‘Second life’ for Whitefield bridge, but all not well yet

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The long-delayed bridge over the railway line at the Whitefield Railway Station in Kadugodi, northeastern Bengaluru, has received a ‘second-life’ of sorts, with the Hyderabad based-contractor Soham Engineering Constructions, restarting work last week. Soham had stopped work on the project for almost four  weeks, citing reasons of acute cash shortage.

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Steel girder sections lie covered in tarapaulin sheets,
awaiting long overdue welding approval. Pic: Subramaniam Vincent.

In a second and related development that could give a further fillip to the project, citizens living on the northern side of the tracks have offered to mobilise funds for Soham to help them complete the project sooner.

Railways had awarded the contract to Soham in July 2006 and after a series of ups and downs, the bridge was due for completion by April 2009.

Untold pain for everyone

The peak hour scene at the railway level crossing where the unfinished structures now stand is classic jumble of people of all income levels and vehicles, with every bit of the vast heterogeneity that sweeps Indian society. Citizens brave the traffic gridlock at the junction every weekday morning and evening. The moment a train passes and the crossbar goes up, pedestrians, cycles, two-wheelers, cars, and small vans push across in frenzy in both directions.

Packed and moving across. Two-wheelers, four-wheelers,
pedestrians, and all. Heavy vehicles – buses and trucks – do
not use this route, they take the circuitous Channasandra road which crosses the railway at a narrower junction nearby. Pic: Subramanium Vincent.

As a pool of pedestrians (mostly local workers) attempt to cross the line on foot, they jostle with vehicles, and at times risking accidents. When traffic police aren’t present, the situation gets worse because cross-traffic along the Channasandra road on the northern side blocks traffic trying to race past the open level crossing in the direction of the city, frustrating commuters even more.  The commotion gets worse when the bar starts coming down to close the crossing and vehicles continue to try to squeak through to crossover till the very last second.

Everyone around here wants this bridge to get done. The on-paper cost of the project from the original tender is roughly Rs 10 crores of which Rs 8 crores worth of work has been finished, say the Railways and Soham. The final lap in this already delayed project, which Citizen Matters has twice reported about in 2008 and 2009, has run into numerous bottlenecks, a few technical, and mostly monetary.

Welding certification held up

The six-segment composite steel girder being built for the 42-metre span across the railway tracks requires a special kind of welding. Soham’s N Dharma Deva, financial advisor to the firm, now acknowledges that the firm did not originally possess the technical know how for the welding. Completing the steel girder has been a learning experience for them. Dharma Deva, who has been overseeing the Whitefield project and another project at Chamarajanagar (Karnataka) for Soham, is the son-in-law of Narayanan, the firm’s aging head, who suffered a health setback last year.

Motorcycle riders virtually bracing for lift-off at the Railway level crossing, as the bar begins to go up. Pic: Subramaniam Vincent.

Soham found out only this year from the Railways that the Welding Research Institute (WRI) under the Bharat Heavy Electronics Limited (BHEL), Trichy, has to independently certify their welding. The original contract agreement does not mention this, says a Soham represenatative. Railway officials say that the certification process that happens through BHEL is an independent function and a paid service. WRI had made their first and second visits in March and July 2009, at the instance of the Railways, after which some mistakes in the welding were identified, says a Soham represenative, on condition on anonymity.

Approvals from WRI are pending, for which Soham needs to pay BHEL, and that is when Soham had stopped work for shortage of cash four weeks ago. Railway authorities and the contractors confirm that a fresh payment to BHEL was made to initiate the testing/certification process on November 4th.  The Soham representative says that the welding mistakes have been fixed, that the WRI approvals should come through in a fortnight.

Continuing cash flow crisis at Soham

Soham’s central claim, which Citizen Matters reported on in 2008, was that the project had already overrun the original costs approved in the tender. Dharma Deva says that later this year, the payment situation became worse. Railways deducted penalties of Rs 1 lakh for every week of delay beyond the deadline and Rs 10 lakh has been deducted this way so far, he says. A top Railways official confirmed this.

