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27 Nov, 2022
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Morbi Bridge Collapse: Who is To Be Blamed, Company, Government or Commuters?

On Sunday, October 30, 2022, a suspension bridge linking two banks of the Machchhu river collapsed in the Morbi district of Gujarat. The horrific incident shocked the entire nation as it took away lives of more than 140 people with many still missing. 

The Morbi bridge dates back to the colonial era, and it was closed for a long time before re-opening this Diwali. According to reports, the bridge was not fit enough to sustain the load of such a crowd that gathered on it. Also, the Gujarat bridge was opened without a clearance certificate from the officials. The factors responsible for the bridge collapse are many, and we will discuss them in the given article. 

Morbi Bridge History: A Short View

The former colonial town of Morbi is located 220 Km away from Ahmedabad. During the British rule, Morbi’s ruler ordered the construction of a 230-meter-long suspension bridge to join the two banks of the Machchhu river. The bridge having similarity to Ram and Lakshman Jhula of Rishikesh, was inaugurated by the then-Bombay province governor Richard Temple on February 20, 1879. 

Since its inauguration, the bridge was one of the shortest links to connect the Nazarbad Palace with the Darbargadh Palace. At that time, the total cost for the bridge construction was Rs 3.5 lakh. And it was one of the engineering marvels of that time beside Kolkata’s Pontoon bridge. The then ruler of Morbi, Sir Waghji Thakor, constructed the bridge with the aim of establishing a symbol of ‘the progressive and scientific nature of Morbi rulers’.  

Also read: Gujarat Bridge Collapse: PM Modi to visit Morbi Today; Chairs High-Level Review Meet

On Which Principle Is The Gujarat Bridge Constructed?

The 143-year-old Morbi bridge is an example of a suspension bridge system. This system includes stiffening girders, suspension cables, towers, anchorages at bridge ends, and a deck area. The main cables in suspension bridges are suspended between the towers and form a link with the deck through vertical cables. The vertical suspenders carry the weight of the deck and transfer it to the main cables, which then transfer the load through adjoining links (cables) to the ground. 

Mainly suspension bridges are based on the principle of equilibrium of contact forces that connect various links of bridges. Through this mechanism, the designer ensures that the impact on the suspension cables distribute equally to all parts to form a stable structure. 

Well, this is all about the overview of the bridge structure. If we go on to find the design parameters, we get to learn that the design of suspension bridges requires equal transfer of load at the two ends of towers. This helps to transfer the compressive forces to the ground via anchorage cables. 

Notably, a designer has to consider that the equilibrium of forces depends upon the impact the bridge will have to carry during its lifetime. This ensures the hanging of a bridge through the support of cable sets for a defined duration. As the cables are the primary force carrier of suspension bridges, the decision on their cross-section area plays a critical role in preventing the bridge from buckling of cables.

What can be the Possible Causes Behind Gujarat Bridge Failure? 

Following the bridge collapse, many people came up with their make-up theories. Some claimed it to be an ‘Act of God’, ‘Commuter’s Irresponsible Act’, ‘Improper Design’, and so on. However, none of these claims is true in any sense. In fact, these are framed as per people’s unawareness of the impact of force and resonance.

According to some experts, the Morbi bridge disaster is the perfect example of failure due to mechanical resonance. Basic physics suggests that vibration analysis is a major design consideration that defines the structure and load-bearing capacity of any mechanical or civil structure. It is impossible to assume any mechanical or civil construction without studying the vibration impact. 

In the case of Morbi bridge, as suggested by video footage, a huge crowd of commuters gathered on the bridge and started to jump on the structure. This caused an uneven distribution of forces on bridge’s cables, which ultimately resulted in the buckling of verticle cables due to sudden impact. 

With the unearthing of this mechanical cause, a series of questions stands regarding the quality of materials used in the bridge construction. According to media reports, the bridge, in the past, had sustained damages caused during the 1979 Machchhu river flood and the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. 

Although, due to these incidents, the bridge sustained severe damages, it was still strong enough to sustain the commuting of large crowds. However, the bridge was shut down in February this year for the repair and replacement of damaged parts. The bridge was re-opened on October 26; ironically, it collapsed just after five days.

The visuals accessed by experts suggest that the bridge’s main cables were not impacted by accident, but the damage was found at vertical cables (that joined the deck with the main cables) in the middle. 

The sudden collapse of the recently repaired structure is shocking. It is because damage to any mechanical structure is an outcome of corrosion and weakening of bridge components for a long duration. But, the bridge was repaired recently, and cables and deck parts were replaced during the repair. So, what led the bridge to collapse like a century-old corroded structure?

Who Is Responsible For The Gujarat Bridge Collapse?

In the aftermath of the bridge collapse, the government hurriedly formed an SIT (Special Investigation Team) to investigate the matter. As per reports, the police have arrested more than nine individuals under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), and 114 (abettor present when the offence is committed) of the Indian Penal Code 1860. The arrested individuals include the managers of the Oreva company (organisation responsible for the maintenance of the Morbi bridge), ticket clerks, and security guards, among others.

Well, the action of the Gujarat police is like a balm on the wounds. It is because the death of bridge commuters seems like a conspiracy as the bridge was opened hurriedly without a fitness certificate. 

According to Morbi’s Municipal Chief Officer, Sandeep Singh, “The company started operating the bridge during the holidays without giving any information about whether the renovation had been done or not and if many people were sent together, leading to the accident. The inquiry commission was recently conducted, so you will get more details from there,” .

The Municipal officer’s statements sounds irresponsible because it is a well known fact that on the occasion of Chhath Puja, a large segment of people gather at various ghats of the Machchhu river. Also, Gujarat is a poll-bound state, so politicians had encouraged proper arrangements in all ghats of the river. So, it is indigestible that officials were unaware of the bridge’s functioning.

Next to it, the bridge was under repair work recently. So, what kind of repairing work was done is also a question. And in present times all kinds of procurement-related activities of public welfare schemes somewhere relate to political outfits. So, there is a possible angle of corruption as well. 

One more thing that questions the viability of the bridge is the hurry with which the company re-opened the bridge for commuters. 

Was the company going through a financial crisis or was there a political angle to earn public’s support ahead  of the Assembly Elections?

 

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