The Gujarat High Court was hearing the suo motu Public Interest Litigation on the bridge collapse incident on October 30, just five days after it was reopened following maintenance work.
Two weeks after the collapse of suspension bridge in Morbi claimed 135 lives, the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday asked the state government as to why no Expression of Interest (EoI) was invited for maintenance and operation of the British-era structure and how “largesse” was given to a company without floating a tender.
The high court wanted to know from the state government as to whether a 2008 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and a 2022 agreement with Ajanta Manufacturing Private Ltd (Oreva Group) imposed any conditions regarding fitness certification and if so, who was the competent authority required to do so.
The Oreva group watch manufacturing company in Gujarat which is not having any experience in construction Industry It is found with out tender had been maintaining and managing the ill-fated suspension bridge.
“This (2008) agreement with Ajanta (Oreva Group) is a one-and-a-quarter page agreement, absolutely without any conditions.
This agreement is nothing but largesse of the state for ten years without floating tenders or EoI,” a division bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh Shastri observed.
“After that term was over on June 15, 2017, what steps were taken by the state government or the Morbi municipality to float a tender?
Gujarat High Court has raised series of questions :
(i)How come no expression of interest was tendered,
(ii)how the largesse of the state was given to an individual without floating a tender…
(iii) Why have you still not superseded the municipality?”
The court observed that even after the term of Ajanta brand watch company got over on June 15, 2017, the corporate entity continued to maintain and manage the bridge in absence of an agreement.
The company had informed the Morbi Collector on various dates (four times) in 2020 that until and unless an agreement is executed, it will not commence the repairing work of the suspension bridge, it said.
“Yet, the Ajanta (Oreva) Group continued to operate, maintain and receive the revenue from the visitors to the bridge.
The subject bridge was closed on March 8, 2022, till October 25, 2022,” the court said.
Also Gujarat High court directed the government to secure the entire file relating to the bridge till date and give it to the registrar (judicial) in a sealed cover in two days, and sought details of action taken against the chief officer of the Morbi municipality.
Also Gujarat High court sought to know whether the state government has thought about providing employment to the families which have lost their sole bread earners in the tragedy.
In addition High court asked Whether the Morbi Municipality complied with Section 65 of the Gujarat Municipalities Act, 1963 (regarding Powers of Municipality to sell, lease and contract) and
Which authority was designated to certify the fitness of the bridge in 2008 and 2022 contracts with Oreva
and also on what basis was Oreva allowed to operate and maintain the bridge after the expiry of the 2008 contract in June 2017