Flyover collapse in Kolkata: Was construction of the bridge halted, restarted with an eye on West Bengal elections?

The Vivekananda Road Flyover collapsed at 12.25 pm on Thursday killing at least 18 and injuring 78 in north Kolkata's Girish Park area.

Titas Ray Burman and Sreyashi Choudhury April 01, 2016 15:10:48 IST
Flyover collapse in Kolkata: Was construction of the bridge halted, restarted with an eye on West Bengal elections?

The Vivekananda Road Flyover collapsed at 12.25 pm on Thursday killing at least 18 and injuring 78 in north Kolkata's Girish Park area. Several people, who are still trapped under the debris, are awaiting to be rescued. Eye-witnesses fear at least hundreds are still trapped. The flyover is located in a densely populated wholesale market, Barrabazaar, with a busy traffic and vehicles of goods passing all day under it.

The flyover has been under construction since 2009 and has missed 9 deadlines till now. The first deadline was due in August 2010. After 65 months of the first deadline, only 65% of the of the 2.2 km long flyover finished. The repair works has been delayed since 2009 but keeping the West Bengal Assembly Election in mind, the Trinamool Congress government had told the builders to finish the construction work soon.

In November 2015, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had assured completion of the flyover by February 2016. In March 2016, Chief Minister postponed the deadline till August 2016.

There are several reasons behind the delay. The major challenge was the road between Posta Crossing and Howrah Bridge where the traffic is heavy and blocking the road for the completion of the work would complicate travel for passengers. To add to this, Kolkata Port Trust delayed providing permission to Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA)  for the construction work in the area. KMDA specified that in order to finish the construction work within August the work needed to continue for at least 10 hours a day differing from the earlier plan of 6 hours a day. For that, the traffic from Posta Junction to Howrah Bridge needs to be bifurcated which again adds to the complication.

Flyover collapse in Kolkata Was construction of the bridge halted restarted with an eye on West Bengal elections

At least 18 people lost their lives in Thursday's collapse. PTI

According to sources at KMDA, after Mamata's assurance that the project will be completed by August the construction work had resumed with much gusto. It is possible that this sudden rise of activity on an otherwise delayed project might have impacted the situation and caused Thursday's crash. Experts say that the 'dead-load' of the flyover was disrupted because of the sudden revival of the construction work. The pressure of the 'dead-load' is supposed to be divided equally throughout the entire stretch of the flyover. Any imbalance gives more room for accidents.

On Wednesday, the repairing work of the construction began and it continued through a heavy-traffic day till Thursday afternoon. While the repair work was on, authorities did not make any efforts to stop the heavy inflow of traffic. An eye-witness said, "The work is on since morning. And the vehicles have been moving. The roads were not blocked. We could see that an accident was waiting to happen."

Mamata assured that her government will take serious action and shifted the blame to the previous CPM government. She said, "The flyover was tendered in 2008 during CPM rule." She also added that she had asked for the blue-print of the bridge construction plan from the IVRCL authority over and over, which got the tender of the flyover, but they failed to provide her with that. The important question here is: Why didn't the CM then stop the construction work?

Mamata's current statement echoes a previous one by the Trinamool Congress after the collapse of the Ultadanga flyover which happened early in the morning on 3 March 2013. The 2013 flyover collapse was not fatal but clearly Mamata's government did not take any lessons from the accident.

The Chief Minister had said that 30 years of CPM rule had been the reason for the Vivekananda Road flyover collapse. It's election again and a massacre like this is horrible to digest.

It is also disconcerning that the two parties and their blame-game is the only answer to the families who lost their loved ones in the fatal collapse of Thursday.

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