On the 30th of October 2022, tragedy struck the city of Morbi in Gujarat, India, as a pedestrian suspension footbridge collapsed, causing the death of at least 135 people and injuries to tens more.
It’s a busy Sunday evening and the last day of Diwali festivities. Many people and families have gone to visit the “Jhulto Pul”, a popular 230m long, colonial-era suspension bridge which had reopened just five days earlier after months of “repairs”. Some people noted that the bridge looked more overcrowded than usual. “It was very crowded on the bridge. I think there might have been 400-500 people on it,” says Nitin, one of the many traumatized survivors.
His observation was right: most estimates dictate that the crowd shouldn’t have exceeded 150, but the actual number of people on the Morbi bridge tripled that. The added weight from the excessive number of people led the Morbi bridge to snap, and hundreds of people went plunging to their deaths.
Who is to blame for this tragedy?
“Nothing will happen to the bridge for the next 8-10 years. And if it’s used responsibly, the bridge will need no repairs for 15 years,” these were the famous last words of Jaysukh Bhai Patel, owner of the Oreva Group, the firm contracted to sustain the bridge since 2008.
The CEO claimed to have spent an exorbitant 20 million rupees ($242,000/£211,200) on renovation work for the bridge, but an investigation revealed that the real number was closer to 1.2 million rupees ($14,810/£12,511) which is a measly number for such a large bridge. After more inspection, the Forensic Science Laboratory determined that the Morbi bridge’s weak structure was already close to collapsing.
“The only fitness test of the bridge was the stroll across the carriageway that Patel and his family took on October 24,” remarked an official.
To top it off, the Oreva Group doesn’t have any expertise in building or repairing bridges, rather, they’re known for making clocks and appliances. Due to this, they subcontracted the work to another firm, DevPrakash Solutions, which lacked the technical skills to carry out such work.
They implemented superficial labor such as some painting and greasing, but they failed to change the rusty cables of the Morbi bridge, one of the key reasons that led to the collapse.
Clearly, the Oreva Group was motivated by greed: charging a premium of 2 rupees per ticket and allowing as many people as possible on the Morbi bridge to sell more of them. “It’s the management’s responsibility to see how many people can be safely allowed at any moment on the bridge. But it benefits them to allow more people because entry is ticketed,” said senior journalist and Morbi resident Pravin Vyas.
Nine people associated with Oreva have been arrested so far in connection to the tragedy, and their faiths are unclear. What is clear is that hundreds of families have been forced to lay their loved ones to rest due to the incompetency and greed of multiple parties involved.