CRUMBLING KOLKATA, RAMSHACKLE COUNTRY ROADS
In March 2016, a 150-metre span of the Vivekananda road flyover in Kolkata collapsed with a loud crack and the rumble of falling concrete. More than 50 people died; 80 were injured. The National Disaster Response Force joined rescue operations. Rescuers extricated more than 100 people from the rubble. A survey ordered by the West Bengal government after the disaster found that 231 bridges in the state were damaged. Sixty-six bridges were red-flagged for replacement. Thirty were declared severely damaged, 85 moderately; 116 were noted as having minor damage. Recently, the state public works department declared seven bridges in Kolkata “most vulnerable”: 1) the Bijon Setu, a railway overbridge near Ballygunj; 2) the Gouribari Aurobindo Setu, between Ultadanga and Gouribari, of which almost all pillars are overdue for replacement; 3) the Belgachchia bridge; 4) the Tollygunje Circular Road bridge; 5) the Dhakuria bridge; 6) the Tallah bridge; and 7) the Santragachi bridge. Police has prohibited freight vehicles on the first four bridges and is thinking of a similar restriction on the other three. Thirteen more bridges in Kolkata are being inspected. Spaces below bridges and flyovers are being cleared of pavement dwellers to prevent casualties in case the ageing structures collapse. Roads at Kolkata port are in such bad shape that multi-axle freight trailers have been prohibited, hampering overland transport of shipping cargo. Across West Bengal, local bodies, especially in rural areas, do not have money for the upkeep of roads. So to forestall loss of rural votes because of poor roads, the Trinamool Congress government has brought many of them under the PWD. But the department, too, is resource-strapped to carry out repairs efficiently.