| A heavy vehicle on Gandhi Setu on Wednesday. Picture by Sachin |
The policemen and the transport department officials deployed on Mahatma Gandhi Setu are cashing in on the ban of heavy vehicles’ movement on Rajendra rail-cum-road bridge over the Ganga near Hathidah, around 100km east of Patna.
They are allowing vehicles weighing over 16 tonnes cross the 5.575-km-long Gandhi Setu despite a ban on their movement in lieu of money. The number of overloaded vehicles plying through Gandhi Setu has increased manifold after the Barh sub-divisional officer, Nilesh Deore, on Monday issued an order prohibiting the movement of heavy vehicles on the Rajendra rail-cum-road bridge.
Two truck drivers from Rajasthan — Nathulal and Ganesh — had to pay Rs 15,200 each to the policemen recently to cross the Gandhi Setu and unload consignments at Sarai in Vaishali district. Both the drivers were allegedly detained at the Ganga bridge police station in Vaishali for several hours on the pretext of violating a joint order of the road construction department and the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam, imposing a ban on plying of heavy vehicles on the Setu.
Several other drivers said they had to oblige both the police personnel and the transport department officials to cross the bridge. “The charges have doubled after the ban on plying of heavy vehicles on the Rajendra Setu at Hathidah,” Gaya-based truck driver Mahendra Kumar said.
District transport officer of Vaishali Ashutosh Kumar Verma said the government had banned heavy vehicles on the bridge (Gandhi Setu) in May 2000 after a few spans on its southern end developed cracks. Verma’s counterpart in Patna, Dinesh Kumar Rai, said his department officials, including motor vehicle inspectors, had been asked to conduct surprise inspections to check the entry of heavy vehicles on the bridge.
Contrary to the claims of Verma and Rai, most of the truck drivers said they were unaware of any government order banning 16-wheeler lorries on the Gandhi Setu.
“Even the vehicles transporting goods within the permissible limit are detained and the drivers are harassed. The vehicles are let off only after the drivers grease the palm of the officials concerned,” said Guddu Rai, a transporter of Vaishali.
A road construction department official said the movement of heavy vehicles on the Gandhi Setu was restricted to avoid further damage to its superstructure, which has developed cracks at different points.
“The bridge was designed at a time when vehicles with 16 or more wheels were not manufactured in India. The ban on plying of heavy vehicles has been imposed keeping the design constraint of the bridge in mind,” he added.
Patna senior superintendent of police Manu Maharaj said a dedicated team comprising eight policemen had been deployed on the bridge.
“They have been asked to co-operate with the transport department officials in their drive against the heavy vehicles,” he told The Telegraph.
The transport department’s principal secretary, R.K. Mahajan, said three checkposts would be set up to prevent the damage to the bridges. The first would come up at Hajipur toll plaza in Vaishali district within a week. The other two would be at Zero Mile in Begusarai and Bhagalpur.