IIT-Hyderabad report faults supporting structure for Metro pillar collapse: Cops

Bengaluru : Three days after the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) submitted a report to Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Limited (BMRCL) regarding the metro pillar collapse, the IIT-Hyderabad team has found lapses in the supporting structures responsible for the reinforcement cage collapse in Bengaluru’s HBR Layout, a senior police officer said.

According to the police, charge sheet will be filed agaisnt the accused based on the report that the measures taken were inadequate.

So far, nine people, including the construction company Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC), have been named in the FIR filed by the police. Bheemashankar S Guled, Deputy Commissioner of Police (East), said 15 more people have been called in for questioning regarding the incident.

“A day after the incident, BMRCL was asked to conduct an inspection of 200 pillars in the area where the accident happened. After permission was given to conduct inspection, police officers personally checked these 200 pillars to ensure that such an incident does not take place in the future,” Guled said.

“The accused have been booked under death caused due to negligence which is under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which carries a punishment of two years.”

The accident occurred on January 10 near HBR Layout in the city when the reinforcement cage of pier number 218 of the KR Puram-Airport metro line collapsed on a motorcycle, killing two people. The BMRCL, facing flak over the incident, roped in IISc to investigate the reason behind the mishap.

Meanwhile, the Bengaluru police sought IIT-Hyderabad to find the cause of the mishap. “Initially, we wanted IISc to be roped in. But we came to know that IISc has been giving advice to the BMRCL including drawing and design. We thought there would be conflict of interest if we use the same people. So, we decided to get IIT-Hyderabad professors,” a senior police officer said.

According to the IIT Hyderabad experts, lack of adequate support and improper design of the supporting structures led to the collapse of the under-construction metro pier. “It’s the responsibility of the BMRCL. They should have asked why there was no additional support. But probably because these people have done it so many times all over Bengaluru, they were depending partly on their luck and partly on their expertise, instead of relying on what is in the engineering textbooks,” a senior police officer said.

Prof J M Chandra Kishen of the civil engineering department at IISc, who conducted the inquiry, and submitted the report to the BMRCL had also found that inadequate support structure for the tall reinforcement cage was the main reason behind the collapse of a metro pillar.

Meanwhile, urban experts called for legal and political accountability in such incidents. “In my opinion, if only the contractor is held accountable, I would count that as a bad outcome. The right outcome is to hold someone at metro accountable. All the evidence shows that the metro didn’t do anything right. The metro didn’t have clear standards for safe movement of vehicles and pedestrians in the zones of its work. The government is trying to pass the buck to the contractor. This happens because there is no independent regulator. The BMLTA should decide on what should be done,” Urban expert Ashwin Mahesh said.

“We should also start asking which minster is responsible. We are in a situation in which Bengaluru does not have any minister at all. The government should decide on who should be held responsible when things go wrong. We treat every problem as a technical or a managerial issue. But the whole governance framework is at fault,” Mahesh said.

“Accidents can happen. There’s nothing you can do about that. But I think basic minimum protocols for safe work are not in place even today. You go to any place where metro construction is underway, it’s a nightmare. The attitude is such that we are going to do our work, everybody else should manage. That’s the whole approach. Essentially there should be legal as well as political accountability,” Mahesh added.

Civic activist and convenor of Citizens’ Agenda for Bengaluru, Sandeep Anirudhan, said, “Even after floods, pothole deaths, public infrastructure construction collapses, sinkholes, etc., we do not hear of any official being pulled up for responsibility, or being punished. This is very glaring that our laws and service rules do not punish public officials for dereliction of duty, or incompetence. Then where is the fear of carrying out shoddy and irresponsible work? What do our elected MLAs and MPs do? Isn’t it their primary job to legislate better laws, and update laws with such penal provisions to improve work of public officials?”

“In the case of the metro pillar collapse incident, it has revealed that the public works contractors are doing work as they please. If no standards are being followed, no SOP even after two decades of construction, no safety protocol, no oversight by third party inspectors, then wasn’t this a disaster waiting to happen? Aren’t our officials capable of following best practices from across the world? Our city seems to be getting by merely on luck?” Anirudhan added.

Mahesh said that adherence to safety norms and a structure to monitor it is needed to avert similar incidents in the future. “Safety norms for metro to follow should be set by BMLTA, not by metro. Periodically, every three months, BMLTA should issue a certificate on adherence to those safety norms by the metro. If that is not done, metro should be held for criminal violation of the safety norms. So, you put in place a structure and a regular procedure,” Mahesh said.

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