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20 bridges in Kolkata and Howrah past expiry dates, says Mamata Banerjee

A part of the 50-year-old Majerhat bridge’s central section caved in on Tuesday, killing two people and injuring 19.

  As many as 20 bridges in the twin cities of Kolkata and Howrah are weak and unsafe as they are beyond their “expiry dates”, Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday, announcing a ban on long trucks with “10 and 20 wheels” on such bridges.

She said the bridges and flyovers such as Santragachi (Howrah), Ultadanga, Sealdah, Belgachia and Dhakuria are working “past their expiry dates.”

Civil engineers said by “expiry date”, the chief minister probably meant design life that is usually 50 years for bridges. This period is calculated taking into account historic data such as earthquakes and wind speed and load projections such as rise in vehicular traffic.

In a bid to prolong the lives of these structures and ensure public safety, the chief minister said the government are banning the movement of extra-long and heavy vehicles on them. “These don’t serve any purpose,” she said.

She also said that police will strictly prevent the overloading of trucks. “When nine tonnes is the limit, some are plying with 15 tonnes of goods. I have asked the police to stop this practice that also put bridges under avoidable stress,” she said.

The chief minister also said the bridges that have become weak were not made during their tenure. “Some of these were made during the rule of the CPI(M). Some were made even before them,” `she added.

On the specific point of the Majerhat bridge, a section of which collapsed on September 4 killing three persons, she said she has set up a 10-member investigative committee led by chief secretary Malay De to inquire into the incident.

The only technical person in the body is a retired chief engineer of the Public Works Department (PWD). The body is supposed to submit its report “at the shortest possible time”, possibly within seven-eight days.

A bridge inspection and monitoring cell would also be set up, the members of which will be selected by the chief secretary.

Banerjee repeated her claim that the construction work of metro rail near the Majerhat bridge affected the structure, and said a preliminary report by the chief engineer of PWD already indicated it.

“We have decided to stop the work till the inquiry report is submitted,” said the chief minister, who also said that she cannot pinpoint the reason for the Majerhat accident till the report is submitted.

However, a September 4 resport signed by A K Roy, chief project manager, Rail Vikas Nigam Limited said, “There has (been) no relationship of metro construction with this mid span failure of RCC girder of the ROB (road over-bridge). In fact, condition of pillars on both ends are a clear indication of this.”

Though the chief minister claimed the Majerhat bridge was built by Kolkata Port, its spokesperson issued a statement that they don’t have any records to that effect.

Opposition parties attacked Banerjee over her comments on the cause of the bridge collapse.

“The chief minister is unnecessarily shifting the blame on Metro Rail for the bridge collapse, something that all experts have ruled out,” said Bharatiya Janata Party Bengal unit president Dilip Ghosh.

“Governments change. But that does not mean the incumbent will not continue maintenance of structures erected by earlier rulers. These are excuses by the chief minister to conceal the flaws of her own government,” said Communist Party of India (Marxist) central committee member and MLA Sujan Chakrabarty.



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