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Bridge collapses on public faith

Muzaffarpur/Patna, Nov. 27: A portion of a 76-year-old railway overbridge bustling with traffic in the heart of Muzaffarpur town collapsed on a goods train passing below this afternoon, raising questions about maintenance of key installations used by the public everyday.

Two wagons of the train, which was bound for Motihari with a cement consignment, went off the tracks owing to the impact around 1.35pm. The overbridge, which is about 100 feet long and 20 feet wide, connects the eastern part of Muzaffarpur to the west.

No casualties have been reported so far though at least 20 persons have been injured.

Five persons travelling in an auto-rickshaw, two motorists, three cyclists and five pedestrians passing through the overbridge — located in the Maripur area of Muzaffarpur — at the time of the mishap have sustained body and head injuries. At least two of the injured persons are said to be in critical condition. Five women vegetable sellers slipped and fell when the bridge collapsed.

Regional deputy director (health), Dr S.M. Mushtaque, said 10 of the injured have been admitted to the Sadar hospital.

Sobhit Mahto of Vaishali district is one of them. Mahto was travelling in the auto-rickshaw when it suddenly lost control. “I felt there was a tremor and the next moment I was hurtling down,” said Mahto. He was flung on to the railway tracks and the auto-rickshaw was trapped in the debris of the bridge. “I cried out loudly. I am alive because of the prompt help of the local people,” he said.

The mishap has put the glare on the maintenance of key infrastructure installations. The railways, which is in charge of the bridge, admitted lapse in maintenance. “Yes, there was lapse on the railways’ part in not strictly monitoring the condition of the flyover,” PTI quoted Amitabh Prabhakar, chief public relations officer, East Central Railway, as saying. Maintenance work on the bridge was last carried out in 2009.

Muzaffarpur residents said Patna High Court, in 2006, had directed that all railway overbridges in dilapidated condition have to be replaced with new ones.

Lawyer Sudhir Ojha said that based on his public interest litigation, a division bench had, on December 16, 2006, directed the safety commissioner of railways to construct new overbridges within six months, replacing all those which were in dilapidated condition or over 100 years old.

The PIL, Ojha said, had raised the issue of the extremely poor condition of the Maripur railway overbridge and contended that it could cave in any moment, causing huge casualties and injuries.

But instead of constructing a new overbridge at Maripur, the railways carried out some cosmetic repair work of the railings, Ojha said. He added that information obtained on the basis of a Right to Information application reveals that the Maripur bridge was built in 1937. “Had the railways acted on the high court’s directive, such an accident would not have happened,” he said.

Ojha said a fresh petition would be filed in the high court on the non-compliance of the order. “We will file a contempt petition in the high court on Thursday to draw the court’s attention to non-compliance of its order to construct new rail overbridges replacing the old and dilapidated ones. The lackadaisical approach of the railways has led to the collapse of the bridge in Muzaffarpur,” Ojha said.

A number of motorcycles could been seen trapped under the debris, eyewitnesses said. Shoes and chappals were strewn on the tracks as the police had a harrowing time controlling crowds at the spot.

Traffic on the Muzaffarpur-Hajipur and Muzaffarpur-Gorakhpur sections remained crippled as the debris of the overbridge blocked the tracks. A large part of the township also got disconnected because of the severance of the link between the east and the west.

An accident relief train arrived in the evening and launched relief and rescue operations. Divisional railway manager (Sonepur) Rajesh Kumar Tiwary, along with the assistant safety commissioner, Railway Protection Force, Md. Shaquib, inspected the mishap site. The DRM has ordered a probe by the commissioner of railway safety, R.P. Yadav.

A team of the civil engineering cell of the Sonepur railway division is finding out why the bridge collapsed.

Tiwary said the blocked and damaged tracks would be cleared and repaired by Thursday afternoon. Rail traffic on the Samastipur-Muzaffarpur section has been diverted through the Samastipur-Hajipur section via Shahpur Patori station.