MUMBAI: Taking note of the recent bridge collapse incident in Andheri, the Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Railways and the BMC to ‘seriously’ conduct audits of nearly 487 old and new bridges in the city. The court has also asked the Maharashtra government to consider coming up with a ‘planned development’ policy for Mumbai, on the lines of Navi Mumbai, keeping in mind the demands of future generations.
The division bench of Justices Naresh Patil and Girish Kulkarni said, “We want you to conduct an audit of all old and new bridges in the city with a serious approach and in a time-bound manner. We do not want a situation where a bridge collapses in front of a moving train.” Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, appearing for the railways, said the authorities have been conducting audits of all bridges at ‘regular’ intervals.
Taking a dig at the ASG’s submissions, Justice Patil said, “Despite your audits, bridges in the city are falling one-by-one. We do not want incidents like the recent bridge fall to repeat.” The bench accordingly directed the ASG to constitute a team under a senior official, including general managers of different railway zones, to work on the audit of all Foot-Over-Bridges (FOBs) and Road-Over-Bridges (ROBs).
The bench was hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Thane-based activist Vikrant Tawade through advocate VP Patil highlighting the failure of authorities, which led to the tragic stampede at Elphinstone road station last year. The judges also referred to waterlogging issues, especially the submergence of tracks, leading to a delay or cancellation of train services. The judges reiterated their suggestion of raising the height of tracks to avoid getting submerged.
ASG Singh submitted that even after raising the height, tracks would remain submerged due to the ‘poor’ cleaning work of drainage systems by BMC. The bench also harped on the ever-swelling population in Mumbai, which is leading to innumerable difficulties.
“Firstly, there is no proper alternate transport system available for citizens. The Metro is being introduced only now. Secondly, the city is getting overcrowded and congested because of the ever-increasing footfalls it receives daily. People from all over the country are coming to Mumbai in search of jobs, leading to congestion. The government must do something in this light,” Justice Patil said.
The bench further directed the authorities to consider introducing the water transport system in the city, to reduce the burden on local trains. “Consider introducing water transport in the city since it is surrounded by sea. This would prove helpful in diverting commuters from train transport,” Justice Patil said. Posting the matter for further hearing after three weeks, the bench directed the authorities to file their say in response to queries raised by the judges.
The court issued the directions while hearing the public interest litigation (PIL) on the Elphinstone bridge stampede that left 22 dead and many more injured. The directions were also in light of the recent Gokhale rail over bridge collapse at Andheri which left one dead and four injured.
A division bench of Justices Naresh Patil and Girish Kulkarni while hearing the PIL sought to know from the petitioner and the respondent authorities about the status of various directions issued by the bench with regards to the Elphin-stone bridge stampede last year.
The counsel for the railways informed the court of the construction of two bridges, one by the army and another by the railways to take care of the peak hour rush which resulted in the stampede.
However when the petitioner’s advocate pointed out that there was no system in place to assess the life and durability of the various FOB’s and ROB’s, the additional solicitor general Anil Singh informed the court that an audit had been carried out last year and reports of the same had been maintained. But in light of the Gokhale bridge collapse, the court rebuked the submissions.
The court then directed the railway and BMC to conduct a joint audit of all the ROB’s and FOB’s rather than putting the onus of maintaining the bridges, skywalks and flyovers on each other and ensure that tragedies and loss of lives was averted.
The next hearing has been kept after three weeks to assess the progress of the work based on the court’s directions.
BMC management has Bombay High Court in splits
Asia’s richest corporation – the BMC — became a ‘laughing stock’ in the Bombay High Court on Thursday. This, after a counsel representing BMC claimed that the civic body’s Disaster Management Department was one of the ‘best’ in the city, in fact in the nation. The otherwise ‘silent’ courtroom of Justices Naresh Patil and Girish Kulkarni, burst out laughing after BMC made the boisterous claim. Even the Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh could not control his laughter. Interestingly, the bench too was seen smirking at the BMC counsel’s submission. Justice Kulkarni asked, “Who certified your department as the best?” before breaking out in another bout of laughter.
In a bid to put an end to the blame game played by the Railways and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), high court directed for conduct a joint audit of all the 487 ROBs & FOBs in the city and fix responsibility on civic and railway officials.
More manpower to manage rush
After hearing a complaint about the absence of a system to manage crowds during peak hours, the bench accepted the suggestion of the petitioner’s advocate to increase the number of police personnel to manage the crowds. The bench agreed that the presence of policemen on the walkways would ensure that people did not resort to unruly behaviour which most often leads to chaos and a tragedy similar to that of Elphinstone bridge stampede wherein the pushing and shoving by commuters wanting to exit the bridge had led to people falling and getting trampled. The bench directed the railways to increase policemen on bridges to address the issue.
Mostly safe structures, says CR audit
Central Railway (CR) conducted a safety audit of Carnac bridge in south Mumbai, Patripul in Kalyan, foot overbridges (FOBs) in Thane, Kalyan, Lokmanya Tilak Nagar, the road overbridge (ROB) at Ghatkopar and the 60-metre-tall National Rayon Corporation (NRC) chimney near Ambivali station and found most of the structures to be safe. But it has decided to raze the FOB in Kalyan as well as remove the pipeline crossing over and above the tracks at Kopari bridge as they are no longer in use.
Officials said that inspection also found a pipeline crossing over the tracks near Nahur station to be safe, but the iron pillars were rusted.
It has suggested that the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation set up a height gauge at Patripul in Kalyan. CR will construct a retaining wall at Sandhurst Road close to Thane bound track, as it collapsed due on July 9. It also told Mhada to take steps for the safety of the building, which is close to the tracks.
A senior CR officer of CR said, “We have asked NRC to use the wire and strengthen its chimney as a precautionary measure. However, the chimney is safe. We have also asked the MSRDC to not allow heavy vehicles on the Patripul creek. The height gauge will be also installed.”
The CR had already razed the FoB around 200 metres from Tilak Nagar station towards Vashi end. The FOB, which was constructed in 1989, has not been in use after the Santacruz-Chembur Link Road ROB was constructed.