This Article is From Nov 16, 2022

"Reply By Evening, Or...": Court Slams Civic Body Over Gujarat Bridge Tragedy

"Yesterday you were acting smart, now you are taking it casually," said court, "So, either file your reply by this evening, or pay fine of Rs 1 lakh."

'Reply By Evening, Or...': Court Slams Civic Body Over Gujarat Bridge Tragedy

Cables of 150-year-old bridge over Machchu river collapsed last month, killing over 130 people. (File)


The Gujarat High Court today warned the civic body of Morbi, where a bridge collapse killed more than 130 people on October 30, over delay in filing a status report despite two notices. "Yesterday you were acting smart, now you are taking the matter casually," said the court, "So, either file your reply by this evening, or pay a fine of Rs 1 lakh."

The civic body's lawyer cited a technicality: The Deputy Collector who's in-charge of the civic body is on election duty.

"The notice should have been sent to the Deputy Collector, but it was served to the civic body instead, on November 9. Thus, the delay in appearing before this court," the lawyer said.

An affidavit giving details of how the collapse occurred is now expected by the evening, if the officials follow the court's directions.

The court had taken note of the tragedy on its own and sought replies from at least six departments. Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri are hearing the matter.

On Tuesday, the court sought direct answers over the manner in which the contract was awarded for maintenance of the 150-year-old bridge.

"The municipality, a government body, has defaulted, which ultimately killed 135 people," the court had said as a preliminary observation. It pointedly asked officials to come back with details on whether any condition for certifying fitness of the bridge before its reopening was part the agreement, and who the person responsible was.

"The state shall also place on record reasons why disciplinary proceedings against chief officer of the civic body aren't commenced," it had said.

"The largesse of the state seems to have been granted without there being any tender floated in this regard," its order noted.

The municipality had given the 15-year contract to Oreva Group, which is best known for the Ajanta brand of wall clocks.

"Was the largesse of the state given to Ajanta company without any tender being floated?" the court had observed.

It asked for the basis on which the bridge was being operated by the company after June 2017 "even when [the contract signed in 2008] was not renewed". A new agreement was signed this year.

So far, only nine staff members of the company have been arrested, while the top management, which signed the Rs 7-crore pact, has not faced action, nor have any officers been held accountable for the bridge having been reopened ahead of the renovation schedule.

It is alleged that the company did not replace the rusted cables but installed a new flooring that proved too heavy.

The court had asked for files of the contract to be submitted in a sealed envelope.

The government told the court yesterday that it worked at "lightning speed" to save lives.