Citizens' Issues
Neera River Death: Consultant blames driver but recommends safety repairs!

Moneylife invoked Section 7 of the RTI Act to procure the safety audit report, after four young ad professionals of Pune died after their car plunged into Neera River. What we discovered was shocking

Four young ad professionals from Pune died in a horrendous tragedy on 2nd November when their car plunged into the Neera River through a dangerous gap left open at the tip of the bridge on the Mumbai-Bangalore Highway. However, the National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) insisted that unless they get a safety audit report from their safety consultants, HAKS Engineers and Info Trans Engineers Pvt Ltd, they would not undertake safety repairs.

 

Moneylife invoked the RTI Act under Section 7, under which the applicant can get information within 48 hours, “Provided that where the information sought for concerns the life or liberty of a person, the same shall be provided within forty-eight hours of the receipt of the request.’’

 

The writer received the copy of the safety audit report on the afternoon of 19th November.

 

Shockingly, the ‘Inspection report on accident at Neera Bridge site’ puts the blame squarely on the driver stating that: “In spite of the warning signs and barricades, the accident has taken place. The opinion of the safety consultant is that the driver of the vehicle has ignored the warning signs. The accident occurred due to the driver’s fault and not due to the deficiency of the safety measures at the bridge site.’’

 

This is clearly an attempt by the safety consultants to protect and defend the NHAI and Reliance Infra despite their complete criminal negligence through shoddy and unsafe work on this stretch of the highway. Photographs published in Moneylife last week clearly show that Reliance had not protected the tip of the bridge with a crash barrier; the ‘work in progress’ signboard of the NHAI on the left is confusing to drivers, particularly at night.

 

After having squarely put the blame on the driver, the safety report recommends safety measures, which this writer through the Nav Bharat Nagarik Manch has been demanding. It states: “Cross wall connecting the abutments of the two bridges shall be raised above the ground level up to the height of the hand railings to avoid the entry of animal and human into the river by accident or mistake.’’

 

The wordings of this recommendation are highly objectionable as it trivialises the issue.

 

The second recommendation is: “Metal beam crash barriers shall be provided on the right edge of the carriageway to suitable length.’’

 

This is the very place where the car plunged into the Neera River. However, the safety consultant admits it, after having put the blame on the victims who can speak no more.

 

Nav Bharat Nagarik Manch had given the NHAI, seven days that is 26th November, to do the necessary repairs, or else agitate. It is also in the process of collecting information under RTI to file a public interest litigation (PIL), on the 140 km stretch of this highway, which runs through Maharashtra and is being built, maintained and operated by Reliance Infra.

 

The contract agreement procured by Moneylife shows that it is mandatory for the Reliance Infra to check the road conditions in terms of passenger safety and traffic signboards every seven days and it is incumbent on the NHAI to monitor the work of the contracting agency.

 

Following are some of the points in the Contract Agreement:

*that the traffic worthiness and safety are at no time inferior and that the worthiness of the road should be checked every 7 days

* For the avoidance of doubt, it is agreed that the Concessionaire shall at all times be responsible for ensuring safe operation of the Project Highway

* The independent Engineer shall inspect the Project Highway at least once a month and make a report of such inspection (the "Inspection Report") stating in reasonable detail the defects or deficiencies

*Upon recommendation of the Independent Engineer to this effect, the Authority may by notice require the Concessionaire to suspend forthwith the whole or any part of the Construction Works if, in the reasonable opinion of the Authority, such work threatens the safety of the Users and pedestrians.

 

The obligations of the Concessionaire (in this case Reliance Infra) hereunder shall include:

 

(a) permitting safe, smooth and uninterrupted flow of traffic on the Project Highway during normal operating conditions;

 

(d) carrying out periodic preventive maintenance of the Project Highway;

 

(e) undertaking routine maintenance including prompt repairs of potholes, cracks, joints, drains, embankments, structures, pavement markings, lighting, road signs and other traffic control devices;

 

(f) undertaking major maintenance such as resurfacing of pavements, repairs to structures, and repairs and refurbishment of tolling system and other equipment;

 

(i) operation and maintenance of all communication, control and administrative systems necessary for the efficient operation of the Project Highway;

 

(k) maintaining a public relations unit to interface with and attend to suggestions from the Users, government agencies, media and agencies; and

 

(I) complying with Safety Requirements.

 

The NHAI and Reliance are also bound by the NHAI’s Safety Manual as well as Citizen Charter besides the contract agreement. Both are flouting all norms at the expense of innocent lives being snuffed out. As per the information procured from the Rajgad Police Station by the writer, in the 29 km stretch between Katraj tunnel and the Neera Bridge, there have been 174 deaths and 111 serious injuries from January 2011 to 31 October 2013.

