The under-construction bridge, which collapsed in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, was being built under the supervision of McElhanney, a Vancouver, Canada-based company. It was providing the contractor of the said project, the Haryana-based SP Singla construction company, with the design and engineering service for the bridge. As per records, McElhanney was engaged by the original contractor to construct this bridge in 2017. The said 3.16 km long bridge was being built over the Ganga river at a massive cost of Rs 1,710 crore when it collapsed on Sunday evening.
What has brought McElhanney on the radar is the fact that it is for the second time that the under-construction bridge collapsed. It had earlier collapsed on 30 April 2022.
The administrative approval for the project was given in November 2013. Since then, India has seen two Presidents taking oath and two general elections being held. Bihar has since then seen Chief Ministerial oaths four times—once Jitan Manjhi and thrice Nitish Kumar.
The construction of the bridge was started in May 2015 and was to be completed by November 2019, but it is still waiting to be completed more than four years after the deadline, raising questions on the competency of the contractors, both Indian and Canadian, and the long rope being given to them by the state government.
What had also added more controversy into this development and raised questions of probity is the fact that Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav and Additional Chief Secretary of Road Construction Department, Pratyaya Amrit, who is a 1991 batch officer of the Indian Administrative Service, had told the media in Patna that the portion of the bridge was pulled down as a preventive exercise as it had structural flaws.
The duo added that they had asked IIT Roorkee, to do an audit of the said bridge and submit its report, but “decided that no chance should be taken waiting for the final report; so went ahead with pulling down parts of the bridge”.
However, within hours of that press conference, the Chief Minister’s Office led by Nitish Kumar, released a contradictory statement that it had ordered a probe into this “accident” and asked the same officer, Pratyaya Amrit, to identify and take strict action against those who were responsible for the accident. According to the release, the CM took a detailed report from the IAS officer before issuing the order.
This has raised questions that if the bridge was brought down as per a pre-decided plan, then why the CM called it an accident and announced a probe to identify the culprits.
Secondly, no announcement was made by the local administration in Bhagalpur to issue a warning to the locals not to venture out to the area near the bridge. The area should have been made out of bounds to stop injuries and fatalities if the bridge was being brought down as per a deliberate plan.
A source at IIT Roorkee told The Sunday Guardian that the institute had already submitted a report on the matter to the Bihar government. The spokesperson of IIT Roorkee refused to comment on the development. Both Yadav and Amrit in their press conference had claimed that the final report was still pending.
A detailed questionnaire sent to McElhanney seeking their role in the entire matter, including allegations of bribery, elicited the following response. “We are not taking any questions at this time, but are issuing an update to our earlier statement. McElhanney recognizes the impact this incident is having on the Bihar community and its people. Immediately following the collapse, we began working with the contractor and owner in the investigation to understand the sequence of events and the contributing factors that led to the incident. It would be inappropriate for us to comment any further until the investigation is complete. We remain committed to our core values of safety and care for the communities we serve.” Questions sent to Amrit did not generate a response.