Fund crunch hinders work to make 34 vulnerable bridges in Bengal safe

Sources said audit reports of around 367 bridges were received, which showed that 27 bridges are in severe stress while 223 others will require minor repairing works

After the Majerhat Bridge collapsed in September 2018, killing three people and injuring at least 25 others, the PWD department had decided to conduct health audits of around 1,800 bridges maintained by it across the state. File photo: PTI

At least 34 bridges and culverts in West Bengal are in dire straits, needing urgent repairing or total rebuilding to avoid recurring of any disaster like that of the fatal collapse of Majerhat Bridge in Kolkata two years ago.

The recent finding of structural audits commissioned by the state government to know the condition of bridges and culverts across the state came as a shocker for the authorities struggling to raise funds amidst revenue dip and lack of support from the Centre.

After the Majerhat Bridge collapsed in September 2018, killing three people and injuring at least 25 others, the PWD department had decided to conduct health audits of around 1,800 bridges maintained by it across the state.

Accordingly, consulting agencies were roped in to conduct the study. Sources in the PWD department said audit reports of around 367 bridges were received, which showed that 27 bridges are in severe stress while 223 others will also require minor repairing works.

With the state government facing an acute financial crunch, the PWD department is at a loss on how to act on the reports as reconstruction of a single bridge on an average would require at least Rs 250 crore.

The finance department is currently not giving a nod to any project above Rs 10 crore, barring COVID-19 related expenditure. But considering the “urgency of the situation”, Rs 141 crore has been sanctioned to somehow augment the strength of structures by doing some repair works.

“Many of these bridges need to be replaced immediately. But due to paucity of funds, we are now forced to make do with repair works,” said a PWD official.

Sources said nine bridges-culverts in Howrah district needed replacement or repairing, but only Rs 27 crore has been sanctioned for this. In Murshidabad district, for the upkeep of five stressed structures, only Rs 2 crore has been sanctioned. Around Rs 25 crore has been sanctioned for the repairing and maintenance works of three bridges. Ten bridges and culverts in North 24 Parganas district have been red flagged by the audit, but only around Rs 26 crore has been sanctioned against these structures. In South 24 Parganas, seven bridges and culverts are in bad shape. For their upkeep, Rs 60 crore has been sanctioned.

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The finance department reportedly expressed its inability to provide more at this juncture due to acute shortage of resources.

The finance department sources said apart from the revenue loss incurred due to curtailment of economic activities to check the pandemic, the state is also not getting its due of more than Rs 50,000 from the Centre, making the state’s financial situation more precarious.

The state government alleges that the Centre is also not providing adequate financial support to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the state government’s estimate, it has spent over Rs 2,700 crore to fight the virus so far, but has received only Rs 200 crore from the Centre as COVID aid.

In this scenario, the PWD department is considering to somehow strengthen the structures by doing some patch works by taking special approval of the finance department.

Another audit report has flagged health concerns of seven bridges in Kolkata. Acting on the findings, Tallah Bridge in North Kolkata was demolished earlier this year for the construction of a new structure at a cost of around Rs 300 crore.

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