Is Namma Metro on a safe track?

Recently, an incident of pillar-bending at a Bengaluru Metro construction site and its consequential casualties shook everyone. The days following saw press conferences, public meetings, officials giving clarifications and a number of people looking at Metro construction with scepticism.

In August 2009, an over-six-metres-tall pillar stooped and caused two causalities and four people were injured. It happened on CMH road, Indiranagar, where  ‘Reach 1’ of the Metro is being constructed by Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (BMRCL). There were immediate allegations of unsafe working conditions for the workers and faulty design being followed. But the question about who should be held accountable for checking the construction work was not settled clearly.

At a press conference, Leo Saldanha, coordinator of the city-based NGO Environment Support Group (ESG) says, “The Metro authority is least bothered to pay attention and is calling all this mere accidents. How can so many incidents be called accidents? There has to be some fault, otherwise it wouldn’t happen so frequently.”

Earlier this year, coincidentally on the same metro site, the rubber gloves kept inside a pillar caught fire while welding, but no casualties were reported. “This is shocking, how can pillars catch fire?” Saldanha asks. Safety should ideally be the first concern while constructing Metro, Saldanha adds. He says that there have been several cases of deaths and injuries with people working on the site in the past couple of years.

metro construction

In August 2009, an over-six-metres-tall pillar stooped and caused two causalities and four people were injured. Pic: Supriya Khandekar.

Responding to this, B L Y Chavan, BMRCL’s Chief Public Relations Officer says, “For quality check BMRCL has appointed a general consultant (GC) — a consortium of independent consultants.” This includes RITES – a government of India consultancy, Orient Consultants Ltd. (OCL), Japan, PB Group (USA) and SYSTRA, also a US based global rail and transit consultant. The GC consortium has posted a multi-tier organisation of engineers and inspectors on the construction sites.

The bent structure was being constructed for the upcoming station at CMH Road. The contractor for construction of CMH road and Byappanahalli stations is the Hyderabad-based IVRCL Infrastructure and Projects. R Dinesh, Senior Product Manager at IVRCL, the official incharge at the CMH Road site is open in talking to Citizen Matters about the soil testing but declines to comment on the pillar-bending incident. He further adds that around 15 to 18 section engineers are on site from IVRCL.

Chavan says that in the CMH road incident, the pillar bending happened because no scaffolding (a temporary frame used to support people and material in the construction of a building) was provided for the pillar structure. It was a fault on the contractor’s side, says Chavan, because he misjudged the height of the pillar and allowed the labourers to work beyond a certain height on the pillar without scaffolding. “BMRCL has slapped a notice and a fine on the contractor,” he adds, and declines to disclose how much the fine was.

In the same vein, a top ranked engineer at one of the major private-sector construction firms building the Metro, under condition of anonymity says, “The bent pillar incident does not look like a design failure. For pillars of that height pillar reinforcement rods and support mechanisms are necessary to support the structure. If there is no arrangement to crop it then events like bending of pillars are bound to happen. Storms and heavy rains can also make the pillars to bend.”

Furthermore, he says that the sequence of incidents that have happened so far in a way show the carelessness on part of the contractor. “Any huge structure when under construction needs to be temporarily made safe so as to avoid any accidents. Like we see barricades along the whole stretch of roads where metro construction is happening, similarly even inside the barricades proper safety measures need to be maintained,” he explains. For a project like this where construction work will be done in public areas and amidst heavy traffic, safety should be the prime necessity, he says.

Explaining further about the safety aspect this engineer opines that presently, for most infrastructural projects, there is a rush to finish things and in this rush the most neglected is the safety and quality aspect. Poor work conditions for the labourers can be seen on most construction sites.  Sometimes work conditions and the quality assurance also differs from one contractor firm to another.

Tussle between contractor and BMRCL on safety practices

Safety issues also came to head recently at a tussle between a Navayuga Engineering, another Metro contractor and BMRCL. Navayuga also one of the main contractors working on the ‘Reach 1’ of the Metro construction filed a PIL in the High Court of Karnataka earlier this year claiming that it was not possible to ensure safety of structures and there was inability of moving heavy equipment on CMH Road. Navayuga Contractors are constructing the viaduct for ‘Reach 1’.

“We had approached BMRCL/GC many times complaining about unsafe working conditions but our views and records were not appreciated by BMRCL for the reasons beyond our comprehension and against the contract provisions,” explains, A S R Murthy, GM, Navayuga Contractors.

metro construction

In July, the Karnataka High Court had dismissed the PIL filed by Navayuga Engineering, with an observation to BMRCL and other authorities that they should take adequate safety measures during the construction of the railway. Pic: Supriya Khandekar.

In July, the Karnataka High Court had dismissed the PIL filed by Navayuga Engineering, with an observation to BMRCL and other authorities that they should take adequate safety measures during the construction of the railway.

