Kolkata: As the death toll from Tuesday’s bridge collapse in Kolkata rose to three on Thursday and businessmen started to count the economic cost of the accident, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee made a shocking announcement that at least 20 bridges in the city and its suburbs have been found to be unsafe.
Naming some of them at the press conference, Banerjee said these bridges had exceeded their “expiry date". Among the bridges that were declared unsafe by the chief minister is the Satragachi rail overbridge which connects Kolkata with two national highways, NH6 and NH2. The state will conduct an inspection of all these bridges and take corrective action.
Banerjee also announced a ban on plying of multi-axle trucks with 20 wheels—a move that will have major implications for goods movement into and from the Kolkata port. She also ordered suspension of construction of the metro railway in southwest of Kolkata, alleging that the construction works going on for the past nine years had weakened the Majerhat bridge which collapsed.
The announcements were made after the chief minister reviewed the accident with police officers and key officials, including chief secretary Malay Kumar De. A committee led by De has already been formed to investigate and determine what led to the bridge collapse. The bridge connects the Kolkata port and the southwest of the city.
On Wednesday, the police in Kolkata imposed restrictions on movement of goods vehicles in the port area, allowing them to ply for only seven hours as opposed to 17 hours previously. On the first day of restrictions, which started with long queues of trucks in the morning, container despatches fell to around 900 from a daily average of 1,200-1,300, according to port officials.
The chief minister hinted at the possibility of even smaller multi-axle trucks with 10 wheels being barred from the city, saying that all such heavy vehicles were responsible for weakening bridges. If implemented, such vehicles will have to load and unload containers at logistics parks outside Kolkata, which will lead to escalation in cost of transportation, according to port officials.
A KoPT spokesperson said, “We are assessing the traffic volume of 20-wheel multi-axle trucks that ply in the port area." The port authorities are trying to figure out what could be done to address the ban, he added.
The port can still cope with the ban on 20-wheel multi-axle trucks, which are used to despatch 40-foot containers, but if even smaller ones are banned, the impact will be “huge", said a key official at the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), who asked not to be named. Despatches to Nepal are likely to be affected, according to this person. The country has been importing construction material through the Kolkata port, which is shipped in big containers, he added.
Banerjee said the state administration will clear all unauthorised settlements under bridges. The state will resettle them elsewhere if asked to by the displaced, she added.