In a horrifying video, a crucial bridge collapsed owing to flashfloods during the monsoon. It is a British-era railway bridge constructed over the Chakki river on the border of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and officials largely blame illegal mining in the area for its collapse.
They fear the unabated illegal mining may now pose threat to the road traffic bridge adjacent to the washed away rail bridge.
The railway authorities had declared the rail bridge unsafe weeks ahead of the disaster and suspended the train service on the narrow-gauge track from Pathankot in Punjab to Jogindernagar in Himachal via Kangra, Baijnath and Paprola.
Taking note of the disaster, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has sought reports from the Punjab government on collapse of the railway bridge on August 20.
“The railway bridge was destroyed during floods again, owing to illegal mining. In the circumstances, as there are reports of illegal mining in the said river as well, the authorities and parties are also directed to place on record the steps initiated by the state in this regard,” the bench of Justices R.S. Jha and Arun Palli had observed during a hearing on the illegal mining in Punjab.
In a report to the high court this month, the government said a probe was conducted into the incident by the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Pathankot and he has suggested that the reason of collapse should not be only linked to just one factor.
A detailed hydrological and structural investigation is needed to understand the holistic picture of the incident, the report said.
After the Chakki bridge collapse, the Indian Army was called in by the civil administration of Kangra in Himachal to prevent the at-risk road traffic bridge adjacent to the washed away rail bridge.
Significant sections of the railway bridge collapsed after repeated flashfloods. The gushing waters caused severe erosion of piers of the Chakki bridge leading to its collapse.
As the rail bridge was washed away, the fury of the water accelerated soil erosion towards the piers of the adjacent 500m roadway bridge. The only way to protect the road bridge, the major link road to Dharamsala from Pathankot, was to divert the forceful waters, the Army said.
At the request of the district administration of Kangra, the Rising Star Corps mobilised a column of heavy earth moving equipment in record time and immediately commenced the operation for diversion of the waters of the Chakki river and to prevent further erosion.
Civil equipment of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) were also operated by Army personnel to augment the diversion efforts. Simultaneously, the Army engineers secured the piers of the road bridge using ingenious methods planned and executed over a distance of almost 1,000m.
More than 20 heavy earth-moving equipment working round the clock for 96 hours, concentrating all efforts and maximising their output, ensured that the Chakki river bridge was made safe. The efforts were also in coordination with the NHAI, the Army said.
The untiring efforts of the Rising Star Corps in torrential currents exceeding eight knots through deep channels in the Chakki river ensured that a disaster was avoided and the lifeline of Kangra district and a strategically important bridge connecting Punjab to Leh was made safe, it added.
Officials admitted to IANS that road traffic bridge, which was opened on January 10, 2011, is still facing the threat of collapse in a flashflood of similar intensity that damaged the Chakki rail bridge as the illegal mining continues unabated on the riverbed in Punjab.
In the August flashflood, two pillars of the bridge were exposed.
They were repaired but many lapses in maintenance, an official said, adding “it’s vulnerable owing to callousness”.
After the disaster, the Northern Railway said during the monsoon there were heavy rains in the Kangra Valley. This resulted in landslides, boulder falling and flashfloods due to which the railway line was badly affected.
As a precautionary measure and considering the history of flashfloods, operation of trains on this line was suspended from July 14.
It said the July 31 flashflood in the Chakki river resulted in damage to protection works and scouring near Pier No 3 of the bridge that developed a crack.
On August 20, a cloudburst was experienced in the area leading to abnormally heavy water discharge with high velocity in the Chakki river. Protection works done by the Railways to protect the piers of the bridge suffered extensive damages as the river bed downstream was very low.
Seven piers and six spans of the bridge were washed away or declared unsafe.
For the commuters, the resumption of train services in the unaffected portion of the railway track reintroduced between Pathankot and Dalhousie Road and Nurpur Road and Jogindernagar.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)