Railways officials now say that the penalty fee has been deducted because of slow progress, but recently agreed to refund it to Soham, to give the contractor some monetary leeway. It is partly on the basis of this that Soham has agreed to resume work. The Railways had also released a payment to Soham for their Chamarajanagar ROB project, says the Soham representative, and that has helped. ramps towering over vehicles

An unfinished ramp towers over vehicles waiting for the level crossing to open. Pic: Subramaniam Vincent.

The Railways also deduct a certain percentage of each of its payments to contractorsas security deposit. The amount becomes refundable when the project is completed. Dharma Deva says before the work was stopped, they were pressing Railways to release the security deposit, which runs to about Rs 47 lakhs now, so that they could use that to continue the work. Soham’s argument was that the deposit is an unnecessary blockage of funds, especially since the Railways has a bank guarantee from the contractor.  Soham went as far as meeting the union railway minister, K H Muniyappa, who hails from Karnataka for releasing the security deposit ahead of time. But, going by a new rule introduced in 2008, the Railways declined.

Citizen unrest has positive lining

Partly in response to the cash flow crisis at Soham, a few well-heeled citizens have proposed to pool in a loan for Soham, to speed up work. The idea first emerged when a Kadugodi area resident, Sitikant Sahu, posted a comment under the June 2009 Citizen Matters article on Soham receiving safety clearance for the bridge. Sahu, who has bought property at Suraksha homes on the northern side of the railway line (adjacent to the Golden Blossom apartments) opines that there is a possibility of citizen contribution with proper dialogue and agreement.

“If citizens get a concrete assurance on the deadline and the pace of work and if mobilising a loan for the contractor will speeden things up, then why not consider the option”, asks Sahu.

A few other affected home-owners who posted comments on the June article have expressed a similar interest. Citizen Matters spoke to Soham’s Dharma Deva about this possibility, and he seemed positive and yet guarded about it. “We are interested in talking to the citizens on help regarding financing the project”, he says, but adds quickly that Soham will not be able to pay back the money as soon as they finish the project, because it could take upto six months for the Railways to release the security deposit.

“If the citizens chart a bank rate of interest (what ever they will get if they put their money into the bank), I am agreeable to meet them and discuss modalities”, says the Hyderabad-based Dharma Deva.

A citizen-created loan could help plug the financing gap faced by Soham. The contractor has about Rs 2 crores in payments due from Railways for the rest of the project, but needs Rs 2.45 crores (including the cost of asphalting the ramps and the road over the girder, all of which has since escalated.) Railways has declined to cover the cost escalations (as reported by Citizen Matters in 2008), because a new rule to cover such escalations was itself brought in only in 2008, and older contracts such as those signed with Soham, are not covered.

Will work stall again?

Work has now re-started, and after welding approvals, stanchions (temporary structures) will be installed between the railway tracks as a prelude the launch of the girder. However, the Soham representative says funds have not been allocated for laying of the road. So the risk of financing issues cropping up yet again still exists.

Dharma Deva says they “would like to shoot for an inauguration of January 31st 2010”, but neither parties are really being sacrosanct about deadlines this time, for obvious reasons.

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About Subramaniam Vincent 24 Articles
Subramaniam Vincent is Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief, Citizen Matters. His twitter handle is @subbuvincent.

24 Comments

  1. Hi,
    Has there been any progress. Is any work happening at all or it has come to a stand still.

    Thanks,
    Venkatesh

  2. Thanks Laskhmikala. I did the same about two weeks back and the result was similar.

    Despite bringing to CM attention there is no movement yet.

    The funny part is that I again replied to CM response asking BMP to share the time needed to complete this project, however, BMP did not respond instead of that CM’s Standard response came “for necessary action”.

