Crumbling bridges bruise Bihar’s growth in construction sector

Aguanighat-Sultanganj bridge, built by Road Construction Department of Bihar on river Ganga at the cost of ₹1,710 crore, had caved in just before completion of the project in June last year

bridge collapse in Bihar

Patna: Fall of bridges on rivers in Bihar has become an order of the day. As many as eight medium to small bridges have caved in or damaged beyond repair over the past 15 days, putting a serious question mark on construction and maintenance of crucial links that determines mobility.

The chief minister’s office (CMO) has woken up, albeit lately, to the collapse of bridges with unfailing regularities and asked the concerned department, the rural works department (RWD), to explain the ‘causes’ and reply with the action taken report (ATR) taken to prevent such recurrence. However, a section of the officials believe, this missive from the CMO will as usual lead to a knew-jerk reaction, as nothing serious had happened against the contractors, engineers or the officials when major bridges flattened in the past.

Also Read: Engineers shunted after Bihar bridge collapse get back key posts

A senior officer of the CMO, on the other hand, claimed that stern action would be taken against those found guilty in these mishaps. “Chief minister Nitish Kumar has taken serious exception to the recent instances of bridge collapse and asked the RWD minister Ashok Choudhary to act swiftly,” the officer said, wishing not to be quoted.

Recent Disasters

The recent disaster with bridges began on June 18 in Araria district when four spans of an under construction bridge on Bakra river under Sikta block came crumbling down. The bridge, being built at the cost of ₹12 crore, could not be opened for traffic as its approach roads were incomplete. Three engineers were suspended and the contractor was blacklisted.

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On Wednesday, two small bridges on a moribund rivulet of Gandak, Gandaki, have been badly damaged after their main pillars got dislocated under the impact of gushing currents in Maharajganj block of Siwan district. Vehicular traffic to more than two dozen villages has been snapped as both bridges, located near Nautan and Bhikhabandh villages. Main thoroughfare on the bridges has developed multiple cracks.

On June 22, a 30-35 year old bridge made of bricks in Maharanganj block of Siwan districts collapsed due to sudden and huge current on Gandaki river, a rivulet of Gandak. An inquiry was ordered by the district magistrate, but report has not yet reached the state headquarter.

Also Read: Another bridge on river collapses in Bihar within a month

On June 24, a portion of bridge, built under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna by the RWD at the cost of ₹98 lakh after its pillar tilted down due to heavy flow of stream in Bhutahi Balan in in East Champaran. A team of engineers of the department visited the spot and preparing the report. No other action taken.

The same day, a concrete span of 15 metre of the 75metre bridge on a branch river Kosi was reportedly washed away in Madhepur block of Madhubani district, allegedly due to swirling current in the river. The gushing current had risen to the level of girder, which was cast a couple of days ago. The damaged portion of the girder was covered with polythene sheet and the contractor told the media person that it would be re-case once water-level went down.

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Similarly, on June 26, three out of seven pillars of a bridge on Mariadhar river, a tributary of Khankai, went down ground by one to two feet, due to heavy discharge in the river from Himalayan foothills. The bridge was link to NH 327E with Bahadurganj block of Kishanganj district.

On Sunday night (June 30), another bridge constructed on river Boond in near Khosidangi village under Patharia panchayat of Kishanganj by the RWD was damaged, following heavy discharge in the river. One of the spans has came down by two-feet, forcing the authority to stop traffic on it. An engineer on the project said that the proposal for building a high-level bridge there has been pending for years in the department.

No action taken against anyone in collapse of major bridges

A recently retired engineer of the road construction department (RCD) said that contractors, engineers and other stake holders in bridge construction are hardly bothered about any structural damages to the mega projects. “What has happened in case of collapse of ₹1,710 crore Aguanighat-Sultanganj bridge, being built by RCD on the river Ganga just before completion of the project in June last year? Two cases were filed in the Patna high court for the CBI inquiry and action against the construction firm, SP Singla Construction Ltd. No punitive action was taken against anyone involved in the project, except the initial reaction,” said the engineer.

