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Bridge collapse in Bihar exposes ‘commission system’

NewsBridge collapse in Bihar exposes ‘commission system’

NEW DELHI: At least 12 bridges across Bihar have collapsed in the last three weeks.

The series of bridge collapses in Bihar, attributed by the ruling party and their favoured bureaucrats to incompetent and corrupt civil engineers and contractors, has brought to the fore the “commission” system that is rampant in the state where for every government tender, a significant amount goes into the pockets of politicians and officials as commission.
Due to this commission system, which is not a new phenomenon or limited to Bihar, the contractor who ultimately gets the tender is forced to cut down on raw materials, use substandard materials, and compromise on quality expert advice so that he can earn money from the civil contract.

Civilian contractors, who regularly engage or used to engage with the state government, said that for every contact worth Rs 100, at least Rs 15-Rs 25 goes to officials and politicians as commission or “fees” to get the payment released. Of the remaining amount, the contractor has to keep a certain portion away for his own profit and the tender work is completed from the remaining amount.

By the last count, at least 12 bridges across Bihar have collapsed in the last three weeks. While some collapsed during the construction phase, a few collapsed due to lack of maintenance. These incidents, in which fortunately there have been no fatalities so far, have brought the spotlight on the “double-engine” government of JDU-BJP that is ruling the state.

BJP leaders, who have been claiming that they are not as involved in the administration as they should be due to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his close coterie of bureaucrats being the sole decision-makers, said that the recent mishaps were denting the BJP’s image among voters.

Patna-based BJP leader Nikhil Anand, who is national general secretary in BJP’s OBC Morcha, took to “X” on Thursday to express his apprehensions over these bridge collapses. “I am afraid of crossing through any flyover or bridge in Bihar. Surprised that in the last 10 days, half a dozen bridges have collapsed,” Anand, a former journalist who joined the BJP in 2015, wrote.

Eleven engineers with the water resources department were suspended on Friday evening. Four more engineers from the rural works department have been suspended. However, suspension in such cases hardly acts as a deterrent, as has been seen in the past. These suspensions are revoked after few weeks once media and public attention shifts.
The relevant government departments, including the water resources department, road construction department, and rural works department, are meanwhile shifting blame to others, a trend that has become closely associated with the governance model of Nitish Kumar, who has been the CM of Bihar for almost two decades.

As has been the practice, Kumar, through rural works department minister Ashok Chaudhary, announced the setting up of a three-member committee headed by the chief engineer to investigate the reasons behind the collapse of bridges. Government sources say such committees have never led to the punishment of any official or contractor in the past.
In a press release by the water resource department, the bridge collapses in Siwan and Saran were blamed on engineers responsible for the upkeep. On the other hand, Ashok Chaudhary, who is the minister of rural development, has blamed RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav for the collapses of these bridges, reasoning that the said department was with Yadav earlier.

This is not the first instance of substandard projects built with public money collapsing in the state. Last year, an under-construction bridge in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district collapsed. The bridge was being built under the supervision of McElhanney, a Vancouver, Canada-based company that was providing the contractor of the said project, the Haryana-based SP Singla construction company, design and engineering services for the bridge.
The 3.16 km long bridge was being built over the Ganga river at a massive cost of Rs 1,710 crore when it collapsed. It was the second time that the under-construction bridge had collapsed. It had earlier collapsed on April 30, 2022. The construction of the bridge started in May 2015 and was to be completed by November 2019.

At the time, Additional Chief Secretary of Road Construction Department, Pratyaya Amrit, a 1991 batch officer of the Indian Administrative Service, told the media in Patna that the portion of the bridge was pulled down as a preventive exercise as it had structural flaws. He added that the state government had asked IIT Roorkee to do an audit of the bridge and submit its report, but “decided they should take no chances and wait for a final report”. So they went ahead with pulling down parts of the bridge. However, within hours of this, the Chief Minister’s Office released a contradictory statement saying it had ordered a probe into this “accident” and asked the same officer, Amrit, to identify and take strict action against those responsible for the accident. According to the release, the CM took a detailed report from the IAS officer before issuing the order.

Pratyaya Amrit is the leading government official in the road construction department. And no statement was ever released by him or IIT (Roorkee) regarding the findings of the audit.

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