Laxity and negligence at core of Morbi tragedy
While blame must also be shared by contractors and sub-contractors who allegedly used sub-par materials and cut corners, this cannot absolve local officials of abject negligence.
Proceedings in the Gujarat high court this week may not have yet got to the bottom of why a British-era bridge in Gujarat’s Morbi town collapsed, but it has made this much clear: The responsibility for the death of 135 people in the tragedy lies squarely with the municipal authorities who appeared to have awarded the contract for the repair of the 140-year-old structure to a company without any transparent tendering process, undertaken no supervision of the work done and overlooked the reopening of the bridge until it collapsed on October 30. The civic body’s repeated claim that it was unaware that the bridge was opened by the Oreva group, which was tasked with its repair and refurbishment, is hardly believable, especially when talking about a beloved tourist attraction in a small town — and the court has rightly refused to accept this argument at face value. While blame must also be shared by contractors and sub-contractors who allegedly used sub-par materials and cut corners, this cannot absolve local officials of abject negligence.
The court’s proactiveness also contrasts sharply with the unimpressive response from the local authorities. Despite three weeks having passed, the head of the company that carried out the repair work remains untraceable and hasn’t even been questioned. The police action appears to have stopped at arresting some low-level officials and political reaction is also muted. The head of the municipal corporation has been suspended, yes, but there is no firm explanation for the alleged discrepancies. This is not unusual in a country where criminal investigations often run into hurdles created by political expediency and official hierarchies. But that doesn’t make it any less tragic.