Opposition parties in West Bengal are attacking the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) over the flyover collapse as they attempt to gain political capital ahead of the assembly elections beginning on Monday.
State urban development minister Firhad Hakim, known to be one of chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s trusted lieutenants, will be the prime target as rival parties try to dent the TMC’s political edge.
A flyover under construction collapsed on Thursday in a congested market in central Kolkata, killing at least two dozen people and trapping hundreds underneath it. Visuals of the rescue and relief work, the blood, gore and misery playing out in the media have fuelled the anti-TMC campaign by the opposition, which includes a Left-Congress alliance.
Kolkata goes to polls on April 21 and 30, giving the opposition one full month to step up the pressure. For the Left–Congress alliance or even the BJP, the accident couldn’t have happened at a more fitting moment. The parties’ combine force will put the TMC under tremendous pressure.
Soon after the cave-in, politicians thronged the accident and demanded the arrest of Hakim, with union minister of state for urban development Babul Supriyo stating that the construction was done in an unscientific manner. “The state administration clearly did not take any lesson even after the collapse of Ultadanga flyover three years ago. But that no lessons were learnt is obvious from the incident,” he said.
The flyover was a project of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority which comes under the urban development department headed by Hakim.
“Urban development minister Firhad Hakim has to say how much bribe he received for allowing sub standard material that led to the collapse. He should be arrested immediately,” state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said.
Hakim remained elusive through the day, and calls to his mobile phone reportedly went unanswered. The mayor of Kolkata, Sovan Chatterjee, and state disaster management minister Javed Khan instead reached the accident spot and faced an angry crowd.
“The chief minister has announced a high level inquiry. Let experts come and find out why it collapsed. None responsible will be spared,” Hakim told media when he finally arrived at the disaster location at night.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee suspended her election campaign in West Midnapore district and rushed back to the capital city, where she countered the Left’s allegations.
“Construction began on flyover during CPI(M) time, not our time. We did not know anything about it. No one should try to make political capital out of it,” she said.
Both Mamata and her arch rival Suryakanta Mishra, state secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) said that this was not the hour for politicking. However, the blame game began almost immediately after the accident happened.
CCTV footage | The moment Kolata flyover collapses on vehicles
“The obvious question is: Which part of the flyover has collapsed – the portion built during the Left regime, or the part built under the Trinamool government. This is being used as an excuse to escape responsibility. We are condemning it,” Left Front chairman Biman Bose said in a statement.
Asok Bhattacharya, CPI(M) leader and former urban development minister under whose tenure the construction began shirked responsibility, stating that almost the entire construction took place under Hakim’s tenure.
“There should be a high-level inquiry. I have no responsibility. The present urban development minister has to shoulder responsibility,” Bhattacharya said.
The flyover was supposed to be one of the longest in the city and ease traffic woes by connecting the packed Central Avenue to Howrah Bridge. But it missed several deadlines as the implementing agency went bankrupt amid ballooning costs, land hurdles and frequent design changes.