Whether providing access to railway stations over packed roads, or over water-bodies and drains, Mumbai's bridges are its vital lifelines. Their number is put at 296, including foot overbridges, road overbridges (including over railway tracks), flyovers and skywalks.
On March 14, after a foot overbridge connecting Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT) - perhaps India's busiest railway station - collapsed, killing six people, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) moved to shut down all bridges declared dangerous in an audit commissioned by it in 2016, whose report had been submitted back in August 2018.
That audit was commissioned following the collapse of a British-era bridge over Savitri river in Mahad, district Raigad, washing away two buses and killing 41 people. Before the audit had been completed, in June 2018, there was another collapse, this time in Andheri, a western suburb of Mumbai, killing two. Mumbai saw another tragedy involving foot overbridges in September 2017, when rumours that the Elphinstone station foot overbridge was about to collapse led to a stampede, killing 23. The Army was summoned to build a new one to replace it.
The BMC audit report on Mumbai's 296 bridges had categorised 14 as "needs demolition and reconstruction". Four have been demolished over the last six months, while after the latest collapse, the BMC quickly demolished three others. Seven are still standing, and while the BMC claims to have shut them down, commuters, motorists and pedestrians are still using them.
The report had also said that 61 bridges need "major repair" and 107 "minor".
Officials say that considering factors like traffic, coming monsoon, and getting contractors, demolition and reconstruction would take at least six more months
"For the bridges which have been demolished, we are consulting with the locals and traffic police for alternative routes. For reconstruction, we have prioritised the design and tender work for the extremely dilapidated and dangerous bridges. It will begin in the next three months," said Ajoy Mehta, Mumbai's Municipal Commissioner.
Meanwhile, the BMC's 2018 audit report itself has come under suspicion as it had declared the CSMT bridge safe.
The seven 'extremely dangerous' bridges:
Hans Bhugra Marg Pipeline Bridge, Santacruz East
Built in 1984-85, it is one of the most important road overbridges in Mumbai, connecting western and eastern suburbs. Nearly 86,000 vehicles use it daily.
With the bridge still open to traffic, the civic authorities have shut down Pipeline Road, a service road running below it.
At many places, the cement concrete surface of the approximately 500-metre bridge is broken, exposing the corroded iron rods inside. The cement-concrete railing on both sides of the bridge is also broken at many places. "I have not seen any repair in the past 20-25 years," says Subhash Gupta, 40, an autorickshaw driver who uses the bridge to ferry passengers from Santacruz to Kurla.
An official of H-East Ward, tasked with demolition of the bridge, who did not wish to be named, says, "The demolition will take some time as, after it is done, there will be traffic chaos. We are in the process of awarding tenders for demolition work. After dismantling, the reconstruction work will be taken up on priority."
Hari Masjid Nullah Bridge, Saki Naka
A cement concrete road overbridge constructed over Nullah Number 10 of Saki Naka in Kurla, an eastern suburb, it is a part of Khairani Road near Hari Masjid. At about 10 metres, it is one of the smallest bridges in Mumbai, used by over 25,000 vehicles daily, including heavy trucks.
BMC officials are unable to provide the exact year of construction, though local officials estimate it was about 30 years ago.
After the CSMT collapse, BMC officials have put up a notice warning people not to use the bridge since it is in a dilapidated condition. Few pay attention. On Tuesday afternoon, cars and trucks could be seen using it.
"Some BMC officials came and put up the notice. We didn't know about this bridge being dangerous. I have never seen anyone doing repair work. Also, they told us to not use this bridge, so what will people on Khairani Road do? This is going to increase chaos and traffic in the area," says Ismail Shaikh, 60, a cobbler who works beside the bridge.
If and when the bridge is demolished, the alternative would be the Andheri-Ghatkopar Link Road, which is already overcrowded. Work on the elevated Ghatkopar-Versova Metro line has added to the congestion.
An official from the (BMC) Bridge Department said as it was a small bridge, it would not take too much time to demolish it. "The only problem will be traffic persion. We need to stop traffic from Khairani Road. The estimates for demolition and reconstruction are being prepared and in the next few days, work will start," said the official.
Assistant Municipal Commissioner of L Ward Manish Valunje did not respond.
Panther Nagar Bridge, Vikhroli East
About 25 years old, the bridge was initially a wooden construction and converted into a steel bridge in 2000. The 25-metre bridge is the only exit and entry route for Panther Nagar, a large chawl with a population of about 4,000.
