In 17 days, a total of 12 bridges have collapsed in various districts of Bihar. This has raised many eyebrows and questions about India’s infrastructure gap are making rounds. 

The Dire Situation In Bihar: 

It all started when a bridge that was constructed at Rs 12 crore and was about to be inaugurated, collapsed on June 18. This was followed by the collapse of an old bridge over a canal in Siwan on June 22.

On June 23, an under-construction bridge in Motihari collapsed. On June 25, after the pillar of a bridge in Madhubani was washed away in a heavy water flow gushing from upstream, the girder of the bridge also collapsed. Two successive collapses of bridges took place in the Kishanganj district on June 27 and June 30, respectively. The surprising fact is that these two bridges were very recent, having been constructed in 2007 and 2011 respectively. 

Relentless rain in Bihar has caused bridges in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur, Sawan, and Saran to also collapse in July. However, no casualties or injuries have been reported so far. 

In Bihar, the Rural Works Department, the Rural Development Department, the Road Construction Department, and the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam are the primary stakeholders involved in the construction of bridges through different contractors and executing agencies, depending on whether it is being constructed under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna or Mukhya Mantri Sampark Yojna or the Central-funded highway projects.

The Nitish Kumar-led BJP-JDU administration has ordered an investigation and called for action against those found responsible. The Bihar Water Resources Department (WRD) has instructed chief engineers to monitor the water levels of rivers in North Bihar, which have been receiving increased discharge due to heavy downpours in Nepal. 

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was submitted to the Supreme Court on July 4, requesting that the Bihar government conduct a thorough structural audit and establish a high-level expert committee to assess the condition of weak bridges that may require demolition or reconstruction.

The petitioner, advocate Brajesh Singh, sought a direction to the Bihar government for making effective policy or mechanism for real time monitoring of the bridges. He argued that with every passing day, loss to public exchequer was occurring, because of the gross negligence of the government and corrupt nexus of the contractors and concerned agencies.

Back to back collapse of the bridges in Bihar clearly indicates that there has been no lessons learnt and safety of critical infrastructure like bridges is not taken seriously and these routine incidents cannot be termed merely accidents as it is manmade disasters,” said the plea.

The petitioner also said that this is a matter of grave concern that such routine accrual of the incident of falling bridges was taking place in the most flood-prone state in India, Bihar, thus putting the lives of people at stake.


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Why are Bihar’s bridges falling like ninepins? 

Government officials blame the heavy flow of water from the upstream Himalayan range- Nepal, which has caused gushing of lakhs of cusecs of water into the rivers flowing in Bihar.

A senior official, preferring anonymity said, “Or else, how could one explain that all six bridges that have collapsed since June 18 were located in north Bihar, which faces the perennial problem of floods due to the heavy discharge of water from Nepal.

The quality of India’s infrastructure is hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons. Projects are constructed at a fraction of what something similar costs in developed countries. 

India’s infrastructure projects follow standards laid by global bodies such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) as well as statutory bodies like the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). 

The Indian government also adopts standards developed by various national bodies, including private entities such as the Indian Road Congress (IRC), which prescribe their standards.

The National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP), in its report titled ‘Regulating Infrastructure Development in India,’ said that the current framework allows for gaps and overlaps in standards. 

There are overlapping codes for laying the foundation of a bridge. Where a bridge accommodates both a road as well as a railway, developers can adopt either standard,” said the report. 

Similarly, comprehensive codes do not exist for ductile detailing, that is, when constructing a bridge, the structures are made durable and ductile enough to be able to resist severe earthquake shocks without collapsing. The NIPFP said that these codes must be created or adopted.

Mazen Khalifa, Senior Project Manager at AECOM, an American infrastructure consulting firm, told Moneycontrol, “Many of the design standards and codes that are being followed in road safety are borrowed from Europe. However, unlike global practices, there are no guidelines for deviation from standards, the impact of deviation on safety, and the deviation mitigation methods followed.

Manoj Jain, at Surbana Jurong, a Singaporean infrastructure consultancy company, said that the process for developing infrastructure standards is not consistent across the standard-setting bodies in India. “As a result, the quality and appropriateness of the standards themselves is questionable at times,” he added.

Transparent oversight mechanisms, project audits, and legal deterrents are a must to ensure the longevity of infra projects in the country.


Image Credits: Google Images

Feature image designed by Saudamini Seth

SourcesThe Economic TimesThe PrintThe Indian Express 

Find the blogger: Unusha Ahmad

This post is tagged under: bridges, Bihar, India, infrastructure, Siwan, canal, Motihari, Madhubani, Nepal, Kishanganj, Muzaffarpur, Saran, government, Rural Works Department, the Rural Development Department, the Road Construction Department, and the Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna, Mukhya Mantri Sampark Yojna, highway, projects, Nitish Kumar, BJP, JDU, WRD, PIL, Supreme Court, ISO, IEC, Himalaya, BIS, IRC, NIFPF, AECOM, senior manager, Singaporean, consultancy, company

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