The Gujarat High Court on Monday noted from the report of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) formed to probe the Morbi bridge collapse that the Morbi Nagar Palika (MNP) and the private contractor Ajanta had outsourced repair works to an “incompetent” agency.
Citing the SIT report, which was handed over to the Court in a sealed cover, a division bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri said that the Julto Pul was thrown open to the public without proper security and safety checks.
“Preliminary findings of the committee shows that the main cable (of the suspension bridge) was formed by seven strands each comprising 7 steel wires. Like this, total 49 wires were used. It showed over 22 were rusted and were broken. It had also come to record that the remaining 27 wires had recently broken. It would also indicate that no structural test or load test was conducted before opening the bridge. Even the movement of bridge was not regulated and several design faults were found on the bridge which led to its failure,” the bench noted.
The bench was hearing a suo motu PIL it took up earlier this month to examine the tragic collapse of the suspension bridge in Morbi, in which over 135 people died and hundreds were left injured.
During the hearing, the bench noted that the SIT formed to probe the issue recommended for periodical audit and inspection of all structures used by the public.
“The committee (SIT) has strongly recommended that any structure that is being used by the public should be periodically inspected by the concerned authorities n guidelines must be used for safety, security, operations and maintenance of structures. It also recommend that these facilities should be designated to competent personnel apart from storing adequate safety and rescue equipment on site to response to an untoward situation, swiftly,” the bench recorded in the orders.
The Court expressed hope that by the next date of hearing, the State shall put on record the proposed policies and specify the number of pubic structures used by the public regularly and periodically. The State is also required to place on record how it proposes to comply with the recommendation of the SIT for auditing public structures.
In its affidavit, the State assured the Court that it would act swiftly and initiate disciplinary proceedings against the then Chief Officer of Morbi. However, the Court remarked,
“We also do not find if any imputation of charges have been issued against erring officers, though precious life of 135 persons have been lost.”
The bench was further informed that pursuant to its suggestions made during the last hearing, the State has enhanced the compensation amount for victims of the incident. It was told that an additional ₹4 lakh would be paid to the kin of those who lost their lives, taking the total compensation to ₹8 lakh.
Meanwhile, given the voluminous paperwork involved in the matter, CJ Kumar opined that some young lawyer must be appointed Amicus Curiae to reduce the Court’s precious time.
On this, Advocate General Kamal Trivedi expressed some reservations.
However, CJ Kumar responded,
“We were to appoint someone at the very first instance. But now looking at the work to be done, I think two young lawyers need to be appointed as Amicus Curiae.”
The Chief Justice explained how young minds would be useful to collate the vast data and information in the instant matter.
“There will be a lot of work. Their help would reduce our work and time. Also, I think its time that youngsters do this, as this will help them learn and give back to the society,” he explained further.
Therefore, the judges appointed Advocates Varun Patel and Shikha Panchal as Amicus Curiae in the case.
The matter will be next heard on January 16.