The rains may bring a downpour of woes for Mumbaikars, but for the city’s civic agencies and developers, every dark cloud has a silver lining. That’s because all minor and major disasters occurring in this period can be conveniently attributed to the monsoon. It’s another matter that in recent times some of the more big-league infrastructure projects in the city — like metro and monorail — have betrayed sizeable chinks in their armour.
While the blame may lie with bungling bureaucrats, callous contractors, nefarious netas, or all of the above, under the present circumstances one shudders to think what lies in store for citizens once these projects become operational.
Around 4 pm yesterday, a cement slab from an under-construction staircase on the Rs 2,356-cr Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar metro rail project came crashing down, killing one person and injuring 16 others. All of the casualties, who were labourers, were wearing minimum safety harness while working on construction of the Andheri airport road station.
The fall guy!
Officials working on the project claimed torrential rains are most likely responsible for this misfortune. Workers were cementing an unfinished portion of the slab when the incident occurred. Sources said the ‘link-way’ that joins the staircase and the slab, which was meant to be used as a concourse for commuters, was placed on a temporary pillar.
As per international standards, whenever such operations are carried out, contractors must install props, which are metal skeletons, then cover them with reinforcements like nets and other safety equipment, and finally pour in cement for proper moulding. “There is a need to find out how permissions were granted for a job like this when it was raining. It also appears that the nature of the soil wasn’t examined before embarking on the project,” said a senior government official.
There is a possibility that the soil caved in because of the showers, which caused the temporary pillar to collapse.
However, civil engineering experts say heavy rains cannot be cited as cause for such disasters. “When an important project like this is carried out, wherein common people are always in close contact with it, topmost safety parameters have to be adhered to. In case there are incessant rains, the contractor should stop work,” said a civil engineer, who has been monitoring this project.
Experts MiD DAY spoke to concur there’s no need to continue with such vital operations in case of heavy rains. “It appears, either there was a problem with the construction material, which may have been of poor quality, or there was negligence in supervision of work,” said a senior engineer who was involved in construction of Konkan Railway.
Four ambulances, two rescue vans and five fire engines were pressed into service to rescue the trapped labourers at the construction site.
According to senior fire officers who visited the spot, the accident happened when ready-mix concrete was being laid on the steel sheet that was placed to prepare the concrete slab on the link-way staircase connecting the metro station.
Officials from Marol fire station who visited the scene said they spotted two men trapped beneath the concrete and steel slab.
“We had to use cutters to slash the steel joints and rescue them. The initial information we received was that many people might be trapped beneath the concrete slab and hence we asked for one more rescue van, which came to the location immediately from Vikhroli fire station,” said a fire officer who did not wish to be identified.
The officer added that fortunately no vehicles were parked beneath the work area and pedestrian movement too was limited, which prevented this from turning into an even bigger calamity.
When MiD DAY asked him whether the labourers were wearing requisite safety gadgets at the time of the accident, the fire officer said, “We found a few helmets near the spot, but could not locate any harness or other safety gear. However, the facts would emerge during a thorough probe.”
Another aspect is that often the barricades put along the 11-km metro route are found buried to assist free movement of vehicles.
Experts say in foreign countries major route diversions are carried out to assist such projects and there is no scope for vehicular or pedestrian movement in close proximity of the site.
“There are no international standards as such but such accidents have to be avoided at all costs,” said Sudhir Badami, a transport expert. He emphasised on thorough inspection of the work.
“Some crucial yet seemingly insignificant inattention in operations leads to such mishaps. No work in a project should be taken lightly,” added Badami.
Locals have been complaining about a few cases of metal rods falling from the top of the construction onto the road. Sources said recently there was an incident at the metro site near the Andheri (W) railway station, where some metal objects dropped down near the shops in the area.
Also, locals say when the girders are joined using welding, sparks tend to fall on the motorists in the vicinity. Muck and debris dumped in the area have added to the problems of people here.
Assistant commissioner of police (airport division) Madhukar Sankhe said, “We have filed a case of negligence against the contractor and we will take very strict action.”
When contacted yesterday, Planning Commission official Gajendra Haldea said, “I cannot comment on individual projects and what went wrong. Kindly call up my office tomorrow morning.”
Regret the incident: MMOPL
“We deeply regret the accident that has happened at the airport station metro site, which is being constructed by our contractor Hindustan Construction Company (HCC). Our emergency response team along with HCC staff is at the site to provide rescue and relief services which is the topmost priority for us,” the spokesperson of Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd said.
Where’s the safety?
Major mishaps on metro and monorail projects in the past:
2008: A piling rig collapsed on an auto rickshaw, which led to death of one person and injured another at a construction site in Andheri (W). 2009: The collapse of a steel reinforcement cage and temporary scaffolding for a concrete pillar in Andheri (E) left four workers injured.
2012: A 400-tonne crane veered off the truck carrier and crashed onto a portion of Sarvodaya Hospital in Ghatkopar. No one was injured in the incident.
2011: Two persons died and three were injured when a beam weighing 60 tonnes collapsed at the construction site on RCF Road in Chembur
2012: One person was killed and five others were injured when a slab crashed onto a slum in Wadala (E).