In yet another tragedy that brings into focus Kolkata’s crumbling infrastructure, the busy Majerhat bridge crashed on Tuesday evening, killing one and leaving at least 21 injured.
The collapse reflects India’s deep apathy towards designing and maintaining public infrastructure. Tuesday’s tragedy invoked memories of Kolkata’s Vivekananda Road flyover crash in 2016, in which 27 people were killed and over 60 were injured even as the structure was still being constructed.
Very little seemed to have been learnt from the 2016 accident. At that point, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tried to shift the blame to previous Left governments for clearing faulty flyover designs. In this case, her government seems to have ignored specific warnings about the precarious state of the Majerhat bridge.
According to The Telegraph, an agency from Delhi that had been that had been commissioned to conduct a safety audit of the structure following the 2016 collapse had said last year that the Majerhat bridge had become too heavy: the surface had been relaid many times and disused tram lines still ran over it. Though the agency suggested that some of the load should be shed, the Public Works Department seemed to have done little to remedy the situation.
Meanwhile, the West Bengal government, even after a report from an IIT-Kharagpur team, is still undecided on what to do with the broken sections of the Vivekananda Road flyover, which are still hanging precariously. Several media reports over the last two years said the government was worried about the cost of demolition. Further, accountability for the crash has still not been clearly fixed.
While it has become standard practice for the Trinamool Congress to blame previous governments for many problems, this defence is wearing thin. After all, the party has been in power for seven years – and Kolkata has seen seen three major bridge collapses over the past six years.
Of course, this apathy is not unique to Kolkata. In July, a section of the Andheri railway bridge in Mumbai collapsed barely six months after an audit had been conducted. One person died and several were injured. Last year, at least six people were injured after a concrete bridge linking Chamba town in Himachal Pradesh with Pathankot in Punjab came crashing down.
These tragedies demonstrate that even as India pushes ahead with new infrastructue projects, it needs to pay much greater attention to maintaining old structures.
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