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Nearly 4 years on, fate of collapsed Kolkata flyover hangs in balance

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Health audit still pending after steel span crashed killing at least 50 people

Screams of people; clouds of dust; fire spewing out — this is how Sambhu Nath Ray remembers the precise moment when the under-construction flyover on the busy Vivekananda Road collapsed on March 31, 2016.

Mr. Ray happened to witness the collapse because his nearly a century-old pharmacy, Mahatma and Co., sits right at the intersection of Vivekananda Road and Chitpur Road (now Rabindra Sarani). Considering that Chitpur Road existed even before Kolkata came into being, this would count among the oldest intersections in the city. It was at this spot that a 150-m long steel span of the flyover came crashing.

“Only moments before the collapse my daughter had got off the tram and crossed the intersection to get into the shop,” Mr. Ray recalls. A personal tragedy was averted, but life hasn’t been the same for him ever since the collapse, which killed at least 50 people. His business has taken a nosedive because buses no longer ply on the road and many people avoid the stretch for the fear that the remaining steel spans of the incomplete flyover may fall anytime.

“Let’s assume my daily sale earlier was 100 rupees; now that figure has dropped to 15-20 rupees. That should give you an idea how much I am suffering,” says Mr. Ray.

It’s the same story for nearly all the shops — almost all of them over 100 years old and legends in their own right — that now happen to be situated in the shadow of the incomplete structure. Such as the Vivekananda Road branch of Bhim Chandra Nag, a sweet shop started in 1826.

“Earlier you wouldn’t find place to stand here, so crowded our shop would be. Now you can see for yourself how empty it is,” says Baidyanath Patra, an attendant at Bhim Chandra Nag, whose loyal customers once included the educationist Ashutosh Mukherjee.

Further down the road is Nepal Chandra, another famous sweet shop, about 120 years old. “Before the flyover collapsed, we had 20 people on our rolls catering to customers. Now we have retained only six because there is hardly any work. Unless something is done about the flyover — whether they pull it down or build it all over again — our business is going to be next to nil,” laments Sahadev Saha, the cashier at Nepal Chandra.

Even Ram Milan Sharma, who runs a hair-cutting saloon (again, almost a century old), is feeling the pinch. “If I made one rupee a day earlier, now I make only four annas (16 annas make a rupee). I had to pack off all my attendants because I can myself take care of the few clients that show up these days,” he says.

The incomplete flyover is an example of how those in power take the people for granted. The contract was granted to the Hyderabad-based IVRCL in 2008 and work was to have been completed by 2010, but it dragged on. And now, even nearly four years after the collapse, the fate of the flyover — and of those running businesses in its shadow — hangs in balance.

According to Subrata Gupta, Principal Secretary in the Department of Urban Development, a tender was floated recently — shortly before Durga Puja — to invite bids for conducting a health audit of the bridge. “[The selected firm] will examine whether the project should be scrapped or continued, and if continued, then whether the flyover can be retrofitted,” Mr. Gupta told The Hindu.

This flyover is just one of the 18 bridges across Kolkata whose health audit is being — or going to be — conducted. When exactly work is going to begin again, remains shrouded in a cloud of dust.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 10:10:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/nearly-4-years-on-fate-of-collapsed-kolkata-flyover-hangs-in-balance/article30064664.ece

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