Morbi Civic body ‘acting smart’ by not being represented despite notice: Guj HC

The Gujarat High Court on Tuesday pulled up the Morbi Civic Body for not being represented by an official despite a notice and raised a question on the contract awarded for the maintenance of the 150-year-old bridge which collapsed on October 30 killing over 140 people.

“Despite being served a notice, Morbi nagar palika is not represented before the court, they are acting smart,” a first bench headed by Chief Justice Arvind Kumar and Justice A.J. Shastri asserted.

The court is of the view that “Why did the state not use its power under the section 263 of the Gujarat Municipalities Act as prima facie the municipality has defaulted, which led to an unfortunate incident that resulted in the deaths of 135 innocent persons,” it said.

It is considering various aspects like, “Under the MOU of 2008 or the agreement of 2022 whether there was any condition put for certifying of the fitness of the bridge and who was the responsible person to certify the bridge. Whether the largesse of the state was given to Ajanta Company without any tender being floated? On what basis, the bridge was permitted to be operated by the Ajanta after June 2017, even when the MOU expired and no further agreement was signed after 2017? whether there was compliance with section 65 of the Gujarat Municipal Act.”

The bench orally observed, “The state took steps that are expected from it but agreement signed between Morbi civic body and private contractor for the bridge renovation is just 1.5 pages. No tender was invited, Why was the contract granted without inviting any tender?”

In an interim order the court has observed, “An MOU came to be executed on June 16, 2008 between the Rajkot Collector (then Morbi was part of Rajkot district) and one Ajanta to operate, maintain, manage and collect rent in respect of the suspension bridge. This MOU expired in 2017. The moot question is under the MOU, it is not forthcoming who has the responsibility to certify that the bridge is fit for usage. When the MOU expired in 2017, What steps were taken to call for expression of interest or float a tender for a further period.”

The bench also noted, “From June 15, 2017, for a period of 2 years, without there being an MOU or agreement or entrustment, the bridge in question was continued to be maintained by Ajanta Company. There is correspondence from Ajanta informing the collector that until and unless an agreement is signed they would not commence the work of renovation of the bridge.”

The matter has been posted for Wednesday, where the Morbi civic body is expected to give a detailed explanation.

The court also sought to know the action the state government has taken against Morbi Chief Officer S.V. Zala.

PIL’s next hearing will take place on November 24.

20221115-140004

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