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Findings of Aguanighat bridge disaster

The IIT-Roorkee experts, who were roped in by the RCD, after first partial collapse of the bridge on April 30 last year, attributed it to “gross design failure”. The experts in their report to the state government said that “the NDT (non-destructive test) of the entire span done by IIT-Roorkee also indicates some discrepancies in the bridge geometry…. The application of shims and unplanned wet stitches have been recommended by the designer. While it has been communicated regularly that these practices may have debilitating consequences on the structure, it has been maintained that the design is robust enough to incorporate these changes,” said the report.

The spans on pier 10-12 of the four-lane extradosed cable stayed bridge, being built by SP Singla Construction Limited at the cost of ₹1,710 crore, had caved in the mainstream of Ganga like pack of cards.

Also Read: Engineers shunted after Bihar bridge collapse get back key posts

Span of mega bridge on Kosi in Supaul fell down

A portion of the country’s largest Bakaur bridge, being constructed over Kosi river by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had collapsed in Supaul district on March 22 morning, which killed at least one person died and left nine seriously injured. The 10.2 km bridge across river Kosi is being constructed between Bheja and Bakaur in Madhubani and Supaul districts of Bihar. The NHAI had set up a three-member inquiry committee, comprising retired additional director general, Union ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) AK Shrivastava, which submitted its report on April 10. The panel listed the flaws in execution of the bridge construction, but did not recommend any penal action against anyone involved in the project. It asked the construction firm to exercise total caution and recommended installation of additional surveillance gadgets at the construction site.

Another NHAI bridge caved in Kishanganj

Barely three weeks after the Aguanighat-Sultangang bridge collapse, one pillar of the bridge constructed by NHAI on Mechi river between Katihar and Kishanganj as part of NH-327E, had sunk in by one-two feet. The incident had taken place around 400 km from state capital Patna. Road of the bridge was damaged badly. In a spontaneous reaction, the NHAI had suspended four engineers and set up a five-member team of experts to investigate the cause. However, the report was never made public and none of the officers was able to how many people were penalised. “The height of the pillar was raised again to normal and road was made safe for transportation,” said an NHAI officer in Kishanganj.

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Regional officer, NHAI, Patna, YB Singh declined commenting on the action taken in both cases of bridge disaster when reached by KhabarInfra.

Bihar Engineering Service Association’s demand went unheard

Soon after the collapse of Aguanighat-Sultanganj bridge collapse, the Bihar Engineering Service Association (BESA) had demanded structural audit of all major construction projects regularly, apart from dealing sternly with engineers, officers and construction company found guilty in the project. “However, the government did not pay any heed to our demand. Any engineering project, suffers risk of damage of any of the three ingredients, design, material and supervision, is found inadequate. And Aguanighat bridge disaster, had flaws from all three fronts,” said former general secretary of BESA and vice-president of All India Engineers’ Federation Sunil Chaudhary. Chaudhary is also a serving executive engineer with the Bihar government. “Dishonest persons usually get emboldened whey they were not taken to the task for their fault,” he added.

Also Read: Longest bridge in Jharkhand on Mayurakshi river opened for traffic

CM reviews situation, calls for strong maintenance policy

Taking serious exceptions to frequent fall of bridges at the onset of Monsoon, CM Nitish Kumar on Wednesday held an emergency meeting of senior officers of the RCD and rural works department. Additional chief secretaries (ACSs) of both the departments, Pratyay Amrit and Deepak Kumar Singh, were present in the meeting and briefed the CM about measures taken to prevent recurrence of the bridge damages.

The CM asked the RWD ACS to prepare road and bridge maintenance policy in accordance with the one approved by the RCD. He also directed the officials to take action against those responsible for bridge collapse. “Roads and bridges built by the RWD shall also be maintained properly like those by the RCD,” said Kumar.

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