The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday asked the state government to explain why the contract for the renovation of the century-old suspension bridge in Morbi was given to private firm Oreva Group without floating a tender, Live Law reported.

The colonial-era bridge on the Machchu river had collapsed on the evening of October 30, killing 141 persons. The tragedy took place just four days after the bridge was reopened for the public following seven months of renovation.

The next day, Chief Justice Aravind Kumar had asked the High Court registrar to file a public interest litigation on the matter. At the previous hearing on November 7, the court had directed the Gujarat chief secretary and the Home Department secretary to file status reports on the mishap within a week.

The court had also asked the state human rights commission to file a report by November 14.

Citing the government’s affidavit, Advocate General Kamal Trivedi on Tuesday gave the court details about the relief and compensation measures undertaken by the government.

However, the judges pointed out to the government lawyer that the contract for renovation given to Oreva Group, a subsidiary of watchmaker company Ajanta, was a document of one-and-a-half pages, and no tender had been floated before signing it.

Chief Justice Kumar asked the state government to explain its stand on the matter in a fresh affidavit.

The court also noted that in June 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding had been signed between the Rajkot collector and the Oreva group, to operate, maintain, manage, and collect rent in respect of the suspension bridge.

The Memorandum of Understanding expired in 2019, but Ajanta Group continued to maintain the bridge, the court observed. It asked the state government to also explain on what grounds did Ajanta Group continue to maintain the bridge in the absence of a contract.

The court also asked the state government to explain that under a fresh Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2020, who should be held responsible for issuing the fitness certificate of the bridge.

The court also sought to know whether Section 65 of the Gujarat Municipality Act was complied with while granting a renovation contract to Ajanta Group and why the state government failed to take action against the municipality under Section 263 of the Act after the bridge collapsed, according to Live Law.

Section 65 of the Gujarat Municipality Act deals with the powers of the municipality to sell, lease or offer any contract. Section 263 gives power to the state government to dissolve or supersede the municipality in case of incompetency, default or abuse of power.

The court also noted that no representative of the Morbi civic body was present during the hearing despite being sent a notice.

“They are acting smart,” Chief Justice Kumar said while directing the civic body to appear on November 16.

The court will hear the case next on November 24.