A state forensic lab official inspects debris at the collapse site on Monday afternoon. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
The Mamata Banerjee government has chosen a team from Jadavpur University to unravel the mystery behind the collapse of a flank of the VIP Road flyover but the experts for the job officially don’t know about it yet.
Urban development minister Firhad Hakim said at Writers’ Buildings on Monday that a team from Jadavpur University would conduct the investigation into how a part of a showpiece flyover inaugurated in 2011 snapped into two, creating a 128ft chasm where there was a road.
But pro vice-chancellor Siddhartha Dutta, who is also the officiating vice-chancellor, told Metro he hadn’t received any intimation from the government “seeking to engage our professors in the probe” till late on Monday.
Registrar Pradip Ghose hadn’t received any communiqué either, though minister Hakim said a letter had been sent. “Yesterday was a Sunday, so we couldn’t do much. We sent the letter today,” he said.
According to sources at Writers’, official letters are usually hand delivered when time is crucial, more so when the address is within the city and there is no specific rule saying that it has to be sent by mail.
Engineers at Jadavpur University said only a formal request or authorisation from the government would allow them access to the original design notes and the layout of the flyover’s superstructure.
“A study of the superstructure (a portion of the concrete deck slab that is still submerged in the Kestopur canal) and the design documents is crucial to the investigation. It will help us understand whether the truck hitting the side of the flyover could have resulted in the freefall,” said Arup Guha Niyogi, a professor of civil engineering who visited the crash site on Sunday after officials of the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) made an “informal request”.
Another JU professor said that in the absence of a formal letter from the government the university could neither decide the composition of the team nor officially visit the site. “We do not know the scope of our work yet. What do they want from us? That is very essential to know,” he said.
| A state forensic lab official inspects debris at the collapse site on Monday afternoon. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
The probe, engineers said, should have begun at the earliest because of various reasons. In this case, almost 48 hours have already passed and the government has only just announced its intent.
The unaffected VIP Road-bound flank of the flyover was thrown open to traffic on Monday to ease the congestion below, which many engineers said was premature.
An expert said the flyover needed to be put through a “detailed structural engineering analysis” before being cleared for traffic. “The bearings, the quality of the concrete and the girders: they should all go under the scanner,” Amlan Sengupta, a professor of civil engineering at IIT Madras, said.
Biswajit Shome, a professor of civil engineering at JU who was at the crash site on Monday morning for “a personal study”, said: “I feel the entire flyover should be closed for at least seven days for a detailed study. Throwing it open before the stability of the structure has been confirmed is risky… The collapse of an entire deck slab is a system failure. The affected flank had a sharp curve and the other one, too, has a similar bend.”
Sengupta recommended speed breakers near the bend. “Vehicles must be forced to slow down there.”
While a probe hasn’t yet started, a move by industries minister Partha Chatterjee suggested a witch-hunt has begun. Chatterjee called up the general manager of Mackintosh Burn, the 179-year-old company that built the flyover, on Monday evening and asked for names of the personnel involved in its construction. “I have asked for a detailed report on the extent to which the company was involved, a list of officials and engineers involved in the project and whether they had any role in its maintenance. The report has to be submitted in two days,” he said.
Urban development minister Hakim announced at Writers’ that vehicles with load heavier than 20 tonne should not be allowed to use any CMDA-built flyovers. But buses and trucks brazenly drove past a no-entry board at the foot of the EM Bypass-VIP Road link on Monday.
“A speed limit of 30kmph has been fixed for the open flank. Speed limit boards have been put up,” urban development secretary Debashis Sen said.
A police officer said if the government was serious about enforcing the weight rule, there should be a ban on heavy vehicles using flyovers. “How does one determine which truck is carrying a load of more than 20 tonne? We will have to set up a weigh bridge each at both ends.”
The CMDA has built the Wipro flyover in Sector V and the ones at Chingrihata, Sealdah, Brabourne Road and Baghajatin. The Parama-Park Circus link is also a CMDA project.
The AJC Bose Road flyover, the city’s longest, and the Park Street flyover were built by the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners. The PWD built the ones at Taratala, Lake Gardens and Dunlop.
Minister Hakim spoke only about “CMDA flyovers” because his department is in charge of the agency. “The CMDA will also conduct its own probe,” he said.
The Union minister of state for urban development, Deepa Das Munshi, has sought a report from the CMDA. “We want the report from the state government and the CMDA latest by tomorrow,” she said from Delhi.
Deepa added that the Centre would send a team for an on-the-spot study once her department received the CMDA’s report.