When the state government is busy in organising fairs and appeasing the minorities, the PWD slips into the hands of local TMC goons who control the supply of raw material through the syndicates
Mamata wished to turn Kolkata into London. Immediately after becoming Chief Minister of the state she published her wish list. Transformation of Kolkata was on top of the list. Gallons of water has passed through river Hooghly in seven years, Kolkata is yet to witness the transformation. The only change noticed is painting of buildings and public infrastructure in her favourite colours—blue and white. The government has been continuously neglecting the maintenance of infrastructure. The situation has become worse due to a top to bottom corrupt system and existence of a powerful Syndicate Raj. Ironically, the nursery rhyme of falling London Bridge is becoming a reality in Kolkata, claiming lives of innocent people.
A huge portion of Ultadanga flyover on the Eastern side of the metropolis collapsed in 2013 leaving three persons injured. In 2016, an under-construction flyover collapsed near Girish Park Metro Station, officially 27 persons had died and more than 80 were seriously injured. Two bridges have collapsed in the first week of September. Three persons died in Majerhat bridge collapse incident. Another bridge collapsed in Phansidewa, near Siliguri, North Bengal. Majerhat Bridge collapsed on September 4. Looking back, the authority came to know something bad was going to happen. State Public Works Department had cited weaknesses in the 54-year old bridge. However, the PWD directed authorities concerned to carry out only beautification and patchwork.
West Bengal Governor Keshari Nath Tripathi urged the agencies responsible for the maintenance of the bridges in the state to conduct a thorough examination of the structures. He visited the site immediately after the incident. “I’ve seen the site. It required better maintenance. As per the available report, there was a pit over there for quite some time, I don’t know whether the departmental people noted it or not. The matter requires to be enquired,” he opined.
In view of the increasing corruption and political interventions, good construction vendors have stopped working with PWD
Indeed there is Himalayan misappropriation in the functioning of Public Works Department (PWD) of West Bengal. The Department is politically governed and full of corruption. The suppliers of raw material have formed syndicates under the leadership of the local TMC goons. Most of the contractors have surrendered to the hooligans of the ruling party and rest have given up their business.
Aroop Biswas, Minister of Public Works, is known as a close associate to the Chief Minister. Interestingly, Aroop Biswas was absent from the scene as he was accompanying the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on her administrative tour to Darjeeling. His phone was switched off. Reporters tried to contact him over the phone, sent text messages yet failed to get any response on the day of incident. No reaction had been received from the Minister, who is solely responsible for the maintenance work of bridges and flyovers across the state.
Later, both the Chief Minister and PWD Minister tried to pass the ball in the court of Metro Rail. The Metro Railways has been asked to stop work near Majerhat bridge till a committee probing its collapse gives its report, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee informed. Metro Railways had been working there for the last nine years. “The piling work caused big vibration. It might have affected the bridge. The high-powered committee will look into it,” the CM opined. Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL), executing the construction of the Joka-BBD Bag Metro corridor passing through the vicinity of Majerhat bridge, has responded as “there is no connection of metro construction” with the incident. RVNL Chief Project Manager AK Roy had said the collapse of Majherhat bridge girder over canal portion is a “mid-span failure of Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC) girder which are very old and of the longer length of approximately 40 metres.”
State-run engineering and consultancy agency RiTES warned the West Bengal government on the precarious condition of several bridges in the city including the Majerhat structure in 2016, but no action was taken. There is no scientific approach in the department. As wished by the TMC leaders PWD allowed putting heavy iron pots for tree plantation, which has increased the dead load of the bridge in tonnes. Vidyasagar Setu (Second Hooghly bridge) is the longest cable-stayed bridge in India. There are two rows of iron tubs along both sides of the bridge, even coconut trees have been planted over there.
The story behind the failure
In September 2017, PWD received the recommendation of specialist team. The experts clearly advised for thorough overhauling of the Majerhat Bridge. There was clear instruction for the renovation of “Expansion joints” and “reinforced concrete block (RCB) girders.” Department floated tender thrice within a period of three months. In view of the increasing corruption and political interventions, good construction vendors have stopped working with PWD West Bengal. No quotation was received in the response to the tenders. A tender was floated for the fourth time in December 2017 (fourth call) for the work. Two vendors participated in the tender. Due to some unknown reasons, the tender was cancelled. Quotations were invited for the fifth time in February 2018. Nevertheless, the tender committee was not satisfied with the quotations received against the tender. A fresh tender was floated in March 2018. March 31, 2018, was the last date of submission of the tender. Only one company participated in the tender. The tender committee selected the commercial bid and work order was supposed to be issued with the successful bidder.
The estimated cost of the renovation work was two crore 81 lakh, whereas the offered rate was 3 crore 27 lakh. In response to the request from the tender committee, the vender reduced the price by 0.5%, and the final offer was three crore 10 lakh. As the final offer was about 16.5% more than the estimated cost, the tender was sent to the Finance Department for required sanction. Finance Department refused to sanction the money, and the file stopped at that point.