The Morbi Civic Body on Wednesday told the Gujarat High Court that the bridge – which collapsed last month killing 141 persons – was reopened after renovation on October 26 by the Oreva Group without approval, Live Law reported.

The civic body’s response comes after the court criticised it for treating the tragedy in a casual manner.

Chief Justice Aravind Kumar told the Morbi Municipal Corporation to file its response to the case in an affidavit by 4.30 pm or pay costs of Rs 1 lakh. This was after the counsel for the civic body sought time till November 24 to file a reply.

A 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.

On the next day, Chief Justice Kumar had asked the High Court registrar to file a public interest litigation on the matter. At a hearing of the matter on Tuesday, the court had expressed displeasure since no representative of the Morbi civic body was present despite a notice being sent.

“They are acting smart,” Chief Justice Kumar had remarked.

On Wednesday, the municipal corporation told the court that the deputy collector of the Morbi district, who is currently looking into the affairs of the civic body, was on election duty, Bar and Bench reported.

“The notice should have been served to him but it was served to the civic body on November 9,” the counsel told the court. “Thus, the delay in appearing before this court.”

On Tuesday, the High Court also asked the state government to explain why the contract for the renovation of the bridge was given to private firm Oreva Group without floating a tender.

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.