Following the collapse of the Majerhat Bridge on September 4, the ongoing construction of the East-West Metro has been put on hold.
After a meeting with senior officials from Public Works Department (PWD), Kolkata Municipal Development Authority (KMDA) and the police, West Bengal’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, said that an initial report from the PWD has indicated that some vibrations were felt in the area where the mishap took place on account the under-construction metro railway project.
“We have decided that till the investigation committee submits its report, the work undertaken by the Metro Railway will be temporarily suspended”, she said.
Three people have so far lost their lives in the incident and at least another 25 have been injured.
On the day of the incident, Banerjee, who then was in Darjeeling to attend Teachers’ Day celebrations, had stated that she had been told severe vibrations were felt in the ongoing Metro Railway project area which is going to enter its 10th year now. A section of locals complained that the vibrations were severe enough and they at times, had mistaken it for an earthquake.
Although she didn’t rule out the possibility of the under-construction project leading to the fatal incident, Banerjee refrained from putting the blame flatly on the under-construction East-West Metro. She clarified that the causes of the incident and the future course of action will be decided once the investigation committee, led by chief secretary Moloy De submits its report. IIT Kharagpur will carry out a technical probe.
The police have already registered a case against unknown persons under sections 304 (death by negligence not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 427 (causing mischief thereby causing loss or damage) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
The state government has also constituted a bridge monitoring cell each in PWD KMDA and the Irrigation department which will look into the health of the various bridges in the state.
“Till then, I appeal to you all from running a media trial,” she told reporters here in a press conference before taking questions.
However, in course of answering queries from the press, Banerjee lost her cool and lashed out on a television channel alleging it to be conniving with the opposition BJP. She added that the Varanasi Bridge had also collapsed and it is a pan-India problem. Varanasi, located in Uttar Pradesh is governed by the BJP.
In a separate press conference, Dilip Ghosh, state president of the BJP alleged that the bridge collapsed on account of negligence of the state authorities and Banerjee “first needs to look into this aspect first before blaming others”.
“No expert until now has said that it was because of the vibrations from (East West) Metro project that the bridge collapsed”, he said adding that over the years, the height of the bridge has increased by two feet after layers and layers of asphalt were topped up on the original construction for repair works which increased the weight of the bridge.
Banerjee has also asked the police to ensure that heavy-medium vehicles do not enter the city or climb bridges. “These 20-wheel vehicles are of no use expect damaging bridges,” she said.
Prabir Chatterjee, joint secretary of the West Bengal Truck Operators’ Association, said that such vehicles are too few in the city and namely carry heavy machinery, railway tracks, equipment and others. Most of these 20-wheelers are actually 16-wheeled vehicles which have been converted into 20-wheelers by putting in extra axles to increase the load carrying capacity.
He further alleged that most of the commercial carriers in the state overload their vehicles and the authorities turn a blind eye to this malice.
“Overloading not only causes damage to the carriage but also the bridges as it over-stretches the load bearing capacity of the bridge. Years of such overload on any bridge will lead to its collapse like what happened in Majerhat,” Chatterjee said.