The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Some scars will never heal

Calcutta, June 25: The Howrah bridge may never be the same again.

The process of repairing the landmark bridge was today set rolling but closer inspection has revealed that the damage to it could be worth “a few crores more” than the initially estimated Rs 1.5 crore.

Yesterday, an empty barge cruising along a wrong corridor of the Hooghly had rammed into the bridge in the afternoon, its mast getting caught between two girders in the underside.

Calcutta Port Trust authorities said they were exploring if the task of overseeing repairs could be handed to Rendel Palmer and Tritton (RPT), the British company which designed the bridge in 1937.

The bridge was built by Burn Braithwaite Jessop (BBJ), which still has the contract for maintaining it.

“Even if RPT is assigned the task, the Howrah bridge may never be the same again. History cannot be recreated,” said Calcutta Port Trust chairman A.K. Chanda.

Officials said the quality of materials used at the time of construction of the bridge was different. The original design of the bridge, too, might have to be slightly modified in keeping with current technology.

The actual repair work could take up to three months to begin as materials cannot be procured “off the shelf”, they said.

This morning, a team of CPT officials and BBJ engineers visited the bridge to take stock of the damage wreaked by the mast of MV Moni. The mast and part of the master’s cabin had to be cut out to free the vessel.

The master of MV Moni, M.S. Barua, has been arrested and remanded in judicial custody for two days. He has been charged with rash navigation and causing damage to government property.

Officials said two of the six longitudinal girders, each 700 metres and running from the Calcutta end of the bridge to Howrah, had been damaged. A few of the 40 cross-girders were also broken.

A mechanised state-of-the-art trolley, recently installed to facilitate inspection and maintenance of the bridge’s underside, escaped damage as it was stationed at one side.

But two of four trolley guides, bolted and welded with the girders, were extensively damaged. Nearly 350 of 700 metres of the track are said to have been twisted beyond repair.

“This will delay repair work as we have to erect a scaffolding,” an official said. Work will be done round the clock but vehicular traffic is not likely to be affected.

Port trust authorities have also decided to engage Rites ' consultants for CPT since the eighties ' to carry out a detailed study on whether any damage to the bridge had escaped notice.

“This is called a census study and it would reveal minor damages which are not evident from inspections we have undertaken,” an official said. He said overall repairs to the bridge were carried out in 2004 and it was generally in good condition.

Chanda said the barge owner, MJS Water Transport Company, had agreed in principle to pay compensation. “But the details and the amount involved are still to be worked out.”

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