A 141-year-old suspension bridge known as Jultu Pul in Morbi, Gujarat, suspended over the Machchuu River, collapsed on October 30, killing hundreds after it was reopened following repairs and maintenance by a private operator, the Oreva Group.
Even as the citizenry called for those accountable for the tragedy to be brought to book, some significant legal developments have taken place over that last couple of days.
While the accused were remanded to police custody till November 5, two lawyers’ bodies called staged protests and refused to represent the accused persons. In the meantime, a lawyer moved the Supreme Court with a public interest litigation (PIL) over the incident.
Remand proceedings against accused
Of the total nine accused persons in case, four were remanded to police custody till November 5, whereas five others were sent to judicial custody.
The local police had registered a First Information Report (FIR) under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 114 (abettor present when offence is committed) of the Indian Penal Code.
Before the magistrate court, the police argued that the four accused persons had no “expertise or qualification” with respect to renovation of bridges.
On the contrary, during the remand hearing, the defence counsel made a pitch for the accused’s innocence and argued that they were only “mid-level employees” of the company having no major role in the offence.
The Court, however, remanded the four company employees in the custody of the police till November 5 and highlighted,
"No violation of any human rights of the accused shall be done during the said period."
While hearing the remand application of the four accused persons, Morbi Chief Judicial Magistrate Masroor Jalis Khan observed that the renovated bridge couldn’t “withstand a period of four days” and collapsed causing loss of human lives indicating “negligence” and “poor work” on the part of the those responsible.
“The present accused persons arrested are alleged to be involved in the management of the company responsible for the renovation of the bridge. The investigating officer has collected documentary evidence related to the involvement of the companies and their employees. The investigation of the case is at a very nascent stage and the allegations against the accused are well-founded,” the judge said in his order passed on November 1.
Lawyers refuse to represent accused
According to reports, the bar associations of Morbi and Rajkot have decided not to represent the accused in this case.
Speaking from Morbi, JD Agechaniya, Secretary of the Morbi Bar Association told Bar & Bench,
"We took a march yesterday in solidarity with those who have lost their lives in the bridge collapse. We stand with their families and as a result have refused to represent the accused persons.”
He also said that it is not like the accused persons do not have the means to fight the case.
According to Agechaniya, a lawyer lost his relatives during the incident.
"It's just that we are voicing the cause of the families who have lost their loved ones," added Agechaniya, who was part of the 500-member strong protest march on Wednesday.
PIL in the Supreme Court
Delhi-based lawyer Vishal Tiwari on Tuesday moved the Supreme Court alleging that the accident leading to the collapse of the Morbi Bridge depicted negligence and utter failure on the part of government authorities.
The PIL sought the constitution of a judicial commission headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to look into the incident.
“From past decade various incidents have taken place in our country wherein due to the mismanagement, lapse in duty, negligent maintenance activities, there has been cases of huge public casualties which could have been avoided,” the plea said.
The matter has been listed for hearing on November 14.
[Read remand order]