Indian PM Modi visits site of Morbi bridge tragedy, where 135 were killed

The Victorian-era structure in Gujurat was closed for renovations for six months but reopened on October 26

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday visited the site of a bridge collapse that killed at least 135 people.

The cables suspending the 233-metre bridge over the Machchhu river in Morbi district in western Gujarat state snapped on Sunday.

Mr Modi viewed the continuing search and rescue operations and also met the injured at a government-run hospital.

The prime minister is on a three-day tour in the election-bound state. On Monday, he tore up his campaign agenda and announced his visit to Morbi.

“Went to Morbi, which witnessed the horrific bridge mishap. Met the bereaved families and extended condolences. I visited the site of the tragedy and went to the hospital where the injured are recovering. Also met those involved in rescue ops and chaired a review meeting,” Mr Modi tweeted.

Pictures shown on television showed him taking stock of the situation near the accident site, talking to rescuers and meeting the injured. He also met senior police officers.

Dhirubhai Pitroda, a 78-year-old retired teacher, said he was pleased with Mr Modi’s visit and was confident justice would be done.

Mr Pitroda's nephew Prashant Makwala, 35, and Makwala's wife Sonal, 33, died in the incident.

“The couple drowned. It is a human error, the fault of the ticket-seller. The higher authorities should have trained them and informed them about the bridge’s capacity,” Mr Pitroda told The National.

“I have faith in Modi. I know he will take all the details and assure us justice. That is his quality,” Mr Pitroda said and added that Makwala’s parents were given two cheques of 400,000 rupees ($4,800) each as compensation by local authorities.

Mr Modi’s visit drew criticism from opposition parties after television reports showed decorators at work in a hospital before he arrived.

Hundreds of sanitation workers were sweeping the city and staff at the accident site were seen removing litter before the prime minister's visit.

The main opposition Indian National Congress said the visit was a “photo op” for Mr Modi.

Election dates have not been set but people may be asked to go to the polls in December.

“They have no shame … so many people have died, and they are busy in event management,” the party said in a tweet.

The Victorian-era bridge had been closed for renovations for six months but was reopened on October 26.

While the capacity of the bridge was reported to be about 150 people, more than 500 tickets were sold, mostly to women and children who had gathered to perform rituals for the Hindu festival of Chhath puja and celebrate the Gujarati new year.

Early inspections found that the bridge cables were not replaced during the renovation. They had snapped under pressure.

Police said everyone was accounted for but several agencies were still searching.

In the capital, Delhi, the country's highest court on Tuesday agreed to hear a petition seeking a judicial investigation into the incident.

The Gujarat government has formed a five-member committee, but the petitioner has asked for a commission under the supervision of a retired supreme court judge.

Rescuers conduct search operation after the suspension bridge collapsed on Sunday. Reuters

The state police on late Monday arrested nine people including the managers of Gujarat-based Oreva Group, which had undertaken the renovation work, the ticket sellers at the bridge and security guards who failed to control the crowd.

Oreva Group specialises in wall clocks and electric bikes. It has no experience in infrastructure development.

It was awarded a 15-year contract to repair, maintain and manage the bridge, known as “Jhoolta Pul” or hanging bridge, in 2020.

The renovation started seven months ago. The company was bound by its contract to keep the bridge shut for at least eight to 12 months for maintenance and repairs but opened it early.

The group had also not secured permission to reopen the bridge nor a test certificate for the structure from the municipality.

In Ahmedabad, Gujarat authorities limited the number of visitors to a 300-metre-long foot bridge that was opened by Mr Modi in August.

In Dwarka, a temple town in Gujarat, a hanging bridge was closed.

Updated: November 01, 2022, 3:43 PM
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