In the midst of heavy rainfall in Mangaluru, a 37-year-old bridge over Phalguni river collapsed on Monday. Around 6.15 pm, one of the seven pillars of the bridge, which connects Gurpur to Mangaluru, gave way, bringing down an entire span.
While no loss of life was reported, local representatives attribute the pillar’s weakened foundation to unchecked sand-mining at the foot of the bridge.
On most evenings, motorists and residents stop by the bridge for fresh-air. However, if the infrequent rains throughout that day brought down the bridge, they also ensured that the structure did not see much footfall. "We breathed a sighed in relief knowing that no people were on the bridge at that fateful moment. In fact, a local bus heading to Bajpe had passed through only a few minutes before the collapse," local resident Bawa Padarangi said.
The residents also say that they have alerted authorities about the illegal sand-miners brazenly using heavy equipment and machinery close to the pillars. “Even before monsoon season we could see even the foundation stone of the pillars of the bridge. But despite our repeated pleas to district authorities, they turned deaf year,” Bawa said.
This bridge, that passes through Mullarapattana village, officially commenced its operation in 1981. It measured 176.4 metres in length and 20 metres in width. It connected the local community to Mangaluru. "In the absence of the bridge now, people have to reroute though Bantwal or Kaikamba, increasing the distance by an addition of 18 kilometres, resulting in a 38 km long commute," Prakash said.
It was only last year, that the then city Police Commissioner M Chandra Shekar seized a sand-laden truck after Mullarapattana residents’ complaints. “Nearly 4,000 loads were seized by the police then, and we were told that even few government officials were being investigated for being hand in glove with the sand-miners," said Prakash Kumar, a resident of nearby Ganjimatta.
In the last six years at least seven deaths have been reported at Phalguni river, thanks to the quicksand like situation near the foundation pillars of the bridge due to sand mining. In most cases the victims were unaware of this, and found themselves caught in the muck which pulled them in, local residents say.
Further, it appears that some Public Works Department are blaming the collapse on the old age of the bridge. "But if it were so, then it would not have happened all of sudden. Cracks would have appeared; cave ins would have happened on its surface and then the bridge would have collapsed. Even if that was the case, the authorities could have acted based on the warning signs. The collapse was abrupt, which means that the bridge gave way due to unstable base," a Mangaluru based sub-contractor of PWD explained.
Now, the police have completely restricted access to the bridge for both pedestrians as well as motorists. The village authorities are trying to come up with an alternative route to another nearby suspension bridge so that pedestrians can commute. "This is just to ensure that the school going children are not affected and don’t have to take a longer route," an Assistant Sub-inspector of Bantwal police station said.
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