The Gujarat High Court on November 15, 2022 asked how the Morbi bridge’s repair work was awarded to the Oreva Group without a tender, while hearing a suo motu petition on the colonial era bridge collapse tragedy in which at least 140 people were killed on October 29.
The court also noted that “prima facie, the local municipality has defaulted which led to unfortunate incident”, and asked how the “largesse of the State” was granted to a company without floating a tender for such important work.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Arvind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh Shastri lashed out at the authorities and asked the government to how Ajanta Manufacturing Limited, the Oreva Group’s flagship company, had been permitted to maintain the bridge between 2017 and 2022 in the absence of any agreement, after the term of a 2008 agreement on bridge maintenance and repair had ended.
The Morbi-based Oreva Group is a large corporate house engaged in the manufacture of wall clocks and electronic appliances.
“This [the 2008] agreement with Ajanta [Oreva Group] is one-and-a-quarter pages agreement, absolutely without any conditions. This agreement is by way of an understanding, largesse of the State for ten years, and no tenders floated, no Expression of Interest,” the Division Bench said.
The court held that such negligence on the part of the local civic body was deplorable. It also asked whether any steps had been taken by the local authorities to float a tender for the bridge’s operation and maintenance after the 2008 agreement had expired in 2017.
“Under the said 2008 MoU [Memorandum of Understanding], who had been fixed the responsibility to certify that the bridge is ready and fit for usage is not forthcoming. The largesse of the State seems to have been granted without there being any tender floated in this regard,’‘ observed the judges.
The company had informed the District Collector on various dates in 2020 that until and unless an agreement was executed, it would not commence the repair work on the suspension bridge.
“Yet, the Ajanta [Oreva] Group continued to operate, maintain and receive the revenue from the visitors to the bridge. The subject bridge was closed on March 8, 2022 till October 25, 2022,” the court said.
The Bench also observed that the affidavit filed by the Regional Commissioner of Municipalities did not contain the required details and information the court had sought earlier.
The court directed the government to secure the entire file relating to the bridge till date and give it to the Registrar (Judicial) in a sealed cover in two days, and sought details of the action taken against the chief officer of the Morbi Municipality. The officer was earlier suspended by the State government.
The court was informed that the State Human Rights Commission had formed a committee to inquire into the tragedy.
After the tragedy, the police on October 31 arrested nine persons, including four employees of the Oreva Group, security guards, and ticket clerks, who all are in judicial custody now.