Infrastructure crumbling in Bengal

Two days after a chunk of the Majerhat bridge, a key connector between south and southwestern Kolkata, collapsed, killing three persons and leaving more than 20 injured, the West Bengal government made a startling revelation. After a meeting with officials of different Departments, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said 20 bridges in the city and its suburbs had outlived their life span.
While the government did not name all the bridges that are operational and carrying traffic well beyond their expiry date, it specified three bridges at Sealdah, Ultandanga and Santragachi. These are three of the busiest flyovers and railway overbridges that carry thousands of vehicles and commuters every day. For the city, which is still grappling with three bridge collapses since 2013, crumbling infrastructure is a cause for concern. One of the key problems, cited by the government, is that being a riverine State, it has hundreds of bridges, and many were built years ago, including some dating back to colonial times. For instance, the iconic Howrah Bridge, which was opened to the public in 1943, faced a peculiar problem earlier in the decade when its pillars started corroding because of spitting by thousands of gutkha-chewing commuters. The steel structure was made stronger by fibre-casing by the Kolkata Port Trust.
The State government claims that documents relating to many bridges built before independence and during the previous governments are not available, and therefore the agency that is responsible for their maintenance cannot be located. The case filed by the Kolkata police in the Majerhat bridge collapse under several Sections of the IPC, including 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), is against “unknown persons.”
The State government has set up bridge inspection and monitoring committees under the PWD, the Irrigation Department and the KMDA. These committees will be engaged in the safety audit of the bridges. The State government has also banned the plying of heavy vehicles and 20-wheeler trucks on bridges and flyovers of the city. The government has urged the Joka-BBD Bag metro project, being carried out in the vicinity of the Majerhat bridge, to suspend work till the inquiry committee, headed by the Chief Secretary, completes its investigation. Since the Majerhat bridge on Diamond Harbour Road connected Behala and the adjoining suburban areas to the city, the accident has resulted in traffic bottlenecks. The Transport Department has started bus services, but with the festival season approaching, the traffic police and the government will have to take more measures to ensure full connectivity to the southwestern suburbs.
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