The Supreme Court on Monday described the Morbi bridge collapse which killed 141 people, including 47 children, as an “enormous tragedy”.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud asked the Gujarat High Court, which has taken suo motu cognisance of the incident, to “bear its time and attention” on ensuring an independent investigation into the role and responsibilities of Nagar Palika (municipality) officials and the agency which was in charge of maintenance and management of the 143-year-old hanging bridge.
The petitioner, Chavada Dilipbhai, who lost both his brother and sister-in-law leaving behind their nine-year-old orphaned, pointed out that the civic body officials and top management of the agency remain scot-free with the State Police hardly moving a muscle, considering the “looming shadow” of the Assembly elections due on December 1 in the State.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, for Mr. Dilipbhai, highlighted the need for an independent investigation; fix the responsibility on the Nagar Palika officials; ensure that the agency entrusted with the maintenance and management were held accountable, including and not confined to making arrests during the probe; and the award of reasonable compensation to families who lost their loved ones.
Noting that the case presents “glaring facts”, the Bench said the circumstances preceding the incident and the subsequent developments virtually require weekly monitoring by the High Court.
“Weekly monitoring is needed for what steps have been taken, including for investigation, award of renovation and maintenance contract, credentials of the party to whom it was awarded, the actual work of the maintenance done, attribution of responsibility for those guilty of lapses, award of compensation and the need for an independent investigation,” Chief Justice Chandrachud observed orally.
The Supreme Court prima facie agreed with Mr. Sankaranarayanan’s plea for the setting up of a regulatory mechanism to prevent such tragedies.
However, the Bench did not admit the case, saying the High Court had taken suo motu cognisance with “alacrity” and was already seized of the issue. Chief Justice Chandrachud said the High Court had also passed successive orders in the case. The Bench asked the petitioners to raise their issues before the High Court.
“We would have taken this case up but for the fact that the High Court has already taken charge of it and passed orders… Otherwise, we would have issued notice in this case and taken it over ourselves,” the CJI said.
During the hearing, the Bench said the High Court, under its suo motu jurisdiction, was free to “look into everything” and even order a CBI probe.
“The High Court is examining everything comprehensively… Why should we distrust the High Court?” Chief Justice Chandrachud asked the petitioners.
The Supreme Court nevertheless kept it open for the petitioners to later approach it for any relief.