Monday, June 21, 2021

Another tragedy

Death of at least half a dozen persons and injuries to more than 31 others in Foot Overhead Bridge collapse near Mumbai Railway Station on Thursday is both tragic and unfortunate. It is all the tragic that the pedestrians using the Foot Overhead Bridge had to lose their lives for no fault of theirs. This bridge collapse comes close on the heels of another bridge collapse and giving way of a bridge in Mumbai last year when scores of people lost their lives. The inquiry ordered last year was followed by safety audit of all the foot bridges during the last one year but unfortunately, these bridges were declared as safe for use. Now another inquiry has been ordered to go into the details how the bridge that collapsed on Thursday was cleared in the safety audit by the committee constituted for this purpose. It is also tragic that the audit committee charged with the responsibility of checking the safety of the bridges across the entire economic capital of the country has been founding lagging in checking the usage of the bridges. Moreover, the committees constituted separately by the Maharashtra government and the Western Railways were also founding lagging in completion of their work in conducting safety audit during the past two years. Now in this case, after the collapse of the bridge, neither the state government nor the Western Railways are taking the responsibility for the maintenance of this ill-fated bridge. Both the organizations are involved in shifting the blame on the other and claiming that they did not have the responsibility of maintenance of the bridge. The BMC is separately holding a meeting of all the departments for ascertaining the responsibility and fix accountability. But this is coming too late after the tragedy has occurred and claimed the lives of innocent persons for no fault of theirs. The state government has evaded the questions when there have been concerns on fixing of accountability on a particular agency in this issue. Another inquiry is unlikely to bring back the lives of those killed in the tragedy. Apart from ordering the inquiry, both the state government and the Railways need to come up with an action plan for carrying out the repairs of the British era bridges in Maharashtra. While 354 bridges have been inspected in the past two years and found many of them in good condition except for minor repairs for which tenders have been floated. The tenders have been held up for various and it is matter of inquiry for which the state government appears to have woken up from its deep slumber. The Rail Yatri Parishad office bearers have also demanded accountability be fixed after series of tragedies that took place during the past two years of BJP-Shiv Sena alliance government in Maharshtra. The Parishad has very clearly said that the days of blame game are over and accountability of the department needs to be fixed for bringing those found lagging behind in carrying out the repairs to book. The multiplicity of the agencies involved in carrying out repairs and conduct of safety audit also should be cleared so that steps are initiated for fresh safety audit of all the bridges in whole of the state. This is particularly required in view of the fact some bridges in Raigad were washed away by the flood water last monsoon despite their clearance after the safety audit. It is also unfortunate that reports of the previous two inquiry committees are yet to be made public by the state government. At one point of time, it was felt that Railways was found lagging behind in repairing the old bridges to ensure safety of the pedestrians near the railway stations. A previous report suggested that new bridges were needed for the pedestrians as the existing bridges have outlived their lives and posed serious risk to the lives of the users in Mumbai and its surrounding areas. It is sad that the politicians have gone scot free after the tragedies because they did not press upon the urgency required for repairs of the bridges. Only an impartial probe can fix accountability of the concerned agency for the tragedy that has befallen on the families, who have lost their bread-earning members.