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16 Jul 2018

36 years on, price of strike catches up

Jyoti Basu inaugurates the bridge in 1989. File picture
PRANESH SARKAR, TT, Jul 16, 2018: Calcutta: A four-month strike by Bengal government engineers during Left Front rule will now cost the state over Rs 1,700 crore, a study by the public works department suggests.

The study has blamed the 1982 cease-work for structural problems that have emerged in the Iswar Gupta Setu on the Hooghly, about 67km from Calcutta, necessitating the construction of a new bridge at an estimated cost of Rs 1,770 crore, Nabanna sources said.

Apart from pinning the blame on events during Left rule, the report strengthens chief minister Mamata Banerjee's case against strikes in government offices, which she had banned soon after coming to power in 2011.

Sources said the balanced cantilever bridge in Bansberia, Hooghly, had been built between 1981 and 1989, and that a key part of the construction - the laying of the bridge deck on the cantilevers - had continued unsupervised during the 118-day strike.

PWD engineers have linked the problems that bedevilled the articulation of the bridge over the past couple of years to faulty laying of the bridge deck, a process that takes six to seven months. They believe that the four-month gap in supervision is the likeliest reason for the flaws.

"The design of a balanced cantilever bridge is very sensitive. It has to be ensured that the bridge deck is laid on the cantilevers properly, otherwise there can be damage," an engineer said.

"A large section of the bridge deck was laid when the engineers were on cease-work."

Sources said the bridge, which connects Bansberia in Hooghly with Kalyani in Nadia and is key to traffic between north and south Bengal, was closed last December, less than 30 years after its inauguration although the lifespan of any bridge is considered at least 75 years.

Earlier this year, the state cabinet decided that a new bridge would be built near the existing one and approved an expenditure of Rs 1,770 crore.

A senior official explained the importance of the bridge: "Traffic from north Bengal, after crossing Farakka and reaching Barajaguli in Nadia on NH34, can use the bridge to reach Dankuni and head to Delhi or Mumbai via NH2 or NH6."

He added: "Several employees' unions have moved the courts against a state government order that says that absence from office during a strike would lead to deduction of salary and a break in service. The example of the Iswar Gupta Setu will now strengthen the chief minister's hand," he said.

The engineers had struck work in 1982 to press for several demands, such as career advancement schemes and the appointment of engineers - rather than IAS officers - at the head of departments that deal with engineering issues.

The strike was withdrawn after the state government accepted the demands.

In 1983, the government carved the irrigation and housing departments out of the PWD and placed engineers at their helm, sources said.

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