The collapse of the Gokhale Bridge in Mumbai’s Andheri on 3 July has jolted authorities into action, and structural audits of all bridges which have been built over railway tracks in the city are now being conducted.
After the IIT-Bombay recommended the closure of the Delisle Road overbridge in Lower Parel over safety concerns, the Western Railway has now begun the process to dismantle the structure.
Speaking to Firstpost, Western Railway spokesperson Ravindra Bhakar said, “We issued tenders for the work of dismantling the bridge on 2 August, and the process will be completed on 16 August.”
The road overbridge is in an area teeming with office-goers throughout the day, and it was initially closed for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, leading to much chaos and near-stampede situations. It is now open only for pedestrians. Ashok Dudhe, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mumbai Traffic Police said that vehicular traffic is now being diverted to NM Joshi Marg, Senapati Bapat Marg and Ganpatrao Kadam Road.
Meanwhile, confusion still prevails over which authority is responsible for work on the bridge — the Western Railway or the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Bhakar said that while the Railways will undertake the task of dismantling the bridge, the question as to who will reconstruct it has not yet been resolved. The Railways had earlier stated that the BMC is the authority which is responsible. On the other hand, BMC chief engineer (bridges) Shitalaprasad Kori said that work on reconstructing the bridge should be done by the railways.
Here’s the legal position. According to Section 16(2) of The Railways Act, 1989, the railway administration is not responsible for the construction of bridges across the tracks once ten years have passed since the tracks at the particular place began to be used. However, Section 17 states that the local authority (in this case, the BMC) can ask the railways to construct bridges across tracks if they are needed, which will be at the expense of the civic body.
The Western Railway also alleges that the BMC owes it arrears to the tune of Rs 27 crore for the repairs of footover bridges (the one at Delisle Road is a road overbridge). A senior railway official said, “Out of the total pending amount of Rs 27 crore, about Rs 12 crore constitutes old amounts, including those pending for six months and above.”
Speaking about the Delisle bridge, the official also said, “The Railways had identified the structure as unsafe in one of its audits earlier. The IIT-B report only expedited the process of repairing it.”
However, commuters are facing a harrowing time owing to the diversions at Lower Parel. Sagar Kelaskar, a resident of Prabhadevi, says, “Traffic on the Delisle Bridge used to be slow-moving, but it still used to move at a somewhat steady pace. Now, on the alternative routes, vehicles often come to a standstill. It is a particularly difficult situation for vehicles coming from the eastern side to the western side, and for people coming to Lower Parel from south Mumbai. Sometimes, even calling the diversions as ‘bottlenecks’ is an understatement.”
Why the Lower Parel bridge weakened
Speaking to Firstpost, Pradipta Banerji, a professor at IIT-Bombay who is heading the bridge inspection team, said, “A major problem in the case of the structure at Lower Parel was the lack of accessibility of the portions which needed repairs, and this was an issue which had also plagued the Gokhale Bridge in Andheri. Due to this, maintenance work and steps to prevent corrosion of the steel structure, such as painting it, were not possible. Further, (at the Delisle Road bridge), a large amount of water and muck would get accumulated between the edge of the road and the footpath. This particularly became a problem during the monsoon, and it contributed to the deterioration.”
Banerji further pointed to growing air pollution in the past few decades as a reason for the weakening of civic infrastructure. “Of late, due to pollution, rain is acidic and it has sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides, and this rain comes in contact with steel bridges. Any acidic substance hastens the corrosion process of metal and makes structures vulnerable.” A study conducted by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology(IITM, Pune) in 2002 had shed light on the problem of acidic rain occurring due to human activities in and around Mumbai. The study revealed that rainwater at Kalyan over a period of twenty years from 1973-1974 to 1994-1995 became acidic to due to the long-term effects of pollutants. While it observed a decreasing trend of excess sulphate in Colaba and Kalyan because of pollution control measures, it observed an increase in nitrogen oxides in both the places because of increased automobile emissions.
Another factor for the weakening of the Delisle Road Bridge is that it is nearly a century old — built in 1921. Commenting on this aspect, Banerji says, “Any steel structure which is about a hundred years old will naturally suffer a loss of load-carrying capacity over a period of time, howsoever much one tries to maintain and repair it. In the long-term, they simply have to be replaced.”
IIT-B has also recommended the reconstruction or repair of five other bridges which go over railway tracks – Frere road overbridge (ROB) at Grant Road, Belasis ROB at Mumbai Central, Tilak ROB at Dadar, Carol ROB at Prabhadevi and the ROB at Mahalaxmi. Out of these, the bridge at Grant Road was briefly shut down after the accident at Andheri, due to a crack which was discovered on it. However, traffic was restored on it after officials of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation and Western Railway concluded that the crack was merely on the surface.
‘Andheri bridge collapsed due to corrosion, weight of cables’
According to a press statement issued by Sushil Chandra, Commissioner of Railway Safety, Western Circle, Mumbai, the Andheri bridge collapse occurred due to “heavy/deep corrosion and pitting of cantilever steel brackets supporting the pathway, resulting in thinning down of the section and failure of the pathway of the ROB. The failure of the ROB pathway was contributed by (sic) the additional load of various cables, sand, paver blocks, etc provided by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai without prior permission from Western Railway. These additional loads were not considered at the time of original design.”
One person — Asmita Katkar — died and four people sustained injuries because of the mishap.
Bombay HC takes note of infrastructure woes
The Bombay High Court in a recent order has voiced serious concern about infrastructure for train commuters in Mumbai. A division bench of the court noted on 12 July, “It is high time that the immediate development of the existing transport infrastructure is considered of paramount importance for the lakhs of common citizens who depend on local train services, which are rightly the lifeline of Mumbai city. If the lifeline is itself not up to the mark and satisfying the basic necessary requirements for all categories of commuters, then surely, life itself is affected.”
The court has asked the additional solicitor-general to call for a meeting of general managers of various Railway zones and directed them to hold discussions on a number of issues pertaining to ensuring safety for train commuters. One of these points is the problems related to footover bridges, including their width and steps to avoid overcrowding.
The court issued these directions in response to two public interest litigations seeking directions for better rail safety. The petitions were filed following the stampede at Elphinstone Road station on 29 September, 2017, in which 23 people lost their lives.
News credit : Firstpost