Damage control after 48 hrs – NHPC refuses to take responsibility for ‘Saturday’s dismantling’

Siliguri, June 27: Stung by criticism from several quarters, the NHPC has finally come up with a statement on Saturday’s bailey bridge collapse, 48 hours after the mishap.

The Telegraph had reported yesterday that no NHPC official was present at the site of the accident till 2 pm yesterday. Also the hydel power major did not care to offer an official explanation on the disaster which had claimed the lives of seven workers. Four contract labourers were killed and three washed away after the bridge fell into the rain-fed Teesta, when a concrete mixture-laden truck was crossing it.

The NHPC press release, issued today, states that the “accident occurred due to the collision of the transit mixer vehicle with the bridge on sudden application of the brake”. Senior NHPC officials said the bridge had swerved 3-4 metres to the right due to the impact of the collision.

Experts, however, have rubbished the claims of the NHPC. “The momentum created on application of the brakes of a truck cannot have such an impact that it will make a bridge collapse. But if the dismantling work had really begun and some bolts and girders taken off or loosened, then an uneven distribution of stress may lead to accidents of this sort,” said an engineer of the CPWD, based in Siliguri.

Though the NHPC claimed that “the bridge was scheduled for dismantling from 27.06.2005 (Monday)”, eyewitnesses reported that decommissioning of the structure had already started on Saturday.

“The NHPC logic is ridiculous. A collision like that cannot make a bridge give away. Bailey bridges are made of stronger stuff. It was unwise of the power major to have allowed the vehicle (20 tonnes) to ply on the bridge just when it was being dismantled. Also, it sounds absurd that a truck had to apply brakes, so abruptly, on a bridge of this kind,” said Leela Kumar Gurung of the recently-formed Teesta Sangharsh Samity (TSS).

Chief-engineer-in-charge of the Teesta Low Dam Project (Stage-III) at Rambi R.K. Verma who spoke to The Telegraph today has denied the allegations. “It is not true that dismantling work on the bridge had been going on since the last few days. ”

In a marked departure from yesterday’s stand, NHPC officials today admitted that four persons are missing. Yesterday, the officials were reluctant to admit the casualty figures, choosing instead to stick to their claim that only the driver of the vehicle had died.

“Only a couple of hours ago, we traced the vehicle. Our men along with the rafting team are trying to retrieve it,” said Verma.

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