Gujarat HC Slams Morbi Civic Body for Not Showing Up for Bridge Collapse Hearing

The court asked several questions including who was responsible for certifying that the bridge was fit for usage, and the way in which Ajanta Manufacturing was granted a renovation contract.

New Delhi: The Gujarat high court on Tuesday, November 15, slammed the Morbi civic body for “acting smart” after the authorities failed to show up for hearing despite being served with a notice in the bridge collapse case.

According to NDTV, the court asked the civic body officials for details on whether any condition for certifying fitness of the bridge before its reopening was part of the agreement.

The bench comprising of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J. Shastri asked who was responsible for certifying that the bridge was fit for usage.

It also asked why disciplinary proceedings against the chief officer of the civic body haven’t started.

Further, it questioned the way in which the contract for renovation was awarded to Ajanta Manufacturing, a part of the the Gujarat-based Oreva Group.

It noted that a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between collector Rajkot and M/s Ajanta to maintain and manage the bridge had expired in 2017. However, despite that, the bridge was still being operated by the company, LiveLaw reported.

The contract, which was signed in 2008, was not renewed after 2017, but a new MoU was signed in 2020.

“After the said contract expired, what steps were taken by the official authorities to call for expressions of interest or float a tender for a further period is not clear from the State’s affidavit?” it said.

More than 130 people died and several were reported missing after the nearly 140-year-old suspension bridge hanging over the Machchuu river collapsed in Gujarat’s Morbi city on October 30. It was yet to receive the municipality’s “fitness certificate”.

Also read: ‘Act of Fraud?’, ‘Criminal Conspiracy,’ ‘Rare Pain’: Politicians on the Morbi Bridge Collapse

A forensic lab’s report said that the four main cables of the bridge were old.

Public prosecutor Harsendu Panchal told the New Indian Express that only flooring of the bridge was changed; however, the cables, which were allegedly rusting away, weren’t changed. “Oiling-greasing, too, wasn’t done. Besides, the contractors did not have the necessary domain knowhow,” he told the newspaper.

On October 31, police arrested nine persons and filed a case against the firms tasked with the maintenance and operation of the structure. Among the arrested were managers of Oreva group, ticket collectors, bridge repair contractors and three security guards.

The Gujarat State Human Rights Commission – which was directed to file a report in the matter by November 14 – informed the court that its chairperson and a member are probing the ramifications of the tragedy, NDTV reported.

Separately, the state government has set up a five-member inquiry committee to look into lapses, the report added.