Ten days after the collapse of Kolkata’s Majerhat bridge, the report crafted by West Bengal’s Chief Secretary has confirmed the worst misgivings that were expressed on 4 September. Specifically, the Public Works Department is primarily responsible for the peak-hour disaster. Yet eyebrows are bound to be raised over the Chief Minister’s clean chit to the minister concerned, Arup Biswas.
Despite the gross negligence, which has not been airbrushed in Mr Moloy De’s report, the Chief Minister’s defence of an ugly truth does strain credulity ~ “Arup did not know anything about it and the officials did not even send him the files on the Majerhat bridge.” This is breathtaking, suggestive of a total lack of coordination between the callous minister and the rest of the department, no less indifferent.
Within hours of the collapse, the PWD as the maintenance agency was under a dense cloud as it had ignored the “storm signals” that were periodically flashed. Not that repair was not carried out; but the work ~ with the use of bitumen coating ~ had turned out to be wholly inadequate. Of riveting anxiety has been the inexplicable hurry both in terms of construction and repair. If the Assembly election (May 2016) was the compelling factor at Posta, there can be no such defence of the indefensible at Majerhat.
The repair work, shoddy in the extreme, is said to have been completed “very fast”. Of regular inspection and maintenance there was little; of attention to detail even less. Considering the heavy load of traffic each day ~ 10,000 to 12,000 vehicles ~ this bridge and its users deserved better from the authorities. The warning of experts that the bridge needed to shed its “load” was accorded the short shrift.
There is a lesson to be drawn from the collapse ~ the development agenda lends no scope for playing to the electoral gallery. It is hard not to wonder whether the superficial repair work at Majerhat was timed ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha election. Nothing short of scientific progress will work. This, on the surface, is the fineprint of the Chief Secretary’s presentation. Ergo, work on the new bridge at the same site must be suitably thorough; safety is of uppermost importance and not electoral stakes.
The Chief Minister’s insistence that work on the Joka-BBD Bag Metro railway was a “contributory factor” is somewhat at odds with the Chief Secretary’s report. Yet the vibration over time and its destructive potential cannot be ruled out, though it must be conceded that the city has been spared a Metro-induced disaster ever since construction began in 1974. This will call for further investigation, as Miss Banerjee has promised. For now, the Chief Secretary has underlined the basics ~ the PWD cannot deny its responsibility towards a 50- year-old bridge, a mute testimony to negligent nonchalance.