Talking to reporters at the state Secretariat in Mumbai, Minister of State for Home (Rural) Deepak Kesarkar today said the site where sand dredging has been on in Savitri river is far away from the collapsed bridge.
In a letter written to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis today, noted environmentalist Sumaira Abdulali of Awaaz Foundation had stated that illegal sand mining in the river led to the weakening of the foundation of the bridge and resulted in the mishap.
"Sand dredging has been taking place at a location far away from the collapsed bridge. Besides, the pillars of the bridge are still intact," the minister said.
"But small trees and plants that had grown on the upper portion of the bridge, could have weakened it and it might have caved in by the gushing water," the minister added.
He also said it was possible that the buses and other vehicles could have been stuck in the pits created by sand dredging.
Mr Kesarkar added that as per the demands made by the kin of missing persons, the government would continue to use helicopters in the search operation for the next couple of days.
"Considering the demands of the relatives of the missing persons, the government has decided to extend the helicopter sorties to trace the dead bodies of the missing persons by two more days. The waters of Savitri river have now come down substantially and rescue teams can no look for bodies stuck in trees," he said.
Meanwhile, talking to reporters in Mahad after visiting the location, Shiv Sena minister Ramdas Kadam sought to know whether the structural audit of the ill-fated bridge was done at the site or by sitting in government offices.
The state Environment Minister admitted it was the "failure" of the government and said he would not spare the guilty officers.
"The bridges constructed by the British were so well taken care of by them, that they easily lasted for 100 years. Then why is same care not being taken now? I will hold a meeting with the Chief Minister and see to it that whoever is responsible for this tragedy is not let off," Mr Kadam said.
In the letter, Awaaz Foundation has alleged that the Savitri river is one of the many areas that is being misused to dredge massive quantities of sand.
Though the sand mining sites are not near the ill-fated bridge, they pose serious threat to the structural stability of the bridges, Ms Abdulali said.
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