Morbi: How renovation contract granted without inviting tender? asks Gujarat HC

The Gujarat High Court raised concerns over the way in which the contract for renovation of Morbi suspension bridge was granted to the Gujarat-based Ajanta Manufacturing, a part of the Oreva group.

It was hearing the suo moto case pertaining to the October 30 Morbi bridge collapse incident in which at least 141 people lost their lives.

“State took steps that are expected from it (after the incident) but the agreement signed b/w Morbi civic body and a private contractor (for bridge renovation) is just 1.5 pages. No tender was invited. Why contract was granted without inviting any tender?,” Live Law quotes as a bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and Justice Ashutosh J Shastri asking.

Despite the expiry of a 2008 MoU signed between Collector Rajkot and M/s Ajanta to operate, maintain, manage, and collect rent in respect of the suspension bridge in 2017, the bridge was continued to be maintained by the Ajanta company, the court noted.

“On what basis, the bridge was being permitted to be operated by Ajanta after June 2017, even when the MoU (signed in 2008), was not renewed after 2017 (though the new MoU was ultimately signed in 2020)?” it asked.

The court further said: “Why it did the state not use its powers under Section 263 of the Gujarat Municipality Act as prima facie the Municipality has defaulted, which led to an unfortunate incident that resulted in the deaths of 135 innocent persons.”

According to legal website Live Law, the Morbi Civic body was not represented before the High Court despite being served with a notice on November 7.

At least 141 people died when the Morbi bridge – a 143-year-old, newly renovated suspension bridge Gujarat’s Morbi collapsed two weeks ago.

The long pedestrian suspension bridge was inaugurated in 1879 under British colonial rule. The popular tourist site was closed in March this year for renovations.

The Oreva Group, a electrical appliances maker that had no prior experience in bridge construction or renovation, was contracted to carry out the work. The company had reopened the bridge to the public without obtaining a “fitness certificate”.