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'Rescue operation? It was a joke!'

Last updated on: March 31, 2016 20:21 IST

'I feel like hanging my head in shame to think that the chief minister is making such an irresponsible and unkind comment at such a sad time.'

'Instead of calling the army, the chief minister spent time on making political statements.'

'I don’t deny the fact that the tender for the flyover was placed during my time but there was no foul play.'

IMAGE: Firefighters and rescue workers search for victims at the site of an under-construction flyover after it collapsed in Kolkata, India. Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/ Reuters

“I feel like hanging my head in shame today,” Ashok Bhattacharya told Rediff.com over telephone on Thursday evening.

“How could Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee politicise such a gruesome tragedy?” he said.

The Mayor of Siliguri Municipal Corporation was referring to Banerjee’s comment that tender for the Viveknanda flyover, which collapsed on Thursday, was placed during the Left regime.

At least 22 people were killed and several injured as the flyover located at Posta, one of the congested areas of Kolkata, collapsed on Thursday afternoon.

In a brief interaction with Indrani Roy/Rediff.com, Bhattacharya discusses the tragedy and criticizes the Trinamool Congress government’s faulty urban policy for the tragedy.

Banerjee has said that the tender for the flyover was placed during your regime.

First, let me tell you, as a human being I think it’s unethical to start the blame game now when so many lives have been lost.

I feel like hanging my head in shame to think that a chief minister of Banerjee’s stature is making such an irresponsible and unkind comment at such a sad time.

I don’t deny the fact that the tender for the flyover was placed during my time but it was done through competitive bidding and there was no foul play.

However, under my ministership, only a few pillars got constructed and the project was stalled in 2009 because of protests by the locals alleging faulty design.

The work resumed only after Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011.

Hence, I would request the chief minister to kindly introspect and find out the real cause of the tragedy.

This is the time for all political parties to stand united and lend a helping hand to the victims. This is not the time to think of the vote bank. This is the time to find out why and how this tragedy happened.

Who should the CM go to for an answer?

She should have a serious discussion with Urban Development Minister Firhad (Bobby) Hakim.   

She cannot get away with her overtly used ostrich-in-the-sand attitude this time. The collapsed flyover snuffed out human lives and the chief minister has to rise above petty politics.

Some time back when another flyover came down near Ultadanga in the eastern fringe of the city, Hakim had said he would conduct ‘medical’ tests on all the flyovers of the city. What happened to those tests, may I ask?

It been rumoured that supervisors and engineers were under duress to finish this project by mid-April. Do you think that haste led to the faulty construction?

Yes. Mamata had announced early this year that she intended to inaugurate this flyover before the city went to polls. Her comment could have led to an undue pressure on those in charge of construction.

Besides, we heard a labourer stating on television that there were some problems and that cracks were developing across the structure. There must have been a serious negligence on the part of the supervisors else such an incident would not have happened. I don’t rule out massive corruption either.

What do you mean by corruption?

A thorough investigation is necessary. One needs to question the quality and quantity of cement that was used. Which types of iron rods were procured? Did the construction follow the original plan? How much money was actually spent? Which company had supplied the materials? These questions need to be asked.

When Mayor Sovan Chattopadhyay and Minister for Disaster Management Javed Khan visited the site around 1.30 pm, the mob almost pounced on him and ‘sab chor hai’ chants were deafening.

This speaks for itself how the people of Bengal rate these ‘political heavyweights’. The politicians are people’s representatives, nothing else. They are answerable to the people, who vote them to power.

Do you think the state government was prompt with the rescue operation?

Rescue operation? It was a joke! The whole process started two-and-a-half hours after the incident took place. Instead of calling the army, the chief minister spent time on making political statements.

While hundreds lay trapped, only one crane was at work. The state’s disaster management cell was in a shambles!

Member of Parliament Mohammed Salim asked why construction work was allowed during busy hours at such a congested place. Isn’t it the norm to work at night?

As I said, someone was in a great hurry to finish the work to please the chief minister and help her keep her word. It’s pathetic that so many lives got lost in the process.

Should we be worried about the other bridges and flyovers of the city that have come up in recent times?

Oh yes! I am really worried about the Parama Island Flyover (officially named ‘Ma’ by the chief minister).

Though the flyover was slated to be inaugurated in July, the work got advanced by many months and that’s what I find worrying. Nobody knows if too much speed has marred the flyover’s quality of construction.

Do you think this mishap will have an impact on the forthcoming assembly election results?

It’s mean to even think in those lines when so many people have died.

Indrani Roy / Rediff.com in Kolkata