    Venkatesh idea is superb, though I am not sure if any of us would climb the bridge. But we have easier choice here;

    If you will send similar mails to Honourable Chief Minister and more importantly to newspapers, things will change sooner !

    FYI:Last week I received a call from a Reporter from The Hindu.

    here is the copy of mail I sent to all email ids shared in my previous comment;

    Construction of the flyover at Whitefield Sai Baba Ashram was scheduled to be completed by March 2008 . More than one and half years, later it continues to hang fire. Chunks of concrete have started falling apart endangering the lives of thousands of pedestrians and other commuters, besides forcing the vehicles to take a circuitous route resulting in wastage of time and money. A national loss, of course. The issue has been taken up with the Chief Minister and BMP bigwigs. All in vain. Peaceful methods do not seem to resolve issues in our country. Responsible media alone sustains hope.

  3. Thanks for taking this initiative, Lakshmikala. We all should do something now.
    Someone suggested to put a banner/cutout of the CM, PM & Railyway Minister with the slogan – ‘Thanks for leading India. Work In Progress Since 2005″.

    Thanks,
    Venkatesh

  4. Few days back, I sent a strong but polite mail(only that will work)to CM stating this Kadugodi flyover issue (to Karanataka CM’s mail-id, cm@kar.nic.in) by attaching few photos.

    Surprisingly I received a reply within few hours forwarding my mail to BMB commissioner to take necessary action immediately and my mail was forwarded to
    commn-bmp@karnataka.gov.in; &
    prs-ud@karnataka.gov.in. I replied back to cm mail id thanking him and said I will be following up every 3 days. I doubt whether CM read this mail but however looks like we have got some hold.

    I know my expectations are too high, but requested to CM to do a Flyover opening ceremony as a 2010 New Year Gift to whitefield – Kadugodi community.

  5. Hi All,

    below are the contacts of various newspapers, if we all send mails it will certainly grab their attention.

    It will take about 2mins vs 10-15mins at crossing !

    mytimesmyvoice@timesgroup.com – Times of india

    info@deccanmail.com – deccan choronicle

    dhinternet@deccanherald.co.in – deccan herald
    vp@deccanherald.co.in

    readerseditor@thehindu.co.in – the hindu

    editor@expressindia.com – Indian Express

    response@tv9.net – TV9 [delivery failed !!!]

    If anyone has Emails id of local Govt bodies/local papers please share…

    You may please enter/find more information at picassa link –

    http://picasaweb.google.co.in/adityaselect/BridgeToNowhere#5405350663101101890

    Thanks !

  6. One of my friends has managed to get a contact with Mamata Banerjee and her office has requested to send a fax with details of the problem along with signatures.

    Divya Kumar,
    Is there any possible way for us to get signatures collected for local residents. Maybe a kiosk at the railway crossing where we can ask stranded motorists to sign?
    Do you think the local legislative office can help?

  7. Can we make an appeal to the Railway minister or the appropriate authorities through the private TV/Radio stations.
    The affected public, social workers and others can gather near the Whitefield railway station with slogans and banners and ask the TV/Radio stations to telecast the event. The affected public can narrate the hardship they suffer and remind the railways about their responsibilities. I am lacking ideas here….Can some of us have a tele-conference or chat one of these days and see what we can do

  8. Thanks Divya Kumar and Citizen Matters! From this I feel even if we pool money It may not work out! But I see that the railways is also affected by this, at times the trains wait for the traffic to get cleared! If the railways is concerned about the trains atleast, they should do it! It is a corrupt World!

  9. Citizen Matters contacted ABIDE member and Change India founder R K Mishra on the ROB Project to get a comment on its present and the future. Mishra also happens to be a resident at one of the gated communities in Whitefield. This is what he had to say:

    “It is Railway’s responsibility. All our efforts have failed. Railway is least bothered about
    difficulties faced by road users. May be they wake-up and act only when people agitate
    and as happens in some states. It has been a very disappointing experience. Myself and
    A Limbavali Minister/local MLA) have escalated the matter even to Mr Muniappa, but
    Railways seem to be in no hurry to complete this ROB. It is one of most inefficient and
    unplanned project work I have ever come across.This raises serious concerns about
    Railways tendering, handling cost escalation and contractor selection procedures”.

