On Monday, CCTV footage captured the moment when a 50-60 tonne (at least) girder of Bus Rapid Transit-3 (BRT) Elevated Expressway fell and crushed a car on one of the busiest highways in the country - Uttara's Jasimuddin road, killing five people, including two children.
The image of the vehicle crushed under the girder while fuel-mixed blood stained the ground below the car, has left everyone shocked. Even more shocking, perhaps, is the fact that this is not an isolated incident. There have been at least two previous similar accidents involving the same project, killing five people in total. And there have been more accidents connected to projects under construction, in the recent past, which too killed and injured people.
The Business Standard spoke to Buet's Professor Shamsul Hoque of the Civil Engineering Department and Professor Md Hadiuzzaman, Director, Accident Research Institute to pinpoint the causes behind Monday's deadly girder accident and understand what allows the repetition of these accidents.
'The project director is also responsible for the accident'
Professor Shamsul Hoque, Civil Engineering Department, Buet
This is a repetition. This [15 August] is now the latest incident in the implementation of this project. I would say this incident happened only because the investigation into the previous accidents were careless and the authorities held no one responsible for the accidents.
Any accident in the implementation of a project happens due to lapses and gaps. I think the authority has done wrong in not holding responsible those who were involved in the previous accidents. Accidents have been happening in other different projects too.
Secondly, the people who are responsible for project implementation enter into contracts with the condition that they will take sufficient safety measures while implementing the project. But that happens rarely. These projects are being implemented on an active road making it very highly risky.
There are some warrants or conditions to reduce the risk in project implementation. The contractor is given the responsibility of reducing the risk. However, during the construction, no one stays on the field to monitor whether [safe] conditions are being ensured. Besides, they know that they will not be held accountable at the end of the day. So, the concerned people try to implement the project hurriedly, even if it means taking risks.
I will again say, the main reason is no one is held responsible.
Another big reason is the people who will determine the responsibility. There is an ecosystem, if any government agency does something wrong, the concerned ministry will hold the concerned department responsible. If the ministry does something wrong, the Planning Commission, which releases funds, will hold the ministry responsible. There is a parliamentary committee that serves as a watchdog of the ministry. They will establish good governance.
The people who are in the chain of implementation of the development projects become beneficiaries of the project. The hierarchy benefits even before the start of the project implementation. For example, in the name of the transfer of technology [essentially training programmes], they get the opportunity to travel abroad and they get public vehicles with free fuel. [And] when they become the beneficiaries, they no longer have the moral base to set an example to hold others accountable and punish them.
Instead of setting an example, they adopt different ways to avoid responsibility.
The authority has filed a case against the contractor. Like the contractor, the project director is also responsible for the accident. In the case of a big project, the contractor and the project office are supposed to be in sync and the former should give the office a detailed breakdown of their work plan at least one or two weeks in advance and decide what work will be done and how it will be done. The approval comes from the project office. The contractor cannot do whatever it wishes to. Whatever a contractor does, is done with the office's approval.
In a road accident, we make the driver the scapegoat, in this [girder] incident, we are limited to the contractor, I would say the root cause will not come out. The root cause is vast. The project director also cannot avoid responsibility.
Besides the project director, the consultant of the project is also responsible for the accident. Our project directors are consultant-dependent. The consultant might have been sleeping at home at the time of the accident. The consultant says that they have skilled engineers but, in the end, it was seen they are diploma engineers. As a result, the development project gets compromised. As it gets compromised, it is the people who suffer more, especially from the project delays.
We will be able to prevent such accidents only when good governance is established. Each and every layer of the decision chain will have to be neutral. The big barrier to good governance in the development project is the collusion chain in the name of the transfer of technology and use of government-funded vehicles, fuel and drivers.
Now is the time for the government to increase monitoring.
'How can you handle a 50-60 tonne girder without a safety fence?'
Professor Md Hadiuzzaman, Director, Accident Research Institute, Buet
I strongly believe it is not an accident. It is a killing due to sheer negligence. According to the basic standard [of operations], the construction area should have been cordoned off for safety. The safety of the pedestrians as well as the vehicles must be ensured. And it is the responsibility of the contractor to ensure it.
It is the responsibility of the contractor because the contractor does not do it for free. When the contractor proposes a work plan, accordingly, there is a fund allotted for traffic management and safety measures. The fund size for a fast-track project like Bus Rapid Transit is, at least, Tk90,000 per kilometre per month. The contractor is definitely receiving the money. It is the responsibility of the implementing agency's representative to monitor at the field level whether it is done accordingly.
As it is a mega project the implementing agency often lacks capacity and manpower. In that case, there is a third eye, a supervision consultant. None of the three parties saw it.
It is simple grammar. You are handling a girder of at least 50-60 tonnes without a safety fence. [So] where exactly is the safety management? Where is the work permit, which the contractor needs to work?
An operator does not just lift the girder and set it up at will. It is impossible. There is a process at every step. Where is the process? I think this process has been completely neglected.
The failure I have seen is a 'tipping' failure. This means we have to look into if the man operating the crane has experience, skills and licence for the job?
When does the tipping failure happen? When the capacity of the crane is 80 tonnes, it may not have the operational capacity of 80 tonnes because the operational capacity depends on to what extent you have extended boom length [the further extended, the weaker its capacity becomes to carry weight] and at what radius you are handling the girder. The capacity can come down to 30% or 24 tonnes. You are lifting a girder of 60 tonnes. Is that possible?
There is supposed to be a workplan, when the work involves working with a crane. Additionally, an international contractor is working on this project. One can assume the work standard to be that of international standards. Let alone ensuring international standards, they are working without a safety fence, which is the minimum grammar.
It is a busy corridor; the traffic is always huge. Many are saying that the risk would not be more if the work was done at night. It is a fast-track project, the work can be done 24 hours. They need to take permission from the police for traffic management before work. They did not take any permission from the police.
From the beginning, the construction practice of this project has been very weak. I have said it many times before. They piled the construction materials and girders on the roads and vehicles cannot ply the road smoothly.
An investigation committee has already been formed. The committee will have to look into the negligence of all three parties, the implementing agency, the supervision consultation as well as the contractor.
This kind of accident is happening again and again because there is a culture of indemnity. No one is held responsible for their negligence. It is the most important reason. And the smaller reason is that the construction practice is not right. Actually, it is a symptom of the disease.
We will come out of this kind of accident only when the project implementing agency has the willingness. Then the government officials will give directives to contractors with guts. The implementing agency officials do not have the guts now because no one in a public project is the loser. It is a win-win situation.
When the BRT project is extended, the contractor is not losing anything, the government officials are not losing anything.