West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Thursday inaugurated the four-lane Majherhat bridge, which had collapsed over two years ago, and claimed that the project got delayed by nine months as the railways took time to grant requisite permission. Banerjee also came down heavily on the BJP for staging a stir on November 26, "despite knowing that work has been completed and the bridge was to be inaugurated in a few days".
"Will those who demonstrated in the area a few days ago be able to show their faces in the media to explain why it took so long for the railways to give their consent? Why did the railways take Rs 34 crore from the state for maintaining its own property under the bridge," she said. Portions of the Majherhat bridge, connecting Behala with south Kolkata, had collapsed in 2018, killing three people. The government has set up a cable-stayed bridge in place of the old one.
The chief minister also said that the railways took Rs 55 crore for demolishing the dilapidated Tallah bridge in north Kolkata — under which runs railway tracks and sidings — and sought to know the reason for the move. "It seemed you (the railways) were doing me a favour (granting permission for Majerhat bridge). You also owe us an explanation why you took that money from the state. Don't you run emergency services to clear the rush of passengers? Do you charge for that? "The Kolkata Port Trust also took from us Rs 77 lakh for the bridge (Majherhat). With all that money, we could have built schools and colleges. If possible, please return the money," she said.
Banerjee said the state has spent Rs 311.76 crore for the Majherhat project — christened Jai Hind Bridge to pay tribute to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose on the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary next month. "Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had raised the slogan Jai Hind from the soil of Bengal. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay who coined Vande Mataram was also from Bengal," she said.
Hitting out at the BJP for trying to create "disturbances in the name of agitation", she said, "They (saffron party) claimed that they wanted to highlight the plight of people of Behala (who faced troubles commuting after bridge collapse). Do they even know how many wards are there in Behala, how many Durga pujas held there? How many schools and clubs, organisations are there? "They only know the art of destablising peace and engineering riots." Talking about the newly constructed Jai Hind Bridge, the CM said, "Technology used for building the second Hooghly Bridge has been employed to set up this one, which is longer than the previous one — 650 metre in length and upgraded to four lanes from just two. "We had also given free land to the Metro Railways as we believe in working for the people," she said.
Taking a jibe at the erstwhile Left regime, she said, "There was no mechanism to audit the safety aspect of bridges, earlier. We introduced that." Noting that the government has built several bridges in the southern and the northern outskirts of city, she said, the state spent as much as Rs 445 crore to build the Maa flyover. Another flyover, linking Park Circus with Ballygunje Phari, would come up soon, she stated.
Urging commuters to follow traffic rules, the CM said motorcyclists should wear helmets to avoid untoward incidents."I will request people to follow all rules. The state will not impose Rs 2,000 as fine for those not wearing masks. The police would instead request people to don masks," she said.
She also urged people not to litter, spit or throw garbage on the new bridge. "I will ask the younger generation, who are the future of the state, to play a lead role in the cleanliness drive (undertaken by the government) to keep our places, our landmarks clean," Banerjee, who was accompanied by her cabinet colleagues Partha Chatterjee and Firhad Hakim at the programme, added.
Meanwhile, BJP national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, taking to Twitter, sought exemplary punishment for those who had failed to maintain the bridge, leading to its collapse two years ago. "It is time accountability be fixed and exemplary punishment for negligence be given to those who failed to upkeep this crucial bridge. State PWD Minister should have resigned following the deaths of Prabir Kumar Dey, Soumen Bag and Gautam Mondal two years ago. But the CM did nothing." The BJP leader further said the people would never forget the September 2018 tragedy.
"As CM Mamata Banerjee, under relentless pressure from the BJP, proceeds to inaugurate the critical Majherhat bridge, people of Kolkata cannot forget the pain she inflicted on them, back in Sept 2018, when the tragedy struck. She was unmoved by the damage, destruction and death," he added.