People look on as rescuers in boats work at the site of a suspension bridge collapse in Morbi town in Gujarat on October 31, 2022. Image Credit: REUTERS file

AHMEDABAD: Police in India on Friday charged 10 people with homicide in connection with the collapse of a colonial-era footbridge last year that killed at least 135 people, a top official told Reuters.

The 145-year-old suspension bridge in the town of Morbi was packed with sightseers when it collapsed on October 30, plunging hundreds into the Machchhu river below. It had reopened after repairs just days before.

Most of the victims were women and children who drowned.

Police in the western state of Gujarat have issued an arrest warrant for the boss of the company that managed the bridge and on Friday named him as the main accused in a charge sheet filed in a Morbi court, said Ashok Kumar Yadav, a top state police official.

Jaysukh Patel, the managing director of the Oreva Group, best known for making clocks and electrical products, was absconding and a lookout circular was issued for him last week to prevent him from leaving the country, police said.

The Oreva Group did not respond to emailed queries seeking comment. Patel’s mobile phone was switched off and text messages sent to him could not be delivered.

Besides Patel, the more than 1,200-page charge sheet names two managers of the Oreva Group, two ticketing clerks, three security guards and two people from a firm contracted by Oreva to repair the bridge before it reopened to the public, said Yadav.

Earlier on January 24, a Gujarat court had issued a warrant for the arrest of Jaysukh Patel.

Ajanta Manufacturing Limited (Oreva Group) had secured the contract to renovate, repair and operate the bridge.

On Sunday, Chief Judicial Magistrate of Morbi, MJ Khan, issued an arrest warrant against Patel under section 70 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

“The court issued an arrest warrant against Jaysukh Patel of Oreva Group, which had a contract for the renovation of the Morbi bridge. He has not been arrested for 70 days.

“No lookout notice issued yet,” Government prosecutor Sanjay Vora told ANI yesterday.

Notably, Patel had moved to Morbi sessions court on January 20 for anticipatory bail in the case, while the hearing was adjourned till February 1 as the public prosecutor was not present.

Patel is not named as an accused in the FIR filed by the police in the case.

Nine persons, including four employees of Ajanta Manufacturing (Oreva Group), have been arrested so far in the case. They include two managers and an equal number of ticket booking clerks of the Oreva Group that was managing the British-era bridge.

Gujarat High Court on November 7 took suo motu cognisance of the Morbi accident, issuing notices to officials, including those of the state Home department and seeking a report within a week.

The Supreme Court in November said the Morbi bridge collapse incident was an “enormous tragedy”, as it asked the Gujarat High Court, which was already holding hearings in the matter suo motu, to hold periodical hearings.