AHMEDABAD: Clock maker Oreva Group carried out “temporary” repairs on Morbi’s British-era suspension footbridge in 2020 and kept the structure open allegedly at risk to public safety till March this year, ostensibly after stating in writing that a full-fledged renovation was subject to the company being offered “a permanent contract”.
The collapse of the 143-year-old bridge over the Machchhu river last Sunday that claimed 135 lives occurred after what was, on paper, the “renovation” promised by Oreva in its purported August 8, 2020 communication to the district collector and the chief officer of the municipal board.
“We will not repair the suspension bridge on a permanent basis, procure material or hire contractors for repairing until we get a properly signed document of a permanent agreement,” states a widely circulated copy of Oreva’s letter, which has since been authenticated by various government officials. The letter to the collector and the municipal chief officer declares that the company would be “going ahead with the opening of the bridge” after some “temporary” work on the structure.
In March, the civic authorities signed a 15-year agreement with Oreva for maintenance, operation and security of the bridge before closing it for seven months.
Oreva, known for its expertise in clocks, watches, fans and LED lights rather than construction and maintenance of public infrastructure, was contracted to maintain the bridge since 2007. The company had been seeking a long-term contract for the bridge as that would enable it to exploit the venue for commercial purposes, including controlling ticket rates, sources said.
According to the contents of Oreva’s letter, the district collector, the municipal chief officer and representatives of the company had met on January 29, 2020, to flesh out terms of the contract.
“In the meeting, it was decided that Oreva would maintain and repair the bridge only on a temporary basis. The company, which was being granted term contracts since 2007 at regular intervals, wasn’t ready to accept another temporary agreement,” a municipal official said.
Two years later, Oreva wrangled a 15-year deal with the municipal board that categorically states there will be no interference by the government or state agencies in the maintenance or administrative tasks assigned to the contractor, sources said.