Kolkata flyover collapse: PWD issued tenders for painting while bridge’s condition deteriorated
The West Bengal Public Works Department (PWD) issued tenders for Majherhat bridge’s painting and surface repair even as its condition was deteriorating on account of what experts now say were structural problems. A part of the 50-year-old bridge’s central section caved in on Tuesday, killing one person and injuring 19.
Hindustan Times has reviewed 106 tenders the PWD’s Alipore Division, under whose jurisdiction the bridge comes, floated between June 6, 2014 and August 31, 2018. Only eight of them were floated for the two flyovers in the division’s jurisdiction. Three tenders were issued for painting and surface repair of Majherhat bridge. Five were floated for Taratala flyover, less than 100 metres away.
The last tender for “surface repairing of a service road” of the Majherhat Bridge was floated on July 27. The project did not take off. The PWD , on August 10 issued a general memorandum saying the appearance of bridges and culverts were not up to the mark. “Therefore, it is decided that all bridges and culverts are to be painted after cleaning the same and repairing it, if necessary.”
PWD minister Arup Biswas and principal secretary Arnab Roy could not be reached despite repeated attempts seeking comment. Although PWD floated all the tenders, urban development minister Firhad Hakim did not specify which department was in charge of the Majherhat Bridge.
“The PWD maintains both flanks of the bridge and the road above. Only the portion that runs above the railway tracks is repaired by Eastern Railway. The Trinamool government cannot disown responsibility,” said former PWD minister and Revolutionary Socialist Party leader Kshiti Goswami. “I cannot remember the year right now but our (the previous Left Front) government repaired portions of the bridge.”
Civil engineers pointed at two specific problem areas though they were not in a position to say to what extent these factors contributed to the disaster. “It is a monumental maintenance failure. One, down the years, as the road on the bridge was repaired, the workers piled asphalt layer on layer, thereby increasing the dead load enormously,” said Kamal Saha, a civil engineer. “Also think of the heavy vehicles that used to ply over the structure. There were no structural reinforcements. Only some cosmetic work such as painting was done.”
Another engineer, who did not want to be named, said “engineering maintenance” was essential, not cosmetic dressing. “Steel beams exposed after the disaster show that water kept seeping through concrete and weakened the structure.”
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday echoed Hakim’s statement on Tuesday saying vibrations caused at the adjacent Metro railway construction site might have contributed to the disaster.
Experts did not agree. “Had vibration caused by digging been powerful enough to crack portions of the bridge, then it would have affected the railways’ tracks long ago,” said another engineer on condition of anonymity.