| Chaitanya.Marpakwar and Sunil.Baghel
What connects Thursday’s bridge collapse that left six dead and thirty-one injured to Swachh Bharat mission?
Bureaucratic zealousness to please their political bosses, and utter callousness towards their primary customers—the people of Mumbai.<
In the dying months of 2016, CST was selected as one of the ten Swachh Iconic Places (SIP) as part of the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat Mission. A team deputed by the union government was scheduled to visit CST, among other places, between December 2016 and January 2017 to assess the cleanliness. Since the surrounding areas of CST fall under his purview, BMC commissioner Ajoy Mehta himself visited each and every nook and cranny, including the foot over bridge at the northern end of the CSMT on October 25. As per the recommendation of the ward officer, an immediate beautification of the FoB was ordered.
The BMC began revamping the bridge and even intimated the Bridges Department to check the structural stability of the bridge. But even before the bridges department could carry out structural repairs the beautification work began. Within a month, the bridge was painted and new tiles were laid. By the time the structural auditors DD Desai’s Associated Engineering Consultants came in for the audit, they had no access to the underlying grid of the cast iron bridge. “There is a chance that because of the tiles and the paint the corrosion in the structure was not detected. We tested the metal and cement concrete portion made available to us,” said Neeraj Desai, the auditor.
As per protocol, strengthening and reinforcement have to precede any beautification work but in this case the order was reversed. According to documents accessed by Mumbai Mirror, the BMC’s A ward wrote to the Deputy Chief Engineer on November 03, 2016 informing the department of Mehta’s October 25 visit and the plan to carry out the refurbishment by way of installing new tiles and giving the bridge a new coat of paint. “If any repairs are to be carried out from a structural stability point of view then it may be rectified through your department at the earliest before commencement of the beautification work. Accordingly remarks of the department are requested,” read the letter further stating the matter should be treated as ‘most urgent’.
However, the bridges department showed no corresponding urgency and the beautification work was started. A public notice was issued about closing the bridge in the last week of October itself and within the next three weeks the beautification was completed, leaving the structural auditors when they came in December 2016, to complete a mere formality and do a perfunctory audit. The report of this audit was submitted to the BMC on August 13, 2018 almost two years after the audit was done leading to further questions about the delay in submitting the report and the BMC’s casual acceptance of such a delay.
But timelines changed swiftly after Thursday’s tragedy when Mehta promised to find the ‘mujrim’ within 24 hours.
He blamed DD Desai’s Associated Engineering Consultants and Analysts Pvt Ltd who had carried out a structural audit of the bridge in December 2016 and recommended minor repairs. Mehta also cited a report of chief engineer vigilance to lay the blame squarely on the chief engineer bridges who retired in July last year, and certain executive engineers for inadequately supervising earlier repair work on the bridge in 2013. When we spoke to one of these officers named, this is what he had to say: “If a structural audit conducted in December 2016 gives a safety clearance, how can the BMC commissioner blame us for old work carried out in 2013?”