Monday, January 30, 2023

Whose call of duty, anyway?

By SK Nag

In our political ecosystem, we must learn to accept mistakes and wrongdoings. Most of the time, lazy excuses surfaced, justifying their inefficiency or inadequacy of talent to provide the fundamental Governance expected by the public. Though we have come a long way in our civilization process, Covid showed us how ill-prepared we are. We had fallen short in front of the disruptive pandemic we all know. We patted our immune system initially when the world was grappling with the pandemic, thinking that we were better than other parts of the world due to our exposure to severe pollution and unhealthy surroundings. But the pandemic proved us wrong soon after. We lost many lives of dear & near ones.

But this recent Morbi bridge collapse is a purely manufactured disaster. Whom do we blame, finally? Is it an administrative failure, technical incompetency, cumulative system failure, or collective callousness?

Primarily the information gradually unfolded, and the typical Indian ‘Let Go’ mentality resulted in this catastrophe. The number of people on the bridge beyond capacity was a local administrative failure. The public playing with critical structural elements beyond its tolerance was another failure of the common public, which can be termed as ‘ignorance resulting in self-destruction.’ Technical incompetency was responsible for the inaccurate maintenance assessment of an old bridge. ‘Let go’ mentality opened up the bridge before it was declared ‘fit.’ All these resulted in the said collapse.

But will we learn from this incident, or will we forget it soon? Obviously, we inherit a very short-term memory space in our brains. To summarise, we need a governance mechanism to ensure a disciplined lifestyle. Otherwise, such a large population with so much unruly mindset may cause more catastrophic incidents like this.

What went wrong on Jhulto pul of Morbi, Gujarat, on 30th Oct ’22 at 6:40 PM?

This is a 230m long and 1.25m wide old bridge over the Machchu river. Local Maharaja Sri Waghi Thakore built this in 1879. So on that sad day, it was a 143-year-old structure. This was primarily made to connect two palaces, Darbardadh & Nazarbagh. Later the palace Nazarbagh became an Engineering College known as Lukhdhiriji Engineering college. Originally Maharaja Sri Waghi Thakore built this bridge to carry 15 persons only at once for pedestrian traffic. No vehicular load was considered. Currently, the information shared on various media indicates 125 person maximum that can be allowed as per local authority. But on that sad day, more visitors were allowed, and 135 (?) lives were lost.  

Wild animals follow nature’s mandate very clearly. Therefore Cheetah ( a prominent wild animal) also follows the same rule of nature, and according to nature’s law, it never sits on a tree branch. It avoids sitting on a branch lest its hunting targets see it. So to make the tree branch lesser going down, it stretches its body and distributes its weight on a long stretch on the tree branch. This is known in engineering design philosophy as a ‘uniformly distributed load.’ It is well perceptualized by a wild animal nature, which we humans fail to understand in many situations.

Suspension bridges are designed with the simple philosophy of cloth hanging string in the house to dry clothes. If all the clothes are placed at the center without distributing them, the cloth string will snap at some point. So excessive load in a suspended structure like ‘Juhlto-pul’ will cause a catastrophe is well understood in the mechanics’ theory. So failure primarily occurred due to excessive loading at the mid-point. Secondly, unruly crowd-induced vibration through artificial sway amplified the load on the bridge, including human loads, accelerated the collapse further. Thirdly bridges are always designed with moving & rolling loads but not for standing loads beyond capacity for a long time with the enormous induced swing. So all these cumulatively collapsed the bridge. So reasons for failure are many.

  • Maintenance team not targeted enhanced service life 
  •  More numbers of Tickets were issued without scheduling the visit in a group in a pre-decided time slot
  • Inadequate awareness about the operational load that can be allowed at once

Going beyond our own call of duty should be in our standard protocol if it will not harm at large. Still, the reverse is true as we don’t usually mind our own business and habitually engage in others’ scope, ignoring self-responsibility knowingly and resulting in a catastrophic outcome in the end. Later in a manufactured emergency, the predicament has become our standard operating procedure (SOP). Blaming others is very common to justify deficiencies in critical situations when such uneasiness starts unfolding. This is becoming very obvious in today’s India when the country grapples with many other crises after the Covid Pandemic. Government employees are forgetting their official responsibility and trying to pass the bucks on others, somehow making us feel that we are not in safe hands.

(Author is Political & Economic Analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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