The Morbi municipality on February 15 passed a resolution saying the civic body never gave its approval to hand over a suspension bridge in the town to Oreva Group, a day after the Gujarat government sought a fresh reply to a show-cause notice over the bridge collapse that killed 141 people.
In the general board meeting held today to discuss this issue, 41 of 52 councillors of the BJP-ruled municipality submitted a separate reply asserting that the majority of the councillors were not aware of the agreement under which the bridge was handed over to Oreva Group by the municipality for maintenance and operation.
The Gujarat government had on February 14 asked the Morbi municipality to submit a fresh reply to a show-cause notice as to why it should not be dissolved for failing to discharge its duties before the collapse of the bridge that claimed 135 lives last year.
The Urban Development Department had said in a letter to the chief of the municipality that the civic body should submit a written reply, duly approved by its general body, by February 16.
The show-cause notice was issued on January 18 and the State did not accept a reply dated February 7 sent by the municipality’s lawyer. In view of the government’s new deadline, the municipality had called an urgent general body meeting on Wednesday, said N. K. Muchhal, in-charge chief officer of Morbi.
“During today’s meeting, two separate replies, one from the civic body and another from councillors, were submitted. These replies will be sent to the State government for further action,” Muchhal told reporters after the meeting.
Jayrajsinh Jadeja, vice-president of the municipality, said the office bearers of the civic body, including the president, vice-president and standing committee chairman, are “innocent” because the proposal and subsequent agreement to hand over the bridge to Oreva Group in March last year was never approved through a general board meeting.
“We are not guilty because the agreement to hand over the bridge to Oreva Group was never discussed or approved in the general board meeting. Moreover, we have also mentioned in our reply that Morbi municipality was ruled by Congress when the first agreement was approved by the board (in 2007) for the maintenance of the bridge,” said Mr. Jadeja.
On behalf of the 41 councillors, Bhavik Jaria told reporters that 49 of 52 councillors were not aware of the agreement signed by the Morbi municipality with Oreva Group in March last year for the maintenance and operation of the bridge.
“In our reply, we have stated that 49 of 52 councillors were not aware of this agreement. As per the law, the municipality’s permission is needed for such agreements. But, we were not informed about it. Even the Special Investigation Team (SIT) never said in its findings that the entire civic body was responsible for this tragedy,” said Mr. Jaria.
The ill-fated bridge, which collapsed on October 30 last year, was maintained and operated by Oreva Group under an agreement signed with the Morbi municipality.
In its show-cause notice of January 18, the government wanted to know why the civic body did not take note of the issues raised by Oreva Group between 2018 and 2020 about the dilapidated condition of the bridge and the possibility of a serious accident if it remained open to the public.
“Moreover, the municipality did not take any concrete action to take over the bridge from the company in 2017 after the completion of the previous contract despite knowing the situation of the bridge,” the notice said.
The State government had on December 13 told the Gujarat High Court during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) that it had decided to dissolve the municipality.