Two days after 18 people were killed when a part of an under-construction flyover in Varanasi, the Uttar Pradesh government on Thursday removed UP State Bridge Corporation (UPSBC) Managing Director Rajan Mittal. Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prashad Maurya tweeted that Mittal has been removed from the post with immediate effect. Maurya who is also the in-charge of the PWD portfolio informed that JK Srivastav, chief engineer (externally aided projects) in PWD, has been posted as the new MD of the UPSBC. Besides Mittal, the state government has also ordered to initiate strict action against six officials for their alleged role in the tragedy. They are chief project manager HC Tewari, project manager KR Sudan, assistant engineer Rajesh Singh, engineer Lal Chand, former project manager Genda Lal and additional project manager Rajesh Pal. Four of them have already been suspended by the government.
On Thursday, The Indian Express had reported that at least five warning letters were sent to UP State Bridge Corporation (UPSBC) by the UP Police since last November to follow traffic safety regulations near the Cantt railway station area in Varanasi where a portion of an under-construction collapsed on Tuesday, claiming 18 lives. The Indian Express reported that the state police, had as recently as in February this year, filed an FIR against the flyover firm for not adhering to the rules while construction works were underway. As per the IE report, despite the FIR against UPSBC officials, no steps were taken by the concerned authority.
On Tuesday afternoon, a portion of an under-construction bridge in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency had collapsed while the traffic was at its pick near the Cantt railway station area. A total of 18 persons were killed and several others were injured in the tragedy. Injured people were admitted to the BHU for medial assistance. The construction works of the bridge had started in October 2015 during the Samajwadi Party government’s regime. The under-construction bridge connects Chauka Ghat and Leharatara areas of the city.
Here are the top developments in the Varanasi bridge collapse:
1. According to IG Deepak Ratan, when the constructs works are underway, it is the responsibility of the UPSBC to ensure smooth flow of the traffic in the vicinity. Ratan said that it was the state police officials who had after taking account of the situation, alerted the UPSBC. But their letters remained unheard. Ratan told the daily that it is for UPSBC to deploy their own staff on the ground to maintain the traffic or they can request the police for help. “But it is we who have been alerting them about the potential problem and they have not acted,” the official said.
2. On February 19 this year, an FIR was registered against the Pariyojana Prabandhak of the UPSBC under IPC sections by the Sigra police station. The FIR said that a police official had visited the site for inspection. It said that the chaotic construction work of the Chauka Ghat to Leharatara bridge and non-assistance in managing the traffic was causing the public extreme inconvenience and anger. It noted that iron beams are hanging over the traffic. The FIR said that several letters were sent to the project manager of the UPSBC with necessary directions to the assistant engineer to conduct the smooth movement of vehicles, but all communications remained unheard.
3. On Wednesday, an FIR was lodged against UPSBC officials at the Sigra police station against the supervising officials, contractors and staff involved in the construction of the bridge. They have been charged under IPS Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), Section 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) and Section 427 (mischief). Sections 3 and 4 of the Public Property Damage Prevention Act 1984 are also invoked against them.
4. The incident took place on Tuesday afternoon when a portion of an under-construction bridge, almost 25 ft in length, collapsed in the jam-packed Cantt area of Varanasi. The incident led to 18 deaths. The 2.2 km long flyover was being constructed by the UPSBC at a cost of Rs 129 crore. The bridge was being constructed to clear the rush between Chauka Ghat to Leharatara areas that are generally busy.
5. The construction work had started in October 2015 when the Samajwadi Party government was in power. After the BJP took over in 2017, the work was expedited and the UPSBC was given a deadline of March 2019. But officials related to the project said they were under immense pressure to complete the work by October this year and sought an extension till October 2019. A total of 63 pillars were to be built but till now only 45 pillars have been put up.
6. On Tuesday evening, Deputy CM Keshav Prasad Mauraya and another minister Neelkanth Tiwari rushed to the incident to take first-hand stock of the situation. Maurya informed that four officials have been suspended with immediate effect and assured strict action against the persons involved in the disaster. Mauraya also holds the PWD portfolio. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also flew to Varanasi past midnight on the same day.
7. A high-level investigation team was constituted by CM Yogi Adityanath to study probe how the incident happened. The three-member team of Agriculture Production Commissioner Raj Pratap Singh visited the site and collected details of the project from district officials and the team working on the flyover near the Cantt. The team is expected to submit its report today evening.
8. Yogi Adityanath announced an ex-gratia amount of Rs 5 lakh to the kin of those killed in the tragedy and Rs 2 lakh to those injured. He had earlier faced criticism for campaigning in Karnataka during the devastation caused by the storm. The Varanasi incident invoked sharp criticism from the opposition. Parties said that the officials were under pressure to complete the work before the deadline so that PM Modi can inaugurate the bridge ahead of 2019 general elections.
9. On Tuesday evening, PM Modi expressed grief over the unfortunate deaths. In a series of tweets, the PM said that he has spokes to CM Adityanath and other officials and asked them to extend all possible support to those affected. Later speaking at the party office while addressing the BJP workers, Modi said that he was deeply saddened over the deaths in the tragedy. The PM announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the kin of those killed in the incident and Rs 50,000 to those seriously injured.
10. On Wednesday, ANI quoted an official as saying that the bridge collapsed due to the recent thunderstorms. R Mittal, MD of Bridge Corporation said that the thunderstorms had made the ongoing structure weak. “The lock of the bearing underneath the beam broke due to the recent thunderstorms that struck in the region, which led to the accident,” he said, adding that the traffic should have been diverted away from the construction.