From a historic suspension bridge to a death trap - the timeline of the Morbi suspension bridge has more to say than what meets the eye. The tragedy on the Machchhu river in Morbi town of Gujarat led to the deaths of 135 people, including 54 children.
This incident will go down in India's history as one of the biggest civic disasters that claimed the lives of more than 50 children.
A brief history of Morbi bridge
Built during the British era and over 100-year-old bridge, the ‘jhoolta pul’ was supposed to connect the Darbargadh palace and the Nazarbagh palace - the two royal palaces of the time. The bridge is now touted by Gujarat’s tourism department as an 'artistic and technological marvel'.
The 233 mts long engineering marvel was built by then Maharaja of the princely state of Morbi Sir Waghji Thakur with the latest technology available then in the 19th century Europe.
Spanning the Machchu river, the bridge later connected Lakhdhirji Engineering College and Darbargarh Palace. Though the actual date of the bridge’s construction varies, locals claim it was built in 1880s by Waghji Thakur.
Restoration and reopening of Morbi bridge
The bridge was closed for about seven months for repair. The restoration work began in March after an MoU was signed between the concerned municipal council and Ajanta Manufacturing Private Limited, under the aegis of Oreva Group.
After going through extensive renovations, the bridge was thrown open to public on October 26- the first day of the Gujarati New Year.
A day before reopening, Jaysukh Bhai Patel, owner of Oreva group informed that nothing will happen to the bridge for the next 8-10 years, and it will need no repair works for 15 years if managed responsibly.
Possible reasons behind the collapse
Was the bridge overloaded? There is no official estimate as to how many people should be on the bridge at a time. However, according to an official of the Gujarat government, not more than 125 people should have been on the bridge at a particular point of time.
Meanwhile, locals claim that on the day of the tragic incident, around 200 to 250 people were on the bridge. It is widely believed that lack of management on part of the authorities in allowing so many people at one go claimed so many innocent lives.
On the other hand, apart from serious allegations of rampant overcrowding on the bridge, Morbi Municipality claimed the bridge was reopened without necessary fitness certificate.
Experts believe the failure was sudden and the wires used on the suspension bridge lacked ductility. They also claim the snapped wire appeared to be missing the characteristics of ductility. "From overcrowding to jumping and shaking must have put a lot of pressure on wires. And, it could be a possible reason behind the collapse," said an engineer.
Moreover, some also claimed foul play in the mishap stating that the bridge was recently renovated and the steel ropes used could not have lost strength. Besides, how such a large crowd was allowed on the bridge needs investigation, said a local demanding a high-level probe into the tragic incident to ascertain the actual reason behind the mishap.
Politics & possible impact on Gujarat Assembly polls
Soon after the incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level meeting at Raj Bhavan (Gandhinagar) to take stock of the situation. Along with Gujarat CM Bhupendra Bhai Patel, MoS Home Harsh Sanghavi, Chief Secretary and DGP of Gujarat, and other top officials attended the meeting.
The PM was thoroughly briefed on the entire incident, from the rescue to the relief operations. The PM emphasised on strictly ensuring that those affected get immediate and all possible assistance.
However, Congress was quick to attack PM Modi over the bridge collapse and asked whether the tragedy was an act of god or an act of fraud.
The Election Commission on Thursday announced that elections to the 182-member Gujarat Assembly will be held in two phases on December 1 and 5. So, it is now believed that the main Opposition parties in the state, Congress and AAP, will leave no stone unturned in taking advantage of the tragic incident.
On the contrary, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi refused to politicise the incident, saying, "...People have died here. It is disrespectful for them to politicise this incident. So, I am not going to do it."
“The incident has no doubt triggered anger among people against the ruling BJP government in the state, but voters are well informed about the entire scenario. No party wants or can afford such a human disaster ahead of crucial elections. Every incident shouldn’t be politicised to settle scores among political parties,” said a senior journalist.
Legal actions/arrests so far in Morbi bridge collapse case
So far, police have arrested nine persons in connection with the mishap. While four accused have been sent to police custody till Saturday, the other five arrested persons have been sent to judicial custody.
Out of the arrested nine accused, two are staff of Oreva group. Meanwhile, lawyers in the state on November 2 held a protest march and voiced refusal to fight the case for all the arrested accused.