BMRCL and Navayuga maintain different interpretations of the case and how the High Court handled it. N Sivasailam, MD, BMRCL said that the Navayuga PIL was ‘dismissed’ at the very first hearing, and that it was Navayuga’s responsibility to ensure safe construction. “Therefore he cannot file a PIL on a matter in which he is primarily responsible for execution of the contract. On his failure to submit a safe working plan for CMH road viaduct construction, the work has since been taken away from him for execution at his risk and cost. We are aware of the High court instructions in the matter and we are following it in letter and spirit,” says Sivasailam, in an emailed response to ESG, on the PIL issue.

On the contrary, Murthy of Navayuga does not agree that case was ‘dismissed’. “The court has not felt so. The honourable court has patiently heard our submissions and has directed BMRCL to take full responsibility for the safety measures in public interest. The petition has thus been ‘disposed off’ to its intended conclusion.”

 

Murthy says that the total contract value for Navayuga as of now is about Rs.105 crores and they have completed about Rs.70 crores of work and have received about Rs.65 crores till July. “Our claims to the tune of Rs.20 Crores are pending settlement from BMRCL.”

Quality assurance of construction

In his emailed communication, Sivasailam says that BMRCL will not shirk its responsibility and it will do whatever it can to ensure that Metro structures are designed well and constructed well. “We have in place a good system of quality assurance. There is a requirement to compile test reports for the commissioning of any line and BMRCL is compliant with the requirement,” he says.

BMRCL PRO Chavan adds that there is a quality check at each and every level. “Right from selecting the raw materials to the concrete mixture, everything is tested at each step and samples are sent to labs by the BMRCL.” A third party, i.e., an independent party does all the testing, says Chavan, and declined to disclose the name of the testing firm.

For Reach I there are four resident engineers, four to five executive engineers for the stations and one chief resident engineer to monitor the work, from the GC consortium. Apart from these there is one Chief Engineer from BMRCL to supervise, explains Chavan.

metro construction

The Bengaluru Metro has a major linkage with the Delhi Metro. Pic : Supriya Khandekar.

Chavan says that the BMRCL Managing Director meets with the GC every week to get an update on quality checks. Chavan takes the line that no major complaints about the quality of work have been reported to BMRCL. “Complaints about inefficient or careless workers have come and we had to remove the labourers who were either not working or were not following the set safety guidelines for working,” says Chavan.

On this Leo Saldahna of ESG asks, “Safety should ideally be the first concern while constructing Metro and when the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report has found flaws in the Delhi Metro design why should we go ahead and adopt the same design for our city?”

The CAG report mentions that there are serious design flaws in the Metro structures in New Delhi and that the rush to implement that project to meet unhealthy deadlines probably contributed to the recent disasters. The report was systematic and systemic failures in ensuring quality work in the Delhi Metro (particularly in Phase II).

Comparison of Bengaluru Metro’s design with Delhi Metro

ESG’s Saldanha claims that the Bangalore Metro is absolutely modelled on lines of the Delhi Metro. Consequent to the release of the recent CAG report, it was imperative for the Karnataka Government to immediately stop work and conduct a thorough review of the Bangalore Metro, he says.

The Bengaluru Metro does have a major linkage with the Delhi Metro. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) in partnership with RITES prepared the original Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the Bangalore Metro’s Phase I, back in 2003, at the instance of the state government.

BMRCL though, disagrees that Namma Metro’s design is a copy of Delhi’s. “Designs cannot be copied verbatim”, reacts Sivasailam, MD BMRCL. He explains that, “The design of structures in Namma Metro is based on the soil and strata of Bangalore. The design is to be done based on the operational loads and also the construction loads. These aspects have been taken into account in respect of every design of all structures.” He further adds that designs are independently done by experienced designers and further checked by international consultants who have substantial experience.

Some clarity amidst the confusion about whether Bengaluru’s design is copied from Delhi comes from a top ranked engineer who spoke to Citizen Matters under condition of anonymity, because his firm is one of the major construction firms building the Metro. He says that design for a project like the Metro has two major aspects. One is the Alignment: this involves work to design, measure and make a mechanism in which trains can move at a particular speed along a particular route. A train cannot take sharp turns like other vehicles on road, therefore a proper route and mechanism is built for that.

The second aspect is the structural design. This describes the way a metro will be constructed, whether it will be an elevated corridor or underground.  Designing of the deck, the corridors, the pillars and so on.

He explains that the Bangalore Metro has copied the deck and pillar design from Delhi. A pillar design deals with the shape of the concrete, where and how it will be put, the dimensions of the concrete, the dimension of the pillar (which in turn depends upon how much load it will be taking, on the height and on the location), spacing of the pillars and so on.

Creation of the pillars also depends on the place/location. It varies depending on a number of factors, one of which is the earthquake susceptibility of the place. “Delhi is more earthquake prone than Bangalore, so in a way if we are adopting that design for Bangalore we are making a safer decision,” this engineer adds.

With experts clearing the air around the design copy issue and the BMRCL officials claiming ‘foolproof’ quality monitoring and testing, NGOs and activists are still worried about how safe Namma Metro is? And they have a reason too. Accidents at Metro sites have also not stopped: the last one was as recent as less than a month back, when a hydraulic rig crashed at MG Road.

In the meantime, Chavan says Namma Metro is on schedule and the first train will roll along the tracks by December 2010.

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