  10. Whatever protest we do, it should not cause hassle to normal activities of the public.

    But if there is a financial deadlock – Soham not able to work due to being out of money and Railways not releasing money due to lack of work on Soham’s part, then these protests will bring no result to us.

    For us, having the bridge in the next 3 months is a must. So, we must be willing to pitch in. If money is the issue, then we should pool in the money.

    Instead of releasing all the money at once, we can set up goals for every week and release the funds based on the progress acheived.

    Please think about this. We don’t want to talking about this bridge same time next year. We are better of using it next year.

  11. Divya,
    Thanks for the wonderful job CM is doing.
    Rail roko kind of things are probably not one the best ways go about. How about, peaceful rally, local gathering on top of the wonderful stage we have now (I mean, the bridge) – this way we wont disrupt traffic, but will make our point. Probably, we need to get more media attention!

  12. With due respect to Mr Perumals sentiments – i understand and empathise with the agony you must be going through at the junction every day. But we as citizens got to be more involved in matters that concern us. Since we know for a fact that the authorities incharge at the government are falling short of the required seriousness, the next best thing to do, other than complaining, would be to find ways to take control and be a part of the solution, since universal best interest lies in solutions, not in problems.
    As Venkatesh rightly suggests we should get the involved ‘parties’ to interface with each other to arrive at the solution.
    At Citizen Matters, we are in the midst of facilitating some such. Updates will be posted as and when we have break throughs. Since multiple parties/people are involved, overnight drastic developments cannot be expected. Thanks – Divya

  13. Can some of the affected people arrange for a face-face meeting with the local MLA, Dharma Deva of Soham and Railway authorities to get the facts straight. How much long can we wait for things to happen. We all should make it happen.

  14. I don’t trust that the bridge is stopped because contractor does not have money. I am sure the contractor would be working on very very high margin. He simply wants to delay. And 20 lacs and all is too less for such people. Only way they will do the work is if they come under pressure in some form say some politician or some other big shot.

  15. The project is getting delayed because of financial reasons with Soham. So, if we are very particular about the bridge getting done, we should think of ways to help resolve it. Can someone take the lead and find how much cash are they short and if it is feasible to raise it amongst the public.

  16. How about planning a rail roko!
    If the residents of kadukudi and local party people co-operate we can plan one. We should atleast send notices to whitefield station master etc that it is planned. This might not be the best approach. But station master will come under fire only if the chennai going express trains are stopped and delayed.

  17. If the contractor is not able to finish the project on schedule, dont we have a governing body which oversee the progress of this project and take alternate actions(such as handing over the project to other prospective contractors or prosecuting the existing contractor for causing inconvenience to citizens etc..). Or should we all just sit and wait patiently until the contractor finishes his job whenever he can!

  18. I wish there is a proposal to construct an ROB in Byappanahalli as well. Minus all the delays, of course! This problem of motorists waiting to get past the the bar (both at the time of closing and opening) is terrible. Even the personnel who man the gate find it difficult. During peak hours, it’s a mad rush with traffic coming in from Banaswadi, Jeevanahlli and Old Madras Road. Either some discipline needs to be maintained (no motorist seems to even obey the traffic cops here) or an ROB should be constructed to solve the problem.

  19. Thanks CM for this great expose of ineptitude and just plain laziness. The great Indian Railways just doesn’t care about citizen convenience, I guess. Where’s the local Kadugodi MLA in this? Where’s the fire-belching Didi who runs the ministry? Bangalore has become a poster-child for official incompetence and just less-than-mediocre planners.

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