India's Gujarat state suspends senior local administrator for bridge collapse
By Sumit Khanna
MORBI, India (Reuters) - A senior administrative official in the Indian town of Morbi has been suspended by the Gujarat state government following the collapse of a bridge that led to the death of 135 people, the chief minister's office said on Friday.
The colonial-era suspension footbridge in Morbi, over the Machchhu river, was packed with sightseers around the Diwali and Chhath Puja festivals when it gave way on Sunday, sending people plunging about 10 metres (33 feet) into the water.
"The state government has suspended Sandeepsinh Zala, chief officer of Morbi municipality in view of the bridge collapse," Pankaj Joshi, secretary to Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, told Reuters.
Zala's phone was switched off and he could not be immediately reached for a comment.
The bridge - 233 metres in length and 1.25 metres wide - was originally built in 1877 and had been closed for six months for repairs until last week.
Police have so far arrested nine people related to the incident on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Those arrested included ticketing clerks, three security guards who were on duty when the bridge collapsed and contractors that had been in charge of repair work.
Zala previously said that Oreva, a Gujarat-based company, had been in charge of maintaining the bridge and had not informed the authorities before reopening it last week, adding the bridge had not been certified as fit for public use following the repairs.
Zala became the first from the local administration to face action.
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from the state and was its chief minister for close to 13 years, has called for a detailed and extensive inquiry into the cause of the disaster.
The government in the Western Indian state, where legislative elections are due to be held next month, called off the search operation for survivors on Thursday. Local fire brigade, state and national disaster teams will be kept on standby, a government statement said.
(Writing by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Michael Perry)