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Stop Work and Review Bangalore Metro Design and Safety Aspects

5 August 2009

L-R: Leo Saldanha, Coordinator, ESG; Justice M.F.Saldanha, Former Judge of the High Court of Karnataka; and Ms.Premila Nesargi, Senior Advocate addressing members of the Press about the safety aspects of the Bangalore Metro.

The safety of Bangalore Metro Rail Project has been called to question many times over the past couple of years. Several deaths and injuries have been the result exposing the poor attention accorded to worker and public safety. While some of the causes of death and injury may have been accidental, careful scrutiny reveals that there is much more to be worried about than to wish away such events as merely accidental.

Two days ago the main reinforcement structure of a Metro pillar collapsed on the narrow CMH Road even as it was being mounted. Metro officials were quick in dismissing this event as nothing to be alarmed about. But such dismissals are only to be expected, when such events are the norm and not the exception.

What is frightening about the recent CMH Road event is that the reinforcement structure is designed to lend strength to a pillar that will carry the static and dynamic load of a section of the elevated corridor, and upon which trains will run. As it keeled over and fell Metro officials were quick to blame the workers at the site – expectedly of callousness. Had this happenned once the structure was filled with concrete, and then laid over with the heavy slabs, who would they blame then?

It is well known that the Bangalore Metro is absolutely modelled on lines of the Delhi Metro. Subsequent to the recent damning report of Comptroller and Auditor General of India on the systemic and systematic failures in ensuring quality work in the Delhi Metro (particularly in Phase II), it was imperative for the Karnataka Government to immediately stop work and conduct a thorough review of the Bangalore Metro. The CAG report significantly has highlighted that there were serious design failures in the Metro structures and that the rush to implement that project to meet unhealthy deadlines probably contributed to the recent disasters during the launching of girders. Rather than meet this very unbiased account by a Constitutional authority, BMRCL rushed to do what was expected: issue a reassuring statement that all is well with its designs.

Bangaloreans deserve better than statements. They deserved proactive and verifiable effort that the Metro designs are absolutely beyond any doubt. That has simply not happenned because almost all the techno-economic details of the project are under wraps – on grounds of confidentiality. Even former Mayor Mr. P. R. Ramesh was unable to access reports that ought to have been part of the public domain. Such details are librerally shared in every Metro project across the world, including in Japan which substantially finances this project. The irony is that a Japanese national could access reports of “Namma Metro” with ease simply because they have extended a commercial loan to the project. But we who will bear the burden of this mega project for generations simply have no access to this very information.

When ESG sought access to the Detailed Project Report of the Bangalore Metro, after considerable delay BMRCL parted with the document for a very heavy price of Rs. 2,600/-. When enquired why it was not made available on the Metro website as part of the suo moto disclosure responsibility per the Right to Information Act, BMRCL officials extended wishy washy responses. In the wider public interest, ESG has now issued the complete DPR of the Bangalore Metro on its website in toto.

Lack of transparency is one of the first troubling indicators in project implementation. In the Bangalore Metro case, the situation is so alarming that M/s Navayuga Constructions implementing the CMH Road section filed a PIL against BMRCL in the High Court of Karnataka claiming it was impossible to ensure safety of the structures given the narrow right of way available on CMH Road and inability of moving heavy equipment. Papers have reported that “Navayuga …. had repeatedly warned BMRCL authorities against going ahead with ‘segment launch’ method of construction on CMH Road in Indiranagar as it endangered the lives and property of residents and shopkeepers on the road.” A more critical question raised was if it would at all possible to bring in equipment to respond in an emergency – such as a train accident – considering that the right of way was completely consumed by built Metro structures? The High Court has disposed this petition with the direction to BMRCL to address these safety concerns.

A project contractor going to Court with a PIL to advance safety issues is a rare and probably unprecedented step. Less than a fortnight of the High Court’s decision, the CMH Road pillar has collapsed, and the worry now is how to retrieve the reinforcement structure? Once this is done, the question will always remain if the design is at fault. Sure an enquiry has been ordered by BMRCL, but how much can we trust such in-house enquiries in light of the rather poor worksite management and safety record of BMRCL?

Consider these “accidents”:

  • In simple tasks such as bringing down buildings in the way of the Metro, there have been at least three reported accidents that have claimed 2 lives and injured 4 workers.
  • A Metro pillar also caught fire!
  • A JCB executing work collapsed on CMH Road – thankfully not toppling onto the neighbouring building.
  • Another JCB backed up on M. G. Road and killed an unfortunate worker.
  • A barricade crashed onto a car on Old Madras Road, and the driver was fortunate to escape.

And these are instances when less then 20% of the superstructure of Phase I is being built, and that too in the past year alone.

The human rights record of BMRCL has also been terribly found wanting. M/s Nagarjuna Constructions implementing the southern reach of the Metro was caught employing child labour. It was only because of the intervention of ESG, Hasiru Usiru and the Karnataka Child Welfare Committee that one of the three children employed was rescued and rehabilitated. Shockingly, no criminal action was at all initiated against the contractor, despite tall claims that such action would follow.

Clearly such instances should have caused a lot of alarm in the Government and the Legislature. However, there has been little or no discussion at all on such critical failures. For a structure that is likely to remain in Bangalore for over a century, the spate of what are claimed to be “accidents” does not at all build confidence in the wide public that all is well with the Bangalore Metro project.

Keeping this in view, and the need to ensure such a massive project is beyond any doubt on the issue of safety (especially considering that it is largely built on elevated structures), it is absolutely essential that the Government of Karnataka takes steps for immediate and corrective action.

We, therefore, demand that the Government must institute an Independent Commission of Public Enquiry into the design and worksite safety issues of the Bangalore Metro. Pending this enquiry, ongoing work on the project must be stopped.

We demand such action is essential because it is critical in the wider public interest and the interest of future generations to get this project absolutely right. Rather than awfully wrong.

Justice M. F. Saldanha
Former Judge of the High Court of Karnataka

Ms. Premila Nesargi
Senior Advocate

Leo F. Saldanha
Environment Support Group

Vinay Sreenivasa
Hasiru Usiru

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