India: West Bengal Police Make Arrests After Kolkata Overpass Collapse

BenarNews Staff
Jaipur, India
160401-collapse-folo-620.jpg A day after the collapse of an overpass under construction in Kolkata, relatives carry the body of a man killed in the disaster, April 1, 2016.

The death toll in the Kolkata overpass collapse rose Friday and local police arrested officials with the construction firm, even as a spokeswoman for the company building the structure claimed that an explosion might have caused the disaster.

West Bengal state police arrested eight officials with the firm Iragavarapu Venkata Reddy Construction Limited (IVRCL), a day after charging it with culpable homicide not amounting to murder and criminal conspiracy in connection with Thursday’s collapse. The firm is headquartered in the south Indian city of Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, rescue workers on Friday recovered three more bodies from the rubble of the collapsed overpass, taking the death toll to at least 24.

“We have arrested six officials of IVRCL from their Kolkata office, and two from their Hyderabad office,” a police official, who requested anonymity, told BenarNews.

He said a four-member police team had reached Hyderabad Friday afternoon to question officials before the arrests were made.

On Thursday, a senior IVRCL official, K.P. Rao, was criticized for calling the collapse an “act of God.” An official Friday clarified that it was “just a turn of phrase,” while hinting at the possibility of sabotage.

“The glass [of a nearby building] was shattered. It could have been a blast,” Sita Peddinti, the firm’s legal adviser, told reporters.

A 100-meter (328-foot) section of the 2.2 km- (1.3 mile-) bridge, which had missed nine deadlines since construction began in 2009, collapsed at about 12:15 p.m. Thursday in one of Kolkata’s most congested business districts, Burrabazar.

On Friday, state officials put the number of injured at about 90, although they feared that dozens more might be trapped under the debris.

Police said about 100 people were unaccounted for, but an NDRF official said not all of them might be trapped.

“We cannot predict how many people are still under wreckage. We can’t tell since it’s a bridge, not a building,” Maj. Gen. Anurag Gupta of the NDRF told a CNN reporter.

Rescue efforts continue

About 300 personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), army, state police and fire brigade are involved in the rescue operation. But rescuers and witnesses conceded that chances of finding more survivors were dim.

Bijoy Sarkar, a resident of Burrabazar, said he had been watching the rescue operation closely but didn’t think any more survivors would be brought out from the rubble.

“The operation has continued for over 36 hours. Rescuers are still trying to cut through piles of concrete and steel. I am afraid by the time they manage to clear the wreckage, they’ll only find more bodies, no survivors,” he told BenarNews.

As rescue workers race against time to clear tons of debris, Indian television channels showed family members of those missing gathered at the collapse site, looking feverishly for relatives.

Shabana Farooqui had gone to pick up her two children from a school near the accident site when the overpass fell, a relative told IBN Live.

“She has been untraceable since the bridge collapsed. We have searching in hospitals and the morgue. We don’t know if she’s dead or alive,” he said.

Construction disasters

The collapse is the latest in a string of similar disasters in India.

In 2014, a portion of an under-construction overpass collapsed in Surat, Gujarat, crushing three laborers.

In March 2013, a functional overpass collapsed in eastern Kolkata. A passing truck fell into the canal beneath, but its occupants were rescued.

In 2009, an under-construction bridge’s scaffolding collapsed in Kota, Rajasthan, killing 30 workers.

In 2006, an overpass fell on top of a passenger train in Bhagalpur, Bihar, killing 37 passengers.


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