Kolkata: The base of the pillars of the landmark Howrah bridge, used by 1.2 lakh vehicles and 5 lakh pedestrians daily, have been encased in fibreglass casings after severe damage was caused to them by gutkha-laced sputum.
Portions of the base of the pillars of the 70-year-old bridge, the world`s busiest, used as public spittoons have reduced by half from the menace.
"A lot of damage has already been caused. Our studies show that the thickness of the steel hoods protecting the hangers have reduced by 50 per cent of their original size in the past four years," A K Mehra, chief engineer of the Kolkata Port Trust, which maintains the bridge, said here.
Half-chewed betel leaves, areca nut and slaked lime contain highly corrosive elements that wear away steel.
"Saliva laced with gutkha makes a lethal combination. It is now affecting the stability of the hangers that transfer the load of traffic uniformly across the structure," Mehra said.
The 86 fibreglass protective hoods placed at the base of
the hangers will prevent further damage and water from seeping into the junction of the cross-girders and hangers.
Installed at a cost of Rs 15 lakh, the grey and maroon fibreglass covers are washable.
"If anyone spits on them, we can easily wash it off. There will be no more risk of chemical reactions caused by gutkha-laced saliva," Mehra said.
"No one will steal these covers as they don`t have any resale value," KoPT officials said.
"Moreover, we might also introduce advertisements on the covers after which advertising agencies and companies will maintain them in their own interest," they said.
According to a 2007 survey by KoPT, more than 1,20,000 vehicles and 5,00,000 pedestrians daily use the British engineering marvel built in 1943 connecting Kolkata with Howrah town over the river Hooghly.
Waking up to the threats and consequences of high tobacco consumption in the state, the West Bengal government has recently banned the manufacture and sale of gutkha, pan masala and products containing tobacco or nicotine.