Bangladesh police arrest 10 after fatal collapse of elevated bus line

General

Police in Bangladesh have arrested 10 Bangladeshis linked to the construction of an elevated rapid transit route being built by a Chinese company after a section collapsed and killed five people driving on a road underneath it earlier this week, officials said Thursday.

The disaster was the third mishap to occur along the elevated route since March 2021, and the second deadly one since last month. China’s Gezhouba Group is building the 20.2-km (12.5-mile) rapid transit line, which will connect the Gazipur area of Dhaka with Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

On Tuesday, the Transport and Highways Division of the Bangladesh Road Transport and Bridges Ministry submitted a preliminary report blaming the Chinese firm for the collapse.

Meanwhile, China’s ambassador to Bangladesh, Li Jiming, conveyed his deep sorrow over the disaster and said Beijing would not object to punitive actions taken against those found to be responsible for the collapse, according to officials at the Bangladeshi ministry.

“The ambassador expressed his grief and condolences to the families of the victims,” the ministry said in a news release.

Along with the five who were killed in the latest incident, a newlywed couple suffered injuries in the collapse. All seven people are from the same family.

On Monday, a girder being placed for the bus rapid transit line project crashed on top of a car in the Jashim Uddin Avenue area in Uttara on the Dhaka-Mymensingh national highway, one of the busiest roads in the country.

Since the collapse, members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested 10 people at locations throughout the country, according to Khandaker Al Moin, the battalion’s media wing director. 

“Those arrested include the crane operator, his assistant, Chinese firm officials responsible for supervising the construction work and safety measures, and officials of the firm that provided the fitness-expired crane,” Moin said.

In July, a crane collapsed on a Bangladeshi worker and killed him along a stretch of the bus transit line at the Gazipur end. And in March 2021, six workers, including three Chinese citizens, were injured in an accident involving the setting of a girder broke along another stretch of the route.

The latest accident occurred weeks after Bangladesh’s prime minister opened the country’s largest-ever and most expensive infrastructure project, the gleaming Padma Bridge, to much fanfare.

A Chinese firm built the 6.15-km (3.8-mile) span across the Padma River.

Bangladesh’s government said it financed that project on its own, although China has invested billions of dollars through loans for other infrastructure projects in the South Asian nation and is involved in constructing multiple projects there. 

In the case of the elevated transit line, the Dhaka Bus Rapid Transit Company Limited, along with the Roads and Highways Department, Bangladesh Bridge Authority and the Local Government Engineering Department contracted out the 42.6 billion taka (U.S. $450 million) project to the Gezhouba Group in 2016.

On Thursday, Road Transport and Bridges Ministry announced that a team of the senior officials from the Chinese contractor had reached Bangladesh.

“The team is prepared to assist the probe committee formed by the Road Transport Highway Division,” Li said after meeting with A.B.M. Amin Ullah Nuri, the ministry’s highway division secretary.

Nuri told reporters that because the collapse was related to the Chinese firm and its delegation members had arrived, they would conduct their own investigation while the Bangladesh investigation continues.

During a news conference on Thursday, Moin alleged that the crane being used did not have the capacity to handle the weight of the girder and its operators, who were among those arrested, were not licensed to operate it.

Others arrested include company officials responsible for supervising the construction work and safety measures and officials of the firm providing the crane.

“There were several anomalies at different stages from Chinese contract firm officials, including ensuring safety compliance,” he added.

Moin said a Gezhouba Group official instructed work during a public holiday despite a manpower shortage including workers responsible for safety and traffic management. Some of those working were new and inexperienced.

The collapse occurred on Monday afternoon after the crane operator moved a girder into place and asked his assistant to move a second one, according to investigators.

“The crane now has the capacity of moving 45 to 50 tons, while each girder weighed over 60 tons,” Moin said.

The RAB officer said company officials confirmed that the crane was at least 25 years old and its proper certification to operate expired a year ago.

Asked about potential failures by Bangladesh officials to oversee the project, RAB spokesman Moin said the ongoing Bangladesh investigation could find failures by officials in those agencies responsible for overseeing the project that could lead to charges.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.