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“The raw material used for repairing the bridge can only be produced by a specialised company. Nothing is happening to this bridge for at least 8-10 years,” said Jaysukhbhai Patel, Managing Director of the Oreva Group, on 26 October, while inaugurating the “repaired” Jhoolta Pul in Gujarat’s Morbi.
Four days later, tragedy struck, and the colonial era suspension cable-bridge collapsed on 30 October. At least 135 people died, including 56 minors, and 93 people are seriously injured and undergoing treatment.
Ahmedabad-based Oreva group was in-charge of the renovation and repair of the bridge, and work started on it seven months ago. It won the tender for repair and maintenance in June 2020.
While the FIR does not mention the Oreva Group, nine junior officials of the company were arrested by the Morbi police on 31 October.
The FIR, based on a complaint filed by Morbi Police Inspector Prakashbhai Dekavadiya, does not say anything about the callousness of the Municipal authorities.
To reopen the 19th century pedestrian bridge built on Machchhu river in Morbi, a fitness certificate had to be issued by the municipality. The chief officer of the Morbi Municipal Corporation has, however, alleged to The Quint that the “Oreva group did not procure a fitness certificate.”
The bridge was “inaugurated” by Patel and his family on 26 October – Gujarati New Year.
Interestingly, Sandipsinh Zala, Chief Officer of the Morbi Municipal Corporation, told The Quint, “No officials from the Morbi Municipal Corporation were present at the re-inauguration event.”
Zala claimed that the Morbi Municipal Corporation “had no idea that the bridge had been reopened.”
The bridge – 230 meter long – is bang in the middle of the city, and is a landmark.
Zala claimed that the municipal corporation “only found out that the bridge was functional on 29 October." He said, "This is a huge municipality. We cannot be in the know of everything that happens here.”
With a population of just over two lakh people, Morbi is spread across an area of 46.58 square kilometre.
It is pertinent to note that the Oreva group re-inaugurated the bridge on 26 October amid heavy media presence, and apart from Patel, his wife and children too were present at the event.
What is a Fitness Certificate?
Sources told The Quint that the bridge has a capacity of 150 people at any given time. As per eyewitness accounts, however, over 400 people were present on the bridge on the day of the incident.
A fitness certificate, which is to be issued by the Morbi Municipal Corporation, is given after checking multiple parameters such as capacity of rods, number of people the bridge can hold, the wind speed it can withstand, and if the contractor who has worked on it has his licences in place or not.
"The Oreva Group is solely responsible for this tragedy. They did not inform us (Municipal Corporation) before opening the bridge for the passage of people," claimed Zala.
A source in the Morbi Municipal Corporation, on condition of anonymity, meanwhile, alleged to The Quint that the “Oreva Group did apply for a certificate, which was later rejected by the corporation.”
Zala strongly refuted the claim. "I can say with full confidence that no application regarding the fitness check of this bridge ever came to us," he said.
Soon after the incident, a spokesperson from the Oreva Group, told the media that the bridge collapsed because there were "far too many people on it than its approved capacity."
Interestingly, the Oreva Group is responsible for selling tickets and controlling the crowd on the bridge.
Amid claims and counter-claims regarding who is to be blamed for the tragedy, the who's who of Gujarat politics are stationed in Morbi including Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, Home Minister Harsh Sanghvi, and Opposition leaders Gopal Italia and Isudhan Gadhvi.
As Per 2020 Tender, Bridge Needed 8-12 Months of Work
In its FIR, the Morbi Police has charged the people responsible for management and maintenance of the bridge under multiple sections of the IPC including culpable homicide not amounting to murder, attempt to commit culpable homicide, and abettor present when offense is committed.
The FIR, based on a complaint filed by Morbi Police Inspector Prakashbhai Dekavadiya does not say anything about the callousness of the Municipal authorities.
There, however, is no clarity on how the Oreva Group which specialises in CFL bulbs, wall clocks and e-bikes -- was awarded the contract to maintain and manage the bridge by the Morbi municipality twice -- first in 2005 and then the repair and maintenance tender in 2020.
In addition to not acquiring a fitness certificate, documents accessed by The Quint also suggest that the Oreva Group flouted several rules to reopen the bridge on the Gujarati New Year day-- one month before the scheduled date.
"From the date of agreement, it will take approximately 8 to 12 months for the repair work to finish," the tender document, dated 8 June 2020 read.
(The Quint has reached out to Oreva Group for a statement. This story will be updated as and when we hear from them.)