The state of Gujarat has been in mourning over the past two weeks, following the Morbi bridge collapse tragedy that occurred on October 30.
While there are many loose ends in the case, with the locals also claiming that the police report has omitted some big names involved in the accident, the Gujarat High Court is determined to bring justice to the victims. Earlier this week, on Tuesday, the Gujarat HC confronted the state government to inquire if the “largesse was given to Ajanta without a tender”.
Responding to the inquiry on Wednesday, the Morbi municipality presented an affidavit before the Gujarat High Court, implying that the Oreva Group had attempted to pressurise the municipality into securing the tender renewal. In December 2021, the company had apparently alarmed the authorities about the suspension bridge being in a “critical” condition. It had then requested the civic body to take a decision “at the earliest” for renewing the agreement in ‘favour’ of the conglomerate.
The affidavit presented before the court read, “On 29-12-2021, the Company informed the Chief Officer of Nagar Palika, that the condition of the suspension bridge is critical and hence, request was made to take a decision at the earliest.”
Earlier, the municipality had urged the court to grant it time till November 24 to file its response. However, the Division Bench led by Chief Justice Aravind Kumar denied the request made by Senior Advocate Devang Vyas, who is representing the Morbi Municipality in the case. The court directed the municipality to file their response in an affidavit as it is a ‘serious matter’, or pay Rs 1 lakh as fine.
The court also stated that it was “intriguing to note that even after the communication dated 29/12/2021 was received by (the) chief officer of Morbi municipality”, the sensitive bridge was open for public use till March 7 this year.
The company had secured the ‘memorandum of understanding’ signed between the Rajkot collector and Oreva Group’s Ajanta Manufacturing, in 2007. While the city was part of Rajkot, the previous agreement expired in 2017, but it did not deter the company from continuing to maintain the bridge even in the absence of any new agreement.
Although Oreva had presented the request for renewal before the civic body, they could not reach an agreement due to the hike in its charges for the repair. On March 8, the company and the civic body reached an agreement where the general body officially decided that the company will continue to manage and maintain the bridge.
The agreement was signed under nine conditions, including the rule that the bridge should reopen for public use only after ‘appropriate renovation’ by Ajanta, within 8-12 months from the date of agreement.
The affidavit was filed through Morbi municipality chief officer incharge Naran Muchhar. It mentioned, “The company sent a communication dated 9-1-2020 and intimated the authority that they would completely close down the suspension bridge from 26.01.2020 and thereafter, the company would not be responsible for any unfortunate accident… The company showed its readiness to manage the bridge in terms of the meeting convened between the officials of the Morbi collectorate, Morbi municipality with the officials of the company on 29-1-2020, and forwarded a draft copy of the agreement to be executed.”
Reportedly, the company reopened the bridge to the public on October 26. This was done without ‘any prior approval’ and “that too, without letting the municipality know about the kind of repair that was carried out”. The company did not seek a quality certification of material, fitness, holding capacity and structure stability of the suspension from an independent party either.
While the HC is hearing the case, the Oreva Group’s managing director Jaysukh Patel is yet to appear before the court.