The Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Gujarat government after its initial investigation has concluded that the collapse of the suspension bridge in Morbi, which resulted in the death of 135 people, was caused by corrosion on almost half of the wires on a cable and the use of a combination of old and new suspenders, which were welded together. The SIT reached these conclusions after examining the evidence and carrying out an investigation into the causes of the tragedy.
These findings are part of the 'Preliminary Report on Morbi Bridge Incident' submitted by the five-member SIT in December 2022. The report was recently shared with the Morbi Municipality by the state Urban Development Department.
Ajanta Manufacturing Limited (Oreva Group) was responsible for the operation and maintenance of the British-era suspension bridge on the Machchu river that collapsed on October 30 last year. The SIT had found several lapses in repairs, maintenance and operation of the bridge.
IAS officer Rajkumar Beniwal, IPS officer Subhash Trivedi, a secretary and a chief engineer from the state Roads and Building Department and a professor of structural engineering were members of the SIT.
According to the team's findings, the suspension bridge had two main cables and one of the cables, which was constructed by the previous rulers in 1887 over the river Machchhu, had significant issues with corrosion. The SIT determined that nearly half of the wires in this cable "may be already broken" even before the cable snapped on the evening of October 30.
According to the SIT, the main cable on the upstream side of the river snapped, leading to the tragedy. Each cable was formed by seven strands, each comprising seven steel wires. Total 49 wires were clubbed together in seven strands to form this cable, the SIT report said.
"It was observed that out of the 49 wires (of that cable), 22 were corroded, which indicates that those wires may have already broken before the incident. The remaining 27 wires recently broke," the SIT said in its report.
The SIT also found that during the renovation work, "old suspenders (steel rods which connect the cable with the platform deck) were welded with the new suspenders. Hence the behaviour of suspenders changed. In these types of bridges, single rod suspenders should be used to bear the load".
Notably, the Morbi Municipality, without the approval of the general board, had awarded the contract to maintain and operate the bridge to Oreva Group (Ajanta Manufacturing Limited), which had closed the bridge in March 2022 for renovation and opened it on October 26 without any prior approval or inspection.
According to the SIT, there were nearly 300 persons on the bridge at the time of collapse, which was "far more" than the load bearing capacity of the bridge. It, however, said the actual capacity of the bridge will be confirmed by laboratory reports.
The probe report also pointed out that replacing individual wooden planks with an aluminium deck also played a role in the collapse. "Walking structure was made up of rigid aluminium panels instead of flexible wooden planks. If there were individual wooden planks (which were there before renovation), the number of casualties could have been lower. Moreover, no load test or structure test was conducted before opening the bridge," it added.
The aluminium honeycomb panels were fixed without any gap in between, which makes the deck less flexible to deform in its own plane, said the SIT, adding that the use of aluminium could have increased the overall weight of the bridge too.
Morbi police have already arrested ten accused, including Oreva Group's MD Jaysukh Patel, under IPC sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 336 (act which endangers human life), 337 (causing hurt to any person by doing any rash or negligent act) and under 338 (causing grievous hurt by doing rash or negligent act).
Earlier on February 15, the Morbi municipality passed a resolution saying that the civic body never gave its approval to hand over the suspension bridge to Oreva Group. At a general body meeting held to discuss the same, 41 of the 52 councillors of the BJP-ruled municipality asserted that the majority of them were not aware of the agreement under which the Oreva Group had been granted responsibility for the maintenance and operation of the bridge.
(With PTI inputs)