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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

Sparsh Upadhyay
16 Nov 2022 6:01 AM GMT
Morbi bridge collapse, Gujarat high court, morbi nagar palika, civic body, warning, crritical conditiojn of morbi bridge ajanta company, compensation, not enought, Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J. Shastri

Hearing a suo moto case pertaining to the October 30 Morbi Bridge Collapse incident, the Gujarat High Court today directed the Morbi Civic Body to file its counter-affidavit in the matter by 4:30 PM today or pay 1 lakh cost. The Court also asked it to stop taking this matter casually.

A bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri directed thus as it was informed today by the Morbi Civilc Body's counsel that the counter couldn't be filed pursuant to Court's November 7 order as the deputy collector, who is looking after the Civic Body affairs is also on election duty and he couldn't decide which advocate should represent it before the Court.

Further, the civic body sought time till November 24 to file its reply (the next date of hearing in the matter), however, the Court refused to grant time till then and the Chief Justice 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. Pursuant to this, the Civic Body informed the bench that the counter shall be filed by 4:30 pm today.

Essentially, the Civic Body was appearing before the Court today 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.

Yesterday, the Court directed the Principal District Judge, Morbi to appoint a bailiff to serve a notice to the civic body informing them that a hearing of the incident would be conducted today (November 16).

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 MoU (signed in 2020) , 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 MoU was ultimately signed in 2020)?

* 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.

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