The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ticking-bomb tag on bridge
‘Eased-out’ German expert speaks out, warns of collapse in five to seven years
(Top) The bridge after Friday’s crash and (above) the site after a crane collapse

Calcutta, May 20: The Second Vivekananda Bridge will collapse within five to seven years after it’s opened because of structural faults and poor engineering, a German who supervised the construction had warned a few days before yesterday’s cave-in.

“If work goes on like this, the bridge will collapse after five to seven years of its commissioning due to critical technical shortcomings and lack of basic engineering hygiene,” Jurgen H.H. Dorbecker told The Telegraph before leaving the country last week following differences with project contractor L&T.

On Friday morning, a portion of the bridge collapsed, killing two labourers and injuring two seriously. Other labourers have stopped work, blaming the use of “poor-quality material” in building the Calcutta-Howrah bridge over the Hooghly.

They also allege that since construction began in 2001, six labourers have died but the accidents were hushed up.

Both allegations are more or less echoed by Dorbecker, who has worked on the Suez Canal Bridge and the Singapore Second Crossing, and was appointed by project management specialists Parsons Brinckerhoff to oversee L&T’s operations.

“We are talking of hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people crossing the bridge every day and such compromise ' be it for cutting costs, ignorance or time pressure ' is criminal. As a professional, I don’t want people to call me up after 10 years and hold me responsible for a bridge collapse,” the structural engineer said before returning home to Brisbane.

The work, he alleged, suffered from “glaring structural deficiencies, huge time and cost overruns and an acute shortage of able engineers”. Damaged or rusty steel bars and wires were being used, and repeated warnings and status reports to the L&T brass had gone “unheeded”.

“There has been a string of incidents and accidents on site and at least five people were crushed to death as three giant cranes collapsed during my stay here since May 2005. Everything is always hushed up,” Dorbecker said, adding that he had quit as resident supervising engineer “over serious differences with L&T”.

“The bridge is in deep trouble, particularly in the pier area of P9, where the segment P9-12D had slipped.”

L&T said the allegations are “baseless”, and referred the matter to the Second Vivekananda Bridge Tollway Company (SVBTC) Pvt Ltd, owners of the project.

SVBTC chief executive officer Lala K.K. Roy said Dorbecker had been “eased out” for “shirking responsibility”.

He conceded that two accidents cost two lives last year ' “but both happened before he (Dorbecker) arrived” ' and admitted to certain points of conflict between his company and the contractor.

That the project owner shares some of Dorbecker’s concerns on “faulty practices” is clear from a letter written by P.K. Guha Biswas, SVBTC programme manager, to L&T project manager T.S. Ananthakumar after a crane failure on the main bridge on January 5 this year.

“We are of the firm opinion that such accident was due to lack of regular periodic maintenance of such vital equipment, and has thereby caused an enormous delay of the most critical activity of the project. In addition to the above major setback, the erection of the segment at P9 also could not be done as the turntable area jammed with D6 segments could not be cleared due to non-availability of other resources,” Biswas wrote.

Roy described the L&T project manager’s on-site approach then as “somewhat lackadaisical” and said the contractor had given no “satisfactory answer”. “But we turned the heat on them and, under pressure, they have given us a recast and mobilisation programme at an additional cost of Rs 5 crore to make up for lost time,” he said.

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