Morbi bridge collapse: Kin of victims await justice a year after tragedy
The British-era bridge built in 1877 collapsed on October 30 last year a week after it was reopened after repairs, leaving 135 people dead
Manubhai Vaghela’s son was preparing for competitive exams when he took time out from his busy schedule to see the newly opened pedestrian suspension bridge in Gujarat’s Morbi on October 30 last year. He left behind three members of his family when he saw a large crowd gathered on the bridge but went ahead to explore it with his uncle. Minutes later, the three watched helplessly as the British-era bridge built in 1877 collapsed a week after it was reopened after repairs, leaving 135 people dead
Vaghela said he can never forget that day and will continue to haunt him. He choked up as he recounted the tragedy and how the family was coming to terms with the loss. “I have the responsibility of raising my grandson, who was just a year old when he lost his father.”
Pratapsinh Jadeja, who lost his wife, two daughters, mother, and five other family members, hoped the guilty would be given the strictest punishment.
A Special Investigation Team, which probed the collapse, blamed the management of Oreva, the company that operated the bridge, its managing director Jaysukh Patel, and the chief officer of the Morbi municipality for it in its final report submitted to the Gujarat high court this month. Patel has been in jail since his arrest in January.
The report said Oreva’s “lackadaisical approach” led to the tragedy. “...prima facie, the whole management of the company including its Managing Director and two Managers Dinesh Dave and Deepak Parekh, appear to be responsible.” It added there were serious operational and technical lapses on the part of the company.
Oreva allegedly got repairs done without seeking the help of any professional agency or consulting the Morbi Municipality. The bridge was reopened to the public without a fitness report or consulting the municipality.
The report noted there were no restrictions on the number of people on the bridge at a given point. “...there was no restriction on the sale of tickets leading to unrestricted movement on the bridge. Also, there was insufficient security to prevent the public from damaging the bridge.”
The state government suspended Morbi municipality’s chief officer Sandipsinh Jhala, who signed an agreement with the firm, while a departmental inquiry was also underway.
The report said Jhala should not have signed the agreement without a general board meeting. It said the safe live load capacity of the bridge may be taken at a maximum of 75 to 80 persons at a time. “But as per site observation, 22 wires out of 49 wires were already broken due to corrosion, therefore safe live load capacity of the bridge may have been drastically reduced.” There was no mechanism to check the entry and exit of people on the bridge.
A woman from Ahmedabad, who lost her son and daughter-in-law, said the two had gone to Kutch for vacation and were to return home after visiting Morbi. “I am still waiting for justice,” she said as she gathered in Ahmedabad on Monday for a prayer meeting along with other family members of those killed in the collapse.
Another woman said when the bridge collapsed, her parents tried to hold her hand. “Next, I found myself clinging to a nearby grill, where I remained for some time until I was rescued.”
Her grandmother questioned why was everyone talking about Jaysukh Patel and not about politicians. “Some politicians are trying to save the company owner. I do not know who is responsible but the guilty should not go scot-free. Why is everyone talking about Patel and saving him? Why is nobody talking about us?”
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