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Morbi Incident | "Ajanta Co. Reopened Bridge Without Prior Nod, No Fitness Certificate Provided": Morbi Civic Body Submits In Gujarat HC

Sparsh Upadhyay
16 Nov 2022 3:01 PM GMT
Morbi Incident | Ajanta Co. Reopened Bridge Without Prior Nod, No Fitness Certificate Provided: Morbi Civic Body Submits In Gujarat HC

Submitting its counter-affidavit today in a suo moto case pertaining to the October 30 Morbi Bridge Collapse incident which took the lives of 135 people, the Morbi Civic Body today informed the Gujarat High Court that the Bridge was reopened for the public at large after the renovation work on October 26 by the Ajanta Company (Oreva Group) without any prior approval.

The affidavit, filed through Naran Kalabhai Muchhar, In-charge Chief Officer of Morbi Nagar Palika, further states that the Morbi Nagar Palika was not even informed about the kind of repairing work undertaken by the company. Also, the company did not provide any independent third-party certificate/s relating to material testing, structure fitness, holding Capacity and fitness, and stability of the Suspension Bridge.

The affidavit was filed pursuant to the High Court's stern remarks made earlier today asking the Civic body to file its counter or pay the cost of Rs. 1 Lakh. A bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri earlier today orally asked the Body to stop taking this matter casually and to file the reply/counter affidavit by 4:30 pm today or pay 1 lakh cost.

Read complete details here: Morbi Incident | "Don't Take This Matter Casually; File Counter-Affidavit By 4:30 PM Today Or Pay ₹1Lakh Cost": Gujarat HC To Civic Body

Pursuant to this, the Civic Body filed the instant counter affidavit informing the Court that in 2007, an MoU was signed between the Civic body and the Orega group for the purpose of the maintenance, security, management, collection of rent, etc. of Suspension Bridge and after the said MoU expired in 2017, the Suspension Bridge continued to be maintained and managed by the Company, in absence of there being any new agreement.

Significantly, as per the affidavit, the Company, on at least two occasions (in January 2020 and December 2021), informed the Chief Officer of Nagar Palika that the condition of the Suspension Bridge is critical and that unless and until an agreement is signed entrusting the operations, maintenance, security and management of the Suspension Bridge to the company, it shall not undertake any kind of work related to the bridge.

Subsequently, in March 2022, the agreement with certain conditions was executed entrusting to the company, the entire management of the Suspension Bridge for a period of 15 years. The Bridge was closed for visitors during the period of March 8, 2022, to October 25, 2022, and it was reopened just 4 days before the Incident.

Essentially, the Civic Body today filed the instant counter affidavit pursuant to HC's yesterday order, wherein the Court had orally remarked that the Body was 'acting smart' as it was not appearing before the Court despite being served with a notice on November 7.

Our readers may note that yesterday while hearing the suo moto case, the Gujarat High Court raised its eyebrows over the way in which the contract for renovation was granted to the Gujarat-based Ajanta Manufacturing, a part of the Oreva Group.

"State took steps that are expected from it (after the incident) but the agreement signed b/w Morbi civic body and a private contractor (for bridge renovation) is just 1.5 pages. No tender was invited. Why contract was granted without inviting any tender?," the bench had remarked as it wondered how the largesse of the state was given to Ajanta company without any tender being floated.

The Court also noted that despite the expiry of a 2008 MoU signed between Collector Rajkot and M/s Ajanta to operate, maintain, manage, and collect rent in respect of the suspension bridge in 2017, the bridge continued to be maintained by the Ajanta company.

"From 15/6/2017, for a period of 2 years, without there being an MoU or agreement or entrustment, the bridge in question was continued to be maintained by Ajanta company. After the said contract expired, what steps were taken by the official authorities to call for expressions of interest or float a tender for a further period is not clear from the State's affidavit?"

Further, the Court put the following observations/questions before the State Government:

* Under the fresh agreement (signed in March 2022), it is not forthcoming who had the responsibility to certify that the bridge is fit for usage.

* When the earlier MoU expired in 2017, what steps were taken to call for an expression of interest or float a tender for a further period?

* On what basis, the bridge was being permitted to be operated by Ajanta after June 2017, even when the MoU (signed in 2008), was not renewed after 2017 (though the new agreement was ultimately signed in March 2022)?

* Whether there was compliance with Section 65 of the Gujarat Municipality act? by the state government

* Why it did the state not use its powers under Section 263 of the Gujarat Municipality Act as prima facie the Municipality has defaulted, which led to an unfortunate incident that resulted in the deaths of 135 innocent persons.

Read more about Court's yesterday order here: Morbi Incident | How Contract Of Renovation Granted Without Inviting Tender? Gujarat High Court Raises Questions About MoU For Bridge Maintenance

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