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Maharashtra

Maharashtra has 35K bridges and their upkeep poses nightmarish challenge

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Maharashtra has a stupendous 35,000-plus big and small bridges on roads in village, towns, cities, state or national highways, posing mind-boggling challenges for their regular upkeep and maintenance, with multiple agencies involved, but recording barely 100 structures crashing since 2000, top officials said.

As per government data, under the state’s Public Works Department (PWD) jurisdiction, there are 146 small, 105 big and five long bridges (total 256) from the pre-Independence era, some dating back to over 350 years and still functional.

In the post-Independence era, the state recorded massive development since 1957, with around 16,000 small, 2100 big and 100 long (total 18,200) bridges being constructed.

Besides, there are some 12,000, including 2,000 major bridges, on the national highways crisscrossing the state, an estimated 4,000 (total 16,000) in various civic bodies’ jurisdictions, like some 450-odd in Mumbai, not counting another huge number of bridges on the railway networks.

Despite the huge numbers of bridges, in the past 22 years, barely around 100 medium or small have crashed – 75 percent of them comprising masonry design and the rest raft design – in different parts of the state.

The worst crash was the washout of 106-year-old British-era masonry bridge on the heavily-flooded Savitri River near Mahad in Ratnagiri on August 2, 2016, which swept away two ST buses and around 10 other private vehicles with the death toll touching 40.

There have been other smaller crashes in Mumbai and other parts of the state in the past two decades though with lesser casualties or fatalities.

As per Indian Road Congress (IRC) norms, a “small bridge” spans 06-60 metres, a “big bridge” is 60-200 metres and a “long bridge” is 200 metres plus and can go upto a few kms in length, each posing unique challenges for their upkeep and safety.

These bridges comprise a variety of designs, architecture styles and materials depending on their location, whether linking hills, mountains, passing over rivers, streams, drains (nullah), creeks, the sea (the Rajiv Gandhi Bandra Worli Sea Link or the upcoming Mumbai Trans Harbour Link), flyovers, road over-bridge, foot over-bridge, etc.

“There are prescribed SOPs for checks, routine, pre-monsoon and post-monsoon maintenance for all bridges, but with a staff of around 5,000, its possible to cover only around 35 per cent of the bridges in a year,” revealed a senior PWD officer, requesting anonymity.

As per the SOPs, any initial complaints go to the concerned local PWD office which sends out teams to inspect, and if there are serious problems, specialised team with experts from within and outside (like IITs, IIE, etc.) examine it scientifically, said the officer, who has personally inspected around 1,000 bridges in the past two decades in some of the most hazardous terrain.

Then, the cumbersome work of making reports, proposals, budget estimates, sourcing the funds, setting the time-frame, etc, takes place, and again depending on the urgency of the work, it may or may not be prioritised as paucity of finance remains the biggest hurdle.

A former PWD Chief Engineer of Bridges had suggested to the state government and Union Minister for Roads & Highways Nitin Gadkari to rope in the 30,000 students from civil engineering colleges studying in their two final years to help in the inspection works.

“They can form a part of the local PWD inspection teams and theoretically can inspect all the 35,000-bridges in the state in just a couple of days. This exercise can be done twice a year to reveal all the maintenance flaws and potential risks to any structure,” he said.

The students would be guided by the PWD experts, and it would have proved an invaluable academic field exercise with some incentives like grace marks or extra grades in their exams, etc, but there was no movement on his suggestion, rued the ex-CE.

Prescribing a regular “good health check-up” for all bridges, especially the old ones, a senior Highway Department officer appreciated the Indian Railways for their “constant vigil and dedicated teams carrying out daily, weekly, monthly inspections or biannual surveys of all their bridges” to ensure safety of the hundreds of trains hurtling around the country with passengers and cargo.

“Unfortunately, this zest is severely lacking among the states’ PWDs and virtually non-existent for the national highways authority, though the local civic bodies barely pass out on this count,” the officer said.

Touching on the Savitri River bridge crash, the PWD officer said it was nicknamed a “green bridge” as its fa�ade was completely covered with shrubs, bushes, creepers and small plants – but spelling a “red alert” from the safety aspect.