 

Strangely, the safety report does not have a dateline of when it has submitted the report to the NHAI though it says that inspection took place on 12 November 2013. The inspection report does not even give any timeline to conduct the necessary repairs. So, is this all just a farce?

 

(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)

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COMMENTS

Mathai

4 years ago

Could you out a photo of the approach to the gap, the went through, to understand the issue?

Prakash Basrur

4 years ago

Our national motto should have been "Chalta Hai" ! I did my B.E.(civil) from VJTI (Mumbai) in 1966 and gave up that profession in 1969 to take up computer management precisely because I felt civil engineering ( be it building construction or road construction ) as practiced in India is not a "science" ! As a Site Engineer on A.C.C.'s Chandrapur Cement Plant Construction site whenever I scrupulously "checked" the diameter and "lap-length" of reinforcement rods to be as per the drawing from the design office, I was laughed at by both the contractor's personnel as well as company's (i.e. client's) old time engineers. They dubbed it as a "show off" by me ! After going through such type of civil engineering "practice" that too on the site of a reputed "cement manufacturing" company I was totally disillusioned and left engineering to become a "computer engineer" so that I was in a better desciplined career ! Have you any time in your life seen BMC / PWD /CPWD /ZP civil engineers doing thorough checking of concrete mix and the steel reinforcement at any site or for that matter checking personally at site the asphalting/concreting of roads ? In fact civil engineers in India consider themselves to be "white collared" rather than "blue collared" workers ! They feel demeaning to be standing at the concreting sites in hot sun ! Nobody inspects the civil work for it to be as per contract specifications ! The "Government Engineers" delegate such serious responsibility to the poor ill-paid "Surveyor/Mukadams" under them and they in turn down delegate it to the contractors personnel at site ! With such neglect in their responsibility it is but natural that nowhere in India proper , i.e. well-written and conspicuous , road signs are ever displayed at any construction site. We even today do not have site areas with sign boards such as "Hard Hat Area" and "No Entry Without Helmet" !

prakash sawant

4 years ago

Let's see, what happens till 26th Nov 2013.
Hope for the best, that atlest they make construction of safety cross wall on the gap between two bridges.
As a reader, I fully support to "Nav Bharat Nagarik Manch" for their stand against goverment's irresponsible behaviour.

chandrashekhar kulkarni

4 years ago

Everyone knows with blessing of Politician & paying them bribe,all such illegal toll collection going on without proper road condition and safety measures.Huge toll collection from common citizen whereas number of vehicle is raising day by day.Actually when number of vehicle increase day by day toll should be reduced every year.Its nothing but Loot by Politician & Private companies Chandrshekhar Kulkarni

Frank Elias

4 years ago

Kindly persuade and assist the families of the ad professionals of Pune to sue the NHAI & Reliance Infra, also individuals who are directly or indirectly responsible for this tragedy. BBC had a series of documented articles on the road accidents in India which had said that there are a 100,000 deaths annually on the roads of India which is more than the combined deaths on the roads of the rest of the world. It was also attributed to poor design and lack of safety features & signs by the civic authorities, police, infrastructure companies, etc.

SUJIT KATYAL

4 years ago

We can take action against both public servants as well as politicians but the private companies seem to be above the law in recent times.

REPLY

MOHAN

In Reply to SUJIT KATYAL 4 years ago

Sujith,
The so called Private companies are actually owned by Politicians.

sanjay ranade

4 years ago

I travel on this road every for last 11 years.The old bridge is about to collapse any time.around 15 boards saying"work in Progress"by Brahmaputra Infrastructure limited were placed on the old bridge.No work has been done on the bridge in last one year.The road condition is pathetic.The lights inside the twin tunnel which is around 1.5KM long are never "ON".There is evry possibility that further fatal accidents may take place in this stretch any time.The Toll collection needs to be stopped and timely completion of road widening project needs to be ensured.For any delay a hefty fine needs to be imposed on the agency which is collecting TOLL everyday from tens of thousands of vehicles

Vijay Kelkar recommended Padma Shri for Arun Firodia, a wilful bank defaulter

Arun Firodia, founder and chairman of the Kinetic Group of companies is declared as wilful defaulter by several banks and yet Vijay Kelkar recommended his name for Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India

Following directions from the Central Information Commission (CIC), the ministry of home affairs (MHA) has revealed that Vijay Kelkar, a key-functionary attached with the union finance ministry and himself an awardee of Padma Vibhushan, had recommended name of Arun Firodia, founder and chairman of the Kinetic Group of companies for Padma Shri. Earlier in January 2012, Mr Firodia was awarded Padma Shri from the trade and industry category.

