High court says Morby civic group ‘played smart’ after authorities failed to appear at hearing – Flying Journals

'National bigwigs...': Gujarat High Court's strong comment on Morby Bridge tragedy

A century-old suspension bridge collapsed on October 30, killing more than 130 people. (document)


The Gujarat High Court today sought a direct answer and slammed the way contracts were awarded to maintain a 150-year-old bridge in Morby that collapsed on October 30, killing more than 130 people. It observed that, despite a notice, the Morby civic group was not represented in court: “They acted intelligently.”

It pointedly asked officials to come back and answer questions about whether any conditions to certify the bridge’s suitability before reopening were part of the agreement, and who was in charge of certifying that.

“In the absence of any tender in this regard, it appears that the state’s generous assistance has been awarded,” the order later noted. “Why was there no tender for the repair of a public bridge? Why was there no tender?” Chief Justice Aravind Koo Mar (Aravind Kumar) told the state’s top bureaucrat chief secretary at the opening hearing of the case on Wednesday.

The Municipality of Morby has awarded a 15-year contract to the Oreva Group, best known for the Ajanta wall clock brand.

“The municipality, which is a government agency, defaulted, resulting in the death of 135 people,” the court said as a preliminary observation, asking whether the Gujarat Municipal Law of 1963 was being complied with.

“How is such an important work done in as little as one and a half pages?” the Chief Justice said. “Was the state’s largesse given to the Ajanta company without any tender?” the court further observed.

It pointedly asked the company’s basis for operating the bridge after June 2017, “even in [the contract signed in 2008] The contract will not be renewed after 2017,” and a new agreement was signed this year.

The court has taken note of the tragedy on its own and has solicited responses from at least six departments. The matter is being heard by Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri.

So far, only some employees of the contracted companies have been arrested, while the top executives who signed the Rs 7 crore agreement have faced no action and no officials have been held accountable for the reopening of the bridge ahead of the renovation schedule.

The court also requires contract documents from day one to be submitted in a sealed envelope.

The government said it worked with “lightning speed” and saved many lives. “Nine people have been arrested, and if others are found guilty, we will definitely register them,” said a government lawyer. Monetary compensation has also been offered: the state government has announced Rs 400,000 to the families of the deceased, Rs. 50,000 is provided to the injured. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited the disaster-stricken areas in his homeland, announced that the central government would allocate Rs 200,000 each for the bereaved families.

In today’s order, the court directed the Chief District Judge of Morby to appoint a bailiff to give notice to the civic agency. It noted that while the state has filed an affidavit, some clarifications are needed on the renovation contract.

“The chronological list of events will indicate that the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed between the collector and the contractor on June 16, 2008,” it noted. “This is for the purpose of operating, maintaining, managing and collecting rent for the suspension bridge. The above period expires on June 15, 2017. Therefore, the question at issue is: under this MoU, who is responsible for proving the suitability of the bridge… …what steps did the Municipality of Morby and the collectors do subsequently to tender after the 2017 term ended?” the court said.

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