“Such overgrowth is rarely taken into account, another lurking danger is the dredging of sand from the water-bed in the vicinity, blatantly violating norms which weaken the bridge foundations and make it prone to a crash, overloading during peak hours which hasten the wear-and-tear, allowing vehicles to ply even when the flood levels touch or cross the red level marks, as it happened in the Savitri River case,” he said.

Officers from the Highways Department, PWD, civic bodies and others ruled that “unless regular inspection and maintenance” is carried out for all bridges – majority are already over 40-50 years old – there can be repetitions of the recent Morbi (141 dead) or the 2003 Daman & Diu (26 dead) type tragedies, with more risks added as new bridges come up practically every month in the massive expansion of the roads and railways in the country.

The inspection tasks are now considerably easier with the applications of computers, drones, satellites or other modern gadgets to scan the bridge health without physical presence, though the latest technological advancements come at a high price and are deployed on hardly one percent of all the structures in the state, the officials said.

Maharashtra

BJP may lose K’taka in next Assembly polls: Sharad Pawar

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Karnataka is slipping out of the ruling BJP’s control and may see a change of power after the next Assembly elections, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) President Sharad Pawar said here on Saturday.

“There are clear indications that the BJP will not retain power in Karnataka after the upcoming state electionsa We are making attempts to unite the Opposition parties and forge a united front, but all states have different local issues which need to be tackled,” said Pawar.

Addressing mediapersons in this erstwhile royalty town, Pawar said that the results of a recent public opinion survey have revealed that the mood of the masses is going against the BJP and it could suffer major setbacks in the next elections.

“The people will no longer vote on religious issues. The masses are being divided on religious lines, which will not work anymore.”

Commenting on Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra (BJY), Pawar pointed out that it has secured the support of the ordinary citizens, as can be seen from the response he is getting.

Besides, the misleading image of the Congress leader (Rahul) that was sought to be created has been shattered through the nationwide march, he said.

Slamming the Centre’s decision to ban the BBC documentary, the NCP supremo and the leading light behind the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) termed it as an “assault” on democracy.

Referring to the comments of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) President Prakash Ambedkar that the Centre is not misusing federal probe agencies like ED, CBI, Pawar countered that the government is targeting Opposition leaders and peoples’ rights are being crushed.

Reacting to the VBA, which recently allied with the Shiv Sena (UBT), having any talks on joining the MVA, Pawar shot back, saying that as “there’s no proposal, where’s the question of holding any discussions”, and reiterated that the MVA will contest the upcoming elections unitedly.

Pawar added that with Parliament session starting in New Delhi next week, the efforts to forge a national united Opposition front will resume with all the leaders.

“I am personally in touch with many Opposition leadersa There are some ticklish aspects issues as the different parties are on opposing sides in some states owing to their local or regional issues. We have to sort them out first.”

He made it clear that the MVA is fighting the upcoming MLC biennial elections and the MLA bypolls unitedly in the state and will continue in the same spirit in future.

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Maharashtra

Mumbai: Estimated hike in electricity rates Proposal to increase electricity rates around 40% (MSEDCL)

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The Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) has proposed a 30%-40% tariff hike for residential and commercial consumers,

This means that consumers in the city are likely to pay more for electricity in the coming financial year.

A petition filed by MSEDCL before Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (MERC) to propose the hike for customers across the state from April 1 was made public recently.

Electricity consumers to pay more

At present, MSEDCL’s residential consumers currently pay a fixed cost of ₹105 per month, which is proposed to be hiked by ₹13.

The company has also suggested increasing the wheeling charge (the fees paid to transport electricity from a power plant to end customers) for residential consumers from ₹1.25 per unit to ₹1.43 per unit.

President of the state electricity consumers’ organisation Pratap Hogade said the main reason behind the tariff hike is the increase in thermal power costs.

The MERC has invited objections and suggestions to through a public notice.

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Crime

Mumbai: Minor boy detained for raping 5-year-old girl in Nagpada; victim to get free education till 10th std

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A minor boy was detained for allegedly raping a 5-year-old girl in Nagpada and sent to a juvenile correction centre.

He was detained within six hours of the crime.

Free education till 10th standard for victim

The Nagpada police officials have collected Rs 1.10 lakh for the victim and have made provisions for giving her free education till the 10th standard.

A case has been registered under sections of IPC and POCSO.

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