 

According to a reply received by Subhash Chandra Agrawal under the Right to Information (RTI) Act what is more shocking various intelligence authorities including those attached with ministry of economic affairs also cleared Mr Firodia's name without any proper check. Several news-reports and website of Credit Information Bureau (India) Ltd (CIBIL) have mentioned Mr Firodia and his daughter, Sulajja Firodia Motwani as being wilful bank-defaulters.

 

See the reply Mr Agarwal received under the RTI Act…
 

Padma Shri (also Padmashree) is the fourth highest civilian award in India and is awarded in recognition of their distinguished contribution in various spheres of activity including the arts, education, industry, literature, science, sports, medicine, social service and public affairs. The selection criteria for the Padma awards, however, has been heavily criticised as many highly deserving people have been left out in order to favour certain individuals.

 

As Moneylife reported, despite all checks and balances, neither the committee nor agencies and regulators like Intelligence Bureau (IB), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Central Excise Intelligence (CEI), Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) could find out Mr Firodia’s bank defaults.

 

Several banks have declared Mr Firodia a “wilful defaulter” continuously between 31 March 2005 and 31 March 2012 and yet his name was cleared. In a report available on the website of CIBIL, as of 31 March 2012, Mr Firodia's name has been shown associated with Kinetic Finance, Athena Financial Services, along with his daughter Sulajja Firodia Motwani. According to CIBIL data, as of 31st Match, Athena Financial Services has an outstanding of Rs54.60 crore, while Kinetic Finance owes Rs2.76 crore to debtors, mostly banks.

 

Demanding an enquiry in the clearance given by intelligence agencies and authorities to Mr Firodia for the Padma Shri award, Mr Agarwal said, "Exemplary stringent-most action should be taken against the irresponsible officers in these agencies having cleared Arun Firodia’s name for Padma Shri to prevent such carelessness by Intelligence Authorities in clearing names of Padma awardees in future. To save dignity of Padma awards, it should be immediately taken back from Arun Firodia. Surprisingly, the father-daughter duo have been turn-by-turn members of the governing-body of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), a union government-enterprise. Wilful bank-defaulters must not be allowed to hold posts in government-bodies."

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Campa Cola case: Illegal residents will have to vacate by 31st May, says SC

Attorney general Vahanvati told the apex court that no specific proposal could be worked out for enabling new construction in the compound

The Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that residents of unauthorised flats in seven buildings at Campa Cola compound in Mumbai have to vacate premises by 31 May 2014.

 

The apex court has also asked occupants of illegally constructed flats to give an undertaking within six weeks to vacate their houses.

 

Attorney General GE Vahanvati told the Supreme Court that no specific proposal could be worked out for enabling new construction in the compound.

 

If no undertaking is given within the specified period, civic body will be entitled to take action in accordance with the 27th February 27r, the SC said.

 

Earlier last week, after taking suo moto notice, the Supreme Court had stayed demolition of illegal floors of seven buildings in Campa Cola Compound till 31 May 2014.

 

According to the broad outlines submitted by attorney general Vahanvati before a bench, out of nine structures originally proposed in the complex, only seven have been built, leaving enough floor space index (FSI) for accommodating the present members of the housing society.

 

Thus space is available for raising a new building. Those who are going to lose their accommodation may be put up in the new structure. The rules regarding FSI have also changed, which would allow the housing of all affected residents, Vahanvati had said.

 

Noting down the proposal of the attorney general, the SC had granted him time till today to put his proposal in writing. The bench had also asked counsel for the residents, FS Nariman and Mukul Rohtagi, to find out whether the proposal would be acceptable to them.

 

Earlier, the apex court had set the 11th November deadline to vacate 102 flats declared as illegal.

 

The apartments in the Campa Cola Compound were constructed on land leased in 1955 to Pure Drinks Ltd. Pure Drinks was later allowed by the BMC in 1980 to build residential apartments. Seven high-rise buildings were constructed at the compound between 1981 and 1989 by developers Yusuf Patel, PSB Constructions and BK Gupta.

 

Illegal floors of Midtown Apartments, Esha Ekta Apartments, Shubh Apartments, Patel Apartments (two buildings, six floors each), BY Apartments and Orchid Apartments comprise 140 flats. While the builders were granted permission for ground-plus-five floors, Midtown has 20 floors, Orchid has 17, Esha Ekta has eight, Shubh has seven, while BY and Patel have six floors each.

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