MD of firm that operated Morbi suspension bridge surrenders before Gujarat court

MORBI, Jan 31:  Managing Director of Oreva Group Jaysukh Patel, an accused in the last year’s Morbi suspension bridge collapse case who is facing culpable homicide not amounting to murder charges, on Tuesday surrendered before a court here in Gujarat and was subsequently sent to jail.

As many as 135 people were killed and scores others injured when a suspension bridge collapsed in Gujarat’s Morbi town on October 30 last year. Patel, whose company was responsible for the operation and maintenance of the carriageway,  surrendered before the Morbi-based court of chief judicial magistrate which had issued an arrest warrant against him.

The court accepted his application for surrender and sent him to jail under judicial custody. The businessman was named as the tenth accused in the case in a chargesheet filed by the police on January 27. Ajanta Manufacturing Ltd (Oreva Group) was responsible for the operation and maintenance of the British-era suspension bridge on the Machchhu river that collapsed, days after its repairs.

Nearly 250 persons were on the more than a century-old hanging bridge, a popular  tourist site, when it caved  in. “Jaysukh Patel surrendered before the court of chief judicial magistrate MJ Khan which had issued an arrest warrant against him under section 70 of the CrPC.    The court accepted his application and sent him to judicial custody. The police will approach the court and seek his  custody,” said Dilip Agechaniya, a lawyer representing families of the victims. The CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) section 70 deals with warrant of arrest.

As the Oreva Group Managing Director arrived in the court for surrender, angry kin of the victims who had gathered outside the court shouted slogans against him. After his surrender, Patel was taken for a medical check-up. “Jaysukh Patel surrendered in the court today. He was sent to judicial custody. We will soon initiate the process of seeking his custody from the court,” said Morbi Superintendent of Police Rahul Tripathi.

In the chargesheet running in more than 1,200 pages and filed in the court of chief judicial magistrate MJ Khan by Deputy Superintendent of Police P S Zala, Patel was shown as the tenth accused. Earlier, fearing arrest in the case, Patel had moved an anticipatory bail plea in the court and it was due to come up for hearing on February 1.

On October 31, a day after the tragedy, the Morbi police had arrested nine persons in connection with the case, including two managers of the Oreva Group, two ticket booking clerks, two sub-contractors who repaired the bridge and three security guards deployed on the cable-stayed structure to guide and control the crowd. Two weeks ago, the same court issued an arrest warrant against Patel.

All the ten accused, including Patel, have been charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 336 (act which endangers human life), 337 (causing hurt to any person by doing any rash or negligent act) and under 338 (causing grievous hurt by doing rash or negligent act).

During a suo motu (on its own motion) hearing on the tragedy in the Gujarat High Court recently, the Oreva Group offered to pay compensation to the victims. However, the court made it clear the compensation would “not absolve it of any liability”. A special investigation team (SIT) formed by the State Government to probe the collapse had cited several lapses on the part of the firm.

The lapses included no restriction on the number of persons accessing the bridge and no curb on sale of tickets, which led to unrestricted movement on the bridge, as well as carrying out repairs without consulting experts.

The probe had revealed the new metal flooring done by the firm had increased the weight of the structure, while the rusted cables on which the entire bridge was hanging were not changed by the Oreva Group. Moreover, both contractors hired by Patel’s firm were not qualified to carry out such repair and renovation work, according to the SIT.

The probe report also revealed the Ahmedabad-based Oreva Group did not hire any expert agency to assess the load-bearing capacity of the carriageway before throwing it open to the public after repair and renovation work.

The group had sold 3,165 tickets on October 30 (the day of the collapse) alone and there was no coordination between ticket booking offices on both sides of the bridge, the lower court was informed in the past by the prosecution.  (PTI)