Kolkata: The nation watched in horror as a bridge in Kolkata collapsed — the third in five years — on Tuesday, killing a person and injuring at least 30 others, many of whom have been admitted in intensive care units (ICUs) in hospitals across the city. It has come to light now that had it not been for gross negligence on the part of the   Mamata Banerjee government, this accident could well have been avoided. 

Two warnings

The public works department (PWD) that comes under the state government had done an audit of the Majerhat bridge way back in 2015 and raised red flags. It was declared ‘unsafe’. However, cars continued to ply over the ‘unsafe’ bridge, oblivious of the tag it had been given. Another audit took place next year and there were fresh warnings, this time with a suggestion of inspection of the ‘unsafe’ Majerhat flyover every month.

The gravity of the situation was such that it called for a monthly inspection, and the government response had just been a patchy, even after two years. If that wasn’t shocking enough, brace for this bouncer. The same PWD that had called the bridge ‘unsafe’ and recommended monthly monitoring, inspected the bridge last month as well, but did not raise any concerns over the stress on the girder that collapsed, taking the bridge down with it.

Locals complained last week

Union minister Babul Supriyo alleged, “Locals have been telling the PWD, particularly of late about the serious situation of the bridge. But it simply didn’t act.” He hit the Trinamool Congress government hard, saying, “Mamata Banerjee has only painted the bridges blue and white and done nothing about the safety (in spite of so many red flags)”.

Supriyo is in fact not wrong when he says the PWD was petitioned many times about the Majerhat bridge. Just a few days ago, residents of the Mahadevtala slum had gone to the PWD and expressed their anguish. Had the Bengal government acted even then, the tragedy could have been averted.

Why did it collapse?

The initial investigation suggests that the bridge caved in due to seepage. Water used to get accumulated into a crack that had developed on the Majerhat flyover. What made things worse was the nearby metro line that caused regular vibrations. This is something that the locals observed and pointed to the PWD in their meeting last week. Needless to say, the potholes on the 40-year-old bridge quickened its depreciation. In fact, in June this year, the Kolkata Traffic Police had written to the PWD about the pathetic condition of the bridge after its officers complained to the headquarters.

Did ‘fund crunch’ hold back repair?

What will shock not only Kolkata, but the entire nation, is that the half-hearted repair work that started a few months back before being abruptly stopped, had seen multiple tenders being floated. According to sources, the reason it couldn’t be started much earlier was because the Bengal government didn’t release the funds for the repair. People in the government allegedly cited lack of funds as a reason to stall repair, ignoring the death trap that was the Majerhat bridge. The Mamata government though had sufficient funds to spend on lavish festivals and distribute to TMC-affiliated clubs.

This is a classic case of government apathy and criminal negligence. Are Ma, Mati, Manush left to fend for themselves?