Morbi bridge was reopened sans approval: Civic body tells Gujarat HC

Ahmedabad: The Morbi municipality has told the Gujarat High Court that the company tasked with renovating the bridge, which collapsed killing 135 people, reopened it without any prior approval and without informing the civic body about the repair work carried out.

In an affidavit submitted to the HC on Wednesday, the municipality also formed that condition 4 of the March 8, 2022 agreement (between the civic body and the company) said “it is for Ajanta (OREVA Group) to appropriately renovate and it is only thereafter that they would open it (the bridge) for the public at large, which would take minimum 8 to 12 months from the date of the agreement.”

The civic body submitted the affidavit before a division bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh Shastri which is hearing a suo motu (on its own) case on the collapse of the bridge.

The British-era suspension bridge on the Machchhu river in Morbi town collapsed on October 30, five days after it was reopened following renovation, killing 135 people.
The HC had sought to know the reasons for allowing Ajanta Manufacturing Private Ltd (OREVA Group) to use the bridge despite there being no approval for utilisation.

The Ahmedabad-based Oreva group had been maintaining and managing the ill-fated suspension bridge.

The Morbi municipality in its affidavit said as per a condition in a new agreement made on March 8, 2022 between the civic body and Ajanta Manufacturing, the latter was required to “appropriately renovate” the bridge before opening it for the public at large.

Even when the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Rajkot collector (when Morbi was part of Rajkot) and the company had expired on August 15, 2017, the suspension bridge continued to be maintained and managed by the company, “in the absence of there being any new agreement,” till it was closed for repair on March 8, 2022 when the new agreement was signed, the civic body said.

The company had started reminding the civic body of renewing the terms since January 2020 when it said it would “completely close down the suspension bridge from January 26, 2020 and thereafter, the company would not be responsible for any unfortunate accident with reference to the said suspension bridge,” the affidavit stated.

The bridge continued to remain in operation and on December 29, 2021, the company informed the then chief officer of Morbi municipality that the condition of the suspension bridge was “critical,” while requesting it to take a decision on the renewal of the 2007 MoU which expired way back in 2017, the affidavit said.

“On October 26, 2022, without any prior approval, the company reopened the suspension bridge for the public at large and that too without informing the Morbi Nagarpalika know about the kind of repairing work which was stated to have been carried out by the company, as well as without providing any independent third party certificate/s relating to material testing, structure fitness, holding capacity and its stability,” the affidavit said.

While continuing to manage the bridge despite the expiry of the MoU terms on August 16, 2017, the company had flagged the issue of its condition, the civic body said.
In a communication dated January 9, 2020, the company intimated the authority that they would completely close down the suspension bridge from January 26, 2020 and thereafter, “the company would not be responsible for any unfortunate accident with reference to the said suspension bridge,” it said.

The company also expressed its readiness to continue to manage the bridge and wrote to the Morbi collector on five occasions that it would “not start the permanent repairing work of the suspension bridge” unless the agreement is executed, the civic body said.

“On December 29, 2021, the company informed the Chief Officer of Nagarpalika, that the condition of the suspension bridge is critical and hence, request was made to take a decision at the earliest,” stated the affidavit.

The Morbi municipality’s then Chief Officer S V Jhala executed an agreement dated March 8, 2022 with the company, entrusting them “the entire management of the suspension bridge for a period of 15 years,” it said.

On October 30, 2022, due to the Diwali holidays, the company had issued tickets to many visitors during the day. Out of them, about 300 people were reportedly allowed by ticket window operators and security personnel of the company to visit the said bridge around 6.30 pm from both the ends, it added.

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