Morbi tragedy victims seek Supreme Court inquiry after Vadodara lake boat mishap - Hindustan Times
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Morbi tragedy victims seek Supreme Court inquiry after Vadodara lake boat mishap

Jan 20, 2024 09:05 PM IST

The Victims Association-Morbi sought the formation of an expert committee to investigate nationwide tragedies in the wake of the recent Harni Lake boat mishap in Vadodara

The association of the victims of the 2014 Morbi bridge collapse in Gujarat has approached the Supreme Court for the formation of an expert committee to investigate nationwide tragedies in the wake of the recent Harni Lake boat mishap in Vadodara where 14 lives were lost due to overcapacity and inadequate safety measures.

Fourteen lives were lost in the boat mishap in Harni Lake in Gujarat’s Vadodara on January 18. (File)
Fourteen lives were lost in the boat mishap in Harni Lake in Gujarat’s Vadodara on January 18. (File)

The petition by the Tragedy Victims Association-Morbi highlights 24 incidents of bridge collapses and boat capsizing across India from January 25, 2014, to January 18, 2024, encompassing locations like Gujarat, Andaman, Assam, Kolkata, Maharashtra, Bihar, Goa, Uttar Pradesh and Mizoram. Emphasising the severity, the petition notes that “hundreds of people were killed and thousands injured” in these incidents.

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The Association comprises families of 113 victims who lost their lives in the bridge collapse tragedy in Morbi on October 30, 2022. 135 people lost their lives after the foot bridge over the Macchu River collapsed due to overcrowding.

While legal proceedings are underway to fix liability for the Morbi tragedy, the state of Gujarat has already seen further incidents of bridge collapse or boat capsizing or similar incidents involving the cumulative negligence of municipal bodies and contractors, the petition said. HT has seen a copy of the petition.

As recently as January 18, 2024, a boat capsized in Vadodara, causing death of 12 school kids and two teachers, and the chief contractor has been reported as absconding, it further said.

“To preserve public faith in the system, the investigations in all such tragedies should be carried out by an independent agency and monitored by the high court or the Supreme Court depending on the facts of the case. This will ensure that the powerful players in the system (rich corporations, state actors and politicians) are not spared. To begin with, directions from this Hon’ble court to this effect are urgently required in case of the Vadodara tragedy, which occurred on January 18,” the petition said.

The Petitioner-Association said it was concerned about the continuous incidents of similar nature taking place throughout India. In the last decade alone, hundreds of people have been killed and thousands injured across 11 incidents of bridge collapse and 12 instances of capsizing of boats, it said, adding that many of these tragedies have a common template, which calls for a coordinated and systemic solution on an urgent basis.

“The municipality outsources the repair, upkeep and management of public facilities (lakes, bridges etc.) to a private contractor without retaining adequate control and oversight. In some cases, the main contractor further outsources the task(s) to sub-contractors. Neither the municipality nor the contractor/ sub-contractor carries out proper repairs, maintains necessary equipment, provides lifeguards and life jackets, regulates the number of people allowed onto to the facility at once, etc. When a mishap takes place, the municipality blames the contractor while the latter pleads ignorance on the ground that it has no technical knowledge or expertise,” the petition said.

“Police conduct a hurried and shoddy investigation, aggravating the injustice caused to the victims. The State, on the other hand, announces a paltry sum as compensation for the victims. For instance, in case of the Morbi tragedy, a shoddy chargesheet was filed by the police, which led the Gujarat high court to appoint a Special Investigative Team (SIT) to probe into the matter and submit a detailed report of findings,” the petition said.

The Union of India has launched the Indian Bridge Management System (IBMS) “to carry out condition survey of all bridges/ structures on NH Network including inventory”. Since its launch on 02.04.2017, IBMS has already identified as many as 147 “critically distressed bridges” for reconstruction, of which only 10 bridges have been reconstructed thus far, it said.

The respondent parties to the petition include the Centre through the Ministry of Home Affairs, municipal and police commissioners of Vadodara, collector of Vadodara, Sri Kotia Projects and the New Sunrise School.

On January 19, the Gujarat high court took note of the tragic Vadodara boat capsize incident that claimed 14 lives on January 18. The court on Friday accepted a submission to file a suo motu case in this connection filed by the Gujarat High Court Advocate Association.

Acknowledging the plea, the court observed that such reckless attitude and negligence leading to the loss of innocent lives would not be tolerated. More than 80 students of the New Sunrise School on Waghodia Road in Vadodara were taken on a trip to Harni Lake. During the trip, they went on a boat ride. However, the boat overturned and 12 students along with two teachers drowned.

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