The state government announced a judicial probe on Thursday in the collapse of a British-era bridge in which at least 22 people in two buses went missing, even as rescuers have fished out five bodies so far from the swollen Savitri river.
Two state buses, with 22 people, including the crew, and some other vehicles got washed away in the river amid heavy rains late Tuesday following the collapse of a bridge on Mumbai-Goa Highway near Mahad, about 170 km from Mumbai. Nearly 40 hours after the launch of massive multi-agency operations, searchers have managed to recover five bodies, police said. “So far, our search teams have recovered five bodies – three males and two females,” Raigad Additional Superintendent of Police Sanjay Patil said.
The bodies have been sent for post-mortem, he added.
About 20 boats with nearly 160 personnel of Coast Guard, NDRF, and Navy, apart from local fishermen and rafters, are at the work to find the remains of the two buses and other vehicles, which are also suspected to have been swept away.
“Till the last count by Thursday noon, we received information on 42 missing persons,” Vagal said, adding that the figure also included passengers of two state transport buses that fell into the Savitri river. The Rajapur-Borivali bus was reportedly carrying 14 people while the Jaigad-Mumbai bus was carrying 12. Eight people in a Chevrolet Tavera were also said to be missing.
Besides this, Vagal said a Mumbai resident called on Thursday morning to report that a Honda City car with four people might have been swept away. “He said he had not received any information about any of the occupants since Tuesday night. We took his complaint, though he failed to provide us the vehicle’s registration number,” he added.
The control room also received complaints that four people travelling on two or three-wheelers were missing.
Earlier Thursday morning, a 300-kg magnet was lowered in the waters with the help of a crane to trace the missing buses. Something has got stuck to the magnet and efforts are on to pull it out of the river, a local official said.
Deepak Mundhe, the son of Gorakhnath Mundhe, the driver of one of the ill-fated buses of the State Transport Corporation, expressed deep shock over the incident but has not lost hope. “We have not lost our hope. We are hoping that my father would come alive,” Mundhe said.
An NDRF jawan, who came out of the river after three hours of intense search, said, “The fast flow of flood water is posing a tough challenge for us but that is not going to be a deterrent in our mission.” In the state Assembly, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a judicial probe into the bridge collapse. “A judicial inquiry will be conducted,” Fadnavis said replying to a discussion on the issue.
The Chief Minister said directives have been issued to conduct structural audit of old bridges. In 2013, the then Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and then deputy CM had received complaints about the dilapidated bridge, Fadnavis pointed out. Leader of Opposition in Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said the government should expand the scope of search operation.
A body was found 100 kms from the accident site. This shows that there’s a need to expand scope of search operations, he said. The government machinery showed negligence which led to the Mahad tragedy, Vikhe Patil alleged. He demanded the PWD minister should own up responsibility and a judicial inquiry conducted into the incident.
NCP MLA Ajit Pawar said a Sena legislator had a year ago, through a query in the Assembly, spoken of fears about a tragedy waiting to happen due to the dilapidated state of the British-era bridge. While replying to the query, PWD Minister Chandrakant Patil had said the bridge was technically sound, Pawar said. Chandrakant Patil was at fault, he alleged.