"It was cursed. It took away everything from us ," says Vinod Sonkar. Eight months ago, on March 31 to be precise, the 35-year-old fruit seller from north Kolkata lost his livelihood to the infamous Vivekanada flyover which came crashing down on a weekday morning, killing 26 people .
According a recent report prepared by the West Bengal government, Vivekananda Road flyover had a faulty design and will have to be razed down. Apparently, no new flyover will be constructed in its place. The report was prepared by a committee headed by chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee and was submitted to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee last week.
Sonkar, who had a fruit stall right under the flyover, finds it difficult to believe that the flyover that has brought "just unhappiness" to his life, will be razed down soon. "It made us suffer for close to ten years and now it will be gone so soon?" asks Sonkar.
That fateful day, when the flyover collapsed, Sonkar cheated death by a whisker. He wad setting up his stall when he heard a loud, "unearthly noise". He turned to see the the whole area covered in a "cloud of dust".
"My best friend, who used to sell incense sticks next to me, lost his life. My business has gone down ever since. No one wants to come here anymore. I barely sell any fruit anymore. We were all told that everything will be fine when the flyover starts operating. Are you telling me that I suffered for so long for nothing?" Sonkar asks.
Indeed, the flyover which has already cost the state Rs 200 crore earned the sobriquet of the "flyover of woes" even before the March 31 incident . Ever since the construction started, the Vivekananda flyover, which runs through one of Kolkata's busiest junctions, has faced resistance from all concerned as parties.
Saurabh Sharma, a resident of 4, Kali Krishna Tagore street, a building complex right next to the flyover, claims that the people who lived around the area have been fighting to keep the flyover from being constructed for years. "We filed a petition after petition. Some people are fighting a case against it in the Kolkata High Court even now. The flyover literally brushes against our window. The government kept reassuring us that it was all for the greater good. After the flyover collapsed, we were living like refugees for months in our relative's place because the local authorities claimed that the place is not yet safe. Why didn't the government raze the flyover down immediately after the collapse if the design itself was faulty?" asks Sharma.
Construction of the ill-fated flyover began on this flyover in 2009 when the Left government, was in power. It awarded the contract for the 2.2-km project to IVRCL, a Hyderabad-based engineering company.
A deadline of 18 months was set then. However, it was extended a number of times. According to reports, the design of the flyover had to be changed a number of times. And then several residents went to court seeking a stay order when they found that the flyover would be inches away from their homes.
When that was cleared, there was one more delay, permission to block the road on which it’s was being built never came on time.
The TMC government had initially decided to complete the construction of the flyover after the collapse. “But the committee found that the entire design of the bridge is faulty. Initially, it had seemed that the design of the portion that collapsed was faulty. But this wasn’t the case,” said an official to Indian Express.
GM Kapur of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Kolkata) claims that the flyover was one of the most ill-conceived commissioned by the government. "Anyone with a semblance of common sense will know that it doesn't make to have such a structure in one of the most congested roads in the country. We wasted Rs 200 crore of the tax payers money to carry out this experiment," he says.
Malati Devi, whose husband Gulab Chand Mali was one of the 26 killed in the flyover collapse earlier this year, has the last say. "To me it seems like a joke. How can government build something like this and then tear it down saying it was a faulty design? Had they detected the faulty design earlier, my husband could have been saved," she says.