Pause button on bridge

The Mamata Banerjee government has cancelled a plan to throw open a road overbridge in Baruipur more than two months ahead of its scheduled completion after PWD engineers cited the example of the collapsed VIP Road flyover.

Sources said the state government had scheduled the inauguration for March 10, before panchayat polls are announced and the model code of conduct kicks in. But PWD engineers refused to buckle under pressure, saying the structure needed time to "settle" before it could take the load of daily traffic.

The official targeted date for completion of the Rs 34-crore overbridge, being built by SS Civil Construction Pvt Ltd, is May 15.

"Throwing open projects, even incomplete ones, is a tradition in Bengal, particularly when an election is round the corner. But engineers of the PWD have done well to stick to their stand," a senior official at Writers' Buildings said.

The government had allegedly asked the PWD to declare the road overbridge fit for inauguration in the last week of February. A team visited the site and informed engineer-in-chief B. Konar that work had been completed except for casting on the fence of the overbridge.

"The engineer-in-chief was also informed that the overbridge needed some time to settle before it's inauguration. But some in the government were not ready to accept the argument," a PWD official said.

The engineers were then told that the overbridge would be inaugurated on March 10 but vehicles wouldn't be allowed to ply till it "settled".

On March 4, a day after a portion of the Bypass-bound flank of the VIP Road flyover came crashing down, the engineers said they couldn't clear the Baruipur overbridge for inauguration on the assumption that the authorities would be able to bar traffic on it for some time.

"They had an example in the VIP Road flyover, which the Trinamul Congress says was inaugurated in haste by former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee ahead of the 2011 Assembly elections. The engineers made it clear that they would not issue a fitness certificate for the overbridge before time," a source said.

State PWD minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar admitted there was "pressure" on his department to approve of the planned inauguration, March 10 presumably being the last Sunday before the rural polls are notified.

"There was pressure. But we cannot put the common people under threat. The overbridge will be inaugurated in due course," Ghosh Dastidar told Metro.

Chief minister Mamata had inaugurated two overbridges, one in Durgapur and another in Dankuni, last month.

The Dankuni project was a joint venture between the state government and the railways but no railway official was on the dais during the long-distance inauguration from Deshapriya Park.

An official said the state government was "desperate" to inaugurate the Baruipur overbridge because it had borne around Rs 27 crore out of the Rs 34 crore project cost. The rest came from the railways.