| Maintenance work under way at Mahatma Gandhi Setu on Wednesday. Picture by Sachin |
Mahatma Gandhi Setu’s renovation can wait for a couple of months but not safety of politicians and their supporters in the poll season.
An alarmed Patna police shot off letters to road construction department officials, senior cops and the district administration on Wednesday, asking them to intervene and stop the key renovation for the time being because of the elections.
The state government gave the task of the bridge’s maintenance to a Mumbai firm, which is all set to demolish or remove the western flank of the bridge between pillar Nos. 43 and 45.
Patna superintendent of police (traffic) Rajeev Mishra said the demolition work had already started but the police had managed to stop it after talks with Mumbai-based Freyssinet Prestressed Concrete Company Limited, the executing agency, which was given the contract to mend the bridge. “Almost 300m stretch has to be removed and built again. If the work goes on now, the bridge, which is already breathing heavily because of serious traffic congestion resulting from the construction, will literally choke. The movement of heavy vehicles will have to be completely suspended as a result. Moreover, with the Rajendra Bridge near Mokama, around 100km east of Gandhi Setu, also being closed for heavy vehicles owing to maintenance, the situation will turn chaotic,” he said.
The 5.575km Gandhi Setu has been facing snarls with parts of the bridge turning into a one-way traffic stretch owing to the renovation, which has been going on for more than a year.
“The company, carrying out the renovation, is working quite slowly. The removal of the flank is not expected to happen immediately looking at the slow pace. Right now, the edges of the flank are being cut. One can say that the work should have been completed long back but each day is important as long as the work is not over, especially in the poll season. But with removal of the flank having been started, extra care needs to be taken,” an engineer with the road construction department said.
Sources in the road construction department said the removal of concrete slabs had already started.
“The concrete slabs will have to be lifted and removed as they cannot be allowed to fall into the Ganga. We have had directions from the Inland Waterways Authority of India to be cautious and avoid any kind of water pollution. As a result, a different technology of lifting the slabs has been adapted. The work of lifting the concrete and then constructing a new one in the same place will take at least a year. The re-construction part will take more time than lifting the slabs,” the official said.
The sources said the renovation would have to be delayed with elections starting just in a fortnight.
“A lot of vehicles will take the bridge during the elections. In such a time, the bridge cannot have a huge slab getting vanished. Soon, a meeting is expected regarding this before a final decision,” another police officer said.
In the absence of both the Gandhi Setu and the Rajendra Bridge, the heavy vehicles will be the worst sufferers. They will have to take the Gaya-Jamui-Bhagalpur route or another through Uttar Pradesh to reach places in north Bihar. The sources said the letter stated that in absence of the flank, no movement of trucks as well as SUVs would be possible along the bridge.
“The removal of the flank will be until the road divider, which separates the two lanes. It will make the night travelling most risky with less visibility. One has to think about an alternative before allowing the work to start,” SP (traffic) Mishra said.
Bihar Truck Owners’ Association president Bhanu Shekhar Prasad Singh said: “This will be a disastrous idea if movement of heavy vehicles is banned. The trucks will have to travel very long if both the bridges are closed.”