Whatever the eventual decision of the West Bengal government on Kolkata’s 57-yearold Tallah bridge, it is pretty obvious that the authorities are in a damned-if-you-do, damnedif- you-don’t situation. The horrific collapse of the Posta flyover and the Majerhat bridge still rankles. The risk of demolishing the bridge, almost an arterial stretch that connects the northern areas and beyond to the rest of the city, is dangerously real.
It will come to bear on rail movement and the Metro as well, not to forget other forms of urban transportation. The problem is fundamental and potentially devastating. Equally, it would be dangerous to ignore the report crafted by an engineer appointed by the state government to furnish a report on the condition of the bridge. Of maintenance, there has been little; of regular repairs even less. It is quite obvious that two bridge collapses ~ not to ignore the East-West Metro disaster in Bowbazar ~ have stirred the conscience of the authorities with a little over a year to go for the Assembly election.
It thus comes that Mr VK Raina, who was once a consultant to the United Nations and the World Bank, has not put too fine a point on it. “The structure,” he asserts, “is in a rotten condition and ought to be demolished”. It would be a hideous urban catastrophe as the “structure might collapse any moment”. The outcome, not merely for a segment of the city but for Kolkata and the peripheral districts as well, is much too frightful even to imagine. Already, the vital movement of buses has been stopped and only the light vehicles like the auto-rickshaw are allowed to ply.
But even “light vehicles” have been given a two-month time-frame to enable the authorities to devise plans for diversion of traffic. It is a measure of the decay over time that many of the steel ducts, that support the underbelly of the bridge, have snapped. Close to 60 years later, these ducts are scarcely in a position to bear the 24 X 7 load of vehicles. It would be useful to recall that a not dissimilar pressure of vehicular weight ~ trucks running on 20 tyres ~ was in part responsible for the collapse of Majerhat bridge. Traffic on this stretch is still far from normal.
“In such a situation, the Tallah bridge could also collapse even if there is no extra load on it,” is the grim foreboding of engineers. Mr Raina’s report can be contextualised with the recent findings of RITES, a subsidiary of the Railways. It has notified the state government that “the bridge is not fit even for pedestrians”. Which fear might seem rather incredible on the face of it, but nonetheless is true. This has been couched in the caveat that the bridge is beyond hope, and must be demolished. Let work begin with urgent despatch and without the politically contrived deadline of the Assembly election… as it was in the case of the Posta bazar flyover (April 2016).