People watch as a damaged vehicle is removed on Wednesday, after a portion of a flyover under construction collapsed in Varanasi on Tuesday. At least 18 people died in the incident. Image Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Four senior officials of the Uttar Pradesh (UP) State Bridge Corporation were suspended on Wednesday in the aftermath of a flyover collapse in Varanasi that killed 18 people.

UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya suspended the officials and announced formation of Setu Suraksha Cell to check such incidents in future.

“Project manager H.C. Tiwari, assistant project manager K.R. Sudan, assistant engineer Rajesh Singh and junior engineer Lal Chand were suspended with immediate effect. A three-member technical committee has been constituted to carry out a probe and submit report within a fortnight,” Maurya told media.

A portion of the flyover collapsed on a busy road in Varanasi on Tuesday evening crushing several cars, motorcycles and a minibus.

On Wednesday, a senior official of the Corporation said that the collapse was a “natural disaster” ruling out the possibility that the poor quality construction material may have been used to build the flyover.

“Preliminary findings point towards a loose cross-beam connection or a bearing failure. The beam may have got dislodged from its socket because of the thunderstorm and fell. So it may be a natural disaster,” Managing Director of the Corporation Rajan Mittal told media.

He further said last week’s thunderstorm could be the reason behind the incident.

“The pressure to complete such projects was always there. We were working round-the-clock in three shifts of eight hours each. But we were taking all the precautions and following the rule book in the casting and laying of girders. The project completion deadline was December 2018 and we had completed 56 per cent work on the bridge. Also the thunderstorm that stuck last week could have also damaged the flyover,” Mittal added.

He blamed the authorities for allowing traffic movement underneath the bridge.

“It is a very congested area. We had written several letters to the police and administration authorities to regulate and impose traffic restrictions around the construction site. But our requests went unnoticed,” he added.

Meanwhile, General Secretary of UP Engineers Association SS Niranjan said the district administration should have better managed the traffic in Varanasi so that there was less vehicular movement near the flyover.

“All the flaws in the construction work, be it structural or design related will come out threadbare in the technical inquiry ordered by the government but can the fact that traffic management was totally overlooked by the district administration be ignored,” Niranjan said.

He said the inquiry should see if regular meetings in this regard were conducted.

“We have to see if regular meetings for traffic management in Varanasi were conducted and necessary precautions in case of construction in such busy areas taken,” Niranjan stated.

Meanwhile, UP CM Yogi Adityanath visited the site and reviewed rescue and relief work.

He also announced a payout of Rs500,000 (Dh27,072) each for the nearest kin of the deceased and Rs200,000 for the critically injured.

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, who is a Parliamentarian from Varanasi, also offered condolences to the families of the victims.

“I am extremely saddened by this incident. The Uttar Pradesh state government is monitoring the situation very closely and is working on the ground to assist the affected,” he tweeted.