Howrah’s famed bridge

One of the busiest in the world.

Alive - - Con­tents - ■ by G.V. Joshi

Opened on 3 Fe­bru­ary 1943 with­out much fan­fare due to World War II and pres­ence of Ja­panese army along the As­sam-Burma bor­der, the mag­nif­i­cent as well as glo­ri­ous Howrah Bridge (HB), which turned 75 in Fe­bru­ary 2018, link­ing Howrah and Cal­cutta (now Kolkata) shows no sign of fad­ing.

When it opened (then called new HB), it was the world's third long­est can­tilever bridge (457 m long). To­day, it is the sixth long­est bridge of its type in the world.

The world’s long­est can­tilever bridge is Pont de Que­bec con­nect­ing Que­bec City and Le­vis in Canada. It is 549 m long.

A can­tilever bridge is con­structed us­ing can­tilevers, which are hor­i­zon­tal struc­tures sup­ported only on one end. With the right ma­te­ri­als and en­gi­neer­ing, a steel truss can­tilever bridge can cover a long span. This type of bridge has been used for pedes­tri­ans, trains and mo­tor ve­hi­cles. Can­tilever bridges are es­pe­cially use­ful for span­ning a wa­ter­way with­out di­vid­ing it with piers.

What is a lever? It is a rigid bar rest­ing on a pivot, used to help move a heavy or firmly fixed load with one end when pres­sure is ap­plied to the other. A can­tilever is a long pro­ject­ing beam or girder fixed at only one end, used chiefly in bridge con­struc­tion. A bridge is a struc­ture built to span phys­i­cal ob­sta­cles with­out clos­ing the way un­der­neath such as a body of wa­ter, val­ley or road, for the pur­pose of pro­vid­ing pas­sage over the ob­sta­cle.

Be­lieve it or not, HB is a bridge with­out nuts and bolts. It is a fact. The gi­gan­tic bridge spread across the width of river Hooghly does not have a sin­gle nut and screw to join the huge for­ma­tions of steel metal. The unique can­tilever bridge was con­structed only

Nivedita Setu also known as Sec­ond Vivekananda Setu is the first bridge in In­dia with a sin­gle-pro­file ca­ble-stayed bridge. It runs par­al­lel to the old Vivekananda Setu and car­ries six lanes for high speed traf­fic and is known as a won­der struc­ture of ar­chi­tec­ture.

by riv­et­ing metal sheets.

The metal used is steel, most of it made in In­dia. It con­sumed 26,500 tons of steel, out of which 23,000 tons of high-ten­sile al­loy steel, known as tis­crom, was sup­plied by Tata Steel of Jamshed­pur, then in Bi­har.


The bridge car­ries a daily traf­fic of more than 100,000 ve­hi­cles and pos­si­bly more than 150,000 pedes­tri­ans, mak­ing it one of the busiest can­tilever bridges in the world. On 14 June 1965, the bridge was re­named

Rabindra Setu af­ter the first In­dian No­bel Lau­re­ate, Rabindranath Tagore, the well-known Ben­gali poet. How­ever, like many roads in Mum­bai as well as Kolkata, it is still pop­u­larly known as Howrah Bridge.

Yet, con­ges­tion on HB will go down when the tun­nel un­der the Hooghly River (to the south of HB) for Kolkata Metro is ready.

As of to­day, there are three more bridges over the Hooghly River (a dis­tribu­tary of the Ganga or the Ganges River in West Ben­gal) at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in Kolkata. Vidyasagar Setu (bridge), the sec­ond Hooghly bridge links Howrah with Kolkata; it is the long­est ca­ble–stayed bridge in In­dia over the Hooghly River. Vidyasagar Setu is also one of the long­est ca­ble–stayed bridges in Asia.

Vivekananda Setu also called Bally Bridge is a mul­ti­span steel bridge over the Hooghly River and links Howrah with the city of Kolkata.

