The bridge that collapsed in Gujarat’s Morbi yesterday, killing more than 140 people, was opened to the public ahead of schedule by the private company maintaining it, documents reveal.
The repairs were carried out by the Gujarat-based Oreva group, which describes itself as the world’s largest clock manufacturer and makes lighting products and e-bikes.
Oreva was hired to maintain the historic colonial-era bridge in March. The bridge was reopened to the public seven months later, on October 26, when the Gujarati New Year was celebrated.
The company was bound by its contract to keep the bridge shut for at least eight to 12 months for maintenance and repairs.
After opening it before time, the company even sold tickets at Rs 17, allegedly without ever securing a fitness certificate from the civic authorities.
NDTV has accessed the contract signed in March between the Morbi municipal authorities and Ajanta Manufacturing Private Limited, which is a part of the Oreva group.
Under the 15-year contract, the company would maintain the bridge and collect payment in the form of tickets. The agreement allowed the company to raise the ticket price every year till 2037.
Tickets were sold for Rs 12 to Rs 17 yesterday; there was no apparent crowd control, either by the private company or by the administration.
While opening the bridge last week, Oreva official Deepak Parekh had said that the company had done “100 per cent renovation in 2 crores”.
He also explained why the company would charge tickets. “We’ve just opened the bridge for the public so we cannot keep the entry free of charge, and we also don’t want to overwhelm the sturdiness of the bridge, so to limit the amount of entry and the crowd, we will charge for an entry,” Mr Parekh had said.
But there were close to 500 people on the “hanging bridge” when the cables snapped on Sunday evening, sending hundreds tumbling into the river. The bridge could take the weight of only about 125 people. The crowd included women performing Chhath puja rituals, and scores of children.
The police are investigating lapses by the company, which has not commented so far. News agency PTI quoted a group spokesperson as stating that the bridge collapsed as “too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other.”
The bridge was earlier maintained by the Morbi municipality, which reportedly used to limit the number of people on the bridge at one time to 20.
Oreva’s office near Ahmedabad is shut. Outside, a sign says: “Clock, alarm clock, watch, telephone, calculator.”
On its website, Oreva showcases work like tiles, clocks, LEDs, designer panels and e-bikes.
It is not clear how the bridge was reopened to people without any apparent official approval.
Gujarat Minister Harsh Sanghavi evaded NDTV’s questions on the bridge operating without a fitness certificate.
The Gujarat government has appointed a committee to investigate the bridge collapse and the factors leading up to it.
“Rarely have I felt such pain,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, referring to the tragedy at an event in Gujarat this morning.