- The entire nation was aghast and went into mourning soon after hearing about the tragic deaths of over 134 citizens after the bridge over the Machchhu river at Morbi, Gujarat snapped. Mind you, the majority of the countrymen would have shown skepticism and cynically remarked about the poor quality of workmanship that led to the tragedy. That the bridge was closed for six months for renovation speaks volumes about the poor execution of work being one of the factors in the accident. As is its wont, the political leadership and the civic authorities are coming out with mundane platitudes about booking the errant individuals for laxity in the execution of work. But why was the bridge allowed to be used without undertaking a quality check in the first place?
PC: PE Services, LTD
- As the skeletons keep tumbling out of the closet on the tragedy, let’s assess how bridges not only essay an extremely crucial role in transportation but also how maintenance equally complements at the same time. Remember, bridges are the joints that link the road and rail network across challenging terrain. Hence, the construction of iconic bridges are celebrated engineering feat, and rightly so. Be it the nearly 100-year-old Pamban rail bridge across the sea that links peninsular India to Rameswaram island or the recent steel arch bridge towering a record 359 metres over the river Chenab, linking Udhampur to Baramulla by rail, they’re an indicator of society’s capabilities. Note that India currently moves about 4.6 billion tonnes of freight a year.
- Around 70% is transported by trucks and 18% by rail. There’s a key geographical feature that has to be accounted for by the vast terrestrial logistics network – despite its long coastline, India’s coast-to-landmass ratio is relatively low. The landmass is crisscrossed by multiple rivers prone to annual flooding. The Government of India estimates that about 12% of the area is prone to floods, which is what makes bridge building critical for the ease of transportation of men and materials. Further, a majority of the population is concentrated away from the coast, making them largely dependent on land-based modes of transport. Given the importance of bridges to India’s terrestrial transport network, governments have been inattentive in maintaining them.
PC: Maritime Gateway
- Look not far than the recent announcement by the Union Government establishing the Indian bridge management system to collect information on bridges. This basic information is a prerequisite to enhance the quality of maintenance. Moreover, government expenses on roads and bridges are clubbed together. Of course, technology will play an important role in extending the longevity of bridges and should be used extensively. Using drones to inspect bridges should be seriously considered to improve oversight, particularly during the monsoon. We have engineering wherewithal but sorely lack diligence and governance in operations. Unless this changes, mishaps are bound to occur sporadically.