Nivedita Setu also known as Sec­ond Vivekananda Setu is the first bridge in In­dia with a sin­gle-pro­file ca­ble-stayed bridge. It runs par­al­lel to the old Vivekananda Setu and car­ries six lanes for high speed traf­fic and is known as a won­der struc­ture of ar­chi­tec­ture.

The Jubilee Bridge – the fifth bridge over the Hooghly - is a can­tilever bridge, be­tween Nai­hati and Ban­del near Kolkata in

West Ben­gal. Jubilee Bridge is soon go­ing be phased out and a new rail bridge named as Sam­preeti Bridge is un­der con­struc­tion par­al­lel to Jubilee Bridge.

The con­struc­tion of the Howrah Bridge was first pro­posed in 1862. The then Govern­ment of Ben­gal wanted to build a bridge over the Hooghly River. They re­quested the chief en­gi­neer of the then East In­dia Rail­way Com­pany (now Eastern Rail­way) to study the fea­si­bil­ity of the idea. He came out with a pro­posal, but it never saw the light of day.

Some time af­ter 1870, a con­tract was signed to con­struct a pon­toon bridge - a float­ing bridge with barges or boats (pon­toons) to sup­port the bridge deck. Dif­fer­ent parts were con­structed in Eng­land and shipped to Cal­cutta, where they were as­sem­bled to­gether. The bridge was con­sid­er­ably dam­aged by the great cy­clone of 20 March 1874.

The bridge was com­pleted and opened to traf­fic on 17 Oc­to­ber 1874. How­ever, the bridge had to be opened for the pas­sage of ves­sels and ocean steam­ers both dur­ing day as well as night for a few hours at a time. As the bridge could not han­dle the rapidly in­creas­ing traf­fic the

govern­ment started plan­ning for a big­ger and im­proved bridge.


A global ten­der to con­struct the bridge was floated, and a Ger­man com­pany turned out to be the low­est bid­der. How­ever, con­di­tions in 1935 (ap­proach­ing World War II be­tween Euro­pean coun­tries in­clud­ing Britain and Ger­many) re­sulted in the Ger­man con­tract be­ing can­celled, with the ten­der go­ing to In­dia's Braith­waite Burn and Jes­sop (BBJ) Con­struc­tion Com­pany.

Dur­ing World War II, the Ja­panese bombed Kolkata from 1942 to 1944, try­ing to de­stroy the bridge. As many as 131 bombs were dropped on the 10th, 16th and 28th of De­cem­ber 1942 and 17th and other parts of the bridge. It costs about Rs 7 mil­lion, to paint the bridge.

HB — which sur­vived the Ja­panese bomb­ing — might not sur­vive the habit of spit­ting. As of to­day, the most sig­nif­i­cant threat the iconic HB faces is from cor­ro­sive spit con­tain­ing tobacco, pan-masala and other acidic, in­gre­di­ents.

HB is very pop­u­lar with movie mak­ers and many of them have used it in the back­ground, the best be­ing Bi­mal Roy's 1953 clas­sic, Do

Bigha Zameen, in which the late Bal­raj Sahni acts as a

rik­shawalah. and 23rd of Jan­uary 1943. The at­tack on 23rd was the most dev­as­tat­ing with over 70 bombs be­ing dropped over the dock area and nearly 500 peo­ple lost their life on that day.

The main­te­nance of this gar­gan­tuan bridge is no easy task. The Kolkata Port Trust spends more than Rs 5,00,000 an­nu­ally, just to clean the bird drop­pings that are cor­rod­ing joints

The film is known for its so­cial­ist theme, and is an im­por­tant film in the early par­al­lel cin­ema of In­dia and is con­sid­ered a trend set­ter. The list of Hindi, Ben­gali and other lan­guage films show­ing HB is very long.

Sec­ond Vivekananda Bridge (Nivedita Setu) in Kolkata.

Vivekanand Setu, also called Bally Bridge in Kolkata.

The glo­ri­ous Howrah Bridge.

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