ON APRIL 15, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) announced that it would demolish a key bridge in the city that had suffered structural damage merely “within four years”, as per the FIR, of its opening in 2017.
Besides filing an FIR against seven people, including the chairperson of the firm that built the Hatkeshwar flyover bridge, the AMC initiated departmental inquiries against eight of its engineers and suspended four of them.
The Indian Express has learnt that Ajay Engi-Infrastructure Private Ltd (AEIPL), the Mehsana-based firm, has at least six ongoing infrastructure projects in Gujarat, apart from other key projects for the Centre and other states. Multiple calls to AEIPL’s Mehsana office and the Gandhinagar residence of the directors since the past month have gone unanswered. A detailed questionnaire sent to the company via email on May 17 had not received any response at the time of publication.
Hatkeshwar flyover bridge, which was opened in Ahmedabad in November 2017, was built at a cost of Rs 40 crore. The bridge was thrown open without an inauguration ceremony as the model code of conduct was in force ahead of the December Assembly elections. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)
Named after Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the Hatkeshwar bridge was opened to the public in November 2017, two years after work began in 2015. Built at a cost of Rs 40 crore, it was thrown open without an inauguration ceremony since the model code of conduct was in force for the December 2017 Assembly elections. The 573-m bridge connects Khokhra with CTM Crossroads in Ahmedabad’s Maninagar.
According to the FIR, lodged by AMC City Engineer (Road and Bridge Project) Jignesh Shah, “Barely three-four years after the work was completed, in or around March-April 2021, the AMC started noting grave and egregious structural defects in the structure, making the structure unsuitable for public use”.
The FIR, which said that flyover-bridges are usually designed to have a life of 50 years, added that there were four instances of “deck settlements (defects on the surface of the bridge)” and one of “box settlement (defect in the bridge’s fundamental structure)” on the flyover. After the last defect was noticed in August 2022, the bridge was closed to the public. On May 9, a joint team of the Ahmedabad City police and the Forensic Science Laboratory conducted a physical examination of the bridge.
The FIR charges AEIPL chairperson Ramesh Patel; his sons and managing directors (MD) Chiragkumar Patel and Kalpeshkumar Patel; MD Rasik Ambalal Patel; and three officials of SGS India Pvt Ltd (the project’s management consultant) with criminal breach of trust, cheating and criminal conspiracy.
The FIR at Khokhra police station stated that various tests by expert agencies, including Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, had concluded it was “completely unsafe to permit passenger and vehicular traffic on Hatkeshwar bridge as this may cause loss of life and property”.
In its order made public on May 13, the Gujarat High Court, while rejecting the pre-arrest bail of the four AEIPL directors, said the collusion of the firm with AMC “cannot be denied at this stage” and suggested that the investigating agency take this aspect into consideration. On May 17, police claimed that they had not been able to trace the AEIPL officials.
The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation took action in the Hatkeshwar bridge case followed inspections and sample testing by the CIMEC Technologies Private Limited, Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology (SVNIT) in Surat and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee. The panel opined that the “concrete quality is so poor that all available factors of safety in design and materials have been consumed by it”. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)
On May 17, the Supreme Court extended the interim protection granted to SGS India Pvt Ltd directors Amit Thakkar and Shashibhushan Jogani and listed the matter for hearing on July 3. The SC had earlier adjourned the case to May 17, since the HC order was not available then.
AMC’s action in the Hatkeshwar bridge case followed inspections and sample testing by CIMEC Technologies Private Limited, Sardar Vallabhbhai National Institute of Technology (SVNIT) in Surat and IIT-Roorkee, after which a three-member expert panel headed by a former IIT-Roorkee professor was appointed.
The FIR added, “The accused conspired together to form a pre-planned conspiracy and gained the confidence of the officials of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to construct Hatkeshwar bridge on Khokhra-Hatkeshwar road, for which Rs 39.87 crore tender was approved. The bridge was made using poor quality material and as per the reports of various authorised testing agencies, the bridge was not left suitable for use and had put the lives of the people at risk.”
The FIR at Khokhra police station states that various tests by expert agencies, including the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee, had concluded that it was “completely unsafe to permit passenger and vehicular traffic on Hatkeshwar bridge as this may cause loss of life and property”. (Express photo)
The bridge’s superstructure will be demolished and reconstructed, Municipal Commissioner M Thennarasan told reporters on April 15, adding that the cost would be recovered from the accused firms.
