Morbi Incident | How Contract Of Renovation Granted Without Inviting Tender? Gujarat High Court Raises Questions About MoU For Bridge Maintenance
While hearing the suo moto case pertaining to the October 30 Morbi Bridge Collapse incident, 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?," a bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri remarked as it wondered how did 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 was 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.
Significantly, today, the Morbi Civic body was not represented before the High Court despite being served with a notice on November 7. Taking note of the same, the Court remarked that Civic Body is 'acting smart'. Further, 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 on November 16 as well.
During the course of the hearing, the High Court also asked the state as to what action was taken against the Morbi Municipal Committee's Chief Executive Officer SV Zala and whether any domestic inquiry is contemplated against him.
For the uninitiated, taking suo motu cognisance of the "disheartening" Morbi Bridge collapse, that claimed 134 lives, the Gujarat High Court had asked the state to file a status report in the case.
"We have taken suo moto cognizance of this Morbi incident. But for the vacation, we would have sat on the same day itself… we want some action from your end," a bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri told Advocate General Kamal Trivedi on November 7.
The 141-year-old suspension bridge hanging over the Machchuu River was reopened two weeks ago after repairs and maintenance by the Oreva company. A PIL in Supreme Court seeks a judicial inquiry into the matter.