Kolkata flyover tragedy: Death toll continues to rise, murder charges against construction company

Kolkata: Heart-wrenching cries of relatives taking custody of the dead and anguished kins waiting for the latest update on the grievously injured were the recurrent scenes in hospitals here as the toll in Kolkata's worst flyover tragedy rose to 24 on Friday.

Among the dead were three women while one body was too mutilated to ascertain the gender. Sixteen of the 67 rescued battled for life in hospitals, a day after an under-construction flyover collapsed, crushing people and flattening vehicles in the congested Posta area.

Work to clear debris going on at the site where an under-construction flyover collapsed on Vivekananda Road in Kolkata on Friday. Pic/PTI 

Three of the deceased were 25 years old while six others were in their 30s. The ghastly tragedy left behind a trail of devastation and raised unanswered questions about a project that was on for seven years.

Asha Joshi, 65, was the oldest among the dead, the West Bengal government said.

Relatives of Sabana Bano, who perished at the Medical College and Hospital, were inconsolable.

"She had called us repeatedly from her mobile after she got trapped when the bridge collapsed. She pleaded that we rescue her but we could not do anything," moaned a family member.

Three bodies were still to be identified.

Going into the reasons for the flyover crash, a government statement said: "It is apprehended that one cantilever pier no 40 has shifted due to which two spans covering three piers were affected."

Meanwhile, the police filed murder charges against top officials of the joint venture company, Hyderabad-based IVRCL Infrastructure, which was executing the flyover project and detained at least 10 of its employees.

"The charges brought against the company include murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy. So far 10 people, including R.K. Gopal Nanduri, regional business head, have been detained," Joint Commissioner of Police Debashish Boral said.

Three of them - senior assistant general manager M. Mallikarjun, structural manager Pradip Kumar and assistant manager (administration) D. Majumdar - were subsequently arrested.

A 23-member special investigation team (SIT) has been set up to probe the disaster. A police team reached the company headquarters in Hyderabad to question its officials.

The chief engineer and an executive engineer of the Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority - the state government unit in charge of the JNNURM project - have been placed under suspension.

An IANS correspondent who visited the site found cranes busy clearing mounds of debris, dust rising from ongoing demolition and fear of eviction loomed large on those living in the vicinity.

The area is still littered with shattered glass and splinters of iron and steel. There were also plastic bottles, a slipper and a children's notebook, strewn next to a truck.

With the government asking 62 families in houses close to the spot to vacate their premises for the removal of the collapsed span, the residents were frantically searching for new addresses.

Many of the residents of the sardine-packed multi-storeyed houses and numerous commercial establishments lining K.K. Tagore Street - right under the flyover - were still in a state of shock.

"I get goose-bumps every time there is a loud noise... This used to be a bustling route. I hope the authorities deal with the mess swiftly and avoid another disaster," said Hari Shaw, caretaker of a small temple.

Army teams which had been carrying out rescue operations have returned to the barracks.

The KMDA has ordered the immediate inspection of the flyover to ascertain its safety and stability.

A petition was filed in the Calcutta High Court for a court-monitored probe into the tragedy.

Filed before the bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur, the PIL (public interest litigation) seeks a CBI investigation as well as a panel of experts from IIT Kharagpur to probe the causes for the flyover collapse.

With the ruling Trinamool Congress facing flak, it field its local MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay, who argued the project was flawed since its inception during the Left Front's tenure but could not be discarded or remodelled due to financial implications.

The Bharatiya Janata Party sought a CBI probe, calling the incident an "act of fraud protected by the West Bengal government".

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