PLACING THE blame on the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the lawyer, representing the director of the firm that audited the foot overbridge (FOB) outside the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus that collapsed on March 14, told the court that for three years the civic body did not carry out the repairs suggested in an inventory report by his client.
Lawyer Rizwan Merchant, representing Neeraj Kumar Desai, director of Professor DD Desai's Associated Engineering Consultant and Analyst Private Limited, arrested by the Mumbai Police on March 18, made an emotional plea before the court stating that the BMC had again managed to wash its hands off the incident. Desai was arrested four days after the mishap that claimed six lives.
"I usually do not say this but I lost half my family despite making repeated complaints. It is not about this case against my client or any particular person, but if timely repairs were carried out, people's lives would have been saved," Merchant told the court. The criminal lawyer had lost his wife, mother and son when Altaf Manzil, the building they resided in, in Mahim collapsed in 2013, due to alleged illegal alterations.
Merchant told the court that his client, Desai, was not given the job of conducting a structural audit, but an inventory of 76 bridges in the city in 2016 by the BMC, including the bridge which collapsed this month. The inventory described the bridge to be in a "fairly good condition", which the BMC claims was the reason for not carrying out any repairs on it.
Merchant, however, said that he had suggested specific repairs too. "The 2016 report said that the treads and risers of the staircase are broken, that the concrete slabs show effect of corrosion. Why did the BMC not carry out these repairs," Merchant submitted before the court. He also said that Desai was not given structural plans or designs of the bridge constructed in 1984.
"Structural plans were not available hence no concrete conclusion can be drawn regarding the safety and condition of the foundation," the 2016 report by Desai had said. He further said that the BMC had experts in its various departments, who could have also flagged off the need to carry out repairs based on these findings.
"When the bridge was constructed in 1984, it was not built with the expectation of being used by 2,000 persons within a span of 15 minutes. This is not accounted for when bridges are built that there will be an increase in capacity over a period of time. They are built as per the need during the construction," Merchant said. He said that after the 2016 report, Desai had suggested the need for a Non-Destructive Test, which was then done by a Baroda-based firm named Geodynamics. The BMC claims that as the reports submitted in August 2018 suggested that the bridge was in the "good" category, no repairs were carried out. Merchant said that cosmetic changes, like painting, was carried out on the bridge, due to which, corrosion could not be seen.
Public prosecutor, Rajendra Survayanshi told the court that Geodynamics was a subsidiary of Desai's firm. He added that Desai had a staff of nine persons, including four engineers.
"We have their names but the accused is not cooperating to elaborate on who was present at the time of the audit of the bridge," Suryavanshi said. Further, he also said that while he would have required to take permission from various departments of the BMC during the audit, the police want to find out if all pre-requisites were followed by him. The court said that to find out the exact role of the accused in connection with the incident, police custody was necessary. Desai was remanded to police custody till March 28.
So far, the Azad Maidan police has made only one arrest in the case. The BMC had also suspended two civic officials after the collapse, which caused the death of six and injured over 30.