The Hatkeshwar bridge shares parallels with another bridge in the city. Commissioned by the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority (AUDA) and built by city-based Ranjit Buildcon Private Ltd, the Mumatpura flyover in Ahmedabad’s South Bopal area had collapsed during a stress test in December 2021. It was the third such accident at this firm’s project site, one of them having resulted in the death of a labourer in 2007 in Surat. The flyover was rebuilt by the same firm and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 12.
Along with the contract for the flyover, AEIPL had also been awarded the contract for a city bus terminal on the CTM side, about 100 metres from where the bridge lands. The terminal, however, will not be demolished. AMC’s Deputy City Engineer Shah said, “The total cost of constructing the bus terminal and the bridge was around Rs 44 crore.”
Apart from the AMC, the company’s “valuable clients” listed on the website include names such as the Gujarat Roads and Buildings Department, Western Railway, National Highways Authority of India, Central Public Works Department (CPWD), Gujarat Irrigation Department and Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, apart from a string of private construction firms.
AMC Deputy Municipal Commissioner Satish Patel told The Indian Express that AEIPL’s only ongoing project with the AMC — the Rs 104 crore Pallav-Pragati Nagar split flyover on the 132-foot-long Ring Road in Ahmedabad (which is among the six) — “has been discontinued” and that the firm “is in the process of being blacklisted”. He added that AEIPL’s past projects for AMC included flyovers at Dinesh Chamber (Bapunagar) in 2017-18 and at Jashodanagar cross road junction across NH-8 in 2010-11.
AEIPL’s website lists two ongoing projects with the state government — two flyovers in Gandhinagar. Among AEIPL’s other ongoing projects is a road overbridge near Dastan village in Bardoli that was awarded to it by the Gujarat State Road Development Corporation Limited (GSRDC). Stating that the project was “90 per cent complete” as of May 2023, a GSRDC official said the remaining work will be done by the Railways.
“If we face any problem in future with this project and in relation to the work done by this company, only then will we take any action against it. As of now, it has completed its work with us,” the official said.
Under “ongoing construction”, the AEIPL website lists a two-lane railway over bridge (ROB) at Falna (Rajasthan) and Iqbalgadh in Banaskantha district (Gujarat), bordering Rajasthan, for the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL), a Ministry of Railways enterprise. However, Vivek Kala, project manager, DFCCIL, Ajmer, said, “The project was completed about a year ago and is now open for public use. It was a joint venture between AEIPL and another firm.”
A contract of Rs 44 crore was awarded to the firm for constructing the city bus terminal and the 700-m long bridge, which connects Khokhra with CTM Crossroads in Ahmedabad’s Maninagar. The bus terminal falls on the CTM side and is about 100 metres from where the bridge lands. However, the bus terminal will not be demolished. (Express photo)
AUDA is also a major client of the AEIPL. Its projects include the Zundal bridge (2021-22) and the river bridge near Kamod village over the Sabarmati (2006-07). However, a top AUDA official said, “These projects are of high quality. We have not faced any problem.”
According to the AIEPL website, Ajay Engineers Company was established in 1976 as a partnership firm and AEIPL was registered as a limited company in 2008. The company has been working as a civil engineering contractor since its establishment. It has completed 94 projects and has extensive experience in construction of bridges, ROBs, canal structures, buildings and road under bridges (RUB), including its approaches.
Earlier in April, in its anticipatory bail application to the Ahmedabad city civil and sessions court, the firm had attributed the faults in the bridge’s concrete structure to “improper maintenance”. It had also held various other “scientific possibilities and probabilities and plausibilities” as responsible for the “defects”. Investigating officer at Khokhra police station A Y Patel said, “As soon as we got information (regarding the rejection of their anticipatory bail by the lower court), we went to their residence in Gandhinagar to arrest them. However, they were not present. Their bank accounts have been frozen.”
Turkey, Saudi skip registration for Srinagar G20, China stays away
What happens to your Rs 2,000 notes now? All your queries answered
Former Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit’s son-in-law denied bail by Delhi court
Narendra Modi at G7 summit, Live Updates: PM Modi lays down 10-point call...
Patel said a proper investigation will take place “only when an expert team is allocated to us by the authorities (AMC)”.