The Meghalaya High Court has directed the State government to take all steps for replacement of the Umiam bridge and to start the work at the earliest without waiting for the existing bridge to collapse.
The order by the division bench of the court came after the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) agreed that the Umiam bridge should be replaced by a more robust construction that will be able to bear the regular traffic.
The BRO in its affidavit before the division bench of Meghalaya High Court today stated that vehicles bearing a total weight in excess of 10 MT should not be allowed on the bridge.
“There is no doubt that implicit in such a suggestion is that the existing bridge may not be able to bear the present traffic load. This is a situation which cries out for a stitch in time so that Shillong is not cut off for the want of a bridge over a reservoir,” the High Court observed after perusing the affidavit.
The High Court also directed the State government to make every endeavour to ensure that a replacement of the Umiam bridge is planned and the work commenced without waiting for the existing bridge to collapse.
“The State must also immediately regulate the flow of traffic along the bridge to ensure that not only the vehicles weighing more than 10 MT are not allowed on the bridge, but also to see that two heavy vehicles do not use the bridge at the same time to cause any further damage thereto. Measures should be taken so that the traffic is regulated at either end and the flow is not disrupted, yet not too many vehicles use the bridge at the same time, particularly keeping in mind the total weight spread over the bridge,” the court said.
The High Court also asked the State government to approach the Central government for release of appropriate funds for construction of a new Umiam bridge “since the matter pertains to the shortest access to the State capital”.
The court also decided to hear the matter after four weeks after the representatives of the State government, NHAI and BRO have met and effective steps have been taken at the behest of the State government regarding the new bridge. The next hearing on the matter will be on June 1.
It may be noted that this order by the High Court came on the public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the High Court of Meghalaya Bar Association.
The concern of the writ petitioner is on Umiam bridge which is presently in a dilapidated and dangerous condition and may be on the verge of collapse at any given moment.
The Umiam bridge came into existence sometime in the early 1960s and is the lifeline of Shillong. The Meghalaya Power Distribution Corporation Limited has earlier told the court that the load bearing capacity of the bridge at that point of time was around 40 metric tonnes.
However, between the 1960s and today, the traffic has increased exponentially and this fact is within the knowledge of the State government. The load on which the Umiam bridge is now burdened is far beyond the initial capacity of 40 metric tonnes when it was constructed and commissioned during the 1960s.
The High Court of Meghalaya Bar Association has also stated that the State government has not at all addressed the risk factor involved with regard to plying of vehicles on Umiam bridge nor has it taken any tangible or concrete steps to repair the bridge; thereby putting the safety and security of all citizens who are using the bridge presently at a great risk.