Bridge bleeds, blow by blow

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  • Published 15.05.10

Howrah bridge has been taking a hard knock from hit-and-run traffic almost every day despite surveillance through remote-controlled cameras.

The 67-year-old bridge, among the busiest in the world, came under hi-tech surveillance in 2008 but rash driving continues to cause damage to the cantilever structure with law-enforcement being lax and the compensation procedure cumbersome.

Calcutta Port Trust, the custodian of the bridge that has become the symbol of Calcutta, has barely received any compensation so far for damage caused by rogue vehicles despite these incidents being caught on camera.

“There have been at least 10 incidents of vehicles causing extensive damage to the structure since 2008. But we haven’t received damages so far except in a couple of cases,” a senior port trust official said on Friday.

So what prevents the authorities from making use of the recorded footage?

“We have footage of each traffic incident on the bridge in the past one-and-a-half years. The vehicles have also been identified and FIRs lodged with police. But the police have not been following up these cases so that we can recover the cost of repairs from the offenders,” the official said.

Sources said the police had sent “motor collision reports” to the port trust in a few cases, based on which compensation claims were issued to the vehicle owners.

In one such case, the insurance company refused to make any payment under the third-party agreement signed by the vehicle owner.

“The other respondents didn’t even get back to us. We suspect the addresses provided by the police were wrong,” said an official of the port trust legal cell.

Asit Pal, the deputy commissioner of police in the port division, said he was unaware of any compensation case being delayed by the cops.

“I will look into the matter and find out what action has been taken in each case,” promised Pal.

According to the port trust, timely action by the police could have fetched lakhs of rupees in compensation.

“Unlike Vidyasagar Setu, Howrah bridge earns nothing by way of toll tax. So compensation for any damage caused by traffic will go a long way in helping us maintain it,” said a senior official.

Six special CCTV cameras — more sophisticated than the standard surveillance apparatus used in malls, stores and offices — were installed at strategic locations on the bridge in October 2008, to step up security.

The cameras were placed in such a manner that the entire 705-metre-long and 30-metre-wide structure could be monitored 24x7 from the control room. Two of the cameras were placed under the floor of the bridge to track the movement of barges, steamers and boats on the river.

The other four were fixed to the “bottom boom chord” or the first layer of beams — one at each end and two in the middle — to monitor vehicle movement.

Trained personnel were also deployed to alter the camera angles through remote control.

“Earlier, vehicles causing damage to the bridge would escape undetected because there was no surveillance system worth the name. But now that we have hi-tech cameras to catch offenders, the onus is on the police to at least seize those vehicles and take necessary action under the Motor Vehicles Act. We need compensation to carry out repairs on the bridge across the Hooghly,” said a port trust official.

The first time that the authorities had thought of installing cameras was when the mast of a barge coasting along the wrong channel during high tide rammed into the underside of the bridge on June 24, 2005.

“We sought compensation from the owner of the barge but the case is still in court,” said the official.

Most mishaps since October 2008 have occurred between midnight and 5am. According to officials, railings and pillars suffer the maximum damage because of rash driving.

“It has been noticed that although trucks and mini-vans are banned on the bridge, they routinely sneak in at night and get involved in accidents while trying to escape being stopped by the police, either for a booking or a bribe,” a source said.