The Oreva Group, under the scanner following the collapse of a 140-year-old suspension bridge at Morbi in Gujarat that claimed more than 130 lives on Sunday, had been assigned the work to renovate the bridge just seven months ago.
On Monday, four of its employees were among nine people arrested and charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder in connection with the bridge collapse. “Of these nine, two work as managers, while two work as ticket booking clerks (all four employed by Oreva group) at the bridge site. We will conduct a thorough inquiry and will not spare the guilty,” Range IG Ashok Kumar Yadav said at a press conference. The other five accused include two repairing contractors hired by the Oreva group and three persons working at the bridge as security personnel, said Yadav.
The Rs 2500-crore group, founded by Odhavji Raghavji Patel nearly five decades ago, manufactures wall clocks under the Ajanta and Orpat brands, CFL bulbs and e-bikes. Interestingly, it does not have any exposure in the construction business, and had given a sub-contract for the repair work of the bridge to a local company that had carried out repairs to the bridge way back in 2007.
No one from the Oreva Group was available for comment.
On its website, the group, which started as a manufacturer of wall clocks under Ajanta Transistor Clock Manufacturing Company, claims it employs over 6,000 people. It sells its products through 55,000 channel partners and operates one of the largest manufacturing plants in India at Samakhiyali in Gujarat’s Kutch district.
Under the agreement signed with Morbi Municipality on March 7 this year, the group’s flagship Ajanta Manufacturing was tasked with maintenance, upkeep, renovation and amenities like issuing tickets at the bridge spanning the Machchhu river for a period of 15 years, according to Sandeepsinh Jhala, chief officer, Morbi Municipality.
Sources at Morbi said the company had deployed staff to issue tickets to visitors at the bridge. As per the agreement, it was also allowed to hike ticket price by up to Rs 2 per year, said Jhala. Currently the ticket price for adults is Rs 17 per person and for children Rs 5.
While inaugurating the reopening of the bridge on October 26, marking the start of the Gujarati New Year, Jaysukh Patel, chairman of the Oreva Group, had said Rs 2 crore was spent on repairing the historic bridge.
What is now causing consternation in official circles after the collapse on Sunday — merely four days after the bridge’s reopening — is that the group had reportedly not received a fitness certificate from the civic authorities, a mandatory requirement to open it for the general public.
“It was opened for the public after the completion of the renovation work. But the local municipality had not yet issued any fitness certificate (after the renovation work),” Jhala told PTI.
To make matters worse, no official intimation was given either to the district administration or local authorities before reopening the bridge, sources said.
Soon after the accident, an Oreva Group spokesperson had reportedly said the bridge collapsed as “too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other”.
There also seem to be questions over the checks on number of people allowed onto the bridge at a time. Eyewitnesses said there were 350-400 people on the bridge as against its capacity of 125. A state government official said only 20 people were allowed on the bridge when it was being looked after by the Morbi Municipality.
The state government has announced ex gratia payment of Rs 2 lakh for the next of kin of people who lost their lives in the collapse and Rs 50,000 for those injured.
(With inputs from PTI )