Morbi bridge collapse: Victims wait for answers month after tragedy

todayNovember 30, 2022 1

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Rescue personnel conduct search operations after a bridge across the river Machchhu collapsed at Morbi in India's Gujarat state on October 31, 2022.Image source, Getty Images

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The bridge – built during British rule in the 19th Century – was a popular tourist spot in Gujarat’s Morbi district

By Roxy Gagdekar Chhara

Morbi, Gujarat

“When my father was alive, he would tell me every day to sit and study. Now who will make sure I do that?”

Vandana Makwana, 15, can’t hold back tears as she speaks about her father Mahesh, who died on 30 October when a footbridge collapsed in the western Indian state of Gujarat, plunging hundreds of people into a river.

Vandana’s father and two brothers were among the 135 people killed in the tragedy – most of the victims were women and children.

The bridge – built in the 19th Century – was a popular tourist spot in Gujarat’s Morbi district and had reopened just days before the collapse after repairs.

After the tragedy, Morbi municipality officials said that Oreva, the private firm contracted with maintaining the bridge, had not been issued a safety certificate before reopening it. They also claimed that they were unaware that the bridge was open to the public, though thousands of people had been visiting the spot.

At the site of the accident, police personnel take turns to guard the scrap metal left after the collapse – pieces of broken cables, aluminium flooring sheets, bolts – night and day. This debris is now part of the evidence for the police investigation.

There is no memorial at the site, nothing to mark that on a Sunday evening a month ago, the lives of hundreds of people were changed forever in a flash of a second.

But for the families of the victims, the anger and anguish remain.

Vandana’s grandfather, Vashram Makwana, asks why the police haven’t taken any action yet against senior officials.

“How could the bridge be operated without their knowledge?” he asks.

PK Jadeja, the deputy superintendent of Morbi police, told BBC Gujarati that he couldn’t comment on the “senior officials” being questioned in the “case at this stage”.

Image source, Pavan Jaishwal

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Vandana’s father and two brothers were among the 135 people killed in the tragedy

The state government suspended the Morbi municipality chief days after the tragedy.

A day after the accident, police arrested nine people, including Oreva staff, ticket collectors and security guards at the bridge. They are in judicial custody after their bail plea was rejected.

But no senior Oreva official, including owner Jaysukhbhai Patel, has been named in the case or questioned so far. In fact, Mr Patel – who was filmed praising the quality of the repair work at the time of the bridge’s reopening – has not been seen in public since the incident.

The Morbi district court and the Gujarat High Court are hearing separate cases on the incident.

According to a forensic report submitted by prosecutors in a local court, the rusted cables that were supporting the bridge had not been changed during repairs. While the bridge’s capacity was around 100 people at a time, more than 3,000 tickets had been sold on the day of the accident.

The Gujarat High Court has sharply criticised the Morbi municipality and asked the government to explain in detail the action taken against officials who should have overseen the condition of the bridge.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

For the families of the victims, the anger and anguish remain

It has also asked the government to provide more compensation to the victims, saying it was “abysmally on the lower side”.

It’s an order that may provide some comfort to Mahesh Manvadariya and his wife Bintu. They now take care of their nephew, five-year-old Jiyansh, who lost both his parents at Morbi.

Mr Manvadariya says he wants to educate Jiyansh well but that the monthly allowance given to children orphaned by the tragedy – 3,000 rupees ($36; £30) – is inadequate. He now hopes the government will increase the compensation.

Bintu cries as she speaks about trying to answer Jiyansh’s questions about where his parents have gone.

“We have told him that his parents have gone to meet his grandmother and they have become stars now.”

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