Cash-starved civic bodies lack inspection mechanism for bridges being built

The tragic bridge collapse in Gujarat’s Morbi on October 30, leaving 141 persons dead, has exposed the fact that municipal committees are either ill-equipped, short-staffed, or face a financial crunch that does not let them hire project management consultants for a third-party inspection – like by Municipal Corporations, or the Urban Development Authorities or the Roads and Building Departments, say experts.

Municipal committees’ budgets are very small, their officers have little idea or understanding of project size and implementation, and expect that the entire project or projects will be implemented within a limited budget, and that is worrisome because quality will be at stake, says Professor Devanshu Pandit, of the CEPT University, Ahmedabad.

The best way to address quality issues is that the state government should make inspection either by engineers of the state Roads and Building Department or the Gujarat Engineering Research Institute or a third party mandatory for the bridges and roads projects executed by municipalities, he suggests.

According to the state Roads and Building Department data, there are 1,518 major bridges, 5,404 minor bridges and causeways and 1,06,994 cross-drains structures, or a total of 1,13,916 structures over water ways.

The state government has a regular inspection mechanism of bridges, Roads and Building Department’s Chief Engineer, Panchayat Division, Y.M. Chavda told IANS, adding that a register is maintained about pre- and post-monsoon inspection.

The Department’s Chief Engineer, State Highways, P.R. Patelia said that if any stability issue arises or stress is found in the bridges or in the pillars, it is reported to the highest authorities, and repairs are undertaken on a priority level. Where the bridge has weakened and can’t take live load, a public notice is issued in the local newspaper informing people that the bridge is closed for repair or new bridge construction, he added.

Officers said that regional and division wise, frequent inspection takes place of the bridges owned, operated, and maintained by the state government.

Executive Engineer, Panchayat Division, Bhavnagar S.D. Chaudhury said that the Roads and Building Department, Municipal Corporations, and Urban Development Authorities hire Project Management Consultants are hired for structural projects, right from designing till execution, and that is why standards are maintained.

Like Department engineers are sent on deputation to Panchayats, and even Urban Development Authorities, or sometimes, even municipal corporations, the same way it can be done in nagarpalikas, as it is a policy decision, he added.

Meanwhile, Pandit, in simple language about safety measures, said that where the Municipal Corporation or Urban Development Authorities engineers are keeping safety measures at 1.5, if Roads and Building Department’s engineers involved, they increase this level to 2.5, and “that makes the whole difference”.

20221105-110004

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