Days after the collapse of the 47-year-old Gokhale Bridge near Andheri Station in Mumbai, all the agencies including the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Railways, the State government and the political parties started passing the buck to each other. This happens after every tragedy, but no one thought about the victims who lost their lives due to negligence of the these agencies.
Now it is revealed that the bridge collapsed due to overburden of utilities like cables and iron pipes. The bridge was constructed by the BMC in 1970, but the maintenance was done by the Railways. The BMC pays the Railways for the maintenance. Two years ago, after collapse of Savitri River bridge, the government announced that it will carry out structural audit of all British-era bridges and roads. Even after the announcement, nothing changed.
The BMC appointed a Statutory Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) in 2005 to study the condition of bridges and submit a report suggesting precautionary measures. NV Mirani, Chief of the Committee submitted its findings to BMC in 2009 and the report is still lying with the BMC’s Road and Bridges Department.
According to the Committee’s report, 253 bridges in the city including waterway bridges, flyovers, railway-over-bridges, foot-over bridges and subways. The committee carried out a visual survey. Of the 56 bridges found to be in dilapidated condition, 22 are located in the island city, 30 in eastern suburbs and four in the western suburbs. Later, the BMC decided to appoint a panel of experts to survey the extent damage of each bridge to chalk out a repair plan.
The committee was criticised by the civic body for no periodic maintenance. After that, it was decided to conduct structural audit of all old bridges every five years. The committee blamed the civic body for lack of management of bridges.
The report found that technical sanctions for bridge designs were being given in a casual manner by officials who were not trained in bridge building. Observing that periodic inspection of bridges was not being carried out, the committee recommended dedicated staffers to plan and design bridges in the city.
Considering these findings by the expert committee, all things have remain unchanged in last ten years.
Even after ten years many bridges need urgent repairs. The famous Tilak bridge at Dadar is crumbling for long and nothing has happened. Shiv Sena corporator and ex-MLA Vishakha Raut said the officials are not interested in attending the meeting, whenever she called for a joint meeting with Railways.
“Elphinstone bridge at Parel and Z-bridge of Matunga are in bad shape. These bridges are 100 years old and the civic administration doesn’t care about the poor state of these bridges,” said Raut.
Yashwant Jadhav, senior corporator and Standing Committee Chairman of BMC said though the responsibility of the bridge is with Railways, the BMC permits the service providers to lay their utility cable lines through the bridge. “These service providers dug up the road on the bridge that may have weakened the strength of the bridge,” Jadhav added.
Chief Engineer of Roads Sheetalaprasad Kori said the BMC is paying the Railways for maintenance, which doesn’t allow the BMC to repair or maintain it.
“Two years back the BMC demolished Hacok Bridge near Sandhurst Road and reconstruction started, but the Railways objected and stopped the work citing work of the bridge is hampering the railway service,” said Kori.
Grant Road bridge is in a poor state. Soon after the Gokhale bridge collapse, this bridge also developed cracks.
The bridge at GTB Nagar Railway Station is also crumbling. There is a public toilet on the bridge and seepage from it falls in the pillar of the bridge. Mulund and Kurla bridge is not safe. Mahim pedestrian bridge is unsafe for use, but the civic body is not in a position to take care of it.
The administration, the railway or the politicians are busy pushing the responsibility to each other. They are waiting for a major accident to occur due to bridge collapse and they will repeat the same drama again. Till then Mumbaikars have to take care of themselves.