The falling of the Sultanganj-Aguwani bridge in Bihar raises many eyebrows but it does not come as a surprise. What promised to offer visitors a unique view of the Ganga River's majesty, met an inevitable fate after its flawed design and shoddy construction came to the fore as it collapsed into two halves and fell into the water below it at a time when the country was reeling with the shocking tragedy of the Odisha train accident.
On Sunday, a 200-metre stretch of about 30 slabs of the bridge came crashing down, a video of which went viral on social media. Incidentally, it was not the first time that the bridge which connected Bihar’s Bhagalpur and Khagaria districts buckled. Just 14 months ago, in April last year, it witnessed a similar scare when a few pillars collapsed due to a loose cable during a thunderstorm.
VIDEO | Under construction Aguwani-Sultanganj Ganga bridge collapsed in Bihar's Bhagalpur earlier today. More details are awaited. pic.twitter.com/q26wzRoIlT— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) June 4, 2023
While there were no casualties reported, the incident acted as a reminder of the countless other bridge collapses that have taken place in Bihar. It also prompted the Nitish Kumar-led government to initiate an investigation after facing backlash over the faulty construction and safety standards.
What really caused the bridge to collapse?
A Rs 1,700 crore project for an ambitious four-lane bridge, the foundation stone for the construction was laid down by CM Nitish Kumar in 2014. The bridge was supposed to link Bhagalpur and Khagaria districts and was slated to be completed by 2020. But it missed several completion deadlines.
One of the biggest criticisms the government has received over the bridge is that when parts of it collapsed last year, it happened due to wind and rain. This time, it buckled in its own weight. The reason that stands out is the usage of sub-par construction materials to save costs.
Using poor-quality materials as a quick fix for big projects is a recurring problem seen in many of the past cave-in incidents of roads, bridges and expressways. Last year, when the bridge had collapsed for the first time, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari had expressed surprise at the official’s explanation for the incident. He had said, “I cannot understand how a bridge collapse can due to strong winds. There must be some error.”
Defending the bridge collapse, the Bihar government tried to play down the incident by saying that the authorities were anyway planning to demolish the bridge after they noted serious structural defects.
"It may be recalled that a portion of this bridge had collapsed on April 30 last year. We had, thereafter, approached IIT-Roorkee, which is esteemed for its expertise in construction matters, to conduct a study," deputy chief minister Tejasvi Yadav said at a press conference, adding that the final collapse was simply an indication that fears about the structural stability of the bridge were correct.
“It is yet to come up with a final report but experts who had studied the structure had informed us that there were serious defects,” he said.
Additional Chief Secretary of Road Construction Department Pratyay Amrit claimed that the state decided to go ahead with the demolition and “not take a chance and wait for a final report”
“So we went ahead with pulling down parts of the bridge. Today’s incident was a part of such a preventive exercise,” he said, s quoted by news agency PTI.
However, according to the latest data uploaded by the BRPNN on its website on May 29, the administrative approval of the project was given on November 14, 2013, by the then Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government and the project was supposed to be completed by November 2019, later rescheduled to June 30, 2023.
"Till April 2023, work related to foundation and sub-structure of the bridge had been fully completed, but only 84.3 per cent of work related to super-structure was completed," according to the latest BRPNN data.
The Haryana-based company, which was awarded the contract, has already been served with a show-cause notice by the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam (BRPNN) and asked to give its reply within 15 days of the incident. The department concerned also suspended the executive engineer for his failure to keep an eye on the quality of the work.
Meanwhile, the BJP, which is in opposition following the fallout with Nitish Kumar, has been pinning the blame on “corruption” and demanding the chief minister's resignation.