Gujarat witnessed one of its biggest tragedies on Sunday night, when more than 130 people lost their lives when 140-year-old cable suspension bridge collapsed over Machhu River in Morbi. Shockingly, the bridge was refurbished and reopened less than a week ago. It was called an “engineering marvel” when first constructed at the turn of the 19th Century to “reflect the progressive and scientific nature of the rulers of Morbi”, as per its description on the district collectorate website.
The bridge was given to the Oreva Group for operation and maintenance for 15 years. In March this year, it was closed for the public for renovation. It reopened on the Gujarati New Year on October 26. The ticket for the public to access the renovated bridge was priced at a measly Rs 17 per person.
On Sunday, around 6.30 pm, people thronged to the bridge and what followed was sheer mayhem. The scenes were unforgettably tragic and gun-wrenching as people carried the injured and the dead.
Morbi-based Oreva Group (Ajanta Manufacturing Pvt Ltd), which also makes e-bikes, is under the scanner in the aftermath of this massive tragedy. The mandate to the company was to create a bridge that will give a unique identity to Morbi, better known for its wall clocks, using the latest technology.
WHAT IS OREVA GROUP?
The late Odhavji Patel is the founder of the Oreva Group. It has businesses in 45 countries and employ 7,000 people, of whom 5,000 are women, in diverse businesses such as clock-making to harvesting water for farmers. Patel’s Ajanta Group also makes power-saving compact fluorescent lamps and clay-thrown vitrified tiles.
Patel was dubbed as the ‘father of wall clocks’, and after his death in October 2012, his son Jaysukh Odhavji became the head of the Oreva Group. With a turnover of nearly Rs 800 crore, the group also manufactures home and electrical appliances, calculators, and ceramic products, besides the Oreva brand snacks, at its plants in Morbi and Kutch.
In 2020, Jaysukh was honoured with Nav Nakshatra Sanmaan Business award by Kirit Solanki, the MP from Ahmedabad West. The company’s headquarters are located at Thaltej Circle, SG Highway, Ahmedabad.
The Morbi municipal agency chief, Sandipsinh Zala, said that the company did not take a fitness certificate from the authorities before reopening the bridge. “It was a government tender. Oreva Group was supposed to give renovation details and get a quality check done before reopening the bridge. But it did not do so. The government was not aware of this,” Zala said.
NO MENTION IN FIR
A first information report (FIR) is registered in this case but there is no mention either of Oreva or of Jaysukh Patel. The police have not identified any accused, but have lodged a complaint against the hanging bridge repair agency, its management, and anyone whose name is disclosed during the course of the investigation.
The case will be investigated by Deputy Superintendent of Police PA Zala. “It is an act of negligence. It seems that the act was committed knowingly. The accused have committed the offence under the IPC section for culpable homicide,” the police said.
In October 2021, a Rs 200-crore water utilisation project was conceptualised by Jaysukh Patel and supported by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. On October 7, 2021, Shah held a meeting with Patel to discuss the implementation of the project. Patel had proposed to convert the 4,900 sq km Little Rann of the Kutch area into a huge sweet water lake called Rann Sarovar, which appears to have hit a roadblock.