyer at the bail hearing for the nine employees arrested so far. So far, no one from Oreva's top management, which is best known for its "Ajanta" clocks, has been arrested.
The guards were never told about safety protocols
According to the report, the guards were never trained about safety measures or the number of people who should be allowed to land on the bridge at a time. "Oreva was responsible for security, but they didn't even keep any lifeguards or boats to save people in case of an accident," district-level government pleader Vijay Jani told the media.
The suspension bridge over the Machchhu River collapsed just four days after it was restarted. According to the contract, it was supposed to be closed for eight to twelve months, but the local civic body opened it after seven months on October 26, Gujarati New Year, with no fitness certificate gained for it.
In the High Court, last week, the Morbi Municipal Corporation took responsibility for the incident. In an affidavit, it mentioned that "the bridge shouldn't have been opened." It has suspended one officer. The High Court took note of the tragedy suo moto and sought replies from at least six departments.
The civic body was criticised by the High Court
The civic body was criticised by the High Court in two previous hearings for failing to file an affidavit about the details of the tragedy. "The municipality, a government body, defaulted, killing 135 people," the court stated.
The High Court has inquired as to why legal norms were not followed. "The state's largesse appears to have been granted without any tender being floated in this regard," one of its orders issued last week stated. The court requested the basis on which the company operated the bridge after June 2017, "even though the contract (signed in 2008 for nine years) was not renewed." A new agreement for a period of 15 years was signed in March 2022.
The SC heard the case and asked the HC to hold periodic hearings
The Supreme Court heard the case earlier this week and asked the High Court to hold periodic hearings. "It is a huge tragedy, and it will necessitate weekly monitoring to see the award of the contract, the credential of the party awarded the contract, and the attribution of responsibility for those guilty," observed the bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Hima Kohli.
While the state government has formed a five-person inquiry committee, the Gujarat State Human Rights Commission has informed the High Court that its chairperson and a member are investigating the tragedy's effects. The commission is also checking to see if the families are receiving proper compensation.