It is only two years since a flyover was built in the busy Edappally-Aroor bypass in Ernakulam, a city notorious for its traffic snarls. But when the condition of the bridge became hazardous within this period and maintenance repair was undertaken at a cost of Rs two crore, still there was no solution to the shoddy state of the bridge. That has now forced the state government to take a decision to reconstruct the entire bridge. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan informed the other day that the decision to demolish the existing bridge and to build a new one was taken based on the report of the expert team from IIT Chennai, which was chartered to study its condition, and after consultation with 'metroman' E Sreedharan. Sreedharan is also of the view that since the bridge was basically unstable, renovation or strengthening it is not an option. The exact cost of the rebuilding is yet to be ascertained, but initial estimates put it around Rs 20 crore. It may be recalled that this bridge was built by the previous UDF government at a cost of Rs 42 crore. Excluding the length of the approach roads, it has a length of 442 metres with 102 girders. Out of this, 97 girders have been found to have cracks. Leaving alone the difficulty of demolishing all of them, even if they are cut into pieces, there is no clarity on what to do with the heap of scrap. The report Sreedharan makes a suggestion that they can be used to build sea-walls. Reports indicate that the contractors ULCCS (Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society), whose expertise in the field and diligence are generally accepted, have promised to complete the construction in a year's time.
A Vigilance probe into the construction of the Palarivattom flyover was ordered by Public Works Department minister G Sudhakaran in May this year, after signs of instability were detected even before it completed three years from its construction, and it became necessary to close the bridge and carry out maintenance repairs. It was clear prima facie that there was huge corruption in the construction of the vital flyover. The task of construction had been entrusted by the Roads and Bridges Development Corporation to RDS Company, with Kitco as consultancy. Following the discovery by Vigilance, four persons including the then PWD Secretary TO Sooraj are under arrest now. Indications are that the list of accused will get longer and those at higher levels of government will also have to face trial for the malpractices. The probe team has by now interrogated the then Public Works Ebrahim Kunju - which may be repeated. Both the former chief minister Oommen Chandy and Ebrahim Kunju himself have welcomed the inquiry, but that may be no reason for the current Pinarayi Vijayan government to accept that they were innocent and clear them of the charges. Only a thorough and fair inquiry plugging all loopholes can ensure getting the real picture. For, most of such inquiries in the past have a history of inquiries being ordered with great fanfare and later hitting roadblocks and finally being frozen entirely.
Rampant corruption, impermissible indifference and serious misappropriations are features of administration that top the list of ailments faced by the country and Kerala. Mechanisms such as Ombudsman or Vigilance have not been able to even reduce the corruption that has eaten into the country's fabric like cancer. The anti-corruption hunger strike, launched by Gandhian Anna Hazare, which caught the public imagination of the people was instrumental in denying the UPA government of Manmohan Singh a third term and in bringing NDA coalition to power. But apart from that, the people do not perceive the extreme Hindutva group as having succeeded in presenting a clean government. It is especially so in states like Karnataka where the BJP-led governments are a step ahead in corruption and black money. The case of Palarivattom bridge only serves to convince the people that the relatively enlightened Kerala is no exception. According to figures given by minister G Sudhakaran, an amount of Rs 62 crore had been spent from the exchequer for the flyover when it was thrown open for use in 2016. Ifr it has become unmotorable before completing three years, and a reconstruction can be done only if another 20 crore of tax payer's money is spent on it, a repetition of such cases can be stopped only if those found guilty for such sleaze and irregularities are given commensuratte punbishment. A bridge can be rebuilt if there is money. But then what of the minds steeped in corruption?