The Gujarat High Court on Thursday pulled up the Morbi municipality, saying it ignored the warning regarding the “critical condition” of the suspension bridge, which collapsed on October 30 killing 135 people, and instead focused on the price of tickets collected from visitors, as seen in its December 2021 communication with the company that managed the structure.
Quoting the communication between the civic body and Ajanta Manufacturing Ltd, the company given the contract to operate and maintain the British-era bridge, the high court said the former was concerned with retention of the contract with the company rather than bestowing the attention for repair of the bridge that was said to be in a critical stage.
There was no specific written agreement and yet the company continued to maintain and operate the suspension bridge, which clearly indicates the manner in which the entire situation was handled by the Morbi municipality and the company, it said.
Hearing the suo motu (on its own) Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the Morbi bridge tragedy, the division bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh Shastri also observed that the compensation being paid to the dead and seriously-injured persons is “abysmally on the lower side”.
“On December 29, 2021, the company had written to the civic body saying – ‘Sir, you are aware that after carrying out temporary repair, the suspension bridge is in critical condition. At any time, an accident may occur. We have made repeated requests to you in this regard that may be taken note of’,” the court quoted the communication in its order.
“In reply to the aforesaid, the Morbi Nagarpalika had sought for handing over the bridge to the company by communication dated January 19, 2022. The tenor of the said letter would also indicate that the same is concentrated more towards the price of the ticket rather than the condition of the bridge,” the court observed.
In other words, the nagarpalika even as on January 19, 2022 seems to have ignored warning of the condition of the bridge which had been signalled by Ajanta, the court said.
“Thus, the communication exchanged between Morbi nagarpalika and Ajanta is for the retention of the contract with Ajanta rather than bestowing the attention for repair of the bridge, which was said to be in a critical stage,” it said.
The court also observed that the agreement between the municipality and the company dated March 8, 2022, was not formally approved by the general board of the municipality which was a condition presented for permitting the company to maintain, manage, operate and control the bridge.
The court said that the bridge was continuously maintained and managed by the company for 13 years pending negotiations with the civic body officials. There was no specific written agreement and yet the company continued to maintain and operate the suspension bridge, it said.
“This should clearly indicate the manner in which the entire situation was handled by the officials of Morbi municipality and the company as well,” it observed.
On the issue of compensation, the court said that it should be made realistic and appropriate. The court’s observation came after the government said that Rs 4 lakh and Rs 2 lakh compensation was being paid to the dead and Rs 50,000 to the injured as announced by the state and central governments, respectively.
Seven children, who were orphaned, have been extended a monthly aid of Rs 3,000 through the Morbi children protection unit, the government said.
The compensation of Rs 50,000 to the seriously injured is also on the lower side, the court said and added that an top court judgment on compensation to be paid to the victims of road accidents be adopted, it said.
The court also called upon the authorities to disclose the details of orphaned children and dependents of 135 families who have lost lives.
It also suggested the government come out with a compensation policy for such cases. The state should also not delay extending medical assistance to the injured by shifting them to appropriate hospital, if required, it said.
The state shall also place on record as to what policy it would formulate to meet such exigencies both by way of regulatory mechanism as well as rehabilitation steps. The court also sought a report on the condition of all such bridges in the country.
The court also said it would decide whether to continue with the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed by the state government whether to continue with the said SIT and/or constitute any other inquiry as may be warranted.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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