The flyover collapse that killed at least two dozen people in the city has sparked a political slugfest, with the ruling Trinamool Congress forced on the back foot just three days ahead of the assembly elections in West Bengal.
But the political decibels appeared to undermine the human cost of the tragedy. The death toll rose to 24 on Friday as rescuers worked round-the-clock to pull out some 90 people alive from under the rubble of the flyover which caved in a day ago.
By late Friday much of the wreckage had been cleared. Disaster workers said it was unlikely more people could still be trapped.
Police arrested three senior officials of the Hyderabad-based company IVRCL, which was constructing the flyover. They also filed culpable homicide charges against the firm.
The visuals of rescue work, the blood and suffering played out on TV and newspapers appeared more to stoke politics, offering the opposition Left–Congress alliance and the BJP a potent weapon to attack the ruling party with. Kolkata votes on April 25 and May 5, meaning the opposition will get a month to step up pressure on the Trinamool, which has sought to deflect all blame.
“The tender was awarded during the Left rule. We did not know anything about it,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said, adding, “No one should try to make political capital out of it.”
Many refused to buy the argument. Kolkata Mayor and close Mamata aide, Sovan Chatterjee, was almost chased away from the accident spot by an angry crowd.
Already struggling to shake off the Narada sting operation that purportedly showed several top leaders, including state urban development minister Firhad Hakim receiving cash bribes, Thursday’s disaster is likely to dent the party’s image further.
With Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi scheduled to visit the spot on Saturday, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected in the state on April 7 for electioneering, it is expected that the political din over the collapse will only get louder.
Though Banerjee and her arch rival CPI-M state secretary Suryakanta both have said this was not the hour for politicking, it was more than obvious that the hour was not far away either.
“The chief minister cannot avoid responsibility by shifting it to somebody else,” remarked state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury, who was the most aggressive of the opposition leaders.
BJP too upped the ante against Trinamool Congress, and demanded a CBI probe saying ruling party leaders and their kin were involved as sub-contractors in building the flyover.
Highways minister Nitin Gadkari ordered a review of all road and bridge projects that the Centre is carrying out in Kolkata.
IVRCL stuck to its assertion that the flyover collapse was an “accident”.
“We are also shocked that (the) flyover collapsed and want to know why it happened. This is an accident, how can we fix responsibility on someone?” said the firm’s legal head Seetha Peddapathi.