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Toll in flyover tragedy climbs to 24, three officials of construction firm arrested

The death toll in Kolkata’s flyover tragedy has gone up to 24, with the bodies of three women extricated from the debris since Thursday night, two of whom are unidentified. Rescue work was in progress, with one more person still trapped inside a truck on which a portion of a girder fell on 
Thursday afternoon.

Army and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel, officers of the Kolkata Police and fire department worked overnight and managed to move a major portion of the collapsed flyover. clearing the intersection of the Vivekananda Road and Rabindra Sarani. The girders were also removed using huge cranes. Even 24 hours after the incident, the stretch of the flyover between pillar number 40 and 39, which had collapsed on Vivekananda Road, has not been cleared. Two heavy duty trucks are still under this part of the collapsed flyover. 

The feet of a helper in one of the trucks, Mohammad Rezzak, were visible from the outside. But rescuers would be unable get him out of the truck unless the girders that fell on the vehicle are removed. Police suspect him to be dead.

 Senior police officers assured that no one apart from Rezzak, a resident of Andhra Pradesh, is still trapped. Concrete boulders were brought to the site and piled one over another under the flyover to ease the extrication of the trucks. Employees of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation were found clearing the debris and iron rods from the spot.

 Jawans of the Indian Army were ‘derequisitioned’ from the operation at 1 pm on Friday and the rest of the rescue operation will be undertaken by civil authorities. NDRF jawans continued the rescue work in tandem with Kolkata Police officers. Senior officers, including Commissioner Rajeev Kumar, were at the spot supervising the rescue work till Friday morning. He returned to the spot in the afternoon.

 All roads approaching the intersection of Vivekananda Road and Rabindra Sarani were cordoned off. Teams comprising officials of the State Forensic Science Laboratory reached the spot and collected samples. Local MP Sudip Banerjee and state Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim also went to the spot. 

Hakim said the tender for construction of the flyover was floated during the Left Front regime and local people had raised objection as the design was faulty. He brushed aside allegations that the state government had put pressure on IVRCL to complete the construction work before the election.

 Hakim said that a high-level inquiry committee had been formed. “Everything will be clear once the inquiry committee files its report and everyone will come to know who was at fault for the unfortunate incident. Steps will also be taken against the construction agency if the investigation reveals that the incident took place because of their fault,” he said.

 Police on Friday night arrested three officials of the construction company IVRCL – Mallika Arjun, Senior Assistant General manager, Pradip Kumar Saha, Manager (Structural) and Debojyoti Majumder, Assistant manager (Administration) were arrested from Kolkata following a marathon interrogation. They will be produced before a city court on Saturday. 

A case has been initiated by officers of the Posta police station under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy, against the “joint venture company executing the flyover project.”

 A team comprising officers of the city police was sent to Hyderabad for further investigation. Three offices of the agency were sealed and police were posted outside all the offices.

 Claiming that the same material was used to construct all pillars and girders, IVRCL authorities on Friday said that if they would have used inferior quality material then other pillars would have also collapsed. They maintained that it was a mere accident.

The state government wrote to the Election Commission in Delhi seeking permission to announce jobs for the next of kin of the victims. Union Minister of State for Urban Development Babul Supriyo also visited the spot on Friday evening.

Mamata cracks whip, acts against ‘culprits’

The State government  on Friday suspended the chief engineer and an executive engineer of  Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA) and detained  10 persons including  the officials of IVRCL, the constructing company.

The state government has decided to come down heavily on anyone whose negligence led to the disaster. A high-powered panel has been set up with chief secretary  Basudeb Banerjee as its chairman  and experts from IIT Kharagpur have been included as members, to probe the cause of the accident. The committee will submit its report within three weeks. It may be mentioned that   Mamata  Banerjee  while addressing election rallies in West Midnapore  categorically stated that  no one would be spared and the law would take its own course.

Priyotosh Bhattacharya, chief engineer of KMDA  who had been supervising construction of the flyover  in the past three years was the president of  CPI(M) affiliated  KMDA Engineers’ Association . His connection with the former Urban Development minister  Ashok Bhattacharya  is well known. 

It may be recalled that   Bhattacharya and his colleagues after getting tacit support of  the minister were instrumental in removing Nandita Chatterjee who was the CEO after  she had pulled up some engineers who were habitual late comers. 

After Trinamool government came in some senior KMDA officials had approached the Urban Development minister requesting him to transfer Bhattacharya. But no step was taken as it would be seen as vengeance. Bhattacharya is scheduled to retire next month.

The state government on Friday issued a press communiqué that stated that all engineering departments had been instructed to take necessary action for structural diagnosis and testing to assess structural stability of flyovers constructed and those under construction. It may be recalled that a portion of Ultadanga flyover collapsed in 2014. The flyover was constructed during the Left Front regime by KMDA. 

Though an inquiry committee was set up to probe into the collapse, no one could be pulled up as all the senior engineers associated with the project  had retired. This is not going to be repeated in case of the collapse of a portion of Vivekananda Road flyover. As two persons who were on the job have been suspended and all files relating to its construction have been taken to Nabanna for examination.
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