3 construction firm employees appear in court over India flyover collapse

At least 26 people have died after a flyover being built in Kolkata collapsed. PHOTO: EPA

KOLKATA (AFP) - Three employees of the Indian construction firm building a flyover that collapsed appeared in court on Saturday (April 2) facing four initial charges including murder, a public prosecutor said, as the death toll rose to 26.

The three appeared at the Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Kolkata after being arrested on Friday over the disaster, which saw a 100m section of the flyover crash down onto a street below, crushing pedestrians and vehicles.

"All the accused were produced in court today. The charges against the accused are conspiracy, attempt to murder, murder and mischief," Mr Pijush Kanti Mondal, chief public prosecutor, told AFP.

"In the case of murder, (if convicted) they can face life imprisonment or a death sentence," Mr Mondal said.

The three, who include one senior employee and an engineer, have been remanded in police custody for nine days, the prosecutor added.

Five other staff were detained for questioning on Friday over the tragedy, as police sealed off the Kolkata office of IVRCL, the contractor behind the ill-fated construction project in West Bengal state.

Although officials have ruled out the chance of finding any more survivors under the rubble, a rescue operation continued on Saturday at the site where blocks of concrete and twisted girders lay strewn.

The death toll rose to 26 after rescuers found the body of a truck driver's assistant lying crushed under the rubble, Kolkata police joint commissioner Debasish Boral said.

The West Bengal government has ordered an investigation into the state agency responsible for infrastructure and construction over how the project came to be approved.

Police have registered a case of culpable homicide against the firm while Mr Derek O'Brien, a state lawmaker, has said the company had been blacklisted in other states and had a "bad reputation".

Construction of the 2km-long flyover began in 2009 and was supposed to be completed within 18 months, but suffered a series of hold-ups.

IVRCL has denied responsibility for the disaster in the capital of West Bengal state. A company representative infuriated victims on Thursday when he described the disaster as an "act of God".

Authorities initially struggled to get cranes and other large machinery through the narrow streets of Burrabazar, one of the oldest and most congested parts of the city, to reach the accident site.

On Saturday, Mr Rahul Gandhi, the vice-president of the opposition Congress party, visited the site and met with injured victims recuperating at a city hospital.

The disaster is the latest in a string of deadly construction accidents in India, where enforcement of safety rules is weak and substandard materials are often used.

It comes at a sensitive time for West Bengal's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, whose centre-left Trinamool Congress party is seeking re-election.

Ms Banerjee has blamed the previous state government under which the flyover project was started, but has herself faced criticism over the beleaguered construction project.

Voting in the West Bengal elections begins on Monday and will be held in five phases lasting a month.

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