The corroded bridge was declared "highly unsafe" in last year's structural audit, but Panther Nagar residents admit they didn't let officials shut it. "The BMC must first think about alternative ways for residents. On Tuesday morning (a week after the CSMT bridge collapse) officials came and started fixing barricades on the bridge saying it is unsafe. But we don't have any other option," says Yogesh Shinde, 35, who runs a laundry shop at one end of the bridge.
He adds, "We never saw any BMC officials for maintenance and regular repair of this bridge. Why did they not come when they had first declared it dilapidated last year?"
Assistant Municipal Commissioner Bhagyshree Kapse of N Ward did not respond to calls.
Walbhat Bridge, Goregaon East
The BMC has no record of the date of construction of this road overbridge over a drain. Local residents claim the rock masonry structure with visibly dilapidated pillars is nearly 50 years old.
It connects the heavily industrial area of Goregaon East with Goregaon station, Ram Mandir station and the Mrinaltai Gore flyover that leads to Goregaon West.
Last Sunday, four days after the CSMT bridge collapse, the BMC shut it down, but it is still being used by two-wheelers and pedestrians. On Wednesday, they were seen removing barricades to use the bridge.
While the alternative route - IB Patel road - is less than a kilometre away, bumper-to-bumper traffic on that stretch means people don't want to use it. With the bridge connecting the industrialised area to the highway and railway station, traffic includes small trucks and autos.
"There are no traffic policemen on IB road since the closure of the bridge. There are long jams. The entire load of vehicles is now on a single road," says Manoj Ishwar Survey, who owns a discard shop near the bridge.
"I have had a shop on the bridge for over 45 years now. In this time the bridge has never been shut or repaired," says Shiv Prasad Yadav, owner of a paan stall.
The BMC is unclear about how long the bridge will remain closed. While the demolition and construction cost is estimated at Rs 10.14 crore, this is still awaiting administrative approval. "The work will only start post-monsoon. The tender is yet to be opened," says Satish Thosar, Executive Engineer of the Bridges Department.
Akurli Road Bridge, Kanpali East
The BMC has no record of the construction date of the bridge, which stands unbarricaded with missing railing and broken pillars. Only about 6 metres long, and located over a drain, it is used by pedestrians to access the nearby slum and by small trucks transporting material to the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) building that is under construction.
"This bridge sees no vehicular traffic. It is in use now because of the ongoing construction work and slum residents," says Rajesh Yadav, watchman of the SRA building near the bridge.
Locals say they have heard of the BMC plan to demolish it. "No one has any idea about the bridge being dangerous. It is used by the nearby residents. We haven't seen any sign declaring it dilapidated and stopping us from using the bridge," says Savita Shinde, 45, who lives near the bridge.
The tender, which is awaiting administrative approval, estimates the demolition and construction cost at Rs 33 lakh.
"We are considering constructing an alternative bridge over the drain which will be 20 metres away from the present site," said a civic official from the R-South (Kanpali) Ward.
Vitthal Mandir Bridge, SVP Bridge
Residents of Parekh Nagar in Kanpali West woke up on Wednesday to discover that access to a small pedestrian bridge near Vitthal Mandir - that took them from schools and markets to their homes across the creek - was blocked. What was previously a stroll of a few seconds would now be a long-winding 15-minute walk.
In addition, the SVP Bridge, which could have been the alternative, has also been blocked. While the Vitthal Mandir Bridge took care of pedestrians, the SVP Bridge provided access to vehicular traffic. The alternative is a single-lane Ram Gali.
Since then, people on foot have been jumping over barricades to gain access to the bridges, while others have simply removed the barricades to allow vehicular traffic.
"The railings of the (SVP) bridge are falling off and were never repaired," says Bhavesh Raichura, a local resident.
While the BMC estimates that the Vitthal Mandir Bridge, which also carries a water pipeline, was built 12-15 years ago, locals residents claim it is nearly 60 years old. "Bits of cement blocks holding the bridge together are falling off. It has only been repaired once in all these years," claims Vijay Bait (39), who lives near the bridge.
"A tender document is being prepared for both the bridges," says Sanjay Kurhade, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, R-South Ward. The BMC estimates the demolition and construction cost of the SVP Bridge at Rs 88 lakh.