Varanasi bridge collapse: Five warning letters were sent to flyover firm but no one read

A day after 18 people were killed when a section of a flyover under construction fell on moving cars and pedestrians in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh police said they had sent at least five letters to the UP State Bridge Corporation (UPSBC) since November last year and registered an FIR in February this year for not following traffic safety regulations during construction.

IG Deepak Ratan told The Indian Express: “We have shot five letters to the Bridge Corporation since November last year, asking it to ensure safe traffic regulation during construction work. Ideally, when they are constructing a portion of the flyover, they are supposed to deploy their own staff for safe traffic regulation and they can request police for assistance. But it is we who have been alerting them about the potential problem and they have not acted.”

According to police, staff of the Sigra police station registered an FIR against the Pariyojana Prabandhak of the UPSBC on February 19 under IPC sections relating to public nuisance and danger or obstruction in public way or line of navigation.

The FIR described the Chauka Ghat to Lehartara bridge construction work as chaotic with iron beams hanging over the traffic below. “A senior police officer inspected the site… several letters were written to the project manager of the UPSBC and necessary directions were given to the assistant engineer to conduct smooth traffic. But at the site, chaotic construction work and non-assistance in traffic management was causing the public extreme inconvenience and anger,” it stated.

After the collapse, police Wednesday booked officials of the UPSBC for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, attempt to commit culpable homicide and sections of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act. The FIR was registered at Sigra police station against supervising officials, contractors and staff involved in the construction of the flyover.

Late Tuesday night, Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya suspended four UPSBC officials — chief project manager H C Tiwari, project manager K R Sudan, assistant engineer Rajesh Singh and engineer Lal Chand.

But Rajan Mittal, UPSBC managing director, said they had been asking officials of the district administration, police as well as the commissioner for management of traffic during construction.

“There was pressure to meet the deadline but no compromise was made on quality and it would be clear during the inquiry. Work was going on in three shifts for this project but traffic was an issue… it was difficult work with the railway station on one side and the bus station on the other. As far as traffic management is concerned, it is not the responsibility of the bridge corporation and we had been writing to the district administration, and reminding them during meetings with the district magistrate and commissioner for traffic management,” Mittal told The Indian Express.

“Local officers also wrote about four-five letters in the past to remove street vendors from the construction site but nothing happened. Technical teams are conducting an inquiry and responsibilities will be fixed accordingly,” he said.

District Magistrate Yogeshwar Ram Mishra, however, rejected the UPSBC claims. “It is wrong to say that they had written to us. We are not passing the buck but the fact is that we had written letters to them several times to clear the service lane and even the traffic police had written to them to cover the work area and protect it. But they did not and that is why the FIR has been registered against them,” he said.

Senior officials of a probe committee constituted by the UP government flew to Varanasi from Lucknow Wednesday and inspected the site, collected cement and metal samples for analysis and held meetings with Varanasi district officials.

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