Two years after Kolkata's Vivekananda Road flyover collapse, West Bengal govt dithers on demolishing remaining structure

Kolkata: Gita Das' day starts at 4 am and for the last 10 years, there's been no change in her routine. Gita (31) works as a sweeper on the roads of Posta, Burrabazar area. She comes home by 12 noon and starts with her daily chores of cooking and feeding her children. Gita stays on a pavement under the third beam of the Vivekananda Road flyover.

Recalling the tragic flyover collapse of 2016, she said, "It was a Thursday. The day started exactly how it starts now. I went out on duty and by the time I was back, it was all over,"

Gita's husband, Gauri Das (35), lost his life under the 60th section of the Vivekananda Road flyover on 31 March, 2016. Gauri had a hand-pulled rickshaw and for some unknown reason (Gita calls it destiny), Gauri was back from work unusually early and was resting near the Ganesh Talkies building along with a few cabbie friends of his.

"I last spoke to him the night before the incident," Gita recalled. Gita and her family have since shifted to a place 'which looks relatively safer.' But any little sound keeps the family up all night.

Saturday marks exactly two years since the day of the tragedy in 2016. The 41-metre deck slab of the 2.2 kilometre-long Vivekananda road flyover fell down, killing 26 and severely injuring 11 people, according to official numbers. However, it is not clear what the West Bengal government has learned from the incident.

A man sleeps below the Vivekananda flyover in Kolkata, part of which collapsed in 2016. Image courtesy: Satwik Paul

A man sleeps below the Vivekananda Road flyover in Kolkata, part of which collapsed in 2016. Image courtesy: Satwik Paul

The residents of Vivekananda Road say they are living a life of daily misery and trauma, with the government taking no steps towards the betterment of the situation. The last time the locals saw any movement from the government was when the broken parts of the flyover were cleared from the road.

The sight of the remaining portion of the structure which is still hanging infuses much fear in any passer-by who spends more than a few seconds under it. This is a very busy stretch that has thousands of vehicles passing through it. The flyover also has at least 100 small, big and makeshift shops under it. Hundreds of homeless people sleep on both the sides of the pavements each night.

"The common people have always been the worst sufferers. The residents of this area live with a constant threat to life. It was a huge tragedy. It took us all more than a month to come back to the normal rhythm of life. I know many who still think twice before taking this route. Parts of the flyover hang right above your head and may come down anytime," said Barun Mallik, a local Trinamool Congress member and a social activist.

A report by a team from IIT Kharagpur identifies the portion between Ganesh Talkies and Girish Park as unsafe because of poor design, material and workmanship. It also raises questions about the accuracy of the state government's traffic survey, on the basis of which the Rs 168-crore project was commissioned in September 2008. The project was helmed by IVRCL, a Kolkata-based engineering company. It was found that the design made by the company had many loopholes and was vetted within just 24 hours by a city-based university. The flyover construction was started in February 2009 and there was a deadline of 19 months set for it. In 2016, 25 percent of work on the flyover was remaining.

In 2016 itself, a committee led by the then state Chief Secretary Basudeb Banerjee suggested a total pull-down of the flyover. The state government, still in confusion, asked a team from IIT-Kharagpur to ratify the same. Now the cost of demolition too has confounded the state government.

A source from the civil engineering department at IIT Kharagpur said, "A state government official told us that the government is considering restoring the flyover and using it for one-way traffic. This is a construction which has zero strength left and would be unable to sustain the movement of ten vehicles at one time. The government appears to fear the prospect of spending another Rs 100 crores to demolish the flyover. But is it reason enough to endanger lives?"

Call requests, e-mails and text messages to Chief Secretary Moloy Dey did not elicit a response. Calls to the Principal Secretary Indevar Pandey also went unanswered.

Engineer-in-Chief and EO Secretary in the public works department Srikumar Bhattacharya said, "The government is in a dilemma because almost Rs 200 crores have already been spent on this flyover and demolishing it would mean a further expenditure of Rs 100 crore. Such a decision cannot be taken in a hurry. However, I expect that a decision will be taken in the near future."

At the site of the collapse, a distance of barely two feet separates the flyover and the residential establishments. A part of the area has been littered with garbage, including plastic bags, food leftovers and even pets' poop. "We tried approaching the MLA and MP of the area (Smita Bakshi and Sudip Bandopadhyay) via members of their political parties a number of times to highlight the problems faced by us. However, no one seems to care about this issue. No one paid a visit to the site of the incident post the collapse," said Shashi Sethia, a resident of Vivekananda Road.

A temple below the Vivekananda Road flyover in Kolkata. Image courtesy: Satwik Paul

A temple below the Vivekananda Road flyover in Kolkata. Image courtesy: Satwik Paul

Shambhu Pandey, who owns a grocery shop on Vivekananda Road, raises some pressing issues. He says, "There are houses which have their windows and balconies right under the flyover. When it was being constructed, people tried to raise an alarm, but no one paid attention. If the southernmost parts of the flyover ever break down, it would cause huge damage. At least ten to twelve houses may collapse along with the flyover."

"The government should at least try to protect children living on the street, cabbies and rickshaw pullers. God forbid, if there is a repeat of the incident, there will again be many casualties," Pandey said.

When contacted, local TMC MLA Smita Bakshi pinned the blame on the previous communist regime in the state. To a question on whether she has approached Mamata Banerjee or her aides on the issue, she said, "I was not asked for my opinion from the senior authorities. I believe that they are taking necessary actions. No resident of the area has come to me with a written complaint. The TMC government is trying its best to put things back on track."

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Updated Date: Mar 31, 2018 12:46:14 IST

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