Andheri Bridge Collapse: Independent Infrastructure Audits Needed Desperately

  • Public structures that are used by thousands, if not more, of people every day need to undergo regular audits. Any less and it would mean compromising public safety.

It seems like it takes a disaster for any constructive action to be undertaken in our country. This attitude has cost us not just millions of dollars but also hundreds of lives time and again.

The collapse of the Andheri road overbridge is the latest case of this pattern of behaviour. A section of the Gokhale bridge caved in at Andheri station on Tuesday (3 July). The fall ripped apart overhead wires on the southern end of the station near platforms 7 and 8, bringing railway traffic to a standstill. Luckily, the two platforms see lower rail traffic compared to others. And thankfully, that was probably the reason why only a few unfortunately had to pay the price for the bridge collapse, which is a clear case of neglect and lack of proactive civic vigilance on the part of the administration.

A bridge used by thousands each day doesn’t cave in without showing signs of a possible collapse. And if it did, it says a lot about the quality of construction.

And this comes within months of the Elphinstone bridge episode that resulted in a stampede, killing around 23 people and injuring many more.

Typically, a series of blame games among different agencies ensue, even as citizens bear the brunt of their negligence. It takes a fire accident in a rooftop restaurant for the city to wake up to illegal licensing, for instance, or a bridge collapse for safety audits to be proposed. Only after a roof collapsed in Delhi’s Connaught Place did the authorities think of assessing the structural stability of the buildings at various shopping hubs in the city.

All it takes, come to think of it, is to put a system in place. A regular mandatory independent infrastructure audit of large public structures is all that is needed. That is something that is mandated by the Indian Road Congress rules and the Bridge Institute manual.

Deccan Herald report one day after the Andheri bridge collapse speaks of how Bengaluru too has had no audit of any of its structures. Which means no underpass, bridge, or other structures, which have thousands of commuters using it every day, have had any audits of their safety, strength, or design.

“No audit has ever been done of any infrastructure projects in the city. All that the agencies do is tar the roads and claim maintenance has been done. The audit should comprise load bearing, reflections, vibrations, carrying capacity, and deflection,” said adviser and expert member to the state government for traffic, transport, and infrastructure M N Sreehari, as quoted by the daily.

Union Minister Piyush Goyal visited the Andheri bridge collapse site and announced that the railways would carry out a safety audit of around 445 road and overbridges or bridges over pipelines that cross railway tracks at various suburban stations.

Something similar was announced after the Elphinstone tragedy too. The minister, as reported by the Hindu, said that a structural audit of the now-collapsed bridge was conducted in November last year. And apparently, there was so sign of danger. How, then, did the bridge fall?

Most civic bodies have their in-house engineers conducting audits. Clearly, the audits, if and when they do take place, aren’t up to mark. Else, these accidents wouldn’t occur.

It would be best to constitute an independent body that undertakes regular audits of these large structures, especially of those which see a high traffic of people and vehicles. Separate sections within this team can look at various infrastructural projects. For instance, for bridges alone, a record of the location and condition of all the bridges within the city can be created; then, a bridge maintenance programme that involves a risk-based approach to the classification of bridges can be formulated.

An independent body would also solve the issues of jurisdiction. The said body can also interact with citizen bodies and ensure co-operation for undertaking repair or restoration works if need be. It will also serve as an agency that the citizens can directly contact in case they wish to bring to notice any such structures that need maintenance.