Ajanta Reopened Suspension Bridge Without Any Approval, Did Not Provide Any Fitness Certificate: Morbi Municipality Informs Gujarat HC
The Morbi Municipality, on November 16th, 2022, submitted its counter-affidavit in a suo moto case and told the bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri, that the Bridge was reopened for the public at large after the renovation work was completed by the Ajanta Company (OREVA Group) on October 26 without any prior approval.
Naran Kalabhai Muchhar, In-charge Chief Officer of Morbi Nagar Palika filed the affidavit and stated that in 2007, an MoU was signed between the Municipality and the Company for the purpose of maintenance, security, management, collection of rent, etc. of Suspension Bridge for a period of 9 months and after the said MoU expired in 2017, the Suspension Bridge continued to be maintained and managed by the Company, in absence of their being any new agreement.
It was further stated that on at least 2 occasions, the Company informed the Chief Officer Nagar Palika that the condition of the Suspension Bridge is critical and that unless and until an agreement is executed, it shall not start the permanent repairing work of the Suspension Bridge.
Significantly, as per the affidavit, the Company even intimated the authority that they would completely close down the Suspension Bridge from January 26th, 2020 and that they would not be responsible for any unfortunate accident.
It was also stated that several rounds of meetings were held with regard to executing an agreement to start the permanent repairing work and subsequently, in March, 2022, the agreement was executed, with certain conditions, entrusting to the Company, the entire management of the Suspension Bridge for a period of 15 years and during the period of renovation, I.e., March 8th, 2022 to October 25th, 2022, the bridge was closed for the visitors and it was reopened just four days before the incident, it was reopened.
It was also stated that the Morbi Nagar Palika was not even informed about the kind of repairing work which was stated to have been carried out by the Company and the Company did not even provide for independent third party's certificate/s relating to material testing, structure fitness, holding Capacity and fitness, stability of the said Suspension Bridge.
It was also stated that rescue and search operations were undertaken immediately by the Government authorities and agencies and that the Nagar Palika is extending all cooperation to the Special Investigation Team constituted by the State Government.
On November 7, the Gujarat High Court took suo moto cognizance of the Morbi Bridge collapse incident that occurred on October 30th, 2022 and directed the Registry to register the news report, published by the Times of India newspaper, as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) and pursuant to this order, Registry issued notice to the Morbi Municipality (Respondent No. 4), indicating the date of hearing of the Petition as November 16th, 2022.
The Gujarat High Court slammed the State Government over the way the contract to maintain the bridge was awarded to Ajanta Manufacturing without floating any tender and also noted that despite the expiry of 2008 Mou, the bridge continued to be maintained by the Company.
Cause Title- Suo Moto v. State of Gujarat