Another car plunges in Neera River. PWD, NHAI still not concerned
In a repeat of a 2013 accident, on 11th March, another car plunged into the Neera River near Bhor, killing four young people
It is time, yet again, to invoke Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act to nail the Public Works Department (PWD) in Maharashtra, which, despite directions, has failed to build protective railings on the bridge on Mahad-Bhor Road, about 55 kms from Pune, in order to prevent accidents where vehicles slip into the river from the bridge. This led to another mishap earlier this week on 11th March, where four more young people died as their car plunged into the River.
When contacted, Police Inspector HD Chaugule confirmed to Moneylife that, the PWD did not heed to their earlier warnings to strengthen the bridge railings. If the PWD had heeded to their request, the car could have been prevented from falling into the river even if the driver in this case was over speeding. “Once again, the State Highway Police has sent a letter to the PWD department in Pune on 11th March, to immediately build a protective wall.” Chaugule said
Much like the 2013 car tragedy, the police have cited lack of signboards at the entry of the bridge and the lack of sturdy railings and a crash barrier at the entry point of the bridge as reasons for the gravity of the mishap. The four people who died included a young couple, Pravin and Riddhi Bhosale, their two year old son, Shaurya and Pravin’s father.
After another such incident in 2013, where four bright youngsters from the field of advertising lost their lives, the writer had invoked Section 4 of the RTI Act only to find that the Reliance subsidiary, which is the private contractor in partnership with the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), is shirking its responsibility of maintenance and putting the onus on the Authority. In this game of ping-pong, hundreds of commuters have died – 175 of them in the 23kms stretch between Katraj ghat and the Nira bridge on Pune-Satara Road in a span of seven months between 2012 and 2013.
Interestingly, RTI documents procured from NHAI, Pune, proved that strengthening of bridge railings and construction of crash barriers is pertinent for safety of commuters. It is the same affliction on the state owned highways, if the 11th March tragedy is anything to go by.
The details revealed in a 2012 tragedy are remarkably similar to the present case, including the sloppy maintenance by the PWD. PS Toll Roads Pvt Ltd, the subsidiary agency of Reliance Infra, which operates and maintains the Pune-Bangalore Highway in the Maharashtra jurisdiction, in its letter to the Project Director, NHAI on 25 November, 2013 stated “…raising and strengthening of the Median wall (wall in between the two bridges) to the height of the crash barrier, is required for all the six major bridges between Dehu Road and Satara and not only for the Neera River bridge.”
The major bridges which need urgent repairs have been identified by the contractor as Pawana Bridge, Mula Bridge, Mutha Bridge, Krishna River Bridge, Venna River Bridge and Neera River Bridge. Repairs have also been recommended for a series of culverts and small bridges.
In a letter written by Nagendra Rai, officer of the PS Toll Roads to Mr Kaundal, he admits that all the major bridges and some of the culverts are ‘unsafe’ for commuters. The letter states, “You are aware that gap between all existing minor/major bridges and slab culvert is not properly closed by crash barrier or extending medial wall up to the level of crash barrier and the same is leading to unsafe situation for the traffic.”
RTI activist DVR Rao, who is following up on the 2013 Neera tragedy issue with the highest authorities in Delhi, is now pursuing the 11th March accident. He says, “Deaths on the roads have become far too common where the reason is the total disregard by the road building authorities for the safety of the vehicle users. There have been far too many cases of vehicles falling off hillsides and near bridges and off sharp turns. All because of bad road designs and the refusal to build protective railings or retainer walls. The latest is the car falling into the Neera river near Ambeghar because of the failure of the state PWD to build a strong retainer wall. This refusal to act in spite of repeated recommendations to the effect by the Bhor police is totally inexcusable.”
Earlier there were two cases of cars falling into the river at Shirwal on the NH 8, again due to the ignorance of police requests for safety measures by the NHAI. The worst part is that nobody - from the NHAI to the agency exclusively charged with ensuring safety measures - accepted any responsibility. Several accidents have occurred at the Thapa Point on the Wai-Pachagani road but no PWD agency accepted responsibility and no safety measures have been incorporated till date.
This attitude of the road designing and building authorities must change and systems for pinpointing responsibility and penalising those responsible for accidents must be put in place urgently.’’
Watch this space for more information on this issue.
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(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”.