Engineers from CMDA and Jadavpur University inspect the VIP Road flyover on Sunday evening. Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
March 3: Asok Bhattacharya, the urban affairs spearhead of the erstwhile Left government, found himself deflecting suggestions from within and without that the department he ran once was responsible for the VIP Road flyover mishap.
Firhad Hakim, Bhattacharya’s successor in the urban development ministry and Trinamul leader, said the structure was opened in haste by the Left government.
“It was thrown open to traffic in a hurry just before the Assembly elections. We have to find out if proper fitness tests were conducted before commissioning it,” said Hakim, who visited the spot.
If criticism from a known adversary was prompt, the department that was under Bhattacharya’s supervision was kept under the glare by his own ally, the RSP’s Kshiti Goswami who was PWD minister in the Left government.
Goswami distanced himself from the collapse. “The PWD was in no way connected with the project. It is an urban development department project. That department will have to take and fix responsibility for the incident,” he told The Telegraph.
Earlier, speaking to a television channel, Goswami, who had on previous occasions been critical of Left government policies, had said: “From construction to the inauguration, the PWD did not have any role in the project. We were totally kept in the dark…. We had some opposition to it. Why should the PWD be dragged into it?”
| (From left) Hakim at the crash site, Asok Bhattacharya and Kshiti Goswami
The former PWD minister, however, did not explain what he meant by “some opposition”.
The PWD is associated with constructing and maintaining bridges and large stretches of roads in the districts. It is, however, not binding on the urban development department to inform the PWD of projects it undertakes.
Asked if he was invited to the inauguration of the VIP Road flyover, Goswami said: “The then chief minister (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) inaugurated the project (on January 5, 2011). I was not invited.”
Former urban development minister Bhattacharya alleged in the afternoon that the flyover stretch collapsed because of lack of maintenance, trying to obliquely pass the responsibility on to the Trinamul government.
“Today’s incident is unfortunate but we have learnt that for the past one year, no agency was given the responsibility of maintaining and repairing the flyover. We had, during our tenure, given the maintenance contract to Mackintosh Burn for one year. But for the past one year, no agency has maintained the flyover,” Bhattacharya said in Siliguri.
He refused comment on Goswami’s remarks.
Bhattacharya said government firm Mackintosh Burn completed building the flyover on December 31, 2010. A joint venture firm designed the flyover and SAIL supplied the steel.
Bhattacharya said he had “collected information” from different sources in Calcutta. “We have learnt that a truck weighing 28 tonnes had plied on the flyover in violation of restrictions. Trucks are not allowed on the flyover. The vehicle rammed into a crash barrier wall on a curved girder and then the stretch collapsed. It was an unfortunate incident but all the girder pieces that fell were intact and so were the pillars. This indicates that there was no compromise with quality or fabrication,” he said.
It was not clear how Bhattacharya pieced together the description of the accident. No instructions were found near the bridge disallowing trucks from using it. Several people The Telegraph spoke to said they were not aware of any such restriction.
A senior CPM leader backed Bhattacharya and appeared critical of the RSP’s Goswami.
“It seems Kshitibabu is trying to target Asok like Trinamul. But it is unjust on his part to blame a former colleague in the Left government. A government works with collective responsibility. So we are a bit surprised at Kshitibabu’s apparent attempt to malign Asok,” a CPM state committee member said.
Shortly after the Nandigram firing in 2007, Goswami had been vocal against former chief minister Bhattacharjee’s decision to send police there.
As a mark of protest, he had stayed away from Writers’ Buildings for a while, triggering speculation on whether he would resign. At that time, asked about Goswami’s move to skip Writers’, Bhattacharjee had said: “What a fall.”
According to an RSP source, Goswami appeared critical of Bhattacharya today “probably because he is unhappy with the CPM following reports that the party had not done enough to back the RSP in the Rejinagar bypoll”.
“We are not happy with the CPM’s role in the Rejinagar bypoll. We have got reports that a section of the CPM in Murshidabad did not back our candidate properly. May be, we lost because of that,” an RSP leader said. The RSP lost to the Congress in Rejinagar.