The Emergency

Does anyone know the state of India’s bridges?

01 June 2013
A bridge on the river Gaula in Haldwani, Uttarakhand, partly washed away by floods in July 2008.
ROHIT UMRAO / AP PHOTO
A bridge on the river Gaula in Haldwani, Uttarakhand, partly washed away by floods in July 2008.
ROHIT UMRAO / AP PHOTO

"DON'T BURY THEM IN THE MORNING"

IT WAS ALMOST LUNCHTIME when the school kids made a run for it. A blur of red-and-grey chequered uniforms, they were hoisted onto scooters and crammed into autos parked in the light rain outside Our Lady of Fatima Convent High School. The school, and the moss-tinged Portuguese fort it sat in, shone in the August drizzle. A wet road led down to a breach in the fort’s walls, beyond which the land swelled to a crest over a muddy river. On this side was Moti Daman, where the district’s administrative offices were sheltered within the fort’s stone ramparts. On the other side, the northern side, were Nani Daman’s liquor stores, beaches, and hotels. Together, these two halves formed the tranquil seaside town of Daman, held fast by the town’s only bridge, a workaday construction 20 years old.

Fakir Mohammad Fadra, a wiry cable-service operator with a purposeful walk, lived at the eastern end of the Nani Daman promenade. A thicket of mangroves obscured the view of the bridge from the front door of his house, but the Daman Ganga River, only feet away, he could see just fine—and on that day in the summer of 2003, the river looked swollen, as it often did when officials at the dam upstream released water. He couldn’t help keeping watch. Twice in his lifetime the river had burst its banks, forcing the town’s residents onto rooftops for airdropped supplies.

Rahul Bhatia  is a reporter. He has worked for The Caravan, Mint and ESPN Cricinfo

Keywords: infrastructure Public private partnerships public works Damanganga Bridge collapse National Highways Authority of India engineering Kochar Commission of Inquiry
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