Days before Kolkata’s Majerhat Bridge collapsed on Tuesday killing three and leaving at least 25 injured, it now seems the Eastern Railways, in charge of a section of the bridge, had warned of the imminent danger in a letter sent exactly six weeks ago, on July 27. And while the West Bengal government has set up a committee to identify the agency responsible for the repair and upkeep of the bridge, Eastern Railways seemed to have no doubts about that. It wrote to the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA), a statutory body under the state’s Urban Affairs Ministry.
In the letter to KMDA, the chief bridge engineer of Eastern Railways leaves no room for imagination about the imminent danger.
Referring specifically to the collapsed span of the bridge – technically referred to as “ROB B/11”, he wrote that an Eastern Railways team that inspected the bridge on July 21 “found visible deflection towards Sealdah end” of the very slab that collapsed.
In simpler terms: The slab or span that fell had gone out of alignment and that was visible to the naked eye.
The Majerhat Bridge collapsed in Kolkata on Tuesday.
The letter also warned, “There are locations having exposed reinforcements in deck slabs and some cracks in piers over isolated locations that require attention.”
The letter was addressed to the Superintendent Engineer, South Circle, GAP sector, KMDA.
Engineers not linked to the bridge collapse investigation say the letter should have rung alarm bells in KMDA. Instead, all that appeared to have been done was patchwork road repairs on the bridge surface.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said the committee she has appointed will identify the agency that should have watched over Majerhat Bridge.
Minister Firhad Hakim has however named the Public Works Department and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and said multiple agencies were involved.
At no stage did he reveal the KMDA connection though, from the Eastern Railway letter, it is clear the KMDA had a lead role in its maintenance. KMDA is under Firhad Hakim’s Urban Affairs department.