Lifetime Pensions, Jobs To Families: Court In Gujarat Bridge Collapse Case

The High Court sought to know what was being done about the elderly men who lost their young sons on whom they were dependent.

Lifetime Pensions, Jobs To Families: Court In Gujarat Bridge Collapse Case

At least 135 people were killed when the bridge in Gujarat's Morbi collapsed last year (Reuters)


Observing that one-time compensation would not help the families of the victims of the Morbi suspension bridge collapse, the Gujarat High Court asked the Oreva Group, the company responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Morbi bridge, to provide lifetime pensions to the elderly who lost their sons and jobs or stipends to their widows.

The division bench of Chief Justice Sunil Agarwal and Justice Aniruddha Mayee was hearing a suo motu Public Interest Litigation, or PIL, on the incident that killed 135 people when a British-era suspension bridge collapsed on October 30, 2022. 

According to the government, ten women were widowed and seven children were orphaned.

"Give jobs to widows, or stipend if they do not want to do jobs. You have to support them throughout their life. You have completely upturned their lives. They may not be in a position to work. There are women who have never worked and never gone out of their homes. How can you expect them to come out of their homes and go to work somewhere?" Chief Justice Agarwal told the firm.

While the company claimed it was taking care of the orphans and the widows, the High Court sought to know what was being done about the elderly men who lost their young sons on whom they were dependent.

"Elderly males were dependent on the earnings of their sons. What is being done to support them? Give them lifetime pension," the court said.

"One-time compensation is not going to help you. Please keep it in mind. This is a scar for life. One-time compensation may not be in a position to help them... There has to be some recurring expenditure by the company," it said.

The High Court bench also observed that a trust be created for the disbursal of compensation to the affected people as it may not be possible for the court to monitor the process for years. 

It also asked the government to suggest ways by which the needs of the victims' families can be met.

The High Court directed the Morbi Collector to coordinate with the company and submit a report about the prevailing condition as well as the status and financial condition of the victims' families and the kind of support they need.

When the company complained that the victims' hostility and allegations of tampering with evidence were hampering its work with them, the court ordered it to approach them through the Collector.

When the company's lawyer complained about the delay in hearing of regular bail plea of its CEO and managing director Jaysukh Patel and urged it to consider his "plight," the court said the word "plight" should remain for those who have suffered because of its role, which has been made clear in the special investigation team report.

"After going through the SIT report, can you argue what you are arguing? It was your act, you were the company, you replaced the wooden plank with aluminium. After the SIT report, you are not allowed to speak at all. You cannot argue you are the sufferer. You cannot place your problems before us," the court said.

The government informed the court about the condition of 1,900 major bridges in the state, of which 384 are in municipal corporation areas and 113 are in municipalities.

The Chief Justice suggested that old bridges with heritage value be repaired with the help of conservation architects.

Giving a contract to repair an old bridge to someone incompetent could result in a Morbi-like disaster, the court pointed out.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)